T3’s guide to the very best phones on the market today in 2021. Discover the best smartphone for you now

Fancy a new smartphone? This is a great time to buy, and our best phones guide will help you compare and contrast the top handsets on the market today in 2021. We’ll show you the very best smartphones no matter who makes them, what OS they run or how much they cost.

If you already prefer a particular platform, such as Android or iOS, we also have a dedicated guide to the best Android phones and one for the best iPhones.

We’ve also put together a comprehensive roundup of the best gaming phones and a guide to the fastest 5G phones, too. And if you already have a brand affinity for your handset, then be sure to check out T3’s best Samsung phones and best Huawei phones guides.

Want a phone and a tablet? Then you won’t want one the handsets listed here but instead one of the best foldable phones on the market. These handsets tend to cost more than standard phones but combine two products in one, so really that is to be expected. Samsung, Huawei, Motorola and more have folding phones on the market, so there’s plenty of choice.

Without further ado, let’s get to the fun bit: our picks of the very best phones you can buy right now, as tested by our resident reviewers. We’ve thoroughly tested every single one of these handsets to really put them through their paces, and we’ve used them in all kinds of environments to see how they perform in the real world. And when you’ve found the best smartphone for you, make sure you check out the best Black Friday deals: whether it’s an iPhone, a Samsung, a OnePlus or anything else, you can expect to see some really good discounting during the Black Friday sales frenzy. It’s a brilliant time to bag a smartphone bargain.

THE BEST PHONES YOU CAN BUY TODAY

The iPhone 12 in white shown facing forwards on a white background

The iPhone 12 from Apple brings stellar specs at a lower price.

(Image credit: Apple)

The best phone for most people

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 164g
Dimensions: 146.7 mm x 71.5 mm x 7.4 mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 6.1 inches
Resolution: 1170 x 2532 pixels
CPU: Apple A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 2,815 mAh
Rear camera: 12MP wide + 12MP ultrawide
Front camera: 12MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Fantastic HDR screen+High quality camera system+Now with 5G
REASONS TO AVOID
Screen only 60Hz

Apple has outdone itself with the four iPhone 12 models launched in late last year, and if you can’t stretch to the price of the Pro editions then the standard iPhone 12 could well be the best phone for you. It’s packed with power and comes with a stylish new design, though Apple’s handsets are still at the more expensive end of the scale.

5G has been added to the iPhone this year of course, which means you’re future-proofed when it comes to next-gen connectivity. The A14 Bionic processor is more power than you’re really going to need, while the improved dual-lens rear camera system can take spectacular photos in any kind of light.

What you don’t get in the Apple iPhone 12 is the same flexibility of camera that you get in iPhone 12 Pro – and that’s because it has a dual-camera, rather than a tri-camera setup. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also offers more screen size than the iPhone 12, but we think 6.1 inches is enough for most people.

As T3 concluded in our official review of the phone: “The iPhone 12 is the iPhone most people should get in 2021 – it gives you a stunning new design, a fantastic new screen compared to the iPhone 11, excellent cameras with a few new tricks, plus 5G and the world’s fastest phone processor for future-proofing.”

As such, we feel the iPhone 12 is the best phone Apple currently makes in terms of bang for your buck, and as such is an easy recommendation for most users. Do check out the other iPhone 12 models though, as there are plenty of different configurations to pick from.

Unsure whether you should plump for the iPhone 12 or a cheaper model? Then check out T3’s dedicated iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020) comparison feature.

Want to compare the iPhone 12 to last year’s Android champion?  Then check out T3’s Apple iPhone 12 vs OnePlus 8 Pro: which phone is best for you? guide.

The OnePlus 9 Pro shown front and back on a white background

The best premium phone on the market today is the OnePlus 9 Pro.

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The best premium phone

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 197g
Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7 mm
OS: OxygenOS / Android 11
Screen size: 6.7 inches
Resolution: 3216×1400
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128 / 256GB
Battery: 4500 mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 50MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Excellent 120Hz, QHD+, HDR10+ screen+Rapid internal hardware+Hasselblad designed camera system+Stylish design with great ergonomics
REASONS TO AVOID
Flagship price

OnePlus blew everyone away last year with its OnePlus 8 Pro handset, which cemented its position at the top table of phone makers. The one area where that phone didn’t quite punch as hard as its rivals was camera system, though, so that is why this year’s new OnePlus 9 Pro has doubled down on camera system. And the results are excellent.

The camera system on the OnePlus 9 Pro is co-designed with photography master Hasselblad, and offers noticeably better color accuracy and detailing that previous handsets, as well as a feature-packed shooting system (both images and video, with video up to 8K 30fps possible) that competes with the best phones on the market today.

Away from camera system, the OnePlus 9 Pro is very much an evolution of the outgoing OnePlus 8 Pro, coming with a similar design and iterative specs bump for this year. That is no bad thing, though, as this handset’s design drips with premium and feels great in the hand.

The phone is powered by the latest flagship Android system-on-chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, and comes in two main configs, one with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space, and the other offering 12GB / 256GB respectively. The model T3 tested was the latter, and it delivered excellent benchmark scores and real world speed and performance, too.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is also a leader when it comes round to charging tech, with the firm’s 65 watt Warp Charge charging allowing the phone to be charged from 0-100 per cent in just 29 minutes.

Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (see below) is our hyper premium smartphone choice, but for those who aren’t fussed with super high level features like digital stylus support, and just want a premium smartphone that excels across the board, then the OnePlus 9 Pro is a great choice.

The Apple iPhone SE in white colorway shown on a white background

The best budget phone on the market today is the superb value Apple iPhone SE (2020).

(Image credit: Apple)

The best budget phone

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 148g
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
OS: iOS 13
Screen size: 4.7 inches
Resolution: 750 x 1334 pixels
CPU: Apple A13 Bionic
RAM: 36GB
Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 1,821 mAh
Rear camera: 12 MP f/1.8
Front camera: 7 MP f/2.0
REASONS TO BUY
+Appealing design+Rapid hardware+Very affordable
REASONS TO AVOID
iPhone 12 range more powerful

It is fair to say that Apple’s iPhone SE (2020) handset has taken this year by storm in terms of praise, with the hot new handset winning critics over worldwide with its brilliant balance of features, quality and performance for a very attractive price point. Retailing for under half what Apple’s flagship phones do, this is easily the best budget handset we’ve ever seen from the American maker.

And, be under no illusion, this phone delivers. It’s CPU, for example, is the exact same A13 Bionic chipset that sits in all of Apple’s flagship phones, while it comes running Apple’s iOS 13 operating system just like those phones do, too. It is in many respects a full fat new iPhone experience but for a shockingly low price point.

Now, of course, you don’t get all the bells and whistles that you do with a true flagship iPhone, and the camera, battery and display isn’t quite as good as those on the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, but they all work and deliver strong results, so at the iPhone SE’s bargain price we feel that is a very fair trade-off.

If you are an Android user and are looking for a great new budget phone then, sure, there are even cheaper Android options on the market, but if you sit on the iOS side of the ecosystem divide and want a brand new phone upgrade for cheap, then the iPhone SE is an absolutely not brainer purchase.

Want to learn more about the iPhone SE (2020) while also seeing how it compares to a premium Android smartphone? Then check out T3’s OnePlus 8 Pro vs Apple iPhone SE (2020) comparison feature.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in black shown front and back on a white background

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra packs in everything and then some.

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best hyper-premium smartphone on the market

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 229 g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm (6.5 x 2.98 x 0.35 in)
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8 inches
Resolution: 3200 x 1440
CPU: Exynos 2100 / Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB/16GB
Storage: 256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000 mAh
Rear camera: 108 MP, 10MP, 10MP, 12MP
Front camera: 40MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Superb 120Hz, WQHD+, HDR10+ screen+Hyper premium internal hardware+Versatile, feature-packed camera+S Pen digital stylus support
REASONS TO AVOID
Very high price

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is not only the best phone Samsung has ever made, but it is one that makes history as it is the first S-series handset that comes with digital stylus support. Just like on the Galaxy Note series of phones, the S21 Ultra can now be used in conjunction with a digital stylus, even though the phone does not come with one and, also unlike the Note series, a stylus can’t be stored in it.

Away from stylus functionality the phone is a 5-star beast in every single way, from its massive, premium display that delivers 6.8-inches of real estate with both a 120Hz refresh rate and WQHD+ resolution, to its 5nm system-on-chip in the form of the Exynos 2100 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, and right through to its RAM (max spec is 16GB) and large, long-lasting battery (5,000mAh).

The phone is also a titan in terms of photography, with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra coming with a super powerful quad rear camera system, as well as high-resolution (40MP) selfie camera. The main rear snapper on the S21 Ultra has a super advanced 108MP sensor which allows for insanely high-resolution shots.

There’s an absolute bounty of shooting modes, too, including a fully manual Pro mode as well as Panorama, AR Doodle, Food, Night, and Portrait among others. While Samsung’s excellent Single Take mode means that you can utilise the phone’s strong AI to capture multiple pictures of a single event, ensuring you don’t miss the perfect shot.

The camera goodness continues, too, in terms of the S21 Ultra’s telephoto zoom functionality, which allows for up to a remarkable 100x Space Zoom.

Throw in the very latest Android 11 operating system, as well as bevy of advanced features like the laptop-aping DeX Mode and reverse wireless charging, and you’re left with a phone that really has no weaknesses at all. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra costs, but it is absolutely worth the investment if you are looking for a premium phone upgrade.

To see how this handset stacks up against our best phone for most people, the iPhone 12, check out T3’s Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Apple iPhone 12 comparison feature. And to see what marks it out from the standard S21, take a look at our Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra piece.

Potential buyers of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will also be pleased to hear that the phone has won the coveted Best Phone award at the T3 Awards 2021.

OnePlus Nord 2 Android phone shown in silver on angle

The OnePlus Nord 2 gives you plenty of bang for your buck.

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The best mid-range phone of 2021

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 189 g
Dimensions: 158.9 x 73.2 x 8.25mm
OS: OxygenOS / Android 11
Screen size: 6.43 inches
Resolution: 1080 x 2400 pixels
CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 4500 mAh
Rear camera: 50MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 32MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Excellent screen and build quality+Clean, powerful OxygenOS+Impressive performance
REASONS TO AVOID
Loads of strong alternativesNot completely waterproof

Competing against some of the big players on this list with great specs and a much more convincing price tag, the OnePlus Nord 2 rules the mid-range market.

