There’s never been a better time for smartphones. We’ve come a long way from the brick-shaped phones that came with a shoulder strap or had to be plugged into a car to use. Almost every smartphone is a thin, glass-covered rectangle with a high-res screen and ample performance.
But that’s a double-edged sword, as almost every phone looks and performs the same. Obviously, you want something a little more special or that offers the most features so you get the most bang for your buck. Luckily, we’ve seen and tested every new smartphone available today and can tell you which are the best.
We get that choosing the right phone is unlike any other device. After all, it’s something you rely on and have to use every day. Trust us, we won’t steer you the wrong way in your quest for the best smartphone.
TL;DR – These are the Best Smartphones:
1. iPhone 12
The iPhone 12 (read our review) really does it all. It’s stunningly well rounded. At $829, it’s not egregiously priced, yet you’re still getting Apple’s incredibly powerful A14 Bionic chipset. There’s ample performance in that chip for your day-to-day phone use as well as the most hardcore gaming you might want to do. The Super Retina XDR display may not have a high refresh rate, but it still looks great and gets bright enough for any occasion.
You’ll also get some solid cameras for making content on the iPhone 12. Your selfie’s will be on point, and the main rear camera on the iPhone 12 is about as competent as they come. For a little flexibility, there’s also an ultrawide camera on the rear. And, the cameras on the rear are able to capture footage in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR. You don’t have to question how that footage will turn out, either, as you can watch it back in Dolby Vision right on the phone’s display.
2. Google Pixel 4a 5G
Best Budget Smartphone
Google made a hard left to make its Pixel phones affordable again and we’re so glad it did. The Pixel 4a 5G is easily the best budget phone with its large 6.2-inch display and speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor. For $500 you’re also getting Google’s premium camera quality at a bargain not to mention all of the dictation, Duplex phone-calling, and other smart features – plus you’ll be at the front of the line for Android updates for years to come.
3. iPhone 12 Pro Max
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is Apple’s biggest and best smartphone yet. While most years, any iPhone Max would just be a bigger-screen version of the regular model, this handset offers some meaty upgrades. For starters, you get a bigger main camera sensor with built-in image stabilization at the sensor level. Additionally, the telephoto camera has a bit more reach with 2.5x zoom, rather than just 2x on the standard iPhone 12 Pro.
Of course, the other big bonus of the iPhone 12 Pro Max is having a larger 6.68-inch screen for watching all your HDR10 and Dolby Vision content without having to squint as much. The larger frame on this handset also means more battery life and you should be able to get through more than two days with its 3,687mAh battery.
4. OnePlus 9 Pro
Best Android Phone
The OnePlus 9 Pro (read our review) is a great phone and a fantastic example of the Android ecosystem. The phone is incredibly powerful, as it’s built on the Snapdragon 888 platform, so it can launch apps in a snap and it’s proven an exceptional multitasker with even heavy games sitting ready in memory after several minutes of dabbling in other apps. And, OnePlus’s OxygenOS continues to be one of the sleeker Android interfaces
The OnePlus 9 Pro has a compelling camera system that may not top the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s or Galaxy S21 Ultra’s but does manage to come close, and it actually offers one of the better ultra-wide cameras we’ve come across on a smartphone. OnePlus has built this all under an excellent display with a variable refresh rate that tops out at 120Hz. The fact that this phone comes at under $1,000 (and includes a very fast charger) just makes it that much more impressive, as it’s definitely competing with Apple’s and Samsung’s $1,000+ phones.
5. Asus ROG Phone 5
Best Gaming Phone
For a beast of a gaming phone, you’ll want to turn to the Asus ROG Phone 5 (read our review). The latest iteration from Asus brings the latest internals and speedy connectivity. The system is powered by a Snapdragon 888 chipset that’s fed by 16GB of LPDDR5 memory, so speed and capacity won’t be an issue. Games will also load from 256GB of fast, UFS 3.1 storage. And, when you need a reliable connection for gaming, you can enjoy 5G on the go or the latest Wi-Fi 6E connectivity. You’ll be able to get in some marathon gaming sessions thanks to the phone’s 6,000mAh battery, but you can keep playing even if it gets low as there’s actually a charging port on the side of the phone to stay out of the way of your grip.
