Best Smartphones of 2021

Searching for a smartphone 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 a 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 15 of the 60 models currently in CR’s ratings have earned our recommendation. The top 20 are separated by just a few points.

So which is the 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 iPhone

Apple’s latest supersized flagship phone improves upon its predecessor by adding a high-refresh-rate display that makes animations appear much smoother than before, a macro photography mode that makes it easier to take close-up photos of objects like flowers and pets, and a new video mode that automatically blurs the background of your subject, creating a dramatic effect.

While the 13 Pro Max will cost you $100 more than the 13 Pro, it packs in several more hours of battery life (53 vs. 40) and a bigger display (6.7 inches vs. 6.1 inches). The cameras are equally capable. (With last year’s iPhone 12 Pro models, you have to step up to the Max to get the best camera technology.)

On the flip side, the Max version is significantly heavier than the regular iPhone 13 Pro, and it 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 13 Pro.

The iPhone 13 series also includes the less feature-rich iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini. And if you don’t need the latest and greatest iPhone, you can go with the previous-generation iPhone 12, which is now roughly $100 less expensive than when it debuted in 2020. One year later, it’s still a great smartphone.

Get more information on the phones with the best cameras.

Best Android Phone

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. The 6.9-inch screen is huge, but the phone’s stylus helps make all that real estate more manageable.

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.

Check out these other great Android smartphones.

Best Low-Priced Smartphone

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 smartphones 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 the N10 is 5G-capable, it 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.

Learn more about great low-priced smartphones.

Best Android Phone for Battery Life

At just under 53 hours, Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max has the longest battery life out of all the smartphones in our ratings. Its smaller sibling, the iPhone 13 Pro, clocks in at 40 hours.

But there are great, very long-lasting smartphones for Android users, too.

Take the OnePlus N100, which comes in at just under 49 hours. It’s a budget model with midrange scores in terms of display, performance, and camera quality. But when you’re spending less than $200, it’s hard to complain.

If you’re willing to go up in price, you might also consider the Samsung A52 5G. For $500, it delivers an Excellent 6.5-inch display, speedy performance, reasonable camera quality, and a battery that lasts 45 hours. Not too shabby.

Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

Nicholas De Leon

I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).