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It’s basically impossible to make a bad choice when you’re shopping for a new smartphone these days. Pretty much every product you can buy will deliver a stellar performance, take great photos, and stay powered up for a full day between charges.
But of course, the best smartphones will differ depending on what features are most important to you — such as a vibrant display, a great camera, a waterproof body, or a foldable design (which are becoming increasingly popular today). With so many important factors to consider and new designs hitting the market, we’re constantly researching and testing today’s best smartphones to see which ones are actually worth your investment.
Best Smartphones of 2021
How We Tested
We tested out every smartphone included on our list for at least a week as our daily driver. We focused on features that we know matters most to you — evaluating things like design, performance, ergonomics, and battery life. We spent hours using each smartphone to browse the web, scroll through social media feeds, crank out emails, stream music, and play video games, among many other tasks.
For our top picks that made the cut, we chose phones that, in addition to offering top-tier hardware features, have an agreeable price tag that’s well below $1,000. Regardless of your choice, every phone with a four-digit sticker is all but guaranteed to deliver great performance and a user experience to match.
What to Consider
In today’s world, a smartphone is probably your most used object, so it’s worth picking one that has everything you’re looking for. As is the case with most tech products, the more you spend on a smartphone, the better it will be. You’ll almost certainly get a faster performance, a better camera, a longer battery life, and a better overall experience. You’ll also be able to hold onto the device for a longer period of time between upgrades.
Onboard 5G network connectivity is one of the most important bits to consider when shopping for a new smartphone. The new technology brings significantly faster network speeds, as well as countless other benefits over the older 4G LTE standard.
And if you’re an Android user with a big budget, we have some exciting news: You can finally consider switching to a foldable smartphone. Samsung’s latest products in this buzzworthy category no longer require you to sacrifice durability in order to have a futuristic phone.
Learn more now about the best smartphones on the market today and find the one for you.
Note: Most phones on this list are carrier-unlocked variants, which allows you to take it with you if you ever switch carriers. Even more importantly, when it comes to Android phones, it also means that you don’t have to deal with annoying and performance-reducing carrier bloatware.
Apple’s A15 Bionic chip is the most powerful out there
Brighter screen, better camera, and longer battery life than iPhone 12
MagSafe brings compatibility with a host of convenient accessories
Apple’s iPhone 13 is the best smartphone for most buyers. Sleek design and tough build? It has them. The most powerful chip in the business and 5G? You bet they’re on board. An excellent dual camera, a captivating Super Retina OLED display flanked by stereo speakers, and stellar battery life? Check, check, and check.
Compared to the iPhone 12, the iPhone 13 not only has more graphics and processing power, but also a better camera, a brighter display, and longer battery life. The camera upgrade is noteworthy, because in addition to a new layout, it includes larger sensors and sensor-shift optical image stabilization — which delivers a big upgrade to the photos you capture.
Powered by iOS 15, the iPhone 13 has a platform that’s as futureproof as its hardware. Its dual camera is superb and intuitive to use, too. It can capture beautiful photos, as well as Dolby Vision-enhanced 4K video.
And then there’s MagSafe to consider. The tech makes the iPhone compatible with an eclectic selection of cases, chargers, and other snap-on accessories.
Apple deserves praise for doubling the storage of the entry-level iPhone 13 to 128GB without changing its sticker. You can order the product in blue, midnight, pink, starlight, and (PRODUCT)RED.
Best Android Phone
The Galaxy S21 has a powerful chip and a superb display
Its triple camera with 8K video recording is excellent
It is considerably more affordable than its predecessor
The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is the best Android phone for most consumers. It has everything you’d want from a top-shelf phone: a sleek and durable design, a fantastic display, abundant power, dependable battery life, and a sophisticated camera setup, all at an agreeable price.
Samsung’s own Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, in addition to being sharp and vibrant, has a maximum refresh rate of 120 Hz. As a result, every interaction with the S21 is smooth and enjoyable.
The triple camera of the Galaxy S21 has a high-resolution telephoto sensor and impressive zoom capabilities. They allow the phone to snap photos with a 30X zoom range — enough to capture objects way down the block. The device’s 8K video-recording capabilities are also remarkable. The clips are detail-rich, thanks to four times as many pixels as 4K video.
If you’re looking for an excellent Android phone with a bigger screen, consider the Samsung Galaxy S21+ instead. It has similar specs, but a larger 6.7-inch display and a larger battery. Both phones have Qualcomm’s range-topping chipset, more RAM than many laptop and desktop computers, high-quality stereo speakers, and a fully waterproof build.
Best Budget Smartphone
The Nord N10 5G offers top-shelf features for less
It has fast wired charging, but no wireless charging capabilities
The phone lacks an official rating for water resistance
You might not expect much from a smartphone priced below $300, but we can assure you that the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is a solid smartphone worth considering. It has everything you’d want from a great Android phone: a modern design, a big screen with thin bezels and high refresh rate, robust performance, 5G, long battery life, expandable memory, a solid camera, as well as stereo speakers and a standard audio jack.
The device’s 6.5-inch display is sharp and perfect for gaming and watching video. Its midrange Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 chipset is also impressive, which has enough oomph to make quick work of any task.
The versatile quadruple camera of the OnePlus Nord N10 5G has a 64MP main sensor, an 8MP ultra-wide snapper, a 2MP unit for capturing macro photos from an impossibly close distance, and a 2MP monochrome sensor. Its 16MP selfie camera is solid, too.
Even avid power users can expect more than a day of use before needing a power outlet or a battery pack. The phone is bundled with a rapid charger — you can expect a full charge in about an hour, or many hours’ worth of use in a matter of 10-15 minutes.
