Supply chain problems? What supply chain problems? The pandemic might have put a spanner in countless launch calendars works last year, but normal service has pretty much resumed – and 2021 has been a bumper year for handsets.
From Apple and Samsung to Oppo, OnePlus and Xiaomi, we’ve seen a fleet of powerful flagships and excellent affordable phones hit shelves this year – and there’s still a whole quarter of it left.
Want to see which other devices we’re still expecting to see this year? Check out our regularly updated list of 2021’s most anticipated releases. Or for a shortcut to the top phones of the year so far, just scroll down.
Additional words: Andrew Hayward
10) Redmi Note 10 Pro (from £229)
Xiaomi’s Redmi devices have always been about value, but the Note 10 Pro proves there can be plenty to shout about in a low-cost smartphone. A bargain blower with specs above its price bracket, the Redmi Note 10 Pro packs a 108MP main camera sensor, a 6.67in AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rates (outperforming the OnePlus Nord 2), plus a massive 5020mAh battery (backed up by 33W fast charging speeds). Sure, its cameras can’t compete with devices like the Samsung Galaxy S21 (despite the shared sensor) and its plastic build is hardly premium. But provided you can look past a few interface gremlins, this is easily the best budget smartphone you can buy right now.
9) Apple iPhone 13 Mini (from £679)
Not many people bought the iPhone 12 Mini. That’s a shame, because it was a pocket-friendly iPhone with few compromises. The iPhone 13 Mini takes that same mould and makes it even better: outwardly identical to its compact predecessor (apart from a bigger camera bump), it usefully builds on camera performance and battery life, while the A15 chip propels it towards the top of the performance charts. There’s nothing else quite like the iPhone 13 Mini, either in Apple’s line-up or in the wider smartphone market. It’s a helpfully hand-friendly handset, offering a full-fat flagship experience – only without the fat.
8) Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 (from £1599)
Despite predictions to the contrary, 2021 hasn’t been the year when full-fat foldables take over the flagship market. But Samsung is still trying to make the folding phone work. And while the Z Fold 3 is seriously expensive, it offers an unparalleled touchscreen experience: it’s an unusual yet usable device that’s neither mobile nor tablet. Besides the 6.2in OLED panel up front, you’ll find a whopping 7.6in AMOLED inside that’s sharp, vibrant and ideal for multi-tasking. That’s not to say it’s flawless: there’s still a visible crease down the centre of the main display, it’s hefty at 271g and the under-screen selfie camera needs work. All the same, if you want a truly futuristic smartphone (and you’re ready to accept the compromises of early adoption) then the Z Fold 3 is the best folding phone you can get right now.
7) Xiaomi 11T Pro (from £599)
Coming hot on the heels of the Mi 11, the 11T Pro is a mid-tier marvel that puts pricier phones on notice. With a Snapdragon 888 processor inside, its performance was never in doubt, guaranteeing a near-flawless Android experience – provided you’re happy with Xiaomi’s version of the interface. Even more impressive are the supersonic charging speeds: the bundled USB-C brick delivers power at an astonishing 120W, meaning a complete empty-to-full refuel in just 17 minutes. Its plastic back doesn’t feel premium and it’s a little chunky at 204g, but its 6.67in AMOLED display delivers the goods with delicious 120Hz refresh rates. And though the camera array isn’t show-stopping, the 108MP main sensor comfortably matches most mid-range rivals. For the price, it’s a very compelling package.
6) Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (from £1149)
When Samsung says “Ultra” they really mean it. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a burger with the works, packing in all sorts of features and capabilities to justify both the name and the price. The biggest standout feature comes with the cameras, most notably a 10x optical zoom that captures shockingly good detail from a distance plus even greater hybrid zoom options. You’ll see things from far away that you never thought you could with a smartphone. The S21 Ultra delivers pretty much across the board too, although battery life could be better and the lack of a packed-in charging brick feels cheap for an £1,149+ handset. C’mon now.
5) Sony Xperia 1 III (from £1199)
If the £1199 price tag didn’t give it away, the Sony Xperia 1 III is clearly targeted towards die-hard media enthusiasts and creative types. It’s not as flashy as some rival handsets, but its uncompromising vision for a top-end pocket device delivers on nearly all fronts. The stunning, ultra-tall 21:9 display dominates the minimal, monolithic design, backed by considerable power and pretty reliable battery life. The speedy cameras are built for serious shooters too, thanks to pro modes and a new periscope zoom lens. It’s not as novice-friendly as a Samsung, perhaps, but the Xperia 1 III is packed to the gills with cutting-edge tech.
4) Asus ROG Phone 5 (from £799)
Much like gaming laptops, gaming-centric phones have been a niche curio: typically bulky, expensive, and unnecessary for much of the smartphone-buying public. The Asus ROG Phone 5 is the most convincing concoction to date on that front, however, delivering one of the best performance-for-price ratios you’ll find. It’s a beast thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chip and up to 16GB RAM, plus an immense 6,000mAh battery pack. Granted, it’s also heavy like a brick, so there are trade-offs. But for £799, this really does feel like a phone maximised for mobile gaming enthusiasts, if that’s how you spend most of your time on your handset.
3) OnePlus 9 Pro (from £829)
The OnePlus 9 is just fine, but the OnePlus 9 Pro is even better. OnePlus impresses again with its higher-end offering, packing an absolutely stunning 120Hz QHD+ screen, plenty of power, incredibly fast charging speeds, and great cameras at a price more than £300 less than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. True, you miss out on the S21 Ultra’s insane zooming capabilities here, but otherwise it’s pretty comparable at a sizable discount. If you want an amazing, super-premium phone without spending four figures, make it this one.
2) Oppo Find X3 Pro (from £1099)
If you don’t mind spending more than £1000 on a serious slab of top-tier smartphone, but you’re looking for something a little left-field, the Oppo Find X3 Pro is a very solid pick. It’s an unexpected entrant, much like the head-turning Huawei phones of a few years back (before the whole Google ban), but it wowed us in nearly every way. The distinctive backing design pairs well with top-end everything, while the charging speeds are incredible. The microlens camera is a neat twist, too. It’s certainly not cheap, but the Find X3 Pro is worth the investment.
1) Apple iPhone 13 Pro (from £949)
Its more sizeable Max sibling might offer more screen real estate, but the standard iPhone 13 Pro delivers an otherwise identical experience in a more manageable (and very familiar) package. That means slick 120Hz refresh rates on its 6.1in ProMotion display, outstanding performance from the new A15 Bionic chip and incredible images courtesy of Apple’s most ambitious camera array to date (including fresh telephoto skills, a macro mode and Cinematic video tricks). Add a longer-lasting battery into the mix, plus Apple’s unparalleled app catalogue and the iPhone 13 Pro looks like the top all-rounder in Apple’s 2021 line-up – and the year’s best smartphone so far (with a matching price tag).