The 9 Best Smartphones of 2021

Find the right fit for all of your needs

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
Best Overall (Android):
Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G at Amazon
The powerful Note20 is a large, stylus-equipped flagship phone packed with features and capable of taking incredibly sharp photos.
Best Overall (Apple):
Apple iPhone 12 at Apple
For the latest and greatest Apple smartphone, the iPhone 12 gets you an attractive new design and a powerful set of features.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a sharp shooter with three camera sensors that can take stellar shots with plenty of detail, even at night.
The Apple iPhone SE is the best, affordable iPhone on the market.
The stylish OnePlus 9 Pro refines previous versions with its 120Hz display, 5G speeds, and fast charging.
The Galaxy S20 FE is a 5G phone that offers incredible value for most consumers.
For those tired of hand-busting phones, the compact iPhone 12 mini packs a lot of power into a small design.
For blazing fast 5G connectivity without breaking the bank, the Pixel 4a 5G has solid specs and connectivity at a reasonable price.
The Pixel 5 is the best phone Google has to offer, even better, it costs less than most rival flagship phones.

The best smartphones consist of Android and iOS devices, and they should have solid specs, great cameras, and high-resolution screens. While Android devices are a larger part of the market, Apple phones are incredibly popular. No matter which one you prefer, it's possible to find a great phone. On the premium end among flagship devices, you get a powerful processor, gorgeous OLED screens with higher refresh rates, multiple rear cameras, and blazing fast 5G connectivity.

There is also plenty of mid-range and budget options that don't have the same specs but incorporate high-end features like edge-to-edge displays, multiple cameras, and even 5G. Take a look at our roundup of the best budget phones under $300 for a good list of options.

Otherwise, read on to see the best smartphones to get.

Best Overall (Android): Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G

What We Like
  • Huge, stunning screen

  • Amazing cameras

  • Ample power

  • Productivity perks

  • Good battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

  • Can be hard to handle

  • QHD+ or 120Hz, not both

  • Sluggish fingerprint sensor

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G together with its higher-end variant, the Note20 5G Ultra, are arguably the biggest, most powerful Android phones on the market. Both are great options if you're looking for a high-performance, stylus-equipped phone to allow for fast multitasking, note-taking, web browsing, gaming, and photography. Both phones are powerhouses, boasting Snapdragon 865+ processors and between 8GB to 12GB of RAM depending on the configuration, allowing them to handle everything you can throw at them.

The Note20 is slightly smaller and more affordable with its 6.7-inch FHD screen. It has Samsung's classic Infinity-O display with a cutout in the center for the selfie camera. The screen is a Super AMOLED Plus with 393 pixels per inch (ppi) and HDR10+ certification, giving you rich, inky blanks and great color contrast. The Note20 Ultra is slightly bigger, consisting of a 6.9-inch Quad HD display. It's higher resolution at 496ppi and boasts a 120Hz refresh rate, allowing for smooth scrolling, gaming, and browsing.

Camera quality is breathtaking, with the Note20 boasting a triple rear camera setup with a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a 64MP telephoto camera for high-quality zoom. The Note20 Ultra takes it a step further with a 12MP ultra-wide camera paired with a 108MP wide-angle camera, a 12MP telephoto camera, and a laser autofocus sensor for fast focusing and snaps. Both phones are capable of lossless optic zoom, though the Note20 can do 3x while the Note20 Ultra can handle 5x. Both have optical image stabilization for focused photos and stable video, and both can record 8K video at 24fps, 4K at 60fps, and 1080p at 120fps and 60fps.

As with previous phones in the Samsung Note series, both devices are IP68 water and dust resistant, support fast wireless charging, and USB PD 3.0 wired charging. Perhaps the biggest other selling point is that both are 5G-enabled, allowing them to work on the new, fast 5G networks that are becoming available in the US and other countries.

