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9 top phones for 2021

por Jenna Hankins (2021-02-15)

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Phone makers are evolving and innovating faster than ever before, and the past year has been one of the more interesting ones for phones. Not only have we seen more handsets with 5G connectivity and phones with flexible screens, but there's been an influx of devices that tout affordable price tags along with premium specs. Some things though, remain the same -- like the fact that Apple and Samsung still dominate the market. Their newest flagships, the iPhone 12 and Galaxy Note 20, respectively, offer powerful processors, fantastic rear multicamera setups and But despite Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy lines being the top choice for many, other companies like OnePlus and Motorola sell great phones too. The sheer amount of solid competition gives consumers excellent options to choose from at a range of prices. To help you figure out the best of the best, we gathered our favorite phones to buy in 2021. Every phone on this list has been thoroughly reviewed and tested, from their batteries to camera performance. We've linked to the unlocked version of each phone, and they should run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, unless specified otherwise. We update this list regularly to ensure the best phone is always represented.And for more info, read our guide to help find the best phone for your needs and take a look at our tips on how to buy a new cell phone

The all-around best phone

Apple iPhone 12

Patrick Holland/CNET

The  (and its higher-end iPhone 12 Pro counterpart) received one of our highest scores ever. The smartphone features the powerful and fast A14 Bionic processor, dual rear cameras, 5G and a magnetic "MagSafe" feature that allows it to connect to other mobile accessories.

Read our Apple iPhone 12 review.

$829 at Amazon

$800 at Best Buy

$829 at Apple

Top-of-the-line Android smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S20

Sarah Tew/CNET

As Samsung's flagship smartphone for 2020, the  features a brilliant 6.2-inch AMOLED display with an ultra-smooth 120Hz refresh rate, reverse wireless charging, a water-resistant design and three rear cameras (in addition to its pretty good front camera). It's a fantastic daily driver for an Android user and if you have more to spend, there's also the and .

Read our Samsung Galaxy S20 5G review.

Best phone for affordable 5G

Google Pixel 4A 5G

Angela Lang/CNET

Nov 2020

If you want a 5G phone that doesn't cost too much, the Pixel 4A 5G is one of our top picks. The handset has a solid battery life, fantastic dual rear cameras and robust software support from Google. There's also the , which has a great 90Hz display, but it costs more at $699 (£599, AU$999).

Read our Google Pixel 4A 5G review.

$450 at Best Buy

Flagship with a great value

OnePlus 8

Angela Lang/CNET

Nov 2020

OnePlus released a lot of phones in 2020, including the  and the  due mostly because of its price. At launch the smartphone cost $699 (£599, AU$1,180 converted) and has since been discounted. The phone features a 6.55-inch AMOLED screen, a 90Hz display, a water resistant design and 5G.

Read our OnePlus 8 review.

$1,299 at Amazon

$699 at OnePlus

Motorola goes premium

Motorola Edge Plus


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The has pretty much everything you'd hope for in a premium Read our Motorola Edge Plus review.

$700 at Motorola

The best budget phone

Apple iPhone SE

Angela Lang/CNET

Starting at only $399, the 2020 version of the is the best budget phone you can find right now. With an A13 processor (the same as the ) and an amazing camera, the is way more powerful than it has any right to be. Old-school iPhone fans will also appreciate the return of TouchID and the home button.

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

$400 at Best Buy

$399 at Apple

An ultrapremium Android experience

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

Best camera phone for its price

Google Pixel 4A

Angela Lang/CNET

Pixel phones have a loyal following and with good reason. Without considering its price, Google's  has a Top Designer Water Bottles UK-notch camera that takes brilliant photos. But it's even better that the phone costs $349 (£349, AU$599). The 5.81-inch handset also features a headphone jack, 128GB of storage out of the box and a better battery life than last year's .

Read our Google Pixel 4A review.

$349 at Amazon

$421 at Walmart

$350 at Best Buy

Solid Samsung at a lower price

Samsung Galaxy A51

Juan Garzon/CNET

In addition to its main Galaxy S flagship phones, Samsung has a more cost-conscious A series line of phones. This year it launched the  and it's another Samsung phone that costs $399 (£329, AU$599) -- though there is a 5G variant that costs $499. The Android device has four cameras, an in-screen fingerprint reader and expandable storage.

Read our Galaxy A51 review.

$349 at Amazon

$349 at Walmart

$350 at Best Buy

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