How CNET tests phones – CNET

The telephones they are much more than communication devices; they are our gateway to the Internet. They have become the center of our daily lives, housing our personal information, work essentials, personal memories and allowing us to reflect our personalities online. That’s why CNET runs rigorous tests to help you find the right phone for your budget and needs.

When reviewing phones, we take a variety of factors into account, including camera quality, battery life, design, software, and longevity. Every phone is different, but our tests allow us to answer the same question in every review: Is this phone worth buying? We rate phones based on the quality of their hardware and software, whether they introduce significant innovations, and whether they’re priced right.

We replaced our personal phone with the test unit during the review period so we can get an accurate impression of what it’s like to rely on the device for everyday tasks. In addition to this anecdotal usage, we also run specific side-by-side tests with other phones as part of the evaluation process.

We typically test phones against their immediate predecessor, competitor phones from other companies, or another phone within the same product line (for example, iPhone 14 versus iPhone 14 Pro). We focus on the comparisons that are most helpful in helping our readers navigate the buying decision, and that can vary by phone. Whenever possible, we work on all three types of comparisons in one review.

Some of these methodologies are relatively new to CNET testing procedures, so you may not see them in all of our reviews starting in 2022. We are in the process of updating our current reviews with these tests and plan to fully implement them in 2023.

Below is an overview of what a CNET smartphone review entails.

Smartphone cameras test

an android phone and an iphone both flash

Camera tests are a big part of CNET’s phone reviews.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The chamber is the largest area where companies like Apple, samsung, Google, and OnePlus typically make improvements to new models each year, and our reviews put the phone maker’s claims to the test. We take photos in a variety of circumstances and lighting conditions, including bright outdoor areas, dim indoor settings, and mixed lighting.

We shot a variety of subjects—objects, pets, and people—to assess boldness, sharpness, skin tones, and color accuracy. We tested all the main lenses on the phone (wide, telephoto, and ultra-wide), the front-facing cameras, and different shooting styles like portrait mode and night mode. Our reviews also cover useful editing features or shooting modes that are device-specific, like the Google Pixel 7’s Face Unblur or the iPhone’s cinematic mode.

Part of these tests include side-by-side photo comparisons between the phone we’re reviewing and previous phones we’ve tested. We rate a phone’s cameras based on their consistency and how they stack up against the competition. All photos are taken directly from the camera and are accessed without editing unless specifically noted. Beyond the initial impressions we get from viewing these photos on a phone screen, we also upload them to a computer and view them side by side on a monitor. This reduces any bias that may come from the different screens on each phone. It also makes it easy to see discrepancies in clarity and color between each photo.

We also captured video with the review phone and judged it on its image and audio quality. Just because a phone can capture 6K or 8K video doesn’t mean it’s any good. Unlike the computational photography algorithms that Google, Apple, Samsung and others apply to photos, video remains relatively less processed, making it easy to criticize a camera’s strengths and flaws.

Testing smartphone performance

The performance section of our reviews examines how responsive the phones are in everyday use, how well they juggle multiple tasks, and how they fare during benchmark tests.

We do this by looking at how quickly phones can open apps and launch the camera. We also noted if the phone has an adaptive refresh rate setting and how, if at all, this improves performance (for example, does this make animations and scrolling feel smoother). We also look for signs of lag when running multiple apps (such as using a social media app or playing a game during a video call) or playing an online multiplayer game at the highest graphics settings.

In addition to these everyday tasks, we also run a series of benchmarks designed to test a phone’s computing power and graphics performance. These tests include Geekbench 5 for overall CPU performance and 3DMark Wild Life Extreme for graphics. We also ran the same tests on other phones that we’re comparing our test device against.

Smartphone battery life test

iPhone 12 charging with a MagSafe charger on a wooden table

iPhone 12 is charging with a MagSafe charger

Patrick Holland/CNET

We tested battery life three ways: through an anecdotal stress test, a video streaming test, and by looking at battery life after daily use. As noted above, these tests are relatively new and we are still in the process of adding them to our 2022 revisions.

The anecdotal stress test measures how much the battery drains after 45 minutes of general use. We do a bit of everything during this test to mimic authentic everyday experiences. That includes streaming video, using social media apps, playing a game, making a video call, and various other tasks like checking email. After these 45 minutes of mixed use, we mark the battery discharge percentage. To maintain test consistency across phones, we performed each of those tasks for approximately 10 minutes. We also keep the screen brightness at 50%, turn off the always-on display, and keep the high refresh rate setting on (if any).

The streaming test monitors how much your battery drains over a three-hour period while you watch a video on YouTube. We use the same video each time for consistency and set the screen brightness to 100%. We also disable settings that automatically dim or brighten the screen, connect to Wi-Fi, and turn on adaptive or high refresh rate settings, if applicable. We took battery percentages at the one-hour, two-hour, and three-hour marks.

Since we use test phones as our regular devices, we also discuss how long the battery has lasted in daily use based on our experience. Often our hands-on experience with a phone’s battery life can give us the most accurate prediction of what others might expect if they bought the same phone.

Test the design, software and display of smartphones

Pixel 7 Pro phone with Android 13 logo on the screen, against a blue and pink background

The Pixel 7 Pro with the Android 13 logo on the screen

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Our smartphone reviews also cover other areas like design, software, and display quality. Design can be subjective, but we generally look at factors like durability (water and dust resistance ratings), how easy the phone is to operate with one hand, build quality, and whether the design is unique or interesting in any way. . For display quality, we’ll mention factors like brightness, how easy it is to see in bright sunlight, and sharpness and color.

Software is another key part of CNET’s smartphone reviews. We mention any new or notable features and how long the phone will support new versions of Android (or iOS, respectively) and security updates.

The Galaxy Z Flip 4 in Flex mode in the palm of your hand

The Galaxy Z Flip 4’s hinge allows it to stand at various angles. When you are close to perpendicular, you can activate Flex Mode for the software.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Our written review tells you everything we felt and experienced, but we also give each phone an overall score and a star rating to provide different context. A $450 phone may lack all the features a $1,000 phone has, but its value may mean it scores higher. We also update these ratings based on a variety of factors, including software changes and quality control issues.

Reviews will always vary by device, but these are the basics that make up a CNET smartphone review. Determining the overall value of a phone is our guiding principle in every smartphone review. Our reviews shed light on whether a new phone lives up to your hype, who the phone is for, and whether it delivers on its promises for the price. We are always evaluating our own testing methodologies and looking for ways to improve, so expect to see more updates in the future.

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