Firstly, this phone looks like it costs twice as much as it actually does, with a classy glass back and a beautiful 6.43-inch edge-to-edge display. The screen has a 90Hz refresh rate, so although not the 120Hz of the most expensive flagships, it’s still incredibly smooth. You’ll get a great experience from it whether you’re online shopping or playing mobile games.

That’s helped by the impressive performance provided by the exclusive MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI CPU, it delivers speeds that improves on the original Nord and matches up to slightly older flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. What that means is that OnePlus Nord 2 will cope with just about any task you could throw at it, and the large battery means you won’t have to charge it throughout the day.

While it may not have some extra features like waterproofing and wireless charging, it does have plenty going for it, scoring well in all the key areas.

If you’re looking to spend a little less than this, consider the original OnePlus Nord. It won Best Value Phone at the T3 Awards 2021, there will be some great deals on it now there’s a new kid on the block.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra phone shown front and back on white background

The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a premium smartphone with two screens.

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

The best premium phone for photography

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 234g
Dimensions: 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.38mm
OS: MIUI 12 based on Android 11
Screen size: 6.8 inches
Resolution: 3200×1440
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Front camera: 20MP
Rear camera: 50MP, 48MP, 48MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Two displays+Impressive camera+Powerful performance
REASONS TO AVOID
Very big and heavy to holdThe massive camera module is an eye-soreSecond display isn’t very responsive 

Xiaomi is going up against the premium smartphone players with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. At first glance, it looks like any other flagship with a large glossy display with a tiny hole punch camera on the front. But turn it around and you’ll see something completely different – the phone has a large camera module with a 1.1inch AMOLED display integrated into it. You can use it as an always-on display, notification window or to quickly skip through music.

One of the best uses for the tiny screen is as a selfie preview window. Gone are the days of losing out on quality using a front camera, now you can make use of all of the benefits of the main camera system and be sure that everyone has made it into the shot. Not only will you capture better selfies, but its point-and-shoot capabilities are excellent too.

Two screens and a superb camera system aren’t the only benefits of this phone, it’s also one of the most powerful handsets you can buy. It handles everything from photo-editing to mobile gaming with ease – it boasted even more impressive performance than the winners on this list.

Granted, this handset is hyper-premium which is sure to be off-putting for a lot of people. Because of that, it won’t be the best phone for most people. But if you are big on photography and want a speedy smartphone, then this one offers something just a little bit different to all the rest.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G shown front and back with stylus

The best phone with a digital stylus? That’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G.

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best phone with digital stylus functionality

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 208 g
Dimensions: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.9 inches
Resolution: 1440 x 3088 pixels
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus / Exynos 990
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
Battery: 4500mAh
Rear cameras: 108MP f/1.8 wide+ 12MP f/3.0 (periscope telephoto) + 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide
Front camera: 10MP f/2.2 wide
REASONS TO BUY
+The best S Pen yet+Huge, bright screen+Plenty of power
REASONS TO AVOID
Galaxy S21 Ultra also has S Pen support

Despite the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra getting digital stylus support, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G remains our top choice of handset if you want stylus functionality. This is primarily because, one, the phone comes with a stylus, and two because that stylus can be stored and charged within the device. The S21 Ultra offers neither of these things, requiring extra spend for a stylus, and no way to dock the stylus inside the phone.

There’s also a lot to like about the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, and if you can manage the cost, it’s undoubtedly one of the best Android experiences going right now. It features a brilliant design, a more than capable camera, and internal specs that mean it will outpace almost every phone on the market.

The biggest reason for buying the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, though, is of course that S Pen – scribble on the lock screen, control the camera remotely, unleash your creative side, and more. If you need a phone with a stylus for serious work on the go, this phone has you covered.

5G is on board, as the name of the phone suggests, which means you’re covered for years when it comes to next-gen connectivity – and considering you’ve got the Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset (depending on region) running everything, this isn’t a phone that’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

As we’ve said, the price is a little on the eye-watering side, but for something you’re going to use every day for years to come, you might consider it worthwhile. The triple-lens rear camera with 5x optical zoom deserves a mention too, as it’s capable of capturing some fantastic snaps in any kind of lighting.

OnePlus 9 phone in blue colorway on white background

The OnePlus 9 boasts some serious specs as well as speedy performance.

(Image credit: OnePlus)

A well-rounded Android smartphone

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 192g
Dimensions: 160×74.2×8.7mm
OS: Android 11 /Oxygen OS 11
Screen size: 6.55 inches
Resolution: 2400 x 1080
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB/12GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Rear cameras: 48MP, 50MP, 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Super fast charging+Fluid, smooth 120Hz display+Fast performance
REASONS TO AVOID
No MicroSD card slotCould have a better battery life

OnePlus is becoming a major contender when it comes to flagship smartphones. The new OnePlus 9 easily rivals competitors with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, 120Hz refresh rate, a brand new Hasselblad triple camera system and very fast charging.

