What is the best smartphone you can buy?
There are so many good phones to choose from across 2020 and the first month of 2021 but which one is the king of the castle? Is there even a winner? In truth, there's no one perfect choice for everyone, so bear in mind that the best phone for you might not be number one in our chart.
Phones come in all shapes, sizes and prices. Here, we have ranked and reviewed the ten best phones money can buy.
While you're going to find established brands like Apple, Samsung and Sony in this list, you might not be familiar with every phone-maker we've recommended. With that said, trust us - these phones are all top-notch and if you want to know more, you can simply hop into each phone's full review.
1. iPhone 12 - Best all-rounder
The iPhone 12 represents a leap forward for the iPhone, offering not only an improved design reminiscent of the beloved iPhone 5 and iPad Pro, but the same 6.1in Super Retina XDR display as the Pro model - something Apple hasn't offered on the standard model in the past.
Once you look past the design and improved display, it's the heart of the iPhone 12 that's most impressive. Featuring the A14 Bionic, Apple's new chipset beats just about everything else available at the moment, and that's without the extra RAM available on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.
There's also an improved camera setup with better low-light photography and smart tech to help reduce the warp of photos taken on the ultra-wide lens. There's even Dolby Vision video recording, albeit capped at [email protected]
Simply put, the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 is all the iPhone you'll need. It's harder than ever to justify the expensive leap to the iPhone 12 Pro, with the same design, display and processor, and a similar camera setup too.
Read our full Apple iPhone 12 review
2. Samsung Galaxy S21 - Best performance
The latest member of the Galaxy S family and the baby of Samsung's 2021 flagship lineup, the Galaxy S21 doesn't push the envelope in any one area but at the same time addresses the S20's bland design with some new aesthetic and colour choices.
What's more, it also offers up better battery life and the new 5nm chipset at its heart (the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100, depending on where you pick one up) is some undeniably powerful silicon, granting the phone great long-term performance (plus integrated 5G).
Add to that the latest Android 11 (dressed in Samsung's own One UI 3.1, at launch) and a lower starting price than even the 4G version of last year's Galaxy S20 and the S21 is a difficult handset to overlook.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review
3. OnePlus 8 Pro - Best display
The OnePlus 8 Pro is arguably the company's first full flagship, finally incorporating long-requested features like wireless charging and an IP68 waterproof rating to make it a genuine contender with the likes of Samsung's finest of 2020.
Understandably, the price has gone up accordingly, but even the base model - no slouch at 8GB RAM and 128GB storage - still represents serious value by flagship standards, meaning you will save at least some money by opting for OnePlus over most other manufacturers.
The 8 Pro's camera is the company's best yet and while it still lags behind rivals, OnePlus's imaging engineers have clearly worked hard to narrow the gap considerably. Throw in 5G, a great design and the best Android skin around and the OnePlus 8 Pro is easy to recommend to anyone who can afford it.
Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review
4. Google Pixel 5 - Most compact
Google's first 5G flagship walks a different path to its predecessors, showcasing Android 11 to the best of its abilities but also shedding the more experimental features of previous generations and opting for more conservative hardware at the same time.
Its clean design and user experience are supported by a set of superb - and now more feature-rich - cameras, as well as an incredibly compact design and battery life that's actually usable.
Read our full Google Pixel 5 review
5. OnePlus 8T - Best for fast charging
Bigger numbers in all things except price renders the OnePlus 8T a great buy. It's cheaper than the OnePlus 8's original RRP and yet sports a smoother 120Hz refresh rate display and is the first of the company's phone's to integrate blisteringly-fast 65W fast charging.
It's also one of the first phones outside of Google's own Pixel 5 to boast the latest and greatest Android 11; in this instance, covered by OnePlus' OxygenOS 11 user experience on top.
Read our full OnePlus 8T review
6. Oppo Find X2 Pro - Best camera
The Oppo Find X2 Pro is a phenomenal phone by any measure. The 6.7in 10-bit 120Hz QHD+ panel is one of the best displays in any phone right now and Oppo backs it up with the fastest wired charging around at 65W and a top-tier camera that boasts two 48Mp lenses and up to a 10x hybrid zoom.
You’ll have to live without wireless charging and the choice between bland grey ceramic or garish green or orange vegan leather finishes might leave some struggling to find a design that suits their style.
For pure performance though, the Find X2 Pro is still a force to be reckoned with: with all of the above plus a Snapdragon 865 chip, 512GB storage and 12GB RAM - you just have to be willing to pay the price, as it doesn't come cheap.
Read our full Oppo Find X2 Pro review
7. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra - Best for productivity
A true powerhouse - the Note 20 Ultra doesn't take any prisoners, with its flagship performance, greatly-improved camera (compared to the Galaxy S20 Ultra), low-latency S Pen experience and the sheer number of features it offers.
