Best mobile phone 2021: Our picks of this year’s best 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 especially as we head into the busiest season for new phone releases. We add new phones all the time, but only if they score well in our in-depth reviews.
Samsung launched the Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra in January and, with the three models now available we have updated this list now our full reviews are complete. Big phones coming in the next few months should include Oppo Find X3 Pro, OnePlus 9 and the UK release of the Xiaomi Mi 11.
Apple fans should check out our breakdown of the best iPhones. If Google’s OS is your operating system of choice then our guide to the best Android phones has you covered. If mobile photography is a priority, then jump to our best camera phone guide – and, finally, if budget is an issue then check out our curated picks of the best cheap phones.
Scroll down to see our pick of the best phones of 2021 so far.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – Best Android Mobile Phone
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 Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 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.
Oppo Find X2 Pro – Best Mobile Phone
Best Mobile Winner Trusted Reviews Awards 2020
- Generous storage
- 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.
Battery and Charging
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 Pixel 5 and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
iPhone 12 – Best iPhone for Most People
The best iPhone for most people
- Fantastic new design, reminiscent of the iPhone 5
- Exceptional performance
- 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 A14 Bionic chip, which adds 5G connectivity 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 iPhone 11.
The downside is that, unlike the Galaxy S20, OnePlus 8T or Pixel 5 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 iPhone 12 Pro Max.
For those for whom screen size isn’t a priority, and who wish to save some cash, may also be tempted by the iPhone 12 Mini. It shares the same core specs as the regular iPhone 12, but comes with a smaller form factor and lower price tag.
Samsung Galaxy S21/S21 Plus – The ‘go-to’ Android phone in two sizes
A more affordable Samsung flagship
- Much more affordable
- Still a great screen (and it’s flat)
- Snappy performance
- 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 Samsung Galaxy S21 and its larger Galaxy S21 Plus counterpart are 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, both the S21 and S21 Plus 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.
While the Plus model is all glass, the less-expensive S21 has a plastic back. The WQHD+ resolution has also been swapped out for a FHD+ display. That said, the 6.2-inch (S21) and 6.7-inch (S21 Plus) OLED displays are 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.
Both of these S21 models pack 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 you can capture video up to 8K. 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.
Xiaomi Mi 11 – Best value Snapdragon 888 phone
- Strong display
- Excellent performance in all areas
- Affordable for a Snapdragon 888 phone
- Quick to charge
- Very big with no smaller option
- The software is buggy
- No IP rating
The Xiaomi Mi 11 is a strong alternative to the Galaxy S21 if you want a bigger screen and faster charging.
The display is the star here and doesn’t fall too short of the panel used on the S21 Ultra. At 6.81-inches it’s large and it packs a 1440p resolution, HDR support and a 120Hz refresh rate to give you smooth scrolling and responsive gaming.
Processor and specs
Like the display, the internal and camera specs are high-end here. This is, currently, the most affordable Snapdragon 888 device and it’s paired with 8GB RAM and up to 256GB storage.
It’s very speedy too, with any app or game playing with ease. There’s really nothing that can push this phone too far. You’ve also got 5G support if you’re using the phone in a supported area.
There’s a main 108MP camera (along with two other sensors, which aren’t quite so good) on the back that takes decent pictures and 65w charging that’ll give you a full charge in about 40 minutes.
The most disappointing part of the Xiaomi Mi 11 is the software, which is both a little too buggy and a little too frustrating. Apps crash, wallpapers randomly change, notifications take an age to appear and there’s too much bloatware.
Realme X50 5G – Best Value Mobile Phone
- 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
- Glass back
- 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 Moto G8 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 OnePlus Nord, whose only real drawback is a slightly slower 90Hz screen, and the Moto G 5G Plus, which feels slightly chunkier in hand but is otherwise an excellent device.
Best Mobile Phone Technical Specifications
If you’re on a mobile device, this table is scrollable:
|Best Mobile Phone Specifications||Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra||Oppo Find X2 Pro||iPhone 12||Samsung Galaxy S21||Realme X50 5G|
|RRP Price ($)||$1,199||$1,299||$799||$799||–|
|RRP Price (£)||£1,149||£1,099||£799||£769||£299|
|RRP Price (€)||€1,249||–||€809||€849||€350|
|Release date||January 2021||February 2020||October 2020||January 2021||July 2020|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 888(US)/Exynos 21000 (UK, Europe)||Snapdragon 865||Apple A14 Bionic||Snapdragon 888(US)/Exynos 21000 (UK, Europe)||Snapdragon 765G|
|Rear camera||108MP wide, 2x 10MP telephoto and 12MP ultra wide||48MP wide, 13MP telephoto, 48MP ultra wide||12MP wide, 12MP ultra wide||12MP wide, 64MP telephoto||48MP wide, 8MP ultra wide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth|
|Screen Type||AMOLED||OLED||OLED||AMOLED||IPS LED|
|Screen Size||3200 x 1440||3168 x 1440||2532 x 1170||2400 x 1080||2400 x 1080|
|Software||Android 11||Android 10 (upgrade to Android 11)||iOS 14||Android 11||Android 10|
How do we select the best mobile phone?
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 how we test phones.
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Deputy and mobile editor
Max Parker is the Deputy Editor for Trusted Reviews and Recombu. He also directly manages Trusted Reviews’ mobile, wearables and tablet sections. Max joined Trusted Reviews as a features writer in 201…
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