Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra screen straight on close 2
David Imel / 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 crafting its own 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 12 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 maybe 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 tough 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 Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Android phone overall, with top-notch cameras, blistering internals, and S Pen support.
  • The Asus ROG Phone 5 is our top gaming device thanks to its brilliant display, speedy 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 Google Pixel 4a is at the top of the small Android phone game, with a palm-friendly 5.81-inch display.
  • The Google Pixel 4a 5G is an excellent way to get 5G speeds on a budget at just $499.99.
  • The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is our battery king with a 5,000mAh cell and 67W wired or wireless charging.
  • The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a great way to stay productive between the huge 6.9-inch display and refined S Pen.
  • The Google Pixel 5 still commands our camera respect, even if the sensor itself isn’t miles ahead anymore.
  • The Sony Xperia 1 II is a creator’s dream, and it keeps the headphone jack alive on premium devices in 2021.
  • The Poco F3 is among the most affordable phones on our list, and it packs an IR blaster for your remote control needs.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: The best Android phone right now

The Galaxy S20 Ultra launched Samsung’s premium moniker back in 2020, but the sequel brings power to a whole new level. Samsung fixed plenty of the S20 Ultra’s issues on the S21 Ultra and even managed to undercut it on pricing. No matter which way you cut it, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra sits atop the Android throne.

Samsung refined every detail from the Galaxy S20 Ultra to create one of the best Android phones ever.

It was one of the first flagships to launch in the US with a Snapdragon 888 processor on board, and it packs up to 16GB of RAM with as much as 512GB of storage space. You even get one of the best, most well-rounded camera systems on any phone, highlighted by a 108MP main shooter on the back and a 40MP selfie lens on the front. As if that’s not enough, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of very few readily available phones with 10x optical zoom (another is Huawei’s P40 Pro Plus).

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the most expensive phone of this year’s Galaxy flagship crop, and it offers significant advantages over the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus. You’ll only find a WQHD+ display on the premium handset and the most affordable Galaxy S21 ditches glass for a “Glasstic” construction.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra macro of back cameras
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
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 and brilliant 120Hz display
  • Versatile camera system
  • Super-fast Snapdragon 888 processor

Cons

  • No charger in the box
  • Expensive, but more affordable that last year

Honorable mentions: OnePlus 9 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 11, Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra


Read our full review to learn more about the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Asus ROG Phone 5: The best Android gaming phone

Gaming phones have improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. The ROG Phone 5 follows last year’s ROG Phone 3, and it takes an already great 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 5 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. You also get a Snapdragon 888 processor for your money and up to 16GB of RAM. If you really want the best that Asus can offer, there’s always the ROG Phone 5 Pro or Ultimate — each with 512GB of storage and the Ultimate with up to 18GB of RAM.

See also: Asus ROG Phone 5 buyer’s guide

For as great as the ROG Phone 5 is, it 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, but the peripheral lenses leave a little something to be desired.

Asus ROG Phone 5 product shot of the rear of the phone from the left side
Asus ROG Phone 5
The ROG Phone 5 is our current gaming king, packed with Qualcomm's premium Snapdragon 888, plenty of RAM and storage, and a massive 6,000mAh battery.

Pros

  • Very responsive display
  • Quad DAC and excellent speakers
  • Elite performance

Cons

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

Honorable mentions: Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2, Nubia Red Magic 6, Xiaomi Black Shark 4


Read our full review to learn more about the Asus ROG Phone 5.

OnePlus 9 Pro: The best dual-SIM Android phone

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 just 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 do grab the international model, you’ll find a dual Nano-SIM tray onboard with dual stand-by 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

Honorable mentions: Oppo Find X3 Pro, Sony Xperia 1 II, Samsung Galaxy S21 series


Read our full review to learn more about the OnePlus 9 Pro.

Google Pixel 4a: The best small Android phone

We’ve mostly been focused on the largest and most powerful Android phones so far, but now it’s time to swing back in the opposite direction. Not everyone wants a massive glass sandwich, and we can’t all afford to break the bank, but that’s where the Pixel 4a comes in.

The Pixel 4a offers an all-around great experience at an even better price.

It may be the smallest device in Google’s current generation with a 5.81-inch display, but there aren’t many other compromises. The Pixel 4a is a well-designed little phone, right down to the top-mounted headphone jack. It’s plastic, so the back won’t shatter into a million pieces at the first drop. However, you do miss out on convenient wireless charging. You get Google’s premium camera software experience as well, even if there’s only one lens on the back and another on the front.

