Finding the best smartphones can be a real challenge and given the cost of even some of the more affordable phones on the market it isn't something you want to get wrong. The good news is that quite a few excellent smartphones were released near the end of 2020, giving you a bounty of options that can now often be found on sale.
With that in mind, we are going to walk you through the best smartphones available today and help you identify which is the best phone for you. Smartphones serve so many purposes these days with some users prioritizing photography, videography, gaming, social media or productivity. Regardless of which group you fall into we are going to find the best phone for you.
We took a look at every smartphone on the market with an eye for performance, cameras, build quality, battery life, display quality and value to determine our picks for the best smartphones.
What is the best smartphone?
Currently, the iPhone 12 is the best smartphone on the market for most people. It delivers an excellent balance of features for the price starting at $799. Thanks to Apple’s reliable software updates, it could easily last you 3 to 5 years without a problem.
Apple’s A14 Bionic processor in the iPhone 12 is far and away the most powerful mobile processor out there and will help keep the smartphone running smoothly for years to come. The dual-cameras on the back of the iPhone 12 produce excellent photos and give you flexibility with a wide and ultrawide lens to make sure you can get everyone or everything into your photos.
If you prefer Android, depending on your budget there are a number of other fantastic options as well right now. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the pinnacle of Android hardware at the moment with a Snapdragon 865+ processor and a triple camera array that allows you to get fantastic photos near or far with up to a 50x zoom. The S-Pen provides a ton of unique functionality and Samsung’s desktop-like DeX interface can turn your smartphone into a laptop replacement in a pinch.
On the other end of the price spectrum is Google’s own Pixel 4a, which at $349, is a virtually unbeatable value. The specs won’t blow you away, but Google continues to prove its software chops with photos from the Pixel 4a beating the results from smartphones that cost hundreds more. Pixels are the one Android smartphone you can guarantee will receive updates immediately and Google has committed to 3 years of updates for the Pixel 4a.
That’s a quick look at some of our top picks, but here’s a rundown of all the best smartphones available today.
The best smartphones you can buy today
The iPhone 12 takes the mantle from its predecessor as the best overall smartphone for most users. There's absolutely an argument to be made for the iPhone 12 mini in this spot as well, it features identical specs save for the smaller 5.4-inch display and smaller battery, so this is largely a question of how big of a phone you want and whether battery life is a big concern for you.
We would recommend paying the extra $50 to get 128GB of storage, unless you don’t take many photos or videos. Otherwise, the 64GB base model is going to fill up fast, which can be irritating to manage and can ultimately impact your peformance later on if your phone is nearly out of storage. While you lose out on the telephoto of the Pro models, the wide and ultra-wide lens on the iPhone 12 are identical to those featured on the Pros and produce excellent photos and the best video quality on any smartphone available today.
There’s simply no beating Apple’s software support with iOS as you’ll have consistent and reliable updates coming to the iPhone 12 for about five years. And if you care about the color of your smartphone, an added bonus with the iPhone 12 is that you get double the color choices of the iPhone 12 Pro and in a much more fun palette.
See our full iPhone 12 review
Let’s get this out of the way. $1,299 is a lot to spend on a smartphone, but to be fair, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a lot of smartphone. The 6.9-inch display isn’t just massive, it’s also almost inarguably the best on the market with a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate that makes navigating Android look so much smoother and the Super AMOLED 2x display makes HDR content pop off the screen.
The Snapdragon 865+ is the top of the line when it comes to Android processors and coupled with the gorgeous display, it makes the Note 20 Ultra unbeatable for mobile gaming. And for the more productivity minded, the large display and 12GB of RAM makes multitasking a breeze. If you need more than that, you can now use DeX mode wirelessly with any Miracast TV to give yourself a desktop experience powered by the Note 20 Ultra.
The S Pen that earns the Galaxy Note line its name got a big upgrade this year with a 9-millisecond response time that makes lag nearly imperceptible. New air gestures might not be for everyone, but triggering your camera remotely is neat and quite useful for group shots. Speaking of cameras, the 108MP primary sensor lets you capture an entire scene then crop into any detail later or you can use the up to 50x zoom to get up close.
Windows 10 users get to enjoy robust integration with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra thanks to Link to Windows, which will let you control your smartphone entirely from your laptop including apps, calls, texts, photos and easy drag and drop file transfers. And while the price is a bit shocking at first, the capabilities of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra manage to make it worth the cost of admission.
