We purchased the The 8 Best Smartphones so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full products reviews.
It’s not easy to find the best smartphones on the market. Because a smartphones is such a deeply personal purchase, there are numerous factors to consider when making a decision. You’ll need to decide between iOS and Android first. iOS has a more straightforward user interface, and it comes with a whole ecosystem of devices that all work together flawlessly. The diversity of Android is its greatest asset. There’s an Android for everyone, regardless of their interests or focuses. Android has a device for you if you want a bigger battery, a better camera, or a better screen.
Budget is also a major consideration, and both iOS and Android have options that will fit your needs. Maybe you’re looking for the best of the best in a flagship. Perhaps you’re looking for something more affordable. Most phones, but not all, can connect to 5G. The majority of the phones on this list, but not all, have multiple camera sensors. Our experts have scoured the market for the best products based on a variety of criteria, and we’ve narrowed it down to a few favorites. Continue reading for our suggestions!
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Best overall: Samsung Galaxy S21
The Samsung Galaxy S21 () is the flagship of the Samsung Galaxy series of phones, as well as most of Android. The Galaxy S21 is available in three different configurations: Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21 Ultra. The Galaxy Ultra will be discussed later, leaving the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus. They’re nearly identical, with the Plus model having a larger screen, a larger battery, and a higher price tag. Most of what we’ll say about the Galaxy S21 applies to the Galaxy S21 Plus as well, so if you like what you see but want something a little bigger, the S21+ (View on Amazon) is the way to go.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch FHD+ display with a refresh rate of 120Hz. It has excellent viewing angles and is “utterly gorgeous,” according to our reviewer Andrew. It’s bright and colorful, as you’d expect from a Samsung screen. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor is the fastest on the market, with a 9 percent speed boost over the previous generation of Samsung phones. The S21 also comes with 8GB of RAM and 128 or 256GB of storage that cannot be expanded with a microSD card.
A 12-megapixel main sensor, a 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor, and a 64-megapixel 3x lossless zoom lens are among the three cameras on the S21. As Andrew puts it, “All three cameras produce crisp, high-quality images. They excel at capturing fine detail in bright light while also being able to produce excellent low-light results in most situations. Samsung has a habit of over-saturating its photos, and this is no exception: the vibrant results can make photos look more appealing, but they can also appear unnatural or over-brightened.” When you add it all up, this isn’t just the best Android phone on the market today; it’s also the best smartphones overall.
Screen Size: 6.2 inches | Resolution: 1080 x 2400 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | Camera: 64MP/12MP/12MP rear and 10MP front | Battery: 4,000mAh
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The iPhone 12 is Apple’s () most recent phone, and it is, without a doubt, the best it has ever produced. We had to choose between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro once again. We chose the iPhone 12 because it offers the best value, in our opinion. You get more RAM, a 2X optical zoom camera, and additional camera features like Lidar with the iPhone 12 Pro. Those are nice, but we don’t think they’re worth the extra cash. However, the iPhone 12 Pro is a fantastic phone.
The iPhone 12 features a squared-off design reminiscent of the iPhone 4, as well as 5G connectivity. The A14 Bionic processor is a monster. We put it to the test in benchmarks and found that it outperformed Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888. The phone only has 4GB of RAM, which is far below the industry standard for 2021, but it has no effect on the phone’s day-to-day performance. We bring it up only in case you have any future proofing concerns. Another flaw is the lack of a charging brick in the box. We’ll give Apple a pass because they claim it’s for environmental reasons. The iPhone’s screen also has a 60Hz refresh rate, which is quickly becoming obsolete.
A 12-megapixel main sensor and a 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor are included in the iPhone 12’s dual-camera setup. The color deviation between the two sensors is very small, so you’ll get the same colors with either one. According to Andrew, one of our reviewers, you’ll get, “Detailed, well-balanced colors, and easy adaptability to all scenarios. Even night shots turn out well, retaining a surprising amount of detail without looking washed out in the process of bringing a dark moment to life.”
