Best Smartphones of 2021

Searching for a model with great battery life? Awesome cameras? A truly affordable price? Take a look at these options.

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details of the camera lenses of 3 different smartphones Photo: Consumer Reports

Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest flagship device or a more modest model for basic talking and texting, there’s no shortage of well-made smartphones on our ratings list (available to CR members).

Consumer Reports tests dozens of models each year, checking the basics, including how long the batteries last and how bright the displays are, along with premium features such as multicamera setups and the hinges on “foldable” phones.

But even the most lackluster of smartphones represents an epic leap in technology from a decade ago. And that means you don’t have to buy the No.1-rated phone to get a great product.

All but 14 of the 50 models currently in CR’s ratings have earned our recommendation. The top 20 are separated by just nine points.

So which is best smartphone for you? Well, that depends. Are you willing to spend a little or a lot? Is daylong battery life your first priority, or is it a cutting-edge camera setup?

To help you out, here’s a range of smart options, based on our extensive lab testing.

Best Smartphones of 2021

Apple’s latest supersized flagship phone features a faster processor, a supersharp OLED display, top-notch cameras, and, for the first time, 5G connectivity.

That last factor eliminates a once-prominent shortfall for Apple, allowing the 12 Pro Max to go toe-to-toe with high-end as well as certain moderately priced Android phones with 5G hardware.

And it gives iPhone users an incentive, after a few years of largely incremental improvements, to upgrade their phones.

While the 12 Pro Max will cost you $100 more than its smaller sibling, the 12 Pro, it packs in several more hours of battery life, a slightly larger display, and a 2.5x zoom camera that gets you just a hair closer to the action than the 12 Pro’s 2x camera.

On the flip side, the Max version is significantly heavier and can be tough to use one-handed, even for people with long fingers. If you’re wary of bulky phones, you might be happier with the 12 Pro.

But, just a heads-up, fall will be here soon. New iPhones are almost certain to launch in September. So unless you absolutely need a new phone right now, it makes sense wait. Even if you’re fine with one of the current models, their prices will almost certainly be lower once the new versions roll out.

For more info on the phones with the best cameras, click here.

Samsung has long reigned as king of the Android smartphone market, but for the past couple of years, its models have started to blend together a bit.

The Korean tech giant was one of the first companies to add 5G connectivity to its devices, but there haven’t been many big changes since then.

While this year’s Galaxy S21 phones do great in our testing, the most mind-blowing thing about them is that they cost $200 less than last year’s comparable models. And the Galaxy Note20 Ultra remains the top-scoring Android phone in CR’s ratings.

Yes, as far as size goes it’s a monster, but its stylus helps make all that real estate more manageable (and I’ve always enjoyed the ability to doodle little notes on the lock screen).

Of course, you also get those premium big-phone perks we’ve all come to expect: great battery life, a fancy zoom camera (in this case a 5x), and a Netflix-worthy display.

On top of that, you don’t have to worry about missing out on a new and improved Note this summer. While Samsung hasn’t said that it’s discontinuing the Note, it’s not expected to release new versions in August, as it has in the past.

For more info on other great Android options, click here.

Never heard of OnePlus? You’re not alone. But the company’s phones are worth your consideration. And at $300, the Nord N10 is the cheapest option out there for people who want 5G connectivity.

The phone receives an Excellent rating for performance, and its battery lasts a very impressive 41.5 hours in our testing.

The downsides? This is one of the few current models not designed to be water-resistant. The cameras receive ratings of just Good from our testers, which puts them far behind the pack, even when compared solely with moderately priced models.

And while it’s 5G-capable, the N10 supports only the slower, though arguably more reliable, low- and midband frequencies, and doesn’t include the hardware needed for the faster millimeter wave technology.

For more info on great low-priced smartphones, click here.

As you’d expect, with a price of just over $200, the Nord N100 isn’t very fancy. But it does pack in an epic amount of battery life.

The N100 lasts a whopping 48.5 hours in our testing. That’s slightly more than two days and easily the longest stretch in our ratings.

But beyond that, you largely get what you pay for. While it does get Very Good ratings for display quality and performance, the phone has some of the lowest-rated cameras we’ve tested recently.

It’s unclear whether the cameras on the recently launched Nord N200 are any better. That phone came out earlier in the summer, and our experts are still in the process of testing it.

Other battery-life champs that rate higher overall include the moderately priced Samsung Galaxy A71 (43 hours) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (41 hours).

For more info on phones with great battery life, click here.

Bree Fowler

Bree Fowler

I write about all things "cyber" and your right to privacy. Before joining Consumer Reports, I spent 16 years reporting for The Associated Press. What I enjoy: cooking and learning to code with my kids. I've lived in the Bronx for more than a decade, but as a proud Michigan native, I will always be a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan no matter how much my family and I get harassed at Yankee Stadium. Follow me on Twitter (@BreeJFowler).