See our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review
While the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may reflect the pinnacle of Android hardware achievement, the Pixel 4a is a strong contender for the pinnacle of Android software achievement. For $349, the Pixel 4a hardware is quite good; it features a 5.8-inch OLED display, a solid mid-range processor and the same 12MP rear camera found in the $700 Pixel 5.
That description would easily fit dozens of budget Android devices, but Google manages to eke every bit of performance out of that hardware and put the Pixel 4a in a class of its own. The photos are easily the equal of numerous devices that cost twice as much. Now it doesn’t have multiple lenses, but Google’s Super Res Zoom does an impressive job of delivering digital zoom without sacrificing too much quality. And Night Sight is as impressive as ever on the Pixel 4a, turning barely-there lighting conditions into photos that you’d be happy to share.
The two complaints that can be levied against the Pixel 4a is that it has relatively weak battery life and its processor is well behind other mid-tier Android devices and the budget iOS competitor, the iPhone SE (2020). The battery life may be a problem for those that can’t easily top off their smartphone throughout the day, but unless you are looking to game on your smartphone, the processor isn’t an issue for day-to-day use.
Flagship specs without flagship prices? It’s hard to argue with that proposition and it's exactly what OnePlus delivers with the OnePlus 8 Pro. From its Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor to its 6.8-inch OLED QHD+ display with 120Hz refresh rate, the $899 OnePlus 8 Pro matches up well against phones for $999 and beyond.
If you are unfamiliar with OnePlus, the company is a longtime favorite of Android fans. It offers a relatively stock Android experience and a reliable history of rapid software updates often just days or weeks behind Google itself.
While it doesn’t reliably produce great photos, the triple camera array offers you an excellent range from ultra-wide to telephoto and it is capable of similar results as the Pixel or Galaxy if you take the time. Like the Galaxy S20 line, you can opt to drop that 120Hz display down to 60Hz if you want the full resolution and some extra battery life, but it looks so good in 120Hz that you probably won’t want to.
If you are looking to save a little more money or aren't a fan of the waterfall edge display then take a look at the OnePlus 8T, which delivers comparable specs with a slightly smaller flat 6.5-inch FHD+ display starting at $749.
When the iPhone SE (2020) was released last year, it amazed reviewers as it offered the same A13 Bionic processor found in the iPhone 11 lineup but for just $399. While there are obviously hardware tradeoffs that we’ll address, this means the phone offers nearly identical performance to Apple’s flagships and will see updates right alongside them for the next five years.
The single rear camera is fine, but not up to the standards of the iPhone 11 or Google’s cheaper Pixel 4a for that matter. Apple did give it some other traditionally premium specs though with support for wireless charging and water resistance ( only the flagship Pixel options enjoy waterproofing).
One of the most recent smartphones on the block is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE or Fan Edition. It’s an intriguing option for those who are looking to save some money without giving up too many high-end features. It takes most of the highlight features from the Galaxy S20 line back in March and rolls them into a new and cheaper package starting at $699 (although currently on sale for $599).
Flagship specs like a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 120Hz display, a triple camera array and 5G are all present in this affordable smartphone. And just like the iPhone 11, it comes in a much broader and more fun spectrum of colors than its pricier siblings. The 6.5-inch display is only 1080p, but 120Hz isn’t supported.
The cameras take a hit in terms of overall resolution. You don’t get the massive megapixel count on a primary lens for that 50-100x Space Zoom, but it offers you a wide, ultra-wide and 3x zoom that can deliver up to 30x zoom digitally. The other concession for the price point is a plastic back rather than glass or metal, but some actually prefer the feel and durability of a plastic back.
See our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review
If money is no object there's no question that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best smartphone available right now. Like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, this is a pricey phone, but the feature set largely justifies that cost. The most notable feature has to be Apple's A14 Bionic which just blows away everything else available right now.
The OLED display is bright and vibrant, the one knock against it is that it still lacks the 120Hz refresh rate found on many Android smartphones and Apple's own iPad Pros. Video quality on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is untouched by anything Android has to offer including support for Dolby Vision recording and playback, which literally no other device, let alone a smartphone, can do. While I still have a personal preference for the photos from Google's Pixel line, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers a greater range with its telephoto and Apple's investments in computational photography are likely going to only improve the results from these cameras over time.
Battery life is fantastic on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, more notable this year as the other iPhone 12 models didn't fare as well as they have in the past. Finally, the software support is unmatched with roughly 5 years of updates guaranteed to arrive for your phone on the day and date of each new software release.
At $249 or less when it is on sale, the Moto G Power is firmly in the budget smartphone category. And while it won’t hold up to any of the other smartphones here in most specs, the battery life is incredible.
