The Best Phones in 2021

The Best Phones in 2021
Which is the best phone to buy right now, in early 2021? Unsurprisingly, mostly 2020 phones, but not for long! The Galaxy S21 series is now out, so are the new OnePlus 9 models. You can confidently say that 2021 is already looking good for smartphones.

From great Android phones to the latest iPhones, plus a few different options for those who don't want to settle, we walk you through the very best handsets available on the market with all of their pros and cons. 

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With no further ado, here are the best phones you can buy right now.

Best phones of 2021:





Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max


Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
9.0

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max


The Good

  • Largest, toughest display on an iPhone
  • The best camera set on an iPhone
  • Double the base storage of its predecessor
  • Futureproof 5G support with bands record
  • Best water-resistance on a general purpose phone

The Bad

  • Static 60Hz display refresh on a $1099 phone
  • Blocky and heavy compared to its peers
  • Expensive $599 body repair if you crack the rear
  • No power adapter in the box, slow charging

If money is no object and you want an iPhone, the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best one you can get. It features one of the best displays in its class: its 6.7-inch screen has excellent pixel density and color calibration, and peaks at a whopping 1200nits of brightness, making it easy to discern outdoors. It also has the fastest chip on any smartphone as of now.

The camera has also improved like every year and this time around one of the major new features is Dolby Vision HDR video. Apart from the professional-looking 4K video footage and the crazy-fast chip to process it, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the first iPhone to use “sensor-shift” stabilization for taking photos, meaning images in low-light conditions are clearer. The iPhone 12 Pro Max comes with the familiar iOS interface and the beautiful Apple ecosystem, coupled with the typical for Apple 5 years of software updates, making sure the phone will remain fast even after years of use.


Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra


Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
9.1

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra


The Good

  • The longest, cleanest zoom on a phone, and most versatile camera set
  • The best battery life in its class
  • Brightest display with the most granular adaptive refresh rate
  • Stylish Contour Cut design and richer variety of colors
  • Unique 12-bit color RAW capture at 108MP
  • S Pen stylus support
  • Next-gen Wi-fi 6E standard support

The Bad

  • Still big and bulky to carry and use, especially with an S Pen case on
  • $1200 gets you just 128GB, no charger, earbuds, or memory card slot
  • The new ultrasonic finger scanner is still comparatively slow
  • Softness in the main camera sample edges

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra stands at the top of the Android food chain. It is equipped with the newest LTPO OLED display technology that allowed for both the record 1500 nits of peak brightness, 15% less battery consumption than what's on the S21/S21+, and the dynamically-allocated refresh rate that can go down to 10Hz when you are looking at static images, or go all the way up to 120Hz when you scroll.

If you thought that the camera system in the Galaxy S20 Ultra was good, think again. The Galaxy S21 Ultra takes things further, or should we say brings them closer - thanks to the two dedicated zoom cameras you get the longest, cleanest zoom on a phone. The Galaxy S21 Ultra also comes equipped with the latest and most powerful chip by Qualcomm, the new Snapdragon 888. 

The S21 Ultra is sporting the same 5000mAh battery piece as the S20 Ultra, and the same high display pixel density, but the variable display refresh rate alone results in a 15-20% diminished power draw. When you factor in the new and more efficient 5nm chipset, the end result is a phone with one of the longest battery endurance in its class. Last but not least, the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports the S-Pen, so Galaxy Note fans will feel at home with this phone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra


Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
9.3

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra


The Good

  • Beautiful styling, luxurious feel
  • Super smooth and snappy performance
  • Excellent camera quality for both photos and videos (auto-focus issue is fixed)
  • The biggest improvement to the S Pen so far
  • Outstanding 6.9” AMOLED screen
  • Cool features like Wireless DeX

The Bad

  • $1,300 starting price is a bit too much
  • Gigantic size might be a turn off for some, no smaller model available
  • Battery life is just okay, 120Hz takes a toll
  • No headphones in the box

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the new super-premium S Pen-wielding smartphone by Samsung. It’s an extra large phone with a huge camera bump, plus it’s heavier than before and it barely fits in a pocket. If you like a big phone, though, this one is among the best: it has a luxurious feel, and it features a new toughened glass that can theoretically survive a head-high drop. The 6.9-inch screen is class-leading and features a 120Hz refresh rate for a buttery smooth experience. Under the hood, the Note 20 Ultra is the equivalent of a muscle car: Snapdragon 865+ is perfect for gaming, and you have 12GB of RAM for effortless multitasking. Camera quality is also excellent and you have up to 50X zoom. Battery life, however, is just good, not quite great. You will need to charge it every night.

Last but not least, at $1,300 we feel the price is a bit too high, but Samsung often runs deals, and chances are that you will be able to get it for less. S Pen lovers won’t be disappointed, but those looking for the best value-for-money or for a more compact phone might want to look elsewhere.

OnePlus 9


OnePlus 9
9.0

OnePlus 9


The Good

  • Pretty, functional design, solid build
  • Beautiful screen
  • Fast performance
  • No-nonsense user interface

The Bad

  • Camera was a bit of a letdown
  • Speakers are shrill

The OnePlus 9 is not as flashy as the Pro, but it has all the basics down — a super-snappy performance, powered by top-tier hardware, clean software experience, beautiful 120 Hz AMOLED screen, and a pretty good camera. What makes the OnePlus 9 a true contender is its price tag — $729.

Its drawbacks include a plastic frame and the fact that the camera is outperformed by the Galaxy S21, which is within the same price range. But the OnePlus 9 can still stand on its own two feet and is worth looking twice at.

