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The best smartphones in 2021

Best smartphones: Top 5

With so many mobiles to choose from, finding the best smartphones in 2021 can be a daunting undertaking. You could go with the safe bet at a high price – Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, or one of its siblings, the iPhone 12 or 12 mini. Or you could even splash out on Samsung’s Z Fold2, a flexible, folding Android phone that’s sure to set you apart from the crowd.

There's so much to choose from – so we've done the research and tested hundreds of Android and iOS devices to bring you our best smartphones list.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is – what’s your priority? If you’re after a champion camera phone, then you’ll want to check out our round up of the best camera phones. For a creative powerhouse, maybe you’d be more interested in Samsung’s latest Galaxy S21 Ultra with its amazing screen, super versatile cameras and S Pen support. Alternatively, there are other lower-cost options from the likes of OnePlus if all you want is premium hardware without the pen input.

Before picking up any phone, remember to check that the best iPhone apps and Android apps for creatives are available. If you’re jumping from an iPhone to and Android, for example, the stellar Good Notes won’t be an option on Google’s mobile OS. 

Once you’ve cross-checked your must-have apps and know which OS you need, our list of top-ten creative phones should help you figure out which is the right device for your personal life, productivity, work and everything in between.

The best smartphones available now

Samsung galaxy S21 ultra review

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli )

01. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The best do-it-all smartphone

Release date: January 2021 | Weight: 227 g (Sub6), 229 g (mmWave) | Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.8-inch | Resolution: 1440x3200 | CPU: Exynos 2100 (5 nm) - International Snapdragon 888 (5 nm) - USA/China | RAM: 12GB/16GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 5,000Ah | Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP | Front camera: 40MP

Wacom pen tech
Excellent camera zoom
Big and bulky
Expensive

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does everything you need it to do. Its big, bright, bold, beautiful benchmark of a screen will dazzle you while watching your favourite content. And with S Pen support (S Pen sold separately), not to mention the most versatile camera system available, it’s also a creative suite unto itself, allowing you to shoot 8K video and snap pics with its 108MP stills camera and 10x zoom.

It’s difficult to find fault with the Galaxy S21 Ultra if you can get past its high price and hefty frame. With fewer shortcomings than possibly any flagship phone on the market, Samsung is once again back on top. 

Want to know more? Read our in-depth Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

Best smartphone: iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

02. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The best iPhone ever

Weight: 228g | Dimensions: 160.8mm x 78.1mm x 7.4mm | OS: iOS 14 | Screen size: 6.7-inch | Resolution: 1284 x 2778 | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 3,687mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 12MP

Superb camera
Great battery life
Very expensive
Bulky

It’s eye-wateringly expensive, but there’s no denying that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best, most feature-packed iPhone Apple has ever made. 

If you can handle the size of its 6.7in screen, you’ll be treated to an incredibly powerful A14 Bionic processor, 6GB RAM, one of the best smartphone cameras in the world, and all with incredible battery life to boot.

All of this is wrapped up in Apple’s tried and tested minimal design, powered by the smooth and slick iOS 14. If you can handle its larger size (and larger price tag) then you’ll be more than content with Apple’s latest and greatest handset.

iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini

(Image credit: Apple)

03. iPhone 12 and 12 Mini

The best bang for buck iPhone

Release date: October 2020 | Weight: 164 g | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm | OS: iOS 14 | Screen size: 6.1-inch | Resolution: 1170 x 2532 | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB | Battery: 2,815mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 12MP

Beautiful display
Solid camera
Battery life could be better
Base storage low

The iPhone 12 has a 6.1in display and has the same 5G support as Apple’s other new iPhones, along with very good (but not the absolute best) camera performance. The OLED screen is a joy to behold, and the new MagSafe feature is an intriguing addition to Apple’s arsenal.

For anyone with smaller hands or skinnier jeans, the iPhone 12 mini is the only compact flagship worth considering. With its 5.4-inch screen size, top tier power and class-leading camera for such a compact contender, despite costing a fair whack, it’s worth every penny.

While the more expensive Pro models have swankier cameras, they’re noticeably pricier, making the 12 and 12 mini the best bang for buck option in the latest iPhone range lineup if you don’t need an optical zoom. Be prepared for no included charger to avoid a shock when unboxing, and you’ll have years of happy use ahead of you.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

04. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The best smartphone for creative superstars

Weight: 208g | Dimensions: 164.8mm x 77.2mm x 8.1mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.9-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3088 | CPU: Snapdragon 865+ | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 4,500mAh | Rear camera: 108MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10MP

Superb camera
Incredible screen
Expensive
Slower charging

The Note 20 Ultra is one of the best smartphones money can buy for creative people looking to scribble, draw, make notes and be productive on the move. Aside from its great camera setup and gorgeous large AMOLED display, its party trick – the removable S Pen stylus – offers tons of flexibility.