Screen Size: 6.7 inches | Resolution: 2400x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ | Camera: 12MP/64MP/12MP rear and 10MP front | Battery: 4,300mAh

"The Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G is equipped with compatibility for both the low-level sub-6Ghz 5G and super-speedy mmWave 5G, meaning you’re fully equipped for what US carriers have on offer right now." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best Overall (Apple): Apple iPhone 12

iPhone 12
What We Like
  • Eye-catching design

  • Incredibly powerful

  • Full 5G support

  • Beautiful screen

  • Excellent cameras

What We Don't Like
  • Only 60Hz screen

  • No external storage

  • No included power brick

The iPhone 12 is the base model of Apple's new flagship phone lineup. It comes with refinements to design and improved hardware compared to last year's iPhone 11. The big design change is that the sides of the phone are now squared off, reminiscent of the iPhone 4. Aside from that, you still have an edge-to-edge display, a cutout along the top for Face ID and the selfie camera, and an attractive glass back.

The front of the phone is made of reinforced ceramic glass and features a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display. The 2532x1170 panel offers a crisp 460ppi and supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, giving you rich, saturated colors and dynamic range. Under the hood, the phone has a powerful new A14 Bionic processor running on iOS 14.1 which comes with a variety of new features.

Camera performance is also improved, with a 12MP primary sensor and a 12MP ultrawide sensor. The camera supports optical image stabilization, can record 4K at 60fps, and 1080p at 240fps. It's complemented by a 12MP front-facing camera that can also record 4K video at 60fps. Last, but not least, the phone features all the key features you'd expect from a flagship device like wireless charging, the new MagSafe for attachments, IP68 water and dust resistance, and fast charging, though that'll require a separate adapter.

Screen Size: 6.1 inches | Resolution: 2532x1170 | Processor: A14 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and 12MP front | Battery: 2,815mAh

"The iPhone 12 is Apple’s best sub-$1,000 smartphone in years, delivering a premium, polished handset that is packed with power and style alike." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best Camera: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
What We Like
  • Huge, amazing screen

  • Dazzling cameras

  • Speedy performance

  • Zippy 5G speeds

  • Long-lasting battery

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

  • No microSD slot

  • Charges slower than S20 Ultra

  • No charger included

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is one seriously robust Android powerhouse, offering top-end components in a very large, very expensive, and very impressive package. While a bit bulkier than expected, given the constant push towards thinner and lighter phones, the Galaxy S21 Ultra looks and feels fully premium and delivers on nearly every front.

The 6.8-inch screen is bold and beautiful, pairing incredibly crisp QHD+ resolution with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, plus the processor is the fastest you’ll find on an Android right now. It also supports 5G networks, and the huge 5,000mAh battery can handle all of those demands with ease. The S21 Ultra also impresses with its quad-camera array, which includes two separate telephoto cameras and delivers startlingly clear 10x optical zoom shots. At more than $1,000, it’s wildly expensive and is undoubtedly more phone than most people need—but if you don’t mind paying big for the best, this is Android’s top option right now.

Screen Size: 6.8 inches | Resolution: 3200x1440 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | Camera: 108MP/10MP/10MP/12MP rear and 40MP front | Battery: 5,000mAh

“It might make the camera module look absurdly large, but the added 10x zoom option is incredibly cool.”Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best Value: Apple iPhone SE (2020)

THe iPhone SE is our pick for best value iOS.
What We Like
  • Hand-friendly size

  • Flagship CPU

  • Portrait mode everywhere

  • Affordable price

What We Don't Like
  • Tiny screen

  • No Portrait Mode for animals or objects

Launched in 2020, the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) is more than just a relaunch of the affordable first-generation model, putting fresh guts into an iPhone 8 shell. With the new SE you're looking at a dated but classic design featuring big black bezels on the top and bottom, a touch ID button, and a largely aluminum unibody.

