If you’re on the hunt for a new smartphone, chances are you’ve got a lot of devices on your shortlist. There are so many different options out on the market today that it can make finding the right one a bit difficult. So, let’s take a look at the best Android phones you can buy today, as of September 2021.
BEST ANDROID PHONES – SEPTEMBER 2021
Table of Contents
New for September:
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, Flip 3
- Pixel 5a
Samsung Galaxy S21/+
Samsung keeps putting out the most well-rounded Android phones
We say it year in and year out, but Samsung’s Galaxy S lineup continues to be perhaps the best well-rounded set of Android smartphones out there, and this year’s Galaxy S21 line does an even better job of that by bringing the cost of entry way down.
The base Galaxy S21 this year starts at $799, making it one of the most affordable flagship phones, and one of the best Android phones, period. The phone carries a 6.2-inch 1080p 120Hz display within a plastic and metal body. Under the hood, there’s a Snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 4,000 mAh battery. Android 11 and One UI 3.1 ship out of the box, and Samsung seems to just be getting better about software updates as time goes on.
Samsung includes a 12MP primary camera, a 12MP ultrawide camera, and a 64MP telephoto camera that uses the extra sensor data to offer up to 3x lossless zoom. The results from these cameras are acceptable, sometimes even great, they’re just not super consistent as we talk about more in our review.
By upgrading to the Galaxy S21+, you’ll be upgrading to a larger 6.7-inch display, still 1080p and 120Hz, as well as a much bigger 4,800 mAh battery. Specs, cameras, and the rest of the package are pretty much identical, although they are now wrapped in glass and metal instead of plastic.
Why are these three phones the best Android has to offer in 2021? It’s not that they do anything perfectly, but they get everything just right enough to be worthy of the price and not have any real downsides. Samsung makes some of the best Android phones, quite simply, and the S21 line is proof.
Best affordable Android phones
OnePlus 9/9 Pro
Ultra-fast charging, top-end specs, and a good camera
After years battling to improve its cameras, OnePlus made it a core focus of its OnePlus 9 series, and it helped make these some of the best Android phones you can buy today.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is the company’s direct flagship, offering a 6.7-inch, 1440p AMOLED display with curved edges and a 120Hz refresh rate. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 9 has a 6.55-inch 1080p display that’s flat and has the same 120Hz refresh rate. Both phones are powered by a Snapdragon 888 chip. The 9 and 9 Pro are available with either 8GB of RAM and 128GB or storage or 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, no microSD card slots anywhere.
Out of the box, OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro run on Android 11 with the company’s customized OxygenOS 11 overlay.
What’s the difference between the two phones? It starts with the build materials. The 9 Pro is built entirely from metal and glass, but the 9 has a glass back with a plastic frame. It does result in a different feel, but both phones still feature basic water resistance, the usual alert slider switch, and a fingerprint sensor underneath the display, too. Both devices also support 65W charging using the included charger and wireless charging; 50W on the Pro, 15W on the regular. Both phones share the same 4,500 mAh battery, though.
Then there’s the camera setup. OnePlus partnered with Hasselblad to improve its cameras, and the results speak for themselves. It’s a good camera, but the two phones have slightly different setups. The OnePlus 9 Pro has a 48MP primary camera, 50MP ultrawide, 8MP telephoto, and 2MP depth camera. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 9 has a different 48MP primary camera, the same 50MP ultrawide, keeps the 2MP depth camera, but drops the telephoto shooter.
Google Pixel 5/5a
Excellent camera, excellent battery life, affordable price
Google’s lineup of Pixel smartphones has had some ups and downs over the past few years, but when it comes to software and camera, they’re hard to argue against. Now, with the Pixel 5, Google has one of its best Android phones to date. Here’s why.
Pixel 5 is not a true flagship smartphone, rather focusing on a “what you really need” approach. The Snapdragon 765 chipset has enough power for just about anyone, and paired with 8GB of RAM it delivers solid overall performance. Plus, Google’s software suite is fully available on this device, and you have 128GB of storage for all of your apps and media. There’s also a 4,080 mAh battery that easily powers this device and its 6-inch 1080p OLED display through over a day of use.
The same 12MP camera can be found on Pixel 5 as well, this time paired with a 16MP ultrawide shooter. Google has also added some new camera and video features to this Pixel.
There are a few key reasons to consider the Pixel 5 as your next device. For one, it has a great camera. Backing that up, Google Photos storage retains unlimited storage on Pixel 5 where other phones will lose it next year. This device also offers excellent battery life, a sturdy design, and a very good display, all while being much more affordable than the competition.
Google Pixel 5 starts at $699, making it the most affordable top-end Pixel since the original. While it may not be a perfect fit for everyone, it’s a solid device that sits at a much more affordable price compared to most others on the market.
Pixel 5 is available from the Google Store, Amazon, B&H Photo, Best Buy, and most major carriers.
On the slightly more affordable end of the spectrum, the Pixel 5a offers a lot of the core benefits of the Pixel 5 at a lesser cost. For $449, the same processor and cameras are in use, but with a bit less RAM. The screen also gets a bit bigger and sticks with 1080p, but drops the 90Hz refresh rate down to 60Hz. The device also has a much bigger battery that offers some of the best endurance on any smartphone available today.
