Best phones 2021: the very best smartphones, ranked

If you’re looking to buy a new smartphone then our best phones guide is designed to show you the top handsets on the market today in 2021.
This best phones list shows the mobile devices that we recommend above all others, no matter their maker, OS, size, type or cost.
However, if you already know what type of phone, maker or OS that you want to invest in, then we’ve also got specialist guides to things like the best Android phones or best iPhones.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for an affordable new phone upgrade, then you’ll be best served with our guide to the best cheap phones, or if you want a compact device you’ll find plenty of choice in T3’s best small phones feature.
Oh, and we’ve also got a comprehensive roundup of the best gaming phones, as well as the fastest 5G phones, too. And if you already have a brand affinity for your handset, then be sure to check out T3’s best Samsung phones and best Huawei phones guides.
Right here, though, we present the best of the best phones available, as tested by T3. We’ve thoroughly tested every single one of these handsets in great detail, and done so in everyday environments, too. This is because we want to be able to inform our readers as to exactly how these handsets perform in the real world.
The best phones you can buy today

The iPhone 12 from Apple brings stellar specs at a lower price.
(Image credit: Apple)
1. Apple iPhone 12
The best phone for most people

Specifications
Weight: 164g
Dimensions: 146.7 mm x 71.5 mm x 7.4 mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 6.1 inches
Resolution: 1170 x 2532 pixels
CPU: Apple A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 2,815 mAh
Rear camera: 12MP wide + 12MP ultrawide
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic HDR screen+High quality camera system+Now with 5G
TODAY’S BEST DEALS
Apple has outdone itself with the four iPhone 12 models launched in late last year, and if you can’t stretch to the price of the Pro editions then the standard iPhone 12 could well be the best phone for you. It’s packed with power and comes with a stylish new design, though Apple’s handsets are still at the more expensive end of the scale.
5G has been added to the iPhone this year of course, which means you’re future-proofed when it comes to next-gen connectivity. The A14 Bionic processor is more power than you’re really going to need, while the improved dual-lens rear camera system can take spectacular photos in any kind of light.
We also really like the flatter design that Apple has introduced for the iPhones this year. Add to that the choice of cool colours – white, black, blue, green and red – and it’s a really impressive overall package. Unless you have a real affinity for Android, this could well be the smartphone for you.
What you don’t get in the Apple iPhone 12 is the same flexibility of camera that you get in iPhone 12 Pro – and that’s because it has a dual-camera, rather than a tri-camera setup. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also offers more screen size than the iPhone 12, but we think 6.1 inches is enough for most people.
As T3 concluded in our official review of the phone: “The iPhone 12 is the iPhone most people should get in 2021 – it gives you a stunning new design, a fantastic new screen compared to the iPhone 11, excellent cameras with a few new tricks, plus 5G and the world’s fastest phone processor for future-proofing.”
As such, we feel the iPhone 12 is the best phone Apple currently makes in terms of bang for your buck, and as such is an easy recommendation for most users. Do check out the other iPhone 12 models though, as there are plenty of different configurations to pick from.
Unsure whether you should plump for the iPhone 12 or a cheaper model? Then check out T3’s dedicated iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020) comparison feature.
Want to compare the iPhone 12 to last year’s Android champion?  Then check out T3’s Apple iPhone 12 vs OnePlus 8 Pro: which phone is best for you? guide.
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The best premium phone on the market today is the OnePlus 9 Pro.
(Image credit: OnePlus)
2. OnePlus 9 Pro
The best premium phone

Specifications
Weight: 197g
Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7 mm
OS: OxygenOS / Android 11
Screen size: 6.7 inches
Resolution: 3216×1400
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB / 12GB
Storage: 128 / 256GB
Battery: 4500 mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 50MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+Excellent 120Hz, QHD+, HDR10+ screen+Rapid internal hardware+Hasselblad designed camera system+Stylish design with great ergonomics
TODAY’S BEST DEALS
OnePlus blew everyone away last year with its OnePlus 8 Pro handset, which cemented its position at the top table of phone makers. The one area where that phone didn’t quite punch as hard as its rivals was camera system, though, so that is why this year’s new OnePlus 9 Pro has doubled down on camera system. And the results are excellent.
The camera system on the OnePlus 9 Pro is co-designed with photography master Hasselblad, and offers noticeably better color accuracy and detailing that previous handsets, as well as a feature-packed shooting system (both images and video, with video up to 8K 30fps possible) that competes with the best phones on the market today.
Away from camera system, the OnePlus 9 Pro is very much an evolution of the outgoing OnePlus 8 Pro, coming with a similar design and iterative specs bump for this year. That is no bad thing, though, as this handset’s design drips with premium and feels great in the hand.
The phone is powered by the latest flagship Android system-on-chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, and comes in two main configs, one with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space, and the other offering 12GB / 256GB respectively. The model T3 tested was the latter, and it delivered excellent benchmark scores and real world speed and performance, too.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is also a leader when it comes round to charging tech, with the firm’s 65 watt Warp Charge charging allowing the phone to be charged from 0-100 per cent in just 29 minutes.
Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (see below) is our hyper premium smartphone choice, but for those who aren’t fussed with super high level features like digital stylus support, and just want a premium smartphone that excels across the board, then the OnePlus 9 Pro is a great choice.
Today’s best OnePlus 9 Pro deals

