It’s fun to see all the new Android phones hitting the market, full of spec improvements and even the occasional inventive design. Because a smartphone is something most of us use frequently throughout the day, a new Android phone makes a fantastic holiday gift for pretty much everyone.
But which one is the best you ask? Well, that depends entirely on what you’re looking to get out of a new Android phone. A few of the phones on this list prioritize budget over specs and features, while a few others optimize specs and produce an amazing phone that you pay a steep price for. Of course, that’s not to say that the more affordable options on this list are not worth buying. (They wouldn’t be on this list if they weren’t pretty dang good phones!)
Whether you’re looking for a new phone that has an awesome camera, a cool design, a long battery life, or something else, there’s something on this list that’ll suit you.
What to Look for in an Android Phone
There are so many awesome Android phone brands that come out with new phones every year, so how do you narrow it down? Here’s everything you need to consider before buying a new phone:
- Specs: When buying a smartphone, you’ll need to consider how much storage you get, the amount of RAM, the processor, refresh rate, and battery life. With storage and RAM, you’ll end up paying more to get more. While you might think you don’t want more storage or RAM right now, you’ll be kicking yourself down the line if you change your mind a year into owning the phone. It’s usually easy to increase storage via a microSD card, but it’s pretty much impossible to increase available RAM. If you don’t think you’ll use up 512GB of storage in a phone, it’s perfectly fine to go with the 256GB storage option; but when it only adds a relatively low amount upfront and saves you hassle later on, it might be worth it to splurge now. Just make sure you thoroughly compare prices and specs before making your final decision.
- Design: The biggest thing to think about with the design is screen size. Although the look of a phone is important, we often cover them up with a protective or decorative case anyway. Most phones nowadays have a display of about six inches, but that can vary from phone to phone. Even a difference of half an inch can make a phone feel too large or too small. Consider your current phone’s screen size and think about how it would feel to go smaller or larger.
- Price: Smartphones are often expensive … like really expensive. Luckily, there are still quite a few phones that strike a balance between impressive specs and a decent price. When you’re considering how much to spend on a new smartphone, think about how long you intend to have it. Do you need something that’s just going to get you by with basic texts and calls? Do you want a phone that has fantastic specs and doubles as a powerful camera or mobile gaming device? Or do you want something in the middle? What you need from it ultimately affects how much you’ll need to pay for it.
- Cameras: Smartphone cameras have drastically improved over the past few years, so all modern phones take pretty decent pictures. Most smartphones are equipped with a front-facing camera (aka a selfie camera) and a rear-facing camera. But a few smartphones on the market have extra lenses, like a telephoto lens or an ultra-wide lens that can take more unique photos. If you’re interested in taking cool pictures on your new phone, keep an eye out for these extra lenses.
- Unlocked vs. Carrier: When you purchase a phone through your carrier (or even through a bigger retailer, but still for your specific carrier), you can sometimes get a discount on the phone in exchange for signing a contract. But, then, your phone is locked by that carrier, meaning you can’t switch to another carrier until you ask your current one to unlock it. When you buy an unlocked phone, it doesn’t belong to any carrier and you’re free to switch carriers however many times you want to. It can cost more to buy an unlocked phone, but it gives you more freedom to switch carriers if you’re getting bad service.
Best Overall: Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G
- ✓ Brilliant 120Hz AMOLED display
- ✓ 64MP camera is pretty awesome
- ✓ Great battery life
- ✗ No audio jack or SD slot
- ✗ Cameras are the same as the S20+
For most people in search of a great Android phone, that search can stop at the Samsung Galaxy S21+. It has a 6.7-inch AMOLED display with a 2400 x 1080 screen resolution and an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. This high refresh rate and gorgeous screen make scrolling through social media or performing other tasks on your phone feel silky smooth and look fantastic.
It has 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of storage, an IP68 water-resistant rating, 5G connectivity, and a battery that’ll last you all day. As if all of that isn’t already great enough, it also has a solid rear triple camera setup.
With the 64MP rear camera, you can capture quite a bit of detail and produce an (almost) professional-looking photo. Then, there are two additional 12MP cameras, the wide and ultra-wide. When all these cameras work together, you can get up to 30X Space Zoom and capture crisp detail from far away. You can also capture video footage in 8K at 24 frames per second, 4K at 60, or FHD at 120. And the Director’s View feature comes in handy when you’re trying to make a nice-looking video.
Samsung offers customers an unlocked version of their phone to make everyone’s lives easier. As soon as you get the phone, all you have to do is choose your carrier and data plan to make your phone completely yours and usable.
The Samsung S21+ is an Android phone with awesome specs at a fairly good price, making it perfect for most people.
Best Midrange: Google Pixel 5a with 5G
- ✓ Affordable
- ✓ Great cameras
- ✓ Awesome battery life
- ✗ No wireless charging
- ✗ Design isn’t that impressive
Google’s Pixel 5a with 5G is an affordable option that falls somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to specs. It has 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, and an Adreno 620 processor. It has a Titan M Security Module built-in as well.
The phone’s 6.34-inch OLED display with 2400 x 1080 resolution is the largest display of any phone in Google’s A-series so far. The Pixel 5a also has the largest battery of any A-series smartphone; it can last for up to 15 hours in between charges.
Taking great photos is an easy feat with the Pixel 5a. There’s an 8MP front-facing selfie camera and both a 12.2MP primary camera and a 16MP ultra-wide lens on the rear. A-series Pixel phones have always been able to take awesome photos, taking out a lot of the guesswork in focusing and perfecting the shot.
As its name implies, the Pixel 5a comes with 5G connectivity, helping you stay connected with fast speeds. And for the first time in Pixel history, a Pixel phone also has an IP67 water-resistance rating, which is great for any mishaps you might have near water.
