The best phone in the world right now is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, but if that isn’t for you we’ve got 14 other top picks that may suit you, including the best iPhones and a variety of other Android phones.
Our phone experts have spent years reviewing smartphones, and we’ve tested all the best on the market to put together this definitive list of the very best smartphones you can buy in 2021.
Buying a cell phone is a complicated decision, and you need options. That’s why we’ve come up with a list of the best rather than just a single ‘best phone’ recommendation. We weigh the pros and cons of each model on our list based on performance, cameras, price point, and other metrics.
We’re constantly updating our best cell phones list to make sure you’re buying the absolute top phone for your needs. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is our latest number one pick, but also consider the iPhone 12, OnePlus 9 Pro iPhone 12 Pro or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which we’ve found powerful phones for different reasons beyond operating system of choice.
There are price considerations, too, and we’ve factored that in, with choices like the OnePlus 9 ranking high on our list for the value it provides. Some phones even debuted at a notably cheaper price than competitors, like the Google Pixel 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, which are great picks for those who don’t want to spend a lot to get a good phone.
Likewise, your cell phone plan of choice may sway your preference; especially since certain carriers often provide especially good cell phone deals for some handsets in particular, whereas others don’t. Almost all smartphone prices have crept up to – and above – $1,000 so you’ll want to take your decision seriously.
There are many more upcoming new phones in 2021 with the Google Pixel 6 expected by the end of the year that may appear in this list. Apple also just revealed the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro that may appear in this list in the near future.
Best phone 2021: which smartphone is for you?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is our best smartphone in the world right now: here’s why.
Why it’s the best smartphone: We think the S21 Ultra is a fantastic choice for you with one of the best camera suites, phenomenal power, great battery life, a solid design and a whole host of other great features. The Galaxy S21 Ultra isn’t a cheap handset with a price that, despite being cheaper than its predecessor, is still costlier than any competing flagship, but if you’re looking for the ultimate smartphone experience in 2021 you will be hard pressed to do better than this latest from Samsung.
Screen: The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a top 6.8-inch screen with a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate and a Quad HD resolution. This is one of the best smartphone displays on the market.
Battery life: The Samsung S21 Ultra’s battery life is solid, and we found it’d often see us through a whole day from a full charge. If you’re playing around with the 120Hz refresh rate, battery life is likely to drain faster, but it’s a top choice if you’re after a long lasting phone.
Note the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t come with a charger in the box though, so you’ll have to use your existing one or buy one separately.
Camera: Samsung’s 108MP camera on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is going to be the highlight for many, and the camera doesn’t disappoint on this phone. Like its predecessor, you can take 100x zoom photography, but it’s far improved here over the Galaxy S20 Ultra with two telephoto cameras working in tandem to do the heavy lifting.
The iPhone 12 Pro takes everything great about the iPhone 12 and elevates it. Then there’s the iPhone 12 Pro Max that offers better battery life and a slightly more powerful camera as well as a huge screen. The extra for the iPhone 12 Pro may not be worth the notable price hike up to $999 to everyone, but this phone pairing is undeniably the best Apple has released yet.
Why they’re ranked 2nd: The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are the most powerful iPhones to date, and they’re also the company’s priciest. While the same amount of money could buy you a Samsung phone with a bigger screen and more storage at the base level, most iOS users don’t want to deal with Android. Instead, they can look forward to a few key upgrades over the iPhone 11 Pro, like 5G and MagSafe for clipping on accessories (as well as wireless chargers) easily and securely.
Screen: Apple’s 6.1-inch OLED screen on the iPhone 12 Pro really grabbed our attention – it’s fantastic for video streaming and gaming, even if it’s set to 60Hz while other phones are pushing 90Hz and even 120Hz refresh rates. Yes, the notch cut out at the top is still here, but we find it to be easy to ignore after a while, even as other phones do just fine with punch-holes in displays.
Battery life: This is some of the best battery life we’ve ever experienced on an iPhone, with further optimizations within iOS and a larger cell inside the phone itself. It’s still not game-changing, but it’s better than other Apple handsets and the iPhone 12 Pro Max is particularly notable.
