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Best mobile phone 2021: The best smartphones we’ve tested this year

Trusted Reviews recommends the very best mobile phones available now on Android and iOS, including the top options for photos, battery life and gaming

The team of tech experts at Trusted Reviews has created this handy guide detailing the best smartphones we’ve reviewed to help you find the right phone for your needs and budget.

While these are the very best phone’s we’ve tested recently, that doesn’t mean the list isn’t subject to change. We add new phones all the time, but only if they score well in our in-depth reviews and rank among the best devices available at the time of publishing.

We test everything, from battery life and processor performance, during the full range of everyday tasks, right up to call quality and screen calibration.

We take these phones out and use them as our own over an extended period of time, living with them to learn their quirks and discover any hidden tricks or unwanted features.

Apple fans should check out our breakdown of the best iPhones. If Google’s OS is your operating system of choice then our guide to the best Android phones has you covered. If mobile photography is a priority, then jump to our best camera phone guide – and, finally, if budget is an issue then check out our curated picks of the best cheap phones.

Learn more about how we test mobile phones

Every phone we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including build quality, screen accuracy, battery life, performance and camera prowess.

These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real world checks, such as how much battery it loses per hour streaming video.

We also make sure to use every phone we review as our primary handset for at least 4 days to ensure our review is as accurate as possible. You can see a more detailed breakdown of our testing methodology in our how we test phones guide.

The iPhone 12 is a huge upgrade in pretty much every way
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Pros

  • Fantastic new design
  • Very reliable cameras
  • Execptional performance

Cons

  • Screen lacks some of the benefits you’ll find elswhere
  • The notch remains annoying

The iPhone 12 isn’t the top handset in Apple’s current line up, nor is it the cheapest. But, by Apple standards, we at Trusted Reviews believe it hits a good middle-ground between features and affordability, making it the best choice of iPhone for the majority and the best phone around right now.
It’s a huge step forward on last year’s iPhone 11, featuring a reworked, more comfortable-to-hold angular design that’s reminiscent of the iPhone 5, and radically upgraded internals.

The highlight is the A14 Bionic chip, which adds 5G connectivity to Apple’s iPhone line and offers best-in-class performance – to the point that during testing we couldn’t actually find an app or process the phone couldn’t handle with ease.

The camera has been upgraded to feature a new dual-lens setup that pairs a 12-megapixel main sensor with a 12-megapixel ultrawide unit. On paper, this makes it sound less fancy next to the three- to four-sensor setups seen on most Android flagships. However, during testing we found the iPhone 12 easily held its own, making it a very capable camera phone. The most significant differences relate to low-light performance, where images captured with the improved Night mode are a huge step up on those delivered by the iPhone 11.

The downside is that, unlike the Galaxy S20, OnePlus 8T or Pixel 5 the iPhone 12 still doesn’t feature a high refresh rate screen. It’s locked to 60Hz, which makes it feel less responsive than most Android flagships, which tend to come with 90Hz or 120Hz panels these days.

Nor is the OLED screen the best in Apple’s line up for general movie-binging. Despite offering excellent viewing angles, razor-sharp resolutions and generally being great, during testing we found the 12 screen’s smaller dimensions put it a step behind the much more expensive iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Buyers that don’t care about screen size and want to save some cash may also be tempted by the iPhone 12 Mini. It shares the same core specs as the regular iPhone 12, but comes with a smaller form factor and lower price tag. Just be wanted, the battery life on the Mini version takes a hefty hit. During testing it regularly struggled to last a full day’s heavy use.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: iPhone 12 Review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra phone is the most advanced model in the new flagship lineup.
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Pros

  • Great screen thanks to WQHD+ and 120Hz
  • Much-improved design with an attractive finish
  • Far more versatile camera than the iPhone 12 Pro Max

Cons

  • Expensive, with many cheaper phones offering the same features
  • Big and heavy
  • No charger included

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the top Android phone to come out in 2021 so far and a great pick if you’re willing to pay a little extra to get the best of the best. 

The S21 Ultra is packed with high-end features. The list includes fast performance thanks to its Exynos 2100 chip (or the Snapdragon 888 if you’re shopping in the States), 5G support, up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. 

One of the headline features is the display. The S21 Ultra boasts a 6.8-inch, curved, WQHD+ screen. It’s bright, hitting 1500 nits, and supports HDR content as well as an adaptive 10-120Hz refresh rate. The fact that this display can handle 120Hz while still maintaining its 1440p WQHD resolution puts the screen ahead of that on its 2020 predecessor. The display even has S-Pen support to coax fans of the Galaxy Note over to the S series – albeit without a slot to store the pen. 

