Once upon a time, you could buy a decent landline telephone for $30. Today, investing in a new smartphone can cost you anywhere from $300 to $1,000. The best smartphones aren’t just telecommunication devices; they’re cameras, computers, speakers, media players and status symbols. As smartphones become incredibly advanced (there is more technology in a modern smartphone than what was on board the Apollo 11 mission), it can be difficult to wade through all of the new features, technology and display sizes.
Choosing the best smartphone for you can be a real challenge. Even if you’re a dedicated Apple loyalist, do you go for the iPhone 12 Mini, the iPhone 12 Pro Max or the iPhone SE? Before you drop into our recommendations, here are some factors to consider when choosing the top smartphones of 2020:
- Premium flagship phones are usually $1,000 or more, but there are also fantastic budget options starting at just $350.
- If taking Instagram-worthy photos is your jam, you’ll want the phone with the best camera. The best smartphone cameras can now shoot 4K video and capture professional-quality photos even in the dark.
- 5G is here . . . sort of. A 5G phone will help you future-proof, which means you won’t have to upgrade your phone in a couple of years. That being said, the lack of 5G shouldn’t be a deal-breaker right now.
- Are you team iPhone or team Android? Regardless, we have premium and budget options below for both styles.
Smartphones are one of the few areas in tech where you really can get a premium device at budget prices. Sure, a budget phone like the iPhone SE might not have the same wide-angle camera system as the iPhone 11 Pro, but its camera is still incredibly powerful. On top of that, the processing chip inside the SE is the same as the one you’ll find in the iPhone 11 Pro. Then there’s Google’s Pixel 4a, which has a camera that snaps better pictures than most high-end phones at a fraction of the price. Just know that if you’re on a budget, you can still afford top-rated cell phones, whether they’re budget Androids or budget iPhones.
The Best Smartphones of 2021
Narrowing down the best smartphones to five options isn’t easy. The market is full of fantastic phones from Samsung, Apple and Google, as well as mid-tier brands like OnePlus and Huawei. However, when you compare the specs, prices and features, five clear winners rise above the rest.
Here are our picks for the best smartphones for sale in 2021. Regardless of budget, or flavor of OS, these smartphones are the cream of the crop. Keep reading for the top cell phones from Apple, Samsung and Google.
1. iPhone 12 Mini
Simply put, phones have gotten too big. And when you consider the pro models of the iPhone are encased in steel, they’re also getting too heavy. And so while Apple is still forging ahead with gigantic phones, the iPhone 12 Mini feels like a warning shot that times are changing. Thanks to the 5.4-inch edge-to-edge display, the iPhone Mini 12 is closer in size to the iPhone 5 than any model that’s been released since. And that doesn’t come at the expense of performance, which tends to be the case in the smartphone world.
This phone offers up all the same performance as the iPhone 12, which includes the A14 chip, 4 GB of RAM, a beautiful Retina display, and a camera that’s capable of vibrant and detailed photos. While it may not have all the top-end features and specs of the Pro series, it has the ones which matter most, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have a flagship option that isn’t a six-inch behemoth.
Pros: Matches the bigger iPhone 12 spec for spec. Camera produces beautiful photos. It’s also the most affordable iPhone 12.
Cons: Battery life is solid, but it doesn’t last as long as the other iPhone 12 models due to smaller size.
2. Samsung S20+
Although there are three models in the S20 family (Ultra, +, and S20), the S20+ strikes just the right balance of 5G performance without unwieldy size. The 6.7-inch AMOLED screen is brighter than its predecessors and boasts a 120Hz refresh rate for ultra-smooth scrolling and video. And let’s not forget about the incredible four-camera system with unmatched zooming capabilities. The icing on the cake: the S20+ is currently the only phone available to handle all 5G frequency bands. It’s a premium phone worth every penny, and with a camera that rivals the iPhone 11 Pro. Right now, you can save $200 on the Samsung S20+ if you purchase from Amazon.
Pros: It sports 5G support, unlike Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro. True all-day battery life. The ultra-fast refresh rate for smooth scrolling. Incredible camera system.
Cons: The 6.7-inch display along with the four-camera system can feel overbearing. High price tag. Screen resolution has to be downgraded to 1080p to enjoy the 120Hz refresh rate.
3. iPhone SE
BEST BUDGET BUY
With a much smaller size and the return of Touch ID, the budget iPhone SE was the iPhone many of us were waiting for. But don’t let the smaller size and price point fool you; the iPhone SE has the same A13 chip found in the iPhone 11 Pro, meaning the iPhone SE is as practical as it is powerful. Even though there is only a single camera on the back of the phone, you still get to reap the benefits of Portrait Mode, Depth Control and smart lighting. We’ve been asking for a budget iPhone for forever, and Apple finally delivered.
Pros: The 4.7-inch screen is a delight to hold with one hand. The return of Touch ID is a welcome one. Same processing power as iPhone 11 Pro.
Cons: The camera isn’t nearly as powerful as premium iPhone or Samsung phones. The battery life falls short of premium phones, too.
4. OnePlus 8 Pro
For a good chunk less than Samsung’s flagship S20+, the OnePlus 8 display also refreshes at 120Hz for ultra-smooth scrolling, and it does so at max resolution. It even has the speedy Snapdragon 865 chip found in the Samsung S20+. And it’s the first OnePlus phone to support wireless charging. Speaking of the battery, it lasts all day, too. Sure, the camera isn’t as powerful as some of the best Android smartphones, but it’s still capable of taking gorgeous, Instagram-worthy photos.
Pros: Speedy Snapdragon 865 chip provides great performance. The 11-hour battery life is fantastic. The display is among the best on any phone we’ve seen.
Cons: Even with four cameras, the performance isn’t as great as the likes of Samsung and iPhone. Although it does have 5G, it doesn’t support all frequency bands.
5. Google Pixel 4a
The Google Pixel 4a has a premium camera system (Google’s photo-processing software is second to none), so it’s pretty unreal that you can pick up this budget Android phone for under $400. Google is constantly updating its Android OS and suite of apps, which means your phone will continue to remain speedy even with the newest features. And in a world of massive screens, we often forget how nice the likes of a mid-size 5.8-inch display can feel in your hand and pocket. For all you smartphone photographers on a budget, you won’t find a better deal than the Google Pixel 4a.
Pros: Incredible camera for around $350. With constant software updates, you always get the latest features.
Cons: The screen isn’t quite as bright as premium phones, and it doesn’t have wireless charging.
What's the Best iPhone to buy in 2020? We put Apple's smartphones head-to-head