Pixel 5a is available exclusively from the Google Store.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra/S21 Ultra
If you have the budget for a super-high-end flagship, there are two clear choices for the best Android phones. On one hand, there’s the Galaxy S21 Ultra, a 2021 flagship with the most up-to-date specs and software, as well as a fully capable package. On the other, last year’s Note 20 Ultra, which offers almost the same hardware, just with a couple of minor steps down.
Looking first at the Galaxy S21 Ultra, we’re seeing an $1,199 smartphone that brings with it a massive 6.8-inch 1440p, 120Hz display that even supports an add-on S Pen. Under the hood, you’ll find Qualcomm’s brand new Snapdragon 888 with 12GB or 16GB of RAM and 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage. That’s all wrapped up in metal and matte glass with 5G support, Android 11, and more. You’ll find USB-C and wireless charging, but no charger included in the box. There’s a 5,000 mAh battery to get you through the day too. microSD card support is also missing from the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
In the camera department, Samsung offers up one of the best shooting experiences on Android. The primary 108MP shooter produces crisp shots with good colors and is more consistent compared to Samsung’s regular Galaxy S21 phones. There’s also a solid 12MP ultrawide, but the two 10MP telephoto lenses are what really seal the deal. One is a 3x optical zoom camera and the other jumps up to 10x. Both are impressively sharp and produce great results, as you can see in our review.
Moving over to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it offers a lot of the same benefits. The same basic camera setup (minus one telephoto camera), a 6.9-inch display, and S Pen support. The benefits? Note 20 Ultra has a silo to store the S Pen within, comes in the slick Mystic Bronze color variant, offer a microSD card slot, and still includes a charger in the box. The bad? Note 20 Ultra costs $100 more, has an older Snapdragon 865+, will lose software update support a few months before S21 Ultra, and has a smaller 4,500 mAh battery. It’s not a huge trade-off, really, but one that will make you question what’s most important.
If you’re interested in these phones — and you should be — my advice is to wait for a sale. Trade-in values can take some of the sting off, but Samsung smartphones are notorious for going on sale. Stay tuned to the folks over at 9to5Toys and they’ll let you know when a price drop happens. It doesn’t take long either. The entire S21 lineup was widely discounted by $200 in just a couple of weeks.
OTHER EXCELLENT ANDROID SMARTPHONES
NEW: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3/Fold 3
Foldables may seem like a luxury at this point, and they are, but they’re quickly coming to the mainstream. At this point, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Flip 3 are among the best Android phones you can buy.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 brings almost all of the benefits of the standard Galaxy S21 and S21+ mentioned above, but with a couple of key changes. On the positive, the folding nature of the device allows its 6.7-inch display to take up only half the space in your pocket which makes the device more portable. The hinge can also act as a built-in kickstand for the 12MP cameras, and the whole package is still water-resistant. The only big flaw, as detailed in our review, is the battery life which is definitely sub-par for a device of this price point.
Galaxy Z Flip 3 is available for $999 from Samsung.com, Amazon, Best Buy, and most carriers.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a truly flagship foldable that has a full-size outer display and a considerably larger inner display that unfolds. That inner display supports Samsung’s S Pen tech for handwriting and stylus control and has an under-display camera too so the canvas remains uninterrupted. The device also retains water resistance and similarly has some minor battery life qualms, but it’s a form factor you just can’t experience otherwise. If it’s up your alley, the $1,800 price might not sting too much…
Galaxy Z Fold 3 is available for $1,799 from Samsung.com, Amazon, Best Buy, and most carriers. Sales have already kicked in, though, and Fold 3 has been seen for as little as $1,600.
Samsung Galaxy S20 | S20 FE
There are four Galaxy S20 models, but the only ones most people should care about are the Galaxy S20, S20+, and the late-released Galaxy S20 FE. The two top-end phones — at $999 and $1,199, respectively — offer a great package for any prospective smartphone buyer, starting with their displays. Both phones ship with huge SuperAMOLED panels that have a small punch-hole for the front-facing camera and feature a 120Hz refresh rate.
Behind that display, you’ll find Android 11 with Samsung’s One UI on top, a feature-packed layer that does just about anything you want it to do. The device also features a powerful spec package behind-the-scenes with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865, a whopping 12GB of RAM, and 128GB of UFS 3.0 storage, too.
As for the camera department, there’s a lot to love on paper. Both devices are equipped with 12MP primary cameras, a 12MP ultrawide camera, and a 48MP telephoto camera that, using software, can shoot up to 30x zoom. You’ll get better results from a Pixel or iPhone, but unless you’re taking shots of people or pets regularly, this is a very flexible camera setup that should serve a lot of people just fine. Just be warned when it comes to consistency.
Then, there’s the Galaxy S20 FE. At $699, it’s a much more affordable device versus the rest of the S20 lineup, but offers most of the same core upsides. It has a 120Hz display, a trio of cameras headlined by a 12MP shooter, and offers features like IP68 water resistance, wireless charging, and solid battery life. It also features the same Snapdragon 865 processor, only paired with 6GB of RAM instead of 12GB.
