Best phone 2021: Our picks of this year’s greatest smartphones
If you’re looking to kick off 2021 with a brand new smartphone then you’ve come to the right place. While there are plenty of new releases on the horizon, the last 12 months were full of excellent phones.
Here to help the team of tech experts at Trusted Reviews has created this handy guide of the best smartphones we’ve reviewed, currently on sale, to help you find the right phone for your needs and budget.
While these are the very best phone’s we’ve tested recently, that doesn’t mean the list isn’t subject to change. Samsung launched the and in January and, with the two available for pre-order right now, we have updated this list now our full reviews are complete. We expect a load more phones coming soon.
This guide focuses on every category of smartphone, so if you already have some idea of the type of handset you’re after then you can jump directly to one of our other guides.
Apple fans should check out our breakdown of the . If Google’s OS is your operating system of choice then our guide to the has you covered. If mobile photography is a priority, then jump to our guide – and, finally, if budget is an issue then check out our curated picks of the .
Scroll down to see our pick of the best phones of 2021 so far.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The best Android phone available
Great screen thanks to WQHD+ and 120Hz
Much-improved design with an attractive finish
Far more versatile camera than the iPhone 12 Pro Max
Big and heavy
No charger included
The is the best phones to come out of 2021 so far and a great pick if you’re on the hunt for an Android and are willing to pay a little extra to get the best of the best.
The S21 Ultra is packed with high-end features. The list includes fast performance thanks to its Exynos 2100 chip (or the Snapdragon 888 if you’re shopping in the States), 5G support, up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage.
One of the headline features is the display. The S21 Ultra boasts a 6.8-inch, curved, WQHD+ screen. It’s bright, hitting 1500 nits, and supports HDR content as well as an adaptive 10-120Hz refresh rate. The fact that this display can handle 120Hz while still maintaining its 1440p WQHD resolution puts the screen ahead of that on its 2020 predecessor. The display even has S-Pen support to coax fans of the Galaxy Note over to the S series – albeit without a slot to store the pen.
The quad-camera is impressive too, and includes a 108MP wide sensor that offers great depth of field, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor and two 10MP zoom sensors for capturing images from far away.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra isn’t the smallest phone on the market and it might be difficult to come to terms with the £1149/€1249/$1199 price, but if you can part with the cash you’ll struggle to find a better smartphone.
- Read our full
Oppo Find X2 Pro
Best Mobile Winner Trusted Reviews Awards 2020
Sharp, punchy screen
Class-leading fast charging
Single SIM slot
No wireless charging
Oppo isn’t the first name you think of when it comes to flagship smartphones, but this year saw the company produce one of 2020’s finest handsets in the Oppo Find X2 Pro.
The handset may cost over £1000, but it goes toe-to-toe with the best from Samsung and Apple for specs and features – to the point it took home the Best Smartphone and Best Premium Phone trophies at this year’s Trusted Reviews Awards.
Matching the specs of most current flagships, it comes with a super-powerful 5G-ready CPU, wonderfully calibrated, high refresh rate 6.7-inch screen, and a premium curved glass design. But it’s most notable selling points are its best-in-class fast-charging tech and spacious 512GB of storage.
During testing, we found its support for 65W fast-charging saw battery life go from 0-100% in just 35 minutes, which is a seriously impressive achievement considering the 4260mAh battery easily lasts a full day of heavy use.
The only downside is that, unlike the majority of handsets in this price category, the Oppo Find X2 Pro lacks wireless charging, and its camera, while capable, isn’t the best you’ll find at the price, especially compared to units in other flagships, such as the iPhone 12 Pro Max. During testing the camera proved capable of taking decent, but not best in class photos, lacking the accurate colours of rivals, like the and .
- Read our
The best iPhone for most people
Fantastic new design, reminiscent of the iPhone 5
Very reliable cameras
Screen lacks some of the benefits you’ll find elsewhere
If the notch has annoyed before, it will annoy again
The iPhone 12 isn’t the top handset in Apple’s current line up, nor is it the cheapest. But, by Apple standards, we at Trusted Reviews believe it hits a good middle-ground between features and affordability, making it the best choice of iPhone for the majority.
A huge step forward on last year’s iPhone 11, the iPhone 12 sports a reworked, more comfortable-to-hold angular design that’s reminiscent of the iPhone 5, and radically upgraded internals.
The highlight is the chip, which adds to Apple’s iPhone line and offers best-in-class performance – to the point that, during testing, we couldn’t actually find an app or process the phone couldn’t handle with ease.
The camera, too, has been upgraded to feature a new dual-lens setup that pairs a 12-megapixel main sensor with a 12-megapixel ultrawide unit. On paper, this makes it sound less fancy next to the three- to four-sensor setups seen on most Android flagships. However, during testing we found the iPhone 12 easily held its own, making it a very capable camera phone. The most significant differences relate to low-light performance, where images captured with the improved Night mode are a huge step up on those delivered by the .
