If you want to get your hands on the best Android phone in 2021, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is for you. It's a device that delivers all of the high-end specs and features you could ask for in a flagship smartphone, all while coming in at a lower price than a lot of its competition. That said, if you're in the market for something more affordable with different software, or a more unique design, there are plenty of other options to consider.
What are the best Android phones?
There are a lot of contenders when it comes to the best Android phones, but we think the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE stands out above its many competitors as the go-to choice for most people. The S20 FE isn't the absolute most premium Android phone you can buy in 2021, but when looking at the specs and features it offers for the price, it's easily the best phone most people should buy.
The Galaxy S20 FE has everything you'd expect to see in a modern flagship: a top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 120Hz AMOLED display, great cameras, and reliable battery life. Higher-end features, such as wireless charging and IP68 dust/water resistance, are here as well. Everything you could ask for is present on the S20 FE, and it does all of this with a retail price that's hundreds less than competing devices.
The Galaxy S20 FE is an exceptional smartphone, but if you have a few more dollars to spend and want something even more impressive, our next pick is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. This is one of the most powerful Android phones currently available in 2021, and that's evident with virtually every facet of the S21 Ultra. It has Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 888 chipset, a Quad HD+ display that can be run at 120Hz, and a camera system that's practically guaranteed to make your jaw drop.
We should also mention the Google Pixel 4a, which is a completely different category of smartphone compared to the Galaxy S20 FE and S21 Ultra. It has lesser specs across the board and a cheaper design, but that also results in a vastly lower price. Times are tough for a lot of people right now, and if you want a top-notch Android phone that can do everything you ask of it while spending as little as possible, the Google Pixel 4a is the phone to get.
1. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
The best Android phone overall$700 at Amazon
Bottom line: Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE is a solid, affordable 5G phone that offers most of what makes the Galaxy S21 Ultra so good in a cheaper, more colorful package.
|Category||Galaxy S20 FE|
|Display||6.5-inch OLED, 2400x1080, 120Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|Cameras||12MP primary, 8MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide|
|Charging||15W wired, Qi wireless charging|
- Flat 120Hz display is terrific
- All-day battery life
- Promised three years of software updates
- Impressive cameras with 3x optical zoom
- Sturdy design with fun color options
- Not every color option is available everywhere
- Camera can be slow to load
Samsung clearly understands that this is a time for people to pare back their expenses because the Galaxy S20 FE is a value flagship that really doesn't skimp. It's based on the successful foundation of the Galaxy S20+, featuring a spacious 6.5-inch 1080p AMOLED display with a luxurious 120Hz refresh rate, a Snapdragon 865, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and an all-day 4,500mAh battery.
Of course, to hit its affordable price point, Samsung needed to make some sacrifices, so it traded the Galaxy S20 series' back glass for colorful plastic — the FE is available in six delicious colors — and cut back on the quality of the triple-camera setup ever-so-slightly.
Still, the S20 FE has everything you'd expect in a high-end phone and performs just as well. We especially love the IP68 water resistance and wireless charging, two features rare in this price bracket. Plus, it shares the same primary camera sensor as the Galaxy S20 and S20+, which ensures beautiful results in good light and bad.
Samsung's One UI 3.0 is also on-board, and the company's promising three years of platform and security updates, ensuring that you'll be getting the latest Android features well into the next decade.
Finally, Samsung includes sub-6Ghz 5G in all variants of the Galaxy S20 FE, and we found performance to be excellent on both AT&T's and T-Mobile's 5G networks. If you want a Verizon version that supports mmWave, it's also available for purchase.
2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
An Android phone with zero compromises$1,000 at Amazon
Bottom line: Where the Galaxy S20 FE is the best phone most people should buy, the S21 Ultra stands out as the phone to get if you don't want to spare any expense. Everything from the display, performance, cameras, and more are among the very best you can get — just be prepared for it to cost you a pretty penny.