Pairing a 5,000 mAh battery with a less powerful Snapdragon 665 processor and a 1080p display, the Moto G Power should last through even the longest days of work or play. Our sister site, Tom’s Guide, saw it achieve over 16 hours in its battery rundown test, 4 hours more than the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Nothing else on the Moto G Power is going to wow you, but it does offer a very competent camera experience with a wide, ultra-wide and macro lens available on the back and its 6.4-inch display is large and bright. If budget and battery life are the two top factors on your smartphone buying list then the Moto G Power is an easy recommendation.
The LG Wing is not the best smartphone available, but it is absolutely one of the most unique and it delivers a solid enough overall experience that it's worth consideration for users that will appreciate its unusual feature set.
As you can see the highlight feature of the LG Wing is its dual display form factor with the top display a more traditional 6.8-inch OLED that rotates horizontally to reveal a smaller 3.9-inch display below it. This opens up a lot of multitasking possibilities such as watching a video on the large primary screen while messaging with someone on the smaller screen. Some apps also can utilize the second screen for added functionality, for example when capturing video this allows you to use a "Gimbal mode" with controls for the camera on the secondary display.
Speaking of cameras the Wing also has an unusual pop-up selfie-camera to avoid any kind of notch or hole-punch in the display, it instead emerges from the top of the smartphone when needed and then retracts back in. The three rear cameras on the Wing are solid, but not standouts with the exception of the video capture which is excellent.
Again if you are just looking for the best pure performance, value or cameras then the LG Wing isn't going to win you over, but if you like the sound of some of these unique features and the idea of owning an attention-grabbing smartphone then the LG Wing might be for you.
See our full LG Wing review.
The TCL 10 5G UW is a forgettable product name for a brilliant budget smartphone on Verizon that offers full 5G support for less than $400. That alone is impressive, but this smartphone also delivers one of the best displays I've seen on a budget smartphone, easily the equal of smartphones twice its price.
The battery life is another big win for the TCL 10 5G UW with a 5,000 mAh battery that can keep it going well into a second day or beyond depending on your usage. Performance is solid with the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G found in the much pricier Pixel 5 and paired with 6G of RAM and 128GB of storage.
My two knocks against the TCL 10 5G UW are that it runs Android 10 at launch, Android 11 is coming in 2021 and the cameras aren't great with the exception of the front-facing camera. However, weighed against the cost of the device those seem like reasonable trade-offs to save yourself hundreds of dollars.
See our full TCL 10 5G UW review.
How to find the best smartphone
There are dozens of smartphones released every year and it can be difficult to decide which is going to be the most suited to your needs. Here’s a good set of questions to ask yourself in order to find the best smartphone for you.
What’s your budget?
As you would probably expect, this is going to be a major deciding factor in your smartphone buying experience. There are three fairly distinct tiers in the smartphone market at the moment. Budget smartphones in the $250-$400 range can deliver a solid enough experience for many users, but will typically give up some camera quality and feature a weaker processor. Mid-tier smartphones in the $600-$750 range are enjoying a real resurgence at the moment with features that are just behind the flagships for hundreds less. True flagships start at around $999 and can go up to $1,400 and beyond, and as expected at this price, you should be getting a top of the line processor, the ability to capture near DSLR quality photos and a fantastic display.
Android or iOS?
This could certainly be the first question you ask and will certainly narrow your choices down considerably if you are set on one or the other. The truth is that the two operating systems are closer than ever in terms of overall functionality. Apple does still deliver faster software updates, superior privacy and generally a better app experience. Android offers more customizability, a superior voice assistant, a wider variety of hardware and more user control.
How much battery life do you need?
All the rest of its features won’t matter much if your smartphone is constantly dying before the end of the day for you. We conduct our own battery tests to see how long they will last on a single charge. And while your mileage will of course vary depending on your tasks, it will give you a general idea of how they stack up to one another.
Do you prefer a larger screen?
While the big-screen trend has largely eliminated the truly small smartphones from the market, there is still a spectrum of more compact options. Smaller phones at this point come in at or below 5.8-inches and the largest options are between 6.5-6.8 inches. For productivity and content consumption, a larger screen is definitely better, but there is certainly a portability trade-off so consider what you can carry comfortably.
How much do you value the camera?
The camera is one of the biggest differentiators as you move up the smartphone tiers. There are budget options that can capture excellent photos. However, they’ll lack some of the advanced telephoto and often high-end video capture capabilities that you will find in pricier smartphones. If, like most people, your smartphone is your only camera, then it’s worth considering whether the added reach or resolution of a high-end smartphone will allow you to capture photos and moments you otherwise might have missed.