The best Android phones from affordable to flagship

The best Android phones from affordable to flagship
Written ByBrendan HessePublishedNov. 4, 2021

There are a lot of Android phones out there. The wide variety of devices and manufacturers bringing new ideas to the platform is a huge selling point for die-hard fans, but also a huge barrier to entry for people who just want a new phone that works well. You can find good Android devices for as little as $200, or as much as $2,000. Some are better for photography. Others are mobile gaming powerhouses. Android itself even changes from manufacturer to manufacturer. It can be overwhelming to newcomers and long-term Android fans alike. Luckily, our guide for the best Android phones has all the info you need to sort through the crowded marketplace to find your next device.

How we picked the best Android phones

We selected our picks for the best Android phones based on our experience with many of these phones, as well as trusted sources and professional reviewers. Since there are so many Android devices on the market, each with its own hardware and features, we made sure to select a variety of devices at various price points and unique use cases that we’re confident will match your specific needs in a smartphone.

What to consider when buying a new Android phone

If this is your first time shopping for a new Android phone, you’ve probably noticed just how many options there are. Not only are there several Android phone manufacturers, but each company may have multiple smartphone lines, each of which comes in multiple models that differ in size, power, and features. It’s overwhelming, but spotting the right phone for you will be easier if you keep a few essential factors in mind during your search.


The first thing most people examine when picking a new phone is the part they stare at most of the time, the screen. Many immediately look at the phone’s size, but the technology that determines how sharp and bright it looks is far more sophisticated (and important). This includes the screen’s resolution, which measures how many pixels are in the display, and pixel density, or how close those pixels are on screen. A higher pixel density, measured in pixels per inch (or PPI), translates to a sharper, more detailed image. A 7-inch screen with a 1080p resolution will look grainier than a 5-inch screen running in 4K.

In addition, a phone display’s refresh rate, measured in Hz, determines the number of times a screen “draws” a screen per second. A phone with a higher refresh rate (aka frame rate) allows for smoother animations in videos, apps, and even menus. High refresh rates are especially important for mobile gaming.


While the size of the screen isn’t a measure of picture quality, the overall form factor of your smartphone is still important. Android devices come in many sizes and, in some cases, shapes. Right now, 6-6.5 inches tall and 2.5-3 inches wide are common measurements for a modern phone, and most of our picks fall within that range. These should fit in the hands of most adults, and probably in your pocket.

Size isn’t just about usability, however. For better and for worse, a larger phone often comes paired with superior specs. The Samsung S21, for example, is smaller and less powerful than the S21 Ultra. The same goes for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, and so on. Bigger isn’t always better; the Pixel 5a was bigger than the Pixel 5, despite being the weaker phone. However, in general, bigger phones tend to have more powerful hardware and/or better battery life.


It’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have a camera in our pockets. Every smartphone has a camera, but there’s a lot of variation in camera quality. For some devices, photography is a major focus; for others, it’s merely a formality.

Sussing out a phone’s camera quality will be tough unless you already have a strong background in photography. In general, the best camera phones will at least have a main camera, a telephoto camera, and a wide-angle (or ultra-wide angle) camera on its rear-facing array, and at least one or two selfie-cameras above the screen.

However, smartphone camera specs can be deceiving. More cameras and larger megapixel counts might seem better, but the truth is much more complicated. Other factors, such as sensor size, pixel size, whether a camera uses optical or digital zoom, and your phone’s settings will affect the final picture quality. And perhaps even more important than hardware specs—at least when it comes to high-end flagship devices—is camera software.

For example, Google’s Pixel devices are frequently heralded by critics as the best smartphones for photography, but it’s easy to imagine a general user seeing the Pixel 6’s three-camera array as “inferior” to the four-camera setups with high megapixel counts on the OnePlus Pro and Samsung S21 Ultra. In practice, however, the Pixel 6’s camera’s hardware and software result in the best phone photography currently available.

The best way to judge a smartphone’s camera quality is to test the phone hands-on before you buy. If you can’t, be sure to look for reviews that provide photo comparisons for reference.

The processor

It’s easy to forget sometimes, but a smartphone is a computer. Modern phones are packed with powerful components that let them run apps, games, take pictures, and every other function you can think of instantly, without any friction. To run so smoothly, phones require a powerful system on a chip (SoC) with the core processing components of your phone, including its CPU and GPU.

Newer and more powerful SoC chipsets will naturally result in faster performance. Currently, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and 888 Ultra are the top-of-the-line chipsets found in many flagship Android phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S21. With the Pixel 6 line, Google started building its own custom Tensor chips like how Apple creates custom chipsets for each version of the iPhone. While not quite as powerful as Qualcomm’s high-end SoCs, Google’s Tensor chips enable AI-driven features that are exclusive to Pixel 6 devices.


