woman holding galaxy s21 on green table
Samsung

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, 9/3/21: We’ve reviewed our recommendations, and have replaced the Google Pixel 4a 5G, our Best Mid-Range Android Phone recommendation, with Google’s Pixel 5a.

How to Shop For an Android Phone in 2021

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

black galaxy s21 on yellow background
Jack Skeens/Shutterstock

Pros

  • Excellent display
  • Nice middle-ground size
  • Powerful processor
  • 4 years of software support

Cons

  • 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 S21Β 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.

Best Overall

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)

wet blue motorola phone on blue background
Motorola

Pros

  • Big display
  • 3GB of RAM is good at this price
  • Clean software
  • Only $150

Cons

  • 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.

Best Budget

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

Back of Google Pixel 5a
Justin Duino

Pros

  • Excellent cameras
  • Fast software updates
  • Solid RAM and processor for the price

Cons

  • 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.

Best Mid-Range Android Phone

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

Samsung Galaxy S21
Mr.Mikla/Shutterstock

Pros

  • Big, beautiful display
  • Tons of power
  • Five total cameras
  • 4 years of software support
  • It just has everything.

Cons

  • 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.

Best Premium

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

Asus Rog Phone 5
ASUS

Pros

  • High-end processor and RAM pairing
  • Huge battery
  • 144Hz display refresh rate
  • RGB lights are fun

Cons

  • 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.

Best for Gaming

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 5

person holding pixel 5 near marble
Mr.Mikla/Shutterstock

Pros

  • Comfortable modest size
  • Two great cameras on the back
  • 8GB of RAM is very solid
  • Water resistance and wireless charging

Cons

  • Kinda pricey for what it is

All of the phones in this list have good cameras. You’d be happy with any of them if the camera is what you care about the most. However, we really like the Pixel 5 as a simple, no-frills camera phone with good specs and a reasonable price.

The Pixel 5 has a 6-inch display with a 90Hz refresh rate and a higher resolution than the Pixel 4a. It’s a really nice size that feels comfortable in your hand, but it’s not too small or too big.

On the power side, you’re getting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G and 8GB of RAM. This is a really solid combination that hits a sweet spot between budget and premium. You also get some nice added features like wireless charging and IP6 water resistance.

The Pixel 5 has one more camera than the Pixel 4a. It has the same great 12.2MP camera and a 16MP wide-angle camera, but the extra camera gives you some more flexibility when it comes to capturing the best shots. If you care about cameras, it’s worth the upgrade.

Like the Pixel 4a, the Pixel 5 runs a clean version of Android that will get updates very quickly. Software support is three years.

The Pixel 5 will cost you around $700 unlocked. That may seem like a big increase from the Pixel 4a, but you’re getting wireless charging, water resistance, 5G capabilities, and that extra camera. In all, it makes the Pixel 5 the best Android camera phone.

Best Camera

Google Pixel 5

With an extra camera and a few high-end upgrades, the Pixel 5 is a nice step up from the Pixel 4a's great camera setup.

Best Battery Life: Moto G Power (2021)

Moto G Power phone leaning on itself
Motorola

Pros

  • Can get up to 3 days of battery life
  • Big 6.4-inch display for the price
  • Costs around $200

Cons

  • 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.

Best Battery Life

Moto G Power (2021)

When a phone has Power in the name, you expect great battery life, and that's what you get here.

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has close to a decade of experience covering consumer technology and previously worked as a News Editor at XDA Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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