That means unlike the classic SE, you won't have a 3.5mm headphone jack, but you do get to take advantage of a slightly larger 4.7-inch screen. It's an HD Retina display, so it's not as big or sharp as the panels you get on either the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, On the plus side, you get tons of power with the new A13 Bionic CPU. It's easily one of the most powerful chips on a phone for this price and size. It also has 1GB more RAM than the old iPhone 8, allowing it to handle just about any task when it comes to browsing, streaming, and gaming.

Our product tester was particularly impressed by the camera capabilities, praising the 12MP rear camera and 7MP face time camera for their ability to take beautiful Portrait Mode pictures. He noted that this feature was made possible by the aforementioned A13 Bionic chip, which takes advantage of the integrated image processors, onboard AI, and machine learning to snap great portrait shots with both sensors.

Other nice touches come from the fact that the new SE boasts IP67 waterproofing, supports wireless charging, and can fast charge with an 18W charger. It's also capable of supporting dual SIMs (one physical SIM and an eSIM), gigabit LTE, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5. These are features you'll be hard-pressed to find on an Android phone, making the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) one of the best compact phones you can buy.

Screen Size: 4.7 inches | Resolution: 1334x750 | Processor: A13 Bionic | Camera: 12MP rear and 7MP front | Battery: 1,821mAh

What We Like
  • Excellent camera

  • 5G capable

  • Ultra-fast charging

  • Speedy Snapdragon 888 processor

  • QHD display with 120Hz refresh rate

What We Don't Like
  • Slippery without a case on

  • 5G not supported on all networks

The OnePlus 9 Pro is the latest flagship smartphone from the brand, and it boasts improvements that help place this device in company with other luxury smartphones from big names such as Samsung and Apple. While the OnePlus 8T introduced some of the features that appear in the OnePlus 9 Pro, the newest model elevates form and functionality. 

Available in two shades with an eye-catching glossy gradient backing and a brand-new advanced quad-camera system in partnership with Hasselblad, the 9 Pro aims to turn heads. Enjoy a refined design, a vibrant 6.7-inch AMOLED Fluid 2.0 display, and take photos like a pro with automatic mode, effortless macro shooting, or control every detail of your next photograph with Pro mode. 

With 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage and operating on the latest and greatest Snapdragon 888 chipset and Oxygen OS 11 based on Android 11, the OnePlus 9 Pro delivers incredibly snappy performance. App loading and switching comes with reliable efficiency and speed—even when gaming. The QHD+ maximum resolution of 3216x1440 and the Smart 120Hz refresh rate dynamically switches to smooth and adapt to frame rate changes, resulting in dynamic video quality and gaming. 

When it’s time to power up, the innovative Warp Charge technology can provide enough power to last a single day with a fast 15-minute charge. Another exciting innovation that ushers the 9 Pro into a new era is support for the brand’s first-ever OnePlus Smartwatch for a tailor-made smartwatch/smartphone experience.

Screen Size: 6.7 inches | Resolution: 3216x1440 | Processor: Snapdragon 888 | Camera: 48MP/8MP/50MP/2MP rear and 16MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh

"The OnePlus 9 Pro (and the OnePlus 9) benefit from the new flagship camera system in partnership with Hasselblad, a big step up over the OnePlus 8 series." Yoona Wagener, Product Tester

Best 5G: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G

What We Like
  • Large 120Hz screen

  • Excellent cameras

  • Speedy performance

  • Beefy battery

  • 5G support

What We Don't Like
  • Under-powered charger included

  • No mmWave 5G in unlocked version

The Galaxy S20 FE 5G is Samsung’s attempt to provide a budget-friendlier alternative to its increasingly expensive flagship phones, taking the core of the Galaxy S20 and making a few smart snips and tweaks to shave hundreds off the list price. Luckily, none of them are critical: you still get a sizable 6.5-inch OLED screen with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, full-bodied power thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, a fantastic triple-camera setup, 5G connectivity (sub-6Ghz only), and a long-lasting battery. It’s an impressive overall package.

