The Best Android Phones for 2021

When you’re shopping for a new Android phone, we have you covered. We test all of the best smartphones at Digital Trends to find out exactly what they’re capable of, and we love to compare them. We divided this list into five categories based on different budgets. For each one, we offer our top pick and any alternatives we think are worth mentioning. We chose the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra as the best Android flagship phone since has a superb camera, a beautiful screen display, and great battery life.

Before you buy it’s worth trying to get a good deal on your chosen new phone, so take a look at our regularly updated smartphone deals here, and if you’re not settled on an Android phone and fancy giving an Apple iPhone a try, take a peek at our advice on buying the best iPhone here.

Best Android smartphones at a glance

The best Android flagship: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Why you should buy this: There are no compromises. It has a superb camera, a beautiful screen, long battery life, a stylish design, and the latest processor too.

Who it’s for: It’s for anyone that wants the very best tech available, inside a good-looking smartphone that will last for years before it needs replacing.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Galaxy S Series smartphone Samsung has ever made, and it’s definitely the S Series model for 2021 to buy, as the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ aren’t quite as capable. Yes, it’s big and heavy, but there’s a reason for that — it’s packed with the best tech available.

Let’s start with the camera. The 108-megapixel main camera is joined by a pair of 10MP telephoto cameras for a 3x and 10x optical zoom, plus a 12MP wide-angle camera that doubles as a close-up camera too. You will struggle to find a situation where the S21 Ultra won’t be able to take a great photo.

Samsung’s Android 11-based OneUI 3.0 software is easy to use and attractive, plus it’s very fast too, as it’s driven by the Snapdragon 888 processor (or the Exynos 2100 if you live outside the U.S.) and 12GB of RAM. It shrugs off power-hungry tasks and hardcore games like they’re nothing.

Samsung’s 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen has a 120Hz refresh rate and a 3200 x 1440 pixel resolution, and it’s as fantastic-looking as we’ve come to expect — extremely bright, deep blacks, and full of color. The in-display fingerprint sensor is much better than previous efforts fitted to Samsung phones, and the 5,000mAh battery easily lasts a full day with the screen resolution set at maximum. It’ll last almost two days with sensible use.

The list of advantages goes on. From the varied camera features like Single Take and 8K video recording, to S Pen support like the Note Series phones, along with 5G connectivity, wireless charging (including reverse charging for a pair of headphones), and Wireless DeX to connect your phone to a computer wirelessly. Samsung has even managed to make a normally ordinary black color scheme look great on the S21 Ultra.

Downsides? It’s definitely a handful of a phone, but apart from that, it’s hard to fault the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It costs $1,299, making it a little cheaper than the S20 Ultra it replaces, but still a high price. You’re getting the very best out there with the S21 Ultra, but do also take a look at the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which competes very favorably with the S21 Ultra and can often be found for a slightly lower price. If you’re interested mostly in gaming, then the Asus ROG Phone 3 has similarly large amounts of power and ability.

Our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

The best Android phone for $1,000: OnePlus 9 Pro

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The most complete, no-nonsense, reliable smartphone package available.

Who it’s for: If you want the best current tech on your phone, but don’t want to spend more than $1,000.

Why we picked the OnePlus 9 Pro:

The OnePlus 9 Pro is OnePlus at its best. It puts the latest hardware specs — a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor with 5G and up to 12GB of RAM, and a big 6.7-inch AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate — inside a water-resistant body made from metal and glass, then pairs it with one of the best Android 11-based user interfaces out there for a superb all-round product.

That’s before you get to the incredibly fast charging, with a wired connection taking just 28 minutes to fully recharge, or about 45 minutes using OnePlus’ own fast wireless charging stand. The battery life isn’t the longest out there, but it’ll still last you a day provided you don’t go mad on gaming.

It’s the first phone with a camera tuned by photo-experts Hasselblad, and although the company has only worked on the software for now, it has improved the OnePlus 9 Pro’s camera over previous models. When we first reviewed the phone we weren’t blown away by the photos it took, but a series of software updates since then have improved it a lot. It’s now challenging phones like the Galaxy S21+ and the iPhone 12, and regularly takes stunning images.

There are two models available, a $969 8GB/128GB version and a 12GB/256GB model. The additional storage is welcome as the OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t have a MicroSD card slot, but if you’re happy with cloud storage moving forward, save yourself some money and get the 8GB/128GB OnePlus 9 Pro. You won’t notice any significant performance difference.

The OnePlus 9 Pro also embodies what we’ve come to expect and love about the company’s phones — overall dependability. It’s not just the slick, easy-to-use software, but also the pretty styling, sensible size, fast charging, and maxed-out specs that make the phone an incredibly safe purchase, and one that will last you for years.

Read our full OnePlus 9 Pro review

The best Android phone for $800: Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It has almost everything that makes the Galaxy S series so desirable — lovely screen, great camera, and slick software

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a moderately compact phone with plenty of power

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S21:

Let’s get a couple of things out the way first. If you own a Galaxy S20 then Galaxy S21 won’t be a massive upgrade, and if you’re expecting its camera to match the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you’ll be disappointed. If you want a phone with a glass body and days of battery life, it won’t give you either of those.

