Skip to main content

Best smartphones 2021: best phones for music and movies on the move

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

A smartphone has many uses but, for us, it's about great music and video. So, right here are the very best phones with with incredible screens and amazing audio circuitry. HDR-compatibility, super-high pixel counts and next generation panel technologies can make for a kick-ass display that will have you enjoying your commute so much that you'll be taking a longer route on purpose.

Just as crucially, some phones simply sound better than others and it's important to know which they are so that you can spend your hard earned on a mobile that's going to make your portable music life the best it can possibly be.

We know you can do a whole heap of things with even the best cheap phones nowadays, but for our reviews we focus first and foremost on sound quality and picture performance. So, while we thoroughly test a phone's battery, camera, usability, design and features, we will give extra weight to handsets that deliver great audio and video.

No matter if you're Android or iOS loyal, whether you're eyeing up a flagship phone such as the iPhone 12, Samsung Galaxy S21, Sony Xperia 1 II, Google Pixel 5 or OnePlus 9 Pro, or more affordable options like the iPhone 12 Mini or iPhone SE, we've got you covered with the very best smartphones on the market.

How we choose the best smartphones

Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, a handful of which are smartphones from the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google, LG, OnePlus and Huawei. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the review process, ensuring consistency.

We spend time with the phones; we live with them, testing every feature and spec exhaustively, from screens to cameras, sound quality to battery life. We focus particularly on audio and video performance, so if you spend a lot of time listening to music or watching videos, you should read on before making that all-important buying decision.

All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.

The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics.

From all of our reviews, we choose the products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any other Best Buy pages, you can rest assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.

Sony Xperia 1 II, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony Xperia 1 II

Sony promises audio and video excellence – and delivers


Screen: 6.5in OLED | Resolution: 1644 x 3840 | Features: USB-C | Operating system: Android 10 | Battery: 4000mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 16.5 x 7 x 7cm | Weight: 181g

Reasons to Buy

Class-leading sound quality
Best-in-class video quality
3.5mm headphone jack

Reasons to Avoid

Shape may not be for everyone
No face ID

With a glorious 4K resolution screen, Sony’s sonic expertise and cutting-edge audio features, plus a great camera complete with plenty of pro features, the Xperia 1 II is a brilliant smartphone for music and movie lovers. 

Our focus has always been on audio and video performance, so we’re thrilled to find a smartphone that does the same. The Sony delivers a new level of performance for smartphone video and audio, and the rest of the phone completes the task, delivering an excellent camera, fast performance and decent battery life. If you’re serious about enjoying your mobile entertainment, this is the phone for you.

Read the full Sony Xperia 1 II review and take a look at the details on the new Sony Xperia 1 III.

Apple iPhone SE (2020), best phones 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Apple’s cheapest iPhone is a serious bargain


Screen: 4.7in Retina HD LCD | Resolution: 1334 x 750 | Features: Lightning | Operating system: iOS13 | Battery: 13 hours (video) | Dimensions: (hwd) 13.9 x 6.7 x 0.7cm | Weight: 148g

Reasons to Buy

Excellent build quality
Colourful, detailed screen
Musical sound

Reasons to Avoid

Camera not great in low light
Battery life could be better

The iPhone SE is back and the idea is pretty much the same – give the user an authentic iPhone experience without the huge price tags of the upper-tier handsets. And it's just as much of a success as the original SE model Apple launched in 2016. 

With a punchy, colourful screen, musical sound and a solid point-and-shoot 12MP snapper, the Apple iPhone SE (2020) does what it sets out to achieve. It's not perfect – we'd like better slightly battery life and nighttime photography results – but it will appeal to those looking for their first affordable iPhone, as well as those who might be a few iPhone generations behind but don’t want to spend a fortune on a new smartphone.

Safe to say it's among the best budget smartphones on the market at the moment.

Read the full iPhone SE (2020) review and take a look at all the iPhone 13 rumours.