From handwriting notes (which can be straightened and converted to text) to creating fancy drawings with improved pressure sensitivity, Samsung’s stylus takes an already great phone and makes it truly amazing. 

With a stunning build, super-powerful specs, and a versatile camera setup capable of shooting 8K video, it’s one of the best phones money can buy, particularly if you make use of its swanky stylus.

Google Pixel 5

(Image credit: Google)

05. Google Pixel 5

Solid camera with great software and editing smarts

Release date: October 2020 | Weight: 151g | Dimensions: 144.7mm x 70.4mm x 8mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 2340 x 1080 | CPU: Snapdragon 765G | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4000mAh | Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Fantastic camera software
Handsome, minimal design
No telephoto camera
Night shots could be better

The Google Pixel 5 isn’t a phone that blows you away with fancy multiple lenses. It keeps things simple with a 12.2MP main camera and a 16MP  ultra-wide one, with no dedicated zoom lens. 

Power-wise, things are middling too, with a Snapdragon 765G processor, and 8GB of RAM. On paper, then, the Pixel 5 isn’t up there with the most powerful, feature-packed phone in the word, but its price fairly reflects that. 

What it does do, is offer a pure up to date Android experience in a smart minimal package, with solid well-lit camera performance and powerful image editing tools for tweaking on the move, with a battery that will  comfortably last you through the day.

If you want to keep up with the latest Android features for the next few years and aren’t fussed about night or zoom photography, this could very well be the best handset for you.

Oppo X2 Pro

(Image credit: Oppo)

06. Oppo Find X2 Pro

Great for file-hoarders

Release date: March 2020 | Weight: 217 g (Ceramic) / 200 g (Leather) | Dimensions: 165.2 x 74.4 x 8.8 mm (Ceramic) / 9.5 mm (Leather) | OS: Android 10, ColorOS 7.1 | Screen size: 6.7-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3168 | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 512GB | Battery: 4,260mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 13MP + 48MP | Front camera: 32MP

Fastest charging
High storage capacity
Expensive
No wireless charging

Oppo has been relatively unknown until recently, but it landed with a bang. Last year, its branding was all over Wimbledon, and now it’s launched one of the best smartphones of the year so far, the Find X2 Pro.

From a camera point of view, the X2 Pro wows, introducing Sony’s second-generation 48MP sensor to the world. Grabbing high-resolution photos with beautiful depth and plenty of detail, the great thing about photos shot on the Find X2 Pro is that they look natural and realistic, especially when set aside those captured on Samsung phones. Packing a 5x zoom telephoto camera, the Pro also gets you close to the action, and its ultra-wide camera is a pin-sharp 48MP, for GoPro-esque shots you can crop into. 

Delivering flagship power, decent battery life and an absolutely jaw-dropping screen, inside and out, the X2 Pro impresses. That said, we haven’t even covered the phone’s two standout features – the X2 Pro delivers the fastest charging on the market - powering up from 0-100% in 38 minutes, not to mention over half a terabyte of storage as well – that’s three times what Samsung offers on the S20 Ultra. In turn, power users will love the fact Oppo has well and truly arrived

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2

(Image credit: Samsung)

07. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2

Most polished foldable available

Release date: August 2020 | Weight: 282 g | Dimensions: Unfolded: 159.2 x 128.2 x 6.9 mm / Folded: 159.2 x 68 x 16.8 mm | OS: Android 11, One UI 3.0 | Screen size: 7.6-inch / Cover display: 6.23-inch | Resolution: 1768 x 2208 / Cover display: 816 x 2260 | CPU: Snapdragon 865+ | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB | Battery: 4,500mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10MP

Powerful
Beautiful design
Very expensive
Cameras could be better

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the first foldable to feel like the real deal. The design is beautiful with a robust hinge mechanism. The flexible display is still more fragile than glass, but the phone’s revised design minimises a reliance on it.

Unfortunately, the cameras don’t match the design. The 12MP trio, while still very capable, lags behind the other flagships in this list, and it struggles with strong backlighting and dark scenes. But in truth, you won’t be buying the Z Fold 2 based on its cameras. It’s all about the foldable design which pushes it to the top of the foldable pack.

