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Best Android phones 2021 with Google-powered systems for budgets big and small

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Best Android phones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best Android phones you can buy in 2021.

Android is the great democratic leveller of the of the mobile world. It may not create the software-meets-hardware perfection of iOS but it's effective, affordable and even more full of features with every Google OTA update. It's also more open, allowing manufacturers to put their own spin on the operating system's look and feel, and that means Android phones can come in all shapes and sizes.

So what should you look for in a best Android phone?

A headphone port can still be a deal-breaker for many. While most modern Android phones don't have one, some do, including high-end models like the Sony Xperia 1 III. So make sure you check before you buy (it's often referred to as a 3.5mm jack). Otherwise, you might have to buy a dongle or a pair of the best wireless headphones.

Screen size is also a major consideration. Most of our best Android phones – like most of the best iPhones – are pretty big nowadays, so make sure you're happy with the bulk. The upside is that films and TV shows look much better on a big screen – it won't rival your local Odeon, but it makes for a much more immersive mobile viewing experience. There's also more room for on-screen gaming controls. Some of our best Android phones even support 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos which makes them perfect for consuming content on the move.

We've rounded up the best Android phones available right here, with the focus squarely on picture and sound quality. So read on, you could be about to meet your next handset.

MORE:

OS agnostic? Check out our guide to the best smartphones for music and movies

smartphone: Sony Xperia 1 III

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony Xperia 1 III

A brilliant all-rounder that excels at audio and video

Specifications
Screen: 6.5in OLED
Resolution: 1644 x 3840
Features: USB-C
Operating system: Android 10
Battery: 4500mAh
Dimensions: (hwd) 16.5 x 7 x 8cm
Weight: 186g
Reasons to buy
+Detailed, natural screen+Class-leading sound+Excellent all-rounder
Reasons to avoid
-Unique design

How do you improve on a What Hi-Fi? Award-winning flagship smartphone? By not messing with it too much. That's very much the approach for Sony's latest and best digital Swiss Army Knife. 

The design has had a tiny, glass-toughening tweak, the battery boosted, the 4K display now has a 120Hz refresh rate, and there’s an upgraded chipset and GPU. Photography fans will be pleased by the inclusion of a periscope lens too.

But crucially for us, Sony has eked out yet more performance from the Xperia 1 III screen and 3.5mm headphone jack which gives us even more reason to recommend it.

The sonic performance manages to deliver a little more punch and a little more detail compared to its predecessor. Bass notes sound a little tighter, meaning more control and agility, plus there's the kind of dynamics to rival any phone on the market and plenty of dedicated hi-res players too.

As well as a wired connection via the headphone jack you can use Sony’s LDAC technology and support for Sony 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos. It’s an all-round entertainer.

Read the full Sony Xperia III review

Samsung Galaxy S21, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Samsung)

2. Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung makes a few tweaks to its winning formula.

Specifications
Screen size: 6.2in
Type: AMOLED
Resolution: 2400 x 1080
Ports: USB-C
Operating system: Android 11
Dimensions (hwd): 7.1 x 15.2 x 0.8cm
Weight: 171g
Reasons to buy
+Rich, smooth display+Solid battery life+Superb all-round camera
Reasons to avoid
-No microSD slot -No earbuds or charger-Sony rival sounds better

The new Samsung Galaxy S21 is more of a refinement of its predecessor than a revamp. But its predecessor did bring plenty new to the party, including 5G and a 120Hz refresh rate, so the S21 already has a lot to work with. Its launch price is also lower than the S20's, which is unheard of in this day and age.

It doesn't support the S Pen stylus (you'll need the S21 Ultra for that), and the microSD card slot has been dropped. But there are improvements across the board, including a new processor and higher screen resolution.

The screen has a punchy colour palette, with a picture that's crisp and sharp. And the sound packs plenty of clarity and detail. Though it's beaten in terms of picture and sound by the Sony Xperia 1 II above.

Still, it's another fine effort from Samsung, with bags of features and top-notch cameras. It's maybe not worth an upgrade from the S20, but owners of older handsets looking for an all-new shiny device can’t go far wrong here.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Sony Xperia 5 II, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony Xperia 5 II

Well worth considering if you want a smaller or cheaper alternative to the Xperia 1 II

Specifications
Screen: 6.1in OLED
Resolution: 2520 x 1080
Features: USB-C
Operating system: Android 10
Camera: 12MP quad rear, 8MP front
Storage: 256GB + microSD
Dimensions: (hwd) 15.8 x 6.8 x 8cm
Reasons to buy
+Impressive Full HD video+Great sound+Smart design
Reasons to avoid
-4K video lacks detail

While the Xperia 1 series (in top spot on this page) delivers a level of video and audio performance above that of other flagship Android phones, the Sony Xperia 5 range is smaller, cheaper and has similar specs, so what’s not to like?

