The Best Smartphones
Many of us have smartphones these days, but it can be hard to figure out which one is really the best. Budget is a huge consideration, and many brands have offerings that can fit your budget. Maybe you want the cream of the crop in a flagship. Maybe you’re looking for something more moderately priced. Most, but not all phones can connect to 5G. Most, but not all phones in this list have multiple camera sensors. Our experts have examined offerings up and down the list of specifications and we’ve come up with our favorites. Read on for our recommendations.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Motorola Moto G Power
Best Runner Up: TCL 10 SE
Easiest to Use: Google Pixel 4a
Best Splurge: SAMSUNG Galaxy S21
Best Battery Life: SAMSUNG Galaxy S20 FE 5G
Moto G Power | 2021 | 3-Day battery | Unlocked | Made for US by Motorola | 3/32GB | 48MP Camera | Silver
$109.99 FREE Shipping
The low-cost smartphone has an HD display, 48-megapixel camera, and three-day battery life.
In addition to the fact that you can get a great smartphone for a low price, there’s a lot to like about this pick. It comes unlocked and is compatible with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile (although this means the SIM card isn’t included.) The HD display screen measures 6.6 inches and is button-free. The 48-megapixel camera can take incredibly high-quality photos at many different light levels. According to the manufacturer, you also get three days of battery life with a single charge.
Although this is a great all-around Android phone that delivers a ton for the price, there are some things to keep in mind. Keep in mind that there’s no digital button to turn off or wake the screen—you need to click the power button, which those used to other smartphones may struggle with at first. It’s also tough to take screenshots because the button is hidden inside an app menu.
What We Like
- Low cost
- Great display
- High-quality camera
- Long battery life
What to Consider
- No digital buttons to turn display on/off
- Hard to take screenshots
Best Runner Up
TCL 10 SE Unlocked Android Smartphone, 6.52″ V-Notch Display, US Version Cell Phone with 16 MP AI Triple-Camera 4GB + 64GB, 4000mAh Fast Charging Battery, Polar Night (Not Compatible with Verizon)
This simple, sturdy phone has a higher-resolution display than others in its price range and the main lens of its camera works well.
The design is nothing revolutionary—a 6.5-inch display with only digital buttons, a Gorilla Glass front, and a black plastic frame—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a simple, good quality phone. Its 1080p resolution is higher quality than many other phones in its price range, and its battery lasts at least a day and charges quickly. The main lens of the quad-lens camera works well, although photos taken with ultra-wide and macro lenses take photos that end up relatively grainy.
What We Like
- Good battery life
- High-resolution display
What to Consider
- Not compatible with Verizon, Sprint, Spectrum, Xfinity
- 5G missing
Easiest to Use
Google Pixel 4a – Unlocked Android Smartphone – 128 GB of Storage – Up to 24 Hour Battery – Just Black
$388.99 FREE Shipping
Although the phone isn’t beautiful, its single camera takes photos that certainly are.
This phone delivers a quality Android experience, powered by the Snapdragon 730G mid-range processor along with 6GB of RAM. Those specifications aren’t awesome on their own, but Android runs very smoothly on them and delivers a great experience, along with all-day battery life. The phone has a single camera that our tester Andrew describes as “so consistent that I’d take it over the multi-camera modules of much more expensive phones with underwhelming cameras.”
It’s one of the best phones you can buy at its price point. If you love pure Android and you’re working with a budget, snap this up.
What We Like
- Solid camera
- Great performance
- Good battery
What to Consider
- 5G missing
- Boring design
SAMSUNG Galaxy S20 FE 5G Cell Phone, Factory Unlocked Android Smartphone, 128GB, Pro Grade Camera, 30X Space Zoom, Night Mode, US Version, Cloud Mint Green
The flagship SAMSUNG smartphone has a gorgeous display, great camera, and fast enough processor for just about any game or streaming service.
This phone comes with a 6.2-inch FHD+ screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It has great viewing angles and is what our tester Andrew calls “utterly gorgeous”. It’s bright and vibrant, everything you’d expect from a SAMSUNG display. The processor is a top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 888.
It has three cameras including a 12-megapixel main sensor, 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor, and 64 megapixel 3x lossless zoom lens. Andrew writes, “All three of the cameras pump out sharp, stellar shots. They are very adept at capturing excellent detail in ample lighting, but still capable of producing very good low-light results in most scenarios.”
What We Like
- Screen is gorgeous
- Cameras are great
What to Consider
- Just OK battery life
- No MicroSD
- Plastic backplate
Best Battery Life
SAMSUNG Galaxy S20 FE 5G Cell Phone, Factory Unlocked Android Smartphone, 128GB, Pro Grade Camera, 30X Space Zoom, Night Mode, US Version, Cloud Navy
Lasts Two Days
Forgot your charger? Never fear—this smartphone lasts almost two days on a full charge.
