best smartphones 2021 2020

The absolute best smartphones in 2021 (January Edition)

We are just a few hours away from 2021. So what if you are in the market for a smartphone to kick off the new year? What are the best smartphones available in the US at the dawn of 2021? This list is here to provide answers. While I only own one of these devices, this is exactly the order I would buy these phones if I were in the market for the best smartphones in 2021. If I didn't want to wait to release the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus, shake up this list.

So what makes a good smartphone? Let's see:

  • Performance: Undoubtedly, good hardware is necessary. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, Apple A14, or Snapdragon 865 Plus are what you would expect from high-end smartphones at the start of 2021. There are also high expectations for the soon-to-be-released Snapdragon 888.
  • Software: The battle between iOS and Android is never-ending, but so far, despite Android's diversity advantage, iOS is the clear winner in getting the maximum of a device's hardware and providing better privacy.
  • Cameras: Smartphones have come a long way, so of course, you would expect the best smartphones to have top camera quality as part of the package.
  • Display: As display sizes have started stabilizing, you typically expect a display size around 6.0″ for most devices. However, many high-end users expect a display size of at least 6.5″ as they want to maximize screen real-estate.
  • Connectivity: All smartphones in this list support 5G, future-proofing them in terms of data connectivity.
  • Battery: With the introduction of 5G and 120Hz refresh rates, the battery life field is a mess. Battery life needs to be evaluated on both 5G and LTE combined with the 60Hz or 120Hz options.

Let's proceed then with the list of the best smartphones in 2021 – January edition. 

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                                        <figcaption>The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max. Credit: AppleInsider</figcaption>
    <h2>1. iPhone 12 Pro Max</h2><ul><li>Display: 6.7-inch OLED (2778 x 1284)</li><li>CPU: A14 Bionic</li><li>RAM: 6GB</li><li>Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No </li><li>Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4), 12MP telephoto (ƒ/2.2)</li><li>Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)</li><li>Weight: 8.03 ounces</li><li>Battery life (Hrs: Mins): 10:53 (5G)</li></ul>Why you should buy it: Immersive 6.7" screen, Apple A14 bionic performance, iOS performance, cameras, and battery life.<p>What we don't like: The lack of a charger in the box and the iPhone Pro Max's weight.

Firstly, I strongly believe that premium smartphones should have big screens, and the iPhone Pro Max probably has the ideal big screen and resolution as I think going higher is an overkill. The lack of 120Hz is not a deal-breaker considering the rest this phone packs and the battery life it delivers.

With the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you get an immersive 6.7-inch OLED display, class-leading A14 Bionic performance, and 5G capability. But the iPhone 12 Pro Max really stands out with its long battery life, as it’s the longest-lasting iPhone 12 model by far.

Like the regular iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max packs three rear cameras, but it benefits from a larger main sensor that lets in more light. And you get a 2.5 telephoto zoom, compared to 2x for the regular Pro. Simultaneously, the iPhones are again unbeatable in video recording for yet another year. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also delivers amazingly vivid video recording in Dolby Vision, complete with sensor-shift stabilization for steady footage. While at $1,099, the iPhone 12 Pro Max isn’t cheap, it is the best smartphone produced thus far. Finally, the main downside is that the lack of a charger in the box, which is baffling at this price tag, to say the least. Despite that, the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best smartphone of 2020 and remains the best option in 2021.

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                                        <figcaption>The Apple iPhone 12 Pro. Credit: Apple</figcaption>
    <h2>2. iPhone 12 Pro</h2><ul><li>Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532x1170)</li><li>CPU: A14 Bionic</li><li>RAM: 6GB</li><li>Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No</li><li>Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4), 12MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0)</li><li>Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)</li><li>Weight: 6.66 ounces</li><li>Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:06 (5G), 11:24 (LTE)</li></ul>Why you should buy it: Apple A14 bionic performance, iOS performance, cameras.<p>What we don't like: The lack of a charger in the box.

The iPhone 12 Pro is the best phone you can buy that has a screen size close to 6.0″, which is more manageable than the larger size devices on this list. You get the most 5G bands in any phone and the new A14 Bionic processor, superior to all current Android phones. This is subject to change, of course, with the release of the new Snapdragon 888-powered Samsung Galaxy S21 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus.

However, the main reason to pick up the iPhone 12 Pro is the cameras, comparable to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The main downside is a slightly worse telephoto lens, which is the least important of the three sensors. The main sensor now lets in more light, and the Night Mode works on both the ultrawide camera and the front TrueDepth camera. You can capture beautiful portraits at night, thanks to the combination of the telephoto lens and LiDAR sensor.


Not only does the iPhone 12 Pro boast a beautiful 6.1-inch OLED display, but it is also powered by the Apple A14 Bionic chip, delivering the top performance in smartphones. The flat edges look pretty sleek, too, even if they did into your hands a bit. The optional MagSafe charger makes wireless charging a breeze, thanks to the magnets built into the iPhone 12 Pro.

Once again, Apple doesn’t include any charger in the box. Although the iPhone 12 Pro’s battery life could be better over 5G, it is a complete phone for its price and only outgunned by the iPhone Pro Max.