Overall, this is the best iPhone you can get for the money. If you want something a little more compact, check out the iPhone 12 Mini below, or the iPhone 12 Pro we mentioned earlier if you need a little more camera power.
Screen Size: 6.1 inches | Resolution: 2532×1170 | Processor: A14 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and 12MP front | Battery: 2,815mAh
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Best Camera: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra () earns its moniker by being the absolute best in its class in every way, but especially when it comes to photography. This phone has dual optical zoom sensors at 3X and 10X, in addition to the 108MP main camera and 12 MP ultrawide. The photos you can take with this phone are absolutely stunning. This is simply the best camera setup you can get on a phone if you value the ability to zoom in from afar – parents, travel bloggers, astrophotographers.
In terms of the rest of the phone, you get the best of the best in every way. The Snapdragon 888 processor is included, as well as 12GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. You also get a 5,000 mAh battery, a 6.8-inch WQHD-resolution screen, and a 120Hz variable refresh rate. Of course, this means the phone is enormous and takes up the entirety of your pants pocket.
The phone is also quite expensive, with an MSRP of $1,199. To make matters worse, this phone comes without a charging cable. When you’re buying a $799 iPhone, that’s annoying, but at $1,199, it’s borderline criminal. However, if you want the best camera on the best phone, you’ll have to pay a premium. In every way, this phone earns the moniker Ultra.
Screen Size: 6.8 inches | Resolution: 3200×1440 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | Camera: 108MP/10MP/10MP/12MP rear and 40MP front | Battery: 5,000mAh
Best Value: Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Apple wanted to offer most of the features that made the iPhone 11 great in early 2020, but at a significantly lower price. The result was the iPhone SE (). This small phone is still equipped with the A13 bionic processor despite its small size. The A13 outperforms even 2021 flagship phones like the Galaxy S21 in benchmark tests. The iPhone SE has the same RAM and storage options as the iPhone 5, but it’s hidden behind a 4.7-inch screen with a Touch-ID enabled home button. The phone comes with a single 12MP camera, which is about as good as a single camera on a phone can get.
Because the phone’s design is similar to that of the iPhone 6, some people think it’s outdated. The iPhone SE, on the other hand, is designed for people who want a powerful phone but don’t want to carry around a phone large enough to land small planes. Apple did not include 5G connectivity in the iPhone SE, and a 5G iPhone would not be released for another 6 months after the iPhone SE was released. This phone’s battery life is also lacking. Because of the battery compromises that had to be made in order to get the phone this small, the phone has trouble lasting a day. However, the phone does come with wireless charging, which is a nice feature.
In general, if you want a powerful Apple phone with a fingerprint scanner in a small package, this is the best phone that meets all of those requirements.
Screen Size: 4.7 inches | Resolution: 1334×750 | Processor: A13 Bionic | Camera: 12MP rear and 7MP front | Battery: 1,821mAh
Best Value (Android): Google Pixel 4a
Google Pixel phones are made by the company that also makes Android. Photography is one area where Google Pixel phones have consistently excelled. The Pixel serves as a demonstration of what Android can be. Furthermore, Google’s own phones typically receive benefits such as feature drops and updates ahead of almost any other Android phone. The Pixel A-series phones have a little less power and are a little less attractive, but they still provide an excellent Android experience.
The Snapdragon 730G mid-range processor and 6GB of RAM power the Google Pixel 4a (), which offers a great Android experience. Those specs aren’t particularly impressive on their own, but Android runs smoothly on them and provides a fantastic experience, as well as all-day battery life. The phone has a single camera, which our reviewer Andrew says is “so consistent that I’d choose it over the multi-camera modules of much more expensive phones with subpar cameras.”
Look elsewhere if you’re looking for a beautiful phone. This phone has a very plain appearance. In addition, the Pixel 4a does not support 5G. The Pixel 4a 5G (View on Amazon) is another Google phone that can connect to 5G networks, but it’s not the one we’re recommending here. The Pixel 4a is currently available for under $350, making it one of the best phones available at that price point. If you want pure Android and are on a budget, this is the phone to get.