The main trade-offs come with the plastic backing instead of glass, as well as losing the ultra-crisp QHD+ resolution of the standard S20, but they’re worth skipping if you’re eager to avoid spending an excessive amount on a powerful new phone. The Galaxy S20 FE is one of the best 5G-capable handsets you can buy today, and while hardly cheap, this Android feels like a bargain compared to some of Samsung’s other super-phones.

Screen Size: 6.5 inches | Resolution: 2400x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 | Camera: 12MP/8MP/12MP rear and 32MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh

"With the same nearly-top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor found in the other Galaxy S20 models, you’ll have no shortage of power on hand in the S20 FE 5G." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best Compact: Apple iPhone 12 mini

iPhone 12 Mini
What We Like
  • Compact, attractive design

  • Immensely powerful

  • Crisp, bright display

  • Speedy 5G support

  • Great cameras

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly weaker battery life

  • Just 60Hz screen

  • Limited 64GB base storage

  • No power brick

The iPhone 12 mini is something we haven’t seen from Apple in a while: a very, very small phone with top-of-the-line technology. It’s the smallest iPhone in years, but unlike the budget-friendly iPhone SE models, the iPhone 12 mini is every bit the flagship phone that the larger iPhone 12 is. It has the most powerful smartphone processor on the market, a great screen, stylish glass-and-aluminum build, and excellent cameras onboard.

The iPhone 12 mini also supports speedy 5G connectivity on top of all of that. The battery is a little bit less resilient than that of the iPhone 12, but not significantly so. This is the premium iPhone that people with small hands have been waiting for, along with anyone who wants a handset that they can easily command with a single hand.

Screen Size: 5.4 inches | Resolution: 2340x1080 | Processor: A14 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and12MP front | Battery: 2,227mAh

"This is the fastest chip available in any smartphone today by clear margins, expanding the lead that Apple has gradually grown with each new edition of its mobile system-on-a-chip in recent years."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best Value 5G: Google Pixel 4a 5G

Pixel 4a 5G
What We Like
  • Stellar camera

  • Smooth Android OS

  • Long-lasting battery

  • Great, big screen

  • 5G support

What We Don't Like
  • Generic looking design

  • No water resistance

  • Lacks mmWave 5G

The Google Pixel 4a 5G is one of the most affordable 5G phones on the market today that you’ll actually want to buy, packing in fantastic cameras, ample battery life, a strong screen, and enough power for all of your everyday needs. It supports the most prevalent sub-6Ghz type of 5G connectivity, and in our testing on T-Mobile’s 5G network, the speeds were 2-3x faster than what we had previously seen via the carrier’s 4G LTE network in the same area.

It lacks a few of the more premium features from the pricier Pixel 5, including the smoother 90Hz refresh rate, aluminum backing, and wireless charging, but the price difference and large similarities otherwise arguably makes the Pixel 4a 5G the smarter pick for most users. It’s not the most exciting-looking phone out there, thanks to a generic plastic build, but it’s tough to find many other knocks against a really strong 5G handset.

Screen Size: 6.2 inches | Resolution: 2340x1080| Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G| Camera: 12.2MP/16MP rear and 8MP front | Battery: 3,885mAH

"You get a 5G-capable phone with a great screen, excellent cameras, and strong battery life, and enough processing power to get the job done." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

What We Like
  • Brilliant cameras

  • Super speedy 5G

  • Smooth 90Hz screen

  • Incredible battery life

  • Android 11 OS

What We Don't Like
  • Skimps on power

  • Bland design

  • Iffy value proposition

Google’s Pixel 5 is a well-rounded 5G smartphone with amazing cameras and battery life, a stellar screen, and the company’s own polished take on Android 11. It comes with support for both the widespread sub-6Ghz and sparse (but super-fast) mmWave varieties of 5G service, meaning you’ll be all sorted as carriers expand coverage for the latest cellular technology.

