Buying a new phone can be a chore, but we’ve done the work for you

BEST IPHONE TO BUY IN 2021

1. APPLE IPHONE 12

Apple has released four different variations of the iPhone 12, more than it ever has at one time. Despite all of those choices, the traditional, regular model is still a good pick.

The 12 has the same overall design, the same processor, the same wireless charging, the same Face ID system, the same 5G support, the same front camera, and the same main and wide-angle rear cameras as the pricier 12 Pro but for hundreds of dollars less. On top of all that, it comes in five colors, one more than you can choose from in the Pro models.

Compared to the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12 has a noticeably roomier display and a bigger battery — two things that are important to many people. At 6.1 inches, it’s big enough to make watching a video and reading text comfortable and engaging, but it isn’t so big that it’s terribly hard to use in one hand or fit in your pocket. Battery life is also very good; you can reliably expect this phone to last all day without needing to charge up before bed.

The 12 gives up the telephoto camera that’s available on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, but that’s something not everyone will miss. The iPhone 12’s camera system is the best you can get in this price range and is excellent at most anything you’d use it for. It also has the ability to shoot Dolby Vision HDR for brighter and more dynamic video.

Since the 12 has Apple’s latest smartphone processor, the A14 Bionic, it has extremely fast performance and fluid animations. It also has a sleeker, more modern design than the previous iPhone 11 or iPhone XR, which feel frumpy in comparison.

In all, the iPhone 12 is an easy choice for most people: it offers top-level performance, design, and camera features, while providing reliable battery life for less money than other options on the market.

2. SAMSUNG GALAXY S21 ULTRA

BEST ANDROID PHONE TO BUY IN 2021

If neither size nor price is a concern, the best Android phone you can buy right now is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. With a big 6.8-inch screen and the best cameras you can get on an Android phone, it’s the no-compromise pick. In some cases, its cameras can even best the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with the latest and best specs you can get on Android. It has the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, which is the fastest you can get on Android. It features support for S Pen styluses if you prefer to use a pen with your phone, although it’s sold separately. The screen has a high refresh rate, which makes scrolling much smoother. It also has a huge battery that will last two days without much effort.

Samsung updated the design of the S21 Ultra, with a metal rail that curves naturally into the camera bump on the back. It is the best-looking big phone you can get right now. However, we can’t say we like Samsung’s software as much, which at the moment is a bit cluttered and features ads in places like the weather app.

That camera bump houses four cameras: a regular wide-angle with a 108-megapixel sensor, an ultrawide, and two different telephoto lenses. This makes it an incredibly versatile camera system that also has a ton of advanced video features like Pro modes and 8K recording.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a very expensive phone. Thankfully, Samsung phones are discounted early and often. If you are in the market for one, it’s worth looking around for a deal before buying.

3. SAMSUNG GALAXY S21 / S21 PLUS

BEST ANDROID PHONE TO FIND A DEAL FOR

Although the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus don’t post the big numbers the S21 Ultra does, they are still our picks right now for best Android phones under a thousand bucks. The regular Galaxy S21 with a 6.2-inch screen starts at $800 while the Plus version with a 6.7-inch screen starts at $1,000. However, both are frequently discounted with either price drops or bundles, so these are great candidates for hunting down sales.

The Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus are essentially identical phones with three differences: screen size, battery size, and materials. We’ve reviewed the regular Galaxy S21 and found it to be a very competent phone even though you could argue it’s a minor refresh over last year’s Galaxy S20.

However, Samsung refreshed the important part: the processor is the same Snapdragon 888 as the Ultra. That means the Galaxy S21 is super fast and should last more than a couple of years without slowing down.

There are likely more great Android phones coming soon but right now, the Android phone that strikes the best balance of features and price is the S21.

4. APPLE IPHONE 12 PRO MAX

BEST PHONE FOR PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO IN 2021

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the best camera system you can currently get on a smartphone. Its three rear cameras — standard wide, ultrawide, and telephoto — combine with Apple’s image processing to produce stunning images, even in poor lighting. If camera quality is your most important factor when buying a phone, the 12 Pro Max is where you should be spending your money.

The big difference between the 12 Pro Max and the other iPhone 12 models is found in its main camera sensor. The 12 Pro Max has a physically larger camera sensor that allows it to gather more light and produce better-quality images when in dark or challenging lighting conditions. In addition, the 12 Pro Max has an improved image stabilization system that helps keep your images sharp as light levels drop.

But unless camera quality is all you care about, the 12 Pro Max isn’t the best iPhone for most people. It’s enormous, and the squared sides make it feel even bigger than its spec sheet implies. Most people will be happier with the smaller but still large-screened iPhone 12.

5. APPLE IPHONE 12 MINI

BEST SMALL SMARTPHONE IN 2021

There’s really only one reason to buy an iPhone 12 mini, but it’s an important one: if you want a phone that’s easier to use in one hand or put into a small pocket. The iPhone 12 mini is the only small phone on the market with top-tier features and specs; you don’t have to compromise in performance, build quality, or cameras with this one.

Though it’s much smaller in size than the other iPhones released this year, the mini’s 5.4-inch screen is still big enough for text messaging, email, web browsing, apps, video, and games, and if you’re coming from an iPhone 6 / 7 / 8, it will feel quite spacious. But it’s also small enough that most adults, even those with small hands, will be able to comfortably reach all of the screens with their thumb. You won’t need a PopSocket on this one.

6. SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 20 ULTRA

If you’re looking for the best phone to go from morning to night with heavy use and last through it all, Samsung’s top-of-the-line Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the one to get. It has a massive 4,500mAh battery that keeps its enormous 6.9-inch screen going as long as you need it to.

The Note 20 Ultra is also a high-end phone in every other respect. Its giant screen supports a 120Hz refresh rate for smooth interactions; its triple rear camera system is one of the most advanced you can get; and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus processor and 12GB of RAM allow it to perform without a hiccup. In addition, it supports Samsung’s S Pen for stylus input, allowing you to write or doodle on the screen with a pen instead of your finger.

Although you can now use a stylus with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, it isn’t built into the phone as it is here on the Note 20 Ultra. Depending on Samsung’s plans, this may be the last “Ultra” version of the Note, too — though rumors have been conflicting on that front.

10. SAMSUNG GALAXY Z FOLD 2

BEST FOLDING PHONE IN 2021

Folding phones have been around for less than two years and have already seen their share of controversies. But if you are interested in buying one and are willing to pay the hefty price required, there’s really only one model worth considering: Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2.

The Fold 2 is Samsung’s second-generation folding phone. Its main premise is this: it is sized like a normal smartphone that fits in your pocket, but it unfolds to reveal a tablet-sized 7.6-inch display on the inside. That inside screen makes everything from reading books to browsing the web to watching video to playing games more enjoyable and immersive. When you’re done using it, just fold it back up and stick it in your pocket just like any other phone.

That flexibility is unmatched by any other phone you can buy right now, but it doesn’t come without a significant list of compromises. The Fold 2 is twice as thick when closed compared to normal phones, and its outside screen is much smaller than what you’re probably used to. It is also delicate; there’s no rated dust or water resistance, and its inner screen is more likely to get damaged if you poke it too hard.