Best phone for most people
The iPhone 12 combines just about everything you could possibly want in a smartphone: blazing fast speeds, polished software, a huge choice of apps, a fantastic camera, and decent battery life. Rival handsets from the likes of Samsung, Google and OnePlus run it close, but at the moment the iPhone 12 is the best phone for most people.
The best phones in the world today are truly incredible devices – and there's an incredible range to choose from. Whether you're looking for a budget smartphone or a flagship packed with cutting-edge technology there have never been so many brilliant phones to choose from.
The best phones in 2021 aren't necessarily the highest of the high-end phones. Innovation is everywhere, and even budget smartphones deliver the kind of technology and user experience that you simply couldn't get just a few years ago. The intense competition in the mid-range and budget market is really driving innovation, and that means ever better phones at affordable prices. You have to try really hard to find a bad handset these days.
There is a problem with all that choice, though. How do you actually choose the best phone in 2021? The best place to start is right here. We know the strengths and weaknesses of the current smartphone crop: the things they excel at, the things certain models do very differently from everybody else, the things that will excite and delight you every day. And we're constantly updating our guide to the best phones in 2021 so you've always got the best information.
Whether you're interested in an iPhone or an Android phone, a budget bargain or a fantastic flagship, these are the best phones for every kind of person and for every kind of budget.
This best smartphone buying guide has been designed to help you not only discover the best phones on the market, but also to narrow down which is right for you and the things you're going to want your phone to do.
That's why there's such a range of devices here. We've got phones with killer features and the very latest technology, but we've also got excellent all-rounders for people who need a budget smartphone they can rely on. From the simple to the super-powered, we think our best phones buying guide will find the perfect partner for you.
Don't forget that T3 also has a brilliant selection of platform and manufacturer-specific buying guides, so if you only want to look at the best Android phones then you can do that – or if you only want to consider the top cheap phones then you can save time by skipping more expensive models. And if you've got smaller hands or just prefer not to have a massive phone, then you can view only the best small phones.
Let's discover the best phones you can buy today.
These are the best phones available today
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.
We also really like the flatter design that Apple has introduced for the iPhones this year. Add to that the choice of cool colours – white, black, blue, green and red – and it's a really impressive overall package. Unless you have a real affinity for Android, this could well be the smartphone for you.
- Read: Apple iPhone 12 review
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.
OnePlus' ascension to the top smartphone table is complete with the OnePlus 8 Pro, which is a simply jaw-dropping handset that delivers across the board. It is, simply put, the best phone on the market for those shopping for a premium Android handset.
There are so many reasons why the OnePlus 8 Pro is so special, but first among them is its simply astonishing 120Hz, QHD+, HDR10+ screen, which is the best display ever seen on a mobile phone. Other premium phones have delivered part of that holy trio of screen features, but none has managed to do them all at once.
- Read: OnePlus 8 Pro review
The OnePlus 8 Pro also comes with a simply rapid suite of top-shelf internal hardware, next-gen 5G connectivity and a selection of advanced phone features like reverse wireless charging and IP68 water and dust proofing. Naturally, as this is a phone from OnePlus, the design and ergonomics are also fantastic.
With super benchmark scores and a battery that goes the distance to back it up, as too the best camera system OnePlus has put out to date, there is simply no reason why those shopping at the premium end of the smartphone market shouldn't consider the OnePlus 8 Pro first and foremost. It is a true flagship phone in every sense of the word and the best Android phone (and best premium phone full stop) available today.
Oh, and if all that wasn't a good enough reason to ring a OnePlus 8 Pro up, then it has also won the hyper-prestigious Best Phone award in the T3 Awards 2020.
Want to compare the top two phones on the market? Then check out T3's Apple iPhone 12 vs OnePlus 8 Pro: which phone is best for you? guide.
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.
- Read: Apple iPhone SE review
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.
It's hard to know where to start with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, because Samsung has really gone to town here, from the 100x digital zoom on the rear camera to the huge 6.9-inch AMOLED display you get around the front. It's the priciest of the S20 models, and it shows.
Of course it's a stunning phone to look at, something you would expect from Samsung at this stage. Inside you have some of the best internal components you're going to find in a handset in 2021. And then around the back is one of the best and most versatile cameras on the market.
- Read our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Don't forget the hefty 5,000mAh battery here either, ensuring the phone will be able to run and run no matter what you put it through. It's hard to find any fault in what the S20 Ultra offers, and it's hard to find a phone in 2021 that's able to beat it in any of the key departments that matter.
The only real downside is the price, which is undoubtedly top tier. As we said in our review, though, "if you are a tech enthusiast and have pockets deep enough to wield it, then the S20 Ultra is impossible not to recommend".
There's 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 you're going to get this year. 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.
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.
- Read: OnePlus 8T review
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.
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.
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.
- Read: Sony Xperia 1 II review
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.
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 £599/$699 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.
- Read: Google Pixel 5 review
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.
The Galaxy S10 phones remain on sale, and even though they've been replaced by the Galaxy S20 range, they're still excellent choices – and better value than ever. The Galaxy phones are also doing something truly different from the iPhone and other rival flagship handsets. Whereas competitors have rushed to clone the notched screen design that first gained prominence with the iPhone X, Samsung has taken a dramatically different approach with its Infinity-O design.
