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Best smartphones 2021

Best smartphones 2021
(Image credit: Samsung)

If you’re looking for the best smartphones then we’ve got you covered. With so many different phones and brands to choose from these days, replacing your old smartphone can be a daunting task. Every year the top-rated smartphones get even better, with fast processors, better software, and higher megapixel cameras, along with innovative new technologies like 5G and wireless charging. At the same time, cheap smartphones continue to pack in more features that you wouldn’t have expected. 5G was the reserve of flagship devices a few years ago, but now you can get 5G smartphones for under $300.

So, what should you be looking for in the best smartphones in 2021? Well that depends on what you’re primarily going to be using it for, and how much you’re willing to spend. If you’re looking for the absolute best smartphone that money can buy, then there are premium models like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus which come with a powerful CPU and a whopping 108 MP camera - this makes it the ideal choice for people who enjoy taking beautiful photos on their smartphones. If you prefer Apple iOS to Android, then there is also the magnificent iPhone 12 Pro, which is currently sat in our top spot thanks to its excellent camera and stunning OLED display.

On the other end of the scale, there are budget smartphones like the OnePlus Nord N10 and iPhone SE which offer exceptional value for money, if you don’t mind giving up a few features. They’re still powerful enough to handle all your day to day tasks, and they have great cameras too - just maybe not lenses that rival the Hubble space telescope like you find in the top end models.

Once you’ve decided on your ideal smartphone, you need to think about which network you’ll be going with too. Our best cell phone providers article will help you choose the right network and get the best deal.

1. iPhone 12 Pro: Best smartphone overall

Best smartphones: iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPhone in the world

Specifications
Average price: $999
Operating System: iOS
Screen size: 6.1"
Storage: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB
5G ready: Yes
Headphone jack: No
Charging type: Lightning by USB-C
Also consider: iPhone 12
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional camera+Classic, timeless design+OLED display is stunning
Reasons to avoid
-Software innovation is lacking

Apple has been the kings of the smartphone market for years and while Samsung may be stealing that crown from it today, the iPhone 12 Pro is still one of the best smartphones you can buy thanks to its exceptional camera and iconic design. It’s not cheap, but if you’re willing to pay the big bucks, you’ll be rewarded.

The iPhone 12 Pro is a premium product and the design reflects this perfectly. The front of the handset is covered with textured matte glass, while the rear of the phone has a stainless steel finish that comes in a variety of color options to suit you. The battery life isn’t the best, but the iPhone 12 Pro supports wireless charging and fast charging via a USB-C cable, so you should be able to keep it juiced up throughout the day.

Compared with the standard iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro has a much better screen and great sound quality which makes it perfect for watching movies on. The camera is outstanding too, with three rear-facing lenses and Night sight mode ensuring that you can take great photos in low light conditions. If you’re looking for the best iPhone, look no further than the iPhone 12 Pro.


2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus: Best Android smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

Specifications
Average price:: $999
Operating System:: Android
Screen size:: 6.7"
Storage:: 128GB, 256GB
5G ready:: Yes
Headphone jack: No
Charging type:: Fast charging via USB-C
Also consider:: iPhone 12 Pro
Reasons to buy
+Superb 6.7-inch screen+Great camera system+Tough design
Reasons to avoid
-Very similar to the S20 Plus-Lacks microSD slot and headphone jack

If you want an Android phone, this is the one to go for. Blending superb performance with a best-in-class AMOLED screen, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is the top Android pick for all but the techo-elite, who will likely already be using the Ultra version. The S21 Plus packs just the right combination of features to make it perfect for everyday people who want the classiest phone they can get, without going overboard.

The star is undoubtedly the edgeless 6.7-inch screen, which has a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz. This makes any footage appear super slick, and even browsing through the OS is a delight. Combine with the camera system, optimized for taking footage in 4K and even 8K and this is a great phone for personal video. Our only real complaint is that the 8K only reproduces at 24Hz, which makes it far less smooth. And who watches in 8K anyway?

If you’re considering the differences between this and the regular S21, we reckon the larger screen size, and bigger capacity battery are worth the increase in cost. There are other small differences, including the rear of the device being made in more sturdy material, but otherwise the tech inside them is largely the same. If you can stretch your budget to it, you won’t regret spending extra on the S21 Plus. For us, it’s another fab phone from Samsung, if not a good upgrade on last year’s S20 Plus. If you plumped for an S20 last year, it isn’t worth upgrading now, and we’d hold off until 2022.


