The best Android phones for 2021

When you’re shopping for a new Android phone, we have you covered. We test all of the best smartphones at Digital Trends to find out exactly what they’re capable of and we love to compare them. We divided this list into five categories based on different budgets. For each one, we offer our top pick and any alternatives we think are worth mentioning. We chose the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra as the best Android flagship phone since has an array of features and a huge, beautiful screen display.

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Best Android smartphones at a glance

The best Android flagship: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: There are no compromises. It has a superb camera, a beautiful screen, long battery life, a stylish design, and the latest processor too.

Who it’s for: It’s for anyone that wants the very best tech available, inside a good-looking smartphone that will last for years before it needs replacing.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Galaxy S Series smartphone Samsung has ever made, and it’s definitely the S Series model for 2021 to buy, as the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus aren’t quite as capable. Yes, it’s big and heavy, but there’s a reason for that — it’s packed with the best tech available.

Let’s start with the camera. The 108-megapixel main camera is joined by a pair of 10MP telephoto cameras for a 3x and 10x optical zoom, plus a 12MP wide-angle camera that doubles as a close-up camera too. You will struggle to find a situation where the S21 Ultra won’t be able to take a great photo.

Samsung’s Android 11-based OneUI 3.0 software is easy to use and attractive, plus it’s very fast too, as it’s driven by the Snapdragon 888 processor (or the Exynos 2100 if you live outside the U.S.) and 12GB of RAM. It shrugs off power-hungry tasks and hardcore games like they’re nothing.

Samsung’s 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen has a 120Hz refresh rate and a 3200 x 1440 pixel resolution, and it’s as fantastic-looking as we’ve come to expect — extremely bright, deep blacks, and full of color. The in-display fingerprint sensor is much better than previous efforts fitted to Samsung phones, and the 5,000mAh battery easily lasts a full day with the screen resolution set at maximum. It’ll last almost two days with sensible use.

The list of advantages goes on. From the varied camera features like Single Take and 8K video recording, to S Pen support like the Note Series phones, along with 5G connectivity, wireless charging (including reverse charging for a pair of headphones), and Wireless DeX to connect your phone to a computer wirelessly. Samsung has even managed to make a normally ordinary black color scheme look great on the S21 Ultra.

Downsides? It’s definitely a handful of a phone, but apart from that, it’s hard to fault the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It costs $1,299, making it a little cheaper than the S20 Ultra it replaces, but still a high price. You’re getting the very best out there with the S21 Ultra, but do also take a look at the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which competes very favorably with the S21 Ultra and can often be found for a slightly lower price. If you’re interested mostly in gaming, then the Asus ROG Phone 3 has similarly large amounts of power and ability.

Our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

The best Android phone for $900: OnePlus 8 Pro

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends.com

Why you should buy this: The most complete, no-nonsense smartphone package available, at a still reasonable price.

Who it’s for: If you want the best current tech on your phone, but don’t want to spend more than $1,000.

Why we picked the OnePlus 8 Pro:

Yes, the OnePlus 8 Pro is more expensive than the OnePlus 7T Pro, and all OnePlus phones before it. There is a good reason for this — it has all the latest tech inside, and some features missing from past models. For example, the OnePlus 8 Pro is the first OnePlus phone to have an IP68 water resistance rating, and wireless charging too. OnePlus has also added 5G connectivity to both its new phones, which will keep them fresher for longer.

Outside these new features, the OnePlus 8 Pro excels with its screen. It has a 120Hz refresh rate for super-smooth scrolling and gameplay, plus stunning colors, crisp whites, and superb contrast from the 6.78-inch Fluid AMOLED panel. There are masses of power from the Snapdragon 865 processor and up to 12GB of RAM, and rapid charging, too. The battery is an excellent performer, and two days is possible with moderate use before it needs plugging in.

The camera is unusual. The main 64-megapixel sensor is excellent. It comes with a wide-angle and a telephoto lens, plus an odd Color Filter lens. This strips away color from your photos for a very different look. Ignore this, and you are left with a highly capable camera, which we’d say is the best yet on a OnePlus phone. There are two versions available, and we’d recommend paying $1,000 for the 12GB/256GB model if you can, because it will last longer with the additional storage; but the $900 8GB/128GB model is otherwise identical.

