T3's best Android phones of 2021 guide discusses some of the biggest names in tech: the best Google phones, best Samsung phones, Huawei, Nokia, LG, Sony, and newer brands breaking into this elite club. Variety is the spice of the life in the Android world, and with so many great options to choose from figuring out which is the best Android phone for you can be a bit of a challenge.
Determining which Android device is the best phone for you means choosing from a long list of options. From the functionality you're after down to the color you want and everything in between, whatever features are most important to you our guide can help you find the perfect Android phone.
Whether you're a camera aficionado who needs the highest quality images and zoom capabilities, a movie fan who wants crystal clear playback and great sound quality, a budget-conscious shopper looking to just get a solid Android phone cheap, or a high roller who just needs to have the best of the best – T3 has you covered.
The best Android phones for you may not necessarily be the most expensive or most advanced phone, however you’ll find plenty of options on our list including top-of-the-line brands. From some of the best Samsung phones to the best gaming phones for Android users, we’ve taken great care to include a phone for every kind of shopper and for every type of budget.
Thanks to ever advancing tech in the mobile smartphone space, the Android phone market is incredibly competitive. That means plenty of options to choose from all at great prices. Many may not realize that the Android operation system powers many of the best cheap phones you can buy today, and many of the best compact phones run on this exceptional smartphone platform.
So without further ado, read on and let us help you discover which of these best Android phones of 2021 is the best option for you.
The best Android phones 2021
The Samsung Galaxy S21 isn't the largest or most flagship S21 device, but it is the cheapest and it delivers 90 per cent of what its bigger brother phones, the S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, do in a great all-round package.
First off, you get 5G connectivity – so you are 100 per cent sorted in terms of future-proofing. If you live in a 5G area and have a 5G data SIM card then you can tap into lighting fast network speeds with the Galaxy S21.
Next up it has a really strong dynamic AMOLED HDR10+ FHD+ 2400x1080 resolution screen that has a pixel density of 421ppi. Simply put, it's a brilliant screen for general phone usage, browsing the internet and social media, streaming films and TV shows, playing games, viewing and editing images and more besides.
This screen is then partnered with a rapid processor, which is either the Exynos 2100 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 depending on where you are in the world, 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256Gb of storage space depending on what model you plump for. That's a really strong core spec that crushes any mobile game and delivers buttery smooth navigation in the phone's OS.
And, talking of OS, you get the very latest version of Android on the Samsung Galaxy S21, Android 11.
Throw in a really powerful and versatile camera system, which has triple lenses on the rear and a single selfie lens on the front, a good 4,000mAh battery and IP68 water and dust proofing, and it's easy to see just how great the all-round package is.
The price is also very approachable and, all that considered, that is why we recommend the Samsung Galaxy S21 as the best Android phone for most people.
Every phone in the Galaxy S20 series has its plus points, but for our best Android phone pick, we have to go for the FE or Fan Edition that launched several months after the first batch of S20 handsets. It packs in a premium set of features, and while the price is maybe a little too high, you won't be disappointed with what you get in return for your money.
The superb display on the Galaxy S20 FE absolutely steals the show – it's one of the best we've seen to date – and you can add to that top-tier specs and a camera that produces some excellent results (the camera is actually almost identical to the one in the standard Galaxy S20 handset).
The battery life holds up well too – something that continues to be a concern for smartphone buyers everywhere. If you're put off by the extravagant features and price points of the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 phones, then this might just be the perfect device for you.
As T3 noted in its full OnePlus 9 Pro review, this is the handset where Chinese maker OnePlus has finally got a flagship camera system right, with its clever partnering with photo taking masters Hasselblad elevating it to the top table.
Last year's flagship had been a superb all-round phone, and one that won plenty of plaudits, but the one area where it couldn't compete was in terms of camera system, with rivals outgunning it. The OnePlus 9 Pro, though, fixes that, and while its camera system isn't the best on the market, it is comparable.
Alongside the new Hasselblad Camera for Mobile camera system, the OnePlus 9 Pro delivers what OnePlus is now renowned for – lighting fast performance, buckets of power, and a stunning screen.
Indeed, the QHD (3216x1400) 120Hz AMOLED is absolutely gorgeous, while a the top-spec variant of this handset comes with a app and games-crushing 12GB of RAM. Paired with the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, Adreno 660 GPU and up to 256GB of storage space, and you've got a seriously capable phone.
Maybe the most impressive thing about the OnePlus 9 Pro, though, is its charging capabilities. Not only does this phone offer 65-watt Warp Charge over wired connection, which can fill a phone from 0-100 per cent charge in just 29 minutes, but it also supports 50-watt wireless charging, too, which can do the same in just under 45 minutes. That's incredible, and basically guarantees that you're never going to left short on time to charge you handset.
Overall, then, the OnePlus 9 Pro easily makes it claim of the best premium Android phone crown, and providing you don't want to go ultra-premium with a handset like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (see below), then it is a no-brainer purchase.
To see how this phone's predecessor fares against the latest from Samsung, then check out our Samsung Galaxy S21 vs OnePlus 8 Pro comparison feature.
The Google Pixel 4a was delayed several times before it saw the light of day, but we're glad that it's here now – it follows the template set down by the Pixel 3a, in that it combines a great camera with a decent design and pure Android software. Perhaps the best part is the price though: just $349.
That makes it a very attractive proposition: it's capable of taking some fantastic photos, especially in low light, and with enough performance to handle the majority of smartphone tasks, what else do you need? It's not quite as polished or as powerful as the flagships, of course, but it costs an awful lot less.
Google is adding an increasing number of exclusives to the Pixel too: the Night Sight mode for the camera for example, and the Recorder app that can convert speech into text in real-time. You don't get 5G though – you'll have to wait for the Pixel 4a with 5G later in the year for that. If you're wondering how it stacks up against the higher-end Pixel 5, here's our Pixel 4a vs Pixel 5 guide.
Samsung's latest top-of-the-range flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, is an absolute beast of handset and successfully bludgeons Android rivals into submission with a hyper-powerful hardware and software armory of tech weapons.
First off the phone delivers 5G connectivity, and that's all 5G standards too, including sub-6, mmWave and NSA. Rapid mobile data connections are guaranteed. Next, the phone comes with a simply stunning 6.8-inch 120Hz display, which is as buttery smooth as it is big and immersive.
From there the S21 Ultra wields a rapid Snapdragon 888 CPU and Adreno 660 GPU, and in its max-spec form, drops a gigantic 16GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage space. Its battery is equally as impressive, too, with a huge 5,000 mAh stack ensuring the phone has plenty of juice.
And that is saying nothing of the phone's MP-packed camera system, which delivers four powerful lenses (including a 108MP main!), as well as a large 40MP front-facing selfie camera.
The S21 Ultra also has a very unique new feature that is only shared by Samsung's Note series of phones – it supports digital stylus usage. That means users can use Samsung's S-Pen digital stylus on the S21 Ultra. Unlike the Note series of phones, though, the S21 Ultra does not come with a stylus, and cannot store the stylus in its body, either.
Throw in the wonderfully refined Android 11 OS, as well as Samsung's own best-in-class One UI skin, and it is easy to see why the S21 Ultra has been so well received.
To see how this handset compares to the standard S21, be sure to check out T3's Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra comparison feature.
There's a lot to like about the 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.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review
While the first OnePlus Nord wasn't released in the US, we did get the OnePlus Nord N10 5G which is a little cheaper and it doesn't make too many compromises along the way.
What you do get is 5G and some very decent specs for this price point, as well as a large 6.49-inch screen that has a 90Hz refresh rate for super-smooth animations and scrolling (that's definitely above average for what you're paying). During our time testing the phone we were also impressed with the lengthy battery life.
The camera is decent without being spectacular though, and there's nothing here in terms of waterproofing and wireless charging. If you want to spend a little less, there's also the Nord N100, which drops the 5G and has a lower res – but still 90Hz – screen. Here's our full OnePlus Nord N10 5G review.
It's worth saying right from the outset that the Huawei P40 is a fantastic phone from a pure hardware point of view: with a large 6.76-inch OLED screen that curves around the edges of the phone, and some fantastic color finishes, this is a handset that looks and feels premium. It's also packed with one of the fastest processors on the market at the moment.
The rear camera represents another stunning effort from Huawei, almost guaranteeing you great shots no matter what kind of lighting you're up against – from bright daylight to the darkest night. You get full waterproofing, wireless charging and enough battery life to make it well beyond a day too.
The big problem, as with every Huawei phone recently, is that it can't run regular Android apps from the Play Store, and Google's own apps are missing too. Sideloading can ease some of this pain, but make sure you're fully aware of the software situation before parting with your money on this – we think for some users the hardware quality will outweigh the app annoyances.
Read our full Huawei P40 review
Oppo's ultra-premium offering contains one of the best screens we’ve ever seen on one of the fastest Android handsets we’ve ever used. The Oppo Find X2 Pro doesn’t always outstrip its competitors in the performance or camera stakes, but it’s an eye-catching, high-spec, wonderful handset.