Indeed, if you value music and video performance highly, you really should consider one of these latest Sony phones. It backs up its impressive AV performance with decent features elsewhere, too – 3.5mm headphone jack, 4000mAh battery, Android 10, and the combination of 12MP f/1.7 wide lens, 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens and 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide camera lenses.

While the pricier sibling still edges this Xperia 5 II for 4K video performance and ultimate sound quality, the more compact and affordable Sony Xperia 5 II remains a terrific choice.

Read the full Sony Xperia 5 II review take a look at the details on the new Sony Xperia 5 III.

Sony Xperia 1 II, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony Xperia 1 II

Sony promises audio and video excellence – and delivers.

Specifications
Screen size: 6.5in
Type: AMOLED
Resolution: 1644 x 3840
Ports: USB-C
Operating system: Android 10
Dimensions (hwd): 16.5 x 7.1 x 0.7cm
Weight: 181g
Reasons to buy
+Class-leading sound+And video+3.5mm headphone jack
Reasons to avoid
-Divisive shape-No face ID

This Sony has a real focus on audio and video quality, which makes it right up our street. Setting it apart from the rest of the Android wannabes is its screen – not only is the 6.5in display 4K, it also has a 21:9 aspect ratio. This long, thin design makes it ideal for showing widescreen content in full screen.

It's a doozy of a display, and takes Android phone video performance to a new level. The picture matches the design of the phone: sleek, smooth, premium. You’ll enjoy pin sharp images, beautifully realistic and full of detail. Sony has no time for lurid colours and over-cooked contrast and instead simply peels back a previously invisible film, revealing an apparent extra layer of realism and insight compared with even the best Android smartphones.

Sony's TVs are some of the best in the business at handling motion, and so is this phone. Unusually for a high-end handset, it has a 3.5mm headphone jack, too. Tick. And the sound is typically Sony: agile, clear, rhythmical. 

If you're serious about watching and listening on the move, the Xperia 1 III, at the top of this list, is the best Android choice around right now. It's not a huge upgrade over its predecessor here, though. So, this might be a good option if the price is significantly less.

Read the full Sony Xperia 1 II review.

OnePlus 9 Pro, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: OnePlus)

5. OnePlus 9 Pro

A tempting big-screen smartphone proposition.

Specifications
Screen size: 6.7in
Type: AMOLED
Resolution: 1440 x 3216
Ports: USB-C
Operating system: Oxygen OS Version 11 (based on Android 11)
Dimensions (hwd): 16.3 x 7.4 x 0.9cm
Weight: 197g
Reasons to buy
+Good HDR handling+Strong gaming performance+Impressive camera array
Reasons to avoid
-Uninspiring audio-Video short on subtlety

A premium-build Android smartphone with the best technology and no trade-offs, all at a lower price than other flagship mobiles – that’s the promise of the OnePlus 9 Pro. It certainly looks to be the part: it's a 5G phone fitted with a big, bold 6.7in AMOLED display ready to whip up HDR video on the go. And its cameras were designed with help from Swedish photographic giant Hasselblad.

The screen has a high refresh rate (120Hz), which works a treat for games and sports. Like a TV, it also has preset modes like Vivid and Natural, but you can also tweak its settings to your own spec if you prefer.

You’ll struggle to find a mobile phone at this price, with this size screen, that can do HDR better. It does well with SDR content, too.

On the audio front, there’s no wanting for file format support, but its performance isn't as thrilling as we had hoped. It's a reasonable listen, but compared to the best devices in this field, it's some way behind sonically.

Still, as a package, it's less pricey than most flagships, yet boasts many of the same specs and a very similar performance. Definitely one of the phones of the year.

Read the full OnePlus 9 Pro review.

Samsung Galaxy S20, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Samsung)

6. Samsung Galaxy S20

One of the best Android phones at the moment.