Camera: The triple camera setup on the iPhone 12 Pro is fantastic. While the three rear cameras aren’t too different than the ones in the iPhone 11 Pro, save for the added LiDAR sensor that supposedly enables portrait mode-style shots even in Night Mode. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the one to go for though if you want the very best camera on an Apple device.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus aren’t the height of spec and prowess as their predecessors used to be – the Samsung Galaxy S20 used to sit at the top of this list – and instead Samsung’s Ultra handsets are now taking the limelight. But its strength is in its value: the S21 is a powerful phone that’s more affordable than some of its competitors.
Why they’re ranked 3rd: The Samsung Galaxy S21 will be the perfect smartphone for many with its great mix of solid spec, a great design and the fact it’s cheaper than the Galaxy S21 Ultra as well as its predecessors. If you own the Samsung Galaxy S20 we wouldn’t recommend buying this, but for others this will be the perfect smartphone. If you’re looking for a larger screen and a better battery, opt for the very similar but slightly more expensive Plus model.
Screen: Much has been said about Samsung’s switch to Full HD for the Galaxy S21’s display, but in our testing we didn’t notice the knock down in resolution much unless we were testing the phone side by side with a QHD display. With a 120Hz refresh rate and great brightness, the Galaxy S21’s screen will satisfy many. Looking for that larger screen? You’ll get it with the S21 Plus.
Battery life: The battery life on the Samsung Galaxy S21 will last you a full day from a single charge, and its 4,000mAh cell means you’ll get a lot of usage out of the handset without having to recharge the phone. The battery on the S21 Plus is even better with a 4,800mAh cell inside.
Camera: The Galaxy S21’s camera is much the same as the Galaxy S20, but a few software tweaks have been included from Samsung that make it just that touch better. Overall, this isn’t as phenomenal as the Galaxy S21 Ultra but for most just wanting to shoot the odd snap, this will suit you perfectly.
The iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini aren’t technically superior to the iPhone 12 Pro series, but both are priced so well (for iPhones) and each has most of the key features you’ll want from an Apple device. The iPhone 12 takes the place of the iPhone 11 with the same 6.1-inch screen, but a few new features like MagSafe. Then there’s the new iPhone 12 mini, which is similar but comes in a smaller package.
Why they’re ranked 4th: It’s not as good of a value as Samsung’s top-ranked handset, but the iPhone 12 is the best iPhone for some people simply because it costs $799. That’s not quite as cheap as the iPhone 11 was at launch, but it is more affordable than the iPhone 12 Pro, which starts at $1,000 and goes up. And, unlike the iPhone SE 2020, which we praise for being a good value later, you’re getting most of the features found on the Pro-level handsets like the camera’s stunning Night Mode.
Screen: The 6.1-inch screen is the same size as the display on the iPhone 12 Pro, fitting in between the iPhone 12 mini and 12 Pro Max sizes, making it an appealing choice if you want a large screen, but not the biggest. If you want the smaller version, it has a 5.4-inch screen. For the first year, the more ‘affordable’ flagship also gets an OLED screen, which is a big perk. It’s a brilliant-looking phone, if you don’t mind the notch.
Battery life: These iPhones can deliver all-day battery life, and it’s slightly better than the iPhone 11 battery, which we thought was stellar in 2019. What are you going to be missing? The pricier iPhone 12 Pro series does last a bit longer, but given no phones come with faster chargers this year, you’ll have to shell out for Apple’s fast charger unit just like the Pro owners.
Camera: This is close to the best iPhone camera, with both a 12MP main camera and a 12MP ultra-wide camera to cram more into the frame. It’s missing the triple-lens camera on the Pro models, which adds in a telephoto lens, but you’re getting the two essential cameras from that pairing, and it includes a long exposure night mode that will automatically brighten up dark photos.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a top-tier flagship and one that improves on the main weakness of previous OnePlus phones – their cameras. This is a phone that can compete with the other top handsets, and some may even prefer its camera to the other phones on this list.