|Category||Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra|
|Display||6.8-inch AMOLED, 3200x1440, 120Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|RAM||12 or 16GB|
|Storage||128, 256, or 512GB|
|Cameras||108MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 10MP telephoto (3x), 10MP telephoto (10x)|
|Charging||25W wired, 15W wireless|
- Gorgeous design
- Quad HD+ display with 120Hz refresh rate
- Snapdragon 888 is ridiculously fast
- New camera system is top-notch
- Works with the S Pen
- Doesn't have expandable storage or MST
- It's a massive phone
What Samsung achieved with the Galaxy S20 FE is nothing short of amazing, and for the vast majority of you reading this, it's the phone you should probably buy. But if you're itching for a device that has even more to offer and you're OK spending more to get that kind of experience, you'll want to turn your attention towards the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
This is Samsung's top-of-the-line flagship for 2021, and in virtually every regard, the premium nature of the S21 Ultra is easy to see. Starting first with the display, you're treated to a massive 6.8-inch panel that's capable of running a Quad HD+ resolution with a 120Hz refresh rate at the same time — something very few smartphones are capable of doing. This means you get razor-sharp text, buttery smooth animations, and the stunning colors of Samsung's Dynamic AMOLED screen technology.
Powering the S21 Ultra is the Snapdragon 888 chipset, which can be paired with either 12 or 16GB of RAM. In real-world use, that means the Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the fastest phones money can buy. Keeping with the theme of high-end specs, other niceties include a 5,000 mAh battery, up to 512GB of storage, an IP68 water/dust resistance rating, and a larger in-screen fingerprint sensor that's much faster and easier to use than the one found on the S20 FE.
As if that wasn't enough, the tour de force of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is its camera system. The primary camera is a 108MP sensor that captures extremely detailed and colorful shots, the 8MP ultra-wide lens is a strong performer, and the two telephoto cameras — featuring 3x and 10x zoom distances — allow for some of the very best zoom pictures we've ever seen.
There's no denying the impressiveness of the S21 Ultra, but that's not to say it's without its faults. Samsung dropped expandable storage and MST for Samsung Pay, two hallmark features of Galaxy phones before it. If you're alright with those commissions, the rest of the Galaxy S21 Ultra experience is well, well worth the price of admission.
3. Google Pixel 4a
Amazing camera, even better price$346 at Amazon
Bottom line: There are a lot of good smartphone deals out there, but none of them are as amazing as the Pixel 4a. From its flagship-grade camera, fast performance, reliable battery life, and long-term software support, no other phone gives you this much for so little.
|Category||Google Pixel 4a|
|Display||5.81-inch OLED, 2340x1080, 60Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G|
- Flagship camera on a budget phone
- Easy to use in one hand
- AMOLED display looks great
- Snappy performance
- Three years of software support
- Boring design
The Pixel 4a is the best phone value available today, period. Google's packed most of what makes the Pixel 4 series good into a smartphone that costs over 50% less. You also get a compact device that, despite its size, excels in the battery life department. Seriously, this phone lasts all day and then some.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the 4a is its camera, which is nearly on par with the Pixel 4. The main camera shoots exceptional photos in all lighting conditions, with Night Sight really showing its strength in poor lighting. Google even added Astrophotography mode this time around and improved the already-impressive Portrait Mode. The front-facing camera is also tack-sharp and focuses more quickly than on the Pixel 3a from 2019. Both front and back, you're getting flagship-level camera quality out of a phone that's a fraction of the price. Google's also improved the video quality on the 4a, thanks to an improved Snapdragon 730 chipset and 6GB of RAM standard.
So what do you lose by spending a third of the price of a more traditional flagship? Well, the Pixel 4a is made of plastic and lacks both water resistance and wireless charging, features you can take for granted at a higher price point. It also only comes in one size, a 5.8-inch variant, and one color, black. There are no storage size options, either: you get 128GB of internal memory, which should be plenty for most people, but a lack of microSD expansion may be a problem for the content collectors out there. Also, there's no 5G support here.
All of these limitations shouldn't impede your desire to buy the Pixel 4a, which proved to be one of the best smartphone surprises of 2020 — even if it did launch a few months late. From the size to the performance to the battery life and camera quality, Google's latest budget phone is a winner.
