The best phones in 2021 are astonishingly good and will make your life better. They're your window on the world, your constant companion, the place you go to work, play and relax.
The best phones today are much more than phones. They're health trackers, fitness coaches, cutting-edge cameras, movie makers, friend finders and games consoles, and with the right apps they can do pretty much everything.
For most people, the most important device they own is their smartphone. So the T3 best phones guide has to cover all kinds of buyers and all kinds of phones, from budget bargains to fantastic flagships. No matter what you use your phone for or how much you want to spend, you'll find the best phones for any budget and any person here.
Some of the best phones here are quite expensive, but that doesn't mean you need to spend a lot of money on your next phone. We've included some brilliant and affordable models in this guide, and if you'd like to explore even more options we've also curated a guide dedicated solely to the best cheap phones. We can also help if you're looking for a compact device rather than an enormo-screened obelisk: check out T3's best small phones feature to discover some killer compacts.
We've also created a comprehensive guide to the best gaming phones and a guide to the fastest 5G phones. And if you prefer your phone to come from a specific brand, make sure you check out T3's best Samsung phones and best Huawei phones guides.
We haven't included any foldable phones in our best phones guide. That isn't because they're bad phones, but we think they're aimed at a different market sector than more traditional models. That's why we've created a separate guide to the best foldable phones on the market from brands including Samsung, Huawei, Motorola and more.
- iPhone 13 pre orders: the best deals on the new iPhones
- iPhone 13 reviews roundup: people love the battery and camera improvements
The best phones you can buy today
As night follow day, does Apple produce one great smartphone after the next. Indeed, the iPhone 13 takes smartphone refinement and quality to a whole new level and for most people it will be the ideal companion.
No single feature stands out on the iPhone 13, but that's really part of its attraction – it's a powerful all-rounder that just delivers a great experience across the board, from raw power thanks to the rapid A15 Bionic processor, to bright Super Retina XDR 6.1-inch screen, and low-latency 5G connectivity.
It's stylish and light, too, with the iPhone 13 weighing in at a very pocket and bag friendly 173 grams, while the five colorways the phone is available in (pink, blue, black, white and red) mean there's a phone for each taste.
- Read: Apple iPhone 13 review
Throw in a very capable camera system with a pair of 12MP wide-angle and ultra-wide angle lenses on the rear, as well as strong selfie camera on the front, and photography is handled easily, while 4K 60fps video recording is on tap, too.
Battery life is genuinely all-day, with 19 hours of video playback on offer (that's two hours more than iPhone 12 and three hours more than iPhone 11), and iOS remains the best in class software experience for accessibility and intuitiveness as well.
Roll all this together with a very approachable price point, both SIM free and on contract, and you've got the best phone for most people on the market today.
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.
- Read: OnePlus 9 Pro review
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
The Google Pixel 4a 5G isn't the cheapest Pixel that Google has brought out recently, 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.
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.
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 1440x3200 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.
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.