The processor isn’t solely responsible for your phone’s performance. Memory, or RAM, dictates how many tasks a phone can do at once. (Which is important, because it’s almost always doing many things at the same time.) Though cloud services allow you to offload lots of files, having enough internal storage for your apps, photos, media files (like songs and podcasts), is also important.

5G connectivity

It’s likely you’ve seen 5G, short for fifth-generation cellular broadband, touted as a massive step up for your mobile download and streaming speeds. It’s true! That said, actually connecting to and using 5G is still a mess in some parts of the country. Mobile ISPs are expanding 5G service, though, and more smartphones are 5G compatible than ever.

Confusingly, there are actually two types of 5G: the “true” millimeter wave 5G, and “low band” 5G. Both are faster than the 4G LTE networks, but mmwave is where the true benefits lie, enabling download speeds that markedly outpace both 4G LTE and low band 5G connections. Unfortunately, mmwave’s rollout is slower than low-band 5G and not all phones advertised as 5G actually support mmWave. If 5G is important to you, make sure you check for 5G coverage in your area and check which type of 5G a phone uses before buying.

Android version

Like we said, even Android itself varies from phone to phone. Many Android phones run plain-old Android out of the box, but some use modified versions of the OS—such as the OneUI on Samsung devices, OnePlus’ OxygenOS, and ASUS’ ZenUI—that look and run slightly different from the standard, “stock” Android experience created by Google.

Custom variants tend to add manufacturer- or model-specific features and apps, like the Samsung Messages app or the ASUS ROG Phone’s gaming-focused widgets—but these modifications are mostly superficial. OneUI, OxygenOS, and ZenUI are still Android, so you won’t have any trouble downloading apps, and deciding whether they’re “good” or “bad” is a matter of taste.

However, there is one objective downside to these custom Android variants: you won’t get major Android system updates immediately at launch. The monthly security patches still roll out on time, but you may have to wait months before you get major upgrades and revisions like Android 12, which was only available on a very small number of devices at launch.

If you want the pure Google Android experience, the company’s Pixel devices are built around the stock Android experience and get the latest core features, system updates, and beta invites before other Android devices. If you want to get Android 12—and, eventually, Android 13—as quickly as possible, a Pixel phone is your best option.

Best Android phones: Reviews & Recommendations

Even if you know what you want from your next smartphone, it’s hard to grok a phone’s quality based on spec lists alone, and even harder to parse the differences between models with seemingly identical components. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best Android phones currently available.

We used the criteria outlined above to find the best Android phones overall, plus the best options for specific uses like photography and gaming, the best folding phone, and the best 5G phone at an affordable price point to give a range of devices we think are worth your time. Or, at the very least give you a good place to start your search.

Best Android phone overall: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

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Why it made the cut: The Galaxy S21 Ultra is packed with the latest smartphone technology, including five cameras, a high-refresh-rate screen, and one of the strongest smartphone processors available.




Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is the company’s strongest flagship yet and our pick for best Android phone overall. It’s an incredibly expensive phone, starting at $1,200, but its features and performance are worth that sky-high price.

Videos, apps, and games look great on the S21 Ultra’s 6.8-inch AMOLED screen, and an optional dynamic refresh rate setting shifts from the standard 60Hz mode up to as high as 120Hz, or as low as 10Hz, depending on what’s on the display.

The best Android phones from affordable to flagship

The Galaxy S21 Ultra also has asharp, versatile camera, featuring two separate telephoto lenses (one 3x optical zoom and the other 10x), and helpful shooting modes to get the perfect shot. Qualcomm’s current-best chipset, the Snapdragon 888, powers these features, and is strong enough to handle demanding apps, games, and general multitasking.

Battery life, another smartphone pillar, also shines. You can expect about a day’s worth of use on a single charge and it juices up quickly over wired or wireless charging. Performance will fluctuate depending on how often the screen uses the higher refresh rate modes, but only slightly, and you can lock the screen to 60Hz if it’s an issue. Charging does present a small issue, though: The Galaxy S21 Ultra ships with a USB 3.0 cable, but you need to buy a wall charger separately (unless you own a compatible one from a previous Android device).

Speaking of extra accessories, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Galaxy S phone to support the S Pen stylus, but it doesn’t come with the phone, and you need a specific case if you want to store the stylus on the S21 Ultra. And unlike many previous Galaxy devices, the S21 Ultra does not have a MicroSD slot for expandable storage, so you’re locked into the onboard space for the model you buy.

