09 Mar Best Android Phones to buy in February 2021: Samsung, OnePlus,
We’ve used 100s of phones, and here are our picks for the Best Android Phones you can buy right now!
New year, new beginning — new phone? As the world collectively tries to erase 2020 from their memory, it’s worth starting 2021 afresh. If you’re on the market for a phone and you have some disposable income to spare, there are a lot of great options as Android phones get better and better.
The best part? Premium flagships in 2021 are shaping up to be less expensive than their 2020 counterparts. So without further ado, here are our expert guide on the best phones to get depending on your need!
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Best Android Phone Overall: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Last year’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was our pick for best Android phone of 2020, so it’s no surprise the Galaxy S21 Ultra — which improves on the Note 20 Ultra in several ways — takes the top spot so far on this list in early 2021.
Truth be told, it’s going to be tough for other phones to knock the Galaxy S21 Ultra off the list because it’s a near-flawless slab smartphone. It’s got everything — the latest flagship processor? Check. The best and most versatile camera system around? Yup. Premium design in look and feel? You bet. Heck, the Galaxy S21 Ultra even supports the S-Pen for the first time ever in an S-series phone. I’m of the belief that the smartphone industry is slowly pivoting to a foldable/rollable future, and these slab smartphones may be in their final year or two of being the default form factor. If that is the case, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is about the pinnacle of the slab phone right now.
- The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate overkill in the new 2021 flagship series, packing in a flagship SoC, a premium build, a great display, and an amazing camera setup, as well as all the extras expected on a premium flagship.
Best Android Phone for most people: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
While the Galaxy S21 Ultra is, in our opinion, the best slab smartphone money can buy, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE from 2020 is likely the phone for most people as it still gives you much of what makes a Samsung flagship great. This includes that 120Hz Super AMOLED display, a responsive and well-thought-out UX, and well-performing cameras — except the Galaxy S20 FE is half the price of Samsung’s premium flagships.
You’ll have to make do with a plastic body and just Snapdragon 865 instead of the Snapdragon 888/Exynos 2100, but these are concessions we think most people would be alright with if it saves them $600-$700.
- If you’re a fan of Samsung’s flagships but have found the four-digit prices hard to stomach, the Galaxy S20 FE is for you. Compromises are far and few between in this sleek and powerful mid-ranger with a 120Hz Super AMOLED screen!
Best Samsung Galaxy Phones for every budget and need
Best Android Phone for software and speed: OnePlus 8 Pro
OnePlus is a brand that’s always been all about speed, and the OnePlus 8 Pro is once again the fastest phone on the market, at least till more flagships come out this year. Everything – from the way apps launch at rocket speed to how the notification panel whips up and down along with your finger swipes – even the UI here has been optimized for speed. The effect looks extra fluid this year thanks to a 120Hz panel too.
When it comes to OnePlus’ UI, OxygenOS, it’s not just about speed: it’s also, in my opinion, the best Android skin around, with plenty of customization and shortcut gestures galore. Want to use multiple different icon packs on one home screen? Or change the accent color scheme of your app drawer? Or hide apps in plain sight with a simple swipe? OxygenOS offers more ways to use Android, even more so than Google’s stock UI.
The rest of the hardware is top-notch, too, although the phone looks a bit boring due to the recycled back design. For the first time in a OnePlus phone, the OnePlus 8 Pro gets wireless charging and IP68 water resistance certification. These new additions go well with the improved camera system and the beloved alert slider hardware button.
- OnePlus phones have always been able to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in terms of overall performance, and the OnePlus 8 Pro is no exception. A large 120Hz AMOLED screen, Snapdragon 865, and a 48MP ultra-wide-angle camera provide more details than the less pixel-dense ultra-wides seen in many rivals. But ultimately, what sets the OnePlus 8 Pro apart is its unrivaled speed and clean yet fully customizable UI.
Best point and shoot camera phone: Google Pixel 5
Google’s Pixel series, even back when it was aspiring to be a premium flagship, never really fully got hardware right. Whether it was the original Pixel’s outdated bezels, Pixel 2 XL’s display problems, Pixel 3 XL’s giant, unsightly notch, or the Pixel 4’s mediocre battery life and wonky facial recognition system, every generation of Pixel has had a glaring hardware flaw that is difficult to overlook. But despite that, many reviewers and tech enthusiasts still gladly carried a Pixel over the years, because Google’s camera software processing was that good.