Unlike earlier mainline Pixel phones, the Pixel 5 does not have a top-of-the-line, flagship-level processor, and thus is actually less powerful than its predecessor. Also, while an improvement over last year’s design, the Pixel 5 can’t help but look a bit generic amidst the current crop of top Android phones. Still, the Pixel 5 feels smooth and responsive and lacks any major hardware deficiencies, making it a very good option for a new 5G phone—even if it feels a bit overpriced considering the processor inside.

Screen Size: 6.0 inches | Resolution: 2340x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G | Camera: 12.2MP/16MP rear and 8MP front | Battery: 4,080mAh

“I recorded a maximum download speed of 1.6Gbps on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network. That’s the fastest speed I’ve seen anywhere on anything.” Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Final Verdict

If you're shopping for a smartphone and want the very best of the best (and prefer Android handsets), the Samsung Galaxy Note20 (view at Amazon) with its killer display and amazing performance is the market leader. On the Apple side, the iPhone 12 (view at Apple) has a powerful A14 Bionic processor, refined design, and improved camera capabilities.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington has been testing and reviewing smartphones and smartphone accessories for over a decade, and has used every smartphone and mobile platform from the early Palm, Symbian, and Windows CE days to the modern era of Apple iPhones and the entire gamut of Android-based phones from the Google Nexus One to the latest Samsung devices.

Andrew Hayward has been covering the latest tech since back in 2006 for a number of major media publications. His top specialty is smartphone and mobile accessories, meaning he was the perfect choice to review a big chunk of the phones on this roundup.

Ajay Kumar is a tech editor at Lifewire who's been covering mobile phones and consumer electronics for nearly a decade. He's been published in PCMag where he's reviewed hundreds of phones, tablets, and other devices. He's personally used several of the phones on this list.

Yoona Wagener has been writing for Lifewire since 2019, covering a wide range of consumer tech including phones, laptops, smart home devices, and more.


Which smartphone has the best camera?
Top-tier smartphones all come with excellent cameras and usually feature multiple rear sensors. You typically get a primary sensor for regular shots, an ultrawide sensor for wide-angle shots, a depth sensor for bokeh, and a telephoto sensor for zoomed shots. This is true of top phones from Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Google, and others. The Google Pixel lineup is particularly well known for its great software augmentation, allowing for improved low-light shots and post-processing. Both the latest iPhone and Samsung flagships have a great hardware array and AI-enhanced shooting. Take a look at our list of the best smartphone cameras for more details.

What is the best Android smartphone?
The Android phone market is extensive, with options ranging from the premium end to ultra-budget devices. In terms of pure hardware, the latest flagship from Samsung is typically the best Android phone on the market, though it does have plenty of rivals since LG, Motorola, OnePlus, Google, and others also have great devices. In most cases the choice will come down to your needs, so be sure to take a look at our best Android phones roundup.

What is the best budget smartphone?
Just because you're on a tight budget doesn't mean you have to settle for less. There are plenty of mid-range and budget options available. While they won't have the latest and greatest processor, you can get plenty of new features like the edge-to-edge design, a sleek build, multiple rear cameras, and even 5G support. Samsung offers phones at many price points, while Nokia has a variety of mid-range options packaged in a stylish design. Motorola and LG both have great workhorses that come with a stylus or offer bigger batteries.

The Ultimate Smartphone Buying Guide

The humble telephone has come a long way over the years. Gone are the days when the phone was simply a way to call people. These days, smartphones are the hub of our digital lives, serving as a way to communicate with people, surf the Web, play games, pay bills, stay organized, and more.

When shopping for a smartphone, there are many factors to consider. First, you'll have to figure out which operating system you want that smartphone to run. And you’ll also want to consider other factors, including the amount of storage, screen size, battery life, and camera quality, to name a few. And so, because a smartphone is one of our most important possessions, it can sometimes be tough to pick out the right one. That, however, is why we’ve put together this guide—to help you find the perfect smartphone for your needs.