Plenty of phones offer fast internals, though. It’s what Asus does on the outside that sets it apart for gaming. The Asus ROG Phone 5 has a zippy 144Hz AMOLED display that scans for touch inputs even faster than that. Asus also includes more controls so you’re not stuck handling all the complicated controls of games with just your thumbs. There are two ultrasonic side buttons that can work like triggers or even handle swipe gestures. And, there’s a motion control system that will let you set up 10 different phone movements to correspond with in-game controls – think tilt to turn. Heck, there’s even RGB lighting on the back of the phone.
6. Google Pixel 5
Best Camera Phone
Google is still king of the castle when it comes to mobile photography and thankfully getting its flagship smartphone costs less than ever at $699. The Google Pixel 5 is an amazing smartphone that still manages to capture photos with more detail and color without heavily softening and over saturating shots. What’s more, it still delivers the best looking night photography and portrait shots.
The Google Pixel 5 is also uniquely the only aluminum-clad smartphone that can wireless charge both itself and anything you put on its backside. Of course, the biggest boon of having is Pixel phone is all the Google Assistant features and priority access to Android updates.
7. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
If you’re just looking for the biggest screen phone you can possibly buy, nothing beats the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (read our review). The company has been seriously testing the limits of our pockets and its latest flagship Note features a 6.9-inch (1,440 x 3,088) AMOLED display that’s big, gorgeous, and it supports HDR10+.
Of course, the Note 10 Plus’ other hat trick is it’s the best device for taking down notes thanks to its built-in stylus and refined software. Otherwise, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a serious powerhouse of a phone that can let you run up to three apps at the same time and not break a sweat while doing so.
8. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Best High-End Smartphone
If paying a high price for a smartphone isn’t a concern, then you’ll want the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (read our review). This phone can really do it all and improves upon 2020’s Galaxy S20 Ultra in some meaningful ways. You’ll have to deal with it being a sizable phone, but you’ll get a large 6.7-inch display with a high resolution and an adaptive refresh rate range from 10Hz up to 120Hz (and there’s no need to sacrifice resolution to hit 120Hz this time around).
The phone is incredibly fast with its Snapdragon 888 chipset and can access the fastest 5G networks from low-band up to mmWave. Then there are the cameras, all five of them. The selfie camera is sharp and does the job thoroughly well. Meanwhile, the rear cameras offer a versatile shooting experience you won’t find matched on almost any other phone. With an ultra-wide, wide, 3x telephoto, and 10x telephoto, you get tons of control over what you get into your shot. The difference true optical zoom at 10x makes is hard to ignore once you’ve seen it in action.
What’s Next for Smartphones
There will always be new smartphones coming to spice up the market, but one thing can make a big impact for a bunch of phones at once: operating system updates. Both Android and iOS have big updates coming with Android 12 and iOS 15 on the horizon.
Google I/O 2021 had similar news for Android. Most notably, Android 12 is going to be coming with a massive overhaul to the UI design. Google is introducing a new UI called Material You, which will give users a bunch of control over design elements like line thicknesses and color palettes that can quickly be implemented system-wide. Android 12 will also introduce a new privacy dashboard to help you keep an eye on your app permissions and what data of yours is being accessed.
At WWDC 2021, Apple showed off some of the upgrades coming with iOS 15. Apple plans to make it easier to stay in the zone with a new Focus mode that lets you limit notifications to select apps, reorganize your home screen for specific workflows, and set custom Do Not Disturb modes, plus you’ll get the option to create multiple focus modes to fit your varying needs. The cameras will also get a new Live Text feature that allows them to turn text they see into digital text you can select, copy, and translate. Your Apple Wallet will also be able to store a digital ID card. A few upgrades are also coming to Apple Maps and Apple Weather.
Kevin Lee is IGN’s Hardware and Roundups Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam
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