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The best Android phones (December 2021)

From Samsung to Google, there's an Android for everyone.
By
December 18, 2021
Google Pixel 6 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra backs outside
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Android has always been the best operating system if you want freedom of choice. There are heaps of great options from tons of OEMs, but sometimes that just makes it harder to choose the best Android phone.

We can’t promise that the decision will be easy. No two phones are exactly alike, but that’s why we love this operating system. Each manufacturer is developing its own hardware and version of Android, so it’s all about what you value in a device. Now, let’s get into our best Android phone picks for 2021.

Buying the best Android phone for your needs

The buying road gets tougher from here, but you’ve already made an important step — choosing an operating system. This page is all about Android phones, so you won’t find the iPhone 13 or any other Apple product among our picks.

Now it’s time to get into the specifics of your new phone. There are so many Android devices on the market, and you can use practically any spec you want to narrow down the options. Maybe you want to start with a 5G-ready chipset, or perhaps you need the biggest battery around. You’ll also want to consider how much RAM you want and how much storage you need for your apps, videos, and more.

Locking down Android as your operating system is only the first step.

Another thing to keep in mind is the build quality of your device. Many premium flagship devices are what we call glass sandwiches in 2021 — glass on the front and back with a metal frame to hold it all together. You can save money and go for a plastic device, though it may not feel as sturdy in your hand. There’s also the Google Pixel 5, which sports a rugged aluminum build coated in bioresin.

We’ve broken all of our recommendations below into categories to help you figure out just what each phone is best for. If you’re not sold on our top pick, we’ve added some honorable mentions to guide you further.

The best Android phones

  • The Google Pixel 6 is the best Android phone overall, with a revamped camera system, Tensor chip, and unbeatable price tag.
  • The Asus ROG Phone 5s is our top gaming device thanks to its brilliant display, fast refresh rate, and snappy processor.
  • The OnePlus 9 Pro is a true killer flagship, and the dual-SIM functionality is only the tip of the iceberg.
  • The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the best foldable phone you can buy, and it keeps pushing the limits despite its cost.
  • The Google Pixel 5a is an excellent way to get 5G speeds on a mid-range phone at just $449.99.
  • The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is our battery king with a 5,000mAh cell and 67W wired or wireless charging.
  • The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is our camera king with a flexible setup and great overall specs.
  • The Sony Xperia 1 III is a creator’s dream, and it keeps the headphone jack alive on premium devices in 2021.

Google Pixel 6: The best Android phone right now

The Google Pixel 6 in Sorta Seafoam color camera bar up close against brick
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
aa2020 the best

Samsung’s premium Galaxy S21 Ultra dominated our list as the best Android phone for much of the year, but there’s a new king in town. The Pixel 6 has taken its place atop the standings, and it’s our Editor’s Choice pick for the best phone of the year. A quick look at our review, and it’s not hard to see why we voted the way we did.

Google created the right mix of speed, price, and camera prowess to retake its place as the best Android phone.

For starters, Google has finally revamped the camera unit to match its powerful image processing chops. The camera bar houses a 50MP primary lens and a 12MP ultrawide shooter, with the Pixel 6 Pro adding a 48MP telephoto option for good measure. However, we’re sticking with the vanilla Pixel 6 as our top pick for its incredible value. At just $599, it’s a tough device to top in the flagship realm, and it doesn’t pull many punches.

You’ll get 8GB of RAM and 128 or 256GB of storage on board, and Google’s brand-new Tensor chip ties the experience together. The standard Pixel 6 offers a 6.4-inch display, or you can jump to the 6.7-inch beast on the Pixel 6 Pro. Both models also carry IP ratings and speedy wireless charging to keep you up and moving.

google pixel 6 press image sorta seafoam
Google Pixel 6
The more affordable Pixel
The Google Pixel 6 features a 6.4-inch FHD+ display and runs on the all-new Google Tensor SoC. It has an upgraded camera system, exclusive software features, and offers some of the best hardware Google has ever produced.
google pixel 6 pro camera
Google Pixel 6 Pro
The Pixel 6 Pro outshines its little brother with a 6.7-inch QHD+ display and 120Hz refresh rate. It has the same two rear cameras as the Pixel 6 but with an additional 4x optical telephoto lens.