Read more: OnePlus 9 review

Apple iPhone 12 mini


Apple iPhone 12 mini
9.0

Apple iPhone 12 mini


The Good

  • Tiny, cute, pocketable, comfortable
  • Same great display as all iPhone 12 series
  • Same great camera as iPhone 12
  • MagSafe is cool and has potential
  • Fast performance, lots of headroom

The Bad

  • The camera module looks a bit goofy on a mini phone
  • No charger, no headphones in the box
  • Battery can drain fast
  • 64 GB starting storage is OK, but feels a bit stingy
  • 60 Hz refresh rate

The Apple iPhone 12 mini is the best compact phone that you can get right now. It features the iPhone 12's blazing-fast processor and camera system, and it comes at a reasonable starting price of $700. Its 5.4-inch display is OLED with excellent colors and brightness, and its thin and compact body makes it perfect to use with one hand and very easy to carry in most pockets.

If you want a compact phone with top-notch performance and an excellent camera system, the iPhone 12 mini is the one for you. Like any other iPhone, it comes with 5 years of software updates to make sure it’s still fast after years of use.

Read more: Apple iPhone 12 mini review

Samsung Galaxy A52


Samsung Galaxy A52
9.0

Samsung Galaxy A52


The Good

  • Beautiful, big, 90 Hz AMOLED screen
  • Good camera, OIS helps a lot
  • Stereo speakers sound good
  • Heyyy, headphone jack

The Bad

  • All around plastic
  • A bit bulky
  • Performance can have a few hiccups

Samsung really pulled all the stops when refreshing its midrange Galaxy A series this year. The Galaxy A52 comes with a 90 Hz Super AMOLED screen, stereo speakers, which can sound quite nice, and a camera that's quite the performer. The main sensor has an optical image stabilizer-equipped module, which is rare to see on midrange phones. It comes in a few fun, fresh colors. On top of providing a core smartphone experience, it is also ready to welcome you to the Samsung ecosystem with the full featureset of the Samsung SmartThings app being available out of the box.


Motorola One 5G Ace


Motorola One 5G Ace
8.4

Motorola One 5G Ace


The Good

  • Great value for a 5G phone
  • Snappy performance
  • Good camera quality
  • Excellent battery life

The Bad

  • Macro lens doesn’t add much value
  • Build could be sturdier

Motorola has always been the smartphone fans' sweetheart because it can really churn out some solid midrangers at pretty reasonable prices. The Moto One 5G Ace stays true to this formula and aims to bring 5G to the masses. It still has its signature snappy performance, competent camera, and great battery that Moto phones are known for. Its screen may not be a jewel, but for $350, the Moto One 5G Ace offers quite a bit of value.


Apple iPhone SE (2020)


Apple iPhone SE (2020)
9.0

Apple iPhone SE (2020)


The Good

  • Unmatched performance
  • Impressive image quality, industry-leading 4K video capture
  • Great price
  • Compact form factor, easy to use with one hand
  • iOS and the ecosystem (AirPods, Apple Watch, etc)
  • Support for wireless charging

The Bad

  • Mediocre battery life
  • Dated look on the front with big bezels
  • Only one small size that won’t fit everyone (no Plus model)
  • Slow 5W charger in the box
  • No Night Mode, no telephoto camera, no ultra-wide camera

The AppleiPhone SE (2020) might look just like the iPhone 8 and for that matter even the iPhone 6, but look under the hood, and it comes with an Apple A13 Bionic chip, more powerful than on Android flagships. It also comes with a single camera, but one that has been fine tuned to capture brilliant looking photos and 4K video recording quality is far above what you typically see in a $400 phone. Add to that the value of the iOS ecosystem, and you can understand while many users will be tempted by the new SE despite its lackluster battery life.

Read more: Apple iPhone SE (2020) review

Google Pixel 4a


Google Pixel 4a
9.1

Google Pixel 4a


The Good

  • Top-notch still photo quality
  • Polished software and user experience
  • Lightweight design
  • Smooth performance
  • Excellent value

The Bad

  • No wireless charging or 5G support (for now)
  • Plasticky build
  • No waterproofing


The GooglePixel 4a follows up on the popularity of the affordable Pixel 3a, which brought most of Android best at a competitive price point. Last year’s midrange 4a is still a great deal, with Google bringing a surprising amount of polish for just $350. Between its excellent camera, good display, and competent specs, the Pixel 4a is an incredible value and a triumphant addition to Google’s smartphone legacy.

And if you want 5G connectivity and slightly beefier specs, you can always go for the Google Pixel 4a 5G.

Read more: Google Pixel 4a review
 

Related phones

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
  • Display 6.9 inches 3088 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 108 MP (Triple camera) 10 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ 12GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 4500 mAh
  • OS Android 11 Samsung One UI
Pixel 4a

PhoneArena Score:

9.1

User Score:

9.0
  • Display 5.8 inches 2340 x 1080 pixels
  • Camera 12.2 MP (Single camera) 8 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G 6GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, not expandable
  • Battery 3140 mAh
  • OS Android 11
iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • Display 6.7 inches 2778 x 1284 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Triple camera) 12 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A14 Bionic 6GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, not expandable
  • Battery 3687 mAh
  • OS iOS 14.x
iPhone 12 mini
  • Display 5.4 inches 2340 x 1080 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Dual camera) 12 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A14 Bionic 4GB RAM
  • Storage 64GB, not expandable
  • Battery 2227 mAh
  • OS iOS 14.x
Nord
  • Display 6.4 inches 2400 x 1080 pixels
  • Camera 48 MP (Quad camera) 32 MP front
  • Hardware Snapdragon 765G 8GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, not expandable
  • Battery 4115 mAh
  • OS Android 10
Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Display 6.8 inches 3200 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 108 MP (Quad camera) 40 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 12GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, not expandable
  • Battery 5000 mAh
  • OS Android 11 Samsung One UI

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