3. Samsung Galaxy S21: Best mid-range Android smartphone

Best smartphones: Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best Android smartphone out there.

Specifications
Average price: $799
Operating System: Android
Screen size: 6.2"
Storage: 128/256GB
5G ready?: Yes
Headphone jack: No
Charging type: Fast charging via USB-C
Reasons to buy
+120Hz AMOLED display+Excellent camera array+Good price
Reasons to avoid
-Not really a step up from the S20

The Samsung Galaxy S21 took a different approach than we’re used to from Samsung’s flagship handsets, striking a balance between affordability and performance instead of going all out. As a result, it might feel like a step down to existing S20 owners, but it’s a fantastic smartphone in its own right, especially considering the price. Yup, it's one of the best smartphones out there.

You get the same impressive camera array that was found in the S20, along with a stunning 120Hz AMOLED HD display which combines together for an excellent photo taking and viewing experience. And while the cameras themselves are the same as last year’s model, there have been a ton of software improvements under the hood. Speaking of under the hood, the S21 is powered by the Snapdragon 888 and has 8GB of RAM, so it can easily handle mobile gaming too.

The addition of 5G capabilities and the high-refresh rate on the screen have dented the battery life a bit, but you still get admirable performance here, and with fast charge technology, you shouldn’t have to worry about running out of juice either.

Overall, we’re super impressed with the Samsung Galaxy S21, which seems like a phone designed for the times, rather than just to see what cool tech you can jam into a phone. It’s sleek, powerful, and much more affordable than its predecessor.


4. OnePlus 8T - Best value Android smartphone

Best smartphones: OnePlus 8T

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Ludicrous charging speed headlines this excellent Android smartphone

Specifications
Average price: $750
Operating System: Android
Screen size: 6.5"
Storage: 128GB or 256GB
5G ready: Yes
Headphone jack: No
Charging type: USB-C
Also consider: Huawei P30 Pro
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous 120Hz display+Improved Warp Charge+Affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Poor camera zoom

OnePlus already wow’d us earlier this year with the fantastic OnePlus 8, but now it has come along with a mid-generation refresh with a hell of a party piece. At first glance, there isn’t much difference between the OnePlus 8T and its predecessor - it has the same internal CPU, RAM, and storage options, and the camera array is only slightly modified with the addition of a monochrome lens. So, what gives on this being among the best smartphones?

The answer comes from two key upgrades: the screen and the battery. The screen on the OnePlus 8T has been buffed up to a spritely 120Hz refresh rate, meaning that videos and games look buttery smooth in motion. As for the battery, it’s now a dual-cell which is required for the upgraded Warp Charge 65. This thing goes from 0-58% battery in 15 minutes - that’s staggering speed.

The only real blemish on the OnePlus 8T’s scorecard comes from the lack of a telephoto lens in the camera set up, which means that you’re relying on digital zoom, which is never as good as optical zoom. Despite that, this is a mighty impressive smartphone at a very reasonable price.


5. iPhone 12: Best all-rounder

Best smartphones: Apple iPhone 12

(Image credit: Apple)

Jack of all trades

Specifications
Average price: $699
Operating System: iOS
Screen size: 5.4" or 6.1"
Storage: 64GB, 128GB or 256GB
5G ready: Yes
Headphone jack: No
Charging type: Lightning by USB-C
Also consider: OnePlus 7T Pro
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic camera+Great battery life
Reasons to avoid
-LCD display-Still no headphone jack

While the iPhone 12 might be our top choice, it's smaller cousin is still an exceptional smartphone if you want something a tiny bit cheaper but still crave that premium Apple experience. And in this case, you can go even smaller than normal thanks to the addition of the iPhone 12 Mini. One of the smallest of the best smartphones.

The iPhone 12 has a lot of the same features that make the iPhone 12 Pro our top pick at the moment. It's powered by the epic A14 Bionic chipset so it has plenty of power for watching movies, playing games, and running apps. It also has a great dual lens camera for snapping pics. It won't compete with the high end Samsungs or the Pro models, but it'll snap some gorgeous shots for you.

You still get that stunning OLED display here too, which makes colors pop and really brings your photos to life, not to mention movies when you're watching Netflix on your iPhone. And lets not forget the real reason you're buying an iPhone - the styling. It looks and feels every bit as special as you'd expect an iPhone to. Whether you go for the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Mini, you're in for a treat.