Pros

  • Premium, unique design
  • Solid battery life
  • Unbeatable price

Cons

  • Slow charging
  • Iffy fingerprint sensor

Asus ROG Phone 5s: The best Android gaming phone

Asus ROG Phone 5 product shot of the home screen at an angle
Ryan-Thomas Shaw / Android Authority

Gaming phones have improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. The ROG Phone 5s is an update on the original ROG Phone 5, and it takes an already excellent gaming platform even further. It follows the tried-and-true method of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and it clearly pays off.

The Asus ROG Phone 5s packs a serious 6.78-inch AMOLED display with a remarkable 144Hz refresh rate, among plenty of other specs that make it the best Android gaming phone around. However, the real change comes in including a Snapdragon 888+ chipset instead of the standard 888. If you want the best that Asus can offer, there’s always the ROG Phone 5s Pro with 18GB of RAM and 512GB of storage in the base configuration.

For as great as the ROG Phone 5s is, it still isn’t perfect. While you get a massive 6,000mAh battery capacity, there’s no wireless charging to be had. You won’t get an IP rating either, and you might need Asus’ Aero Active fan to keep your gaming beast cool under pressure. Also, even though the main camera is solid, the peripheral lenses leave a little something to be desired.

Asus ROG Phone 5s
Asus ROG Phone 5S
Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro
Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro

Pros

  • Very responsive display
  • Quad DAC and excellent speakers
  • Snapdragon 888+

Cons

  • One hefty beast
  • No IP rating
  • Hot under heavy stress

OnePlus 9 Pro: The best dual-SIM Android phone

OnePlus 9 Pro right rear profile
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

OnePlus built its name for years as a flagship killer, but now it’s gone to the dark side. The OnePlus 9 Pro is a truly killer flagship, and it’s not here to play games. It nearly topples the industry giants, and dual-SIM support is another bonus.

The first thing you’ll notice about the OnePlus 9 Pro is the revamped rear camera array. It’s powered by Hasselblad, which brings a serious punch to the premium handset. Our own Eric Zeman went so far as to call the OnePlus 9 Pro the company’s best phone in years, even if it does come with a few sacrifices. There’s no microSD support, and the battery life could be better, but they’re not enough to take away from the overall great package.

If you’re hoping to tap into the Dual-SIM setup, you’ll have to pick up the international version as US-based OnePlus phones no longer support the feature. When you grab the international model, you’ll find a dual Nano-SIM tray onboard with dual standby support.

See also: OnePlus 9, OnePlus 9 Pro, and OnePlus 9R buyer’s guide

OnePlus tapped the Snapdragon 888 processor to power the 9 Pro (and the more affordable OnePlus 9), and both models top out at 256GB of storage. When you do wear the 4,500mAh battery down to zero, OnePlus’ Warp Charge 65T is plenty fast enough to have you back on the go in no time. The OnePlus 9 Pro packs 50W wireless charging to boot, though you’ll only get 15W speeds on the OnePlus 9.

OnePlus 9 Pro close up of hassleblad
OnePlus 9 Pro
The OnePlus 9 Pro reaches the market with a refreshed design, a 6.7-inch AMOLED display, a Snapdragon 888 processor, and a new Hasselblad camera partnership for improved imaging.

Pros

  • Fast Warp Charging
  • Improved Hasselblad cameras
  • Solid software experience

Cons

  • Hit or miss battery life
  • Inconsistent 5G support

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: The best foldable Android phone

Galaxy Z Fold 3 flex mode camera
Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

We’ve mostly been focused on powerful and traditional Android phones so far, but now it’s time for something that will turn heads. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 takes the cake as the best foldable phone you can buy right now. While it may not be the same value buy as a Galaxy Z Flip 3, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 packs all the bells and whistles you could ever ask for.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 packs all of Samsung's best technology into an ultra-premium package.

