We all covet those little rectangles in our pockets. Smartphones play a massive part in our day-to-day lives, but buying the perfect smartphone can be an arduous task. However, don’t fret – we’re here to help you buy the best smartphone for you.
We’ve painstakingly put every smartphone to the test, with the best coverage in the UK, so we can help you make a buying decision. Our best smartphone 2020 roundup is always kept up to date, so be sure to check back often.
How to buy the best smartphone for you
Finding the right smartphone for your budget can be tricky, especially when there are so many expensive contracts to sift through. To make things easier, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about buying your perfect smartphone, as well as what you need to know about picking out a contract.
Should I buy a smartphone on contract or SIM-free?
Generally speaking, buying a phone unlocked and SIM-free is the best option, as you can use any SIM you like and sell the phone when you want to upgrade, but you do have to have the money upfront. If you can’t stomach the upfront cost, go with a contract, but work out the total cost of it over the period to make sure you aren’t getting ripped off: if you can afford a bit more upfront, you’ll most likely save over the contract’s length.
Which smartphone operating system do I need?
There are two smartphone operating systems to decide from in 2021: iOS and Android.
You’ll only find iOS on Apple’s own smartphones. Typically, iOS gets apps first and is a wonderfully slick OS. It isn’t as customisable as Android, but there’s no doubt that it’s incredibly easy to use.
Android has a much wider reach than its Apple counterpart and is found on the majority of smartphones on the market. There are many different versions of Google’s operating system available, though. Generally speaking, you’ll want a phone running Android 9 or higher, as older versions will now be outdated. Manufacturers often customise their own versions of Android, which means that the experience can differ between handsets.
What should I look for in a smartphone display?
As most smartphones are controlled entirely with their touchscreens, the size and quality of a handset’s display are very important. A larger screen will make everything easier to read and is particularly useful for web browsing, but a big display makes for a big phone that you may find harder to carry around.
A screen’s pixel density, measured in pixels per inch (ppi), will give you an idea of how clear and sharp text will appear on a screen – a smaller number of pixels stretched across a huge screen, for example, will lead to jagged edges. Screen technology can also be very important, with AMOLED screens and IPS being the two main technologies, each with their own pros and cons.
What about performance and battery life?
Most smartphones are powered by octa-core processors these days. As a general rule, the clock speed of a processor (measured in GHz) shows how fast the phone is and will give you a rough indication of how fluid the operating system feels, as well as how the phone copes with running apps and games.
Alternatively, lengthy battery life is one of the biggest things you need to look for when picking up a new phone. Our battery tests help you make the right decision about the handset that’s right for you, but generally speaking the bigger the phone’s battery capacity (measured in mAh), the longer it will last on a single charge.
How much smartphone storage do I need?
Generally speaking, a minimum of 16GB of onboard storage is fine if there’s a microSD slot, but you’ll soon find the internal storage filling up quickly. With more of an emphasis on smartphone cameras in recent years, it’s likely that your Instagram snaps will be the main culprit in using up your storage so we recommend at least 32GB to get you started.
The best smartphones to buy in 2021
Samsung Galaxy S20/S20 Plus: Best smartphone in 2020-21 (so far)
Price: From $1089 | Buy now from Kogan
Samsung’s Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus are phones of rare distinction. The most complete smartphone duo the company has produced to date, it might cost you a lot more than other handsets on this list but the S20 and S20 Plus are the very best Android smartphones currently on the market.
Okay, Samsung’s latest big-screened beauty might not look like anything different, with its silver-tinted edges and borderless screen, but internal upgrades to Samsung’s homebrew mobile chipset makes this one of the fastest smartphones we’ve ever tested (surpassed only by the iPhone 11 Pro). Not only that, but the new camera features such as the 30x zoom and 8K video recording are a real treat. We’re also particularly fond of the new 120Hz screen, which is a first for Samsung.