The Google Pixel 4a not only shows that small phones can be back in style but also that affordable phones are hot. It costs just $349, and it’s a perfect Android foil to the Apple iPhone SE. Google only gives you a Snapdragon 730G SoC and a 3,140mAh battery, but simplicity is bliss in this top Android phone.

Google Pixel 4a front standing straight
Google Pixel 4a
The best of Google for $349
Getting the Google experience has never been more accessible. A compact phone that's easy to use, a beautiful screen, and one of the best cameras in this price range. The Pixel 4a is hard to beat.

Pros

  • Over 3 years of updates
  • Headphone jack
  • Wallet-friendly price

Cons

  • No wireless charging
  • No IP rating
  • Only one rear camera

Honorable mentions: Google Pixel 5, Palm Phone


Read our full review to learn more about the Google Pixel 4a.

Google Pixel 4a 5G: Affordable 5G speeds

 

Let’s stay on the affordable side of Android for a while, but this time we’ll add 5G to the mix. Google’s Pixel 4a 5G is similar in many ways to the Pixel 4a above it, but it’s a solid midrange alternative to some of the best 5G devices on the market. You’ll find the same plastic build and headphone jack, though the Pixel 4a 5G is larger in just about every other way.

You won’t want to turn to this Android phone as your go-to for gaming, but the Snapdragon 765G processor handles just about everything else well. Better yet, it powers a big 6.2-inch display with a decent 60Hz refresh rate. Google jumped to the dual-camera setup that you’ll find on the Google Pixel 5, leaving the single-lens option firmly in the rearview.

Google’s midrange 5G phone does pick up some serious points for battery, even if there’s no wireless charging to get the 3,885mAh cell back up to speed. At $499, it’s tough to track down a better value than the Pixel 4a 5G.

Google Pixel 4a 5G camera macro 3
Google Pixel 4a 5G
Affordable 5G, Google-style
The Google Pixel 4a 5G is a value-oriented phone made for people who don’t want or need a flashy high-end phone. Like the Pixel 4a, the 4a 5G model’s strong points are its cameras, smooth software, and rock-solid update policy.

Pros

  • Better than all-day battery
  • Headphone jack
  • Excellent performance for $500

Cons

  • No IP rating
  • No wireless charging

Honorable mentions: Motorola One 5G Ace, Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, OnePlus Nord


Read our full review to learn more about the Google Pixel 4a 5G.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra: The best battery experience

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 really 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 is what 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 unneccessary

Honorable mentions: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Asus ROG Phone 5, Samsung Galaxy S20 FE


Read our full review to learn more about the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: The productivity powerhouse

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra notes app open with pen
David Imel / Android Authority
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Samsung’s Galaxy Note line has always been the best route for power users, thanks to the S Pen. The powerful stylus is even more refined than ever, and new Anywhere Actions allow you to use the S Pen away from your phone. You can leave your pen and paper at home — there’s nowhere we’d rather take notes.

Overall, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra no longer sets the bar for performance. It doesn’t revolutionize the phablet, but it does refine the key features of previous models. Samsung nailed the hardware for its premium device, as usual. The massive 6.9-inch display comes with a 120Hz refresh rate and a WQHD+ resolution that’s tough to beat. You won’t find the latest Qualcomm hardware onboard — the Snapdragon 865 Plus was the best chipset around in late 2020.

See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 buyer’s guide

Perhaps the biggest drawback to Samsung’s premium phablet is the price tag. It launched at $1,300, and the cost hasn’t budged much in the months since. You can always get around this with the more affordable Galaxy Note 20, but you’ll have to be ready for some other sacrifices like the “Glasstic” build.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra display
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Bigger, better, and pricier
Samsung's Galaxy Note line has always been for the power users, and this year's models are no different — especially the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. This new ultra-premium phone is Samsung's most refined device yet.

Pros

  • Crisp camera results
  • Refined S Pen
  • Premium hardware

Cons

  • Hot under pressure
  • Average battery life
  • Simply too big

Honorable mentions: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Samsung Galaxy Note 20


Read our full review to learn more about the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Google Pixel 5: The best Android camera phone

The Pixel family of devices has always hovered around the summit of Android camera phones, and the Pixel 5 is no exception. While other premium devices can offer more lenses and extra megapixels, Google’s incredible camera software is what keeps it among the leaders.