The quad-camera system is impressive. It includes a 108MP wide sensor that offers great depth of field, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor and two 10MP zoom sensors for capturing images from far away. 

The Galaxy S21 Ultra isn’t the smallest phone on the market and it might be difficult to come to terms with the £1149/€1249/$1199 price, but if you can part with the cash you’ll struggle to find a better smartphone.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

The iPhone 12 Pro is a specced-up version of Apple’s 2020 phone
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Pros

  • A very welcome redesign
  • Reliable cameras in all situations
  • Accurate HDR display
  • Great size

Cons

  • High refresh rate screen feels sorely missed on the Pro model
  • Pro Max bags the bigger camera upgrades

Apple’s true flagship phone is the iPhone 12 Pro and while it’s not a huge upgrade in many ways over the cheaper iPhone 12, it does offer a few improvements that make it worth it if you simply must have the very best iPhone.

There are two sizes of the 12 Pro. One matches the iPhone 12 in every dimension and a larger ‘Max’ model offers a bigger screen, bigger battery and slightly better main camera. Unless you want a huge 6.7-inch screen though, the 12 Pro is still seriously capable.

The Pro models add in a 2x telephoto zoom to give you three cameras altogether, a little extra RAM and a starting storage size of 128GB. It also just feels that little bit more high-end, with stainless steel sides that shimmer and a frosted back. These materials, paired with the exceptional squared-off, iPhone 5-inspired look of the phone easily make it the best-looking device on this list. The available colours are darker and moodier too and include a lovely Pacific Blue hue

The rest is very much the same as the iPhone 12. The A14 Bionic chipset is supremely capable, the cameras all take good pictures and the bright OLED display is one of the best around. We do wish Apple could find some way to reduce the size of the notch with the iPhone 13 as it’s larger than it should be. 

If you’re on a 5G contract, and in a supported area, then you’ll be able to make use of this new data network. During testing, we wouldn’t say 5G is a reason to upgrade yet, but it does futureproof the phone.

Apple’s decision to remove the charger and earphones from the box was a controversial one and while not everyone has followed suit yet, we can see it becoming more and more common over the next few years. You can of course use an older iPhone charger, or buy one separately. There’s wireless charging support too and Apple’s magnetic MagSafe charger is a handy add-on that juices the phone up wirelessly at quicker speeds.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: iPhone 12 Pro Review

If you’re on the hunt for a smaller Android phone then the Asus Zenfone 8 is a winner
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Pros

  • Great size for those who find Android phones big
  • Impressive speed
  • Lovely screen
  • Impressive value

Cons

  • Can get hot when gaming
  • No telephoto camera
  • No wireless charging

The Asus Zenfone 8 is the smartphone surprise of 2021 so far. This dinky flagship offers a wildly different experience to other Android phones on this list and it does so without sacrificing too many high-end features.

The size here is similar to that of the iPhone 12 (rather than the 12 mini) which is rare in the Android space. It’s small and perfectly usable with one hand, but it packs internals like the flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset, up to 16GB RAM and 30w charging.

During testing, we found the Zenfone 8 snappy and as capable as anything from Samsung, OnePlus or Xiaomi. It does get a little hot during gaming sessions, though.

The 5.9-inch display is great with a 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling, OLED for rich colours and deep blacks and only a very small cutout for the front camera. Asus has even found zoom for a set of stereo front speakers and a headphone jack.

The main camera is good, however the lack of any zoom (aside from the digital one) is a shame. Same goes for the lack of wireless charging.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Asus Zenfone 8

The Oppo Find X3 Pro is the followup to our favourite phone of 2020. Coming loaded with the latest Snapdragon 888, loads of camera features and a lovely screen this could be the phone to beat this year.
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Pros

  • Thin and light for a 6.7-inch phone
  • Adaptive 120Hz display is gorgeous and highly customisable
  • Oppo’s software has seen huge improvements

Cons

  • Battery life not as good as the Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Loses the periscope zoom skills of the Find X2 Pro
  • Vibration motor is terrible

Oppo impressed us a lot with the Oppo Find X2 Pro so it’s hardly a surprise the follow-up, the Find X3 Pro, is one of the best phones you can buy right now.

