For as wonderful as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are and have been, there's one glaring issue that many are still facing: being able to actually get one for yourself. Following Google's disastrous pre-ordering fiasco, which left many missing out entirely, neither of Google's contenders for best Android phones are readily available. In fact, some of us here had to refresh carriers and local retailers on a regular basis until we were able to get one, but not everyone has been so lucky.
That got us thinking, though. While the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are incredible phones, what else should you consider if you don't want to wait around any more? In 2021, we saw the release of so many amazing Android phones, ranging from flippy boi's to budget-minded beasts and everywhere in between. So without further adieu, here are our choices for those who don't want to wait for the Pixel 6 anymore.
Samsung Galaxy S21
The most obvious choice for those looking at picking up a new Android phone is the Samsung Galaxy S21. Not only can you find some pretty incredible deals, but the phone still holds up despite being around for pretty much all of 2021.
Samsung has been on a roll, as it now only trails Google in the software department following the release of One UI 4 based on Android 12 earlier this month. It's definitely safe to say that Samsung has come a long way from the days when some of its flagship phones wouldn't see major software updates for months after the fact. But the Galaxy S21 also continues to hold up when it comes to hardware, as the phone is exceptionally well-balanced and comfortable to hold without being too unwieldy.
Along with the super design and plenty of software updates, Samsung packs one of the most impressive camera systems we've seen. The Galaxy S21 Ultra may not tout the same gimmicky "Space Zoom" feature from its predecessor, but with a total of five cameras, you would be hard-pressed to find a picture that you won't be able to capture.
Still the best
Samsung's best phone "slab" phone of the year remains an incredible option even with its successor looming. The Galaxy S21 features everything one could want, including S Pen support if you go for the Ultra.
Google Pixel 5a
For the better part of a year, the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G were atop the list of best cheap Android phones. But now that the Pixel 4a 5G has been retired (along with the Pixel 5) thanks to the Pixel 5a, there's a new champion. The Pixel 5a was highly-anticipated, as has been the case with any of Google's "Pixel a" devices. And with the Pixel 5a, Google did not disappoint.
Despite being overshadowed by the subsequent Pixel 6 announcement, the Pixel 5a still offers the best camera experience that you can get without springing for a flagship phone. The camera hardware is pretty much the same as the Pixel 5, but it will be supported for an extra year, along with still sporting the beloved rear-fingerprint scanner. The only "downside" to the Pixel 5a is its limited availability, as the 5a is unavailable outside Japan and the United States.
Google's Pixel 5a might be a bit overshadowed at this point, but the fact remains that it's one of the best phones on the market, and you won't need to empty your wallet to get one.
OnePlus 9 Pro
2021 has been such a weird year for OnePlus, but the brand seems to have really nailed it from a hardware perspective with the OnePlus 9 Pro. Along with being the company's most expensive phone ever released, the 9 Pro maintains some of that OnePlus flair while offering something we didn't previously have.
For years, the OnePlus line of phones always had an Achilles' heel in the camera system. Thanks to a new partnership with Hasselblad, along with software improvements along the way and the use of some pretty great sensors, the OnePlus 9 Pro continues to surprise. The phone was even the runner-up in MKBHD's Blind Smartphone Camera Test, falling just short of the Pixel 5a in the finals.
But there is one big caveat to consider if you are looking at the OnePlus 9 Pro, and that's the software. The company is going through a re-branding of sorts as it merges with Oppo. So instead of OxygenOS, we have ColorOS, which proved to be a source of many headaches as the Android 12 rollout began. But if you want a phone that looks good, feels fantastic, and is one of the best phones for rooting, the 9 Pro is the way to go.
Despite its more recent software issues, the OnePlus 9 Pro is the company's best phone ever and finally has cameras that are good enough to keep up with the best of the best.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
It should come as no surprise, but Samsung continues to dominate the foldable phone market. And while the Galaxy Z Fold 3 stole some headlines after its release thanks to the inclusion of S Pen support, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 was the phone that surprised many.
For the first time ever, you can get a smartphone with a foldable display for under $1,000. And over the Black Friday / Cyber Monday shenanigans, carriers were practically giving the Flip 3 away for new and previous subscribers. Part of the reason for the Flip 3's success comes down to the fact that Samsung not only reached that lower price point but also introduced a slew of new and fun colors. But both the Flip 3 and Fold 3 are now equipped with an IPX8 water resistance rating. This is absolutely incredible considering that it's a folding screen, and the durability concerns put a lot of potential owners off in years past.
The camera system may not match up with the other options on this list, but Samsung's commitment to the foldable smartphone scene is unrivaled. With the Z Flip 3, we also have a larger cover screen, the ability to customize the phone's design with the Bespoke Edition, and now there's even a 120Hz refresh rate display. All of this, combined with flagship specs under the hood, make for a package that is just too good to ignore.
Z Flip gang
Once you use a foldable phone, you'll never go back. With the Galaxy Z Flip 3, Samsung proved that it's listening to its customers, as we have a larger cover screen and a display with a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate.
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Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.