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Best phone 2021: the top 15 smartphones you can buy in the US right now

Included in this guide:

The OnePlus 9 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra all feature in our best phone list
The OnePlus 9 Pro (left) iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra all feature in our best phone list (Image credit: OnePlus, Apple, Samsung)

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 and many 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 13, OnePlus 9 Pro iPhone 13 Pro or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which we've found to be 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 making our list for the value it provides. Some phones even debuted at a notably cheaper price than competitors, like the Google Pixel 6 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 particular cell phone plan may sway your preference; especially since certain carriers often provide especially good cell phone deals for certain handsets, 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 before committing to a phone you'll likely use for years.

With the Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro officially out, we've seen most of the upcoming new phones that will come out in 2021, so our list is pretty complete until new phones start launching in 2022, starting with the expected Samsung Galaxy S22. Apple also recently launched the iPhone 13 mini, and that may appear in this list once we've fully reviewed it.

Black Friday 2021 is in full swing, so it's the perfect time of year for you to buy a new smartphone. We've collected together all the best iPhone Black Friday deals, the best phone Black Friday deals and many more so you can make the right pick when upgrading. Now, let's get into the full ranking.

Best phone 2021: which smartphone is for you?

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra from the front and back with its screen on

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image credit: Samsung)

A top tier smartphone, and it takes our best crown

Specifications
Release date: January 2021
Weight: 227g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 12GB / 16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP
Front camera: 40MP
Reasons to buy
+The best camera zoom+Mesmerizing design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive at any level-No microSD card slot

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.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Price comparison:
The best Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra deals

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An iPhone 13 Pro in blue, against a white background

The iPhone 13 Pro (Image credit: Apple)
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An iPhone 13 Pro Max in gold, against a white background

The iPhone 13 Pro Max (Image credit: Apple)

The best iPhones

Specifications
Release date: September 2021
Weight: 204g / 240g
Dimensions: 146.7mm x 71.5mm x 7.7mm / 160.8mm x 78.1mm x 7.7mm
OS: iOS 15
Screen size: 6.1-inch / 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1170 x 2532 / 1284 x 2778
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB
Battery: 3,095mAh / 4,352mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Great performance+Strong battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Limited design changes-Notch still too large

The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max are the best iPhones available at the time of writing, offering more power than ever before, improved cameras, 120Hz refresh rates and surprisingly good battery life.

Why they're ranked 2nd: While the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max are the best iPhones, they’re slightly topped by the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which has a better design and a more versatile camera, but these phones come very close, and are the obvious choice for iPhone fans. With a higher refresh rate than the iPhone 12 range, a new macro mode and a smaller notch, they aren’t the biggest upgrades but they’re undeniably great.

Screen: Whether you choose the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro or 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max you’re getting a sharp OLED screen with a 120Hz variable refresh rate. The continued presence of the notch is annoying, but it’s slightly smaller this time and easy to ignore, especially once you see the overall quality of the display.

Battery life: Apple has outdone itself with the battery life on the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which is genuinely great, rather than just being great for an iPhone. The iPhone 13 Pro’s isn’t quite as good, but it’s still decent and an upgrade on the iPhone 12 Pro’s life.

Camera: The iPhone 13 Pro range includes the same lens types as last year, but with larger pixels and new modes, including an impressive macro mode, and a slightly less significant Cinematic mode. Between all this and their improved low light performance, these cameras are ace.

Read more: iPhone 13 Pro review | iPhone 13 Pro Max review
Price comparison: The best iPhone 13 Pro deals
The best iPhone 13 Pro Max deals

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Samsung Galaxy S21

The Samsung Galaxy S21 (Image credit: Samsung)
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Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (Image credit: Samsung)

Not the best of the S series, but nevertheless great

Specifications
Release date: January 2021
Weight: 169g/200g
Dimensions: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm / 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.2-inch / 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh / 4,800mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic, versatile camera+Cheaper than the Galaxy S20
Reasons to avoid
-No microSD support-Screen isn’t the best

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.

Read more: Galaxy S21 review | Galaxy S21 Plus review
Price comparison: The best Samsung Galaxy S21 deals
The best Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus deals

An iPhone 13 against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

The best Apple iPhone bang for your buck

Specifications
Release date: September 2021
Weight: 174g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm
OS: iOS 15
Screen size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1170 x 2532
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: Up to 19 hours
Rear camera: 12MP+12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Strong battery life+Powerful internals
Reasons to avoid
-Minimal design changes-No 120Hz screen

The iPhone 13 isn’t as big an upgrade as the iPhone 13 Pro, as it lacks a 120Hz refresh rate, but with oodles of power and good battery life it’s a strong choice if you don’t have a fortune to spend.

