Which are the best smartphones in 2021? Choosing a new smartphone is no longer as simple as upgrading to the latest iPhone or Samsung. After all, with top-of-the-line handsets costing over £1,000, it pays to know your options, and which fantastic handset could save you some cash. With so much choice though, how can we be sure this is a masterfully curated list? We’ve teamed up with smartphone testers who have extensively reviewed every single phone covered in order to shortlist the best of the best.
If you’re after a champion camera phone, you’ll want to pick up a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, or an iPhone 12 Pro. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a lower-cost alternative. And you can also check out our round-up of the best camera phones too, which goes into more detail when it comes to imaging.
For a creative powerhouse, try Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 12 Ultra, with its amazing screen, super versatile cameras, and S Pen support – a pocketable sketch pad. Colour enthusiasts might like the OPPO Find X3 Pro, a beautifully designed phone with a full-path 10-bit colour management system for end-to-end billion colour capture, storage, and viewing.
Before picking up any phone, remember to check that the best iPhone apps and best Android apps for creatives are available. If you’re jumping from an iPhone to Android, for example, the stellar Good Notes won’t be an option on Google’s mobile OS.
Once you’ve cross-checked your must-have apps and know which OS you need though, our list of top-ten creative phones should help you figure out which is the right device for your personal life, productivity, work, and everything in between.
The best smartphones available now
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does everything you need it to do. Its big, bright, bold, beautiful benchmark of a screen will dazzle you while watching your favourite content. And with S Pen support (S Pen sold separately), not to mention the most versatile camera system available, it’s also a creative suite unto itself, allowing you to shoot 8K video and snap pics with its 108MP stills camera and 10x zoom.
It’s difficult to find fault with the Galaxy S21 Ultra if you can get past its high price and hefty frame. With fewer shortcomings than possibly any flagship phone on the market, Samsung is once again back on top.
Want to know more? Read our in-depth Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.
It’s eye-wateringly expensive, but there’s no denying that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best, most feature-packed iPhone Apple has ever made.
If you can handle the size of its 6.7-inch screen, you’ll be treated to an incredibly powerful A14 Bionic processor, 6GB RAM, one of the best smartphone cameras in the world, and all with incredible battery life to boot.
All of this is wrapped up in Apple’s tried and tested minimal design, powered by the smooth and slick iOS 14. If you can handle its larger size (and larger price tag) then you’ll be more than content with Apple’s latest and greatest handset.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is the first flagship from the Chinese phone maker to feature Hasselblad camera tuning, in addition to elements within the Pro mode that mimic the legendary camera icon’s interface.
The phone’s specs are flagship across-the-board too, with Snapdragon 888-power matched with 8GB RAM, and a stunning Dynamic AMOLED screen matched with a 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling and punchy visuals.
Loaded up with a 48MP main camera featuring a custom Sony sensor, the tuning applied to photos taken on the OnePlus 9 Pro is a huge improvement over previous OnePlus phones, especially in challenging lighting. In fact, we’d go so far as to call it one of the best cameras around, especially if you’re not a fan of editing your snaps. Take a photo, and eight times out of 10, it’s Instagram-ready.
Add to the mix an ultra-high-resolution ultra-wide camera, which captures expansive landscapes at 50MP resolution, and shoots close-up pictures thanks to autofocus (something seldom seen on ultra-wide cameras), and photography is definitely one of the 9 Pro’s fortés.
Also mightily impressive is the OnePlus 9 Pro’s charging speeds. It powers up in around 30 minutes thanks to lightning-fast 65W charging. Even wirelessly, the 9 Pro charges quickly when matched with the official Warp Charge 50 Wireless Charger, and with a 4,500 mAh battery, you should get a full day out of it without any issues.
The fact the OnePlus 9 Pro’s price undercuts most flagships out there is yet another boon for the phone, placing it higher in our ranking than any OnePlus before it.
The iPhone 12 has a 6.1-inch display and has the same 5G support as Apple’s other new iPhones, along with very good (but not the absolute best) camera performance. The OLED screen is a joy to behold, and the MagSafe feature is an intriguing addition to Apple’s arsenal.
For anyone with smaller hands or skinnier jeans, the iPhone 12 mini is the only compact flagship worth considering. With its 5.4-inch screen size, top tier power and class-leading camera for such a compact contender, despite costing a fair whack, it’s worth every penny.
While the more expensive Pro models have swankier cameras, they’re noticeably pricier, making the 12 and 12 mini the best bang for buck option in the latest iPhone range lineup if you don’t need an optical zoom. Be prepared for no included charger to avoid a shock when unboxing, and you’ll have years of happy use ahead of you. Find out more in our iPhone 12 mini review.
Oppo made waves with its excellent Find X2 Pro, 2020’s handset of the year for many. Fast forward to 2021, and the Find X3 Pro carries forward the premium, high-end positioning of its predecessor, but ditches the X2 Pro’s heft in favour of a curvy, cornerless design.