Why is it on our list? It’s still Samsung at its best, the S21 range are all great smartphones, and the $800 price is decent considering the overall high-quality build, software, and hardware. The 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen looks wonderful, the Snapdragon 888 processor (or Exynos 2100 if you live in the U.K.) is very fast, the phone has 5G, and the Android 11-based OneUi 3 software is fast, easy-to-use, and attractive.

The three cameras on the back take good photos — bright, full of contrast and detail, and not as over-saturated as some Samsung cameras from the past. However, if you’re looking for amazing zoom performance, you will want the Galaxy S21 Ultra, as the S21 makes do with a 3x optical zoom. What else? Samsung has improved the fingerprint sensor on the S21 over the S20, and it’s far more accurate and reliable, and the battery has enough power to last a full day, but not much more.

There’s everything you want from a modern, high-performance smartphone in the Samsung Galaxy S21, just don’t expect to get too excited over it, due to the plastic rear panel and modest improvements over the Galaxy S20. This aside, the Galaxy S21 is excellent value for money, and most importantly, won’t look or feel out of date for several years.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review

The best Android phone for $600: OnePlus 8T

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: A much-needed price reduction means the OnePlus 8T is now great value

Who it’s for: Those who want many of the features that make more expensive phones desirable, but at a lower price

Why we picked the OnePlus 8T:

At launch, the OnePlus 8T was too expensive at $749, due to some very strong competition at the same price or less, including the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and the Google Pixel 5. However, it is now available for $600 which is considerably better value, allowing us to heartily recommend the phone.

The 6.55-inch AMOLED screen has a 120Hz refresh rate, there’s a Snapdragon 865 (no, it’s not quite the most recent flagship chip, but it’s still fast enough) for power, very fast charging, and OnePlus’ excellent OxygenOS software over Android 11. Viewed like this, it has the same general appeal as the OnePlus 9, just for less money.

The Warp Charge 65T charging is the same as the OnePlus 9 Pro, but rather than the 30-minutes-to-full charging speed on that phone, it takes the battery in the OnePlus 8T to full in about 40 minutes on the 8T, which is still very quick. A 48-megapixel leads the camera specs, joined by a 16MP wide-angle and a 5MP macro camera, plus a monochrome camera too. The OnePlus 8T’s camera is versatile and fun.

If you value the basics in a phone — great screen, fast charging, lots of power, and easy-to-use software, the OnePlus 8T will not disappoint. It wasn’t a great buy at $749, but it’s a very good one at $600.

Read our full OnePlus 8T review

The best Android phone for $400: Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a Back
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: A fantastic camera and excellent software all wrapped up in a low-cost package.

Who it’s for: Someone who wants a great all-around mobile experience without spending much.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 4a:

The Google Pixel 4a happily fits into our $400 category because it costs $349, plus there’s a new Pixel 4a 5G version that adds 5G and an upgraded camera at $499, making the Pixel 4a family the best phones you can get for both these prices. While the design and materials are no-nonsense, the camera and software are anything but.

Google’s Pixel cameras are already well known for being strong performers and the Pixel 4a is no exception, but it’s not until you use it that you realize just how capable it really is. Night or day it takes fabulous photos, even though it only has a single camera lens, and it’s all down to Google’s software prowess.

This ability extends out from the camera and into the Android software generally. The Pixel 4a and forthcoming Pixel 4a 5G use Android 11 — which none other of the phones on this list have received yet — and will get fast updates to new versions for the next two years. The Pixel 4a’s software is clean, simple, pretty, and easy to use.

The only real disappointment is the screen, but it’s far from terrible, and its modest size helps boost the battery life to around two days with moderate use. For the price, the Google Pixel 4a is an incredible phone.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review

The best Android phone for $200: Motorola Moto G Power (2021)

Moto G Power software

Why you should buy this: It’s a solid choice if you don’t have much money to spend on a new phone.

Who it’s for: The budget-conscious buyer who still wants good software and long battery life.

Why we picked the Moto G Power:

When you spend $200 on a new smartphone, you’ll always have to make concessions, and it’ll never be as technically competent as a phone that costs more. If the Pixel 4a is out of reach, we recommend looking at the 2021 version of the Motorola Moto G Power (2021). Price aside, there are some good reasons to buy this phone, most notably the big 5,000mAh battery for two days of use before recharging.

The screen is huge too, at 6.6-inches, and the software does without any annoying “features” or too much clutter, for a pleasant everyday experience. For $200 you will get the base model with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Pay $50 more and this goes up to 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor is good enough to play most games as well.

What are you missing out on? The screen’s 720p resolution is a disappointment and there’s no NFC for Google Pay, and the camera doesn’t take great photos either. All this can be solved by buying the $350 Pixel 4a. However, if the budget doesn’t allow for it, then the Moto G Power (2021) will still do all the normal phone-related tasks with ease.

Read our full Moto G Power (2021) review

Editors’ Recommendations

Source link