Why it’s ranked 4th: The iPhone 13 Pro / Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S21 range have the edge over the iPhone 13 when it comes to specs and features, but this standard iPhone model comes close to matching them, especially when it comes to battery life. And actually it probably has slightly more power than its Android rivals.

Screen: With its 6.1-inch 1170 x 2532 OLED display, the iPhone 13 has a bright and clear screen. It doesn’t have a 120Hz refresh rate, but it does at least have a slightly smaller notch than the iPhone 12.

Battery life: In our tests the iPhone 13 reliably lasted through a day of use, but not much more. That puts it in fairly average territory, yet it’s still an improvement on many previous iPhones here.

Camera: The iPhone 13 lacks a telephoto camera, but its main and ultra-wide perform well, with the former having larger pixels than the iPhone 12’s. With improved image stabilization too, plus some new shooting modes and features, there’s a lot to play with here, and a lot to like.

Read more: iPhone 13 review
Price comparison: The best iPhone 13 deals

Google Pixel 6 Pro review

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The best photo capability

Specifications
Release date: October 2021
Weight: 207g / 210g
Dimensions: 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm / 163.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm
OS: Android 12
Screen size: 6.4-inch / 6.7-inch
Resolution: 2400 x 1080 / 3120 x 1440
CPU: Google Tensor
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB (6 Pro only)
Battery: 4614mAh / 5000mAh
Rear camera: 50MP + 12MP / + 48MP (6 Pro only)
Front camera: 8MP / 11MP
Reasons to buy
+New design looks classy+Cameras and software are incredible+Great displays
Reasons to avoid
-Middling battery-Pixel 6 price fluctuates by carrier-Pro priced high for extras

The Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro came out in October 2021 to much fanfare over its new Google-designed Tensor chipset, which the company alleged would enable incredible AI software performance. While we were too quick to expect Apple A-series Bionic levels of performance from Tensor – both Pixel 6 and 6 Pro benchmarks are well below iPhone 13 and Samsung S21 levels – the cameras take the most color- and light-balanced photos we've ever seen from a smartphone.

Why it's 5th: The Pixel 6 phones are a real step up from the Pixel 5, but there are still some things that keep it from the top, like middling battery life and a divisive physical redesign. Both phones have their audience, though: the Pixel 6 at its lowest price (which varies between carriers) is cheaper than the iPhone 13 mini and Samsung S21, while the Pixel 6 Pro has premium perks like a periscope telephoto lens, a QHD screen, and an ultrawide selfie camera, all cheaper than the iPhone 13 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus. But both phones' 50MP main camera and Google's photo software (with even more neat tricks) can't be beat.

Screen: The Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch OLED screen with Full HD Plus (2400 x 1080) resolution, with a 90Hz refresh rate for smoother app browsing and gaming. The Pixel 6 Pro bumps that up to 6.7 inches with QHD (3120 x 1440) and 120Hz refresh rate for a sharper picture, but you'd only notice if comparing side by side. 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, but don't expect more than a day's battery life out of either phone. The Pixel 6 packs a 4,614mAh battery, while the Pixel 6 Pro has a 5,000mAh battery, but don't expect too much difference thanks to the larger display. Yes, there are battery-saving settings to eke out more life, and the 30W charger is an improvement over its predecessors, but it's lower than the 65W chargers that work with the OnePlus 9, for instance. Wireless charging maxes out at a respectable 21W, but only with Google's first-party charger.

Camera: The Pixel 6's cameras are its best selling point. The main camera has finally been improved with a 50MP shooter which, combined with Google's photo software, results in incredibly true-to-life photos. The 12MP ultra-wide feels better aligned with the photo capabilities of the main camera (they take similar photos), and if you opt for the Pixel 6 Pro, you'll get a periscope telephoto capable of 4x optical zoom for some truly great distance photos. The Pro also swaps the 8MP selfie camera (with 84-degree field of view) for an 11MP front-facing camera (94-degree field of view) for an ultra-wide effect. The Tensor chipset and AI software have new tricks, like erasing unwanted objects and capturing motion blur around a still subject, along with the best Night Mode we've seen.

Read our Google Pixel 6 review / Google Pixel 6 Pro review

OnePlus 9 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

A giant leap for OnePlus photography

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 197g
Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3216
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 50MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+The best OnePlus camera phone+Great power
Reasons to avoid
-Highest price for a OnePlus-No microSD support

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 6th: 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.

Read more: OnePlus 9 Pro review
Price comparison: The best OnePlus 9 Pro deals