Specifications
Screen size: 6.1in
Type: AMOLED
Resolution: 3040 x 1440
Ports: USB-C
Operating system: Android 10
Dimensions (hwd): 15.2 x 6.9 x 0.8cm
Weight: 163g
Reasons to buy
+Natural screen+Enough new features+Detailed sound
Reasons to avoid
-Not a big upgrade

The S20 actually follows the Galaxy S10 – Samsung changed the naming convention to make it sound more modern. It looks familiar, feels familiar and has a largely predictable list of specifications and features. But considering the S10 was one of 2019's standout handsets, that's no bad thing.

Indeed, we're in the business of marginal gains here. The S20 might not have enough to justify an upgrade from an S10, but it is an absolutely stunning handset, and one of the best Android phones going.

Why? The screen is superb, being large, colourful and packed with detail while managing to look effortlessly natural at the same time. The audio performance is solid, especially when paired with a decent pair of headphones, and the battery life is very healthy indeed. The interface zips along, and 5G and a 120Hz screen refresh rate give it the edge over the S10. 

Sometimes you just need to beat the competition, not blow them away, and the Galaxy S20 certainly does that.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy S20 review.

OnePlus 7T, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: OnePlus)

7. OnePlus 7T

The best Android phone for value.

Specifications
Screen: 6.55in
Type: AMOLED
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
Features: USB-C headphone jack
Operating system: Android 10.0
Battery: 3800mAh
Dimensions (hwd): 16.1 x 7.4 x 0.8cm
Weight: 190g
Reasons to buy
+Awesome screen+Ultra-fast charging+In-screen fingerprint sensor
Reasons to avoid
-No 3.5mm jack-Dark detail could be better

OnePlus has come a long way in just a few short years. It started as a niche, invite-only internet brand, but now it sits alongside some of the biggest players in the market.

Its phones also pack in more tech than before and are still around half the price of their competitors. Few brands offer as much for the money.

And that's never been truer than with the 7T. It's a great value mid-market marvel with a superb camera and screen and includes features you wouldn't expect on a handset at this price, such as ultra-fast charging and an in-screen fingerprint scanner. All of these aspects combined make it one of the best Android phones going. Sadly there's no 3.5mm headphone jack, but that's really the only bugbear we have with it.

This is another hugely accomplished mid-market Android phone from the in-form Chinese brand. Ignore it at your peril.

Read the full OnePlus 7T review.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Samsung)

8. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The latest Note is an Ultra-impressive flagship smartphone.

Specifications
Screen size: 6.9in
Type: AMOLED
Resolution: 3088 x 1440
Ports: USB-C
Operating system: Android 10
Dimensions (hwd): 16.5 x 7.7 x 0.8cm
Weight: 208g
Reasons to buy
+Big, colourful screen+Great camera and zoom+Smart design
Reasons to avoid
-Beaten for audio performance-Rivals deliver more detailed video

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has superior specs to the smaller Note 20. There's a bigger, higher resolution screen, a glass back as opposed to plastic, a better camera, an SD card slot, more RAM and a larger storage option. Of course, it costs more too.

But it's worth it. The chassis feels suitably premium for a Samsung flagship, and it's mighty hardwearing too. The S Pen has been upgraded, becoming faster and gaining some new Air Gesture features that let you control the phone without any physical contact with the screen. All very Yoda.

It has plenty of power in the photography department, too. Namely the same 108MP wide lens as seen on the S20 Ultra, along with a 12MP telephoto, with 5x optical zoom, and a 12MP ultra-wide. There's also a 10MP front camera with dual pixel autofocus.

The screen is detailed and bright, and sonically it delivers good detail, solid bass and natural, open treble. Music is entertaining and dynamic, with a level of fidelity worthy of a flagship phone. A fine buy.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

Google Pixel 5, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Google)

9. Google Pixel 5

A new kind of flagship Pixel smartphone.

Specifications
Camera: 12.2MP, 16MP, 8MP
Screen: 6in
Type: OLED
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
HDR formats: HDR
Bluetooth version: aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC
Battery: 4000mAh
Dimensions (hwd): 14.4 x 7.0 x 0.8cm
Weight: 151g
Reasons to buy
+Punchy, clear OLED screen+Class-leading camera+Ergonomic, waterproof design
Reasons to avoid
-Lacklustre sound-No zoom lens

Google's latest Pixel phone is a lot more wallet-friendly than the Pixel 4. A canny change of strategy in these cash-strapped times? Or an admission that Apple and Samsung have the high-end sewn up?

Either way, this is a very fine phone, and no mistakes about it. Despite its less impressive spec sheet, it still has 5G for super speedy internet speeds, a decent-sized battery and Qi-certified wireless charging. It also sees the return of the back-panel fingerprint scanner, which was sorely missing from the Pixel 4.