Apple iPhone 12, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPhone 12

Apple takes the standard iPhone to another level


Screen: 6.1in OLED | Resolution: 2532 x 1170 | Features: Siri assistant, 12MP wide and ultra-wide lenses | Battery: 17hrs video, 65hrs audio | Operating system: iOS 14 | Dimensions: (hwd) 14.7 x 7.2 x 0.7cm | Weight: 164g

Reasons to Buy

Impressive OLED display
Musical sound
Slick and speedy interface

Reasons to Avoid

No charger in the box
Pricier than before

The iPhone 12 is another model we can add to a successful line of phones from Apple. Although some new Apple products are undoubtedly more evolution than revolution, the current iPhone 12 sports a brand-new design, a new screen, is powered by a new processor, and is capable of performing some new party tricks over its predecessor (below) – including, for the first time, 5G support.

The addition of an excellent 6.1in OLED Super Retina XDR display (complete with HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG support) has elevated picture performance to another level and helps justify the slight price hike over its predecessor. As a daytime snapper, there isn’t much to grumble about, with the dual-camera producing nicely balanced pictures with even colours and a fine sense of realism. Sound quality is as good as it’s ever been, too. All these positives combined make for a highly tempting and typically Apple package.

Read the full iPhone 12 review.

Sony Xperia 5 II, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony Xperia 5 II

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


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

The Xperia 1 II (in top spot on this page) won our smartphone Product of the Year Award for delivering a level of video and audio performance above that of other flagship Android phones – and the Sony Xperia 5 II 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.

Samsung Galaxy S21, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Samsung)

5. Samsung Galaxy S21

The S21 gives here and takes there, but ultimately strengthens the Galaxy reputation


Screen: 6.2in AMOLED | Resolution: 2400 x 1080 | Features: Triple 12MP Ultra Wide, 12MP Wide and 64MP Telephoto | Battery: 4000mAh | Operating system: Android 10 | 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, earbuds or charger
Sony rivals sound better

2020's Galaxy S20 line-up marked a thorough overhaul, bringing in 5G support and 120Hz refresh rate displays for the first time, plus significant camera upgrades. But for the S21 range, the gains are more marginal – the camera software has been enhanced, the design is arguably better and it packs the company’s most advanced processor yet. 

Of the three-strong, 5G-supporting Galaxy S21 range, you’ll want to consider the two more premium models, the S21+ S21 Ultra, if you’re after a large screen or a top-spec camera (offered by the S21 Ultra). But the standard S21 variant here is solid for the money and offers an excellent balance between performance and value. It has a great camera, very nice screen and is as speedy and reliable to use as you'd expect. 

Either of the Sony Xperias are better bets for those who place greater importance on music listening, so that’s one area we would hope Samsung advances for the next generation of Galaxy S phone. For now, though, the line’s reputation as one of the market’s best all-rounders remains intact.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Apple iPhone 12 Mini, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

6. Apple iPhone 12 Mini

Apple’s mini iPhone delivers a hugely satisfying iOS experience in a tiny package


Screen: 5.4in OLED | Resolution: 2340 x 1080 | Features: Siri assistant, 12MP dual lenses | Battery: 15hrs video, 50hrs audio | Operating system: iOS 14 | Dimensions: (hwd) 13.2 x 6.4 x 0.7cm | Weight: 133g

Reasons to Buy

Excellent OLED picture
Entertaining sound
iOS as slick as ever

Reasons to Avoid

Battery life not outstanding
No charger supplied

If you have big hands, big pockets and a ‘bigger is better’ outlook on life, then the iPhone 12 Mini probably isn’t for you. This is a smartphone for those who prefer a more subtle and discreet design, where pocket space is at a premium and you’d rather not pull a thumb muscle every time you attempt to write and send a text one-handed. And it's a very good one indeed for Apple fans.

It gets the same flat-edged design as its bigger siblings, meaning it feels premium in the hand; its 12MP dual-lens set-up on the back is perfect for those who want to point and shoot high good quality pictures with minimal fuss in both decent and sub-optimal lighting conditions; and it offers perfectly listenable sound quality by smartphone standards.

Essentially, it offers all the top features of the iPhone 12, but in a smaller, more pocket-friendly package. It is smooth and speedy to use, camera quality is great and picture and sound performance are both excellent for the money. The battery life takes a small hit – there's a drop in both video playback (15 hours versus 17 hours) and audio playback (50 hours versus 65 hours) compared with the iPhone 12 – but that doesn’t really detract from this hugely talented tiny iPhone.

