I think you have the answer to a number of questions but not many answers to your actual question. If taken literally, I can answer it very simply, there is no best radio. It all depends on your requirements, interests and experience.
For a general purpose hf/vhf portable radio the ft817 is a very safe choice. However the new price is somewhat daunting if you hoped ham radio equipment could be acquired for prices similar to music players or television remote controls.
There is a way to avoid the sticker shock. Buy second hand gear and get some experience with various radios. If you are in ham radio for a long time this will be just the first of many radios you will acquire and use, some of them you will discard because of perceived faults or drawbacks. Some will draw too much current, some will be too big, too small, too fragile, won’t work on your then current bands or modes of interest. But it’s not a one-time decison, it is the first of many. I have personally lost count of the radios I have owned and used. I have rarely bought a new radio.
I have two ft817s, both the old model, both bought in used and reasonable condition. They are remarkably robust. But I also have an Icom 703, a 10 watt hf/6m portable rig, and a MTR3B for more portable cw-only use. I use whatever takes my fancy and fits the activation. I have used all of them on SOTA activations, as well as icom and yaesu hand held radios for 2m fm. You might not want or need to have a choice, preferring to stick with one radio for everything.
Another way to learn what a specific model of radio does and how it performs on a SOTA activation is to join an experienced activator on a trip, listen and learn, make a few contacts yourself and get the first hand experience you cannot get in a radio retail shop.
Like in computers, where PC and Mac users clash over which ones are “best”, amateur radio does have its religious wars between users of various brands. None of this matters. Just look for something that suits your intended use and your budget, warms your heart and provides enjoyment from being a radio amateur.
73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH