The phone world is one of the most fierce battlegrounds in tech, with giants like Apple and Samsung constantly trying to outdo each other with the latest, greatest tech. Their newest flagships, the 5G. But they're not the only brands to consider, with other rivals like OnePlus, Motorola and of course Google's Pixel line all offering great specs at a range of prices.and Galaxy S21, respectively, offer fantastic rear multicamera setups, powerful processors and, of course,
The sheer amount of solid competition gives us great options to choose from at a range of prices. Opting for a more affordable handset doesn't mean compromising on usability, with even budget handsets offering big, vibrant displays and multiple rear cameras. We're even starting to see 5G connectivity on much lower-end handsets.
To help you figure out the best of the best, we gathered our favorite phones to buy in 2021. Every phone on this list has been thoroughly reviewed and tested, from their camera performance to batteries. We've linked to the unlocked version of each phone, and they should run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, unless specified otherwise. We update this list regularly to ensure the best phone is always represented.
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The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best phone Apple produces and it received a stellar score in our full review. The smartphone features the powerful and fast A14 Bionic processor, a professional-standard multiple rear camera setup, 5G and a magnetic "MagSafe" feature that allows it to connect to other mobile accessories. Add to that its glorious screen and sleek design and the 12 Pro Max comfortably ticks every box of a flagship phone in 2021.
There's a lot to like about the Galaxy S21, but the best thing about it has got to be the price. Samsung's next-gen flagship smartphone lineup starts at $800, and you can find it on Amazon right now for an extra $100 off. Samsung made some trade-offs to get to that price point. Specifically, the phone has 4GB of RAM less than its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S20; the wall charger and headphones don't come in the box; and it doesn't have a microSD card slot for expanded storage. But even with those sacrifices, you're getting a lot for your money, including a striking design, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, and 5G connectivity.
If you want a 5G phone that doesn't cost too much, the Pixel 4A 5G is one of our top picks. The handset has a solid battery life, fantastic dual rear cameras and robust software support from Google. There's also the Pixel 5, which has a great 90Hz display, but it costs more at $699 (£599, AU$999).
With its supercharged processor, great battery life and solid rear camera setup, the OnePlus 9 is a superb all-round Android phone. Its $729 (£629) starting price makes it a much more affordable option than its Apple or Samsung rivals. We like its big, bold display too and its fast charging. It's our best pick if you want flagship performance with a more approachable price tag.
The Motorola Edge Plus has pretty much everything you'd hope for in a premium 5G mobile phone: A Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, a giant battery, an OLED screen with a high refresh rate and multiple rear cameras with heavy-duty specs. Motorola took features found on other top-of-the-line Android phones, put its own Moto spin on them and built them all into one of our favorite Android phones of the year.
Starting at only $399, the 2020 version of the iPhone SE is the best budget phone you can find right now. With an A13 processor (the same as the iPhone 11) and an amazing camera, the iPhone SE is way more powerful than it has any right to be. Old-school iPhone fans will also appreciate the return of TouchID and the home button.
The Galaxy S21 is a superb all-round flagship Android phone, but if you want the absolute best of the best, consider stepping up to the S21 Ultra. It has a bigger display, bigger battery, more RAM and a more capable rear camera setup that includes an incredible 10x optical zoom lens that we absolutely love. If beautiful photography is top of your wishlist in a new phone, you can't go far wrong with the S21 Ultra.
Pixel phones have a loyal following and with good reason. Without considering its price, Google's Pixel 4A has a top-notch camera that takes brilliant photos. But it's even better that the phone costs $349 (£349, AU$599). The 5.81-inch handset also features a headphone jack, 128GB of storage out of the box and a better battery life than last year's Pixel 4.
Solid Samsung at a lower price
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Samsung's S20 series had some great specs, but their high prices meant they were out of reach for many. Not so with the S20 FE, which is stuffed with great hardware but comes with a much more reasonable price -- and earned itself a coveted CNET Editors' Choice award in the process. We loved its vibrant screen, its powerful processor, decent camera and 5G connectivity but especially liked its $650 price.