Smartphone Operating Systems

So if you decided you want a smartphone, you'll have to then consider which operating system you want to use. The operating system on a smartphone plays the same role as an operating system on a computer. It’s basically the software that you interact with on a daily basis. On an iPhone, the operating system is iOS, while on an Android phone, it’s Android. There are a few advantages and disadvantages to each operating system, which we’ll go over below.


Interested in an Android operating system? Android is the most popular smartphone operating system in the world, and for a number of reasons. For starters, unlike Apple, which only allows for iOS to be used on its iPhones, Google licenses out Android to other companies. That’s why the likes of Samsung, HTC, Huawei, and Google itself all use the Android operating system.

 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

If you’re a tried-and-true Google user, then Android is usually better at working with those apps and services. We’re not just talking about the Google search engine here—other operating systems make good use of that, too. Instead, we’re talking about the Google Play Music streaming service, Google Drive cloud storage, other Google devices like the Google Home smart speaker, and more. Now more than ever, choosing a smartphone operating system is about choosing an ecosystem, and if you go for an Android phone, it might be helpful to either already use Google’s services, or be willing to switch.

Android is also generally considered to be the operating system “that can do more" and has more features. That’s because of the nature of Android—the code for Android is available for developers who want it, and Google is far less closed off than Apple about that. If you’re a tinkerer, or you want to install apps from third-party sources, Android may be the way to go, though we recommend only downloading apps from the Google Play Store to ensure that your phones stay malware-free. The trade-off of being able to do more is that it’s slightly less easy to use than phones with iOS.

Last but not least is the fact that Android phones make use of Google’s work in machine learning and artificial intelligence. The result of that is that Google Assistant is more capable than some other digital assistants, and Android is better at predicting what you might want to do and when you might want to do it.

In the end, there are a few main reasons to go for an Android phone. They can be a little cheaper, they work better with Google’s apps and services, and they’re a little smarter.


Apple’s iOS may not be used by as many people around the world, but in the U.S. it’s actually the dominant smartphone operating system. There are plenty of reasons to go for an iPhone—the phone that runs iOS—over an Android device. The main ones, however, are that it’s built by Apple, and as such it’s both super easy to use, ultra-stylish, and plays nice with other Apple devices.

From the start, iOS guides you through getting used to your phone, and pretty much everything is where you would expect it to be. Settings are all in the settings app, apps are all lined up together, and so on.

Because of the fact that Apple controls every aspect of the development of an iPhone, they can generally last longer and feel faster in how they handle things like multitasking. That doesn’t necessarily mean that iOS phones perform truly better than Android phones—though they often do—it just means that iOS is better at working with the hardware to create a great user experience.

There’s also the fact that iPhones work better with other Apple devices. Safe to say, if you have a Mac computer or iPad, then an iPhone may be the way to go, as it makes it easy to sync things like photos, messages, e-mails, and more, all with Apple’s iCloud.

If you want a simple user interface, better Apple integration, and a phone that performs better for longer, then a phone with iOS is probably the way to go.

Other Features and Considerations

The operating system isn’t the only thing to consider when buying a smartphone, though if you’ve figured out which operating system you want, then you’ve done a lot of the work. You’ll also want to think about the hardware (processor, RAM, etc.) under the hood, the camera, screen size, battery capacity, and more. Only a few of these things are an issue when buying an iPhone (there are only a few iPhone models each year to choose from). But if you’re buying an Android phone, these things might all be something to consider.

 Lifewire / Jordan Provost


The processor is essentially the brain of a computer, or in this case, a phone. More powerful processors basically mean that your phone can “think” faster, meaning tasks are completed quicker, multitasking is zippier, and your phone will perform well for longer. Longevity is important here: A phone with a sub-par processor might be perfectly fine at handling the apps of today, but that may not be true of the apps being released in two years.

There are a few companies developing processors for smartphones. Apple develops its own processors in-house, but the likes of Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung, and more, all develop processors for Android phones. In the U.S., Qualcomm chips are most common, and in 2018, the flagship Qualcomm chip is the Snapdragon 845. The higher the number here, the better.