4. OnePlus 8 Pro
A complete flagship experience for under a grand$700 at Amazon
Bottom line: Have a bit more cash to spend? The OnePlus 8 Pro is every bit as good as the S20 FE, though it steps up to better cameras, a nicer design, and faster wireless charging.
|Category||OnePlus 8 Pro|
|Display||6.78-inch AMOLED, 3168x1440, 120Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|RAM||8 or 12GB|
|Storage||128 or 256GB|
|Cameras||48MP primary, 8MP telephoto
48MP ultra-wide, 5MP color filter
|Charging||30W wired and wireless|
- 120Hz display is incredible
- Super-fast performance
- Very good cameras
- Large battery and fast charge speeds
- IP68 rating for dust/water resistance
- Weak telephoto camera
The OnePlus 8 Pro is impressive and well-designed as any high-end smartphone can be. If you know anything about OnePlus phones, you'll be happy to know it doesn't upend the traditional OnePlus formula. Instead, it extends it to its logical place in the world of 2021 flagships with more features and a higher price.
The hardware goes toe-to-toe with any phone out there, and it's punctuated by the best display OnePlus has ever used. It's bright, colorful, and has a 120Hz refresh rate. Inside, there are exceptional specs, and that leads to fantastic performance thanks to the super-smooth OxygenOS software — it's just a joy to use.
The 8 Pro also brings the best cameras yet to the OnePlus phone, with a new primary sensor that steps up its game to a true flagship level. The entire camera experience is a step behind the likes of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but then again, it's also less expensive. Rounding out the hardware side of things, the OnePlus 8 Pro delivers great battery life and super-fast charge speeds (including support for both 30W wired and wireless charging).
Overall, the OnePlus 8 Pro earns one of our top commendations because it's just so easy to recommend to anyone looking for a flagship smartphone. It has a beautiful display, incredible performance, very good cameras, and long-lasting battery life. There's no major drawback to any aspect of the phone, making its price tag that much more appealing. It's not quite as good of a deal as the Galaxy S20 FE, but it's a great phone regardless.
Disclaimer: As of March 12, 2021, OnePlus has confirmed the upcoming launch of the OnePlus 9 Series on March 23, which will presumably include a Pro model successor to the OnePlus 8 Pro.
5. Google Pixel 5
The ultimate camera smartphone$699 at Amazon
Bottom line: They say that the best camera you have is the one you have with you, so make sure it's the best it can be. Google's Pixel 5 takes incredible photos in virtually any setting, and thanks to the company's top-notch image processing, you don't even have to be a pro photographer to get impressive shots.
|Category||Google Pixel 5|
|Display||6.0-inch OLED, 2340x1080, 90Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G|
|Cameras||12.2MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide|
|Charging||18W wired, 15W wireless, 5W reverse wireless|
- Among the best cameras on the market
- Compact and comfortable to hold
- 90Hz AMOLED display
- Great battery life
- Three years of software updates
- Might be too small for some users
The Pixel 5 is Google's latest flagship smartphone that you can buy, and compared to past releases, it's a huge departure. Rather than trying to have the absolute best specs possible, the Pixel 5 focuses on offering a great all-around user experience at a competitive price. And, in just about every regard, it succeeds.
First thing's first, we have to talk about the Pixel 5's camera performance. Simply put, if camera quality is a key priority for you, the Pixel 5 should be at the very top of your shopping list. The 12.2MP primary and 16MP ultra-wide cameras may not look all that impressive on paper, but combined with Google's unmatched image processing, they kick out truly incredible results. The detail is sharp, colors are true-to-life, and the Pixel 5 handles low-light environments without a hitch. The best part? The Pixel 5 does all of this more reliably than any other smartphone.
Outside of killer cameras, the Pixel 5 has a bunch more to offer. We're in love with its design, which is refreshingly compact and is made entirely out of aluminum. The paint job gives it an exceptional in-hand feel, and if you ask us. the Sorta Sage color is one of the best we've ever seen on a phone. Period.
Rounding out the Pixel 5 experience is a 90Hz AMOLED display, fast performance thanks to the Snapdragon 765G processor, and long-lasting battery life. For considerably less money than a lot of other flagships, the Pixel 5 is well worth your consideration.