It's waterproof too, and has a superb camera.

The Pixel 5’s OLED screen renders reds deep and blacks true, with plenty in the way of clarity and cleanliness. That 90Hz rate steps up to keep things smooth, too. All in all, it’s pleasantly watchable – you could even say surprisingly so for the price.

The sound could do with more body, but that's one of the compromises made to make the phone more affordable.

Read the full Google Pixel 5 review.

Google Pixel 4 XL, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Google)

10. Google Pixel 4 XL

One of the purest and most satisfying Android experiences available.

Specifications
Camera: 16MP, 12.2MP, 8MP
Screen: 5.7in
Type: OLED
Resolution: 3040 x 1440
HDR formats: HDR
Bluetooth version: aptX, aptX HD, LDAC
Battery: 3700mAh
Dimensions (hwd): 7.5 x 16 x 0.8cm
Weight: 193g
Reasons to buy
+Optimised for Android+Ace video+Awesome camera
Reasons to avoid
-Sound could be fuller-No fingerprint sensor

For many, a Google Pixel handset is the best Android phone money can buy. Because it's made by Google (who created Android), the hardware and software are seamlessly integrated, with the Pixel range always first in line when it comes to software updates. Those with third-party handsets are often left waiting months.

But the Pixel 4XL is much more than a mere queue jumper. It's one of Google's biggest phones, and as such, a great offering for movies and TV shows. The 6.3in OLED screen is a sight to behold, with an impressive 90Hz refresh rate (though the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S21 top that with 120Hz). Crucially, HDR support comes as standard, making for great black levels and contrast.

We're also big fans of the camera and gesture controls, which let you swipe the air above the phone to control the music. They even work when the phone is locked, which is very useful indeed.

The audio lacks a little drive and dynamism, which is our only gripe. Otherwise, this is one of the best Android phones for not much money.

Read the full Google Pixel 4 XL review.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Samsung)

11. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

A big and powerful Android phone, awash with features.

Specifications
Screen: 6.8in
Type: OLED
Resolution: 3040 x 1440 pixels
Cameras (rear): 12MP x2, 16MP
Camera (selfie): 10MP
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4300mAh
Dimensions (hwd): 16.2 x 7.7 x 0.8cm
Weight: 198g
Reasons to buy
+Huge, impactful screen+Decent speakers+Powerful
Reasons to avoid
-No headphone jack or adapter-Distracting punch hole-Unnatural colours

Samsung's Note smartphones have always been right up there with Apple's big-screen numbers as the cognoscenti's weapon of choice. That's great, but is it actually any good for music and movies?

On the whole, the answer is yes. The 6.8in screen feels massive, especially because it cascades over the sides of the device. It's an OLED panel, so colours and contrast are excellent, and its corners are less rounded off, making content appear more cinematic.

But that camera notch can be distracting, especially when watching full-screen. The curved screen tends to catch more reflections, and colours run a little hot, even in 'natural' mode.

There's no headphone jack (a first for the Note range), and no adapter in the box. The bundled AKG headphones are better than average but we'd still suggest upgrading if this will be your main music player. But the speakers are well situated, so your fingers don't block them while gaming, and they also present an impressively broad soundstage.

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus might not be the very best mobile music and movie machine around, but it does a good enough job to warrant a closer look.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review.

Google Pixel 3a XL, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Google)

12. Google Pixel 3a XL

Affordable, capable... a Pixel for the people.

Specifications
Screen size: 6in
Type: OLED
Resolution: 2160 x 1080
Ports: USB-C
Operating system: Android Pie
Dimensions (hwd): 16 x 7.6 x 0.8 cm
Weight: 167g
Reasons to buy
+Vivid, punchy OLED display+Brilliant camera+3.5mm jack
Reasons to avoid
-So-so audio-Feels cheap

If you find all these Pixel models a bit confusing, we don't blame you. The Pixel 3a XL is a 2019 model, around the mid-tier of Google's phone line-up, as indicated by the 'a'. And that 'XL' means it has a big screen.

It has a number of flagship features, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a very tempting price. The OLED screen produces a crisp and punchy picture – and you get a big battery and plenty of power at your disposal.

Its plastic body feels a little cheap compared to high-end alternatives, but for this money that's to be expected.

The camera gives great results and is a cinch to use. Google has always struck a good balance between offering plenty of modes without overwhelming the user, and that's certainly the case here.

