Best phone to buy in 2021 – CNET

We’re inching closer to the fall, when it’s likely Apple, Google and other phone companies will be updating their top models for 2021. But if you can’t wait until the holiday for a new phone, flagship models like the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21 boast amazing rear camera setups, powerful processors for lag-free gaming, wireless charging and 5G. But they’re not the only phones to consider, with other rivals such as OnePlus, Motorola and Google’s Pixel line all offering great specs at a range of prices. 

The sheer amount of solid competition gives you, the customer, great options to choose from at whatever price suits your budget, regardless of whether your biggest concern is high-speed data, an AMOLED display or a cracking camera. Opting for a more affordable handset doesn’t mean compromising on usability, with even budget handsets offering big, vibrant displays and multiple rear cameras. We’re even starting to see 5G connectivity on much lower-end handsets.

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 camera performance to their battery life. Each link is to an unlocked 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

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There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy S21, but the best thing about this cell phone has got to be the price. Samsung’s next-gen flagship smartphone lineup starts at $800, and you can find this Android phone on Amazon right now for an extra $100 off. Samsung made some trade-offs to get to that price point. Specifically, the phone has 4GB of RAM less than its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S20; the wall charger and headphones don’t come in the box; and it doesn’t have a microSD card slot for expanded storage. But even with those sacrifices, you’re getting a lot for your money with this Android device, including a striking design, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, and 5G connectivity.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Best phone for affordable 5G

Google Pixel 5A 5G

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If you want a 5G phone that doesn’t cost too much, the Pixel 5A 5G is one of our top picks. The handset has a solid battery life, fantastic dual rear cameras and robust software support from Google. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles — or in-house Google processor — that the upcoming flagship Pixel 6 has, but it’s a solid option if you want 5G on a budget.

Read our Google Pixel 5A with 5G review.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With its supercharged processor, great battery life and solid rear camera setup, the OnePlus 9 is a superb all-round Android phone. Its $729 (£629) starting price makes this cell phone a much more affordable option than its Apple or Samsung rivals. We like its big, bold display too and its fast charging. It’s our best pick if you want flagship performance with a more approachable price tag.

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