If you want more powerful processors, you’ll want processors with multiple “cores.” Traditional processors can only perform one task at a time, but a dual-core processor can process two, and a quad-core processor can process four.


Storage is perhaps the most important thing for most people to consider. The more storage you have on your phone, the more files, apps, photos, video, etc., that you can keep on there at a time. These days, it’s a little easier to get by with less storage if you use cloud storage like Apple Photos or Google Drive, but some things simply can’t work without being stored on your phone. We recommend getting a phone with at least 16GB of storage (for light users), though 32GB is going to be much better, and 64GB or more should be enough for heavy users.

Some phones also allow for external storage, usually through a MicroSD card slot. With this slot, you can buy a small card about the size of a SIM card, which can be used to store files on. MicroSD cards start at a low price for low-capacity ones and range up from there.


The camera has become one of the most important aspects of a phone. After all, when a phone has a great camera it means you can quickly capture a moment without having to carry around another camera.

There are a few things that make a great camera, but the most important is the software behind it. Two phones with identical camera specs can yield vastly different results, so, unfortunately, it’s near impossible to shop for a phone with a great camera by only looking at specs on paper.

Still, there are a few specs to consider. For starters, the resolution of the camera is important to many people. Resolution determines the number of pixels that make up a photo or video—and a higher number of pixels means the photo will look good on higher resolution displays. As displays continue to go up in resolution, that can be very important.

 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

You’ll also want to think about aperture, which is basically the size of the hole that light goes into before it reaches the camera sensor. The larger the hole, the more light that’s let in—which can be helpful for low-light situations. Aperture is expressed as an f-number—like, for example, f/2.0. Larger apertures, however, are represented by smaller numbers—which is confusing, but unfortunately the way it is.

We recommend looking at reviews for a phone to determine whether the camera is good or not. As mentioned, simple specs don’t mean a whole lot when it comes to camera quality, here are a few phone cameras we highly recommend.


RAM, or Random Access Memory, is another form of storage, but instead of using it to save files, its used by your system to save things that it might want to pull up quickly. Most commonly, open apps are saved in RAM so that when you close them and open them again, they can show up on the screen without having to completely load again.

Generally speaking, more RAM is better when buying a smartphone, but phones with more RAM also often cost more. For a mid-range phone, you’ll probably find phones in the 2GB of RAM range, but for most users, a device with 3GB or more is recommended.

Display Type

When it comes to phones, a screen isn’t just a screen. There are a few different types of displays, and they’re not all created equal.

The most common type of display type in mid-range and low-end phones is the LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display. LCDs are inexpensive to produce, which is why they’re used so often, but the trade-off is that they’re not the best at conserving battery life and they generally don’t produce the deepest blacks or brightest colors. There are two types of LCD’s though: TFT-LCDs, which are cheaper and the worst at color reproduction, and IPS-LCDs, which are a little better at color reproduction and wider viewing angles.

These days, high-end phones are doing away with LCDs in favor of OLED displays. Because OLED displays light up individual pixels rather than the display as a whole, it saves on battery life. On top of that, when black shows up on the screen, OLED displays simply don’t light it, meaning that blacks look deeper, and contrast ratios are higher. You might see “Super AMOLED” displays out there, which is basically Samsung branding for its OLED displays.

You’ll probably only notice the difference between LCD and OLED displays if you have a truly sharp eye, although you might find the battery improvements that come with OLED displays to be worth the extra cash.

Screen Size

Phone display sizes have gotten a whole lot bigger over the years, and that might be important to you. Smaller displays come in at four inches, while larger displays can range up to seven inches. Phone displays are likely to continue to get bigger, too. That’s because of the trend of edge-to-edge displays, which minimize the amount of space between the screen and the edge of the phone and make for phones with larger displays, but the same overall size.

