Finding the best smartphone often comes down to one decision: whether you want an Apple iPhone or a smartphone with Google’s Android software. The iPhone is easier to use, while Android phones are often cheaper and come in a wide variety of sizes and styles.
Budget is also a big consideration, and both iOS and Android have offers to suit your budget. You may want the cream of the crop to become the showpiece. Maybe you are looking for something affordable. Most, but not all, phones can connect to a 5G network. Most, but not all, the phones on this list have multiple camera sensors.
Our experts scoured the spec range up and down and we found our favorites. Read our tips!
The best package: Apple iPhone 13
The iPhone 13 is Apple’s newest and certainly the best iPhone. There are four models to choose from: the smaller iPhone 13 mini, the “base” iPhone 13, which we look at here, and the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, which have bigger screens and better cameras.
Our tester Victoria used the iPhone 13 for a month and collected 520 hours of use. You said the iPhone 13 is “the best way to get Apple’s most advanced hardware and software enhancements without sacrificing too much in terms of price, size or design.”
The iPhone 13 is sturdy and luxurious, Victoria said, and the 6.1-inch screen is covered in a type of glass known as the Ceramic Shield, which Apple says offers four times the protection of the rival smartphone’s glass. The screen is crisp and clear from all angles, although the iPhone 13 Pro has a larger and better screen for maximum streaming performance. However, for most people, the iPhone 13 is more than enough and is also much lighter than its big brother, weighing in at 6.1 grams.
Best package: Samsung Galaxy S21
The flagship of the Samsung Galaxy line of phones, and indeed most of Android, is the Samsung Galaxy S21. There are three different versions of Galaxy S21: Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21 Ultra. We will talk about the Galaxy Ultra later, which leaves us with the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus. Both are very similar to the Plus version with a bigger screen, bigger battery and bigger price. Most of what we say about the Galaxy S21 applies to the S21 Plus, so if you like what you see here but want something bigger, the S21 Plus (View on Amazon) is for you.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch FHD + screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It has excellent viewing angles and is what our reviewer Andrew calls “absolutely gorgeous”. The processor is the top-of-the-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, 9% faster than the latest generation of Samsung phones. The S21 comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage, which isn’t expandable with a microSD card.
Best camera: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra lives up to its name by being the absolute top of its category in every respect, but above all in terms of photography. In addition to a 108 megapixel main camera and a 12 megapixel ultra-wide angle camera, this phone has two 3X and 10X optical zoom sensors. The photos you take with this phone are just great. If you appreciate the ability to zoom remotely – parents, travel bloggers, famous photographers – this is simply the best camera setup you can get on a phone.
As for the rest of the phone, you get the most out of it in every way. You get the Snapdragon 888, 12GB of RAM, and up to 512GB of storage. Plus, you get a 5,000mAh battery, a 6.8-inch screen with WQHD resolution, and a variable refresh rate of 120Hz. Of course, that just means the phone is huge and will fill every inch of your pocket.
The phone is also very expensive with a suggested retail price of $ 1,199. To make matters worse, this phone comes without a charging brick. It’s shocking when you buy a $ 799 iPhone, but it’s criminal at $ 1,199. But if you want the best camera in the best phone, that’s a premium for sure. This phone deserves the Ultra name in every way.
Best value for money: Apple iPhone SE (2020)
At the start of 2020, Apple wanted to offer most of what made the iPhone 11 great, but at a significantly lower price. The result was the iPhone SE (2020). This small phone comes in a compact package but still packs an A13 bionic processor. In terms of comparison, the A13 also beats 2021 flagship phones like the Galaxy S21. The iPhone SE also has the same RAM and storage options, but it’s all behind a small 4.7-inch screen and a Home button with Touch ID. The phone has a single 12-megapixel camera, which is as good as a single camera in a phone.
The imitation phone is an iPhone 6 model, so some may think it is outdated. But the iPhone SE is more for people who want a powerful phone but don’t want to carry around a phone big enough to land small planes. Apple has left out 5G connectivity, and in fact won’t introduce a 5G iPhone until six months after the iPhone SE launch. The battery life of this phone is also not very good. The battery compromise required to make the phone so small also means the phone struggles to get through the day. But the phone offers wireless charging, which is another nice benefit.
In short, if you want a powerful Apple phone and a fingerprint in a very small package, this is the best phone that meets all these criteria.
Best value for money (Android): Google Pixel 4a
Pixel phones are phones made by Google, which also makes Android. One area where Google Pixel phones consistently stand out is photography. Google is using the Pixel as a showcase for what Android can be. Add to that the fact that Google usually treats its phones with perks like feature drops and updates for every other Android phone. The Pixel A series tends to be a little less powerful and a little less beautiful, but otherwise gives you a great Android experience.
The Google Pixel 4a offers a premium Android experience powered by a mid-range Snapdragon 730G processor and 6GB of RAM. These specs aren’t great on their own, but Android runs really well on them and offers a great experience and a battery that lasts all day. The phone has a single camera, which our reviewer Andrew describes as “so consistent that I’d take it over multi-camera modules on much more expensive phones with superior cameras.”
Best design: OnePlus 9 Pro
OnePlus started its journey into the smartphone space as a “flagship killer” by promoting phones with truly exceptional features at very affordable prices. Today, OnePlus has gone from a flagship killer to a flagship. OnePlus’ latest flagship offers top-quality, stunning cameras and 5G on two of America’s three 5G networks. AT&T doesn’t support the OnePlus 9Pro on its 5G network, but Verizon and T-Mobile do.
Until now, OnePlus has had a reputation for offering great specs but consistently poor cameras. This is no longer the case, as the OnePlus 9 Pro also offers a great camera experience. The phone has a triple camera with 3.3x optical zoom. All cameras are Hasselblad tuned, which works well in most lighting conditions.
Generally, choosing the best one depends on your preferences. If you like Android, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is our pick, otherwise it’s the iPhone 13. The general nod is the iPhone, as Apple’s iOS is easier to use for most people. It’s fast, smooth and has a great camera. However, you can’t go wrong with these choices.