6. Samsung Galaxy S21
Flagship performance at a lower price$700 at Amazon
Bottom line: Should you find yourself wanting more than what the Galaxy S20 FE offers but can't quite justify the S21 Ultra, a good middle-ground is the baseline Galaxy S21. It's rocking the latest Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, has excellent cameras, reliable battery life, and packs all of that into a relatively compact body. It's not a "cheap" smartphone, but considering everything you're getting, the value proposition is quite strong.
|Category||Samsung Galaxy S21|
|Display||6.2-inch AMOLED, 2400x1080, 120Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|Storage||128 or 256GB|
|Cameras||12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP telephoto|
|Charging||25W wired, 15W wireless|
- Compact and lightweight design
- Snapdragon 888 is a performance beast
- 120Hz AMOLED display
- Very capable cameras
- All-day battery life
- Doesn't have expandable storage
- No MST for Samsung Pay
Alongside the Galaxy S21 Ultra, Samsung also released a much smaller and more affordable smartphone in the form of the regular Galaxy S21. For shoppers that want a fully-fledged smartphone experience without completely breaking the bank, it's well worth your consideration.
One of the best things the Galaxy S21 has going for it is the display. It's a Full HD+ AMOLED panel, and when paired with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, the experience is nothing short of excellent. It's not quite as sharp as the Quad HD+ resolution found on the S21 Ultra, but thanks to a smaller 6.2-inch display size, the picture still looks really crisp. Combine that smaller display with premium plastic construction, and the S21 ends up being a really comfortable phone to use thanks to its small size and lightweight design.
Another highlight is performance, as the Galaxy S21 is powered by the Snapdragon 888 and 8GB of RAM. No matter what apps or games you throw at the phone, it'll handle them with ease. There's also a 4,000 mAh battery for all-day endurance, an IP68 dust/water resistance rating, and your choice of 128 or 256GB of storage. The camera experience isn't as jaw-dropping as what you'll find with the S21 Ultra, though it is a bit better than the S20 FE. Once again, it's a nice middle-ground between the two.
The Galaxy S21 shares the same cons as the S21 Ultra, meaning there's no expandable storage or MST for Samsung Pay. Those are two features you do get with the S20 FE, but the S21 still manages to stand out thanks to its improved cameras, faster performance, nicer design, and more pocketable form factor.
7. Google Pixel 4a 5G
The best Android phone you can buy under $500$446 at Amazon
Bottom line: If you like what you see with the Pixel 5 but can't stomach its price tag, the Pixel 4a 5G could be the perfect alternative. The core experience is virtually identical since it features the same cameras and processor. If you're OK with a cheaper design and lesser display, it's a great pick.
|Category||Google Pixel 4a 5G|
|Display||6.2-inch OLED, 2340x1080, 60Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G|
|Cameras||12.2MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide|
- Same cameras as the Pixel 5
- Fantastic performance for the price
- Reliable battery life
- OLED screen looks great
- Killer price
- Boring plastic design
- No wireless charging
- No water resistance
Google crafted something special with the Pixel 5. It's an incredible phone, but what if $700 is just more than you're looking to spend right now? In that case, we'd turn your attention towards the Pixel 4a 5G. It's a very similar phone in more ways than one, but thanks to a couple of smart compromises, it costs considerably less.
So, what's the same? Compared to the Pixel 5, the Pixel 4a 5G has the same processor, cameras, and storage. That means it's plenty fast, takes amazing photos, and has more than enough space for all of your apps/games. It also has a very similar battery life (which is to say that it's great), along with an identical software experience that's backed by years of guaranteed updates.
As for how Google was able to cut costs, here's what you don't get with the Pixel 4a 5G: there's no wireless charging, you don't have an IP rating for dust/water resistance, the screen is 60Hz instead of 90Hz, and the phone is made out of plastic instead of aluminum. Those are notable compromises you do need to consider, but if none of those things matter to you, the Pixel 4a 5G is an excellent value that should not go ignored. And, as the name suggests, you're still future-proofing yourself with 5G support.
8. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
The best folding phone$1,800 at Amazon
Bottom line: Folding phones are here, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best one we've seen yet. It's basically a smartphone and tablet in one device, and while it is outrageously expensive, it's also the best attempt yet we've seen for this form factor.
|Category||Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2|
|Cover Display||6.23-inch AMOLED, 2260x816, 60Hz refresh rate|
|Inner Display||7.6-inch AMOLED, 2280x1768, 120Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+|
|Cameras||12MP primary, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide|
|Charging||25W wired and 11W wireless|
|Dimensions||159.2x128.2x6.9mm (unfolded) and 159.2x68x16.8mm (folded)|
- Bleeding-edge design
- Puts a mini-tablet in your pocket
- Excellent displays
- Great cameras and battery
- Well-optimized software
- That price tag
- App compatibility issues
Just like any piece of technology, smartphones evolve and change as time goes on. We've seen screens get bigger, cameras get a lot more capable, and processors rival those found in computers. The next big thing for phones is the folding form factor, and so far, the best yet in this niche is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.