If you like to watch videos, look at photos, or play a lot of games on your phone, you might want to consider buying one with a larger display size.

 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

Biometric Authentication

Gone are the days when you had to enter a PIN code to access your phone. These days, most smartphones have a fingerprint sensor built into them, ensuring you can get into your device quickly and easily, and at the touch of a sensor. Some higher-end phones also have other forms of biometric authentication, like iris scanning or facial recognition.

Many consider fingerprint sensing to be the easiest way to authenticate, especially depending on its placement. While some phones mount a fingerprint sensor on the front of the device, others have a sensor on the back, making it easy to quickly scan your fingerprint as you take your device out of your pocket.

These days, some phones also have facial recognition, which is both safer, and sometimes easier to use. All you have to do to authenticate yourself with facial recognition is look at your phone, which does present some difficulty if your phone is on your desk, for example.

Some other high-end phones also offer iris scanning, which presents its own advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that iris scanning is highly secure and relatively easy to use, but the disadvantage is that iris scanners are expensive to make and implement.

We recommend a phone with at least a fingerprint scanner, though any other methods of authentication can be useful, too.

Battery Capacity

Not all batteries are the same size, and a smaller battery can have a serious impact on how long your phone lasts on a single charge. Battery capacity is measured in milliampere-hours, or mAh—where a higher number represents a larger capacity. Of course, it’s not always as simple as “larger batteries make your phone last longer.” A phone with a larger battery but an equally high-resolution display and power-hungry processor may not last as long as a phone with a smaller battery, lower-resolution display, and less intense processor.

Most phones that you come across should last at least a day of normal use on a single charge, but the fact remains that bigger batteries are helpful, and battery capacity is definitely something you should consider. We recommend getting a phone with at least a 2,500mAh capacity, though again, how long that lasts will depend on a lot of different factors.


While battery capacity is important enough, for many, how you charge up that battery is equally as important. Many devices simply charge through their charging port, and most low-end and mid-range phones don’t have any fancy fast-charging tech. Some phones, however, have ways to accelerate how fast their battery is charged, at least when coupled with the right charger. This fast-charging tech varies from company to company, but whenever present, it can be very helpful to have.

There’s another charging tech that can be helpful, and that’s wireless charging. Wireless charging has been around for some time now, and some Android manufacturers have been making use of it for years. Just recently, Apple introduced wireless charging on its phones, so the tech has quickly become a whole lot more popular. Wireless charging essentially allows you to charge your phone by popping it onto a charging mat or dock, without having to plug it in. It’s very convenient, but something largely reserved for high-end devices. If you are buying a high-end device, wireless charging is definitely something to consider.

 Lifewire / Claire Cohen


You’ll likely want your phone to be durable, and there are a few ways to make sure it is. The most common rating for durability is an “Ingress Protection” rating, which covers water-resistance and dust-proofing. Most phones that have an IP-rating have at least IP67, which means that a phone is dust-tight and can withstand being immersed in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. A rating with numbers higher than that is always better.

Some phones also have military drop-test ratings, which means they’re tested to be able to withstand drops and bumps. Phones that have this aren’t common, but they should be able to withstand a whole lot more abuse than the standard phone. Most commonly, you’ll see the MIL-STD-810G standard, which means the phone has been tested to withstand a total of 26 drops on each face, edge, and corner. The standard is a little misleading because manufacturers can test with up to five samples, meaning each sample is only dropped five or six times, but it still means that the phone should withstand the odd drop perfectly fine.


As you can tell, there are quite a few things to consider when buying a new smartphone. You’ll then want to decide between Android or iOS. And of course, you still need to figure out a budget, and decide on the specifications that are most important to you (whether they be power-related, display-related, or otherwise). Find the best phone with those specs in your price range, and voila, you have yourself a new phone.

No matter what’s important to you, there’s almost certainly a smartphone that will be perfect for your needs. There are dozens of phones out there, after all, and more are being released every single week.

Was this page helpful?