Best Android smartphone for 2021

Last updated: 19 September 2021   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Android smartphones are the go-to for many mobile customers, with big names like Samsung competing with budget-friendly manufacturers.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is currently the best Android phone available in the UK thanks to its high specs, S Pen compatibility and powerful battery.

Customers who prefer slightly cheaper devices may like the OnePlus 9 Pro for its excellent camera set-up or the Xiaomi Mi 11 for its flagship features at a better price point.

There are also budget Android options available including the Oppo A72 and cheaper devices from Samsung.

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Best Android phones in 2021

There are dozens of Android smartphones available from UK mobile networks at any given time, with big name manufacturers like Samsung battling with smaller companies like OnePlus and Nokia.

Finding the best Android device for you is a highly personal decision, but we've rounded up some of the best Android phones in 2021 to give you some inspiration.

Let's dive right in.

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

Our top Android device in 2021 is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the ultimate flagship device from their S21 range released in January 2021.

It's hard to argue with the specs of this Android phone including a quad rear camera with a 108MP main lens and a 40MP selfie camera on the front. It boasts the latest Snapdragon 888 5G chipset, a Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a maximum 120Hz refresh rate and has a 5000mAh battery to help power through the long days.

Another bonus of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in comparison to its predecessor is the support for the S Pen stylus, allowing users to write and draw on the device in the same way they would with handsets in the Samsung Note range. This makes the S21 Ultra a good option for productivity as well as entertainment.

If all this sounds excellent, there is one major issue: the price tag.

At launch, the S21 Ultra started at £1,149 and, while prices may have dipped to under £1,000 in some cases, it's still a device for those with deep pockets.

Here are some tariff examples from mobile networks on 36-month deals:

Handset Minutes Data Initial price Monthly price
Tesco Mobile Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (128GB) Unlimited Unlimited on 4G Free £47.49
36 month term
Vodafone Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (128GB) Unlimited 60GB on 5G £29 £49
36 month term
Virgin Mobile Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (128GB) Unlimited 60GB on 5G Free £53
36 month term
O2 Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (128GB) Unlimited 50GB on 5G £30 £60.99
24 month term

So, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra entry level device will usually cost upwards of £50 with a data cap and fees upfront too.

Compared to the pricing of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3, this is positively cheap, but it might still be beyond a lot of customers.

2. OnePlus 9 Pro 5G

OnePlus took another leap forward with the release of the OnePlus 9 Pro.

As well as having the same Snapdragon 888 chipset as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and utilising a 120Hz refresh rate for screen brightness, the OnePlus 9 Pro offers an excellent quad camera set-up with a 48MP main lens combined with a 50MP ultrawide, 8MP telephoto and a 2MP monochrome lens.

This is the best camera set-up we've seen yet on a OnePlus flagship and it's a statement of intent about their intention to rival Samsung for the Android crown in the future.

For now, though, there are a few areas where the OnePlus 9 Pro doesn't quite make it.

Unlike the S21 Ultra which has the best protection offered in the form of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, the Pro 9 is protected by the lesser (yet still highly effective in most circumstances) Gorilla Glass 5.

The maximum RAM available on the Pro 9 is 12GB as variant of the 256GB storage option and the battery is 4500mAh - small than the S21 Ultra.

In terms of pricing, at release the phone was available from £829. Again, prices have lowered slightly, but it's still a premium device aimed at customers in the premium smartphone market.

Three currently have it available on a 24-month deal:

Handset Minutes Data Initial price Monthly price
Three OnePlus 9 Pro (128GB) Unlimited Unlimited £29 £49
24 month term

Overall, since OnePlus signalled their move towards premium phones with the launch of the OnePlus 7 Pro, it's been clear they intend to rival the bigger names for quality.

If Samsung isn't your brand of choice, OnePlus might just be the answer.

3. Oppo Find X3 Pro 5G

Another smartphone brand making a name for themselves in the premium space is Oppo and their Find X3 Pro is the best device they offer.

Released in April 2021, the most eye-catching feature on this handset is the microlens camera to take photos at 60x magnification, yet there are plenty of other things to like.

It uses the same 120Hz refresh technology we've seen in the S21 Ultra and Pro 9, plus it comes with the Snapdragon 888 chipset and protection from Corning Gorilla Glass 9.

The main camera is a 50MP wide lens and there's a 32MP front camera for selfies. Like the Pro 9, it has a 4500mAh battery, slightly below the S21 Ultra but still large enough to last most users through the day.

At launch, the price tag for the Oppo Find X3 Pro was £1,099. Here are some examples of current handset deals:

Handset Minutes Data Initial price Monthly price
Three Oppo Find X3 Pro (256GB) Unlimited Unlimited £29 £54
24 month term
iD Mobile Oppo Find X3 Pro (256GB) Unlimited Unlimited £99 £44.99
24 month term

Like Samsung and OnePlus, Oppo do have more budget-friendly options in the form of the Oppo Find X3 Neo (£699) and the Oppo Find X3 Lite (£379).

