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The best smartphones of 2021

The best smartphones come in both iOS and Android. Maybe you want a flagship phone that is the best of the best out there. You might be looking for something more moderately priced that is the right fit for budget and features. Most of the phones on this list have 5G, but some don’t. Most of the phones on this list have multiple camera sensors, but some of them don’t. We have a wide range of phones here that can fit your needs. Which phone will be best for you? Read on to find out.

Samsung Galaxy S21

The top of the line for the Samsung line of smartphones is the Galaxy S21 series, which comes in three flavors, the S21, the S21 Plus, and the S21 Ultra.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch FHD+ screen at 120Hz with great viewing angles. The Snapdragon 888 processor is the top of the line from Qualcomm, which is about 9% faster than the previous generation of Samsung smartphones.
On the camera front, Samsung still packs a great set of optics. There’s a 12-megapixel main sensor, a 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor, and a 64-megapixel telephoto zoom lens at 3X. They are very adept at capturing excellent detail in ample lighting, but still capable of producing very good low-light results in most scenarios. Samsung has a tendency to punch up its photos, and that’s definitely true here: the vibrant results sometimes make photos look more appealing, but can occasionally look a bit unnatural or over-brightened.” All told, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is one of the best smartphones you can buy today.

Apple iPhone 12

On the Apple side, the iPhone 12 is the latest and greatest from Apple. New to the iPhone this year is a great design and 5G technology. The iPhone’s design is a throwback to the iPhone 4’s squared-off design, and it looks really sharp in 2021. The A14 Bionic chip is a beast and on benchmarks scores even higher than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. We’d also like to see a charging brick in the box.
The camera setup on the iPhone 12 includes a 12-megapixel sensor for both the main and the ultra-wide cameras. The colors are balanced on both sensors meaning you find very little color variation between the two cameras. Our reviewer writes, “loads of detail, well-judged colors, and effortless adaptability to all scenarios. Even night shots turn out well, maintaining a surprising amount of detail without looking washed out in the process of brightening up a dark moment.”

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The absolute top of the class for the Samsung Galaxy S21 line is the S21 Ultra. You’ll get the same performance you get with the Galaxy S21 we detailed above. The phone itself is huge, with a 6.8-inch screen and a 5,000 mAh battery. That gives you great battery life but also fills up every inch of your pants pocket. You will not want to ride roller coasters with this phone.
The phone is also quite expensive. Adding insult to injury, you will not get you a charger in the box.

There are four cameras on the back. You’ve got a 108MP main camera, a 12 MP Ultrawide, and two 10 MP optical zoom lenses at 3x and 10x. The main difference between the S21 and the S21 Ultra is the optical zoom lenses, and they are awesome. If you’re someone who values zoom photography or videography, or even astrophotography, this is simply the best smartphone camera you can get.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Leading the pack in the value phone space is the iPhone SE (2020). This is a tiny little powerhouse that carries the A13 Bionic processor from the iPhone 11. It was Apple’s flagship processor at the time and it’s surprising to come in such a small and affordable package. From a benchmark perspective, the A13 Bionic beats out even 2021 flagships like the Galaxy S21. The iPhone SE boasts all of the power of the iPhone 11 including the same RAM and storage options but has just a 4.7-inch display and TouchID-enabled home button. Apple also included a single 12MP camera which is as good as a single camera can be in this day and age.

Some call the design of the iPhone SE dated since it apes the iPhone 6. But the iPhone SE is mostly for people who don’t want a gigantic phone and who still want a fingerprint sensor without giving up everything that makes the iPhone 11 great. For the most part, this is a mission accomplished. Apple had to leave 5G out of the phone, and wouldn’t debut a 5G phone until six months later in the iPhone 12. 

The battery life is also not the greatest on this phone. The smaller battery has trouble making it through the day, but it does offer wireless charging which is a nice bonus not often seen in this form factor.

Google Pixel 4a Review

Google Pixel phones are well known for their camera proficiency including AI-enhanced photos and neat tricks like astrophotography. Moreover, Google Pixel phones are Google’s best foot forward when it comes to how Android “should be.” Google also sweetens the pot with periodic Feature Drops which add little extras like AI-powered call screening. The A-series of Pixels tend to be a little lighter in power, but beyond that, they give you a great Android experience.

The Google Pixel 4a is no exception. The Snapdragon 730G is a mid-range processor that’s paired with 6GB of RAM. by itself it won’t blow you away, but Android runs super smooth on the device and delivers all-day battery life and solid performance. As for the single camera, our reviewer Andrew writes, “the one camera here is so consistent that I’d take it over the multi-camera modules of much more expensive phones with underwhelming cameras.”
For now, at under $350 the Pixel 4a is one of the best phones you can buy at that price point. If you love pure Android and you’re working with a budget, snap this up fast.

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