Even with minor quibbles like the lack of an SD card slot and having to buy one or two necessary accessories, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the most well-rounded flagship Android phone, making it the best choice for most people.

Best value Android phone: OnePlus 9 Pro

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Why it made the cut: The OnePlus 9 Pro is a powerful flagship Android phone that’s just barely outmatched by the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but with a prettier design and more affordable price.




The $1,000 OnePlus 9 Pro is probably the best-looking phone on this list, being the best value Android phone is its real draw. In many ways, it matches the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in specs and performance, thanks to the powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset, but with a $1,000 starting price. That’s still very expensive, but also substantially less than Samsung’s top phone.

Like the S21 Ultra, it sports an AMOLED display with a variable refresh rate of up to 120Hz. The screen is a smidge smaller, at 6.7 inches, but it’s just as vibrant.

Camera performance is also good, but this is one area where the OnePlus 9 Pro lags behind its main competitor, largely due to its underwhelming software feature like the nighttime photography mode. It also has a slightly smaller battery than the S21 Ultra at 4,500 mAh, but its super-fast charging speeds make up for it. Plus, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s 65W wall charger actually ships in the box. A small win, sure, but a noteworthy inclusion since other manufacturers only supply wall chargers as separate purchases.

The phone only comes in a single configuration with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, but those numbers are plenty for most users, and the model’s overall performance often outpaces other flagship devices with similar specs, including the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Like other OnePlus handsets, the OnePlus 9 Pro runs OxygenOS—OnePlus’ unique version of Android. OxygenOS still has the same core functionality as other Android devices, but it looks and feels different from the stock Android experience. It’s less of an alteration than Samsung’s OneUI, but like other modified versions of Android, major updates (like the recent Android 12) will take longer to show up for OxygenOS.

Best Android phone for photography: Pixel 6 Pro

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Why it made the cut: Google’s Pixel 6 Pro features the best smartphone camera on the market, with excellent hardware specs and unique machine learning photo features thanks to Google’s new Tensor chip.




The Pixel 6 Pro is Google’s most powerful smartphone to date. While not as fast as the Snapdragon 888 chip that powers many of the other devices on this list, Google’s new proprietary Tensor chip enables several features unique to the new Pixel 6 line, including on-device speech translation and—most importantly—impressive software-enhanced photography.

As the best Android phone for photography, the Pixel 6 Pro is equipped with three rear-facing cameras and two front-facing selfie cameras, all of which take advantage of Google’s AI-driven shooting modes and post-processing enhancements. A standout feature is the “Magic Eraser” tool, which lets you erase background objects and tiny details from your photos, and the Tensor chip’s machine learning algorithm accurately fills in the blanks based on the image data. It also records some of the best 4K video you’ll see from a smartphone, with real-time HDR and up to 60 fps. Photos and videos will look great on the phone, too, thanks to its bright, 6.71-inch OLED with a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz.

It’s also the only device on our list that ships with Android 12 preinstalled.

As with Samsung’s devices, the Pixel 6 Pro’s 30W wall charger is sold separately. Older Pixel wall chargers should work, but if you don’t have one, plan to buy one separately. Even when you factor in the price of a wall charger, the Pixel 6 Pro is still a relatively affordable flagship phone and does some amazing things no other device can.

Best folding Android phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G

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Why it made the cut: Samsung needed a few iterations to get the folding smartphone design right, but the Galaxy Z Fold3 may be the first to really be worth the money.




Samsung has finally made good on the promise of the best folding Android phone with the Galaxy Z Fold3 5G. Its seamless 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED folding display is big and bright, while the refreshed hinge design and the sturdy chassis solve many of the durability concerns of past folding devices, and folds seamlessly with no gaps.

The Z Fold3 also has a second, 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED screen on the outside of the chassis, which displays key info when the main screen is folded. While thinner than most smartphone screens, the exterior display looks good and works well when you need to operate the phone without unfolding it.

The Z Fold3 has similar hardware specs to the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Of course, powering multiple high-refresh-rate displays means Z Fold3’s performance is comparatively slower and battery life is shorter than the S21 Ultra’s, but it’s still a strong phone.

When unfolded, the Z Fold3 is almost as large as a tablet, so Samsung wisely added a new multitasking bar to the display used for quickly swapping between open apps, similar to the Windows taskbar or Mac OS app bar, that makes it easier to use. It also supports the Samsung S Pen stylus for writing and drawing in apps that support it, and navigating the OneUI interface.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to buy it separately, adding an extra charge on top of the extremely steep $1,700 base price for those who want to use the accessory.

Best Android phone for gaming: Asus ROG Phone 5

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Why it made the cut: ASUS’s latest gaming-focused Android device has the processing power and 5G connectivity necessary to play the latest games, and an unbeatable 144Hz screen to make them look great.