Why it’s ranked 5th: OnePlus may have focused its attention on the cameras for the OnePlus 9 Pro, but this is an overall incredible smartphone offering top-end power, a great display and most features you’d expect from any other phone you’ll find on this list. Battery life isn’t the absolute best, and it’s remarkably expensive considering OnePlus’ history in the smartphone market but it has earned its place this high on our best smartphone list because it’s the overall package.
Screen: This 6.7-inch screen has the ability to impress you more than an iPhone for one simple reason: the ‘Fluid Display’ that sets the refresh rate to 120Hz. Not only does it make game look better, but simply scrolling the web looks smoother. You’ll also find nice upscaling and HDR10+ here.
Battery life: If you need your phone battery to last all day long, the OnePlus 9 Pro achieves that, but it doesn’t offer the absolute best battery life we’ve seen on a smartphone. It features a 4,500mAh battery, and this is set to last you a full day from a single charge but it may not offer that if you’re using the phone an extraordinary amount. It also have great fast charging and wireless charging features.
Camera: Thanks to a new Hasselblad partnership and a ‘freeform’ ultra-wide lens, designed to reduce the distortion at the edge of images, the OnePlus 9 Pro is the best OnePlus camera phone. It isn’t the absolute best camera phone, but it’s a remarkable step up from the company with a great 48MP main camera alongside an 8MP telephoto and 50MP ultrawide.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is Samsung’s most expensive non-foldable phone, and generation’s big perk of the Note is that it comes with an amazing camera. Get ready for extreme close-ups with the 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom. The S Pen returns with new tricks like recording voice notes and syncing them with handwritten notes.
Why it’s ranked 6th: This is one of Samsung’s most powerful phones, but it’s more expensive than most of the S21 series. You get it all with the Note 20 Ultra: a stylus, a camera with a 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom, a faster chipset (at least in the US version) and a 6.9-inch 120Hz screen. Not everyone needs an ‘everything phone’ like this, but if you want it all and don’t want to wait for the Galaxy Z Fold 2, this is one of Samsung’s best.
Screen: The 6.9-inch Note 20 Ultra display is massive, but only is a fraction of an inch larger than 2019’s 6.8-inch Note 10 Plus screen. A big difference is in the fluidity of the screen via a 120Hz refresh rate. No, you can’t enable both the WQHD+ resolution and 120Hz at the same time, but the pixels look fine at 1080p on a screen of this size vs having to go back to 60Hz. Another literally small perk: the front-facing camera punch hole is smaller than ever.
Battery life: The Note 20 Ultra has a solid 4,500mAh battery, and we found that it goes more than a day with normal use without a problem. Even power users won’t have a problem, based on our tests. Samsung includes a 25W fast wired charger in the box and offers compatibility with 15W fast wireless charging, but it has backed off of supporting 45W wired charging for some reason.
Camera: The Note 20 Ultra has one of the best cameras on an Android phone, and that’s in part because of its 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom. It makes 2x optical zooms from the iPhone seem like minor cropping at the edges of 1x photos. With 5x optical and, in good light, 10x digital, Samsung punches in with a dramatic zoom and usable photos on Instagram (50x zoom is mostly a party trick). We also found this phone to have the best ultrawide camera, and the regular 12MP camera is sharp. You don’t need the 108MP camera and should watch out for skin softening in low-light.
The iPhone SE 2020 is the sequel to the one-hand-friendly iPhone from 2016, and it takes the power and specs we loved from the iPhone 11 series and crams them into the design of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8.
Why it’s ranked 7th: This isn’t Apple’s most powerful iPhone, but it’s the best value for people who want to stick with iOS 13 without paying through the nose. Its screen technology won’t wow you like an iPhone 11 Pro, and there’s just one camera on the back, but starting $399 means this is hard to be if you’re on a budget and don’t want to switch to Android.
Screen: This new iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch screen borrowed from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, so it’s bigger than the original iPhone SE, but remains one-hand-friendly. That’s become important for people who have been demanding a smaller phone. This is the one to get, even if the resolution and bezel won’t wow anyone.