Screen Size: 5.8 inches | Resolution: 1080 x 23400 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G | Camera: 12.2MP/12.2 rear and 8MP front | Battery: 3,140mAH
Best Design: OnePlus 9 Pro
OnePlus began its smartphones journey as the “flagship killer,” promoting phones with extremely high specifications at a low cost. OnePlus has progressed from being a flagship killer to actually being a flagship. The OnePlus 9 Pro () is the best phone OnePlus has ever produced, and it shows in a variety of ways. OnePlus’s latest flagship features high-end specs, excellent cameras, and 5G support on two of America’s three 5G networks. The OnePlus 9Pro isn’t compatible with AT&T’s 5G network, but Verizon and T-Mobile are.
OnePlus has a history of delivering great specs but consistently poor cameras. That is no longer the case, as the OnePlus 9 Pro also offers an excellent camera experience. The phone has three cameras, one of which has a 3.3x optical zoom. Hasselblad has fine-tuned all of the cameras to ensure that they perform well in a variety of lighting conditions.
One area where the OnePlus 9 shines is in the charging department. Not only does OnePlus include a charging brick in the box, but that charging brick also provides a whopping 65W of power, allowing you to charge your phone from zero to full in just 33 minutes. A wireless charger, which can be purchased separately, can charge your phone from 1% to 70% in just 30 minutes. If you need to top off quickly before heading out for the evening, or if you forget to charge your phone overnight and need some juice before heading to work, these incredible charge times can save the day.
Screen Size: 6.7 inches | Resolution: 3216×1440 | Processor: Snapdragon 888 | Camera: 48MP/8MP/50MP/2MP rear and 16MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh
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Best 5G: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE () is a compromise as well as a course correction in one. The Galaxy S20 “fan edition” foregoes many of the bells and whistles of its flagship siblings while maintaining an excellent core of functionality. A 1080p screen with a 120Hz refresh rate is included. Although the phone’s back is made of plastic, it still supports wireless charging. In other words, if you’re willing to make a small concession, you’ll be getting a lot of phone.
The Snapdragon 865 processor, 6 or 8 GB of RAM, and 128 or 256GB of storage are all included. 5G is available, but not mmWave 5G. In general, this is a fast phone with excellent battery life. “On a typical day,” our reviewer Andrew wrote, “I’d typically wind up within spitting distance of a 50% charge by the time I hit the pillow.”
The camera setup is identical to that of the Samsung Galaxy S20, with the exception that instead of a cropped 64GB cropped sensor, you get a 3x optical zoom. “Everyday snaps are pretty excellent across the board, with strong detail and vivid coloring,” Andrew says, “although Samsung’s aggressive processing can sometimes give photos an unrealistic sheen.”
Screen Size: 6.5 inches | Resolution: 2400×1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 | Camera: 12MP/8MP/12MP rear and 32MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh
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Many reviewers favored the iPhone 12 mini () when Apple released the iPhone 12. The iPhone 12 mini has the same features as the iPhone 12 but is smaller and has a smaller battery. Everything else, including the processor, RAM, storage, and cameras, is identical.
On the bright side, this makes it one of the most powerful small phones available. You get the A14 bionic processor, as well as excellent cameras and 5G connectivity. The downside is that the battery is small by today’s standards, and it may struggle to last a full day on a single charge. Although iOS usually runs well on a smaller battery, the iPhone 12 Mini’s battery may be a little too small.
Of course, if you don’t mind charging up during the day or at work, that isn’t an issue. The iPhone 12 Mini packs flagship-level performance into a small package that fits easily in your pocket or bag.
Screen Size: 5.4 inches | Resolution: 2340×1080 | Processor: A14 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and12MP front | Battery: 2,227mAh
The Final Word
Overall, the choice for best overall is a personal one. If you prefer Android, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy S21; otherwise, we recommend the iPhone 12. We prefer the S21 because it has a more versatile camera setup, a better display, and excellent battery life. The iPhone 12, and even the iPhone 12 Pro, cameras fall short. Regardless, the iPhone 12 is the best iOS value available. It’s quick, fluid, and has a fantastic camera. With either of these options, you can’t go wrong.