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                                        <figcaption>The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Credit: Android Authority</figcaption>
    <h2>3. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra</h2><ul><li>Display: 6.9-inch AMOLED (3088x1440)</li><li>CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus</li><li>RAM: 12GB</li><li>Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / Yes</li><li>Rear camera: 108MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP telephoto with 5x optical zoom (ƒ/3.0); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)</li><li>Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)</li><li>Weight: 7.33 ounces</li><li>Battery life (Hrs: Mins): 10:15</li></ul>Why you should buy it: Almost a phablet size display at 6.9", Snapdragon 865 Plus performance, the cameras cannot get much better in Android devices.<p>What we don't like: It's pricey, and Android's multitasking performance is not quite there yet, and it may never be.

I am very hesitant with Android devices, and that's not a bias against the devices themselves. Instead, my disappointment in Android does not allow me to put Android devices higher in this list.

However, The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a masterpiece that reigns the Android world. It is powered by the Snapdragon 865 Plus SoC, which is as close you can get to Apple-like performance. You also get a gorgeous 6.9-inch OLED display with a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate, as well as lots of new S Pen upgrades, ranging from new air gestures to a smoother 9 ms response time.

Plus, the Note 20 Ultra packs one of the most versatile camera setups you can find on Android devices. This includes a 108MP main sensor, a 50x Space Zoom, which is more practical than the pointless 100x Space Zoom on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. A dedicated laser autofocus sensor to improve photo quality by reducing unnecessary blur is part of its camera setup. It won't beat the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max overall, but it's as good as you can get on an Android device.

But what makes the Note 20 Ultra stand out is the following remark. With the improved DeX mode, you can beam photos, apps, and more to a nearby TV, and with Xbox Game Pass, you can stream more than 100 Xbox titles over the cloud. The Note 20 Ultra works well with your PC, too. Link to Windows enables you to run Android apps on your PC and get notifications, make calls, and more. Add it all up, and you have one of the best phones ever made, along with a clear sign that Samsung also targets a unification of the desktop and smartphone world.

The only downsides are the ridiculous price tag of $1,299 and the fact that the 12GB of RAM may actually be necessary for Android to run better on such a large device. Regardless, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is one of the best smartphones in 2021 and the Android world's best representative.

Update: Amazon is now running a sale on the black version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, with $250 discount!

2021 best smartphones apple iphone 12
The Apple iPhone 12. Credit: TomsGuide

4. iPhone 12

  • Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532×1170)
  • CPU: A14 Bionic
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
  • Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
  • Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
  • Weight: 5.78 ounces
  • Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:25 (5G), 10:23 (LTE)

Why you should buy it: Apple A14 bionic performance, iOS performance, and the camera system is not far behind the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. 

What we don't like: The lack of a charger in the box.

The iPhone 12 is probably the best device for its money on this list. It does not have a lot to be jealous of its larger siblings, as it still packs the Apple A14 Bionic chip along with 2 out of the 3 rear cameras and the most important ones at that. The regular iPhone 12 is the best new iPhone all-around for most buyers.

Much of that has to do with how Apple improved the basics here. The iPhone 12 has a new OLED display that far outpaces the blurry, low-resolution LCD panel in last year’s iPhone 11. And the iPhone 12’s new design sports an elegant flat-edge motif and narrower bezels, further shaving down the handset’s footprint to maximize screen size. MagSafe is also present to improve wireless charging speed and unlock new capabilities.

The main downsides to the iPhone 12 are the 64GB of base storage and, of course, the lack of a charger in the box. Otherwise, it should be the device of choice for the average iPhone user.

OnePlus 8 Pro Android Smartphone Best smartphones 2021 2020
The OnePlus 8 Pro. Credit: OnePlus

5. OnePlus 8 Pro

  • Display: 6.78-inch OLED (3168×1440)
  • CPU: Snapdragon 865
  • RAM: 8GB, 12GB
  • Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
  • Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.78); 48MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 8MP 3X telephoto (ƒ/2.4); 5MP color filter
  • Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.5)
  • Weight: 7 ounces
  • Battery life (Hrs: Mins): 11:05

Why you should buy it: Snapdragon 865 performance, price, amazing 6.7″ display, no bloatware. 

What we don't like: The cameras are not quite there yet, it's an Android device so you get the bad Android stuff, and OxygenOS 11 is still buggy.

The OnePlus 8 Pro is here, and it's my smartphone of choice for 2020. It was the best device available before the release of all the devices above it. Yet, I would probably still have gone for it, since it's one of the best and cheapest phones with a 6.7″ display. The OnePlus 8 Pro delivers great performance thanks to the Snapdragon 865 chipset and has one of the best displays in a smartphone with a fast 120Hz refresh rate for ridiculously smooth scrolling, which you will want to keep on.

Opting for the fastest refresh rate can reduce battery life, but set the screen refresh rate at 60Hz, and you can expect more than 11 hours of battery life — well ahead of what the average smartphone can pull off. The OnePlus 8 Pro becomes the first OnePlus phone to support wireless charging; even better, it's the fastest wireless charging ever. Add to that that the addition of IP86, which makes a flagship in all aspects.


The main area the OnePlus 8 Pro lacks is the photography department. It lacks consistency, but especially when paired with GCam ports to improve certain modes such as its portrait mode, it can get right up there in some cases. The OnePlus 8 Pro is my Android flagship phone of choice for those who are not willing to spend $1,000 on smartphones.

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    <h2>Best smartphones in 2021: More to come soon</h2><p>These are the absolute best smartphones in 2021. As we move on to Q1 of 2021, more smartphones will be making a list as some high-profile arrivals are coming. Starting with the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus in <a href="">January</a> and then the OnePlus 9 Lite, the OnePlus 9, and the OnePlus 9 Pro, possibly in <a href="">mid-March</a>.

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