(Pocket-lint) - The world of Android smartphones is very different to what's offered by Apple.
While Apple aims to give you a similar experience across its devices, Android embraces variety and offers phones from different manufacturers. The result is plenty of distinct personalities and features to pick between.
That means personal brand preference plays a big part, aside from the core Android experience. Pricing is hugely competitive, too, which presents you with a lot of choices.
We're continuously reviewing all the top options, so here's our rundown of the very best Android phones you can buy right now - and the reasons why they deserve your attention.
For those who need a bit more advice when narrowing down their choice, also check out the FAQs section below our picks.
What is the best Android phone right now? Currently, our top recommendation is the Google Pixel 6 Pro. However, we also advise checking out the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, OnePlus 9, Oppo Find X3 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G.
Our Top Pick: Best Android Phone
Google Pixel 6 Pro
- Top notch camera performance
- Proper Android 12 experience
- Stylish design
- No headphone socket
- Charging could be faster
The Pixel 6 Pro is Google's most high performing smartphone to date. It's got a top tier camera system paired with fantastic software, and is plenty speedy thanks to the new Tensor chip at its core.
As with all Google smartphones, you get a pure Android experience and a reliable timeline for future updates.
Possibly the most impressive thing is the pricing. While it can go head-to-head with the top dogs on performance, it does so at a significantly lower price.
Android phones we also recommend
While the Google Pixel 6 Pro is at the top of our list, we know it won't be the right phone for everyone. We all look for different things in a smartphone. Maybe you need top gaming performance, or maybe your top priority is camera quality. With that in mind, we've also selected the following devices for you to consider.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- Excellent finish and overall design
- Powerful hardware
- Supports S Pen stylus
- No Micro SD card support
- On the pricier side
Samsung delivered the goods with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is a true flagship for 2021. It's powerful, with an outstanding display, but backed up by a camera that actually delivers the goods - and so much more than the Galaxy S20 Ultra it replaces.
There's loads of customisation in the software, while a move closer to Google will please both the Samsung fan and the Google fan. It's a great phone, with very few weaknesses.
- Superb fast charging
- Impressive performance
- Finally added wireless charging
- Plastic frame
- Wireless charging is only 15W
The OnePlus 9 is our pick because it offers a great experience at a more affordable price - without some of the shortcomings suffered by the OnePlus 9 Pro.
It offers great performance, that light-touch OxygenOS software treatment, really fast charging and a great 120Hz display - with a few corners cut on the build quality to hit a more affordable price point.
Oppo Find X3 Pro
- Beautiful design
- Superb battery life
- One of the best displays you can get
- The camera system can be inconsistent
- It's pretty expensive
Oppo has been getting more and more impressive and from the unique and high-quality design through to the abundant power, the Find X3 Pro is one of the best Android phones we've ever used.
There are great cameras, increasingly refined software, and all the boxes ticked for a top Android experience. It offers really fast charging, a fantastic display, and great battery life.
Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G
- Great battery life and performance
- Slim design
- It's a looker
- The main camera lacks image stabilisation
- There's a lot of competition for less money if you don't need 5G
Xiaomi's Mi 11 Lite might have everything you want, but stop to admire the design first, because this is a slim phone that looks great.
It's mid-range hardware that delivers great performance, there's a display that hits all the right notes and decent battery life - all with 5G thrown in.
That makes for a great package and a phone that feels like it's moved forward over 2020.
Other products we considered
When trying to figure out what we believe to be the best Android phones currently available, we spent hours testing real-world performance, battery life and gaming; as well as getting out in the streets and snapping pictures. Then, we go over the results with a fine-tooth comb. We consider a range of factors when it comes to recommending devices - and also when a new device enters our top five selections. This isn't just our own testing, either, with consumer reviews, brand quality and value all taken into account, as well.
In all of our roundups, there are also many products we test that don't make the final cut. Since they may be the right fit for some people, however, we've listed them below.
How to choose the right Android phone
There's a lot more to choosing an Android phone than there is to choosing an iPhone: Apple's divisions are mostly around size, with all models offering a similar experience and few unique features.
Android phones are entirely different: there are many manufacturers, some well known and some more niche, there is a wide range of prices, designs, features - including phones with some specificity, like gaming phones, for example.