It’s perfectly pocket-sized when folded, yet the 6.2-inch display is plenty large enough to manage just about all of your notifications. Then, when you open it up, you’re treated to a massive 7.6-inch AMOLED display, complete with a 120Hz refresh rate. It also features Samsung’s first official crack at an under-display selfie camera, even if it’s not the best camera around. You’ll also find a true flagship processor for the first time, in the form of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888.

Although the Galaxy Z Flip 3 shows that foldables are becoming more affordable, the Z Fold 3 shows just how far they can go. It still commands a premium price point, but it offers features you won’t find anywhere else in the Samsung Galaxy.

Samsung Galaxy Fold 3
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
The first foldable with an IP rating for water resistance.
Samsung's latest foldable flagship looks a lot like the 2020 model but boasts some new design elements and some better specs. It also has an IPX8 rating and supports the use of an S Pen, all at a lower entry price than previous years.

Pros

  • Highly refined design
  • Improved displays
  • IPX8 rating

Cons

  • Bulky to carry and hold
  • Only average camera performance
  • Mediocre battery life

Honorable mentions: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, Motorola Razr

Google Pixel 5a: Affordable 5G speeds

the google pixel 5a on a piece of cement showing its back in mostly black color
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Let’s dip into the affordable side of Android for a while, this time with the brand-new Pixel 5a. It’s similar in many ways to the Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4a 5G that precedes it, and it easily slots in as the best midrange device on the market. The Pixel 5a looks nearly identical to both phones mentioned above, yet it packs some handy additions that can beat both.

For starters, the new Pixel 5a keeps a headphone jack right at home, and it measures larger than the Pixel 5. You get a 6.34-inch panel compared to the even 6-inch option on Google’s flagship. The Snapdragon 765G chip is the same on both models, though, and it handles most daily tasks with ease. However, Google is still committed to the 60Hz refresh rate, and Gorilla Glass 3 isn’t the toughest material around.

Google’s midrange 5G phone picks up some serious points for battery life and size. You’ll get Google’s largest-ever 4,680mAh cell but no wireless charging to get it back up to speed. At $449, it’s tough to track down a better value than the Pixel 4a 5G.

Google Pixel 5a Unlocked
Google Pixel 5a (Unlocked)
Water resistance comes to the Pixel A-series
Google's Pixel 5a offers a few quality-of-life upgrades over its previous devices that may make you want to join Team Pixel. It has a metal unibody design, an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, and a battery that just won't quit.

Pros

  • Excellent battery life
  • Headphone jack
  • IP67 rating is great to have

Cons

  • No 90Hz display
  • No wireless charging

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra: The best battery experience

Mi 11 Ultra rear of the phone with notifications display
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The Xiaomi Mi 11 was the first Android phone to cross the Snapdragon 888 finish line, but the Mi 11 Ultra is the true realization of what Xiaomi can do. It’s eye wateringly expensive, and it’s not the lightest phone in the world, but you’ll struggle to find a more impressive overall battery setup.

The Asus ROG Phone 5 may pack a larger battery, but the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is no slouch at 5,000mAh. However, the charging capabilities are what seal the deal. You can grab your trusty wired charger — that still comes in the box — or try a wireless charger for up to 67W speeds either way.

The battery may be a good start, but the rear camera really sets the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra above its standard sibling. Yes, the camera bump is huge, but the 50MP main shooter and its twin 48MP ultra-wide and periscope shooters are incredibly flexible. They offer up to 120x digital zoom, and a small selfie preview display lets you capture yourself in the highest resolution.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra splash
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra ups the ante for Xiaomi's 2021 flagship series with faster charging, more base RAM and storage, and an upgraded camera with a 48MP periscope zoom lens and a huge 1/1.12-inch main sensor.

Pros

  • Great battery life and fast charging
  • Impressive build quality
  • Flexible camera setup

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Very heavy
  • Selfie display is unnecessary

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: The best Android camera phone

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera module macro in hand
David Imel / Android Authority

Samsung introduced the Ultra moniker with the Galaxy S20 series before giving it a serious boost on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. One of the most significant changes is the improved camera array, which remains among the best we’ve ever tested. Our own Robert Triggs even put it to the test against some of 2021’s best shooters to great results.