6. iPhone SE: Best budget iPhone

Best smartphones: iPhone SE 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone skills, but without iPhone bills

Specifications
Average price: $399
Operating System: iOS
Screen size: 4.7"
Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB
5G ready: No
Headphone jack: No
Charging type: Lightning by USB-C
Also consider: Google Pixel 3a
Reasons to buy
+Unbeatable value+Powerful hardware+Small and light
Reasons to avoid
-Older design

Magic. It’s magic, or someone sold their soul to the devil. That’s the only explanation we can come up with for the iPhone SE, Apple’s latest budget smartphone. This thing is built with the same A13 Bionic chipset that powers that flagship phones like the iPhone 11, but it costs a fraction of the price.

So how has Apple managed this feat of engineering? By taking things back to an older, cheaper to build design that reminds us of earlier models of iPhone like the iPhone 8. That means the home button is back, which now doubles as the fingerprint sensor. It’s made from aluminum and glass and still has a premium feel to it, but it’s not the completely glass shelled look that the newer models have gone for.

The camera isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s a decent little shooter, especially when you consider that it’s packed into a $400 phone that makes very few other sacrifices. You get great performance, a stylish design and most of the luxuries that you’d expect from a top-end smartphone like fast charging. If you want iPhone quality, but not the price then this is one of the best smartphones and could be the phone for you.


7. OnePlus Nord N10: best cheap Android smartphone

OnePlus Nord N10 5G

(Image credit: Future)

The OnePlus Nord N10 is the best cheap Android smartphone you can buy

Specifications
Average price: $299
Operating System: Android
Screen size: 6.49"
Storage:
5G ready?: Yes
Headphone jack?: Yes
Charging type: Warp Charge 30T via USB-C
Also consider?: iPhone SE
Reasons to buy
+Cheap+Fast charging+Great specs for the price
Reasons to avoid
-Feels cheap

The OnePlus Nord N10 is OnePlus's first attempt to burst into the budget smartphone market, and it's a cracking effort. It comes with a 6.49-inch full-HD 90Hz LCD screen that offers smooth screen transitions and a great viewing experience if you're looking to watch movies and TV on your phone.

You also get a hefty 64MP main camera lens, backed up by an 8MP ultrawide lens and a 2MP macro lens which lets you take pictures of small objects up close. There is also a monochrome lens for your artsy black and white photos too.

On top of that, you get 5G connectivity and OnePlus's impressive Warp charge technology for quick battery recharges. The battery itself will easily last you a full day too. The only real downside to the OnePlus Nord N10 is the rather cheap, plasticky shell. But if that's the price to pay for a $300 smartphone with these specs, then its a price worth paying.


8. Google Pixel 4A 5G: Best cheap smartphone camera

Google Pixel 4A 5G

(Image credit: Future)

The cheapest OLED screen phone out there

Specifications
Average price: $399
Operating System: Android
Screen size: 6.2"
Storage: 128GB
5G ready: Yes
Headphone jack: Yes
Charging type: USB-C
Also consider: OnePlus Nord N10
Reasons to buy
+Excellent camera+OLED screen at bargain price
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive compared to competitors-A bit boring

The Google Pixel 4A 5G is a revision of the earlier Google Pixel 4A, that, as the name might suggest, adds 5G connectivity. Google could have stopped there and called it a day, but we were pleasantly surprised to see a few extra changes and upgrades to the Google Pixel 4A 5G over the original model.

The screen, and indeed the phone itself, is bigger this time around with a 6.2 inch full-HD OLED display which looks fantastic. OLED screens are starting to become more commonplace in budget phones, but it’s still great to see. You also get a better camera, with a dual-lens array that features a 12.2MP main lens and a 16MP ultrawide. This is actually the same camera setup that you’ll find in Google’s current flagship model, the Google Pixel 5.

Beyond that, the Google Pixel 4A 5G is easy to use and feels great in your hand. Cheap smartphones can often feel a bit plasticy and tacky, but the Google Pixel 4A 5G manages to feel like a much more premium device. Our only real complaint is that it’s a bit pricier than other similarly spec’d budget smartphones, and it’s a little bit boring when it comes to unique features. Very functional, but maybe not very flashy.


9. Samsung Galaxy S20 : Best Samsung smartphone

Best smartphones: Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best of the best.