The best way to think about the device is as a phone and tablet in one. When the Z Fold 2 is closed, you're treated to a 6.23-inch AMOLED display that you can use for anything you'd like — checking email, scrolling through Twitter, watching YouTube videos, you name it. Should you find yourself wanting a larger canvas, however, all you need to do is open up the Z Fold 2 up. There, you're treated to a larger 7.6-inch AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It's a lot like having an iPad Mini that you can fold up and take with you wherever you want, and if you ask us, that's pretty amazing.
As you might expect for a new technology like a folding phone, the Z Fold 2 does come with some unique dilemmas. The Ultra-Thin Glass for the tablet display is prone to scratches a lot more than traditional glass, the folding design raises questions about long-term durability, and not all apps are properly optimized for that larger display size. There's also the matter of price, with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 costing more than two OnePlus 8 Pros.
This isn't a phone that we recommend everyone go out and buy right now, but as far as folding phones go, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best we've seen to-date. If you're willing to spend the money and put up with those quirks, the Z Fold 2 has a lot to offer.
9. OnePlus 8T
A great alternative to the Galaxy S21$600 at Amazon
Bottom line: The market for $700 - $800 smartphones is more competitive than it's ever been, with one of the better entries in the space being the OnePlus 8T. With a 120Hz screen, flagship-grade performance, and a big battery with crazy-fast charge speeds, there's a lot to like here.
120Hz refresh rate
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|Cameras||48MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, 2MP monochrome|
- Blazing-fast performance
- Sleek, attractive design
- 120Hz AMOLED display
- Tons of RAM and storage
- 65W charging is mind-blowing
- No wireless charging
- Doesn't have an IP rating for water resistance
The OnePlus 8T is one of OnePlus's latest smartphone offerings, and all-in-all, it has a lot to offer. The 8 Pro is still the higher-end and more feature-rich OnePlus handset, but if you have a bit less cash to spend, the 8T drives a hard bargain.
Powering the phone is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 processor, along with a generous 12GB of RAM. That allows for incredible performance no matter what you're doing, and thanks to the 120Hz display, everything moves like butter no matter how hard you're pushing the phone. You also get 256GB of storage for all your local files, in addition to a 4,500 mAh battery that allows for long endurance.
When it comes time to refuel the OnePlus 8T, it uses the company's new Warp Charge 65 charging standard. This means you can charge the 8T from 0 - 100% in just 39 minutes, making it one of the fastest charging solutions available right now.
So, what's not great about the OnePlus 8T? You won't find wireless charging or water resistance for the phone, and depending on who you are, that might be a deal-breaker. If those two things don't matter to you, however, the 8T's a pretty fantastic handset. You're getting more RAM, more storage, a larger battery, and faster-charging speeds than the Galaxy S21 — all for at least $50 less.
10. OnePlus Nord N10 5G
Only have $300 to spend? Get this$296 at Amazon
Bottom line: The OnePlus Nord N10 5G marks a pretty big departure from the value flagships we typically see from OnePlus. This phone instead focuses on the budget niche. Expected or not, the N10 5G stands out as the best Android phone for shoppers with a max budget of $300.
|Category||OnePlus Nord N10 5G|
|Display||6.49-inch LCD, 240 x1080, 90Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 690|
|Cameras||64MP primary, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP depth, 2MP macro|
- 90Hz display is smooth and responsive
- Very good performance for the price
- Lots of storage
- Big battery with fast charging
- Has a headphone jack
- Boring, cheap design
- Average cameras
Phones like the Galaxy S20 FE and Pixel 4a do an incredible job of helping shoppers get as much for their money as possible, but what if you're trying to spend even less? The Nord N10 5G is one of the cheapest releases we've ever seen from OnePlus, and while it's not perfect, the bang-for-your-buck that it delivers is definitely worth talking about.