Samsung's One UI user experience is jam-packed with functionality without feeling overwhelming. You have control over pretty much every aspect of the phone and it's designed to help you get things done.
The pairing of S Pen and the updated Samsung Notes experience is a particular highlight, as is the tighter Microsoft integration. There's also the matter of DeX desktop experience - which is now fully-wireless with compatible displays.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review
8. iPhone 12 Pro Max - Best for multimedia
The iPhone 12 Pro Max may not utilise its expansive display as effectively as the Note 20 Ultra does - especially when it comes to matters of productivity - but it's an undeniably superb large-screened phone all the same.
It boasts some of the best performance on the market, 5G (for the first time on an iPhone), a stunning 6.7in OLED display, great battery life, support for MagSafe for iPhone accessories and totes one of the most capable smartphone cameras money can buy - complete with sensor-shift OIS (optical image stabilisation), something we've never before seen on a smartphone.
Provided you're comfortable with its sizeable proportions, you'll just have to grapple with its equally demanding high price tag.
Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review
9. iPhone 11 Pro - Best 4G flagship
While it has been replaced by the iPhone 12 range, the iPhone 11 Pro is still a capable smartphone - and one that'll likely be cheaper from carriers now the 12 Pro is available.
We like the matte finish which provides more grip than standard glass and helps negate fingerprint, too. The 5.8in OLED screen is stunning, especially with Dark Mode the cameras are excellent, performance is slick and battery life is impressive so there's a lot to like.
It may not be 5G capable and the iPhone 12 Pro may be more powerful, but the 5.8in iPhone 11 Pro offers a smaller form factor than its 6.1in replacement.
Read our full Apple iPhone 11 Pro review
10. Samsung Galaxy S20 - Great all-rounder
The best entry in the S20 series and simply Samsung's best phone of 2020. It’s compact, powerful and packs a versatile camera system that may not match the top-tier S20 Ultra on zoom or detail but still meets - and sometimes beats - it across the rest of the board.
While battery life remains a slight concern, that’s really the only major fault here. The Android ecosystem offers more for less elsewhere, but usually without Samsung’s level of prestige or polish, and in this case, we think that’s worth paying for.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 review
Your buying guide for the best phones in 2021
When choosing a phone you should consider these things: build quality and design, ease of use, features, performance and value.
Generally speaking, a flagship phone in 2020/2021 will start at around £700 but can cost over £1,000 in some cases. On contract, you're looking at between £30 and £50-per-month on average but you can spend a lot more if you want an expensive phone and lots of mobile data.
Buying a phone outright will usually give you the best value, but we appreciate finances in the real world don't always accommodate such big one-off purchases. If you can, you'll obviously need a SIM card and plan, as well as the phone. If you don't already have one, check out our best SIM-only deals.
Should you buy an iPhone or Android phone?
There's more than one mobile operating system, but really only two worth talking about: Android and iOS.
The vast majority of phones today run Android; 11 being the latest publicly-released version. Apple’s iOS platform, meanwhile, may have a lower market share but developers almost always release their apps on iOS first. As a result of this approach, it has one of the best app stores you can find.
If you have an Android phone or an iPhone and want to move to a phone running the other OS (operating system), it's fairly easy to transfer your contacts and other select data from one to the other. What you can't move are paid-for apps and certain app data (like WhatsApp backups), so keep this in mind if you're considering a change of platform - and research any specific concerns you may have about the process.
Why you should buy an unlocked phone
An unlocked phone is one which is not tied to any particular mobile operator, such as Vodafone or EE. Buying 'unlocked' usually means buying the phone outright without a SIM card or contract attached.
The most important point is that an unlocked phone is almost always a better deal than buying a phone on contract - if you can afford it.
The only real exception to this is Apple's iPhones - because of their traditional popularity, operators often subsidise the cost of buying an iPhone in order to lock you into a lucrative long-term deal.
Generally speaking, if you can afford the upfront cost of the handset, you will pay less over the life of your phone by buying unlocked.
More importantly, you are not locked into a lengthy contract. If you want a new handset at any time, you can buy one without having to up-purchase your way out of said contract or commit to another two years.
Just be sure to make certain the phone you're getting is not locked to a certain network.
The right SIM
One other thing to consider is the size and shape of the SIM required for your phone. Make sure you get a nano-SIM if a nano-SIM is what your phone requires.
For the record, every phone in our top ten takes a nano-SIM.
If you get that wrong it is easily solvable - every network will gladly send over a different-sized SIM. SIM cards tend to come in all three sizes - you simply pop out the one you need.
But that's assuming you are getting a new SIM, and if you're looking for a SIM-free phone or unlocked phone you probably already have one.
More important is to make sure that if you want 5G you get a 5G-enabled phone and SIM.
Related: How we test smartphones
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