Best phones 2021: the very best smartphones, ranked

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

Best phones 2021
(Image credit: Samsung)

If you're looking to buy a new smartphone then our best phones guide is designed to show you the top handsets on the market today in 2021.

This best phones list shows the mobile devices that we recommend above all others, no matter their maker, OS, size, type or cost.

However, if you already know what type of phone, maker or OS that you want to invest in, then we've also got specialist guides to things like the best Android phones or best iPhones.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for an affordable new phone upgrade, then you'll be best served with our guide to the best cheap phones, or if you want a compact device you'll find plenty of choice in T3's best small phones feature.

Oh, and we've also got a comprehensive roundup of the best gaming phones, as well as the fastest 5G phones, too.

Right here, though, we present the best of the best phones available, as tested by T3.  We've thoroughly tested every single one of these handsets in great detail, and done so in everyday environments, too. This is because we want to be able to inform our readers as to exactly how these handsets perform in the real world.

To get started, simply scroll down or click the nearby 'Best phones' link.

The best phones you can buy today

best phones 2021 iPhone 12

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

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple iPhone 12

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

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.

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.

best mobile phone 2021 OnePlus 8 ProT3 Awards 2020

The OnePlus 8 Pro is the best premium phone on the market today in 2021.

(Image credit: OnePlus)

2. OnePlus 8 Pro

The best premium phone

Specifications
Weight: 199g
Dimensions: 165.3 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm
OS: OxygenOS 10.5 / Android 10
Screen size: 6.78 inches
Resolution: 1440 x 3168
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4510mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 48MP + 8MP + 5MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+Astonishing 120Hz, QHD+, HDR10+ screen+Rapid internal hardware+Next-gen 5G connectivity+Stylish design with great ergonomics

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.

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.

Best phones 2021 Apple iPhone SE

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

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPhone SE (2020)

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

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.

best phones 2021 Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra packs in everything and then some.

(Image credit: Samsung)

4. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

This is the best Galaxy phone Samsung has ever put out

Specifications
Weight: 222g
Dimensions: 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.9 inches
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Exynos 990 / Snapdragon 865
RAM: 12GB/16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000 mAh
Rear camera: 108 MP wide + 48 MP periscope + 12 MP ultrawide + 0.3 MP TOF
Front camera: 40MP + 40MP
Reasons to buy
+Huge, super smooth 120Hz screen+Hyper premium internal hardware+Versatile, feature-packed camera

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.

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".

best phones 2021 Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

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

(Image credit: Samsung)

5. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

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

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.

best phones 2021 OnePlus 8T

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

(Image credit: OnePlus)

6. OnePlus 8T

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

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.

best phones 2021 iPhone 12 Pro

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

(Image credit: Apple)

7. iPhone 12 Pro

The best smartphone for Apple users who want something a little more premium

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

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.

best mobile phone 2021 Sony Xperia 1 II

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

(Image credit: Sony)

8. Sony Xperia 1 II

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

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.

best phones 2021 Google Pixel 5

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

(Image credit: Google)

9. Google Pixel 5

A pure new Android phone 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

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.

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.

best phones 2021 Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is a great large phone pick for Android users.

10. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Still one of the best phones in the world

Specifications
Weight: 175g
Dimensions: 74.1 x 157.6 x 7.8mm
OS: Android 9.0 (Pie)
Screen size: 6.4-inches
Resolution: QHD+
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 / Exynos 9820
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4,100mAh
Rear camera: Triple 16MP Ultra Wide-Angle + 12MP Dual Aperture + 12MP Telephoto
Front camera: 10MP + 8MP Depth Sensor
Reasons to buy
+Expansive 6.4-Inch Quad HD+ AMOLED+Up to 1.5TB storage via MicroSD card+Awesome Live Focus images from front-facing camera

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.

best phones 2021 Huawei Mate 40 Pro

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

(Image credit: Huawei)

11. Huawei Mate 40 Pro

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

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.

best smartphones 2021 OnePlus Nord

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

(Image credit: OnePlus)

12. OnePlus Nord

The best mid-range phone of 2021

Specifications
Weight: 184 g
Dimensions: 158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm
OS: OxygenOS / Android 10
Screen size: 6.44 inches
Resolution: 1080 x 2400 pixels
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 4115 mAh
Rear camera: 48MP f/1.8 wide + 8MP f/2.3 ultrawide + 5MP f/2.4 depth + 2MP f/2.4 macro
Front camera: 32MP f/2.5 wide + 8MP f/2.5 ultrawide
Reasons to buy
+Excellent screen and build quality+Clean, powerful OxygenOS+Packs in some high-end specs

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.

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.

best phones Google Pixel 4a 5G

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

(Image credit: Google)

12. Google Pixel 4a 5G

Just about the best Pixel of 2021

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

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.

best phones 2021 Xiaomi Mi Note 10

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

13. Xiaomi Mi Note 10

The best phone when you need more megapixels

Specifications
Weight: 208g
DImensions: 157.8 x 74.2 x 9.7mm
OS: Android 9
Screen: 6.47” AMOLED with HDR 10
Resolution: 2340 x 1080
CPU: Snapdragon 730G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 5260mAh
Rear camera: 108MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+108 megapixels!+Great display+Fast charging

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 Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

Best phones 2021: Why no Samsung Galaxy S21?

T3 is currently testing the Samsung Galaxy S21 range of smartphones, following on from the range's dramatic unveiling at Samsung Unpacked last week. The range consists of the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, so there is plenty to test out and until we've comprehensively put these phones through their paces we think it best they are withheld from T3's best phones buying guide.

We expect our first reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S21 handsets to go live on 21 January, 2021.

What we would say, though, is that for anyone currently looking to upgrade to a Samsung phone, remember that the handsets listed in this guide could change within the next week or two. Right now the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE reside in our best phones guide, and it makes sense that one or more of these phones will get replaced with a newer model.

As such, right now we're advising Galaxy shoppers to wait just a few more days, as that way you'll be fully informed as to whether a handset from the S21 series would be best for you or one from an older range.

For more information about how the Samsung Galaxy S21 compares on paper to the Galaxy S20 and S10, be sure to check out T3's two comparison features, which are Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S10 and Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 respectively.

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.

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