Delivering on performance, this a smartphone that isn’t playing around. It doesn’t slow down or waver, no matter how much you try to do at once. With lightning-fast speeds, a 6.55 inch AMOLED display and a 120Hz refresh rate, you get seriously satisfying gaming and ultra-smooth scrolling too. Speaking of speed, the OnePlus 9 recharges from empty to 100% in only 29 minutes, yep you read that right. It’s seriously impressive and will mean the end of waiting around for your phone to charge.

When it came to the camera, they’ve made some huge improvements. Having partnered with camera manufacturer Hasselblad to create it, the triple camera system shoots accurate, well-balanced photos with plenty of manual controls for those who want it. When we had a go, the best shots were its up-close macro shots which had tons of intricate detail.

Granted, there are still a few things to improve on, like the standard battery life and the camera was less impressive on a gloomy day. But this is still an impressive handset that is a good match for other flagship smartphones available right now.

Is it worth upgrading from the OnePlus 8? Find out in T3’s OnePlus 9 vs OnePlus 8 piece.

iPhone 12 Pro phone with screen and cameras showing

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro is one of the absolute best smartphones in the world.

(Image credit: Apple)

The best premium phone for Apple fans

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 189g
Dimensions: 146.7 mm x 71.5 mm x 7.4 mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 6.1 inches
Resolution: 1170 x 2532 pixels
CPU: Apple A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
Battery: 2,815mAh
Rear camera: 12MP wide + 12MP ultrawide + 12MP telephoto 2x
Front camera: 12MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Powerful processor+Superb OLED screen+Excellent camera
REASONS TO AVOID
Very expensiveBattery life could be better

There’s so much to like about the new iPhone 12 Pro that it’s hard to know where to start: there’s the blazingly fast A14 Bionic processor, the addition of 5G, the improved triple-lens camera system with added LiDAR, the redesigned shape of the phone, and plenty more besides.

That’s before you get to the software side – iOS continues to go from strength to strength, and iOS 14 introduces new features like home screen widgets, pinned chats in Messages, and a new Translate app to take on Google Translate. From both a hardware and a software perspective, it’s an impressive package.

This edition of the phone is more expensive than the standard iPhone 12, and the main difference is the camera: the Pro model adds a telephoto lens and built-in LiDAR for better depth sensing. Both are great phones, but we think the Pro edition will be less popular because of the higher price.

The colour choices are different too, with the iPhone 12 Pro available in blue, gold, graphite or silver. Whichever way you look at it, it’s an easy inclusion for our best phones of 2021 list, and we’re happy to recommend it – as long as you get along with Apple software and can accommodate the price.

Sony Xperia 1 II in black colorway

For the cinephiles among us, it’s hard to do better than the Sony Xperia 1 II.

(Image credit: Sony)

The best phone for watching movies, and very good at taking pictures too

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 181.4 g
Dimensions: 165.1 mm x 71.1 mm x 7.6 mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.5 inches
Resolution: 1644 x 3840 pixels
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
Rear camera: 12MP (wide) + 12MP (telephoto) + 12MP (ultrawide) + 0.3 MP (depth)
Front camera: 8MP (wide)
REASONS TO BUY
+Powerful internals+Impressive screen+Excellent camera
REASONS TO AVOID
Tall phone not pocket friendly

With a gorgeous 6.5-inch, 21:9 display, the Sony Xperia 1 II follows on from the Sony Xperia 1 in being an excellent handset to watch movies and TV shows on. If that’s something that you like to do, then this is a phone that’s worth putting on your shortlist when you’re choosing the best phone for you.

We can also tell you that the camera is very impressive too, whether you want to just point and shoot or take more control over the various on-board photography settings. The Sony Xperia 1 II will serve you well when it comes to taking photos and making movies, and again this is something that Sony handsets are well known for.

Add in a nice design, strong battery life, wireless charging, 5G and an IP68 rating, and you can tell that this is a phone with very few flaws. The aesthetics and the tall screen might not be to everyone’s taste, and it’s on the pricey side, but the Sony Xperia 1 II is worthy of the flagship label.

Google Pixel 5 phone showing home screen and back plate

The new Google Pixel 5 rewrites the rulebook of flagship handsets.

(Image credit: Google)

The best phone for a pure Android experience

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 151g
Dimensions: 144.7 mm x 70.4 mm x 8 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6 inches
Resolution: 1080 x 2340 pixels
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4080mAh
Rear camera: 12.2MP f/1.7 wide + 16MP f/2.2 ultrawide
Front camera: 8MP f/2.0 wide
REASONS TO BUY
+Camera is still great+Clean, pure Android+90hz refresh rate screen
REASONS TO AVOID
Battery life is average

The latest Google flagship phone is more of a premium mid-ranger than an actual flagship – the Pixel 5 settles for a Snapdragon 765G chip rather than the faster Snapdragon 865 processors, and it ditches some of the advanced features of the Pixel 4 (including Face Unlock, which we very much liked).

None of this really matters too much though, because it allows the Pixel 5 to hit a lower price point: and when you take the asking price into consideration, this is very much one of the best phones on the market at the moment. It’s especially attractive if you like the clean, stock version of Android.

