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Best Android phones 2021: which Google-powered phone should you buy?

The best Android phones including Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, OnePlus 9 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (left), Samsung Galaxy S21 and OnePlus 9 Pro (Image credit: Samsung, OnePlus)

There are a huge number of Android handsets, so picking out the best Android phones can be tricky, but our guide is here to help, as we've highlighted the best of the best.

We've ranked our selection in order of preference, and included an overview and specs list for each, plus an at-a-glance look at their best and worst aspects, so you can more easily make a buying decision.

Don't just grab the number one entry, as another phone here might be better for you - consider what you need from a smartphone, and how much you want to spend. As these are the best models they also tend to be expensive, but there are sometimes exceptions.

So have a read through and you’re sure to find something that will catch your eye, but if not, it’s worth also checking out our best smartphone, best iPhone and best cheap phone guides. Make sure to check back soon too, as new Android phones are being added all the time.

Before you make a purchase though, remember that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up at the end of November. We have gathered together a list of the best phone Black Friday deals so you can save on your new purchase. We also have the best sim only Black Friday deals too. 

Best Android phones 2021: which is for you?

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best Android phone

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 Samsung’s top, premium flagship for 2021, and what a phone it is. For the first time Samsung has offered S Pen support on an S-range handset here, meaning that you can optionally get the Galaxy Note range’s best feature.

But even without that, this is a stunning handset, with a brilliant quad-lens camera capable of 10x optical zoom. In fact, in our review we called it the best camera zoom on any readily available Android phone.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also looks great, with a smooth Gorilla Glass back that has a matte finish that looks better than the reflective Galaxy S20 range, while around the front there’s a curved edge-to-edge 6.8-inch screen.

And speaking of that screen, for the first time on a Samsung phone you get both a QHD+ resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate at the same time. And being a high-end Samsung screen this is one of the best around.

There’s also oodles of power of course, and while obviously very expensive, this actually has a cheaper starting price than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra did at launch.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

OnePlus 9 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The best Android phone for ultra-wide shots

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
-High price - but worth it-No microSD support

There was a time when OnePlus phones cut a few corners to achieve a lower price than rivals, but that’s no longer the case with the OnePlus 9 Pro. While it’s still slightly cheaper than most comparable handsets, it’s a top phone in every way.

As well as having a big, sharp and all-round high-quality 120Hz screen, top-end power from its Snapdragon 888 chipset, a big battery with fast charging whether wired or wireless (at 65W and 50W respectively), and a premium metal and glass build – with water resistance, it’s also by far the best OnePlus camera phone.

This is notable as it’s an area the company has previously struggled to compete in, but the OnePlus 9 Pro is the first fruit of a new partnership with Hasselblad, and the camera brand’s expertise shows, leaving us impressed in our review.

All this high-end tech does mean the OnePlus 9 Pro is more expensive than the range used to be, and that’s the main point against it, but it’s hard to argue you’re not getting your money’s worth.

Read more: OnePlus 9 Pro review

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best affordable flagship

Specifications
Release date: January 2021
Weight: 169
Dimensions: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.2-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
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 is the most basic and affordable of the Galaxy S21 range, but it has a lot going for it beyond its relatively low price.

The triple-lens camera is highly versatile, including the three core lenses that we’d expect from a premium smartphone – namely a main one, a telephoto, and an ultra-wide. They all perform well too in our experience.

There’s also high-end power, solid battery life, and an AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. At 6.2 inches it’s also a lot more compact than the rest of the S21 range, so it’s ideal if you don’t want a massive phone.

And beyond being the most affordable of the range, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is actually a step down in price from its predecessor, so it’s a bit of a bargain – though to achieve that the screen resolution has been dropped to Full HD+, and the back of the phone is ‘Glasstic’ rather than actual glass.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 review

Xiaomi Mi 11

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

The best Android phone for telemacro photography

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 196g
Dimensions: 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.6mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Battery: 4,600mAh
Rear camera: 108MP + 13MP + 5MP
Front camera: 20MP
Reasons to buy
+Great photography modes+Fast performance
Reasons to avoid
-Temperamental fingerprint scanner-Weak battery life

The Xiaomi Mi 11 isn’t even the top of the Mi 11 range – that’s the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, but it’s still a top Android phone, benefiting from high-end power and a highly capable camera.