The powerful camera setup kicks off with a 108MP primary lens flanked by a 10MP telephoto, a 10MP periscope telephoto, and a 12MP ultrawide lens. On the front, you’ll also find a sharp 40MP selfie shooter, so you should be able to capture just about anything. While Samsung doesn’t have the same image processing prowess as Google, the photos speak for themselves. You can check out our review for even more sample images.

Of course, the Galaxy S21 Ultra isn’t just the best camera phone on the market — it’s one of the best devices overall. It packs a flagship-grade Snapdragon 888 processor, a massive 5,000mAh battery, and a huge 6.8-inch WQHD+ display. You can grab either 12 or 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage, too.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung's best-ever camera system on one of its best-ever phones.
If you want the most powerful phone in Samsung's Galaxy S21 series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is for you. It comes with the largest display at 6.8-inches, the biggest battery at 5,000mAh, and the best camera setup with a primary 108MP sensor. It also comes with as much as 16GB of RAM. However, it's also the most expensive with a starting price of $1,199.

Pros

  • Big, bright display
  • Versatile cameras
  • Excellent processor

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No charger in the box

Honorable mentions: Google Pixel 6 series, OnePlus 9 Pro

Sony Xperia 1 III: Keeping the headphone jack alive

Sony Xperia 1 III hero 2
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Headphone jacks were an integral part of just about every phone on the market at one point. Then, Apple decided it could do without them, and the rest of the world followed. Now, the headphone jack is often limited to budget-friendly and mid-range devices. Sony is one of the few OEMs bucking that trend, and you’ll still find a headphone jack alive and well on the flagship Xperia 1 III.

Beyond the headphone jack, you also get a brilliant 21:9 display for your money. It packs a crisp 4K display and 120Hz refresh rate for smooth results. The trio of 12MP rear cameras may not be the best around, but you can hook your Xperia 1 III to your Sony camera to serve as a premium monitor.

Once you tap into the pro-grade camera features, you’ll really see what Sony was after. It crafted a “holy trinity” of zoom lenses, capable of covering the entire range from wide to telephoto zoom. You can also test out the Xperia 1 III’s 20fps burst mode, which is nearly identical to what you find on the Alpha A9 mirrorless camera.

You also get all other bells and whistles, like expandable storage and wireless charging. The Sony Xperia 5 III is a lower-priced alternative option, and it keeps almost everything that makes the Xperia 1 III so good.

Sony Xperia 1 III press image
Sony Xperia 1 III
Premium product, premium price
The Xperia 1 III packs in the latest and greatest technology from Sony to create a smartphone purpose-built for multimedia, photography, and gaming.

Pros

  • Great 4K, 21:9 display
  • Improved camera experience
  • IP68 water and dust rating

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Not the fastest charging
  • Too much pre-installed bloat

iOS vs Android — which OS is right for you?

You’ve just finished reading about the best Android phones, so we have an idea of where you stand in the iOS vs Android debate. However, nothing is ever set in stone. If you have an iPad or maybe a MacBook, you might decide that it’s best to stick with Apple’s ecosystem. On the other hand, you might be ready to break free and tap into more customization options. You’ll face different app selections on both platforms, but it’s all about your comfort level.

Check out more on the long-standing iOS vs Android debate right here.

Picking the best phone apps and accessories

Now that you have an idea of the best Android phones to spend your money on, it’s time to round out your setup. That means adding the best apps and accessories to the equation. Here are a few of our current favorites:

Other frequently asked questions

Q: What’s the best Android phone for kids?
A: We have an in-depth guide ready to help you decide when is the right time to get your son or daughter a phone. On the Android side, we recommend the budget-friendly Google Pixel 4a or the Motorola Moto G Play. However, if your child has set their heart on iOS, just about any older iPhone will do.

Q: What about a great Android phone for seniors?
A: You’re in luck because we have a handy guide to help here too. There are some specific options for seniors with simplified menus, or we recommend a Samsung device for its Easy Mode feature. You can also load up a launcher like Big Launcher or Simple Launcher to make menus and dialers more approachable.