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Best Android phone for you in 2021

Smartphones running the Android operating system dominate the global market with a variety of companies supporting Google's mobile platform. There are fantastic options available now and most offer 5G.

In the past, there were several smartphone operating systems to choose from. But today's world has iOS and Android.

Google's Android OS is clearly the dominant platform of choice, with companies like Samsung, OnePlus, LG, Motorola, Google, TCL, Sony, and others making hardware running Android. Google's Pixel hardware typically runs a 'stock' version of the Android OS, however, while others use overlays to offer a customized Android experience to their users.

For instance, Samsung has OneUI, OnePlus has Oxygen OS, and there are other companies that tweak things to optimize the Android software powering its hardware. Whether you're looking for pure Android or just the best device money can buy, here is a look at the top Android phones available right now. This guide is regularly updated.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G

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While I fell in love with the Galaxy Fold last year, I didn't include it in my 10 best smartphones list because it seemed like an extravagant purchase. However, given the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the third iteration of its folding phone and has been significantly improved, it deserves to not only be on this list but to be at the top.

I spent a couple of weeks with a review unit, and after just a couple of days with that evaluation device, I ordered my own. I exercised patience and ordered a black phone with a metallic red hinge and it is lovely. The Z Fold 2 is priced at $2,000, but if you use your device as much as I do daily to get work done, then the price can be justified.

The Z Fold 2 serves as a very capable smartphone and small tablet, providing an extremely strong and fast 5G connection in both modes. The outside display offers a typical 6.2-inch smartphone experience while the large 7.6-inch main display is stunning with a 120Hz refresh rate and Samsung's lovely AMOLED technology.

You get the fastest RAM and internal storage speeds available today, triple rear cameras, two other 10MP cameras, and much more. The 4500mAh battery easily gets you through a full day, even when using the large main screen.

$2,000 at Best Buy $2,000 at Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy Note 20/Note 20 Ultra 5G

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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Samsung announced the Galaxy Note 20 series a couple of months ago, and it is clear the Note 20 Ultra is one of the best phones for productivity and an easy recommendation for those who love the S Pen.           

The Note 20 devices bring everything we saw on the S20 series with some improvements in the cameras. Of course, the S Pen is a staple of the Note series, and with the Note 20, we see more Air Actions that are actually proving to be quite useful and reliable this year.

Samsung's two Note 20 series devices are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus, unique AMOLED 6.7- and 6.9-inch 120Hz refresh rate displays that automatically adjust for the content being displays, 8GB and 12GB RAM, 128GB with a 512GB storage option for the Ultra with a microSD for even more capacity, three rear cameras, IP68 rating, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5. Battery capacity is 4,300mAh and 4,500mAh.

$900 at Amazon $900 at Best Buy $350 at Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S20/S20 Plus/S20 Ultra

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Samsung's Galaxy S20 series is available from carriers, Samsung, and other retail partners. After spending a couple of months with the S20 Ultra 5G, it is clear the phone is built for business and is one of the best 5G devices available. The Android 11 and One UI 3.0 update is also now rolling out to these phones in the US.

The focus on the S20 line this year is universal 5G and improved camera experiences. The S20 Ultra 5G is the top-of-the-line device, but in my experience, the S20 Plus may be the best fit for the masses.

Samsung's S20 series is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, AMOLED 120Hz refresh rate displays ranging from 6.2 to 6.9 inches, 12GB RAM (with 16GB option), 128GB to 512GB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, three rear cameras (the Ultra has unique camera specifications), IP68 rating, WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5. Battery capacity ranges from 4,000mAh to 5,000mAh. The S20 does not support high band (mmWave) faster 5G networks so make sure you pick the device that will fit your network needs.

An argument can be made that the S20 series isn't the best smartphone available today, but in terms of 5G and the latest technology, the phones are tough to beat. The price makes them a bit tougher to justify, but when you realize how this tool is used constantly the price for the value is easier to comprehend.

$1,100 at Amazon $1,400 at Best Buy $1,397 at Sam's Club

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

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While the Galaxy S20 series that launched in early 2020 provide compelling options, they are flagship phones priced in the $1,000 and higher range. In order to offer customers another alternative, Samsung recently released the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) 5G phones. The S20 FE is available in five lovely colors to suit your style.

Priced at $699.99, you may think Samsung compromised a lot to offer a powerful 5G phone. However, we see a 6.5-inch Infinity-O display with 120Hz dynamic refresh rate, high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, large capacity 4500mAh battery, 6GB of RAM, 128GB storage with a microSD card slot, IP68 dust/water resistance, three rear cameras (one with 3X optical and 30x super-resolution zoom), and a high resolution 32MP front camera.