There’s a 108MP f/1.9 main lens and a 13MP f/2.4 ultra-wide, both of which perform well, but the camera highlight is actually its 5MP telemacro snapper, which we found to be far better than the macro cameras on most phones, and it functions from further away from the subject.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 also has a great 6.81-inch 1440 x 3200 AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, and a battery that charges fast both wired and wireless.

The actual battery life wasn’t amazing in our tests, and we’d have liked to see a telephoto camera included, but otherwise the Xiaomi Mi 11 is a great flagship.

Read more: Xiaomi Mi 11 review

Oppo Find X3 Pro

(Image credit: Oppo)

The best Android phone for macro photography

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 193g
Dimensions: 163.6 x 74 x 8.3mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3216
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 50MP + 13MP + 50MP + 3MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic cameras+Good-looking display
Reasons to avoid
-Design downgrade-No periscope camera

If not for its very high price the Oppo Find X3 Pro might rank even higher on this list, but as it stands this remains an excellent phone, even if it’s arguably not excellent value.

It has the basics that you’d expect from a top-end handset, including a big, high resolution, 120Hz screen, a top-end chipset, lots of RAM, a large battery that charges fast (at 65W wired or 30W wireless), water resistance, and a premium build, complete with a slightly more eye-catching camera block design than most.

Speaking of the camera, that’s a quad-lens one, with a 50MP f/1.8 main, 50MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, 13MP f/2.4 telephoto (with 2x optical zoom), and 3MP f/3.0 macro.

That macro snapper might sound a bit throwaway, but in fact it’s what Oppo calls a ‘microlens’, designed for taking incredibly close-up photos that are more like a microscope image than a typical macro one. 

It’s a neat feature that you won’t find on other phones at the time of writing, and we enjoyed using it, so this is one of the main reasons to consider paying the high price this phone costs.

Read more: Oppo Find X3 Pro review

A Google Pixel 6 Pro against a white background

(Image credit: Google)

The best phone for pure Android

Specifications
Release date: October 2021
Weight: 210g
Dimensions: 163.9 x 75.9 x 8.9mm
OS: Android 12
Screen size: 6.71-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3120
CPU: Google Tensor
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,003mAh
Rear camera: 50MP + 48MP + 12MP
Front camera: 11.1MP
Reasons to buy
+Multitalented camera+Big and beautiful screen
Reasons to avoid
-Contentious design-Average battery life

The Google Pixel 6 Pro is the most high-end phone Google has ever made, packing a 6.7-inch QHD+ display which we found to be crisp and impressively bright. It also has a highly capable triple-lens camera, with a 50MP main sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide and a 48MP telephoto (sporting 4x optical zoom).

Then there’s its Google Tensor chipset, which is custom silicon designed specifically for the Pixel 6 range, and capable of delivering very smooth performance – though in benchmarks it ranks below the top Android chipsets like the Snapdragon 888.

Other highlights include Android 12 software out of the box, and a unique – if divisive – design. The Pixel 6 Pro’s battery life could be better, but as a showcase for Android it’s an impressive handset.

Read more: Google Pixel 6 Pro review

Realme GT

(Image credit: Realme)

The best relatively cheap Android phone

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 186g
Dimensions: 158.5 x 73.3 x 9.1mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.43-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+Distinctive design+Low price
Reasons to avoid
-Cameras are only okay-Software issues

Realme's first-ever phone in our ranking of the best Android phones is the Realme GT, a low-cost powerhouse with some incredibly impressive specs given the low price.

The phone boasts the powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset, 65W wired charging, and a Super AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate.

The best part of the phone is its design, a fact you're probably already aware of since you scrolled down past the picture. With a vibrant faux-leather rear, broken up by a racing-stripe black streak, the phone is quite the eye-catcher.