On the back of the Pixel 5, you’re looking at a primary 12.2MP lens backed up by a 16MP ultra-wide shooter. The front-facing sensor packs an 8MP resolution, and Google Lens is one of the best ways to identify objects around you. None of those individual shooters is the best in its class, but that’s part of what makes Google’s software shine. The Pixel 5 excels at processing your image to bring out a crisp, natural result. Google Lens also packs Google Translate features as well as powerful identification capabilities, which can be a lifesaver if you’re traveling abroad.

See also: Google Pixel 5 buyer’s guide

Outside of the excellent camera, Google’s Pixel 5 actually skips several flagship features. It stops at 128GB of storage, and you get a Snapdragon 765G SoC rather than a Snapdragon 865. Google’s battery weighs in at 4,080mAh, which isn’t the largest, yet it lasts for hours on end as Google adapts to your usage.

Google Pixel 5 taking a photo 4 1
Google Pixel 5
Google's first 5G smartphone
The Google Pixel 5 may not be the high-end Pixel we were expecting, but it's a pretty compelling mid-range option. Google is going back to basics with the Pixel 5, ditching higher-end features like face recognition and the quirky Motion Sense gestures.

Pros

  • Excellent battery life
  • Incredible camera software
  • Wireless charging

Cons

  • No telephoto camera
  • Charging isn’t the fastest

Honorable mentions: Huawei Mate 40 series, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, OnePlus 9 Pro


Read our full review to learn more about the Google Pixel 5.

Sony Xperia 1 II: Keeping the headphone jack alive

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 II — and upcoming 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 90Hz equivalent refresh rate for smooth results. The trio of 12MP rear cameras may not be the best around, but you can actually hook your Xperia 1 II 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 II’s 20fps burst mode, which is nearly identical to what you find on the Alpha A9 mirrorless camera.

You get all of the other bells and whistles, too, like expandable storage and wireless charging. The Sony Xperia 5 II is a lower-priced alternative option, or you can always wait around for the upcoming Xperia 1 III.

Sony Xperia 1 II review 1 year standing
Sony Xperia 1 II
Developed with Sony´s Alpha camera professionals to deliver exceptionally fast autofocus.

Pros

  • Great 4K, 21:9 display
  • Pro-level camera options
  • IP68 water and dust rating

Cons

  • Selfie camera is lacking
  • Not the fastest charging
  • Occasionally confusing camera app

Honorable mentions: Google Pixel 4a and 4a 5G, Motorola Edge Plus, OnePlus Nord N10


Read our full review to learn more about the Sony Xperia 1 II.

Poco F3: Serious value for your money

We’ve run through more than a few of the best Android phones you can buy right now, but what if you want a phone that does a lot for not much money? The Poco F3 is our favorite phone with an IR blaster right now, and it’s tough to top the hardware at its asking price.

The Poco F3 packs a great processor and the build quality wows, even if the software is lacking.

The Poco F3 offers a premium glass construction without cracking €349, which almost seems too good to be true. It pairs a Snapdragon 870 chipset with a large 6.67-inch AMOLED panel, and the phone feels as good as it looks. Add in up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and what could go wrong? Well, the software is what could go wrong.

Poco got the 4,520mAh battery just right, but it powers a software experience that’s been buggy and messy since launch. Perhaps Poco can fix this issue with future software updates, but the manufacturer doesn’t always have the best record. If you’re a gamer or an everyday power user, this is a great budget phone for you, just as long as you can overcome the software hiccups.

Poco F3 Official Render
Poco F3
A rebadged Redmi K40
The Poco F3 might look familiar to some, and that's because it's a rebranded Redmi K40. That means you're getting a Snapdragon 870 chipset, 120Hz OLED screen, and a 4,520mAh battery with 33W charging. Other notable specs include a 48MP rear camera and side-mounted fingerprint scanner.

Pros

  • Impressive chipset for the money
  • Great display
  • Solid build quality

Cons

  • Average camera
  • Ad-laden software
  • Battery life could be better

Honorable mentions: Redmi K40 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 11 series, Redmi Note 10 and Note 10 Pro


Read our full review to learn more about the Poco F3.

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 tablet 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 E. 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.