Where are the compromises? Exactly, there really aren't any and yet the $700 price is where we see phones in the upper mid-range with less capable specs appear. The S20 FE challenges Google's new Pixel 5 and other phones.

$549 at Samsung

LG V60 ThinQ 5G

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The LG V60 ThinQ 5G is available now from T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and US Cellular. It's only available in the US as a wireless carrier variant, but that's how the majority of phones are still purchased in this country.

This latest LG V series device continues to focus on video creation with a triple rear camera system, 8K video recording, four microphones, ASMR and Voice Bokeh audio technology, and advanced camera software. It's also powered by a massive 5,000mAh battery with a 1080p display so it is sure to help you capture hours of video content.

The LG V60 ThinQ 5G is composed of two pieces of Gorilla Glass 5 with a metal frame and is certified for shock resistance to MIL-STD 810G. LG's new phone has a 6.8-inch OLED panel, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage with a microSD card, and 5G. A Dual Screen cover is included for the $900 price and gives you a large platform for serious productivity.

Along with 5G and a focus on video capture, the LG V60 continues LG's tradition of audio excellence with a 3.5mm audio port with quad DAC support and stereo speakers. It sounds great through the speakers, but the wired headphone experience is even better. It's one of the last phones remaining with a 3.5mm audio port so audiophiles are sure to be pleased.

LG also challenges the Samsung Galaxy Note line with extensive stylus support, which is not readily apparent since there is no option for an embedded stylus. Check out our full article on using a Bamboo Ink Stylus with the dual-screen LG V60 ThinQ.

$434 at Walmart $900 at Best Buy $900 at LG

LG Velvet

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The LG Velvet brings a lot from what we see in the LG V60, but at a more affordable price.

You get a phone with a 6.8-inch OLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, 5GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage (with microSD expansion), IP68 water and dust resistance, and a 4,300mAh battery. In terms of cameras, the LG Velvet has 8MP ultra-wide (120 degrees) f/2.2 f/1.8 and 48MP rear cameras and 5MP ToF sensor as well as a 16MP f/1.9 front-facing camera.

When I first heard about the LG Velvet, I was expecting a device full of compromises and a launch unworthy of LG. I'm pleased to report that the LG Velvet is an excellent 5G smartphone and a great value at $600. The cameras performed very well, the battery took me through more than a full day, AT&T 5G was fast and coverage was great when I was out and about, and I never saw any lag or performance issues on the phone.

I also love the Dual Screen cover that makes consuming media an awesome mobile experience. With the extremely capable stylus support on both screens, the LG Velvet gives you a good look at what you can expect in the Microsoft Surface Duo device.

US customers can get the LG Velvet in Aurora Gray, Aurora Silver, Aurora Red, and Pink White. 

$600 at AT&T

Google Pixel 5

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The Google Pixel 5 is the first 5G smartphone available from Google and appears to check the boxes needed for a competitive smartphone. Unlike past Pixel phones, it is not designed to compete with the flagships from Apple, Samsung, and others, but provides the essentials with Google's software chops.

Google's past Pixel phones always lacked some features and couldn't compete with Apple and Samsung flagships so this approach makes much more sense. Priced at $699, the Pixel 5 is a great option for getting 5G into your hands with Google's software and reliance on regular updates for years.

The Pixel 5 has a 6-inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage, 4000mAh battery, dual rear cameras (12MP and 16MP ultrawide), 8MP front camera, and more.

You can pick one up in black or an interesting green color (Sorta Sage). The back is aluminum and we also see the return of a rear fingerprint sensor.

$699 at Amazon $699 at Walmart $700 at Best Buy

Google Pixel 4A 5G

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If you want an Android phone that will always have the latest firmware and security updates, while also offering a fairly stock experience while also now having 5G support then take a look at the affordable Google Pixel 4A 5G. At $499, it's the most affordable 5G phone we have seen released.

There were great sales for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, including high trade-in offers, so I picked up a couple of these affordable Pixel phones; one for me and one for my wife.

The Google Pixel 4A 5G has a large 6.2-inch, Snapdragon 765G processor, 6GB of RAM, 64GB, and 128GB integrated storage, 12.2MP rear camera, 8MP front-facing camera, and a 3,800mAh battery.

In addition to the software being a focus for Google, the camera is another reason to buy the Pixel 4A 5G over other better smartphone hardware. However, while others have phones with three or four rear cameras, Google provides just one so there are some limits on its capability as a daily shooter.