While the phone doesn't have all the top specs other models on this list do, and we found photos sometimes came out oversharpened or overexposed, its low price offsets that. If you don't want to pay the price of a super-powerful Android phone, this is a great alternative.

Read more: Realme GT review

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best older Android flagships

Specifications
Release date: March 2020
Weight: 163g/186g
Dimensions: 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm/161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.2-inch/6.7-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Snapdragon 865 / Exynos 990
RAM: 8GB/12GB
Storage: 128GB (S20) or 128GB/256GB/512GB (S20 Plus)
Battery: 4,000mAh/4500mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Great screen+Excellent cameras
Reasons to avoid
-No 3.5mm headphone port-Iterative improvements

The Samsung Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus are – along with the Galaxy S20 Ultra – Samsung’s main 2020 flagship phones, so it’s no wonder they make this list.

While the S20 Plus has a slight specs edge, thanks to a larger 6.7-inch screen, a bigger 4,500mAh battery, a fourth camera lens (for depth-sensing) and optionally more storage, they’re largely very similar phones, so they’re fit to share the same spot.

Both have a highly capable camera array, with 12MP standard, 12MP ultra-wide, and 64MP telephoto sensors, and both also have high-end power, thanks to a Snapdragon 865 or Exynos 990 chipset (depending on where in the world you are) and up to 12GB of RAM.

They also both have a stunning 1440 x 3200 display with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. Indeed, the screens and cameras particularly impressed us in our reviews. The design is premium too, and they’re both packed full of features, like reverse wireless charging, 5G, an in-screen fingerprint scanner, and water resistance. They might not quite be the very best anymore, but they’re not far off.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S20 review and Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The best Android phone for a flagship feel at a lower cost

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 192g
Dimensions: 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.55-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 50MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+Great specs for the cost+Good camera
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto camera-Lack of flagship-material polish

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, so it remains one of the best Android phones.

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.

The OnePlus 9 also has just as much power as the 9 Pro (or for that matter as pretty much any other early 2021 flagship), and while its screen is a step down it’s still great – it’s a 6.55-inch FHD+ display with a 120Hz refresh rate.

The battery charges quickly (at 65W), plus there’s an in-screen fingerprint scanner, and a glass back – which even the Galaxy S21 doesn’t have. The OnePlus 9 does settle for a plastic frame, which we were slightly disappointed by, but that’s arguably less noticeable than a plastic rear, and you’re unlikely to feel short-changed by the phone.

Read more: OnePlus 9 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best Android phone for productivity

Specifications
Release date: August 2020
Weight: 208g
Dimensions: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.9-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3088
CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus / Exynos 990
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 108MP, 12MP, 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Useful S Pen features+Great-looking screen
Reasons to avoid
-Slow charging-Expensive, but reasonable value

Samsung's latest super-premium Note smartphone is the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, with advanced features, a great-looking screen, and special features for the S Pen stylus which comes included in the phone, that give you added versatile ways to use your device.

Sure it's expensive, and pretty huge, and doesn't actually have all the bells and whistles of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. But those weaknesses are made up for with plenty of advantages that make it a top Android phone.

This is a real top-end phone with impressive specs in every sector (we were particularly impressed with the screen and the camera), so if your budget (and hand) can stretch to it, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may really be one worth considering.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

How we tested

Every phone in this list has been put through a rigorous review in which we tested every aspect of it. That allows us to say with confidence which Android phones are the best, and how they compare to each other.

What should I look for when choosing an Android phone?

Screen size and resolution, battery life, power, camera performance and price tend to be the main things to consider when buying an Android phone. The best ones will excel in most or all areas - but often at a high price. And when it comes to the screen, bigger isn't always better. If you have small hands or want to use your phone one-handed, then you may want to consider something more compact.

Which Android phone brand is the best?

No one Android phone brand is definitively the best, but Samsung's flagships tend to be among the very best Android phones. However, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Oppo and others often bring out great phones too.

James Peckham

James is Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He has also worked on other leading tech brands, such as T3 and Gizmodo UK, as well as appearing as an expert on TV and radio for the BBC and other publications. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all the latest smartphone news.