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 13 Pro - Best iPhone
- Pros: 120Hz display | Superb cameras | Top-tier performance | Improved battery life
- Cons: Cinematography Mode and HDR algorithm need work | Pricey
Unlike last year, where the standard iPhone 12 won out against its Pro-branded sibling, this year's iPhone 13 Pro is undoubtedly the one to beat.
At first glance, the 13 Pro uses a familiar 6.1in Super Retina XDR display but Apple has finally decided to bring ProMotion to the iPhone this year, with the panel now topping out at a super-smooth 120Hz. The notch is also 20% smaller too.
As for the cameras, you can expect bigger sensors and faster apertures that mean improved low light performance, far more comparable quality when switching to the phone's ultrawide (which also now offers macro shooting capabilities) and a 3x telephoto snapper, letting you shoot further than before.
What's more, the iPhone still leads when it comes to video capture, gaining some smart new features like Cinematography Mode, granting greater control over how your footage looks in the moment.
Pair that ProMotion tech with the phone's new A15 Bionic chip and a bigger battery, and you can expect some sizeable longevity gains; rendering this a two-day iPhone on a single charge.
Read our full Apple iPhone 13 Pro review
Google Pixel 6 Pro - Best for Android
- Pros: 120Hz display | Superb cameras | Slick OS | Greatly improved battery life
- Cons: Biggest, thickest, heaviest Pixel yet | Awkward fast charging
Google is shaking things up for 2021, with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro debuting the company's new Tensor silicon and a refreshed Android 12 experience along with a completely new design and some significantly enhanced cameras.
Despite dropping the 'Pixel XL' naming convention a couple of years back, the 6 Pro is an undeniably sizeable phone, with a stunning QHD+ curved-edge OLED that – for the first time in the series – makes the move to a higher 120Hz smooth refresh rate (just like the iPhone 13 Pro range).
The camera system also relies on a new 50Mp main sensor, which packs astounding dynamic range and showcases smart new features like Magic Eraser and rock-solid Face Unblur. It's also backed up by both a 12Mp ultrawide and a periscopic 48Mp telephoto camera, with a 4x optical zoom; a far cry from the Pixel range's old single-sensor approach to photography.
Tensor doesn't benchmark well against the competition but in real-world use offers more than enough grunt to handle the most demanding mobile apps and games, while also boasting a specialised skill set for machine learning and AI tasks that rival silicon lags behind in.
A huge 5003mAh battery also ensures some of the best battery life on a Pixel ever, even if fast charging is a bit of a mess.
Read our full Google Pixel 6 Pro review
iPhone 13 - Best for ease of use
- Pros: Brilliant performance | Capable cameras | Long battery life | Great value
- Cons: Still a 60Hz display | No telephoto camera | Slow charging
While it loses out on the 13 Pro's high refresh rate display, the iPhone 13 still boasts cutting-edge features like Apple's newest A15 Bionic 5nm chip and the latest camera features, like Cinema Mode.
The rear camera system now sits at a diagonal, primarily to accommodate the impressive sensor-shift OIS (optical image stabilisation) that was exclusive to last year's iPhone 12 Pro Max (although there's still no telephoto), while on the front – despite the same 60Hz refresh rate as last year – you still get a stunning 6.1in OLED display, complete with a smaller notch.
iOS 15 is an excellent improvement on Apple's already well-respected mobile operating system; adding wellbeing features like notification summary that ensure you're not constantly distracted by your device.
Like the Pro, some of the best battery life on an iPhone comes as part of the iPhone 13 experience but fast charging speeds are still well behind the curve.
Read our full Apple iPhone 13 review
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra - Most versatile camera
- Pros: Rich camera experience | Great performance | Stunning screen | Good battery life
- Cons: Big and heavy | Expensive
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 optical 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 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 cameras
- Pros: Best-in-class display | Outstanding battery life | Great rear cameras
- Cons: No telephoto camera | Performance throttling
The Find X3 Pro is Oppo's all-singing, all-dancing flagship device and it earns its spot on this chart.