Android 11 powers the phone and it will receive OS upgrades for three years. Monthly Android security updates are the most important software support for the enterprise since major firmware updates tend to break things and be less stable immediately after release.

$800 at Amazon $785 at Walmart $315 at Back Market

Microsoft Surface Duo

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There seems to be a love it or hate it feeling with the Microsoft Surface Duo and even though I found it very productive I ended up returning mine in favor of the Galaxy Z Fold 2. While the Surface Duo has 2019 specs and bold bezels, in the right hands it is a productivity workhorse.

The Surface Duo does not support 5G networks and is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. It has two 5.6 inch displays when you open it up with no ability to see anything on the outside of the device. The Surface Duo has 6GB of RAM, 128/256 GB internal storage, and a sub-par single 11MP camera.

The story is not about the hardware though and its capability rests in the software enhancements offered by Microsoft. There have been a couple of updates to improve the experience and this first generation is a good first attempt. The $1,400 starting price is tough to swallow, which is one reason its positioned towards the bottom of this list.

View Now at Microsoft

OnePlus 8/8 Pro/8T

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OnePlus rolled out its 2020 phones with the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, both compatible with 5G networks. T-Mobile also carries the OnePlus 8 while Verizon has a unique version with 5G mmWave support.

The OnePlus 8T model was released in late 2020 and slides in between the 8 and 8 Pro with an increased Warp Charge speed and capacity.

These OnePlus flagships offers extremely responsive performance with its 90Hz and 120Hz displays, fast UFS 3.0 internal storage, generous RAM, and the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor.

The phones are lovely with Interstellar Glow, Glacial Green, and other color options available. There are is a couple of different RAM and internal storage options for each phone. With the size and battery capacity differences between the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, we also find some differences in cameras, display refresh rate, and wireless charging functionality.

$999 at OnePlus

Sony Xperia 1 II

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The Sony Xperia 1 II, spoken as the "one mark two", was recently announced by Sony and will be available this month for an MSRP of $1,200. It matches the latest flagship Android smartphones with 5G support, Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB internal storage with a microSD card slot, and Android 10.

The new Sony Xperia 1 II is focused on the media experience with a 3.5mm audio port, true front-facing stereo speakers, three rear cameras, and Sony gaming features. One rear camera has an actual 3x optical zoom with a 70mm lens equivalent.

Sony is providing this phone for those looking to explore the camera experience with three camera applications and many elements from the Sony Alpha camera series included in the phone. It is not optimized for simply point and shoot with auto mode only, but is sure to please the imaging fan with advanced software and a dedicated camera shutter hardware button just where you need it to capture content.

$1,198 at Amazon

TCL 10 Pro and TCL 10 5G UW

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TCL has been making smartphones for years, including the latest BlackBerry and Alcatel phones. With the TCL 10 series, we see the first TCL-branded phones launching for North American customers. After a month with the stunning Ember Gray TCL 10 Pro it is clear that TCL is offering a compelling choice for less than $500.

We also saw the recent release of the TCL 10 5G UW as Verizon's most affordable 5G phone with mmWave high speed support. It's priced at just $399.99, making it an excellent alternative for those who want to try out 5G and still have a very capable smartphone.

Lately, I've been testing the low-cost Apple iPhone SE and lowest priced 5G phone, the OnePlus 8, and the new TCL 10 Pro offers something in between these two at a $450 price. The design is lovely, the display is wonderful, and there are advanced camera features in this new phone.

It is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 with Android 10, has a 6.47-inch AMOLED panel from TCL, 6GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage with a microSD card slot, four rear cameras, and a large 4,50 mAh battery to get you through more than a full, busy day.

Given that we focus on the display the majority of the time spent with a smartphone, you will not be disappointed by what TCL offers in the TCL 10 Pro. The cameras perform well, especially with the 64MP lens offering pixel binning to capture great detail.

$449 at Best Buy

Moto G Power

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Motorola launched two G series devices in 2020, including the Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power. The Moto G Power is rated to provide three days of battery life with some folks seeing even more from the massive 5,000mAh battery.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor with Android 10 powers this device. And 4GB of RAM, 64GB internal storage with a microSD card slot, 6.4-inch LCD display, three rear cameras, and water repellent features are all available here for just $250.

This is the lowest-priced phone in this list of Android phones but is definitely a phone to consider for a new smartphone user or someone who wants a phone to last for days. Motorola does a great job of providing a fairly stock Android experience with its own utilities that optimize the smartphone experience.

$220 at Best Buy $250 at Motorola $250 at Best Buy