Battery life: As long as you aren’t a power user (who would likely opt for the iPhone 11 series anyway), then you’ll be OK with what Apple offers in terms of battery life. It’s not going to last you any longer than a day, though, with generally the same amount of power as we saw on the iPhone 8, which had a 1,821mAh battery capacity.
Camera: For the money, the iPhone SE 2020 takes perfectly fine photos in good light. You won’t notice much of a difference outside of it occasionally failing to nail perfect exposure levels and depth of field outdoors during the daytime. Dim the lights, however, and you’ll notice one glaring omission: the night mode that’s on the more powerful iPhones. That requires an upgrade to at least the iPhone 11.
Why it’s ranked 8th: The S20 Fan Edition is a good combination of specs and cameras, making it a good value for and Android phone with a signature Samsung polish that puts it ahead of most phones at the same price tier.
Screen: The 6.5-inch Infinity-O AMOLED screen is plenty sharp at Full HD Plus, even if its not quite the WQHD resolution of its pricier siblings, nor does it have the 120Hz refresh rate. It retains an in-screen fingerprint sensor, leaving the phone’s back unblemished.
Battery life: The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a huge 4,500mAh battery, helpful for Wireless PowerSharing and mundane binging or gaming you’re doing. We found it lasted a day or more, though we still haven’t hit the two-day battery life threshold yet.
Camera: The cameras are another area of trimmed capability: while the 12MP main shooter is fine, but not quite the high-megapixel of the S20 and especially the 108MP S20 Ultra. The other cameras are perfectly suitable, including the 12MP ultra-wide lens, an 8MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom, and a hefty 32MP selfie shooter in a punch-hole.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review
The OnePlus 9 is a lesser phone than the OnePlus 9 Pro in a number of ways, but it’s also quite a bit cheaper, and arguably keeps the soul of its pricier sibling intact.
For one thing it retains the Hasselblad branding (and the camera expertise that goes with that), as well as having the same camera hardware as the OnePlus 9 Pro – minus that phone’s telephoto snapper.
Why it’s ranked 9th: The OnePlus 9 is a phone that almost has it all. From its great screen to its high-end chipset, capable cameras, long-lasting battery, and good software. Much like the phones before it, this isn’t the absolute best choice but it’s very good for the price.
Screen: At 1080 x 2400 pixels, the OnePlus 9 doesn’t have the sharpest screen, but it’s sharp enough, and its 120Hz refresh rate coupled with AMOLED tech makes it one of the best displays you’ll get for this sort of money. It’s also quite big at 6.55 inches.
Battery life: There’s a big 4,500mAh battery in the OnePlus 9, which comfortably lasts a day and charges very quickly, as it supports 65W charging. Plus, there’s wireless charging in here too if you wanted to opt for a charging pad instead.
Camera: This is the big upgrade for the OnePlus 9, and while it doesn’t reach the heights of the OnePlus 9 Pro is makes some fantastic true-to-life imagery that you won’t be embarrassed to share with your friends. It features a 48MP wide camera, 50MP ultra-wide and 2MP depth sensor.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus was previously the best phone you can buy today, while the smaller (and slightly less capable) Galaxy S20 is so similar that we’ve lumped the two together.
Why they’re ranked 10th: Previously the best smartphones money can buy, the Samsung Galaxy S21 series has knocked the Galaxy S20 range from its top spot but these are still fantastic choices for your next handset. Plus, if you’re looking to buy one soon you may find it’s cheaper than it was before the Galaxy S21 appeared.
Screen: The Infinity-O AMOLED displays on both phones – 6.2 inches for the S20, 6.7 inches for the S20 Plus – are gorgeous. The notches are both centralized like the Note 10, but they’re much smaller this time around, and the S20 Plus only has a single lens. The result: more screen. Also the S20 has a 120Hz maximum refresh rate for silky-smooth media and gaming, though you’ll mostly notice it while browsing – and you’ll have to drop your display resolution down to FHD+ to enjoy it.
