Picking the best phone in 2021 is an expensive and complicated decision whether you're looking for a handset from Samsung, Apple, Google or a variety of other smartphone manufacturers. We've seen a huge selection of new phones throughout 2020, and this is our definitive list of the best handsets you can buy right now.
We're constantly updating our best phones list to make sure you're buying the absolute top smartphone for your needs. The Samsung Galaxy S20 series shook up our rankings early last year, but also consider the iPhone 12 or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which we've found powerful phones for different reasons.
Why we have more than one pick: We have a top pick, but not everyone looks for the same smartphone features. Some demand Apple's iMessage and FaceTime, so that means sticking with iOS 14, while others will want infinite customizations and Google Assistant, which is available in Android 11.
There are price considerations, too, and we've factored that in, with choices like the OnePlus 8. Some phones even debuted at a notably cheaper price than competitors, like the Google Pixel 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition.
Likewise, AT&T plans, Verizon plans, or your cell phone plan of choice may sway your preference; the best AT&T phone may not be available on Verizon, and vice-versa. We've seen more unlocked phones in the US, but not all of them are available for every carrier.
Almost all smartphone prices have crept up to – and above – $1,000 so you'll want to take your decision seriously. We're here to guide you through the top phone picks with all of the expertise we've gained doing phone reviews.
The best phone in 2021? It has a large display, yet is easy to handle; packs a camera suite capable of replacing a point-and-shoot; and has enough processor power and battery to get work done while you're on the go. You won't find slow smartphones with anything less than all-day battery life on this ranked phone list.
5G phones are becoming important and more prevalent and foldable phones will one day become a big deal. Plus you should bear in mind this list may change a lot soon as we expect to see the new Samsung Galaxy S21, OnePlus 9 and iPhone 13 this year.
At the start of 2021, we've ranked the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, as well as the new iPhone 12 range and Google Pixel 5 that also offer next-gen connectivity. Read on below for our full list of the best smartphones right now.
Best phone at a glance:
- Samsung Galaxy S20 / S20 Plus
- iPhone 12 / iPhone 12 mini
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
- iPhone 12 Pro / iPhone 12 Pro Max
- OnePlus 8 Pro
- iPhone SE 2020
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
- OnePlus 8
- Google Pixel 5
- Samsung Galaxy S10e
- Google Pixel 4a
- iPhone 11
- iPhone XR
- Motorola One 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is the best phone you can buy today, while the smaller (and slightly less capable) Galaxy S20 is so similar that we've lumped to two together.
Why it's the best phone: Its the value-for-money that allows Samsung to win over Apple. The S20 Plus starts at $1,199 and the S20 starts at $999. Yes, it's a price increase from the S10 Plus (and now matches what you'll pay for the Pro-level iPhones), but you're getting bigger screens, more internal storage, a microSD card slot for expandable storage and 5G – things that you won't find on Samsung's closest competitor.
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 new on the S20 is 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.