This pick cuts back on a lot of the extras of its flagship siblings while still providing an excellent core of functionality. You get a 1080p screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. The phone has a plastic back, but it still has wireless charging. Overall, this is a speedy phone with really good battery life. Andrew, our tester, wrote, “On a standard day, I’d typically wind up within spitting distance of a 50 percent charge by the time I hit the pillow.”
As for the camera setup, you get a 3x optical zoom. According to Andrew, “Everyday snaps are pretty excellent across the board, with strong detail and vivid coloring, although SAMSUNG’s aggressive processing can give photos an unrealistic sheen at times.”
What We Like
- Battery lasts two-plus days
- Doesn’t feel flimsy
What to Consider
- Fairly low-resolution display
- Operating system is too slow for more complex games
What to Look for in a Smartphone
The processor is essentially the brain of a computer, or in this case, a phone. More powerful processors basically mean that your phone can “think” faster, meaning tasks are completed quicker, multitasking is zippier, and your phone will perform well for longer. Longevity is important here: A phone with a sub-par processor might be perfectly fine at handling the apps of today, but that may not be true of the apps being released in two years.
There are a few companies developing processors for smartphones. Apple develops its own processors in-house, but the likes of Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung, and more, all develop processors for Android phones. In the U.S., Qualcomm chips are most common, and in 2018, the flagship Qualcomm chip is the Snapdragon 845. The higher the number here, the better.
If you want more powerful processors, you’ll want processors with multiple “cores.” Traditional processors can only perform one task at a time, but a dual-core processor can process two, and a quad-core processor can process four.
Storage is perhaps the most important thing for most people to consider. The more storage you have on your phone, the more files, apps, photos, video, etc., that you can keep on there at a time. These days, it’s a little easier to get by with less storage if you use cloud storage like Apple Photos or Google Drive, but some things simply can’t work without being stored on your phone. We recommend getting a phone with at least 16GB of storage (for light users), though 32GB is going to be much better, and 64GB or more should be enough for heavy users.
Some phones also allow for external storage, usually through a MicroSD card slot. With this slot, you can buy a small card about the size of a SIM card, which can be used to store files on. MicroSD cards start at a low price for low-capacity ones and range up from there.
There are a few things that make a great camera, but the most important is the software behind it. Two phones with identical camera specs can yield vastly different results, so, unfortunately, it’s near impossible to shop for a phone with a great camera by only looking at specs on paper.
RAM, or Random Access Memory, is another form of storage, but instead of using it to save files, its used by your system to save things that it might want to pull up quickly. Most commonly, open apps are saved in RAM so that when you close them and open them again, they can show up on the screen without having to completely load again.
Generally speaking, more RAM is better when buying a smartphone, but phones with more RAM also often cost more. For a mid-range phone, you’ll probably find phones in the 2GB of RAM range, but for most users, a device with 3GB or more is recommended.
Which smartphone has the best camera?
Top-tier smartphones all come with excellent cameras and usually feature multiple rear sensors. You typically get a primary sensor for regular shots, an ultrawide sensor for wide-angle shots, a depth sensor for bokeh, and a telephoto sensor for zoomed shots. This is true of top phones from Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Google, and others. The Google Pixel lineup is particularly well known for its great software augmentation, allowing for improved low-light shots and post-processing. Both the latest iPhone and Samsung flagships have a great hardware array and AI-enhanced shooting. Take a look at our list of the best smartphone cameras for more details.
What is the best Android smartphone for overseas?
The Android phone market is extensive, with options ranging from the premium end to ultra-budget devices. In terms of pure hardware, the latest flagship from Samsung is typically the best Android phone on the market, though it does have plenty of rivals especially overseas where you’ll see great options from Xiaomi, Realme, and even Huawei.
What is the best budget smartphone?
Just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to settle for less. There are plenty of mid-range and budget options available. While they won’t have the latest and greatest processor, you can get plenty of new features like the edge-to-edge design, a sleek build, multiple rear cameras, and even 5G support. Samsung offers phones at many price points, while Nokia has a variety of mid-range options packaged in a stylish design. Motorola and LG both have great workhorses that come with a stylus or offer bigger batteries.
About the Author
Ajay Kumar joined Dotdash in November 2018 and brings with him nearly a decade of experience in tech journalism, consumer electronics, and digital publishing. Prior to joining Dotdash, Ajay spent over three years at PC Magazine where he reviewed hundreds of products, built several new testing procedures, and developed expertise in a wide range of consumer electronics. He’s also run the gauntlet in the daily news beat, working as a tech reporter at Newsweek Media Group to cover the latest product releases and industry developments. Ajay’s earlier experience includes an eclectic mix of advertising, law, and public policy research with some freelancing mixed in. Ajay received a B.A. in Political Science and History from Rutgers University.
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