Battery Life: The S20 packs a 4,000mAh battery, while the S20 Plus has 4,500mAh of capacity. That is, to put it lightly, a lot, and frequently got us through over a day without recharging. Keep in mind that battery life estimate will dip down if you set the refresh rate at 120Hz, use a ton of 5G connectivity or lend juice with Wireless PowerShare, so adapt accordingly if you’re looking to keep your phone going longer.
Camera: The S20 and S20 Plus have truly spectacular cameras. No, not their 12MP main shooters, which are fine – it’s the 64MP telephoto that really shines with a 3x optical zoom (up from the usual 2x zoom). The camera can also crop zoom to a muddy 30x digital zoom – which means the interim intervals are still a good deal more impressive than the competition. The 12MP ultra-wide performs adequately, while the 10MP front-facing camera works great with fun filters. Another first-time bonus: 8K 24fps video from the rear camera.
The Google Pixel 5 came out in October, and it has some improvements on the Pixel 4 – but also fewer features. Yes, the Pixel 5 is a bit of a course correction as Google trims perks to lower the Pixel 5’s price to make it as much of an ‘affordable flagship’ as the iPhone 12 mini and OnePlus 8T. But a few key improvements make it a superior phone to the Pixel 4 XL that it’s replacing on this list.
Why it’s 11th: The Pixel 5 is powerful enough and its camera capability is still great, but some trimmed features make this phone a it less advanced than the competition. Google’s knack for photo optimization still makes this phone a good choice for photographers, but that’s not enough to break into the top half of the order. Its very slim bezels make it a surprisingly small phone, though, and perfect for those who like to text one-handed.
Screen: The Pixel 5 has a 6-inch screen with Full HD Plus (1080 x 2340) resolution, with a 90Hz refresh rate for smoother app browsing and gaming. The Pixel 4’s solid black bar has been ditched for a punch-hole – sorry, no Soli depth sensors or even facial recognition, but at least that’s more screen real estate. Colors are rich on the OLED display, and thanks to the dual front-facing speakers, it makes for a handy streaming device.
Battery life: The Pixel 4’s battery woes are gone: a big reason we replaced the Pixel 4 XL with the Pixel 5 is that the latter’s 4,080mAh battery lasts over a day, fixing the biggest drawback of the old phone. Otherwise, it’s none too exciting, maxing out at 18W fast charging and 12W wireless charging – which amazingly still works through the all-metal back case.
Camera: The Pixel 5’s cameras are its best selling point. On back, the 12.2MP sensor paired with Google’s brilliant software optimization make for stunning photos in most situations, and the added 16MP ultra-wide enables respectably expansive fields of view. Best of all, the Night Sight mode has been improved – and can even snap shots of the heavens with its Astrophotography function.
Read our Google Pixel 5 review
iPhone XS was a minor, but important upgrade over the completely redesigned iPhone X. It’s noticeably faster and has an improved dual-lens camera to make it a good choice, if you can still find it on sale.
Why it’s ranked 12th: The specs here aren’t as impressive as they are on the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max, let alone the iPhone 12 range, but the trade-off in a lower price for this device still makes it a top-buy for many Apple fans. You’ll miss out on a faster processor and features like MagSafe by not going with the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini, but that’s about it.
Screen: The iPhone 11’s 6.1-inch display isn’t the best screen you’ll find on an iPhone – it’s still an LCD, for instance, whereas the iPhone 12 line all have OLED displays – but it’s still vibrant and large enough to watch video on. Like all post-iPhone X Apple handsets, you’ll have to live with a wide notch.
Battery life: The easiest way to describe battery life on the iPhone 11 is good, but not great. You’ll get around a day of usage from the iPhone 11, but it’s not as good as the physically larger phones like the 11 Pro Max.
Camera: Expect a similar experience from the camera on the iPhone 11 as on the iPhone XR. If you want the best camera on an iPhone, you’ll want the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but it’s still an impressive shooter on the rear of the 11 – and crucially, it has an HDR-like Night Mode.
You’re at the end of our best smartphone guide, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help you still – if you’re stuck on which model is for you, we’ve got a tool that can compare all the phones together and you can decide which one suits you best based on the cost.
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