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Best phones in Australia 2021: top 12 smartphones tested and ranked

Best phones in Australia 2020
(Image credit: Samsung, Apple)

Here at TechRadar, we check out almost every phone under the sun, putting the ones that matter through our vigorous testing process to create our in-depth mobile phone reviews.

However, with so many to choose from, we've spent hours whittling them down to a top ten, taking into account power, specs, design and value for money. And we'll always point you in the direction of the latest handsets – after all, nobody wants to be carting around a phone that doesn't get any updates in a year's time, right?

So whether it's one of the many slick Android handsets, the latest iPhone or one from a range of other cool manufacturers, we've extensively tested them all so you don't have to!

Here are our rankings for the best smartphones that are currently available in Australia in 2021. Simply click on the phone you read more about.

Best phone at a glance:

1. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 / Note 20 Ultra
2. Samsung Galaxy S20 / S20 Plus
3. iPhone 12 / iPhone 12 mini
4. Google Pixel 5
5. iPhone 12 Pro / iPhone 12 Pro Max
6. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
7. iPhone SE (2020)
8. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
9. iPhone 11
10. Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition
11. Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
12. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)
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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)
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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)
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Samsung Galaxy Note 20

(Image credit: Samsung)
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Samsung Galaxy Note 20

(Image credit: Samsung)
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Samsung Galaxy Note 20

(Image credit: Samsung)

1. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 / Note 20 Ultra

Samsung's best Note to date

Release date: August 2020
Weight: 192g / 208g
Dimensions: 161.6 x 75.2 x 8.3 / 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.7-inch / 6.9-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400 / 1440 x 3088
CPU: Exynos 990
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128 / 256GB / 512GB (Ultra) + microSD
Battery: 4,300mAh / 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 12MP+64MP+12MP / 108MP+12MP+12MP
Front camera: 10MP / 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Stunning 120Hz display+Excellent camera+Improved S Pen latency
Reasons to avoid
-Hugely expensive-Enormous rear camera bump

Much like it's done each year prior to this one, Samsung's latest Galaxy Note range expands upon the advancements first laid out by the S-series lineup that arrived several months earlier, while also improving on that groundwork by adding a few tricks of its own.

In a move that makes the Note 20 series much easier to follow from a consumer standpoint, Samsung is mercifully offering only two model types this year: Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (so long, Plus model). 

Being the top-tier phones that they are, each phone is packed to the brim with a number of class-leading features. That said, the Galaxy Note 20 range's pricing certainly reflects their premium nature, starting at AU$1,499 for the 4G-only Note 20 with 256GB of onboard storage, all the way up to AU$2,199 for the 512GB model Note 20 Ultra with 5G support.

Clearly, the Galaxy Note 20 range is not cheap, but buyers can rest assured that their hard-earned dollars are getting the best that money can buy when it comes to smartphone technology in 2020 – particularly in the case of the sublime Note 20 Ultra.

Screen: Samsung's Note range is known for consistently upping the ante when it comes to smartphone AMOLED displays, and it has done so once again with the utterly glorious screen boasted by the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. 

Unlike the Galaxy 20 Ultra that released earlier in the year, Galaxy Note 20 sports an adaptive 120Hz display, meaning it's able to automatically raise and lower its frame rate in an effort to conserve battery. 

Chances are you won't even notice when its refresh rate does drop down, as general UI navigation is buttery smooth most of the time. Unfortunately, the regular Note 20 misses out on the 120Hz display, with Samsung opting for a less-impressive 60Hz refresh rate on the handset's FHD+ screen. 

It's also worth noting that both handsets have majorly improved on last year's models in terms of S Pen latency, making the scribbling experience near indistinguishable from writing on actual paper.

Battery Life: In terms of battery life, the Note 20 range gets a significant increase in capacity over the S20 range. We get a 4,300mAh battery on the Galaxy Note 20 and 4,500mAh on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Combine the latter with the Ultra's new adaptive display feature, and you should easily get to the end of your day with juice to spare.

Camera: Although each handset offers near-identical functionality and firmware (resolution and refresh rate options aside), there are some significant differences between the two phones, particularly when it comes to their cameras.

For starters, the Note 20 Ultra predictably receives the lion's share of camera advancements this year, including a 108MP primary sensor, and a periscope lens that's capable of 50x hybrid zoom. Meanwhile, the standard Note 20 offers a 12MP wide lens, a 64MP telephoto lens and a 12MP ultrawide lens, along with hybrid zoom up to 30x.

On paper, that's clearly a step down from the 100x zoom offered by the S20 Ultra, however, we'd argue that the ability to take blurry photos from hundreds of metres away isn't all that necessary to begin with. 

The Note 20 range also excels at video capture, offering 8K recording at 24fps in either 16:9 or 21:9 aspect ratios, which will hopefully inspire a new generation of indie filmmakers. Additionally, Samsung has included a wealth of pro video features, such as the ability to switch between front, rear and omni-directional audio recording, along with support for Bluetooth and USB microphones.

If we were to mark down the handsets' cameras for anything, it would be the incredible chunkiness of its camera bump itself, which makes it impossible to lay each phone down flat without an equally-thick case. It's true that the standard Note 20's camera bump is slimmer than its Ultra equivalent, however, the trade-off is a significant downgrade in camera functionality. 

Mini verdict: Samsung has done it once again, delivering a pair of magnificent pro-level smartphones that lead the pack in a number of important areas. From its brilliant 120Hz display to its fantastic video recording options, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the smartphone to beat in 2020. Likewise, Samsung's standard Galaxy Note 20 an exceptional phone at a price point that will make it far more approachable for many people.

Read the hands on review: Samsung Galaxy Note 20
Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra