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Best smartphone 2021: The finest Android and Apple phones you can buy this Black Friday

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This year is already stuffed with smartphone launches, so we've rounded up the best Android and Apple smartphones you can buy today

We all covet those little rectangles in our pockets. Smartphones play a massive part in our day-to-day lives, but buying the perfect smartphone can be an arduous task. However, don't fret – we're here to help you buy the best smartphone for you.

READ NEXT: Best phone camera

We've painstakingly put every smartphone to the test, with the best coverage in the UK, so we can help you make a buying decision. Our best smartphone 2021 roundup is always kept up to date, so be sure to check back often.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 has £150 off for Black Friday

You might not have thought about a folding phone, but this one is something to mull over - especially at this cut price. Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip3, our favourite folding phone of the year, has been discounted over 15% as part of Samsung's Black Friday deals. With a Snapdragon 888 running things, this phone won't let you down.
Samsung
Was £949
Now £799

Cyber Monday deal on OnePlus Nord CE 5G

This OnePlus offers 5G at a very reasonable price, and though it doesn't have as many features as the OnePlus 9, it's got a great battery life and takes crisp, well-exposed photos. Now on offer for only £199 as part of Amazon's Black Friday deals, this excellent phone is currently fantastic value for your money.
Amazon
Was £291
Now £199

Best smartphone: At a glance


How to buy the best smartphone for you

Finding the right smartphone for your budget can be tricky, especially when there are so many expensive contracts to sift through. To make things easier, we've rounded up everything you need to know about buying your perfect smartphone, as well as what you need to know about picking out a contract.

Should I buy a smartphone on contract or SIM-free?

Generally speaking, buying a phone unlocked and SIM-free is the best option, as you can use any SIM you like and sell the phone when you want to upgrade, but you do have to have the money upfront. If you can't stomach the upfront cost, go with a contract, but work out the total cost of it over the period to make sure you aren't getting ripped off: if you can afford a bit more upfront, you'll most likely save over the contract's length.

Which smartphone operating system do I need?

There are two smartphone operating systems to decide from in 2021: iOS and Android.

You'll only find iOS on Apple's own smartphones. Typically, iOS gets apps first and is a wonderfully slick OS. It isn't as customisable as Android, but there's no doubt that it's incredibly easy to use.

Android has a much wider reach than its Apple counterpart and is found on the majority of smartphones on the market. There are many different versions of Google's operating system available, though. Generally speaking, you'll want a phone running Android 9 or higher, as older versions will now be outdated. Manufacturers often customise their own versions of Android, which means that the experience can differ between handsets.

READ NEXT: Best Android smartphone

What should I look for in a smartphone display?

As most smartphones are controlled entirely with their touchscreens, the size and quality of a handset's display are very important. A larger screen will make everything easier to read and is particularly useful for web browsing, but a big display makes for a big phone that you may find harder to carry around.

A screen's pixel density, measured in pixels per inch (ppi), will give you an idea of how clear and sharp text will appear on a screen – a smaller number of pixels stretched across a huge screen, for example, will lead to jagged edges. Screen technology can also be very important, with AMOLED screens and IPS being the two main technologies, each with their own pros and cons.

What about performance and battery life?

Most smartphones are powered by octa-core processors these days. As a general rule, the clock speed of a processor (measured in GHz) shows how fast the phone is and will give you a rough indication of how fluid the operating system feels, as well as how the phone copes with running apps and games.

READ NEXT: Best phone battery life

Alternatively, lengthy battery life is one of the biggest things you need to look for when picking up a new phone. Our battery tests help you make the right decision about the handset that's right for you, but generally speaking the bigger the phone's battery capacity (measured in mAh), the longer it will last on a single charge.

How much smartphone storage do I need?

Generally speaking, a minimum of 16GB of onboard storage is fine if there's a microSD slot, but you'll soon find the internal storage filling up quickly. With more of an emphasis on smartphone cameras in recent years, it's likely that your Instagram snaps will be the main culprit in using up your storage so we recommend at least 32GB to get you started.

READ NEXT: The best budget smartphones

The best smartphones to buy in 2021

1. Samsung Galaxy S21/S21 Plus: The best smartphone of 2021 (so far)

Price: From £669 | Buy now from Argos

Latest Samsung Galaxy S21 contract deals


The Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus are phones of rare distinction. The most complete smartphone duo the company has produced to date, they might cost you a bit more than other handsets on this list, but the S21 and S21 Plus are the very best Android smartphones currently on the market.

Samsung's latest big-screened beauty has received a bit of a facelift this year, with a new 'Contour Cut' rear camera array and matte finish. Major internal upgrades to Samsung's own Exynos 2100 processor makes this one of the most powerful smartphones we've ever tested, too. Likewise, the Galaxy S21's cameras continue to impress, with new shooting modes including virtual lighting options for portrait mode. 8K video recording continues to be only available on Samsung's Galaxy phones, too, and the 120Hz screen is equally impressive.