Specifications
Average price: $999
Operating System: Android
Screen size: 6.2"
Storage: 128GB
5G ready: Yes
Headphone jack: No
Charging type: USB-C
Also consider: OnePlus 8
Reasons to buy
+Superb edgeless screen+Powerful, high-end specs+Excellent camera
Reasons to avoid
-It is expensive

It might be the older model now, but the Samsung Galaxy S20 is still a fantastic smartphone, especially if you can find it on offer. In many ways, it's actually better than the S21 that it was replaced by. This handset really does have it all. The 6.2-inch QHD AMOLED screen is a thing of beauty and thanks to the 120 Hz refresh rate, it’s buttery smooth in motion whether you’re scrolling through Instagram or watching movies on Netflix.

That gorgeous screen is also perfect for checking out the amazing shots you can take with the Samsung Galaxy S20’s phenomenal three lens camera array. The main lens is a 12MP camera, but it’s the 64MP telephoto lens that most impresses us, offering 3x lossless zoom and 30x digital zoom.

All of this is backed up by powerful internal hardware and encased in a beautiful design. It’s nothing groundbreaking - if you’re used to Samsung phones then this will feel very familiar to you, but the design is a classic at this point. Oh, and it’s 5G enabled too, so you don’t need to worry about future proofing. 

The price of all this power and performance is, well the price. You’re paying extra cash for that Samsung name printed on the back, and you can certainly find high end smartphones for cheaper, but that doesn’t stop the S20 from being one of the best smartphones.


10. Samsung Galaxy Note10 Plus: Best for artists

Best smartphones: Samsung Galaxy Note10 Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

Supersize me

Specifications
Average price: $1099.99
Operating System: Android
Screen size: 6.8"
Storage: 256GB
5G ready: 5G version available
Headphone jack: No
Charging type: USB-C
Also consider: iPhone 11 Pro
Reasons to buy
+Truly gorgeous display+Great battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Bixby is still disappointing-Not the best low-light camera

We like big phones and we cannot lie, and the Samsung Galaxy Note10 Plus is the largest phone that we tested in our search for the best smartphones. The screen is a 6.8-inch QUAD HD+ display - if it was any bigger you could lay it flat and use it as an aircraft carrier. With the edge-to-edge screen, there are no bezels either so there’s no wasted space.

Samsung’s proprietary stylus, the S-pen also comes with the Samsung Galaxy Note10 Plus to let you make full use of that enormous screen. We found that it worked great for writing and even drawing, so it’s perfect for high-tech artists or students who need to take quick notes and don’t want to carry a laptop or tablet around with them.

Thanks to the extra size of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, there was more room for cameras. So Samsung casually threw four rear-facing lenses into the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+. There’s an ultrawide lens for wide shots, a telephoto lens for zoomed in pics and a VGA depth lens that lets you do some funky stuff with Live Focus. There are also two front-facing lenses for snapping selfies making this stand out as one of the best smartphones for selfies.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is a great choice for creative people who want to draw, take notes and snap amazing pictures on the go. It’s also the perfect choice for people who just want the biggest phone they can get their hands around.


Why Trust Us

We combine thorough research with hands-on testing to compare all the features, functions, and flaws of the top smartphones so we can recommend only the best of the best.

By now, it’s pretty standard for flagship phones to boast features such as water-resistance, long battery life, great cameras, fast speeds, gorgeous displays and airtight security. We leverage our own extremely high expectations for our smartphones in our evaluations, so you can be confident in your phone purchase.

How we tested the best smartphones

Our best smartphones evaluations combine thorough research with extensive testing. We start by gathering and arranging available information about every smartphone to narrow down the top choices. We get our hands on the best smartphones on the market and then compare the items you see above, including battery capacity, screen quality, camera specs, and internal components. 

After we compile our data, our team spends time with each device. We conduct a variety of benchmark tests to assess features such as battery life, CPU processing power, graphic card performance, data read and write speeds, display quality and overall performance, and we factor these results into our overall evaluation of the best smartphones.

Of course, a smartphone is more than the sum of its parts. To gauge how smoothly all the functions and features work together in day-to-day use, we take each phone for a spin for a few days. We play games, watch videos, check our social media, take photos and make phone calls to feel what it’s like to use the phone.

Ian Stokes

Ian Stokes is the Tech Editor here at Top Ten Reviews. He has extensive experience in tech and games journalism, with work published on IGN, Kotaku UK, Waypoint, GamesRadar, Trusted Reviews, and many more. You'll find him covering everything from smartphones and home computers to 3D printers and headphones. He's also our resident cocktail expert.