Best Foldable Phone
Samsung’s most affordable foldable smartphone
Top-tier hardware specs and a water-resistant build
The device’s dual camera lacks a zoom lens
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is the most exciting foldable smartphone yet, and the one to get if you are looking to ditch your old rectangle for something different. There’s no denying that its foldable design is a valid attention-grabber — but the gadget also has great features like a sleek design, top-tier specs, and a durable build with an IPX8 rating for water resistance.
The unique form factor of the Z Flip3 is backed by an equally impressive user interface that can take advantage of it. When not in use, the device folds in half, so it’s as easy to carry around as a smartphone can be. Its convenient external display will allow you keep tabs on time and important notifications without the need to unfold it every single time.
A sub-$1,000 starting price tag makes the Z Flip3 even more exciting. The foldable smartphone costs just as much as the traditional top-shelf smartphone, so you no longer need to break the bank to get an innovative piece of tech in your life.
You can order the Galaxy Z Flip3 in phantom black, cream, green, and lavender finishes. If money is no object, consider the pricier Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 instead. Compatible with the S Pen stylus, it can easily replace a compact tablet and a premium smartphone.
The Ultimate iPhone
More luxurious build and better camera than iPhone 13
Class-leading hardware performance
The iPhone 13 Pro Max has incredible battery life
The iPhone 13 Pro is the one to get if you’re looking for Apple’s best and most luxurious smartphone yet. Compared to the iPhone 13, the Pro has a tougher build with a stainless steel frame, a more sophisticated triple camera with bigger sensors and a zoom lens, and a Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion tech.
A fixture on iPad Pro models for years, ProMotion is available on an iPhone for the first time, offering smoother, and more enjoyable onscreen interactions. It’s among the many reasons why you should consider spending more on a Pro model over the regular iPhone 13.
Once again, you can choose between a pair of range-topping iPhone models — a 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and an iPhone 13 Pro Max with a larger 6.7-inch display panel for $100 more. The bigger iPhone 13 Pro also delivers a battery performance that’s worthy of its “Max” moniker. It can last up to a couple of days between charges.
You can order the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max in silver, gold, graphite, and Sierra blue. You can equip the device with up to a whopping 1 TB of storage — another iPhone first.
Best Big Android
Samsung’s best big-screen smartphone yet
The most versatile camera in the business
The first Galaxy S phone with S Pen stylus support
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is hands-down the best big-screen Android phone today. Compared to the Galaxy S21, it has a larger and sharper 6.8-inch AMOLED display, a mightier camera, a bigger 5,000 mAh battery, and a higher price tag. The Ultra also rocks a Corning Gorilla Glass Victus back panel that’s more luxurious than the Galaxy S21’s plastic cover.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s quadruple camera has class-leading, glorious zoom capabilities. It has a duo of optical zoom lenses with 3X and 10X magnification, as well as the magical ability to snap photos with 100X Space Zoom. The phone’s 108MP main sensor, on the other hand, has the highest resolution in the business.
Support for the S Pen stylus — a signature Galaxy Note feature — arrived to the Galaxy S lineup alongside the S21 Ultra. The optional accessory makes the phone great for productivity and creativity tasks. However, you’ll need a dedicated case to store it.
Best Small Phone
Everything we love about the iPhone 13 in a more compact form factor
The most affordable member of the iPhone 13 product family
The iPhone 13 mini has a slightly slower MagSafe than its larger siblings
The iPhone 13 mini, just like the iPhone 12 mini it replaces, is the best small phone available today by an overwhelming margin. Unlike any top-shelf smartphone, the mini’s compact body makes it easy to use with one hand — with or without a protective case on.
As its name suggests, the iPhone 13 mini is a smaller variant of the iPhone 13 with the same elegant design and tough build. When it comes to specs, save for a smaller 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display and a battery with lower capacity, the 5G- and MagSafe-toting phones are practically identical. This means that the latest iPhone mini will get you the same industry-conquering power and performance, but in a much smaller form factor.
Best of all, the mini’s $699 starting price tag makes it the most affordable iPhone 13 iteration. To top things off the starter iPhone 13 comes with 128GB of storage just like its larger siblings. Apple offers the iPhone 13 mini in blue, midnight, pink, starlight, and (PRODUCT)RED with up to 512GB of memory — double its predecessor’s max option.
Best Android Experience
The most up-to-date Android experience, free of any bloatware
The Pixel 5a with 5G has a capable dual camera, but it lacks a zoom lens
Its water-resistant housing is made using 100% recycled aluminum
Google’s own Pixel 5a with 5G delivers the best Android user experience in a smartphone today. The phone always runs the latest and most advanced iteration of the platform, free of any bloatware.
It’s also important to note that the Pixel is always going to be the first to get new Android features and critical security updates. Plus, Google will support its creation with updates for at least 3 years.
The Pixel 5a also has an elegant design, a waterproof metal build, a crisp and vibrant OLED display, a fantastic dual camera, and a battery with the biggest capacity we’ve seen in a Pixel phone to date. The product’s Snapdragon 765G chip, while not the most powerful, is still plenty capable.
We really like the good ol’ fingerprint sensor on the back of the Pixel 5a with 5G. It’s more reliable than some of its rivals’ under-display sensor, and with face masks being part of our daily routine, the fingerprint sensor is more convenient than Apple’s Face ID.
Best of all, the Google Pixel 5a with 5G rocks an incredible sub-$450 price tag, so it’s as value-packed as a smartphone can be. Unlike many pricier rivals, the device comes bundled with a fast wall charger. There are plenty of protective cases for accessorizing it, too.
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