There are some neat features here, including a 90Hz refresh rate for the screen, IP68 waterproofing, and wireless charging. There are also some useful Pixel exclusives on the software side (like the Recorder app that can turn spoken words into transcribed text in an instant).

As usual for the Pixel series, it’s the camera that helps the Pixel 5 stand out from the pack. While the physical hardware of the rear camera hasn’t changed all that much from last year, the on-board image processing continues to impress, and it’s difficult to beat in terms of photo-taking.

Huawei Mate 40 Pro phone in silver shown on angle front and back

If you want truly top-tier hardware then the Huawei Mate 40 Pro is a great choice of best phone.

(Image credit: Huawei)

One of the best phone hardware setups you’ll find

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 212 g
Dimensions: 162.9 mm x 75.5 mm x 8.2 mm
OS: EMUI 11 / Android 10
Screen size: 6.76 inches
Resolution: 1344 x 2772 pixels
CPU: Kirin 9000 5G
RAM: 8G
Storage: 256GB / 512GB
Battery: 4400 mAh
Rear camera: 50MP f/1.9 wide + 12MP f/3.4 5x telephoto + 20MP f/1.8 ultrawide
Front camera: 13MP f/2.4 wide + 13MP f/2.4 wide
REASONS TO BUY
+Impressive camera array+Plenty of battery life+Excellent performance
REASONS TO AVOID
No official Google app support

The problems that Huawei has had with accessing Google apps and the Android Play Store have been well documented, but there’s absolutely no doubting the quality of its hardware – the Mate 40 Pro is a stunning smartphone, finished with a premium glass and metal feel and running some of the fastest components around.

The handset scores highly in two areas that are crucial to any smartphone buyer: the camera is excellent, and the battery life can get you almost two days between charges if you’re careful. No matter what the drawbacks on the software side, those advantages are worth taking note of.

Admittedly this is a pricey phone, but sometimes you’ve got to invest to get the best, and the Huawei Mate 40 Pro is one of the handsets that’s really impressed us this year. In terms of the feel of the phone in the hand and the performance it offers, it’s hard to beat.

Do make sure you’re going to be able to run the apps you need to run on this phone before parting with your cash though – a lot of the top Android apps will have to be sideloaded, which means you need to be careful in terms of updates and security. On the whole, we think the Mate 40 Pro is still worth it for some users.

Google Pixel 4a 5G phone

Looking for a one of the cheapest best phones on the market? Then check out the Google Pixel 4a 5G.

(Image credit: Google)

The best budget Pixel phone

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 168g
Dimensions: 153.9 mm x 74 mm x 8.2 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.2 inches
Resolution: 1080 x 2340 pixels
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 3885mAh
Rear camera: 12.2MP f/1.7 wide + 16MP f/2.2 ultrawide
Front camera: 8MP f/2.0 wide
REASONS TO BUY
+Great camera+Pure software+Excellent price
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as premium as Pixel 5

It has the same excellent camera as the Pixel 5, and the same Snapdragon 765G processor, and 5G like the Pixel 5, and an even bigger screen. Plus, like all the Pixels, it’s running a clean and bloat-free version of Android that’s guaranteed timely updates from Google.

All that said, it makes a few compromises to hit a lower price point: no wireless charging, no waterproofing, and slightly less RAM than the more expensive Pixel. Does any of that matter? It depends what you want from a smartphone.

The combination of price, performance and features that the Pixel 4a 5G manages to pull together makes it just about our favourite Pixel phone of the year – more of this please Google. It’s also an easy choice for our best phones 2021 list.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus phone

Want a premium large-screen Android phone from one of the world’s best smartphone makers? Then check out the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus.

(Image credit: Samsung)

A large-screen powerhouse with plenty of premium

SPECIFICATIONS
Dimensions: 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8mm
Weight: 200g
Screen: 6.7 inches AMOLED (120Hz, HDR10+)
CPU: Exynos 2100 /Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
GPU: Mali-G78
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Rear cameras: 12 MP, 12MP, 64MP
Front cameras: 10MP
Battery: 4,8000 mAh
OS: Android 11
5G: Yes
REASONS TO BUY
+Large, beautiful screen+Strong battery life+Impressive camera system
REASONS TO AVOID
No MicroSD card slotThere’s no charger included in the box

The Samsung Galaxy S21 range has been a great success for the South Korean phone maker, and the reason why can be seen clearly in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, which sits between the standard S21 and flagship S21 Ultra in the range.

In the simplest terms, the S21 Plus is an S21 but with a larger screen, and what a screen that is, with the 6.7-inch AMOLED looking stunning and an absolute joy to use. This panel delivers a 1,300 nits peak brightness, HDR10+ support, and a dynamic refresh rate that maxes out at a buttery smooth 120Hz.

This impressive screen is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 CPU, depending on where you are in the world, which are both rapid, as well as 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage space. It’s a strong core package that delivers some impressive benchmark results and rapid real-world usage. This speed is also carried into its data connection, with a state-of-the-art 5G modem on board.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus will also appeal to photographers, as it comes with a triple rear camera system and powerful selfie camera. This camera hardware is backed up with Samsung’s excellent camera software, too, which delivers a bounty of shooting modes and options, including Director’s View, which shoots video from the front and rear cameras simultaneously.