Taking a look at the OnePlus Nord N10 5G's specs, it's a stacked loadout. The Snapdragon 690 processor and 6GB of RAM allow for very good performance, and thanks to a 90Hz refresh rate for the display, the entire user experience feels considerably faster and smoother than a lot of other similarly-priced phones. We're also happy to see that 128GB of storage is available, along with a generous 4,300 mAh battery. When you do finally run out of juice, the 30W charge speeds can get you a full day's worth of power in just 30 minutes.
The quad-camera setup doesn't deliver the very best results we've ever seen, but you do get a lot of shooting options and the overall quality is fine for this price. We also aren't the biggest fans of Nord's cheap plastic design, but that's offset a bit by the stereo speakers and 3.5mm headphone jack.
While we'd argue that it's worth spending a little bit more money on the Pixel 4a, we also understand that not everyone can do that. If $300 is the very top of your budget, the Nord N10 5G is a great buy.
11. Motorola Edge
An excellent phone that flew under the radar$500 at Amazon
Bottom line: With so many Android phones coming out all the time, it can be easy for some to go unnoticed. The Motorola Edge is one such device, but now that its price has come down considerably, it's well worth a second look.
|Display||6.7-inch OLED, 2340x1080, 90Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G|
|Cameras||64MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide/macro, 8MP telephoto|
|Water Resistance||Water-repellent coating|
- Stunning curved display
- Fast, smooth performance
- Up to two-day battery life
- 256GB of built-in storage
- There's a headphone jack
- Lackluster cameras
- Only being updated to Android 11
If you haven't heard of the Motorola Edge, we don't blame you. The phone had a pretty unceremonious launch back in mid-2020, and thanks to a steep retail price, it was overlooked by a lot of shoppers. Now that it's available for much less cash, it's become one of the more appealing Android phones out there.
As its name suggests, one of the biggest draws to the Motorola Edge is its curved display. The 6.7-inch OLED panel has edges that flow seamlessly over the sides of the phone, creating a pretty stunning aesthetic. There's also some functionality built into those curves, with Motorola allowing you to perform a variety of shortcuts by tapping and swiping on them. Pair all of that with a Full HD+ resolution and 90Hz refresh rate, and this ends up being a killer display.
Lucky for us, Motorola made sure to outfit the rest of the Motorola Edge with specs that are just as impressive. The Snapdragon 765G processor offers some of the best performance you'll find at this price, a 4,500 mAh battery can get you up to two days of use on a single charge, and there's a hefty 256GB of storage for all of your apps, games, movies, etc. And, yes, you get a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Most of the Motorola Edge experience is damn impressive, but two things are holding it back from perfection. The camera system is very mediocre, with photos being considerably less impressive compared to other phones on this list. It's also disappointing that the Edge is only promised a single software update to Android 11.
People that place a lot of value in those things are better off with the Pixel 4a 5G, but whether it be its display, battery life, or ample storage, the Motorola Edge is a fantastic alternative depending on where your wants/needs lie.
12. Nokia 5.3
Serious value for under $200$150 at Amazon
Bottom line: Buying a new smartphone in 2021 is challenging for a lot of people. If you have a max budget of just $200 and aren't sure what to get, check out the Nokia 5.3. Despite having an ultra-low price, it manages to deliver on the fundamentals much better than you'd expect.
|Display||6.55-inch LCD, 1600x720, 60Hz refresh rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 665|
|Cameras||13MP primary, 5MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth|
- Modern design
- Long-lasting battery
- Clean, simple software
- NFC for Google Pay
- Has a fingerprint sensor
- Display is only HD
- No water resistance
Thanks to a multitude of events that have happened throughout the year, it's very likely you don't have a large budget for buying a new phone right now. If that happens to be the case for you, one of the best options to consider is the Nokia 5.3. It obviously isn't the most technically-impressive handset out there, but for its price, you couldn't ask for more.
Starting with its performance, it's powered by the Snapdragon 665 chipset and 4GB of RAM. That means it can run all of your apps and games just fine, and with 64GB of built-in storage (expandable up to 512GB), you have a good amount of space for storing all of them. There's also a generous 4,000 mAh battery, which Nokia says is big enough to get you through around two days of use on a single charge.