The handset goes toe-to-toe with Samsung’s best for specs and features. Matching the specs of most current flagships, it comes with a super-powerful 5G-ready Snapdragon 888 chipset, wonderfully calibrated, 120Hz, 6.7-inch screen, and a lovely curved glass design.

During testing, we found its support for 65W fast-charging saw battery life go from 0-100% in around half an hour, which is a seriously impressive achievement.

The only downside is that, unlike the older X2 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the zoom skills of the rear cameras are limited. Oppo has ditched the periscope zoom lens, instead offering a far better ultra wide sensor and a 3x optical zoom. 

During testing we found this means you can’t get quite as close to the action as you could before. At least the quality from the wide and ultra cameras are very good – with lovely colours and a strong low-light mode. There’s even a microscope camera that takes some interesting close-up shots.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Oppo Find X3 Pro Review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 isn’t what you expect
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Pros

  • Much more affordable at launch than S20
  • Still a great screen (and it’s flat)
  • Snappy performance

Cons

  • Lack of microSD and WQHD+ resolution make it feel like an S20 downgrade
  • Doesn’t feel as good as previous S series phones
  • Minimal camera upgrades

The Samsung Galaxy S21 and its larger Galaxy S21 Plus counterpart are two fantastic options if you like the look of the S21 series but are wary about spending Ultra-level money on your next upgrade. Samsung has even lowered the price of entry for its flagship devices this year, which is always nice to see.

Both the S21 and S21 Plus offer the same speedy Exynos 2100 chipset (Snapdragon 888 in certain regions), 5G support and in-display fingerprint scanner as the S21 Ultra, the latter being a major bonus right now with masks making face log-ins near-impossible. 

While the Plus model is all glass, the less-expensive S21 has a plastic back. The WQHD+ resolution has also been swapped out for a FHD+ display. That said, during testing we found the 6.2-inch (S21) and 6.7-inch (S21 Plus) OLED displays are bright and sharp and the addition of an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate means the display will still be smooth without any unnecessary drain on your battery.

Both of these S21 models pack a triple camera made up of a 12MP wide sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor and a 64MP zoom sensor. On the front, there’s a 10MP selfie camera and you can capture video up to 8K. Photos taken with the S21 are beautifully detailed and the colour is bright and punchy. 

The S21 may not be as advanced as the S21 Ultra, but the phone is slimmer, lighter and a lot more affordable for most people.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Samsung Galaxy S21 Review

Following months of hype, the OnePlus 9 Pro is here with its Hasselblad-emblazoned camera and some of the fastest charging speeds I’ve ever seen.
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Pros

  • Excellent screen
  • Fast wired and wireless charging is a dream
  • One of the best versions of Android
  • Impressive ultra-wide camera

Cons

  • The camera can be frustratingly slow to open
  • No great zoom skills and better photos taken elsewhere
  • Not widely available on contract

The OnePlus 9 Pro is the best OnePlus phone you can buy and a real rival to the S21 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro for the best overall Android phone award this year. During testing we found the 9 Pro only misses the mark slightly when it comes to overall camera quality, which falls below its two main competitors.

When compared to the OnePlus 9, the Pro model has a sharper 1440p display, a full metal body, a proper IP68 water resistance rating and very fast wireless charging. During testing, we found that the upgrades really are worth it if you’re willing to spend a little bit extra cash as they make the phone feel significantly better built.

While the camera system does fall below the very best camera phones, the Hasselblad-branded camera system with its main 48MP sensor and an 50MP ultra-wide is still capable and we found it a noticeable improvement when compared to the previous OnePlus cameras. We had standout praise for the ultra wide camera.

Performance is fantastic thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chipset and, aside from a slow camera app, the software is among the best you’ll find on any Android phone even if there are a few bugs here and there.
Another highlight is the rapid charging, both wired and wireless, which can give you a full charge in roughly 30 minutes.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: OnePlus 9 Pro Review

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is a top-tier flagship with a Snapdragon 888, 108MP camera and very quick charging all for a price that sits below much of the competition.
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Pros

  • Strong display
  • Excellent performance in all areas
  • Likely far more affordable than similarly specced phones
  • Quick to charge

Cons

  • It’s very big, with no smaller option
  • The software is buggy
  • No IP rating
  • Camera choices aren’t always the best

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is a strong alternative to the Galaxy S21 if you want a bigger screen and faster charging but aren’t keen on spending more.
The display is the star here, which we found doesn’t fall too far short of the panel used on the S21 Ultra when it comes to image quality and performance. At 6.81-inches it’s large and it packs a 1440p resolution, HDR support and a 120Hz refresh rate to give you smooth scrolling and responsive gaming.