Oppo use a highly customised version of Android known as ColorOS. If this modified interface appeals to Android customers, Oppo might be a good bet.

4. Xiaomi Mi 11 5G

Xiaomi may not be the biggest name in the smartphone market but they're set on rivalling Samsung in the years ahead.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 offers a stylish device for customers who like to use their phone camera and want a handset that can keep up with all they want to do. The camera features include a 5MP telemacro lens (similar to the microlens on the Find X3 Pro while the main lens is a 108MP one that will be familiar to existing Xiaomi customers.

Like devices we've already looked at, the Mi 11 uses the Snapdragon 888 chipset and it features partial protection from Gorilla Glass Victus. This protection is on the glass front of the device, but the back of the handset is protected by the slightly lesser Gorilla Glass 5.

On paper, the battery life of the Mi 11 should be good with a capacity of 4600mAh, yet some reviewers have cautioned the device doesn't usually last a day of typical use thanks to the high-spec features including a high refresh rate on the expansive display. While a full charge can be achieved in as little as half an hour, it's still a pain to remember to recharge during the day.

There's also another caveat to this device: no IP-rating for waterproofing. That could well be a problem for some.

At launch in the UK, the Xiaomi Mi 11 started from £749, although it might not be as widely stocked as other devices. Here is the best deal from Vodafone at the time of writing:

Handset Minutes Data Initial price Monthly price
Vodafone Xiaomi Mi 11 (128GB) Unlimited Unlimited Max £29 £49
36 month term

So, even though the Xiaomi Mi 11 has a few flaws, it's an excellent alternative to a flagship model from other manufacturers and comes with a lower price tag too.

5. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G

Our final Android choice for 2021 is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G. This shouldn't be confused with the 4G incarnation, with the 5G model overtaking it as a cheaper version of a Samsung flagship still with 5G connectivity.

The Fan Edition of the Samsung range offers a more affordable take on the S20 range of Samsung devices. Although this is a generation behind the latest models, it means the S20 FE is more budget-friendly while still packing some brilliant features that most customers will be more than satisfied with.

For instance, it has the 120Hz refresh rate we've mentioned in all the other Android phones on the list with a 4500mAh battery that holds up well in everyday use and a triple rear camera set-up featuring a 12MP wide lens accompanied by a 12MP ultrawide and 8MP telephoto lens. It also has the highest dust/water resistance rating available in the form of IP68.

Unlike other devices on this list, the S20 FE includes a microSD slot for expanding the memory on the handset. This could prove useful for customers opting for the 128GB model or who simply have a lot of files, apps and music to store.

There are economies and things to be aware of with the S20 FE. While the phone features a glass front and aluminium frame, it has a plastic back. Also, as a device based on an older Samsung flagship, it uses the older Snapdragon 865 chipset.

The price of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G was £699 at launch but has come down in price during 2021. Here are some current deals:

Handset Minutes Data Initial price Monthly price
Three Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (128GB) Unlimited Unlimited £29 £48
24 month term
Vodafone Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (128GB) Unlimited Unlimited Max £9 £52
36 month term

Overall, the FE is a great way of getting almost up-to-date Samsung tech without as giant a price tag. For Android lovers, that could be a good way of upgrading to a Samsung phone without paying for a model in the S21 range.

Other Android phones

It goes without saying there are plenty of other Android devices on the market and, depending on what a customer is looking for, they could more suit their needs.

Most of the handsets we've looked at above come with a hefty price tag, but many customers can't afford those contracts or don't feel comfortable paying that much for a mobile phone.

As well as grabbing refurbished phones or reputable second hand devices, there are some specific budget Android devices to consider in 2021 including:

  1. Nokia 8.3 5G
  2. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T
  3. Motorola Moto E7
  4. Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
  5. Oppo A72

Read more about where to find the cheapest mobile phone deals.

Verdict: which Android phone is best?

We've covered some of the biggest Android names in this guide, and it's no surprise to see Samsung battling with the likes of OnePlus and Oppo to take the crown for the best Android phone in 2021.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best device Samsung currently offers in terms of specs, although the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 are making waves in different ways.

Yet for customers who don't want to pay the premium for the Ultra model, the S21 and the S21+ may be more than adequate while still providing many of the high-spec features of their pricier sibling.

We like the OnePlus 9 Pro for its camera set-up and ability to rival Samsung on performance, but there are certainly areas where it can't match up just yet.

Ultimately, most smartphone customers are constrained by their budget and it might be more affordable to opt for the Xiaomi Mi 11 or the Samsung Galaxy 20 FE 5G if we're looking for high specs at a slightly cheaper price.


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