Yes, it's expensive, and there's no denying that. But you get a top-shelf Snapdragon 888 chipset, 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, along with 65W wired and 30W wireless charging.
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.
The cameras can also output 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; probably 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
Realme GT - Best value flagship
- Pros: Flagship specs; Superb value | Nice 120Hz AMOLED display | 65W fast charging
- Cons: Underwhelming cameras | No water resistance | No wireless charging
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 yellow vegan leather-backed model, it's an undeniable head-turner.
In all areas except perhaps camera, the GT is 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 display sits on the phone's front, while a 4500mAh battery with 65W fast charging keep the GT going. This thing is all about speed and delivers it at an incredible price.
Read our full Realme GT 5G review
Red Magic 6S Pro - Best for gaming
- Pros: Outstanding performance |165Hz refresh rate display | Great battery life
- Cons: Clunky user experience | Bulky design | Underwhelming cameras
While only a minor update to the Red Magic 6 from earlier in 2021, the 6S Pro pushes the envelope by being one of the first phones to showcase Qualcomm's latest and greatest Snapdragon 888+ chipset.
The stunning 165Hz display endures, while also continuing to outpace mainstream rivals – making it ideal for gaming – and battery life is excellent too, with 66W fast charging (or 120W if you pick up the Chinese model).
Nubia's Android launcher won't be to everyone's tastes, the cameras are only a mild improvement on the 6's and this is still a big bulky phone, but the price/performance balance it strikes and the gaming prowess it facilitates are unrivalled.
Read our full Nubia Red Magic 6S Pro review
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 - Best foldable
- Pros: Elegant folding design | Water resistance | More affordable than ever
- Cons: No telephoto camera | Middling battery life | Still needs to be tougher
Samsung took its already-groundbreaking Galaxy Z Flip foldable, improved every aspect – from design to performance – and then made it cheaper too!
The Z Flip 3 is a beautiful expression of the evolution of foldable smartphone tech and somehow manages to incorporate water resistance into its design.
Battery life and the dual cameras could be better but despite flagship-class performance in a groundbreaking design, the Flip 3's pricing also proves that foldables can tango in the same space as conventional smartphones without any major sacrifices.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review
Sony Xperia 1 III - Best for multimedia
- Pros: Excellent performance | Top-notch audio | Stunning screen | Rich camera experience
- Cons: Lacklustre battery life | Display could be brighter | Expensive
The Xperia 1 III offers up more of what we've come to know and love from Sony's flagship phone line: namely a killer camera setup and an eye-popping 4K display.
The big upgrade this year is the move to 120Hz, which joins a smattering of cutting-edge displays technologies, including 4K resolution, an HDR OLED panel and an uncommon 21:9 aspect ratio that's brilliant for enjoying movies on the go.
The rear camera setup takes a little work to get the most out of it but offers unprecedented control, especially with regards to video capture, while the pairing of a Snapdragon 888 chip and 12GB of RAM delivers some of the best performance for an Android phone out there.
Battery life and price are the main things holding the 1 III back from true greatness but for some, it's the obvious choice.
Read our full Sony Xperia 1 III review
OnePlus Nord 2 - Best mid-ranger
- Pros: Flagship-class processor | Great main camera | Clean software
- Cons: Thick | Middling value
Despite its mid-range positioning, the OnePlus Nord 2 takes the torch from its predecessor and goes on to serve as one of this year's best mid-rangers.
What the Nord 2 really demonstrates is the company's ability to prioritise the features that users are looking for right now, wrapping them up in an attractive package at a compelling price point.
The Nord 2 misses out on flagship niceties, like wireless charging and waterproofing, but those are really the only compromises made here.
There's also the OnePlus Nord CE 5G available, which delivers a stripped-back version of the original Nord for a slightly lower price.
Read our full OnePlus Nord 2 review
Xiaomi Poco F3 - Best value mid-ranger
- Pros: Superb performance | Great 120Hz display | Solid cameras
- Cons: Average battery life | Middling user experience
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
- Pros: Brilliant performance | 120Hz display | Great battery life | Value
- Cons: Average camera | Bulky design | No 5G
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 here, 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 – 12 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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