Happy Holidays! This article is part of our Holiday 2021 Gift Guide where you can find the best-of-the-best recommendations from How-To Geek, LifeSavvy, and Review Geek to help you pick the perfect gift for everyone on your list!
Update, 10/26/21: We’ve reviewed our recommendations, and have replaced our best camera phone pick with the new Google Pixel 6 Pro.
There’s arguably never been a better time to buy an Android phone. There are great options at every price point, as you’ll see below. But how do you know which is right for you?
There are a lot of things to consider when buying a phone. If you’re here, you’re already considering Android, so that’s one big decision out of the way. Android devices offer more flexibility than iPhones (with Apple’s closed ecosystem), and there are many, many more phones to choose from.
We’ll be throwing a lot of technical jargon at you in this list. Processors, RAM, megapixels, refresh rates, and more are mentioned in this list. The good news is you don’t necessarily need to worry about all the tech specifications. There’s not one single “spec” that makes or breaks a phone.
The whole smartphone package is what matters, and that’s how we’ve approached this list.
Which Android phone is for you, though? We’ve broken down our guide into several handy categories that should fit your budget and interests. There’s truly an Android phone out there for everyone, it just depends on what matters most to you.
Best Android Phone Overall: Samsung Galaxy S21
- ✓ Excellent display
- ✓ Nice middle-ground size
- ✓ Powerful processor
- ✓ 4 years of software support
- ✗ Not as many cameras as Ultra model
- ✗ Still relatively expensive
It’s hard to pick a single Android phone that will be perfect for everyone, but the Samsung Galaxy S21 gets the closest. It’s big without being ridiculously big, powerful enough to handle anything, and has plenty of cameras to get the best shot.
The Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch display—which sounds huge—but the bezels around it are minimal. The display is 1080p, OLED, and has a smooth 120Hz refresh rate. In short, it’s a beautiful screen.
Powering it is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and 8 or 12 GB of RAM. This is not officially a “gaming” phone, but it can certainly handle any game you want to play.
There are three cameras on the Galaxy S21. It has a 12MP front camera and a 12MP ultra-wide and 64MP main camera on the rear. The 64MP camera is capable of 8K video recording and allows for pretty good optical zoom.
Galaxy phones run an Android skin called “One UI,” and while it can feel a bit bloated at times, Samsung’s support is great. You’ll get four years of software updates, which is more than even Google offers.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 usually goes for around $800, which isn’t super cheap, but it’s a lot more affordable than the premium Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy S21
A solid, well-rounded device that hits all the major things you could want without going overboard.
Best Budget Android Phone: Moto G Play (2021)
- ✓ Big display
- ✓ 3GB of RAM is good at this price
- ✓ Clean software
- ✓ Only $150
- ✗ Poor cameras
The days of crappy cheap Android phones are (mostly) behind us. There are a lot of great options out there now, many of which go for under $200. The best budget Android phone we like the most is the Moto G Play (2021).
You won’t be sacrificing screen size for a low price here, as the Moto G Play has a 6.5-inch 720p display. It does suffer a little in direct sunlight, but at this price point, you generally have to accept little downgrades like this.
The area where you’ll feel the price the most, however, is with the processor. Motorola has equipped the Moto G Play with the Snapdragon 460 and 3GB of RAM. That’s a solid combo for typical daily tasks, but try to do any serious gaming and the Moto G Play won’t be able to keep up.
The Moto G Play has a basic camera setup of one 13MP camera on the back and a small 2MP camera on the front. You’ll get fine photos in well-lit conditions, but low-light will suffer.
Motorola uses a light version of Android without much bloat, which is important for a budget device. You can usually grab a Moto G Play (2021) for around $150, which makes it one of the cheapest phones around.
Moto G Play (2021)
A capable phone that can handle your daily tasks while costing less than $200.
Best Mid-Range Android Phone: Google Pixel 5a
- ✓ Excellent cameras
- ✓ Fast software updates
- ✓ Solid RAM and processor for the price
- ✗ Average battery life
- ✗ Not fully water resistant
The Pixel 5a hits a sweet spot on the edge of mid-range and budget. For under $500 you get the same camera experience and many other specs as the more expensive Pixel 5.
That’s right, Pixel 5a has the same main 12.2MP and 16MP wide-angle cameras as the Pixel 5. And since this is a Pixel phone, you also get Google’s great portrait mode, Night Sight, Astrophotography, and one of the best camera apps out there.
The Pixel 5a hits the lower price tag with a few small changes. First of all, the Pixel 5a’s 6.34-inch display has a refresh rate of 60Hz, whereas the Pixel 5’s is at 90Hz. That’s probably not a big deal to most people. The 5a also has 6GB of RAM, compared to the 8GB on the Pixel 5. One big win is they both have the Snapdragon 765G processor.
Google Pixel phones may not be the beasts of the Android world in terms of raw specs and performance, but they make up for it with refined software and fast updates. So you’re not getting IP68 water resistance or wireless charging, but you are getting great cameras. All of that for $450 sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
Google Pixel 5a
The Pixel 5a is Google’s latest budget flagship, and for $450, you get the same great cameras as the more expensive Pixel 5, albeit with sacrifices made with other specs.
