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Best smartphone 2021: the 15 top mobile phones tested and ranked

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)

Whether you're looking to buy a new smartphone for yourself or to gift to someone, this ranking of the best phones out there will help you find the best mobile for the job. We review a huge variety of smartphones from the newest iPhones to cutting-edge Android handsets and found the very best for this list

If you already have your mobile operating system allegiance set, you may want to check out either our ranking of the best Android phones or best iPhones. If what's on offer in our best smartphone list is a little too pricey for your taste, then you may want to check out our ranking of the best cheap phones

Our best smartphone list has undergone some major changes over the last year with the introduction of the likes of the Google Pixel 6, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, OnePlus 9 Pro, Oppo Find X3 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

There are always upcoming new phones too, with the Samsung Galaxy S22, Xiaomi 12, OnePlus 10, Oppo Find X4 and more likely to appear in the next few months, so expect this list to keep being updated.

We test these phones rigorously through our review process, making sure that we check every angle and feature - but most importantly, considering whether they've got a decent battery, great screen, strong design and a cracking camera.

Then, perhaps most importantly, we consider the price too. Not everyone can afford (or even wants) a supercar-like handset in their pocket at all times, so we've ensured to give you a 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, and we think it's a fantastic choice for you with one of the best cameras, 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, the price is high for this one, 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.

It 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.

The battery life is also solid, and we found it'd often see us through a whole day from a full charge. Note the 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.

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 cameras working to do the heavy lifting.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra won't be for everyone with its high price, but it's the ultimate smartphone you can buy right now taking our crown for the best smartphone money can buy. Be sure to read our full review before making your final decision, but if you're after one of the best overall smartphone experiences we believe you'll find it here with Samsung's latest.

Read more: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

The OnePlus 9 Pro on a white background showing the front and back of the handset

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+Very powerful phone
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for OnePlus-No microSD support

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a top-tier flagship phone and one that improves on the main weakness of previous OnePlus handsets – their cameras. This is a phone that can compete with the other best phones, and some may even prefer its camera to the other phones on this list.

It has a 6.7-inch screen, which will likely impress you with its '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.

It doesn't offer the absolute best battery life we've seen on a smartphone, but it features a 4,500mAh cell that is set to last you a full day from a single charge. It also has great fast charging and wireless charging features.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Read more: iPhone 13 review
Price comparison: The best iPhone 13 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 Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus aren't the height of spec and prowess as its predecessors used to be - the Samsung Galaxy S20 used to sit at the top of this list - and instead Samsung's Ultra handset is taking the limelight.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 and its bigger sibling are trying to do something differently, and both are remarkably cheaper than the Galaxy S20 range was at launch. Both still offer a phenomenal smartphone experience, and with a lower price it'll be a top choice for many.

Much has been said about Samsung's switch to Full HD for the Galaxy S21, 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 and if you're after a larger option you'll find the Plus is built for you with its 6.7-inch screen.

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. We found the S21 Plus offers the longer battery life though with its 4,800mAh cell.

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.

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 need a slightly longer lasting battery and a larger display, also consider the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (even though its specs are remarkably similar).

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

Xiaomi Mi 11

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

Xiaomi's 2021 flagship

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 is the culmination of years of progress from the company, and it's the highest we've ever seen a smartphone from the manufacturer sit in this list of the top phones.

You'll get everything from a top-end processor, a phenomenal display, a power rear camera and much more in the Xiaomi Mi 11.

There's a 6.81-inch display on the Xiaomi Mi 11, and it has a top resolution of 1440 x 3200. This AMOLED panel is one of our favorites on smartphones right now, and it features a 120Hz refresh rate meaning gaming and more is super smooth.

The camera on the Xiaomi Mi 11 sounds great on paper, and while it may not as powerful as we had expected in real life it's a versatile shooter with a 108MP f/1.9 main lens and a 13MP f/2.4 ultra-wide backing it up. There's no telephoto shooter here, though.

The battery life is one of the weaker areas for the Mi 11, but it's not atrocious and we found the phone's 4,600mAh cell would last a full day of normal usage. If you're expecting to use your phone considerably more, you may want to look elsewhere on this list.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is a great alternative to the normal names you'd expect in this ranking of the very best smartphones. Battery life isn't the best, and there's no telephoto camera but if you're okay with those concessions you may find the Mi 11 is built for you.

Read more: Xiaomi Mi 11 review

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A Google Pixel 6 against a white background

The Google Pixel 6 (Image credit: Google)
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A Google Pixel 6 Pro against a white background

The Google Pixel 6 Pro (Image credit: Google)

The best phones for pure Android

Specifications
Release date: October 2021
Weight: 207g / 210g
Dimensions: 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm / 163.9 x 75.9 x 8.9mm
OS: Android 12
Screen size: 6.4-inch / 6.71-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400 / 1440 x 3120
CPU: Google Tensor
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 4,614mAh / 5,003mAh
Rear camera: 50MP + 12MP / 50MP +48MP + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP / 11.1MP
Reasons to buy
+Multitalented camera+Big and beautiful screen
Reasons to avoid
-Contentious design-Average battery life

The Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the most exciting phones Google has launched in a long time, or arguably ever.

They both have a design that’s unlike any other phones, with a large camera visor and a three-tone color scheme, and they’re just as interesting on the inside, with a Google Tensor chipset that’s been designed and built specifically for these handsets.

Both also excel for taking photos, with a 50MP main and 12MP ultra-wide snapper – along with a 48MP telephoto camera offering 4x optical zoom in the Pixel 6 Pro’s case.

And speaking of the Pixel 6 Pro, this is a true flagship, with a 6.7-inch QHD+ 120Hz screen and 12GB of RAM. The standard Pixel 6 has slightly lesser specs, but also comes in at temptingly affordable price, and both phones run Android 12, with Google’s vision of the software intact.

So they’re a great showcase for Android, but middling battery lives and a chipset that’s not quite a match for rivals in benchmarks stops them ranking higher on this list.

Read more: Google Pixel 6 review | Google Pixel 6 Pro review

Oppo Find X3 Pro

(Image credit: Oppo)

A premium device for a premium price

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 193g