Read the full iPhone 12 Mini review.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

The biggest and best iPhone you can currently buy


Screen: 6.7in OLED | Resolution: 2778 x 1284 | Features: Siri assistant, 12MP wide, ultra-wide and telephoto lenses | Battery: 20 hours of video playback | Operating system: iOS 14 | Dimensions: (hwd) 16 x 7.8 x 0.7cm | Weight: 226g

Reasons to Buy

Huge, beautiful screen
Surprisingly capable speakers
Excellent sound via headphones

Reasons to Avoid

Marginal gains over iPhone 12
No bundled charger

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best phone that Apple has ever made, with the biggest screen, the best speakers, the best camera and the biggest battery. Want the cream of the crop? This is it. 

That said, if you're looking for the best value iPhone package, know that many of its upgrades over the iPhone 12 are minimal, and the fact that the standard iPhone now has an OLED display is another reason not to spend the extra. The standard iPhone 12 is without a doubt the performance-per-pound pick of the current range, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max is well worth stretching to if you’re a keen photographer or videographer, or simply someone who likes a massive screen.

Read the full Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review.

Apple iPhone 11, Best phones 2021

(Image credit: Future)

8. Apple iPhone 11

Apple's mainstream 2019 model is a brilliant all-rounder


Screen: 6.1in LCD | Resolution: 1972 x 828 | Features: Siri assistant, 12MP wide and ultra-wide lenses | Battery: 3969mAh | Operating system: iOS 13 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.1 x 7.6 x 0.8cm | Weight: 194g

Reasons to Buy

Attractive price
Excellent audio and video
Good battery
Improved camera

Reasons to Avoid

Design hasn't changed
No OLED screen

It’s that old feeling of déjà vu. Apple’s 2019 iPhone launch has a lot in common with its previous ventures – two flagship models, joined by a more colourful model with a slightly inferior camera, but better battery life. 

It's true that the iPhone 11 loses in some areas against the two 11 Pros, including screen technology, resolution, camera quality and battery life, but the iPhone 11 is, in its own right, a feature-rich phone at a markedly more affordable price. And after all, who doesn’t want a powerful, yet affordable iPhone? 

The iPhone 11 delivers a great point-and-shoot camera (which is an improvement on the XR), runs off the same processor as the premium Pro and Pro Max and delivers solid battery life. Add the fact it produces a wonderfully rounded picture with sensational sound and the iPhone 11 is a superb all-rounder. If you want value for money combined with a good breadth of ability, it’s actually a bit of a no brainer.

Read the full iPhone 11 review.

Samsung Galaxy S20, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Samsung)

9. Samsung Galaxy S20

Simple upgrades keep the Galaxy S20 top of the premium Android pile


Screen: 6.1in AMOLED | Resolution: 3040 x 1440 | Features: Triple 12MP Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto | Battery: 4000mAh | Operating system: Android 10 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.2 x 6.9 x 0.8cm | Weight: 163g

Reasons to Buy

Colourful, natural screen
Just enough new features
Good audio

Reasons to Avoid

Not a huge upgrade over S10

Samsung's 2020 S20 series is here, and the Korean giant has kept the upgrade simple to ensure it's another success.

It looks familiar, feels familiar and has a largely predictable list of specifications and features. But we’re in the business of marginal gains, and another year has brought just enough of those to ensure the Galaxy S20 remains a great smartphone for most people, particularly if you’re in the market for a premium phone (and certainly if you want an Android handset). 

A superb screen in a manageable size, good smartphone audio, neat new features such as 5G and a 120Hz refresh rate, a smooth, fast interface and a good battery. Sometimes you just need to beat the competition, not blow them away, and the Galaxy S20 has certainly done that for now.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy S20 review.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

10. Apple iPhone 11 Pro

Apple’s most powerful iPhone is great for music and movies


Screen: 5.8in OLED | Resolution: 2436 x 1125 | Features: Siri assistant, Triple 12MP Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto | Battery: 3969mAh | Operating system: iOS 13 | Dimensions: (hwd) 14.4 x 7.1 x 0.8cm | Weight: 188g

Reasons to Buy

Incredible camera
Best ever picture and sound
Extended battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Few will make real use of camera

There is no denying that the iPhone 11 Pro is a brilliant phone – possibly the best, and definitely the most powerful, there has ever been. If you’re lucky enough to have the budget, we heartily recommend that you buy one, particularly if you’re a keen photographer and/or watch a lot of movies and TV shows on your phone.