Throw in the latest Android 11 operation system, an in-display fingerprint reader, and an fast charging and long lasting battery, and it’s easy to see why the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is one of the best phones on the market today.

Xiaomi Mi 11 phone

The Xiaomi Mi 11 delivers a strong flagship-grade phone package.

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

A strong new entry to the best phone top table

SPECIFICATIONS
Dimensions: 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.1 mm
Weight: 196 g
Screen: 6.8-inch AMOLED 120Hz HDR10+ 1500nits
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
GPU: Adreno 660
RAM: 8-12GB
Storage: 128-256GB
Rear cameras: 108MP, 13MP, 5MP
Front camera: 20MP
OS: Android 11
REASONS TO BUY
+Quality large display+Strong camera experience+Rapid wireless charging+Android 11 out of the box
REASONS TO AVOID
Average battery lifeSlow in-screen fingerprint scanner

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is the latest handset from Chinese phone maker Xiaomi, and it is interesting as, just a OnePlus did last year, the firm has continued to move away from its more budget background with this handset.

Just like last year’s Mi 10 and then Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro, this handset retails for flagship-level money. We’re talking over twice the price of the Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite, so this handset goes up against devices like the Samsung Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12.

In terms of specs and hardware, though, you are getting a flagship package. The processor is the cutting edge new Snapdragon 888 processor, which is built on a 5nm architecture, along with the rapid Adreno 660 GPU and then in max spec, 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space.

The screen is a beast as well, not only measuring in at 6.81 inches but also delivering 120Hz at a 1440×3200 pixel resolution and HDR10+. The screen has an eye-popping peak brightness of 1,500 nits as well.

The OS is also the very latest version Android, too, Android 11, and the phone has a very versatile camera system with superb macro shooting mode.

Overall, another strong mobile from Xiaomi, albeit it one that is rivalled for the price by various other manufacturers, including Samsung, Huawei and OnePlus.

OnePlus 8T phone

The OnePlus 8T is a great all-round Android phone.

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Another excellent Android handset from OnePlus

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 188g
Dimensions: 160.7 x 74.1 x 8.4 mm
OS: OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11
Screen Size: 6.55 inches
Resolutions: 1080 x 2400 pixels
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Rear camera: 48MP wide + 16MP ultrawide + 5MP macro + 2MP depth
Front camera: 16MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Sharp 120Hz display+65W fast charging+Attractive price
REASONS TO AVOID
Eclipsed by OnePlus 9

Every phone that OnePlus has launched over the last year has been a hit in our eyes, and the OnePlus 8T is in some ways a combination of everything that came before this year: a mix of the OnePlus 8, the OnePlus 8 Pro, and the OnePlus Nord. It combines some excellent features with a very reasonable price in the mid-range section of the market.

The headline features are perhaps the 120Hz refresh rate on the 6.55-inch AMOLED screen, and the 65W fast charging. You can juice up the phone from zero to full in the space of just half an hour or so, and that means you might not need to put your phone on charge overnight ever again.

There are plenty more specs to like as well, including the top-tier Snapdragon 865 processor and plenty of RAM and storage. The camera isn’t the best in the business, but it’s certainly capable of taking some decent snaps, and that extends to low light and night time photography too.

You do miss out on some flagship-level extras, like IP68 waterproofing and wireless charging, but everything considered (including the price) this is one of the best smartphones on the market in 2021.

Vivo X51 5G phone

There’s very little not to like about the Vivo X51 5G.

(Image credit: Vivo)

A premium mid-tier phone that questions if you need to go flagship

SPECIFICATIONS
Dimensions: 158.5 x 72.8 x 8 m
Weight: 181.5 g
Screen: 6.56-inch AMOLED, 1080 x 2376, 90Hz, HDR10+
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
GPU: Adreno 620
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 256GB
Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 13MP + 8MP
Front camera: 32MP
Battery: 4315 mAh
OS: Android 10
REASONS TO BUY
+Gimbal-equipped camera+Top class screen+5G compatible
REASONS TO AVOID
ExpensiveNo waterproofing

The Vivo X51 5G represents a new breed of premium mid-range phones that are currently taking the market by storm. They offer plenty of flagship-grade features but do so while costing less as they tend to come with more mid-tier core hardware.

The Vivo X51 5G is a great example of this, with the phone pairing a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor and Adreno 620 graphics chip with a luscious 90Hz HDR10+ screen, 5G network compatibility, a quad rear camera system with built-in gimbal for optical image stabilisation, powerful selfie camera and premium fit and finish.

Combined with a lightly skinned Android 10 operating system out of the box, and a price that rings in under the majority of flagship phones, and its easy to see how the Vivo X51 5G asks the question of if you need to spend more for, benchmark scores aside, small gains in terms of usage experience.

Overall, one of the best phones on the market for offering a near-flagship experience but at a noticeably lower price point.