Taking over the front of the Nokia 5.3 is a 6.55-inch LCD, featuring a resolution of 1600x720. This is far from the sharpest screen we've ever seen, but it looks perfectly fine given the low price. On a more positive note, we're thrilled to see a fingerprint sensor and even NFC for Google Pay payments.
How to pick the best Android phone
Android phones have never been better than they are right now. Regardless of how much or little money you can spend, you can go out and buy a phone that you'll be thoroughly happy with. Out of every single phone on the market in 2021, however, we have to give our top recommendation for the best Android phone to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE.
Samsung makes amazing phones every single year, but more often than not, you need to pay out the nose for the privilege of owning one. With the Galaxy S20 FE, you get a top-tier Samsung experience at a better value than we've seen in a long time.
Compared to a more expensive Galaxy handset like the S21 Ultra, does an admirable job of holding its own. It has a 120Hz AMOLED screen, excellent performance, great battery life, and the same One UI software experience. Even wireless charging and an IP68 rating are here, two things that often get cut with these new "value flagships" we're seeing more of lately.
There are plenty of other options on this list if something about the Galaxy S20 FE just isn't clicking for you, but at the end of the day, we think it's easy to see why it has our highest recommendation.
1. What size screen should I get?
There are a lot of different things you should consider when buying a new Android phone, and it all starts with the display. This is the component you interact with more than anything else, so you must get one that you'll enjoy using. Things like the resolution and refresh rate of a screen are worth talking about, but even more so is the size.
Smartphones come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, and the biggest determining factor for that is the display. A 6.8-inch screen results in a much larger phone than one with a 5.8-inch one, and because of that, you need to know how big or small you're willing to go.
Take the Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example. It has the largest display on this list (outside of the Z Fold 2, but that's different), and because the screen is so huge, it's a phenomenal canvas for watching movies, playing games, and browsing the web. Basically, any kind of content consumption you do looks better on a larger display, because the more room you have, the bigger and easier-to-see your media is. The downside to this, however, is that phones like the S21 Ultra can be rather unwieldy. Especially if you're someone with smaller hands, managing a phone like that can be a pain in the butt.
Then there are smaller-sized phones, such as the Pixel 4a. It's substantially easier to manage and can actually be used with one hand, but on the flip side, you have less room for your movies and games. It also means you can fit less content on the screen at one time, and if you're someone that likes to increase your font size so things are easier to read, that could result in you having to do a lot of scrolling.
And, of course, there are plenty of phones that fall somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. If you're really concerned about whether or not a phone will be too big or small, your best bet is to honestly go hands-on with it yourself at your local carrier store or Best Buy before making your purchase.
2. Are software updates important?
It's easy to compare things like displays, processors, and cameras, but something that's just as important to talk about is software updates. Android is constantly evolving and getting better, and unfortunately, only certain phones are backed by a few years of software support.
As it stands, Google and Samsung are the best in the business when it comes to supporting their phones with long-term updates. All of the Pixels and Galaxy devices mentioned on this list are backed by three years of major OS updates from their initial release, which is by far the best support any Android phone maker has to offer. Google even goes a step further with three years of guaranteed monthly security patches, which is an area in which Samsung still has some room to improve.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you have a company like Motorola. Take the Motorola Edge, which is only promised to get a single update to Android 11. Security patches are even worse, with Motorola having a track record of falling multiple months behind the latest patches.
So, how important is it that your phone gets software updates? That ultimately depends on how much you care about new Android features. Google releases a new version of Android every single year, and while these updates don't tend to be that drastic from year-to-year, they do give your phone important features and security settings that help keep it running in tip-top shape for a long time to come. It also ensures that your phone stays compatible with all the apps and games on the Play Store because as Android versions become too outdated, app developers eventually drop support.
A phone like the Motorola Edge won't be unusable two years down the road just because it's running Android 11 and not Android 13, but it's also a bit disheartening to buy a product and know it's backed by such a small window of post-purchase support. This divide in updates is something Android has been faced with for years, and while companies are gradually getting better in these regards, we still have plenty of room to grow.