If you're after the very best that Android can muster, then make no mistake, it doesn't get much better than the Galaxy S21.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.9GHz Samsung Exynos 2100; Screen: 6.2in, 2,400 x 1,080; Camera: 12MP, 64MP (zoom) and 12MP (wide); Storage: 128GB; Operating system: Android 11

2. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T: The best budget buy

Price: £249 | Buy now from Amazon

Smartphone flagships are getting better and better, but with these top-notch innovations comes an increased cost. Paying almost four figures for the latest top-end smartphone simply isn't doable for most consumers, but thankfully Xiaomi's Redmi Note 9T provides a flagship experience at a vastly reduced cost. And it even supports the 5G network in the UK, too.

Xiaomi's cheapo handset has seriously reset the benchmark of what to expect from a smartphone in 2021. Equipped with a speedy MediaTek Dimensity 800U processor, the Redmi Note 9T outperforms phones that cost twice the price, and then some. Its triple-camera array is also excellent for the price, as is the large 6.53in FHD+ screen.

In fact, the Redmi Note 9T doesn't really fail in any area, especially when you consider how little it costs. If you're in the market for a new phone in 2021 and don't have a huge amount to spend, then the redmi Note 9T is absolutely where your wallet should be headed.

Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.4GHz MediaTek Dimensity 800U; Screen: 6.53in, 2,340 x 1,080; Camera: 48MP, 2MP (macro) and 2MP (depth); Storage: 64GB, 128GB; Operating system: Android 10

3. Google Pixel 6: Pixel perfect

Price: £599 | Buy now from Argos

Latest Google Pixel 6 contract deals


Substantially cheaper than the rest of the flagship-class handsets on this list, Google's Pixel 6 is yet again a true Android tour de force. Not only does it vastly undercut rivals in terms of price, but it matches them in terms of performance as well, thanks to Google's new Tensor chipset. A significant speed boost over last year's model  a 75% increase in our tests – the Pixel 6's dual cameras are also practically flawless, beating out the more expensive Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12 Pro in terms of clarity, detail and colour reproduction.

It's also the perfect flag bearer for Android 12. There's no better showcase of Google's latest version of its mobile operating system, ushering in a radically updated look and feel, courtesy of the new “Material You” design language. If you're a keen photographer, or you're simply after the very best that Android can get, then the Pixel 6 certainly won't disappoint. 

Read our full Google Pixel 6 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.8GHz Google Tensor; Screen: 6.4in, 2,400 x 1,080; Camera: 50MP, 12MP wide; Storage: 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: Android 12

4. Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro: A masterclass in affordability

Price: £269 | Buy now from Argos

The same price as the Redmi Note 9T (featured above), the slightly newer Redmi Note 10 Pro is also astonishing value for money. With a super speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G processor, 6.67in AMOLED screen, 108MP camera and Android 11 out of the box, you'd think this phone should be priced a lot higher, but instead it's significantly cheaper than its high-end specifications might initially suggest.

The only reason it isn't placed higher, though, is that it doesn't come with 5G. The Redmi Note 9T supports the 5G network (and is the cheapest phone with 5G connectivity in fact). Regardless, if you don't live in a 5G area, and the new network isn't expected to arrive nearby anytime soon, then the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro is still an astonishing smartphone that punches well above its weight.

Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G; Screen: 6.67in, 2,400 x 1,080; Camera: 108MP, 8MP (wide), 5MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Storage: 64GB; Operating system: Android 11

5. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G: The best folding phone

Price: £949 | Buy now from Argos

Folding phones might still be getting off the ground, but the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is the first non-conventional flagship worth buying. The first of its kind to (finally) offer IPX8-rated waterproofing, as well as a more durable inner screen and hard-wearing "Armor Aluminium" frame, the Flip3 5G not only looks the part, but it's also the first clumsy-proof folding phone as well. Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 powers things, providing a huge processing boost over last year's model, and the main display's refresh rate has doubled to 120Hz as well.

Best of all, however, is that the Flip 3 5G not only costs a heck of a lot more than its predecessor at launch, but it's also the first folding phone to drop below four figures. Priced the same as the iPhone 13 Pro, the Flip3 5G is a much more tantalising proposition, and now's the time to jump aboard the folding bandwagon.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.84GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 888; Screen: 6.in, 2,640 x 1,080 (cover: 1.9in, 512 x 260); Camera: 12MP, 12MP (wide); Storage: 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: Android 11

6. Nokia 1.4: The best smartphone under £100

Price: £90 | Buy now from Argos

The Nokia 1.4 is a perfect example of not judging a phone based solely on how much (or in this case, how little) it costs. For less than £100, the Nokia 1.4 does everything any other smartphone is capable of doing, and you can buy almost ten of these for the price of just one Samsung Galaxy S21. Naturally, there are a handful of drawbacks; performance is rather slow and it only charges via Micro-USB but for the most part, the Nokia 1.4 is a solid budget pick for those that don't fancy spending triple figures.