The Galaxy S20 FE is just a tremendously good deal as we put forward in our review. The only potential negative for some people might be that this phone is plastic instead of glass, but that’s all down to personal preference. On the bright side, though, it comes in way more color options.
Another nice improvement on the S20 series is standard 5G on all devices. The smaller Galaxy S20 supports 5G on T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, Google Fi, and has a special version on Verizon. The S20+, on the other hand, has the needed mmWave connectivity to use 5G anywhere in the world. The networks are still being built out right now, but if you want a phone that’s “future proof” for a few years, this is something you’ll want to consider. The Galaxy S20 FE is in the same boat as the regular S20.
At this point in the lifespan, the Galaxy S20 and S20+ are both technically discontinued. You may find they’re often out of stock brand new, or discounted when they are available. But do keep in mind you can also buy them secondhand from various marketplaces.
OnePlus 8 Pro/8T
A proper flagship for a bit less money
OnePlus is usually the name you think of when it comes to a value smartphone, and that’s still mostly true. The OnePlus 8 Pro is a flagship by all definitions, but it cuts the cost considerably compared to the likes of the Galaxy S20 series. Starting at $900, the OnePlus 8 Pro offers a 120Hz, 6.78-inch AMOLED display, Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and plenty of flagship features. You’ll find an IP68 rating for water-resistance as well as 30W charging using the included wired adapter or the optional wireless charger. The OnePlus 8 Pro also comes with Android 10 out of the box with OnePlus’ OxygenOS skin, a lightweight offering that packs a ton of customizability. OnePlus has since rolled out Android 11 to its best 2020 phone too. There’s also a quad-camera array with dual 48MP sensors.
The counterpart of the OnePlus 8 Pro is the OnePlus 8. It offers the same Snapdragon 865, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. It also offers the same 48MP primary camera alongside added ultrawide and macro shooters. Unfortunately, this model ditches the official IP68 rating and wireless charging to save some cash.
The OnePlus 8 is a solid option especially for those buying it from Verizon or T-Mobile. Sales are open for $699 and up.
The OnePlus 8T is a slight step up from the 8, offering a 6.55-inch 120Hz display, the same chipset and core specs, but without a water resistance rating and for $749. The phone also includes a crazy-fast 65W charger in the box and a 48MP primary camera backed up by an ultrawide sensor.
The only big shame about the OnePlus 8 Pro is that it’s still only sold unlocked. You can pick it up from OnePlus’ store and Amazon. The smaller OnePlus 8, on the other hand, is sold through more carriers. The OnePlus 8T is sold unlocked on OnePlus.com as well as through T-Mobile.
Google Pixel 4 XL
While its life was cut short early, Google’s Pixel 4 XL is still a phone that deserves your attention if solely for the fact that it’s got the best camera for shooting stills out there today.
What makes the Pixel 4 such a good experience? It really comes down to the software. Android 10 comes out of the box on the Pixel 4 and it runs like a dream with the Snapdragon 855 and 6GB of RAM onboard. Google also leverages its new Neural Core chip to include faster Google Assistant, a special Recorder app that includes live transcription, and more.
The Pixel 4 also makes some upgrades to the phone’s already famous camera chops. The primary 12MP camera gets some software enhancements that make shots look even better, but thanks to an added 16MP telephoto camera, Google can enable some new features. That includes legitimately impressive zoom up to 8x which is of stellar quality. This phone can also quite literally capture the stars with a special astrophotography mode.
The Pixel 4 also brings a 90Hz OLED display to the table along with 64GB or 128GB of storage, dual speakers, and a matte finish on the side rails on all models and the back glass of the Clearly White and Oh So Orange variants.
If you want to go pick up a Google Pixel 4 XL, it’s still being sold for around $600 or so from some retailers including B&H Photo and Amazon.
Motorola has spent a long time outside of the flagship tier of smartphones, but its Edge series marks a pretty great return. The Motorola Edge and Edge+ represent affordable and high-end plays at the smartphone market, and the cheaper is definitely the better of the two.
The Motorola Edge runs on top of the Snapdragon 765G chipset and offers up a 6.7-inch OLED display that offers a 90Hz refresh rate and “Endless Edge” waterfall design. Edge also packs 6GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4,500 mAh battery. It also has an in-display fingerprint sensor, headphone jack, microSD slot, and USB-C for charging. Cameras include a 64MP main sensor, 8MP telephoto, 16MP ultrawide, and 25MP selfie.
All of that arrives for $699 and can be purchased unlocked from B&H Photo, Amazon, Motorola, and other retailers.
Meanwhile, the flagship Motorola Edge+ is exclusive to Verizon Wireless and costs $999. What do you get for the extra $300? To start, a Snapdragon 865 processor and support for Verizon’s mmWave 5G. RAM gets bumped to 12GB and storage to 256GB. There’s also a 108MP main camera with the same secondary and selfie shooters. Outside of wireless charging, the rest of the specs are the same including the display and overall design.
You can buy Motorola Edge+ exclusively from Verizon Wireless.
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