But, while it’s absolutely a step up from the standard iPhone 11 in terms of picture and sound, it’s hard to justify the huge extra expense. The iPhone 11 will be the better, more sensible choice for most, but if you simply must have the best and you’re prepared to pay for it, the iPhone 11 Pro could be the one for you.

Want all this in a larger handset? Then the 11 Pro Max (below) has your name on it.

Read the full iPhone 11 Pro review.

Apple iPhone XR, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Future)

11. Apple iPhone XR

The sweet spot of Apple’s older-generation iPhone range


Screen: 6.1in LCD | Resolution: 1972 x 828 | Features: Siri assistant, 12MP wide-angle lens | Battery: 2942mAh | Operating system: iOS 12 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.1 x 7.6 x 0.8cm | Weight: 194g

Reasons to Buy

Entertaining, musical sound
Natural picture
Good battery life

Reasons to Avoid

OLED rivals are punchier
Headphone dongle is extra

While significantly cheaper than both its XS and XS Max siblings, the XR delivers a huge chunk of what the pricier models offer. The user experience is virtually identical, as is the processing power on offer. No, the camera isn’t quite as good as its siblings and picture quality can be bettered, but you’ll need to pay more upfront.

Not only does the XR boast better battery life, you also have the option of a 128GB version, which should cater for most people, and it’s a size that isn’t available for the XS or XS Max. It not only stacks up well against its family members, it displays a level of musicality that rivals brands can only dream of. A smart choice for those who want a bite of the Apple for a relatively affordable price.

Read our full Apple iPhone XR review.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

12. Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

Not the performance-per-pound champion of the current range, but still 11 an awesome smartphone


Screen: 6.5in OLED | Resolution: 2688 x 1242 | Features: Triple 12MP Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto | Battery: 3969mAh | Operating system: iOS 13 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.8 x 7.8 x 0.8cm | Weight: 226g

Reasons to Buy

Incredible camera
Huge, beautiful screen
Superb battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Prohibitively expensive
Few will make real use of camera
Smaller model is sharper

The big difference between the iPhone 11 Pro (above) and iPhone 11 Pro Max is the size: the Max is 14mm taller and 6mm wider than its sibling, but the depth measurement stays at a slim 8.1mm. The extra casework facilitates a larger screen: the 11 Pro Max has a 6.5in OLED display, whereas the smaller 11 Pro’s is 5.8in (and slightly has the edge).

If you’re already used to the size of Apple’s plus-sized handsets, this will be right up your street. 

Much of what you’re paying for with either of the Pro models is the camera, and for that reason, we think the standard iPhone 11 is the current pick of the range. But if you are a photography aficionado or have deep pockets and want the most cinematic smartphone experience available, the Pros are for you. It then comes down to a choice between the one with the much bigger screen, or the one with the slightly better screen.

Read our full Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review.

Samsung Galaxy S10+, Best phones 2021

13. Samsung Galaxy S10+

Samsung is on to a winner with this big-screen smartphone


Screen: 6.4in OLED | Resolution: 3040 x 1440 | Features: Bixby assistant, HDR10+ support, Dolby Atmos | Battery: 4100mAh | Operating system: Android 9 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.8 x 7.4 x 0.8cm | Weight: 175g

Reasons to Buy

Premium look and feel
Superb, colourful screen
Good, detailed sound

Reasons to Avoid

Biometric sensor needs fine-tuning
Edge design isn’t perfect

The 10th anniversary of the Samsung Galaxy range was marked with the launch of not one, but three, new Samsung Galaxy S10 phones. 

The Galaxy S10+ is the biggest, most powerful and the most expensive. It comes complete with a 6.4in screen, a new "Infinity-O" OLED display, HDR10+ video support, Dolby Atmos audio, an Ultrasonic Fingerprint sensor underneath the front of the screen, a triple rear camera lens, a hefty 4100 mAh battery, the option of a 1TB memory, a microSD card slot – and even a trusty 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 value audio and video quality, this really should be at the top of your wishlist. Unless, that is, you can afford the successors to the S10 series, the Samsung S20 and Samsung S21 phones.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10+ review.

