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Just in time for the holidays, companies like Apple and Google have been busy updating their top models. The new iPhone 13 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro boast wireless charging, amazing rear camera setups, powerful processors for lag-free gaming and 5G. But if you're on the hunt for a new smartphone, those models aren't the only ones to consider, with other competitors such as Samsung, OnePlus, Motorola and Sony Xperia all offering great specs at a range of prices. 

The sheer amount of solid competition gives you, the customer, great options to choose from at whatever price suits your budget, regardless of whether your biggest concern is an AMOLED display, high-speed data or a cracking camera. Opting for a more affordable handset doesn't mean compromising on usability, with even budget handsets offering big, vibrant displays and multiple main and 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 rounded up our picks for the best phone to buy in 2021. Every phone on this list has been thoroughly reviewed and tested, from their battery life to their camera performance. Each link is to an unlocked 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.

And for more info, read our guide to help find the best phone for your needs and take a look at our tips on how to buy a new iPhone or Android phone

Patrick Holland/CNET

The iPhone 13 Pro is the best phone Apple produces and it received a stellar score in our full review. The new smartphone adds a third rear camera with 3x optical zoom (up from 2x on the iPhone 12), a stainless steel body and a ProMotion screen with refresh rates up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling.

Read our iPhone 13 Pro review.

 

As Samsung's elite flagship phone for 2021, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a brilliant 6.8-inch AMOLED display with an ultrasmooth 120Hz refresh rate that also supports Samsung's S-Pen stylus, an awesome rear camera with incredible zoom skills and 5G connectivity for super speedy data. This is the best in mobile technology that Samsung has to offer, and it's the Android phone to go for if you're keen to put cutting-edge tech in your pocket.

Read our Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review.

 

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The Google Pixel 6 Pro's unique design, great software additions and solid all-round performance have already earned the phone an excellent rating in our full review. With performance that's every bit as good as its design, it's the best phone Google has ever made. And at $899 for the base 128GB model, it trounces its premium phone rivals in price.

Read our Google Pixel 6 Pro review.

 

Patrick Holland/CNET

The standard iPhone 13 is a reliable choice for most people, sporting a 6.1-inch screen and two excellent rear cameras. For this model, Apple has pledged longer battery life, improved cameras and better durability than the iPhone 12. What do you miss by not going Pro? A third rear camera with 3x optical zoom and a ProMotion screen with refresh rates up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling.

Read our iPhone 13 review.

 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

While OnePlus isn't as well-known as Apple or Samsung, the OnePlus 9 offers great performance at a relatively more affordable price than rivals. It's 5G-enabled, runs a powerful Qualcomm processor and has a decent camera for the money. It's a solid budget phone option if the lofty prices of the Galaxy S21 Ultra are out of your reach.

Read our OnePlus 9 review.

 

Patrick Holland/CNET

With a starting price of $599, Google's Pixel 6 is the best Android phone you can get for the money. In terms of design, power, features and performance, the Pixel 6 is a big step up from its predecessor, the Pixel 5. Google's latest and greatest offers improved cameras, Android 12 and the company's in-house Tensor chip. 

Read our Google Pixel 6 review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

With a new low starting price of $449, Google's Pixel 5A is currently the best Pixel deal around. Beyond its affordable price, the Pixel 5A offers a top-notch camera that takes brilliant photos, a large screen and water-resistance. It's a solid option capable of tackling all of your everyday essentials, and with its 5G speeds, you won't be left waiting for your Netflix shows to buffer when you're waiting for the bus. 

Read our Google Pixel 5A review.

 

Patrick Holland/CNET

If you're someone who prefers smaller, pocket-friendly devices, this is the phone for you. The 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Mini is easy to use with one hand and even fits into tight jean pockets. Starting at $699, this is the cheapest model in Apple's iPhone 13 lineup. While battery life isn't as long as the iPhone 13, Apple's petite iPhone doesn't sacrifice on camera capabilities or processing power.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 3 folds like a clamshell phone and has a stunning design. It remains one of our favorite foldable phones. It comes with a 120Hz refresh rate, an "aluminum armor" body, and a flexible build that makes it super-convenient to take photos and record video. CNET's Patrick Holland says it could be "the first foldable phone you'll consider buying."

Read our Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review.

 

James Martin/CNET

At a whopping price of $2,500, the Sony Xperia Pro isn't for everyone. But if you're a photographer or videographer looking for professional-level features, you can't go wrong. The Xperia Pro is essentially four products in one: a phone, a camera monitor, a speedy photo file transfer device, and 5G machine suitable for broadcasting and live-streaming.

Read our Sony Xperia Pro review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're looking for a good budget phone that comes with a basic stylus and support for 5G, then the Moto G Stylus 5 is a great pick. It features a stylus that you can store inside the phone along with a built-in Notes app to help with productivity. This phone also offers a triple-rear camera, 128GB of internal storage and a robust 4,000-mAh battery.

Read our Moto G Stylus 5G review.

 

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