Stock Android vs. 'skinned' devices
One of the considerations is how close to stock Android you want your phone to be. While all Android voices have the same underlying experience, the alterations that the manufacturer makes can bring character, it can also bring duplication and bloat.
Google offers its own phones - the Pixel phones - while only a few offer a "pure" experience. Those phones running Android One are as close to stock as you'll get - included those from Nokia and a couple from other manufacturers, although they are rare.
Motorola also offers a near-stock experience on its devices, although Lenovo offers a completely different experience (Lenovo owns Motorola).
Brands have generally been drifting towards Google in the last few years: there's wider use of Google's stock apps instead of duplicated alternatives, as well as the use of features like Google Discover on the home screen to enhance the experience.
The skin and the manufacturer will define the experience, with OnePlus often regarded as light touch and well optimised, through to Samsung's highly evolved reworking that's packed with features. Brands like Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi (and formerly Huawei) are often seen as slightly less advanced with software - but often offer better value for money.
Android phones cover all aspects of hardware, but there are really two areas that get the most discussion: flagship and not a flagship.
This gap has narrowed recently, with mid-range devices offering an experience closer to a flagship, meaning the many day-to-day experiences are just as good on an affordable device as they are on a flagship phone.
Qualcomm dominates these devices, with Snapdragon 800 series at the top level and 700 series in a tier just beneath this. We're now seeing new versions of 800-series hardware reappearing for newer devices as a sub-flagship - while some devices will use slightly older hardware to make them better value for money.
Samsung is the big outsider here, often using its own Exynos hardware, but often have a mixture of Qualcomm and Exynos too. Huawei also used its own Kirin hardware, although generally, as it can't use Google, it's not considered as an Android phone in the same sense.
There are many budget Android phones, some with lower grade Qualcomm hardware, some using MediaTek to bring the price down further.
RAM runs to the ridiculous - up to 18GB on some gaming devices, while storage matches the pricing, with microSD expansion included on some devices - but not all.
Display dictates the size
One of the big decisions is choosing the size of the device. Smaller devices will fit your hand better, larger devices give a more immersive media and gaming experience - but can draw more power.
High-quality displays that were once the preserve of flagship devices are now common in the more affordable devices, where you can get an AMOLED display without paying top prices. Samsung Display is often considered the market leader, with many brands declaring a Samsung display to convince you to buy.
Refresh rate is the latest battleground, from the typical 60 frames a second to 144fps on some gaming phones. Many phones are settling around 90 or 120Hz, with lower refresh rates now being reserved for lower-positioned devices.
Curves are common, although they are slowly becoming the preserve of flagship phones, with some offering a flat display in a "normal" device and curved in a "pro" device. Although curved looks nice, some might find the touch response across the panel better from a flat device.
The camera is the most often talked about aspect of a modern smartphone and there's no end of comparison between different devices, all claiming to be the best.
The most important thing is having the main camera that will take a good photo in all conditions - that's the one you'll use the most, so that's the one that needs to work. There's a lot of overselling: high resolutions, supporting sensors, fancy functions. The most important thing is point and shoot performance - which is why the Pixel phones often do so well.
Camera performance is a big differentiator too, with flagship phones having better-performing cameras and mid-range devices often having secondary or tertiary sensors that aren't good quality or not really needed.
Pick the phone that's right for you
The best thing about Android is that Google underpins the same thing, so you can move from one brand to the next and almost immediately you know where things are, you can have seamless access to your emails and contacts but still have plenty to choose from.
Picking a phone that fits your budget is important, but also consider that you might not need all those flagship features. If you just use your phone for messaging and browsing social media, do you need four cameras on the back and all the power in the world?
If you spend your whole time gaming, is a gaming phone better for you?
The best phone is going to be the phone that fits your requirements the best - and while we test and evaluate all the Android phones we recommend, you have to make the decision and the phone that's right for you.
More about this story
Every product in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.
A phone is something you use all day, every day, so we've used all the options on this list extensively to see how they hold up in the real world. We've tested battery life, gaming performance, connectivity, camera performance and everything else you could possibly need to know. Then we've given you all the data you need to help with your buying decisions.
As with any roundup, it's not possible to deliver a list that works for every type of user, but we lean on the experiences and opinions of the wider Pocket-lint team - as well as thoroughly assessing the areas above - in order to do our best in this regard.
What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are needless spec comparisons and marketing lines; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each gaming laptop is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity. Rest assured all the things on this list have been fully tested.