Best Android phone for 2021: Which one should you buy?

Jack Wallen offers up what he believes are the best Android phones you can buy for the remainder of 2021.

The year is winding down. Where the time went, I have no idea. But here we are, about to head into November, and the holiday season is nigh. Don't worry, this isn't a shopping list (although it might be shopping-adjacent). Instead, since Google finally released its new flagship Pixel 6, is I'm listing what I believe are the five best Android phones you can get for the remainder of 2021.

This list consists of five categories: Best Android experience, best flagship, best affordable flagship, best budget and best foldable. Although I've been hesitant to put a foldable phone on any "best of" list, at least one device has finally proved the foldable is a viable option. Which phone made that possible? You'll have to read on to find out.

Best Android experience: Pixel 6 Pro

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Google Pixel 6
Image: Google

That's right, I'm calling it now. Although I'm tempted to place the latest Pixel phone on the top of this heap (as best all-around flagship), it's not been in my hands long enough to oust the current leader of the pack. However, given how much the 6 improved on the 5, and the inclusion of the Tensor chip, and how it makes use of artificial intelligence better than any phone on the market, the Pixel 6 could well become the one Android device to beat in 2022. This phone is spectacular in every category. From the hardware design, performance, cameras, the gorgeous display (at 120 Hz smoothness), battery life, every aspect of this phone is brilliant. But it's the pure Android experience that gives the Pixel 6 a nod over the competition. When you combine incredible hardware with a pure Android operating system, the results are nothing short of stellar. And given the sub $900 price tag, the Pixel 6 is seriously hard to beat. I've been a big fan of the Pixel line for a while now, but the latest iteration blows its predecessors out of the water. The Pixel 6 Pro starts at $899.

Google

Best flagship: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

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The Galaxy S21 Ultra
Image: Samsung

Although the Pixel 6 might overtake Samsung's flagship device soon, for now, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is still the absolute best of the best Android phone you can buy. This phone is a gorgeous beast, with one of the fastest processors available (a Snapdragon 888), a massive 5,000mAh battery, a 6.8-inch AMOLED display (at a buttery smooth 120Hz refresh rate), and plenty of high-end camera action (108MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 10MP telephoto). Everything about the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra screams flagship, so if you're looking for the absolute finest Android hardware you can carry in your pocket, this is it. One thing to keep in mind is the S21 Ultra is a big phone. The dimensions are 6.5-inch x 2.6-inch x .35-inch, which is just slightly larger than the Pixel 6. So, if a larger device isn't up your alley, you might steer clear of the S21 Ultra. If you do, know that you're missing out on the best of the best (for the moment). Also, the camera bump on the backside of the phone takes up a lot of space. It's big and packs a lot of lens into that space. The results, however, are astonishing. The only reason the Pixel 6 beats the S21 Ultra in photography class is that the Pixel now includes the Magic Erasure feature that makes it easy to erase things you don't want from a photo. The S21 Ultra doesn't enjoy such a feature. But for pure hardware, this phone can't be beaten. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does carry with it a flagship price, at $1,200.

Samsung

Best affordable flagship: OnePlus 9 Pro

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The OnePlus 9 Pro
Image: CNET

If the Galaxy S21 Ultra is out of your price range, and you still want a flagship device, the OnePlus 9 Pro might be exactly what you need. At just under $1k, you'll get a device that comes close to what Samsung's hardware offers without having to break your bank. The specs for the OnePlus 9 Pro are close to the S21 Ultra, but don't expect a 1:1 comparison. You'll get less RAM, a smaller battery, and less storage. However, you get the same level of processor, a similar display and cameras that were tuned by Hasselblad. You will also find the cameras aren't even close to what the S21 Ultra delivers. But if you can't justify the $1,200 price tag of the Ultra, and you don't need a camera to rival a DSLR, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a fine phone to own. Even with the downgraded cameras, you're still getting a camera array that includes: 48MP primary, 50MP wide-angle, 8MP telephoto, 2MP monochrome.

OnePlus

Best budget phone: Moto G Power (2020)

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The Moto G Power (2020)
Image: Motorola

If the cost of the above phones is way out of your range, you still have options. There is one Android phone that comes in at budget prices but doesn't feel so much like a budget device. That phone is the Moto G Power. For a phone that sells around $200, you'll be surprised to find out it punches well above its weight. With a Snapdragon 665, 4GB of RAM, a 5,000mAh battery, and a 16MP primary camera the Moto G Power is a fine entry-level phone that nails the basics and delivers features you'd be hard-pressed to find in phones at a similar price point. The screen is a 6.4-inch 1080p LCD and the phone even includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a microSD slot. The one thing to keep in mind is that this is the older 2020 version of the Moto G Power. The newer version has a lower resolution display and a less powerful CPU. So if you can get your hands on one of the 2020 editions of this device, you'll find it a serviceable phone at a budget price.

Motorola

Best foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

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The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
Image: Samsung

As I said earlier, I've been hesitant to add a folding phone to any list of best Android phones. However, Samsung has done the unthinkable and made me realize that foldables are actually viable devices. So if you're one of those who yearn to return to the days of X-Files and flip phones, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 has your name written all over it. The Z Flip 3 has much-improved durability (over previous incarnations of this device) and includes some pretty decent specs. Don't expect flagship hardware under the hood, as you'll be getting only 8GB of RAM, a 12MP primary camera (with an added 12MP ultra-wide), and either 128 or 256GB of internal storage. One of the big disappointments with this device is the very small battery (at 3,300mAh). This equates to not being able to last a full day on a charge. But if you really like the idea of a foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is one of the best you'll find at the moment. The cost of this phone will run you around $1k.

Samsung

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....