No edges in sight, the Find X3 Pro’s moulded glass back makes for the most elegant camera bump around, while the front and back tapering into the sides create a wonderfully delicate in-hand feel. Using design processes more commonly associated with automotive design, the Find X3 Pro’s rear panel is mapped with 2000UV points for an incredibly nuanced curve, with everything from the mapping to hot forging and cooling taking in excess of 40 hours to manufacture per sheet of glass.
From a camera point of view, the X3 Pro impresses, featuring the same 50MP sensor across both the main and ultra-wide cameras. Grabbing high-resolution photos with beautiful depth and plenty of detail across both, it also introduces a new Micro Lens. Capable of magnifying the minuscule by up to 25 times optically – it really can see the details within the details.
Delivering flagship power, decent battery life, and an absolutely jaw-dropping billion colour screen, there are very few areas the Find X3 Pro doesn’t impress. Add to the mix the fact the phone introduces wireless charging to the line, and brings back the high-speed 65W wired charging we’ve come to know and love in premium OPPO phones, and the phone competes with the best out there on almost all fronts.
The Note 20 Ultra is one of the best smartphones money can buy for creative people looking to scribble, draw, make notes and be productive on the move. Aside from its great camera setup and gorgeous large AMOLED display, its party trick – the removable S Pen stylus – offers tons of flexibility.
From handwriting notes (which can be straightened and converted to text) to creating fancy drawings with improved pressure sensitivity, Samsung’s stylus takes an already great phone and makes it truly amazing.
With a stunning build, super-powerful specs, and a versatile camera setup capable of shooting 8K video, it’s one of the best phones money can buy, particularly if you make use of its swanky stylus.
The Google Pixel 5 isn’t a phone that blows you away with fancy multiple lenses. It keeps things simple with a 12.2MP main camera and a 16MP ultra-wide one, with no dedicated zoom lens.
Power-wise, things are middling too, with a Snapdragon 765G processor, and 8GB of RAM. On paper, then, the Pixel 5 isn’t up there with the most powerful, feature-packed phone in the word, but its price fairly reflects that.
What it does do, is offer a pure up to date Android experience in a smart minimal package, with solid well-lit camera performance and powerful image editing tools for tweaking on the move, with a battery that will comfortably last you through the day.
If you want to keep up with the latest Android features for the next few years and aren’t fussed about night or zoom photography, this could very well be the best handset for you.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the first foldable to feel like the real deal. The design is beautiful with a robust hinge mechanism. The flexible display is still more fragile than glass, but the phone’s revised design minimises a reliance on it.
Unfortunately, the cameras don’t match the design. The 12MP trio, while still very capable, lags behind the other flagships in this list, and it struggles with strong backlighting and dark scenes. But in truth, you won’t be buying the Z Fold 2 based on its cameras. It’s all about the foldable design which pushes it to the top of the foldable pack.
If you want something a bit on the exclusive side, you’re in luck. The eye-watering price tag means you won’t see too many of them in other people’s hands. This puts it out of reach for most phone buyers, but the design and functionality proves that a foldable can be a great daily driver, with the wow-factor to boot.
While it may not be a class-leading flagship smartphone, the OnePlus 9 balances premium features with value wonderfully, making it a fantastic, affordable all-rounder that delivers plenty of power, a striking display, and Hasselblad tuned images, just like the 9 Pro.
As with last year’s OnePlus 8 Pro, the OnePlus 9 sports a 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED which is vibrant, deep, and smooth. With a host of colour calibration modes, as well as support for HDR10+ content, it feels like a flagship experience. Combined with Sony’s second-generation 48MP camera sensor, an IMX689, it has the same primary camera hardware as OPPO’s excellent Find X2 Pro, a significantly pricier smartphone.
Loaded up with up to 256GB storage and 12 RAM, as well as a mighty Snapdragon 888 processor (as found in the Pro) – video edits, 4K capture and even rip-roaring 3D gaming won’t be too much for the OnePlus 9. Additionally, with the latest version of Oxygen OS, the brand’s trademark take on Android, the UI is both considered, and comprehensive.
For the first time on a non-Pro mode, OnePlus also adds wireless charging to the phone’s spec roster, adding Samsung Galaxy S-grade convenience. Having said that, its wired charging speeds outperform any Samsung phone out there, powering up the device fully in around 30 minutes.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 might not be the best equipped of the S20-series, but it’s still one of the most popular. Why? Because it packs an impressive set of features and a sharp, crisp screen into a super-manageable size. Plus, it costs a heck of a lot less than its bigger sibling, the S20 Ultra.
The device comes complete with three rear cameras, which includes a 64MP 3x zoom telephoto camera to help you capture shots from an impressive distance. The main camera is lower resolution at 12MP, but its nighttime performance is a big step up when compared to last year’s Galaxy S10. Combined with an ultra-wide camera and up to 8K video recording, the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus cover all bases without breaking the bank like the S20 Ultra does.
Water and dust resistant, like the iPhone 11 Pro, the S20 also supports wireless charging. Unlike its Apple rival though, you can add storage via an SD card. No doubt about it, one of the best smartphones money can buy right now.