Smartphone games run the gamut from pocket-sized puzzle games you play on bus rides, to hardcore gaming experiences on par with (or identical to) the games played on PC and home console. Whatever you’re playing, it takes a lot of power (and a lot of mobile data) to keep up with the demands of modern games, but as the best Android phone for gaming, the ASUS’ ROG Phone 5 is up to the task. That’s not all too surprising; ASUS’ Republic of Gamers, or “ROG,” brand is a top gaming PC manufacturer, so it makes sense it’s gaming-focused smartphone has the hardware to run games like Genshin Impact or PUBG locally with excellent fidelity, or stream Stadia, Xbox Cloud Streaming, and GeForce Now games over WiFi or 5G data.

Inside the phone’s stylish chassis is a swathe of high-end hardware perfect for games, including a Snapdragon 888 chipset, two 3000 mAh batteries (for a total of 6000 mAh battery life), and up to 12 GB of LDDR5 RAM and 256 GBs of data storage. The phone’s 6.78-inch AMOLED panel has a whopping 144Hz refresh rate, which makes games look smooth and keeps input lag to a minimum. It also has plenty of high-end, gaming-friendly features including two USB-C ports, an integrated headphone DAC, two front-facing speakers, and preinstalled gaming apps. At the same time, ASUS clearly cut corners in some non-gaming areas, including a lackluster camera. That said, it’s unbeatable for gaming and app performance.

Best budget Android phone: Pixel 5a

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Why it made the cut: The Pixel 5a isn’t the newest Android device, but its powerful camera, 5G connectivity, and the promise of feature updates for years to come feel like a steal at $450.




The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro might be Google’s newest Android phones, but don’t count out last year’s models just yet. The Pixel 5a is a worthy pick for best budget Android phone and anyone trying to upgrade to a 5G phone without spending a thousand bucks or more. At just $450, the Pixel 5a offers respectable (if outdated) mid-range specs, 5G network support, and camera technology second only to the Pixel 6 and its Tensor chip. It can also upgrade to Android 12 right out of the box, giving you immediate access to features that may take months to arrive on non-Pixel devices. Google also supports older devices for years after launch, routinely adding new features and fixing bugs, and the Pixel 5a still has several years of updates ahead of it.

To be fair, and some other sub-$500 options best the Pixel 5a in a few key points. One of its closest rivals, the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G, is just $50 more expensive and features an eye-catching 6.5-inch 120Hz AMOLED panel compared to the Pixel 5a’s 6.34-inch 60Hz OLED. Sure, the 5a’s processor is better, but it’s not a massive leap; it really is the camera that makes this the best sub-$500 5G Android device. It takes better photos than almost every other phone on this list—except, of course, the Pixel 6 Pro—and at less than half the price.


Q: Which Android phone sold the most?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the all-time highest-selling Android phone, at 80 million units worldwide. Samsung’s Galaxy phones are routinely among the best-selling phones and the Galaxy A51, A21S, A01, and A11 were among the best-selling Android phones in 2020.

Q: Which smartphone will last the longest?

Of the current Android phone crop, the Moto G Power’s battery will last the longest on a single charge—often several hours longer than the most powerful flagship phones. Unfortunately, it’s a sub-par device otherwise, with weak specs and lagging Android update support, but it only costs between $200 and $250 depending on the mod

Q: Which Android phone is better than the iPhone?

Deciding if an Android phone is better than the iPhone is ultimately a matter of preference. The Android and iOS experiences differ quite a bit. Android is the more open and flexible option, while iOS is more restrictive but more secure and better curated. Both operating systems have unique software features the other does not.That said, each year’s Android flagship phones find ways to outperform Apple’s latest phones in specific ways. When the Galaxy S21 Ultra and OnePlus 9 Pro launched earlier this year, they had arguably better screens than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with higher refresh rates and max brightness, and better benchmark scores from respected sources. Right now, the Pixel 6 Pro has arguably the best smartphone camera stack of any phone, including the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Final thoughts about the best Android phones

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best smartphone you can buy in 2021. It’s expensive, sure, but it excels in every category. If it’s just outside your budget, the OnePlus 9 Pro is almost as good in every way. Its camera isn’t as good as the S21 Ultra’s, but its battery charges faster, and it’s a great-looking device. For those who want the best photographs possible, the Pixel 6 Pro is your best option—though the Pixel 5a is pretty good, too, and more affordable.

There are always tradeoffs for picking one device over another. We can confidently say that all of these phones have qualities that make them one of the best Android phones and worthy of your consideration…at least until someone comes along and makes something better.