Admittedly, that Infinity-O design isn't the prettiest thing to leave the Samsung R&D lab and definitely takes some getting used to. However, it has allowed Samsung to fit the S10 Plus with an expansive 6.4-inch AMOLED panel – that's the same size as the Galaxy Note 9 – while simultaneously shrinking the physical size of the smartphone compared to the Galaxy S9 Plus, which sports a 6.2-inch screen.
Elsewhere, Samsung has included dual-front facing cameras so you can shoot Live Focus photographs brimming with artificial bokeh-style blur. There's also some fun new depth effects with the Galaxy S10 range, including the ability to turn the background greyscale to make the subject of the image really pop. These can also be shot using the triple-camera on the back of the handset.
The rear-mounted camera also boasts an ultra-wide angle camera, which produces some incredibly dramatic shots. It also has less of the unsightly distortion we've seen from rival ultra-wide angle cameras in the past.
Finally, the new One UI operating system, which is based on Android Pie, is infinitely better than anything from the likes of LG or Sony. One UI has been designed from the ground-up to acknowledge that while we all want massive screens on our phones, massive smartphones are really annoying to use, especially one-handed while squished into the train carriage during a morning commute. To solve this headache, One UI shifts all the elements of the user interface that you’ll actually need to tap into the lower-third of the touchscreen where they are within easy reach.
The Galaxy S10 Plus isn't perfect. There are some really gimmicky new photo modes (who wants the background to look like it's spinning?!), the Infinity-O cut-out is a little bit unsightly and it can cost up to an eye-watering £1,399 for the maxed-out model with 12GB of RAM and 1TB of built-in storage.
However, these are nitpicks, and don't stop this from becoming our new go-to recommendation for anyone who wants the best phone on the market.
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.
OnePlus first made its name by offering very good phone specs at very good prices, so it's fitting that it's now back in that groove with the OnePlus Nord. While OnePlus phones have slowly got more expensive over the years, the Nord goes the other way and is a fantastic mid-ranger.
Starting at just £379 in the UK, you get a powerful Snapdragon 765G processor, at least 8GB of RAM, at least 128GB of storage, and 5G thrown in as well. That's not to mention the sharp, bright 6.44-inch display which zips along thanks to its 90Hz refresh rate – everything on this screen looks stunning.
Some compromises have been made to get the OnePlus Nord to this price: there's no wireless charging and no waterproofing, and the camera and battery life are good rather than great. All in all though, this is an amazing package that OnePlus has put together for the price.
- Read: OnePlus Nord review
Internals consist of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage space, and a 3,000mAh battery. The phone also comes with a compact but sharp 5.6-inch, FHD+ (2220 x 1080) OLED screen which delivers 441 ppi.
Throw in the phone's low weight (147 grams), understated and stylish design, and the fact that it comes with a guaranteed three years of Android OS updates and unlimited Google Photos cloud storage, and it is easy to see how the Google Pixel 3a has lodged itself into T3's best phones 2021 buying guide.
The Google Pixel 4a 5G isn't the cheapest Pixel that Google has brought out this year, and nor is it the most powerful, but it just might be the best – combining elements of the Pixel 4a and the Pixel 5 in one well-priced package.
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.
No, that’s not a mistake in the specifications. The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 really does have a 108 megapixel camera. And that’s not the only reason to consider it: in many ways it delivers the flagship smartphone experience for considerably less money.
Where other smartphones use AI to tweak their photos, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 goes for sheer sensor power. In addition to its 108MP main sensor it also has a 12MP sensor with 2x telephoto lens for portrait, another telephoto lens with 5x zoom and 5MP, a 2MP macro sensor and a 20MP ultra-wide camera. The results are among the very best photos you can get from any smartphone – although at 108MP you’ll fill up your storage much more quickly than with more modestly megapixeled devices.
Not everything is as impressive as that main camera. The 2MP macro lens isn’t very good, and the ultra-wide camera is okay but not class-leading. The processor is a Snapdragon 730G, which is fairly mid-range these days, and it’s one of the reasons this phone costs so much less than some of its rivals. Nevertheless the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 is a good all-rounder with an exceptional main camera, so if photography is your thing this is definitely one to consider.
Best phones: extra information
Down the years we've become very good at reviewing and rating the best phones around – from the Apple iPhone 11 Pro to the Google Pixel 4, from the OnePlus 8 Pro to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, you've got a mouth-watering selection of the best the smartphone industry has to offer right here.
5G smartphones are now appearing on the scene, although for the moment our list of best phones includes both 5G and 4G models: if you live in an area that already has 5G coverage, and just want to shop 5G phones, then be sure to scope out T3's best 5G phones guide.
Every quality phone you need to weigh up can be found in our best phone 2021 guide. We've tested every aspect of each phone, from how long the battery lasts to how good the screen looks, from internal specs to camera quality – that way we can make very clear recommendations of what each phone's strengths are and who they would be perfect partners for.
As phones are very important tools in our everyday lives, we've also spent some serious time with each handset in our best phones list as well, so we can let you know exactly what, say, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 or Apple iPhone 11 is like to live with on an extended daily basis.
We've only included the absolute best phones in this list, and we've listed them in order of preference too, so the decision-making process for picking up your next premium handset should be made much easier.
So whether you're currently after the most powerful Android smartphone money can buy, or a shiny new iPhone upgrade from Apple, we've seen and extensively tested all the best phones on the market so you don't have to. Take a look above and we guarantee you'll find the best phone for your needs.
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.
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.