Apple iPhone XS Max, best phones 2021

14. Apple iPhone XS Max

Simply the best smartphone out there for movies and music


Screen: 6.5in OLED | Resolution: 2688 x 1242 | Features: Siri assistant, HDR10 support, Dolby Vision | Battery: 3174mAh | Operating system: iOS 12 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.8 x 7.7 x 0.7cm | Weight: 208g

Reasons to Buy

Stunning big OLED display
Better audio than before
Robust and water-resistant

Reasons to Avoid

Size may not suit some

Got a bit more cash to splash? For anyone who uses a smartphone as a mobile cinema screen, the boast of having the ‘biggest display ever on an iPhone’, and of the OLED kind, immediately makes the iPhone XS Max a source of serious excitement. 

The idea of a scaled-up iPhone X was always appealing and, with 2018 being one of Apple’s generally small-step ‘s’ years, it came as a pleasant surprise that the iPhone XS Max managed to deliver a serious step up in performance. Pictures on the OLED screen are impressively detailed, with subtle colours and excellent motion control. It’s a fabulous picture. 

With music, the XS Max is just a little clearer, more dynamic and punchier than any rival out there, improving on the iPhone X, which was already a class-leader. All told, the iPhone XS Max is comfortably the best smartphone out there for movie and music lovers.

Read our full iPhone XS Max review.

OnePlus 7 Pro, best phones 2021

(Image credit: OnePlus)

15. OnePlus 7 Pro

Flagship features for midrange money


Screen: 6.7in AMOLED | Resolution: 3120 x 1440 | Features: USB-C headphone jack | Operating system: Android 9.0 Pie | Battery: 4000mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 16.3 x 7.6 x 0.9cm | Weight: 206g

Reasons to Buy

Gorgeous, eye-catching screen
Detailed, lively sound
Impressive camera
Reasonable price

Reasons to Avoid

Sound quality lacks subtlety and composure
No 3.5mm jack
Not officially waterproof

If you're an Android fan who can't afford to splash out four figures for a smartphone, OnePlus' 2019 7 Pro could be the phone for your pocket. Apart from a few minor issues, such as the absence of the 3.5mm headphone jack and the lack of waterproofing, the 7 Pro is a force to be reckoned with.

With an appealing screen, detailed, lively sound and a cracking camera, as well as a cool in-screen fingerprint scanner and pop-up selfie camera module, there's plenty to like here.

The 7 Pro has since been usurped by the slightly modified 7T Pro (OnePlus has a tendency to launch new phones every six months), but if you're on a tight budget this older phone is very attractively priced right now.

Read the full OnePlus 7 Pro review.

Google Pixel 5, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Google)

16. Google Pixel 5

Google’s new budget-friendly approach has changed the competition, but arguably not its place in the pecking order


Screen: 6in OLED | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | Features: USB-C | Operating system: Android 10.0 | Battery: 4080mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 14.5 x 7 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

The Google Pixel 5 launched with a cheaper asking price compared to previous flagship Pixel phones, so how does it fare in its less premium pastures?

Unsurprisingly, Google’s repositioning of its Pixel line comes with some compromises. The Pixel 5 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor, (rather than the more advanced Snapdragon 865 chip); its OLED screen ‘only’ has a 1080 x 2340 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate; and, perhaps most disappointingly for some, the dual-camera system for the Pixel 5 comes without a telephoto lens.

But this is a cheaper phone, and despite some losses, there are also gains. There's now 5G network support and the Pixel 4's 2800mAh battery has been replaced by a much more acceptable 4080mAh juice pack for the Pixel 5. It's Qi-certified for wireless charging, too. Ultimately though, while the Pixel 5 is a rather different proposition from Google, its strengths and weaknesses are in the same areas as its predecessors – its superb screen quality and so-so sound performance respectively.

Read our full Google Pixel 5 review.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Samsung)

17. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

An Ultra-impressive flagship phone from Samsung, but there is a worthy alternative


Screen: 6.9in AMOLED | Resolution: 3088 x 1440 | Features: 120Hz support, Dolby Atmos, S Pen, 108mp camera | Battery: 4500mAh | Operating system: Android 10 | Dimensions: (hwd) 16.4 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 is, without doubt, Samsung’s headline-grabber for 2020. So, should you be grabbing one? And can you even get your hands around it?