Like the display, the internal and camera specs are high-end and great for the price. This is one of the more affordable Snapdragon 888 devices and it’s paired with 8GB RAM and up to 256GB storage.

It’s very speedy too, with any app or game playing with ease when we reviewed it. There’s really nothing that can push this phone too far. You’ve also got 5G support if you’re using the phone in a supported area.

There’s a main 108MP camera (along with two other sensors, which aren’t quite so good) on the back that takes decent pictures and 65w charging that’ll give you a full charge in about 40 minutes.

The most disappointing part of the Xiaomi Mi 11 is the software, which we found is a little too buggy making it slightly frustrating to use. Apps crash, wallpapers randomly change, notifications take an age to appear and there’s too much bloatware.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Xiaomi Mi 11 Review

The Realme X50 5G is one of the boldest mobile phones statements of 2020
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Pros

  • Very good battery life
  • Low price for a 5G phone
  • Well-specced 120Hz screen
  • Strong general and gaming performance
  • Surprisingly capable main camera, even at night

Cons

  • Two of the rear cameras are filler
  • No headphone jack

Realme isn’t a household name in the Western phone market yet, but in our experience it has a solid track record releasing top-value handsets in key markets such as India and we’ve been impressed with its slew of recent devices that have passed through the Trusted Reviews lab.

As such, it’s no surprise then that its latest “flagship” affordable phone, the Realme X50 5G, lives up to expectations.
The handset comes with specs that match the majority of flagships in a few key areas. Specifically, the handset offers a high refresh rate 120Hz panel, 5G connectivity and a wonderful glass design that throughout testing felt significantly more premium than most of the other sub-£300 handsets we tested.

The main rear camera is also remarkably capable, managing to take usable images even in low light – a key area in which most affordable phones like the Moto G8 struggle to deliver. Just don’t expect much from its secondary and tertiary sensors, which are little more than window-dressing, offering sub-par performance across the board.

Compromises come by way of a Snapdragon 765 5G chip – which on paper isn’t as fast as the 8-series CPU you’ll see in most 2020 flagships, although, unless you’re a power user trying to photo edit, or play triple-A games, you’re unlikely to suffer any performance issues – and a few perks such as wireless charging, HDR screen support and a formal water-resistance rating.

If this doesn’t appeal, or you’re not a fan of the design, there are a number of rivals that offer similar feature sets in the affordable space.

Reviewer: Andrew Williams
Full review: Realme X50 5G Review

The Asus ROG Phone 5 takes the multimedia crown as one of the best phones for gaming and movie streaming
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Pros

  • Long-lasting, fast-charging battery
  • 144Hz AMOLED screen
  • Fantastic stereo speakers

Cons

  • No telephoto camera
  • No wireless charging

Gaming-focussed devices are still a niche sector of the smartphone space, but after a few years of being disappointed with what was on offer, we’ve finally been impressed by some of the gaming phones we’ve reviewed recently. 

While you’ll get excellent gaming performance from an iPhone 12, Galaxy S21 Ultra or OnePlus 9 Pro, the Asus ROG Phone 5 takes things up a notch with a ridiculously smooth 144Hz display, gaming accessories and booming speakers.

With a lot of the phones on this list trying to be more svelte, the Asus ROG Phone 5 goes the opposite way. This is a bigger phone so there is room for beefy speakers, a display without a notch and huge 6000mAh battery. There are also a couple of touch-sensitive triggers on the top, letting you ditch the usually terrible on-screen controls

If you’re all about smooth, modern design that you should probably look elsewhere.

Inside, the specs show this for the true power-user. There’s up to 18GB RAM, the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 888 chipset and plenty of storages for games.

Reviewer: Basil Kronfli
Full review: Asus ROG Phone 5 Review

FAQs

What is the best phone in 2021?

Our current best phone pick is the iPhone 12, or the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra if you’re an Android user. But all the phones featured on this list are highly recommended.

Which phone has the best camera?

Both the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra are top picks when it comes to camera performance.

If you’re looking for a camera phone, please visit our best camera phone list.

How much should I spend on a phone?

There are excellent phones at all price points these days, with the best often costing above a grand if you want the very best. If you aren’t so fussed on things like camera performance and display quality you can get an excellent device for £500/$600.

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