And that camera prowess is why the Pixel 5 cracks this list, despite a spec sheet and hardware craftsmanship that sits a tier or two below other brands’ offerings listed here. But with the Pixel 5, you know you’re getting color science that is always on point, dynamic range perfectly balanced, and the best portrait/bokeh mode around. And for the first time, we even get an ultra-wide-angle camera in a Pixel. Throw in the usual Pixel perks like the purest version of Android and Pixel-specific features from Google, and the Pixel 5 is an easy recommendation.
- Google’s newest brings several new features, but the most important is that Pixel camera with its glorious image processing and dynamic range is back. If you just want to point, tap the shutter button, and expect a great shot, look no further.
Best Cheap Android Phone: Google Pixel 4a
If you want that Pixel 5 primary camera performance but want to save a bit, the Pixel 4a (not to be confused by the larger and more expensive Pixel 4a 5G) is one of the cheapest options on this list.
You lose out on the ultra-wide-angle camera and 5G connectivity, but you still have virtually the same primary camera as the Pixel 5. If it’s just standard 1x point-and-shoot photos, the Pixel series is hard to beat. If you want to see other choices on a budget, check out our guide to the best cheap android phones!
- The Google Pixel 4a brings virtually the same main camera as the Google Pixel 5, which means it’s got one of the very best cameras on the market. Everything else about the phone is solid if unspectacular — but when at this price, and with a camera performance this next level, it’s hard to complain.
Best overall camera phone: Huawei P40 Pro+
For a good half-year in 2020, the Huawei P40 Pro+ was the undisputed zoom camera king. However, Samsung’s recent release the Galaxy S21 Ultra has dethroned Huawei in the zoom game by a bit. With that said, however, the P40 Pro+ still has a superior low light camera (50MP RYYB sensor with a larger image sensor size than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 108MP sensor) and a sharper 40MP ultra-wide-angle camera, so one could argue it is still technically the most accomplished camera system all around.
However, Huawei’s image processing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so it really comes down to preference, but no matter what, the P40 Pro+ camera system is one of the most accomplished around even a year later. Unfortunately, the Huawei P40 Pro+ also cannot run core Google Mobile Services apps due to the ongoing sanctions placed by the US government, so be sure you weigh the pros and cons before considering one.
- With a 10x optical zoom camera and an 40MP ultra-wide-angle camera, the Huawei P40 Pro+ has the most versatile and capable cameras on the market. The rest of the package is pretty premium too — unfortunately, there’s the Google ban issue to consider.
Best Android phone for Gaming: Asus ROG Phone 3
If you’re into mobile gaming, then look no further than the Asus ROG Phone 3, which we named “the king of gaming smartphones” in our review. So what makes this a gaming beast? Let’s start with the 144Hz display, which the handset can maintain without micro-stutters. Throw in a massive 6,000 mAh battery to handle that refresh rate without sacrificing battery life. Then add functional shoulder buttons named “AirTriggers” that give extra control to first-person shooters in ways most normal smartphones cannot, and a bunch of optional accessories that add further controls, and you have the most equipped smartphone to handle gaming at a high level.
Of course, when you’re done gaming, the ROG Phone 3 works fine as a regular smartphone too, with a reliable camera system, Snapdragon 865+, and 16GB of RAM, no app will bog this thing down.
- A stunning 144Hz display, 6,000 mAh battery, Snapdragon 865+, 16GB of RAM and AirTrigger shoulder buttons make this the best phone for playing games.
Best Android foldable phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
This is a landslide win for the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 in this category, considering the only other real option is the Huawei Mate XS, which is pricier, not on sale officially in the US, can’t run core Google apps, and has a folding-screen-on-the-outside design that looks stunning but raises serious durability concerns. The Galaxy Z Fold 2, meanwhile, is widely available, has no software restrictions, and has a firmer folding screen made of “ultra-thin glass” that is protected when not in use.
The device feels the most polished and refined of all foldable phones released so far and has won the hearts of several of us here at XDA already. Other than water-resistance and perhaps a thinner build (neither of which are realistic requests at this time as the technology isn’t there yet), there’s not much you can fault the Galaxy Z Fold 2 for.