Oppo Find X3 phone

(Image credit: Oppo)

A stunning flagship for 2021 from Oppo

SPECIFICATIONS
Dimensions: 163.6 mm x 74 mm x 8.3 mm
Weight: 193 g
Screen: 6.7-inch AMOLED, 1440 x 3216 pixel, 120Hz, HDR10+
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
GPU: Adreno 660
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 256GB
Rear camera: 50MP wide + 13MP telephoto (2x optical zoom) + 50MP ultrawide + 3MP macro
Front camera: 32MP wide
Battery: 4500 mAh
OS: Android 11 + ColorOS 11.2
REASONS TO BUY
+Top-tier specs+Fantastic 6.7-inch screen+Microscopic camera
REASONS TO AVOID
Large camera blockSoftware could be better

There’s a huge amount to like when it comes to the Oppo Find X3 Pro, and the premium flagship phone comfortably earns a place in our list of the best phones available right now. It’s polished, it’s fast, it lasts a long time between battery charges, it has a fantastic screen, and the camera is great too – was there anything else you were looking for?

The quad-lens rear camera is worth a special mention actually, because as well as offering an ultrawide mode and 2x optical zoom, it also has a microscopic mode that lets you take super-close-ups of fabric, surfaces, and more. It’s a lot of fun to use and it helps the Oppo Find X3 Pro stand out even more.

It’s fair to say that the handset is on the expensive side, but you get plenty back in return for your money – including 5G connectivity, the top-tier Snapdragon 888 processor from Qualcomm, IP68 protection against water and dust, and plenty more besides. Absolutely get this one on your shortlist.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max phone

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max is a large, premium smartphone.

(Image credit: Apple)

More like a film studio than a phone

SPECIFICATIONS
Display: 6.7″ Super Retina XDR, 2778 x 1284
Processor: Apple A14 Bionic
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Cameras: 12MP Wide, Ultra Wide and Telephoto, 2.5x optical zoom in, 12x digital zoom
REASONS TO BUY
+Spectacular cameras+Superb low light performance+Sensor-shift stabilisation+5G
REASONS TO AVOID
Incredibly expensivePocket breakingOnly 60Hz refresh rate

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is not the best phone for most people. It’s very big, it’s very expensive and its specs are overkill for anyone who spends most of their online time Instagramming or watching video. But that’s not who this phone is aimed at. Think of it less as a phone and more of a mobile film or photo studio.

The 6.7-inch display is spectacular but it’s the camera assembly that’s the real draw here: it has a larger sensor than its sibling and it has sensor-shift optical image stabilisation that moves the camera sensor rather than the lens. It’s spectacular in low light, and there’s also a longer zoom on the 12MP telephoto lens that’s great for photography and video. Check out our iPhone 12 Pro Max Review for examples. And once you’ve taken your photos you can edit them in-camera and then output in DNG format.

As we said, it isn’t cheap. But if you primarily use your phone for photography or filming, this is the cream of the Apple crop.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G phone

(Image credit: Samsung)

A quality all-rounder

SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 169 g
Screen: 6.2 inches AMOLED (120Hz, HDR10+)
CPU: Exynos 2100 / Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
GPU: Adreno 660
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Rear cameras: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP
Front cameras: 10MP
Battery: 4,000 mAh
OS: Android 11
5G: Yes
REASONS TO BUY
+Powerful performance+120Hz display+Impressive camera system
REASONS TO AVOID
Plastic designNo MicroSD card slotWall charger not included in the box

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G delivers such a strong all-round package that it really does make you question why you would pay more for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus or Samsung Galaxy 21 Ultra. Yes, both those phones offer some improvements in terms of specs over the standard S21, but in terms of core usage experience they are very similar.

And, well, the S21 delivers everything you would want from a modern smartphone. You get a large 120Hz display, rapid 5G connectivity, a feature-packed camera system, and a strong all-round internal hardware spec. You also get the very latest version of Android as an OS, too.

The battery isn’t the most capacious on this phone, that is true, and you also don’t get a charger in its box also, which is an added expense unless you’re already outfitted with a USB Type-C wired charger or one the best wireless chargers, but aside from that there really isn’t much to dislike at all.

Samsung Galaxy S21 phones in various colors

There is plenty to consider when buying the best phone for you.

(Image credit: Samsung)

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST PHONE FOR YOU

Choosing the right phone is no easy task, as there are so many on the market and, truth be told, many of them are very similar. There are some core questions you should ask yourself before pulling the trigger on a smartphone upgrade, though.

Firstly, you need to establish if you’re going to buy the phone SIM free (as in buy the phone outright upfront) or on contract. Both these options have their own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, buying a phone outright, and especially if it is a premium handset, can cost a lot of money, so you need to be able to swallow that. Once the phone is bought, though, then it is yours and you can go about getting one of the best SIM only deals, which offer better allowances for less money.

On contract purchases are great in the sense that they often put the phone in your hand for comparatively very little money or even for nothing, but then you need to pay for the phone over the period of your contract, which is tied to a network SIM plan that, most of the time, doesn’t offer as good allowances or value as a SIM only one.

Next up you should ask yourself what you budget is, and what you’re primarily going to be using the phone for. If you’re a gamer then you’re going to need to ensure you have a phone with good gaming functionality, while if you’re a creative then you could benefit from a phone with digital stylus support. Equally, if you love taking photos then you need to prioritise a phone with a great camera system, while if you’re a massive streamer then bagging a phone with a large screen is smart. If you’re a busy working professional who travels a lot, then you’ll want a phone with a large battery.