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra delivers on the Ultra promise. It’s big and rather expensive, but in return, you can enjoy a great 6.9in 3088 x 1440 120Hz screen, a feature-packed triple-camera and decent, Dolby Atmos-supporting sound.

In an ultra-competitive market, with a huge choice of phones (simply from Samsung alone), it can be hard for every handset to stand apart. But thanks to the S Pen and ‘power user’ specs, not to mention that crazy zoom on the camera, it’s clear to see that Samsung has managed that with the Note 20 Ultra.

That said, if you’re prepared to pay for best-in-class audio and video performance, it’s beaten by the Sony Xperia 1 II (at the top of this list), making it a four-star phone in our book.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

Google Pixel 4, best phones 2021

(Image credit: Google)

18. Google Pixel 4

Google ups its photography game to reinforce its reputation in an ever-evolving market


Screen: 5.7in OLED | Resolution: 444ppi | Features: USB-C | Operating system: Android 10.0 | Battery: 2800mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 14.7 x 6.9 x 0.8cm | Weight: 162g

Reasons to Buy

Improved camera experience
Useful motion gestures
Better screen

Reasons to Avoid

Lacklustre sound quality
Battery life takes a hit

A substantially improved camera and small upgrades across the board all add up to a better phone than Google has produced in previous years, albeit it one that won't necessarily cause Pixel 3 owners to rush out and upgrade.

A truly excellent, market-competitive camera carries it through, strengthening Google’s reputation for producing some of the best camera phones out there. And for some, the new air-based gestures will only enhance what’s always been a seamless, Android experience. Indeed, this is the phone for Android purists. Just beware that it isn't hugely competitive in the audio or battery departments.

Read our full Google Pixel 4 review.

Read our full Google Pixel 4 XL review.

Best Android phones 2021: Google-powered smarties for budgets big and small

(Image credit: OnePlus)

19. OnePlus 9 Pro

A tempting big-screen smartphone proposition.


Screen size: 6.7in AMOLED | Resolution: 1440 x 3216 | OS: Oxygen OS Version 11 (based on Android 11) | Battery: 4500mAh | Ports: USB-C | 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.

Motorola Moto G6, best phones 2021

20. Motorola Moto G6

This budget phone gives you a lot of bang for your buck


Screen: 5.7in 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

Good camera
Surprisingly responsive
Decent OS

Reasons to Avoid

Sound could be more exciting
Image needs refinement

This is a low-cost phone with better-than-budget performance. Motorola’s G-series smartphones have always been good value for money - and the new G6 is no exception. Features aren't missing either, there’s a fingerprint scanner, a headphone jack and a USB-C port for charging the 3000mAh battery. 

A Snapdragon 1.8GHz octa-core processor, combined with the Android Oreo 8.0 operating system, keeps this phone running pretty smoothly. A good picture and decent sound, considering the price, make this an ideal choice for anyone wanting a cheap phone that does the basics well.

Read the full Moto G6 review.

Apple iPhone XS, best phones 2021

21. Apple iPhone XS

This smartphone is a sensational AV device


Screen: 5.8in OLED | Resolution: 2436 x 1125 | Features: Siri assistant, HDR10 support, Dolby Atmos audio | Operating system: iOS 12 | Battery: 2658mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 14.4 x 7.1 x 0.8cm | Weight: 177g

Reasons to Buy

Crisp vibrant picture
Clear, rhythmic sound
Easy to use

Reasons to Avoid

Battery life can be bettered

It was always going to be hard to follow the launch of the original ‘X’, a phone that introduced new tech and features to an Apple smartphone for the first time, including an OLED display and Face ID. Yet the iPhone XS still manages to spring a few surprises, especially where its AV performance is concerned. More processing power, increased efficiency and improved camera quality are all positive points, but it’s the boost in both picture and sound quality that really cement this iPhone upgrade. 

The iPhone XS is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished mobile phones out there.

Read our full iPhone XS review.

OnePlus 8 Pro, best phones 2021

(Image credit: OnePlus)

22. OnePlus 8 Pro

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


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.


Best wireless headphones 2021

Best portable MP3 players 2021

Best true wireless earbuds