The bright, clear 6.7" QHD+ screen, houses its “True Billion Colour Display” technology, said to be able to create depth and detail within color like never before. It is a sumptuous screen, and the buttery-smooth 120Hz refresh rate is as good as advertised. The rear camera array consists of a 48MP wide-angle lens, a 48MP ultra-wide angle and a periscope 13MP telephoto lens with up to 60x digital zoom. It doesn’t quite have the enormous power of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s frankly tremendous 100x “space zoom” functionality, but at mid-range, the camera shines.
It’s obviously not the cheapest smartphone on the market, but it's worth the money if you’re already considering a premium Android bit of equipment and don't want to splurge on a phone like the S20 Ultra or the Huawei P40 Pro Plus. For more, read our full Oppo Find X2 Pro review.
Every phone that OnePlus launched in 2020 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. 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 Android phones around.
Read our full OnePlus 8T review
The 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 $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. 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.
Read our full Google Pixel 5 review
There's buckets to like about the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, but foremost among them is its large, 6.7-inch, HDR10+, 120Hz AMOLED display. It's an absolute star and makes using the phone in any capacity a joy, be that streaming movies from Disney Plus or playing the very latest mobile games.
Away from the screen, though, the S21 Plus delivers big. The phone comes equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100 processor depending on which region it's sold in, which is super fast, as well as 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage space, too. Combined these mean the phone runs like a dream, with super-fast navigation, loading and installing.
The camera system is also good, too, with a triple-lens rear array joining a single-lens selfie camera to provide comprehensive image and video-taking capabilities. Director Mode even allows the S21 Plus to record video from the front and back lenses simultaneously, which is ideal for capturing reactions to live events.
Naturally for a Samsung phone, it also comes loaded with the very latest Android 11 OS, too. Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is one of the best Android phones on the market today.
If you're looking for a great budget Android phone on the market at the moment. and don't fancy the Google Pixel 3a, then we make a very strong case for the Nokia 7.2. That's because it combines strong performance with clean software, a good camera, and a design that makes the phone appear much more expensive.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise though, as Nokia (now owned by HMD Global) has an excellent track record in recent years of producing top-notch handsets at rock bottom prices. Every year the majority of phones in the Nokia range get a well-judged update, and this phone is no different.
The 6.3-inch screen sported by the Nokia 7.2 is a definite highlight, but really it's the quality of the all-around package that makes this phone stand out. You don't get useful extras such as waterproofing or wireless charging, but you do get plenty of bang for your buck.
Read our full Nokia 7.2 review
We do like most of what the Oppo Reno 4 Pro 5G has to offer – including of course that 5G connectivity. The phone also boasts 65W super-fast charging, which means you can get the battery from zero to full in the space of just 30 minutes or so. It's a real game-changer, and you might never have to charge this phone overnight.
At this mid-range price point, the phone has pretty much the specs and the camera performance that you'd expect, but the display was definitely a pleasant surprise – thin bezels, bright colors, strong contrast and a 90Hz refresh rate that makes everything scroll by really, really smoothly.
The triple-lens 48MP+13MP+12MP rear camera does its job really well too, especially in low light and nighttime conditions, with strong HDR processing and color reproduction. There are a lot of really good Android phones around this price point, but we reckon the Oppo Reno 4 Pro 5G is one of the best.
Read our full Oppo Reno 4 Pro 5G review
Hats off to Motorola (now owned by Lenovo), because it keeps on producing some really very good Android handsets for not very much money at all – and the Moto G8 Power is one of the latest examples of that. The big selling point here, hence the "Power", is that 5,000mAh battery.
As you can see from the other specs, this isn't a flagship phone, but it's capable enough to get through just about everything that you're going to throw at it (and the quad-lens rear camera isn't bad either). Considering the low, low price you can get this phone at, the specification is an impressive one.
Add in a clean, bloat-free version of Android 10, and we reckon this is well worth a place on our best Android phones of 2021 list – worth checking out if you want a phone that isn't going to let you down but which won't break the bank either.
Are you in the market for a 5G phone that doesn't blast a huge hole in your savings account? Of course you are, and the Samsung Galaxy A90 5G will definitely appeal in this department: it brings with it some top-quality specs, a design that's very pleasing on the eye, and that all-important 5G connectivity for less money than you might think.
With a Snapdragon 855 processor and at least 6GB of RAM, the Galaxy A90 5G is going to hold up well against the very best flagships on the market, and take note of the 48 MP camera around the back of the phone too – again one of the best specs you're going to come across this year.
