Best Android Phones: July 2021by Andrei Frumusanu on July 23, 2021 6:00 AM EST
In our series of best product guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Android Smartphone list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (July 23rd).
Much like June, July wasn’t very eventful in terms of smartphone releases, however what does seem to have happened is more substantial pricing changes across the high-end of the spectrum, which shifts things around a bit, especially for global users.
Xiaomi is seemingly having availability issues of the Mi 11 Ultra as it again appears out of stock, however the Mi 11 in 256GB can now be had for only 700€ which is good value. US users here are seemingly unlucky as Samsung has raised prices (or better said, reduced their promotions), which results in $100 increases for the larger S21 series.
|AnandTech Android Smartphone Recommendations:
(Street-price at time of writing)
|Segment||Option #1||Option #2|
|Ultra High-End||Galaxy S21 Ultra
( $1099 / 1049€ )
( 1224€ )
|High-End (Global)||Galaxy S21 / Galaxy S21+
( $749 / 779€ - $899 /
|Xiaomi Mi 11
( 700€ )
|High-End (US)||OnePlus 9 Pro
( $969 / 799€ )
|Mid-Range (Global)||Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G
( 352€ )
|Mid-Range (US)||Pixel 4a
( $349 )
|S20 FE 5G
( $599 )
|Best Low-End (Global)||Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro
( 279€ )
|Best Low-End (US)||Motorola G Power (2020)
( $219 / 174€ )
At the super-high end of the spectrum, the S21 Ultra still reigns supreme in the category, especially in the US market. After several months of continuous promotions since the device’s release, US pricing however has risen from $999 to $1099, which is unlucky for those which haven’t already gotten a phone. The lack of options and competition still make the Ultra the best device you can buy in this category, even at the higher price. The same very much applies to European readers, although the price here is steady at 1049€. The Mi 11 Ultra which we recommended last month is still the only alternative in this category, however it’s extremely difficult to find any availability, so generally I’d recommend just getting the S21 Ultra.
Pricing for the S21 and S21+ have also gone up – the regular S21 is still reasonable at $749 / 779€, but US users saw a $100 increase to $899, while the S21+ cannot be recommended at all anymore as its $1049 price point is exactly the same as the superior S21 Ultra. Xiaomi’s Mi 11 256GB can now be had for only 700€ in Europe which even though the lacking camera, is an extremely good value. The OnePlus 9 Pro has seen its first price reduction in the US at -$100 down to $969, still a somewhat hard sell against the Galaxies, but is the only other option available. The phone is also greatly reduced in Europe and can be had now for 799€.
The mid-range is in a refresh cycle right now. Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 780 and 778 signal the beginning of brand-new generation of phones in this segment. Devices such as the Mi 11 Lite 5G offer tremendous value and fantastic performance well beyond of the previous generation of phones. The phone is now widely available in Europe, while North American readers might want to wait out other devices from other vendors to be announced and to be available.
At the low-end in most markets the new Redmi Note 10 Pro should be the go-to choice, if available. The high-light here is a new OLED display even in this price segment, vastly augmenting the user experience. US users have to fall back to a 2020 Motorola G Power given the lack of alternatives.
Best Mega-Flagship: Galaxy S21 Ultra
Starting off with the super-high-end, we’ve never really recommended a device at this high a price range, but Samsung’s new super aggressive pricing and general execution on then new Galaxy S21 Ultra means it’s a device that even though very expensive, does deliver on its price point.
The S21 Ultra is defined by an industry leading 1440p 120Hz OLED screen: It features a new generation OLED emitter, a polysilicon backplane, and software as well as hardware variable refresh rates. It literally checks off every feature list that a display can have today, and it gets extremely bright, and is extremely power efficient, leading to great battery life.
Samsung’s new camera setup this year iterates on the previous generation. While there’s still quirks with Samsung’s unorthodox module setup, it also some of the biggest strengths in the market right now. In our review, we weren’t quite satisfied with the processing of the cameras, however Samsung does have a track record to continuing to iterate and improve things through firmware updates throughout the device’s first year.