The best budget phone on the market today is the superb value Apple iPhone SE (2020).
(Image credit: Apple)
3. Apple iPhone SE (2020)
The best budget phone

Specifications
Weight: 148g
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
OS: iOS 13
Screen size: 4.7 inches
Resolution: 750 x 1334 pixels
CPU: Apple A13 Bionic
RAM: 36GB
Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 1,821 mAh
Rear camera: 12 MP f/1.8
Front camera: 7 MP f/2.0
Reasons to buy
+Appealing design+Rapid hardware+Very affordable
TODAY’S BEST DEALS
It is fair to say that Apple’s iPhone SE (2020) handset has taken this year by storm in terms of praise, with the hot new handset winning critics over worldwide with its brilliant balance of features, quality and performance for a very attractive price point. Retailing for under half what Apple’s flagship phones do, this is easily the best budget handset we’ve ever seen from the American maker.
And, be under no illusion, this phone delivers. It’s CPU, for example, is the exact same A13 Bionic chipset that sits in all of Apple’s flagship phones, while it comes running Apple’s iOS 13 operating system just like those phones do, too. It is in many respects a full fat new iPhone experience but for a shockingly low price point.
Now, of course, you don’t get all the bells and whistles that you do with a true flagship iPhone, and the camera, battery and display isn’t quite as good as those on the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, but they all work and deliver strong results, so at the iPhone SE’s bargain price we feel that is a very fair trade-off.
If you are an Android user and are looking for a great new budget phone then, sure, there are even cheaper Android options on the market, but if you sit on the iOS side of the ecosystem divide and want a brand new phone upgrade for cheap, then the iPhone SE is an absolutely not brainer purchase.
Want to learn more about the iPhone SE (2020) while also seeing how it compares to a premium Android smartphone? Then check out T3’s OnePlus 8 Pro vs Apple iPhone SE (2020) comparison feature.
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The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra packs in everything and then some.
(Image credit: Samsung)
4. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The best hyper-premium smartphone on the market

Specifications
Weight: 229 g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm (6.5 x 2.98 x 0.35 in)
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8 inches
Resolution: 3200 x 1440
CPU: Exynos 2100 / Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB/16GB
Storage: 256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000 mAh
Rear camera: 108 MP, 10MP, 10MP, 12MP
Front camera: 40MP
Reasons to buy
+Superb 120Hz, WQHD+, HDR10+ screen+Hyper premium internal hardware+Versatile, feature-packed camera+S Pen digital stylus support
TODAY’S BEST DEALS
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is not only the best phone Samsung has ever made, but it is one that makes history as it is the first S-series handset that comes with digital stylus support. Just like on the Galaxy Note series of phones, the S21 Ultra can now be used in conjunction with a digital stylus, even though the phone does not come with one and, also unlike the Note series, a stylus can’t be stored in it.
Away from stylus functionality the phone is a 5-star beast in every single way, from its massive, premium display that delivers 6.8-inches of real estate with both a 120Hz refresh rate and WQHD+ resolution, to its 5nm system-on-chip in the form of the Exynos 2100 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, and right through to its RAM (max spec is 16GB) and large, long-lasting battery (5,000mAh).
The phone is also a titan in terms of photography, with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra coming with a super powerful quad rear camera system, as well as high-resolution (40MP) selfie camera. The main rear snapper on the S21 Ultra has a super advanced 108MP sensor which allows for insanely high-resolution shots.
There’s an absolute bounty of shooting modes, too, including a fully manual Pro mode as well as Panorama, AR Doodle, Food, Night, and Portrait among others. While Samsung’s excellent Single Take mode means that you can utilise the phone’s strong AI to capture multiple pictures of a single event, ensuring you don’t miss the perfect shot.
The camera goodness continues, too, in terms of the S21 Ultra’s telephoto zoom functionality, which allows for up to a remarkable 100x Space Zoom.
Throw in the very latest Android 11 operating system, as well as bevy of advanced features like the laptop-aping DeX Mode and reverse wireless charging, and you’re left with a phone that really has no weaknesses at all. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra costs, but it is absolutely worth the investment if you are looking for a premium phone upgrade.
To see how this handset stacks up against our best phone for most people, the iPhone 12,…
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