If you want something a bit on the exclusive side, you’re in luck. The eye-watering price tag means you won’t see too many of them in other people’s hands. This puts it out of reach for most phone buyers, but the design and functionality proves that a foldable can be a great daily driver, with the wow-factor to boot.

OnePlus 8 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

08. OnePlus 8 Pro

A fantastic all-rounder

Release date: April 2020 | Weight: 199 g | Dimensions: 165.3 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm | OS: Android 11, OxygenOS 11 | Screen size: 6.78-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3168 | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB/12GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB | Battery: 4,510mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 48MP + 5MP | Front camera: 16MP

Beautiful screen
Fast wireless charging
No expandable storage
No periscope camera

It’s not class-leading in any particular area, but the OnePlus 8 Pro is a fantastic, affordable all-rounder that includes Sony’s latest smartphone camera sensor.

The OnePlus 8 Pro is a flagship-grade phone, sporting a 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED screen with a competition-beating price tag. Its large, expansive display is just perfect for watching and reading on. Combined with Sony’s second-generation 48MP camera sensor (IMX689), it has the same primary camera hardware as OPPO’s excellent Find X2 Pro, so impresses on that front too. 

Loaded up with stacks of storage and RAM, not to mention OnePlus’s latest version Oxygen OS, the 8 Pro delivers decent all-round performance, and the inclusion of wireless charging to the series adds Samsung Galaxy S-grade convenience . All that, matched with flagship Qualcomm power and stereo speakers mean the OnePlus 8 Pro is also a great choice for gamers.

(Image credit: Samsung)

09. Samsung Galaxy S20 (& Plus)

Excellent across the board

Release: February 2020 | Screen size: 6.2-inches | Screen type: AMOLED | Resolution: 1440 x 3200 pixels | Sharpness: 563 pixels-per-inch | Certification: HDR10+, Gorilla Glass 6, 120Hz | Dimensions: 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm | Weight: 163g | Rear camera: 12MP (wide + OIS) + 64MP (telephoto) + 12MP (ultra-wide) + ToF sensor (on Plus only) | Front camera: 10MP (wide) | Maximum video resolution: 8K, 30fps | Storage: 128GB | Memory card slot: Yes | Battery: 4000mAh

Amazing screen
Brilliant camera
Busy interface
Dull design

The Samsung Galaxy S20 might not be the best equipped of the S20-series, but it's still one of the most popular. Why? Because it packs an impressive set of features and a sharp, crisp screen into a super-manageable size. Plus, it costs a heck of a lot less than its bigger sibling, the S20 Ultra. 

The device comes complete with three rear cameras, which includes a 64MP 3x zoom telephoto camera to help you capture shots from an impressive distance. The main camera is lower resolution at 12MP, but its nighttime performance is a big step up when compared to last year’s Galaxy S10. Combined with an ultra-wide camera and up to 8K video recording, the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus cover all bases without breaking the bank like the S20 Ultra does. 

Water and dust resistant, like the iPhone 11 Pro, the S20 also supports wireless charging. Unlike its Apple rival though, you can add storage via an SD card. No doubt about it, one of the best smartphones money can buy right now. 

Best smartphones in 2020: Sony Experia II

(Image credit: Sony)

10. Sony Xperia 1 II

Best smartphone for videographers

Release date: February 2020 | Weight: 181.4g | Dimensions: 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1644x3840 | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Extensive manual camera tools
Gorgeous 4K screen
Very expensive
Occasional camera slowdown

Despite making the camera sensors on most smartphones around today, iPhones included, Sony hasn’t managed to achieve best-in-class status with its own smartphones to date. The Sony Xperia 1 II hopes to change that, borrowing from the brands alpha camera line, with eye-tracking and pro-grade video and photography software baked in.

The phone’s specs are flagship across-the-board with a flagship Snapdragon 855 chipset matched with 8GB RAM, and with that ultra-tall 4K screen, protected by Gorilla Glass 6, sandwiching a metal frame, the Xperia 1 II is premium on the outside too.

Loaded up with three 12MP cameras: a wide, ultra-wide and 3x zoom camera and a Time of Flight sensor, on-paper, the Xperia 1 II is nothing special when compared to many flagships like the OnePlus 8 Pro. Combined with the Zeiss optics, eye-tracking and a new Photo Pro app, which gives photography enthusiasts more control over photos, though, dive in and the Xperia 1 II starts to stand out.

There’s also full IP68 water and dust resistance here, as well as a few other flourishes including a creator mode, which guarantees accurate colours in compatible apps, including Netflix, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, not to mention stereo speakers.

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