Best Premium Android Phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- ✓ Big, beautiful display
- ✓ Tons of power
- ✓ Five total cameras
- ✓ 4 years of software support
- ✓ It just has everything.
- ✗ Big size might not be for everyone
If price is no issue and you want the best Android device that money can buy, you should get the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s a bigger phone with all the bells and whistles you could ever need.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 6.8-inch OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. It has a higher resolution than the standard Galaxy S21. This is a big phone, but big is what you get with premium.
It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and 12GB of RAM. That’s a powerful combination that will handle even the most resource-intensive games and multitasking sessions. You really can use it for everything.
The Ultra model also has tons of cameras to use for the best picture. The main camera is 108MP and it’s joined by a 12MP ultra-wide, 10MP 3X telephoto, and a 10MP 10X telephoto. Essentially, whether the subject is right up close or super far away, you’ll be able to capture it.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra runs One UI, and Samsung offers four years of software updates, one year more than Google offers on Pixel devices. That’s bang for your buck.
Speaking of bucks, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra goes for around $1,200. Premium does mean premium price tag, too. You get what you pay for.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Ultra in all meanings of the word. This is the phone that has everything but the kitchen sink, and it's priced like it.
Best Android Phone for Gaming: ASUS ROG Phone 5
- ✓ High-end processor and RAM pairing
- ✓ Huge battery
- ✓ 144Hz display refresh rate
- ✓ RGB lights are fun
- ✗ Cameras are just okay
- ✗ It's a big, heavy phone
Gaming phones are a relatively new device category, and they aren’t only for gaming. That is, however, the intended purpose of our pick, the ASUS ROG Phone 5. One look at this phone, and you know what it’s for.
The ROG Phone 5 has a big 6.78-inch display with a 144Hz refresh rate and a touch sampling rate of 300Hz. Those things make games look great, and the dual front-facing speakers make them sound great, too.
Power is important when it comes to gaming, and the ROG Phone 5 ticks all the boxes. It has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 with up to 16GB of RAM. There’s also a beefy 6,000mAh battery making sure you can game for hours.
Cameras are not what you might care about when it comes to gaming phones, but the ROG Phone 5 doesn’t skimp here. It has 64MP, 13MP, and 5MP cameras on the back with a 24MP camera upfront.
To add to the gaming aesthetic, the ROG Phone 5 has programmable RGB lights that make it really stand out. There are several gaming accessories you can add to it as well. This is essentially another premium smartphone, but with more of a gaming focus.
The specs are off the charts, but the price is actually reasonable. You can grab a ROG Phone 5 for around $700. That’s a great price when you consider it has many of the same specs as our premium pick.
ASUS ROG Phone 5
A beast of a phone that can handle any game you throw at it, plus it's reasonably priced.
Best Android Camera Phone: Google Pixel 6 Pro
- ✓ Three great cameras on the back
- ✓ Giant high-res display
- ✓ Excellent battery life
- ✓ Clean software
- ✗ 3 years of updates is shorter than Samsung
- ✗ Expensive
For the most part, any phone in this list is going to take good photos, but the Pixel 6 Pro stands above the crowd. Not only is it a great camera phone, but it’s also a very good phone overall, too.
The Pixel 6 Pro has a massive 6.7-inch display with 1440 x 3120 resolution and 120Hz refresh rate. It’s certainly a large phone, but that big size comes with a lot of extra benefits.
For starters, you get a big 5,000mAh battery that should be plenty to get you through a day with juice to spare. It also has Google’s own Tensor processor and 12GB of storage. Extra goodies include wireless charging and water resistance.
Let’s get to the most important part, the cameras. The main camera is 50MP, it’s joined by a 12MP ultra-wide camera and a 48MP telephoto camera with 4x optical zoom. These cameras make sure you are equipped for any situation you should come across. Whether it’s far-away subjects, group shots, or anything else, it’s all good on the Pixel 6 Pro.
The Pixel 6 Pro costs $900 and it comes with 3 years of Android updates. You’re always going to get those updates first, and the software is the cleanest version of Android you can find.
Best Battery Life: Moto G Power (2021)
- ✓ Can get up to 3 days of battery life
- ✓ Big 6.4-inch display for the price
- ✓ Costs around $200
- ✗ Cameras aren't great
- ✗ Low powered
When you’re looking for a phone with great battery life, it’s usually a good sign when “Power” is in the name. The Moto G Power (2021) will do the job, and it only costs around $200.
The Moto G Power has a 5,000mAh battery, but that alone isn’t what makes for great battery life. The combination of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor and 6.4-inch 1080p display is great for battery life since it’s not pushing all the pixels of a giant 4K screen.
Camera quality is not the selling point of this phone, but the Moto G Power does have a respectable 48MP camera and a 2MP macro camera on the back. The selfie camera is 8MP. Just don’t expect any amazing phones in low-light.
Like our budget pick, the Moto G Power runs a clean version of Android. That also helps with the battery life! You can snag the Moto G Power (2021) for around $200 and never worry about battery life on your next weekend excursion.
Moto G Power (2021)
When a phone has Power in the name, you expect great battery life, and that's what you get here.
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