What really stands out for the S21 Ultra at this time is the pricing, especially in the US. While last year the S20 Ultra started at an MSRP of $1399 and was actually sold at that price for most of the first months, this year the $1199 MSRP S21 Ultra barely remained at that price for a few days before Samsung immediately discounted it to $999 for several months - unfortunately this has now ended and it's gone up to $1099. At that price, the phone becomes is still competitive, at least compared to what we’ve gotten used to these last few years. European street prices today are starting to see discounts as well, with the phone available at 1049€ right now, which is also quite below the S20 Ultra prices of last year.
Best Mega-Flagship Alternative: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra - now viable, but scarce
For non-US readers, this category of devices has generally been limited to just the S21 Ultra until now, however with the recent more wide-spread availability of the Mi 11 Ultra at a price of 1224€, the new flagship from Xiaomi now at least comes in viable range of Samsung in terms value.
The phone is a gigantic beast in terms of size and weight, featuring a massive back camera setup that technically is superior to the S21 Ultra, even though the software processing isn’t quite as consistent. In a global/European market the Mi 11 Ultra also has the advantage of the more performant Snapdragon 888 compared to the Exynos 2100 S21 Ultra, giving the Xiaomi phone a better gaming performance lead. Where things lag behind though is battery life, where Samsung this year is still an uncontested leader – even though the Mi 11 Ultra’s battery life isn’t bad through its massive battery.
At the time of writing the Mi 11 Ultra (256GB) comes in at 1224€ versus 1049€ for the cheapest S21 Ultra (128GB), which positions the two phones closer together than the +1450€ prices we saw last month. In general, the S21 Ultra still remains our top recommendation, but the Mi 11 Ultra remains the only alternative in this segment - if you can find one at a reasonable price.
Best Flagship: Galaxy S21 / S21+
In the more normal flagship price range, the new top recommendation is the regular Galaxy S21, again most attractive right now for US buyers which can have the phone for $749, slightly down from its $799 MSRP.
The S21 doesn’t improve generationally as much as the S21 Ultra, but does take advantage of a newer SoC – while not that large upgrade on the Snapdragon variant, does bring large gains for the Exynos model, which makes the phone much more viable in those regions of the world. The phone shares the same camera setup as the base S20 series, and cuts some corners in terms of screen quality as it downgrades from 1440p to 1080p – however it does have software variable refresh rate this time around which does improve battery life quite a bit when using the 120Hz refresh rate mode.
I wouldn’t say the S21 does anything special, but it’s an extremely solid phone which brings tons of performance and is extremely well-rounded. At $749 in the US right now, it obliterates other devices in the same price range, such as the Pixel 5.
For users wanting a larger device, the Galaxy S21+ is still an option for US users as right now it can be had for $899, again, below the $999 MSRP of the phones. European users currently should avoid the S21+ as at 1049€ it’s the exact same price you can buy a S21 Ultra for.
Alternative Flagship: OnePlus 9 Pro
For many users, especially in the US, the OnePlus 9 Pro remains one of the only alternatives to Samsung. Even though OnePlus’ large issues with the 9 Pro in terms of performance, given the lack of competition, it’s still the only other option for many, and remains a reasonable phone.
Where the OnePlus 9 Pro fits in is essentially a niche that Samsung abandoned this year – the more premium reasonable sized flagship. With outstanding ergonomics and build quality, but without being a super-sized phone like the S21 Ultra, OnePlus checkmarks a lot of features of what you’d expect of a 2021 flagship device. The camera performance of the phone is reasonably competitive with a traditional 3-camera setup. The only real draw-back of the device is battery life, which for some reason is still below expectations of the hardware, and as noted, OnePlus does hamper performance of many popular applications.
OnePlus continues having a weird strategy of releasing only the 12+256GB variant in the US, but at least the pricing here has gone down $100 to $969, making it more palatable. In Europe, the 9 Pro has also be come a better value deal as it’s now to be had for starting 799€, positioning itself well in price/performance under the S21 Ultra.
Alternative Flagship (Global): Xiaomi Mi 11
While initially it was quite hard to recommend the Mi 11 against the Samsung S21 alternatives, the phone in a 256GB can now be had for 700€ in Europe, which is outright entering the very high end mid-range, or one should say the low high-end.