3. How many cameras and megapixels do I really need?
Over the last couple of years, there's been a trend going on with certain phone companies and them wanting to throw as many cameras as they can on their devices. As it's become more and more common for phones to ship with two, three, or even four cameras, there's something of an expectation that phones have to have multiple camera sensors to be any good.
Spoiler alert — this isn't true.
Let's look at the OnePlus 8T. It has a 48MP primary camera, 16MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, and 2MP monochrome camera. Compared side-by-side with the single 12.2MP camera on the Pixel 4a, one would assume that the OnePlus 8T takes better photos. In reality, it absolutely does not.
Having those extra camera sensors can be a lot of fun, but only if they're high-quality. Far too often, we see companies throw in a bunch of extra cameras on their phones only to have these secondary lenses not be very good. The primary camera sensor is always the most important, so that's the one you want to be concerned about the most.
On a similar note, more megapixels (referred to as MP) don't always mean you're getting a better camera. As mentioned above, the 48MP camera on the OnePlus 8T takes worse photos than the 12.2MP camera found on the Pixel 4a. There are so many other factors that come into play with phone cameras, so don't let the megapixel count be your only factor for judging them when you're out shopping. Read reviews, look at camera samples, and you'll have a much better understanding of what kind of camera you're dealing with.
4. What size battery should I get?
Battery life isn't the most fun thing to talk about with smartphones, but ultimately, it's one of the most important components. Your phone can have the best display and processor around, but if it's constantly dying throughout the day, what's the point?
There are a lot of different battery capacities for all of the phones on this list, and if you don't regularly keep up with them, it can be difficult to know what a good size is and what isn't. So, here's a general rule of thumb. If you're buying an Android phone in 2021, the ideal capacity is 4,000 mAh or larger. As phones move towards larger displays with faster refresh rates, more battery is needed to keep them powered throughout the day.
Of course, this can vary a bit depending on the type of phone you're buying. The Pixel 4a, for example, only has a 3,140 mAh battery but can still get through a full day of use without a hitch. What gives? It has a small display by 2021 standards and only has a 60Hz refresh rate — thus resulting in substantially less power use.
These are factors you'll need to consider when shopping for your phone, but generally, more mAh means more battery life.
5. What smaller features should I look out for?
Last but certainly not least, there are a few smaller features and specs that can be easy to overlook when doing your shopping — a prime example being NFC. NFC stands for Near Field Communication, and it's the chip in most phones that allows you to pay with your smartphone with Google Pay at grocery stores, restaurants, etc. All of the phones on this list support NFC, but a lot of cheaper Motorola phones often lack the feature. You may not care about Google Pay, but if you do, it's worth double-checking that the phone you want to buy does, in fact, have NFC.
Another spec to check for is an IP68 rating. This is a seal of protection a lot of phones have, and it ensures they're protected from a certain amount of dust and water. If you happen to get caught outside in the rain or take your phone to the beach, an IP68 rating is nice peace of mind that your phone should survive just fine.
Some phones lack this IP rating, yet tout that they're resistant to water or have a water-repellent coating. Those devices are also probably fine to get splashed with water here and there, but you don't have that same guaranteed protection. The best-case scenario is to avoid getting your phone wet whenever possible, but if you happen to be around the water a lot, it's probably worth getting something with that IP68 protection.
We should also address a trend that's been going through the smartphone space for a few years now — the death of the headphone jack. The vast majority of new phones coming out these days no longer have the port, but there remain a few holdouts that continue to offer it. It's certainly nice to have if you're someone that primarily uses wired headphones or earbuds, but if you've moved on to the wireless bandwagon, it's not something you need to be all that concerned with.
We know that's a lot to take in, but once you have an understanding of the kind of phone you're looking for and the budget you have to work with, we hope this guide makes you feel better equipped to make the right decision. There are so many good phones out there, and we wouldn't recommend one on this list if we didn't think you'd be happy with it. Happy shopping, and enjoy your new phone!
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Hayato Huseman is a recovering trade show addict and video editor for Android Central based out of Indianapolis. He can mostly be found complaining about the cold and enthusing about coffee, NYC, and prog metal on Twitter.
Joe Maring was Android Central's Senior Editor and has had a love for anything with a screen and CPU since he can remember. He's been talking/writing about Android in one form or another since 2012 and often does so while camping out at the nearest coffee shop.
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