Once you’ve identified your needs and budget you can start to get more granular with your sorting. Next up we’d suggest identifying which OS and phone platform is right for you. The two main ones are Apple’s iOS, which runs on all the maker’s iPhones, as well as Android. iOS tends to be better for people who don’t have too much technical knowledge and just want a streamlined, heavily guided usage experience, while Android is more open and complex.

Finally, once OS is decided start to add or take away features that you need or don’t. For example, reverse wireless charging is really neat, but not every user will need it or use it, while phones that comes with huge amounts of RAM or storage may be useful for enthusiasts, but would go unused by many others. 5G connectivity is great and it is the future, but if you live in an area where there is no 5G coverage then do you really need a 5G phone?

These are just a few of the things we recommend people consider before buying a new phone, but we feel that providing each person does their research well (something this buying guide can help with), there’s an ideal mobile for everyone.

best phones

(Image credit: Apple)

BEST PHONES: MOST SOLD SMARTPHONE OF 2021

The most sold smartphone of 2021 so far is, unsurprisingly, the Apple iPhone 11. This is the phone that is currently top of T3’s best phones guide, and as of early September this year it has sold 37.7 million units around the world.

Interestingly, this is then followed by some interesting runners up. Where you would think Samsung and Huawei would be snapping at Apple’s heels with their flagship devices, in fact it is the mid-range Samsung Galaxy A51 and Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 that follow, with 11.4 and 11 million sales respectively.

Indeed, it is then nothing but Xiaomi and Apple phones in the remaining top 10 in terms of most sold smartphones so far in 2021, with Apple taking up 5 out of the top 10 slots.

Now, of course, we’ve still got some big releases to come this year, but considering the gap between first and second in this list, we can’t see any other phone dethroning Apple and its iPhone 11. And, to be honest, we’re totally cool with that. The iPhone 11 is a superb phone and that’s why it is our number one phone recommendation for most people.

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

BEST PHONES: MOST SOLD SMARTPHONE BRANDS, IN ORDER

The most sold smartphone brands, in order are:

Samsung – The South Korean maker has the largest market share in the global smartphone industry, with a market share of 20% in Q1 and Q2 in 2020.

Huawei – In terms of sales, the major Chinese brand takes the number two position, with a market share of 17% in Q1 and 20% in Q2 2020.

Apple – In terms of pure profits, Apple is the number one smartphone brand, but now sit third overall in terms of smartphone sales at 14% for Q1 and Q2.

Xiaomi – The second Chinese firm to make the top 5, Xiaomi has accrued a market share of 10% in both Q1 and Q2 2020.

Oppo – The third Chinese brand in the top 5 list is Oppo, who took an impressive 8% of the market in Q1 2020 and 9% in Q2.

As you can see, Chinese phone brands now account for 3 out of the top 5 phone makers in the world, with their ability over the past five years to deliver top-tier tech first, or for a cheaper price, ingratiating them with many users.

South Korean maker Samsung though remains at the head of the top table, though, and has a wide range of phones in its offering, including foldables like the Galaxy Z Flip, as well as 5G phablets like the Galaxy  Note 20 Ultra 5G.

Apple remains incredibly popular around the world, too, and currently retains its number two spot in terms of smartphone sales globally.

best phones 2021

(Image credit: Samsung)

HOW WE TEST THE BEST PHONES

There’s a lot to consider when reviewing one of today’s best phones, and for T3 we have a detailed five-stage process that each new device goes through.

Firstly, we judge the phone from a build quality and fit and finish point of view, as well as how comprehensive its package is. This stage is very much ascertaining how a phone feels in the hand, how robust it looks and what extras it does or doesn’t come with. If a phone has a cheap plastic backplate and a spongy screen then we’ll find out and let you know.

Next up we review the phone from a setup and hardware point of view. This stage sees us set up the phone as we would if it were our own, as well as examine exactly what hardware it comes with, such as its processor, RAM, storage and GPU, among other things. The goal here is to see how accessible setup is and what, on paper, your money is buying you.

Thirdly, we then move onto the phone’s software and highlight features. So, for example, on Android we test out how good the phone maker’s user interface skin is, as each one if definitely not made equal. Or, for example, if testing a new Galaxy Note phone, we’ll absolutely test out its digital stylus. We also test features like biometric security, fingerprint readers and reverse wireless charging.

Our forth stage of testing is dedicated purely to the phone’s camera system, as truth be told they are one of the most important parts of a phone today and a primary reason why people choose one model over another. This stage involved taking photographs with the phone and testing out each of its main shooting modes, as well as analysing what video capabilities are on offer, too.

Lastly, we then consider each phone from a purely experiential point of view – as in, how is it like to use on a daily basis? This is a really important part of our testing as it strips away all the technical jargon and components and is just intended to reveal how good it is use. This procedure takes one to two weeks and often also encompasses battery testing.

Only then, when all five of these phone review procedures are complete, do we award a score to a phone, with 5 stars been the highest rank a product can get.Best smartphone 2021: Find the best phone for you

Best phones 2021: the very best smartphones, ranked

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