While the phone has weaknesses, such as a camera that doesn’t quite keep up with the best out there, it still provides an incredible high quality display experience in a high-end design, with outstanding performance virtue of the Snapdragon 888. Performance over recent months has improved thanks to the new MIUI 12.5 update which makes the phone much more responsive than what we experienced in our initial device review.
Cameras and battery life being the draw-backs, at the current price of 700€, it’s still easy to recommend the phone, and puts itself in a good spot in the competitive landscape.
Best Mid Range Smartphones (Global): Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G
The big shake-up in this segment has been the release of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 780G and 778. The new SoCs offer significantly better performance than its predecessors while remaining quite efficient, and this means that devices powered by the chip in this segment should be of significant better value and user experience compared to previous generation phones.
The first of these devices is the new Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G. Besides the Snapdragon 780, the phone is also defined by an extremely thin and light form-factor, even though it still managed to retain a 4250mAh battery. The 6.55” 1080p 90Hz OLED screen is fantastic for this price segment, and also features a reasonably capable 64MP main camera.
Starting at 352€ today, the device is coming at an extremely attractive price point in comparison to what it delivers. Keep an eye out for any alternative devices from the competition with Snapdragon 780 chips in this price segment.
Alternatives are devices such as the OnePlus Nord 2 which were announced only short time ago, but won’t see sales until essentially August – but again the issue here is that the company appears to have no plans to offer the phone for US markets.
Best Mid-Range US: Pixel 4a
The US market unfortunately will be lagging behind in terms of the mid-range, with most new more interesting devices not launching in the market. Here, it just makes sense to look elsewhere, particularly given the usually higher prices and less options.
The Galaxy S20 FE 5G can still be had for $599 right now – in past guides I had recommended it at $549, but given the price proximity to the $699 today, I don’t feel it makes as much sense anymore.
What’s left in the quite barren mid-range landscape here is the Google Pixel 4a.
Unlike the $699 Pixel 5, the 4a offers the same main camera experience for $349, giving an extremely well-rounded device at this price, especially for the US. Sporting a still respectable Snapdragon 730G chipset, the very same primary camera as on the Pixel 4, and an OLED screen means this is an extremely solid package you're getting.
Only drawbacks over other mid-range options is the lack of 5G which means the phone will hold value for a shorter amount of time compared other (non-available) devices. Google addresses this in the Pixel 4a 5G, but that does come at a $150 price hike compared to the Pixel 4a. The 5G will be a better long-term investment and hold its value for longer, but I still have doubts whether 5G is worth a 42% price hike.
The Pixel 4a outside the US will depend on availability and pricing. In mainland Europe I see it at around 314€ which isn’t very attractive compared to other devices.
Best Budget Smartphone: Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro / Motorola G8 Power
The situation has been slightly been improved with Motorola’s range of low-end phones. Devices like the 2020 variant of the G8 Power represent a good value, although essentially, they’re beaten in every regard by the more competitive Chinese alternatives from vendors such as Xiaomi. For customers on CDMA carriers such as from Verizon or Sprint, the Moto is the only choice.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro was announced in early March and we’ve had a hands-on experience with the phone back during the announcement. With availability now starting to improve, it’s our recommendation for users who are able to get their hands on the phone.
Compared to its predecessor, the Redmi Note 9 Pro, the new device is characterised by a new AMOLED screen that really augment the phone beyond its peers in this price segment.
If you’re a CDMA carrier in the US or if you care about warranty, the Xiaomi isn’t an option and the only reasonable fall-back choice here is the Motorola G8 Power 2020. The phone features a Snapdragon 665 SoC, featuring Cortex-A73 cores, which would be quite significantly less performing that the A76 cores of the Redmi Note 9 Pro.
On the camera side, the Motorola also offers less impressive specifications as we have a rather small 1/2.8” sensor with 16MP resolution. The display is a comparable 6.4” IPS LCD unit at 2300 x 1080 resolution which is still plenty satisfactory at this price range. The Moto G Power can be had for $219, and is actually also available in Europe as the G8 Power at 171€, although again I would rather recommend the Xiaomi Redmi as you get a lot more value out of your purchase.
It’s to be noted that Motorola has release a 2021 version of the G Power. Although this new variant receives a more capable camera setup, the company has downgraded the display to a 720p unit. I just can’t bring myself to recommend a 720p phone in 2021, even at this price range – but you do you.