The downside is that, unlike the , or the iPhone 12 still doesn’t feature a high refresh rate screen. It’s locked to 60Hz, which makes it feel less responsive than most Android flagships, which tend to come with 90Hz or 120Hz panels these days.
Nor is the OLED screen the best in Apple’s line up for general movie-binging. Despite offering excellent viewing angles, razor-sharp resolutions and generally being great, the 12 screen’s smaller dimensions put it a step behind the much more expensive .
For those for whom screen size isn’t a priority, and who wish to save some cash, may also be tempted by the . It shares the same core specs as the regular iPhone 12, but comes with a smaller form factor and lower price tag.
- Read our
Samsung Galaxy S21
A more affordable Samsung flagship
Much more affordable
Still a great screen (and it’s flat)
Lack of microSD and WQHD+ resolution make it feel like an S20 downgrade
Doesn’t feel as good as previous S series phones
Minimal camera upgrades
The is a fantastic option if you like the look of the S21 series but are wary about spending Ultra-level prices on your next upgrade.
In fact, the phone offers the same speedy Exynos 2100 chipset, 5G support and in-display fingerprint scanner as the S21 Ultra, the latter being a major bonus right now with masks making face log-ins near-impossible.
The S21 did come with a few compromises compared with its predecessor, the S20. These include a less-expensive feeling plastic back and the WQHD+ resolution being swapped out for a FHD+ display. That said, the 6.2-inch OLED display has remained bright and sharp and the addition of an adaptive 48/120Hz refresh rate means the 120Hz display will still be smooth without any unnecessary drain on your battery.
The S21 packs a triple camera made up of a 12MP wide sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor and a 64MP zoom sensor. On the front, there’s a 10MP selfie camera and the phone is capable of capturing up to 8K video. Photos taken with the S21 are beautifully detailed and the colour is bright and punchy.
The S21 may not be as advanced as the S21 Ultra, but the phone is slimmer, lighter and a lot more affordable for most people.
- Read our
Huawei P40 Pro Plus
A fantastic, versatile camera system
Premium design and screen
Top-tier specs and storage
No Google support
If camera performance is the be-all and end-all of your wishlist for a phone then the Huawei P40 Pro Plus is the handset for you. The camera features a quad-sensor setup that intelligently uses two telephoto lenses, plus some clever processing wizardry, to offer amazing zoom photography capabilities that you won’t find elsewhere.
Throughout testing, it was one of the only handsets we’ve tested to be capable of taking usable 10x zoom shots without a tripod or gimbal, which is seriously impressive. During testing its low-light capabilities was also excellent, coming close to matching Google’s Pixel line – an achievement we didn’t think possible even a year or two ago.
Fans of flagship devices will also be pleased to learn that it comes with all the perks you’d expect with such an offering, including a formal water-resistance rating, top-notch performance and 5G connectivity.
However, before you rush out to buy, be warned: while this handset offers great hardware, software provision is a let down. As a result of a US executive order against Huawei, the company’s phones don’t currently have access to Google Services, which includes the Play Store. This severely limits the apps you can install on the phone, making it a hard sell for most general users. For example, during testing we couldn’t get Google Docs, Drive, Gmail, Meet, Maps or YouTube running outside of their web versions.
- Read our
Realme X50 5G
Very good battery life
Low price for a 5G phone
Well-specced 120Hz screen
Strong general and gaming performance
Surprisingly capable main camera, even at night
Two of the rear cameras are filler
No headphone jack
Realme isn’t a big player in the Western phone market right now, but it has a solid track record for releasing top-value handsets in key markets such as India. As such, it’s no surprise then that its latest “flagship” affordable phone, the Realme X50 5G, lives up to expectations.
The handset comes with specs that match the majority of flagships in a few key areas. Specifically, the handset offers a high refresh rate 120Hz panel, 5G connectivity and a wonderful glass design that throughout testing felt significantly more premium than most of the other sub-£300 handsets we tested.
The main rear camera is also remarkably capable, managing to take usable images even in low light – a key area in which most affordable phones like the struggle to deliver. Just don’t expect much from its secondary and tertiary sensors, which are little more than window-dressing, offering sub-par performance across the board.
Compromises come by way of a Snapdragon 765 5G chip – which on paper isn’t as fast as the 8-series CPU you’ll see in most 2020 flagships, although, unless you’re a power user trying to photo edit, or play triple-A games, you’re unlikely to suffer any performance issues – and a few perks such as wireless charging, HDR screen support and a formal water-resistance rating.
If this doesn’t appeal, or you’re not a fan of the design, there are a number of rivals that offer similar feature sets in the affordable space. Highlights include the , whose only real drawback is a slightly slower 90Hz screen, and the , which feels slightly chunkier in hand but is otherwise an excellent device.
How do we select the best smartphones?
Every handset on this list has been reviewed thoroughly using the same combination of real-world use cases and repeatable benchmark tests.
This means that we test everything, from battery life and processor performance, during the full range of everyday tasks, right up to call quality and screen calibration. Most importantly, we take these phones out and use them as our own over an extended period of time, living with them to learn their quirks and discover any hidden treasures. Discover more about .
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