Audio-wise, it sounds clean and balanced, with a respectable amount of detail. It's not quite as exciting or refined-sounding as the high-end iPhone 11 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S20 model, but it's still not a bad listen.

For bargain hunters, it's definitely worth considering.

Read the full Google Pixel 3a XL review.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Samsung)

13. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

A little long in the tooth, but still one of the best Android phones of recent times.

Specifications
Screen size: 6.4in
Type: AMOLED
Resolution: 3040 x 1440
Ports: USB-C, 3.5mm
Operating system: Android Pie
Dimensions (hwd): 15.8 x 7.4 x 0.8cm
Weight: 175g
Reasons to buy
+Feels suitably premium+Excellent screen+Detailed audio
Reasons to avoid
-Biometrics could be better-Edge design hit and miss-Iffy personal assistant

2019 saw the 10th anniversary of the Samsung Galaxy range, and Samsung marked the occasion by launching not one, but three versions of the Samsung Galaxy S10 handset. 

The Galaxy S10 Plus is the biggest, most powerful and – inevitably – the most expensive. It comes complete with a 6.4in screen, an "Infinity-O" OLED display, HDR10+ video support, Dolby Atmos audio, an Ultrasonic Fingerprint sensor underneath the screen, a triple-lens rear camera, a hefty 4100 mAh battery, the option of a 1TB memory, a microSD card slot – and even a trusty old 3.5mm headphone jack. 

It’s not perfect – the biometric sensor, edge design and that Bixby button all need some fine-tuning – but if you’re in the market for a flagship Android phone with a slim but big-screen design, and prize audio and video quality above all else, this really is one to consider. Unless that is, you can afford a more recent flagship like the Samsung Galaxy S20 or even S21.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review.

Motorola Moto G6, best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: Motorola)

14. Motorola Moto G6

Motorola’s budget Android smartphone gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Specifications
Screen: 5.7in
Type: LCD
Resolution: 2160 x 1080
Features: Dolby Audio, 3.5mm headphone jack
Operating system: Android 8
Battery: 3000mAh
Dimensions (hwd): 15.4 x 7.2 x 0.8cm
Weight: 167g
Reasons to buy
+Ok camera+Responsive+Punchy picture
Reasons to avoid
-Sound lacks excitement-Images needs refinement

The Moto G6 might be a budget phone on paper, but it doesn't perform like one. If you're familiar with Motorola's G-series handsets, that won't come as a surprise: they have always been great value for money, and the G6 continues that legacy.

So what's so good? It has all the features you would expect from a pricier handset, including a fingerprint scanner, a headphone jack and a USB-C port for charging the 3000mAh battery.

Inside is a Snapdragon 1.8GHz octa-core processor, which, combined with its Android operating system, keep this phone running pretty smoothly. It even has a pretty good picture and decent sound, considering the price. 

Overall, this is an ideal choice for anyone wanting a cheap phone that does the basics well. It wasn't exactly pricey when it launched, so now, some years later, you can pick up an absolute bargain if you're prepared to look. And we would advise you do.

Read the full Motorola Moto G6 review.

OnePlus 8 Pro, best Android phones 2021

(Image credit: OnePlus)

15. OnePlus 8 Pro

This is the best OnePlus smartphone yet – and it's priced accordingly

Specifications
Screen: 6.78in AMOLED
Resolution: 3168 x 1440
Features: Dolby Atmos, 120Hz screen, in-screen fingerprint scanner
Operating system: Oxygen OS Android 10
Battery: 4510mAh
Dimensions: (hwd) 16 x 7.4 x 0.8cm
Weight: 199g
Reasons to buy
+Lucid, super-responsive screen+Competitive camera+Wireless charging compatibility+5G support
Reasons to avoid
-Lacklustre audio-Samsung S20 has the edge

The OnePlus 8 Pro is a big moment for OnePlus. Since it began in 2013, the Chinese phone brand has embraced its ‘flagship killer’ ambition with lower-priced handsets (such as the 7T above) than those offered by premium phone manufacturers such as Samsung and Apple. 

The 8 Pro is its most expensive handset to date – and also its best. It’s a 5G phone and has the most advanced camera system, the biggest battery and the biggest screen of any OnePlus phone before it.

Its screen is lovely, and new wireless charging support rounds off an impressive, flagship-worthy spec sheet. Its sound quality isn’t quite as good as some of its rivals, though, and it is a touch below Samsung standards in camera and screen performance too.

Read the full OnePlus 8 Pro review.

MORE:

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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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