You might be able to find better low-priced handsets if you're willing to spend just a little bit more, but if your budget is limited, you can't do much better than the Nokia 1.4 when it comes down to sheer affordability.

Read our full Nokia 1.4 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 215; Screen: 6.52in, 1,600 x 720; Camera: 8MP, 2MP (macro); Storage: 32GB; Operating system: Android 10 Go

7. Apple iPhone 13 Pro: Excessive excellence

Price: £949 | Buy now from Argos

Latest iPhone 13 Pro contract deals

What's so special about Apple's latest flagship? Well, aside from its wallet-scaring configuration options, the iPhone 13 Pro represents a handful of subtle tweaks on top of last year's iPhone 12 Pro.

Yet again, Apple's A15 Bionic chipset is the fastest around, even surpassing the mighty performance of Snapdragon 888-equipped flagships. It's also the first iPhone with a 120Hz display, while the main camera has inherited the sensor-shift stabilisation tech from last year's iPhone 12 Pro Max, with a slightly larger sensor and bigger pixels to boot. It's not the most groundbreaking of updates, but if you're an Apple devotee that happens to be nearing the end of a 24-month contract, then it doesn't get much better than this.

Read our full iPhone 13 Pro review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 3.22GHz Apple A15 Bionic; Screen: 6.1in, 2,532 x 1,170; Camera: 12MP, 12MP (3x zoom), 12MP (wide); Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB; Operating system: Apple iOS 15

8. OnePlus Nord CE: Simply superb value

Price: £296 | Buy now from Amazon

Despite OnePlus continuing to move away from its flagship-killing roots in recent releases, the Taiwanese phone firm has yet again shifted its focus slightly and now offers a cut-price handset in the form of the OnePlus Nord CE. It's not as feature-rich as the OnePlus 9 Pro, but for less than half the price, the OnePlus Nord CE is astonishing value for money.

In most areas, the OnePlus Nord CE is just as good, if not better in some cases. It has 5G support (which for less than £300 is still a bit of a marvel), has a lovely 90Hz AMOLED display, and its 24-hour battery life is frankly rather exceptional as well. There are a few downsides, of course, such as the lack of any official water and dust protection, but the OnePlus Nord CE is a capable value phone, with decent performance and a set of cameras that deliver crisp, well-exposed photos in most circumstances.

It does everything so spectacularly, in fact, that little else comes close at this price. If you can't stretch your bank balance past £400, then the OnePlus Nord CE is a very good value alternative.

Read our full OnePlus Nord CE review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G; Screen: 6.43in, 2,400 x 1,080; Camera: 64MP, 8MP (telephoto), 8MP (wide) and 2MP (depth); Storage: 128GB/256GB; Operating system: Android 11

9. Xiaomi 11T Pro: A flagship-killing powerhouse

Price: £649 | Buy now from Argos

If the price of the latest and greatest flagships have you quaking in your boots, then the Xiaomi 11T Pro is the perfect alternative for the cost-savvy. Fitted with all the usual bells and whistles we tend to see in handsets that cost a heck of a lot more, the Xiaomi 11T Pro is stupendously good value, so long as you don't mind looking away from the usual big-name flagships.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 uses the newest top-end Qualcomm processor, the Snapdragon 888 and it also uses the same 108MP camera as the four-figured Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Its large Full HD AMOLED display is pretty much unmatched when it comes to colour accuracy, and it's also the first phone with 120W charging (going from zero to full in just under 20 minutes).

Do your wallet a favour and save a chunk of cash by picking up the Xiaomi 11 T Pro instead, you won't be disappointed.

Read our full Xiaomi 11T Pro review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.84GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 888; Screen: 6.67in, 2,400 x 1,080; Camera: 108MP, 8MP (wide), 5MP (macro) Storage: 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: Android 11

Buy now from Xiaomi


10. iPhone SE (2020): The best-value iPhone

Price: £389 | Buy now from Argos

Latest iPhone SE contract deals


With the new iPhone SE (2020), you're getting a heck of a lot of smartphone for not too much money. It might look like a bit of a relic – it shares the same design as the 2017 iPhone 8 – but the iPhone SE is Apple's best-value handset yet. Why? Well, it's all about what's inside: the iPhone SE (2020) uses the A13 Bionic chipset, which is the same processor shared by the pricier iPhone 11.

That means you get the same levels of performance achieved by those four-figured flagships, at just a fraction of the cost. Likewise, the single 12MP camera might seem unassuming at first but actually manages to go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 11 in terms of sheer detail capture, especially when it comes to low-light photography.

The only fly in the ointment is that the iPhone SE's battery life is quite poor by modern standards. However, if you this amount to spend and you'd rather not use a big-screened handset, then the iPhone SE (2020) is a worthy choice. It may be the cheapest iPhone, but it's still mightily impressive.

Read our full iPhone SE (2020) review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 2.65GHz Apple A13 Bionic; Screen: 4.7in, 1,334 x 750; Camera: 12MP; Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: iOS 13