What is the best smartphone you can buy?
There are so many good phones to choose from right now but which one is the king of the castle? Is there even a winner? In truth, there's no one perfect choice for everyone, so bear in mind that the best phone for you might not be number one in our chart.
Phones come in all shapes, sizes and prices. Here, we have ranked and reviewed the ten best phones money can buy.
While you're going to find established brands like Apple and Samsung in this list, you might not be familiar with every phone-maker we've recommended. With that said, trust us - these phones are all top-notch and if you want to know more, you can simply hop into each phone's full review.
iPhone 12 - Best all-rounder
The iPhone 12 represents a leap forward for the iPhone, offering not only an improved design reminiscent of the beloved iPhone 5 and iPad Pro, but the same 6.1in Super Retina XDR display as the Pro model - something Apple hasn't offered on the standard model in the past.
Once you look past the design and improved display, it's the heart of the iPhone 12 that's most impressive. Featuring the A14 Bionic, Apple's new chipset beats just about everything else available at the moment, and that's without the extra RAM available on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.
There's also an improved camera setup with better low-light photography and smart tech to help reduce the warp of photos taken on the ultra-wide lens. There's even Dolby Vision video recording, albeit capped at [email protected]
Simply put, the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 is all the iPhone you'll need. It's harder than ever to justify the expensive leap to the iPhone 12 Pro, with the same design, display and processor, and a similar camera setup too.
Read our full Apple iPhone 12 review
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra - Best performance
After 2020's disappointing Galaxy S20 Ultra, Samsung has finally earned the name with a follow-up that delivers almost everything you could want from an Android flagship - admittedly at a price that only a few can afford, and in a form factor that will simply be too big for some.
The camera stands unrivalled - in terms of versatility - with a 108Mp main shooter backed up by an ultrawide and two telephoto lenses at different zoom levels (3x and 10x).
The expansive 6.8in display delivers both high WQHD+ resolution and an adaptive refresh rate up to 120Hz, making it great for gaming and with new S-pen stylus support, it fills the productivity niche of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra too.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Oppo Find X3 Pro - Superb camera
The Find X3 Pro is Oppo's all-singing, all-dancing flagship device, and it earns its spot at the top of this chart.
Yes, it's expensive, and there's no denying that. But you get the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset, 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, and 65W wired charging together with 30W wireless.
The main and ultrawide cameras both pack the same 50Mp sensor, and offer almost exactly the same quality shots, with punchy colours, oodles of detail, and great dynamic range. There's 'only' a 2x zoom camera - no periscopic lens here, sadly - but you also get a novel new microlens camera, capable of taking super-closeup shots.
Those cameras are capable of outputting images in 10-bit colour, and in fact the phone supports true 10-bit storage and encryption too, right through to the 10-bit, 120Hz, WQHD+ display - possibly the best in any phone right now.
This is not just Oppo's best phone, but one of the best flagships on the market from any company.
Read our full Oppo Find X3 Pro review
Samsung Galaxy S21 - Best for ease of use
The baby of 2021's Galaxy S lineup, the Galaxy S21 doesn't push the envelope in any one area but at the same time addresses the S20's bland design with some new aesthetic and colour choices.
What's more, it also offers up better battery life and the new 5nm chipset at its heart (the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100, depending on where you pick one up) is some undeniably powerful silicon, granting the phone great long-term performance and integrated 5G.
Add to that the latest Android 11 (dressed in Samsung's own One UI 3.1, at launch) and a lower starting price than even the 4G version of last year's Galaxy S20 and the S21 is a difficult handset to overlook.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review
Xiaomi Mi 11 - Great performance
Xiaomi's current flagship (at least until the Mi 11 Pro and Ultra arrive in China and globally, respectively) serves as the perfect foil to Samsung's base Galaxy S21.
It may not have the most capable camera system of any Android phone currently out there but there's no denying that the 108Mp 1/1.33in sensor that leads its photographic setup is undeniably strong.
Similarly to the S21, it also boasts top-tier performance - powered by a Snapdragon 888 processor - and a host of other highlights, including stereo speakers, 50W fast charging, and an expansive 6.81in WQHD+ 120Hz AMOLED display.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 review
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra - The specs beast
The Mi 11 Ultra is big, ugly and expensive, but it's also brilliant.
Provided you're comfortable with the size, weight and its plateau of a camera bump, the Mi 11 Ultra packs in some superb snappers, accompanied by a rear display that shows you the time, notifications and even doubles as a viewfinder.
Top tier internals deliver serious performance, including super-fast wired and wireless charging, as well as a stunning 6.81in WQHD+ 120Hz AMOLED display. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is its most like-minded alternative, but if you're more of a Xiaomi fan, the Mi 11 Ultra has no equal.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra review
OnePlus 8 Pro - Best user experience
The OnePlus 8 Pro is arguably the company's first full flagship, finally incorporating long-requested features like wireless charging and an IP68 waterproof rating to make it a genuine contender with the likes of Samsung's finest of 2020.
Even the base model is no slouch, at 8GB RAM and 128GB storage; representing serious value by flagship standards, even a year on from release.
The 8 Pro's camera is a great step forward for the company and while it still lags behind rivals, OnePlus' imaging engineers have clearly worked hard to narrow the gap considerably. Throw in 5G, a great design and the best Android skin around and the OnePlus 8 Pro is easy to recommend.
Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review
Google Pixel 5 - Most compact
Google's first 5G flagship walks a different path to its predecessors, showcasing Android 11 to the best of its abilities but also shedding the more experimental features of previous generations and opting for more conservative hardware at the same time.
Its clean design and user experience are supported by a set of superb - and now more feature-rich - cameras, as well as an incredibly compact design and battery life that's actually usable.
Read our full Google Pixel 5 review
iPhone 12 Pro Max - Best for multimedia
The iPhone 12 Pro Max may not utilise its expansive display as effectively as the Note 20 Ultra does - especially when it comes to matters of productivity - but it's an undeniably superb large-screened phone all the same.
It boasts some of the best performance on the market, 5G (for the first time on an iPhone), a stunning 6.7in OLED display, great battery life, support for MagSafe for iPhone accessories and totes one of the most capable smartphone cameras money can buy - complete with sensor-shift OIS (optical image stabilisation), something we've never seen on a smartphone before.
Provided you're comfortable with its sizeable proportions, you'll just have to grapple with its equally demanding high price tag.
Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review
Realme GT - Best value flagship
Last year's Realme X50 Pro offered impressive performance for any flagship, let alone one at the price point it managed to hit and history looks to be repeating itself, with this year's Realme GT.
First off, make sure to pick up the vegan leather-backed model, it's an undeniable head-turner.
In all areas except perhaps camera, it's as capable as phones twice its price. A Snapdragon 888 runs the show, paired with up to 12GB of speedy LPDDR5 RAM and accompanied by equally snappy UFS 3.1 storage (up to 256GB).
A 120Hz Full HD+ AMOLED sits on the phone's front, while a 4500mAh battery with 65W fast charging lies beneath the back cover. This thing is all about speed and delivers it at an incredible price.
Read our full Realme GT 5G review
Xiaomi Poco F3 - Best value mid-ranger
Xiaomi sub-brand Poco is playing hardball in 2021, delivering some of the best value-for-money on the smartphone scene by quite some margin.
The Poco F3's main point of appeal has to be its flagship-class Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 chipset, paired with an astoundingly low asking price, considering the level of performance on offer.
The F3 also offers up speedy 33W fast charging and a large super-smooth 120Hz AMOLED Full HD+ display, meaning it's also great for media and gaming.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco F3 review
Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro - Most affordable
Building on the success of Tech Advisor's 'Budget Phone of the Year' last year, the Poco X3 Pro sports a top-tier chip, despite costing a fraction of other phones wielding this level of power.
A Snapdragon 860 SoC delivers outrageous performance, not to mention it boasts a beautiful 120Hz display and absolutely fantastic battery life.
The X3 Pro isn’t perfect, of course. The big battery makes it bulky, the cameras could be better and MIUI 12 leaves much to be desired, but they don't stop this phone from being ab unmistakably great budget offering.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro review
Your buying guide for the best phones in 2021
When choosing a phone you should consider these things: build quality and design, ease of use, features, performance, and value.
Generally speaking, a flagship phone in 2021 will start at around £700 but can cost over £1,000 in some cases. On contract, you're looking at between £30 and £50-per-month on average but you can spend a lot more if you want an expensive phone and lots of mobile data.
It's worth noting that while this list highlights the best smartphones available right now, that doesn't explicitly mean flagships (even though they do feature heavily here). There are entries that cross over with our mid-range and budget phone charts too, but earnt their place based on the capabilities and quality on offer, relative to their price.
Buying a phone outright will usually give you the best value, but we appreciate finances in the real world don't always accommodate such big one-off purchases. If you can, you'll obviously need a SIM card and plan, as well as the phone. If you don't already have one, check out our best SIM-only deals.
Should you buy an iPhone or Android phone?
There's more than one mobile operating system, but really only two worth talking about: Android and iOS.
The vast majority of phones today run Android; 11 being the latest publicly-released version. Apple’s iOS platform, meanwhile, may have a lower market share but developers almost always release their apps on iOS first. As a result of this approach, it has one of the best app stores you can find.
If you have an Android phone or an iPhone and want to move to a phone running the other OS (operating system), it's fairly easy to transfer your contacts and other select data from one to the other. What you can't move are paid-for apps and certain app data (like WhatsApp backups), so keep this in mind if you're considering a change of platform - and research any specific concerns you may have about the process.
Why you should buy an unlocked phone
The most important point is that an unlocked phone is almost always a better deal than buying a phone on contract - if you can afford it.
The only real exception to this is Apple's iPhones - because of their traditional popularity, operators often subsidise the cost of buying an iPhone in order to lock you into a lucrative long-term deal.
Generally speaking, if you can afford the upfront cost of the handset, you will pay less over the life of your phone by buying unlocked.
More importantly, you are not locked into a lengthy contract. If you want a new handset at any time, you can buy one without having to up-purchase your way out of said contract or commit to another two years.
Just be sure to make certain the phone you're getting is not locked to a certain network.
The right SIM
One other thing to consider is the size and shape of the SIM required for your phone. Make sure you get a nano-SIM if a nano-SIM is what your phone requires.
For the record, every phone in our top ten takes a nano-SIM.
If you get that wrong it is easily solvable - every network will gladly send over a different-sized SIM. SIM cards tend to come in all three sizes - you simply pop out the one you need.
But that's assuming you are getting a new SIM, and if you're looking for a SIM-free phone or unlocked phone you probably already have one.
More important is to make sure that if you want 5G you get a 5G-enabled phone and SIM.
Related: How we test smartphones
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