If you don’t want a budget phone, but you also don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, check out the reliable Google Pixel 5a.
Best Budget: OnePlus Nord N10 5G
- ✓ Extremely affordable
- ✓ Speedy 90Hz refresh rate
- ✓ Warp Charge 30T
- ✗ Specs aren’t super impressive
- ✗ No IP water-resistance rating
The Nord 10 5G from OnePlus is an impressive phone set at an even more impressive price. It has a 6.49-inch FHD display with a 90Hz refresh rate, which isn’t even seen in all new phones from major brands. Inside, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 5G mobile platform, 6GB of RAM, built-in Google Assistant, and no current IP rating.
It features 128GB of built-in storage, which isn’t a whole lot to start with but you can expand storage up to 512GB with a microSD card. And surprisingly, the camera setup is pretty nice. The phone has a quad-rear camera setup with a 64MP main camera; the three cameras on top of the main camera include a 119-degree ultra-wide, macro, and monochrome lens.
You can expect battery life to last about a day, which is decent. What’s really special about OnePlus phones is the Warp Charge 30T feature, which charges your phone almost completely in about half an hour.
This smartphone comes unlocked and is compatible with all major U.S. carriers, including the big four (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile) and quite a few prepaid carriers, like Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS.
This affordable OnePlus phone barely makes a dent in your bank account, but it’s built with some pretty awesome specs and features.
Best Premium: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- ✓ Super impressive camera setup
- ✓ Speedy variable 120Hz refresh rate
- ✓ Awesome specs
- ✗ Pretty pricey
- ✗ Screen may be too large for some
Although it comes with a pretty high price tag, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the best premium Android phones out there right now, especially if you want an awesome camera setup. It has a large 6.8-inch AMOLED display with a striking 3200 x 1440 resolution and a variable 120Hz refresh rate.
Then, it has more RAM than most other smartphones out there. You can get 12GB of RAM with either 128GB or 256GB of storage. Or, you can get 16GB RAM with 512GB of storage. This boost in the amount of RAM makes for a speedier phone that can handle more tasks at once as well as processor-intensive tasks. But as mentioned above, the cameras are really where the Galaxy S21 Ultra shines.
On the front, there’s a 40MP selfie lens that captures impressive detail with clarity. On the back, there’s a stunning 108MP main rear-wide camera with three additional lenses: an ultra-wide lens, a 3X optical zoom lens, and a 10X optical zoom lens. When all of these are used together, you can get super up close and personal with 100X Space Zoom.
There are so many things that make the S21 Ultra a must-buy. You can record in 8K or 4K with Director’s View, it’s IP68 dust- and water-resistant, it has speedy 5G connectivity, and it’s unlocked so you can set your phone up with any carrier you want. Plus, with its 5000mAh battery, you can get up to two days worth of battery on a single charge.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is a beast of a phone, with the best cameras ever on an Android phone and specs that make the phone incredibly speedy.
Best Small: Google Pixel 4a
- ✓ Super affordable
- ✓ Universally unlocked
- ✓ Smaller 5.8-inch screen
- ✗ Underwhelming cameras
- ✗ Only has 4G LTE coverage
- ✗ Limited available storage
The Google Pixel 4a is the smallest phone on this list, yes, but it’s also another great affordable option. Despite that, however, the phone still delivers with a 5.8-inch OLED screen that’s clear with vivid colors; plus, the phone feels comfortable in your hand. And although this phone only supports 4G LTE speed (and not 5G), you shouldn’t notice too much of a difference when downloading apps, streaming content, or just browsing the web.
Because this is a Google phone, it’s no surprise that Google Assistant is built-in to help you out through voice commands. Inside, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 processor, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. On the back of the phone, there’s a 12.2MP with a few different features like Night Sight and Super Res Zoom, but the camera just isn’t powerful enough to take breathtaking photos that are on par with those of current-gen phones (if that’s what you’re after).
Google’s Pixel 4a is yet another Android phone that is universally unlocked. It’s compatible with the top four U.S. carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) as well as most prepaid carriers, including Google Fi, Total Wireless, and Cricket Wireless.
If you’re looking for a smaller display that’s more comfortable to hold, Google’s Pixel 4a is a fantastic choice.
Best Foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
- ✓ It’s a modern-day flip phone
- ✓ Phone is functional when folded and when open
- ✗ The foldable design isn’t for everyone
- ✗ Specs aren’t the best
- ✗ Cameras don’t produce good photos
Who would’ve thought we would go back to the days of folding phones? While the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is certainly a nod to the past, the specs and features are updated for the modern world. Even though this section is titled as such, it’s worth mentioning that this is the best foldable phone for those who want a foldable phone; if you’re just looking for a new phone and you’re not picky, you might be better off sticking with the traditional smartphone design.
When the Galazy Z Flip 3 is folded, there’s a 1.9-inch AMOLED touchscreen that you can use as a quick access area without opening the phone. From here, you can check notifications, the time, the weather, and more. When you fully open the phone, you’ll see a 6.7-inch AMOLED display and use the phone just as you would any other smartphone. (Although you might be worried about the crease in the middle, it’s not too noticeable. Read more about that in our full review.)
As far as other specs go, this foldable smartphone is IPX8 water-resistant, has 128GB and 256GB storage options, and boasts speedy 5G connectivity. And though Samsung is often known for producing smartphones with great cameras, the cameras on the Z Flip 3 aren’t super great. But again, if you’re buying this phone, you’re likely buying it for the novelty of having a modern-day foldable phone.
Foldable phones are relatively new to the market, but Samsung outdid themselves with the Galaxy Z Flip 3.
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