Samsung always does well with its screens, and the 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display here is no exception – from Netflix to your web browser, everything is going to look bright and dynamic. Throw in a very hefty 4,500mAh battery pack, wireless charging, and full IP68 waterproofing, and the question is – why would you pay any more?
The 5G-ready LG Velvet is something of a departure for the South Korean electronics giant, marking a change in direction for its design language and a bid to find success in the mid-range market rather than with a top-end flagship – the Snapdragon 756G processor is evidence of that.
That's not to say the LG Velvet is a sub-standard phone, just because it does have the very fastest CPU on the market. It comes packed with plenty of power, a decent camera and battery life, and nice bonuses such as wireless charging and an IP68 rating. It even has a headphone jack and, like several LG phones before it, works with the nifty Dual Screen accessory for twice as much screen room.
Read our full LG Velvet review
Last year’s Xperia 5 had a well-deserved spot in our best Android phones round-up, and its successor, the Sony Xperia 5 II, is one of the best Android phones in 2021. It doesn’t look much different from its premium predecessor but it’s an improvement in several key areas.
The first improvement is in the extremely wide 21:9 display. As before it’s a 6.1-inch OLED running 2520 x 1080, but this time it has a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling, gaming and video. It ships with Android 10, not 9, and the processor is a Snapdragon 865 with Adreno 650 graphics; the previous Xperia was powered by an 855 and 640 respectively.
The superb cameras are largely unchanged but the main camera has better low light performance, and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth now support the latest versions. The battery’s bigger and charges more quickly than before, and overall performance is notably better than last year’s model. It’s hardly revolutionary but it’s an excellent evolution of an already superb smartphone.
If you're in the market for one of the best Android phones you can buy, then we'd like to draw your attention to the Oppo Find X3 Pro: it'll cost you a significant chunk of cash, but it'll also give you excellent levels of performance, 5G download and upload speeds, and plenty more besides. You'll struggle to find a more premium smartphone this year.
Everything is powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 processor and up to 12GB of RAM, and the phone impresses just as much on the outside – the curved lines, the lightweight feel, the gorgeous 6.7-inch AMOLED display and so on. It's the sort of phone you're going to want to show off to friends and family.
Then there's the quad-lens rear camera, which not only takes great shots in any and all lighting conditions, but which also has a special 60x microscopic mode that lets you get ultra-close to fabrics, surfaces, skin, and anything else you want to put it up against. Although a bit gimmicky, it's still a lot of fun to use.
The OnePlus 8 Pro complete's the Chinese maker's ascension to the very top table of smartphone makers, with this handset blowing the competition away with a complete package of top hardware, superb software, and an attractive and premium design.
The star of the show, though, is the OnePlus 8 Pro's best-screen-ever-seen-on-a-smartphone 120Hz, QHD+, HDR10+ display, which manages to outpunch even the best panels from Samsung, Sony and Huawei. Where other phones have managed to deliver one or two of that holy trinity of screen technologies, here the 8 Pro does them all at once and, remarkably, does so while also delivering a good battery life.
Internally the mixture of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 CPU, Adreno 650 GPU, 12GB RAM and 256GB of UFS3.0 storage means the OnePlus 8 Pro absolutely smokes any game or application you throw at it, with even the most graphically intensive titles running as if they were on steroids.
The OnePlus 8 Pro doesn't skimp on high-end features, either, with the best camera system OnePlus has ever made partnered with IP68 dust and waterproofing and both wireless and reverse wireless charging.
The OnePlus 8 Pro is a truly brilliant smartphone and is easily recommended as the best Android phone on the market today for those shopping with a premium budget.
Buying advice: how to choose the best Android phone for you
When it comes to choosing the best Android phone, budget will probably be the single biggest factor that guides your hand. Will you go for the cutting-edge ultra-premium model? Or the second-highest tier of still being premium, but without the most ridiculous features? Or are looking for a great bang-for-buck mid-range set? Or do you have a strict lower budget in mind? That will narrow things down dramatically – you can see in a guide like our OnePlus 8 Pro vs Google Pixel 4a breakdown how a flagship phone and a great budget phone match up.
Then, two of the biggest factors are the size and the cameras. Phones are still creeping up and up in size, and some people want the biggest they can get, while some want to find a more one-handed phone, or a middle ground. And with the cameras, we all want something that can take excellent shots, right? But do you need fancy zoom lenses, or are you happy with a simpler array as long as it takes great shots?
And don't forget battery life! We'll make sure to note which phones impress and which don't.