OnePlus isn’t going to launch a “T” version of the Pro, so the 8 Pro will remain the company’s flagship device until 2021. However, it has launched the $749 OnePlus 8T, and although not quite as technically impressive as the 8 Pro it’s a little cheaper, and still an excellent buy.

Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review

The best Android phone for $700: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Why you should buy this: It’s a Galaxy S20 at a lower price.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a compact phone with plenty of power from a big-name brand

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE:

When is a Galaxy S20 not a Galaxy S20? When it’s the Galaxy S20 FE, a slightly stripped back version of Samsung’s pretty flagship phone for 2020, with a different spec sheet and a lower price. The name is confusing, but the S20 FE is arguably even better than the standard $999 S20. For a start, it’s $699 and comes in a choice of six different colors, and has the same overall design as the S20.

The 6.5-inch, 120Hz Super AMOLED screen is larger but has a lower resolution, while inside is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor and either 6GB or 8GB of RAM. The module on the back contains three camera lenses — a 12-megapixel standard camera, an 8MP telephoto, and a 12MP ultra-wide. It’s not quite as high-spec as the more expensive Galaxy S20, but we liked the results.

The 4,500mAh battery has enough energy to last a day, there’s wireless charging and 25W wired fast charging, plus Samsung’s decent One UI 2.5 software over Android 10. The Galaxy S20 FE (FE stands for Fan Edition, by the way, as the phone was created using feedback from Samsung fans) is a high quality, well-specced smartphone from a desirable manufacturer at a sensible price.

The Galaxy S20 FE has some strong competition, and we suggest looking at the Google Pixel 5 and the OnePlus 8T too. We’ve used all three to see which was the best to live with, and it was a tight battle between them. The Galaxy S20 FE is the best for most people, but the Pixel 5 and OnePlus 8T have slightly different strengths and may suit you better, depending on your preferences.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review

The best Android phone for $400: Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a Back
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: A fantastic camera and excellent software all wrapped up in a low-cost package.

Who it’s for: Someone who wants a great all-round mobile experience without spending much.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 4a:

The Google Pixel 4a happily fits into our $400 category because it costs $349, plus there’s a new Pixel 4a 5G version that adds 5G and an upgraded camera at $499, making the Pixel 4a family the best phones you can get for both these prices. While the design and materials are no-nonsense, the camera and software are anything but.

Google’s Pixel cameras are already well known for being strong performers and the Pixel 4a is no exception, but it’s not until you use it that you realize just how capable it really is. Night or day it takes fabulous photos, even though it only has a single camera lens, and it’s all down to Google’s software prowess.

This ability extends out from the camera and into the Android software generally. The Pixel 4a and forthcoming Pixel 4a 5G use Android 11 — which none other of the phones on this list have received yet — and will get fast updates to new versions for the next two years. The Pixel 4a’s software is clean, simple, pretty, and easy to use.

The only real disappointment is the screen, but it’s far from terrible, and its modest size helps boost the battery life to around two days with moderate use. For the price, the Google Pixel 4a is an incredible phone.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review

The best Android phone for $200: Nokia 5.3

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s a solid choice if you don’t have much money to spend on a new phone.

Who it’s for: The budget-conscious buyer who still wants good software, future updates, and capable hardware.

Why we picked the Nokia 5.3:

If the $350 Google Pixel 4a is a little out of reach, you can still pick up a good Android phone for less money, and one with software to rival the Pixel too. Step forward the Nokia 5.3, which costs $199 and runs Google’s Android One software, which means it looks and operates like the Pixel 4a, and gets timely updates for the next two years as well. It’s scheduled to receive an update to Android 11 between now and the end of the year.

That already puts it out in front of the competition, and is before we come to the decent 6.55-inch screen to satisfy those who think the Pixel is a little small, and the low 185-gram weight too. Surprisingly it has four camera lenses on the back, and despite them not having the features of a more expensive phone, still take decent photos.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor and up to 6GB of RAM means the phone plays most games, and is fast enough for everyday use, while the 4,000mAh battery is good enough for two-days moderate use. The Nokia 5.3 is a trusty everyday companion for anyone who isn’t going to demand too much from their phone, and at $199 it’s great value.

If the Nokia isn’t for you, then take a look at the 2021 Motorola Moto G Play or Moto G Power. These cost $170 or $200 respectively, have massive batteries and pleasant displays, but can’t beat the Nokia’s Android One software.

Read our full Nokia 5.3 review

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