- The most cutting edge phone of the year — but it will cost you a pretty penny. However, if money is no object and you need to have the very best that Samsung offers, look no further than the Galaxy Z Fold 2. We love it, and so will you!
Best Android phone not sold in the US: Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra is the Chinese tech company’s 10th-anniversary commemorative device, but it should be named the Mi 120 because there’s a trio of 120-themed features that make this phone great. It has a 120Hz OLED panel, 120x max digital zoom, and 120W charging speeds. The latter is insanely fast: in our testing, the Mi 10 Ultra can go from 0 to 100 in 23 minutes, or if you’re topping up in the peak charging speed range of between 30 and 80%, expect a five-minute charge to add nearly 24% of juice. That’s utterly insane, to put it mildly.
Throw in 55W fast charging (you need Xiaomi’s specific charger to achieve this speed), a Snapdragon 865, a unique “clear transparent” glass back, a versatile quad-camera system, and a very reasonable sub-$800 price, this is a device worth celebrating. It’s worth noting this phone only has a China version on sale, so you’ll have to sideload Google yourself.
- A China-only phone with a long list of specs headlined by a 120x zoom, 120W fast charging and 120Hz screen, the Mi 10 Ultra is a powerhouse that doesn’t break the bank.
Second best Android phone not sold in the US: Oppo Find X2 Pro
The original Oppo Find X, released in 2018, was a quirky and unconventional smartphone with all of its cameras hidden in an elevating module. While it was a looker, the phone was a bit awkward to use. With the Find X2 Pro, Oppo’s gone a more conventional route, but in return, crafted one of the most well-rounded and polished smartphones of the year.
With a Snapdragon 865, 120Hz OLED display, a Periscope zoom lens that can achieve 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom, and maximum 60x zoom, the Find X2 Pro has all the specs needed to compete with the best of the best — and if we were compiling this list in mid-2020, this might have well taken the top spot. But in the months since the Find X2 Pro’s 65W fast charging has been surpassed by the Mi 10 Ultra’s 120W, and the display here, while gorgeous, falls a tad short of the new heights set by the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (it’s brighter and has a variable refresh rate).
The camera system here is good enough to fill every need, with the 48MP ultra-wide-angle camera producing noticeably sharper images than the ultra-wide-angle cameras of Samsung’s or Xiaomi’s phones. We are also huge fans of the orange leather back, which adds an extra touch of character.
- A polished and refined flagship that shows Oppo’s prowess in both hardware and software, the Find X2 Pro was arguably the best Android in the first half of 2020, but alas, other releases have edged it in performance and screen brilliance.
Best for multi-tasking: LG Wing, Microsoft Duo
If productivity is paramount, then two screens are obviously better than one. The LG Wing and Microsoft Duo take very different approaches to this dual-screen set-up. The Wing, in “normal mode,” resembles any other slab smartphone — it’s big, tall, curvy, with almost all-screen on its face. But give the bottom left side of the screen a little push and the front screen swivels, revealing a second screen in the backplate.
The Microsoft Duo
The Microsoft Duo, meanwhile, is more like two screens connected together by a very premium hinge. The Duo folds and opens like a book, and unlike the Wing, both screens are the same size and quality.
Neither phone carry the most powerful SoC or best cameras, but these are productivity machines first and foremost. To be able to run, say, Slack on one screen with a word document or an email on the other is something most of us remote workers would enjoy.
- The Microsoft Duo is an amazingly thin dual-screen device that opens and close like a book. While there were some software quirks at launch, Microsoft has fixed enough of it that the device is usable. If you need to run two apps at the same time often, this is one of the best options.
2020 was actually pretty great for Android smartphones, with a fair few smartphones being excellent at what they do, and we’re just a month into 2021. While prices did go north last year, the trend appears to be stagnating or even reversing this year. Even if not, most average consumers need not be paying these prices unless they want the absolute best of the best. There is a wide variety of options for every taste, which is refreshing after a few years with homogenous products at the top. The “best” still is a conventional glass slab smartphone, but we are very excited to see where foldables as a category lead, as they can very well be the best, next year.