Make no mistake, Android phones don’t get much better than this.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.73GHz Samsung Exynos 990; Screen: 6.2″, 3200 x 1440; Camera: 12MP, 64MP (zoom) and 12MP (wide); Storage: 128GB; Operating system: Android 10
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9: Best budget phone
Price: $289 | Buy now from Kogan
Smartphone flagships are getting better and better, but with these top-notch innovations comes an increased cost. Paying almost four figures for the latest top-end smartphone simply isn’t doable for most consumers, but thankfully Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 9 provides a flagship experience at a vastly reduced cost.
Xiaomi’s cheapo handset has seriously reset the benchmark of what to expect from a smartphone in 2020. Equipped with a speedy MediaTek Helio G85 processor, the Redmi Note 9 is a flagship in almost every area, but is a fraction of the price of the usual smartphone big-hitters.
In fact, the Redmi Note 9 doesn’t falter in any area when you consider how little it costs. If you’re craving the latest flagship phones, but seemingly put off by the sky-high price tags, the Redmi Note 9 is where your wallet should be headed.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz MediaTek Helio G85; Screen: 6.53″, 2340 x 1080; Camera: 48MP, 8MP (wide), 2MP (macro) and 2MP (depth); Storage: 64GB, 128GB; Operating system: Android 10
Samsung Galaxy M31: Long battery life
Price: $399 l Buy now from Kogan
Typically speaking, most high-powered modern smartphones will struggle to last more than a single day on just one charge, but the Galaxy M31 surpasses absolutely everything else we’ve tested. Equipped with a gigantic 6000mAh battery, the Galaxy M31 lasted over 30 hours in a video playback test, surpassing our previous champion, the Lenovo p2, by well over 90 minutes. That’s an astonishing result, and there’s no reason why you can’t expect more than a day’s worth of charge without having to carry a portable battery pack around.
Elsewhere, the Galaxy M31 remains a hugely competent smartphone. Not only does it have an industry-leading battery life, but it also offers one of the best quadruple-camera arrays on the market, and its screen is exceptional for the price too. Rest assured, the Galaxy M31 is one of the most fully-formed smartphones we’ve reviewed to date, and its super low price is simply the cherry on top.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 9611; Screen: 6.4″, 2340 x 1080; Camera: 48MP, 8MP (wide), 5MP (macro), 5MP (depth); Storage: 64GB; Operating system: Android 10
Google Pixel 4a: Pixel perfect
Price: $579 l Buy now from Kogan
A cheaper variant than its pricier flagship counterparts, the Pixel 4a is excellent in their own right, but it’s the camera that really sets this Android smartphone apart from the competition. The 12.2-megapixel sensor on its rear is superior to the camera on the iPhone and it’s capable of taking some truly stunning pictures in low-light, thanks to the Night Sight shooting mode. It doesn’t have any extra lenses like the S20 or OnePlus phones, but if you’re an avid photography fan, the Pixel 4a certainly won’t disappoint – especially considering how little it costs.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Bigger and better
Price: $1632 | Buy now from Kogan
Samsung’s venerable phablet is back, and this time it’s more feature-rich than ever before. Equipped with all sorts of niceties first introduced in the Galaxy S20 range, such as the 108MP rear camera, 120Hz screen and Samsung’s speediest flagship processor yet, the Exynos 990, the Note 20 Ultra is a significant upgrade.
Being a Note device, Samsung’s terrific S Pen also returns with a handful of new features, along with deeper integration with Windows as well as a handful of other work-friendly improvements. It looks better than ever, too, and the only major stumbling block is the price. However, if you’re one of the lucky few that can afford the lofty $1632 starting price, then the Note 20 Ultra will serve you well as one of the best Android flagships on the market – and likely for quite some time, too.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.73GHz Samsung Exynos 990; Screen: 6.9″, 3088 x 1440; Camera: 108MP, 12MP (zoom), 12MP (wide); Storage: 128GB, 512GB; Operating system: Android 10
Nokia 1.3: Best smartphone under $200
Price: $127 | Buy now from Kogan
The Nokia 1.3 is a perfect example of not judging a phone based solely on how much (or in this case, how little) it costs. For a bit under $200, the Nokia 1.3 does everything any other smartphone is capable of doing. Naturally, there are a handful of drawbacks; performance is rather slow and it only has 16GB of internal storage, but for the most part, the Nokia 1.3 is a solid budget pick for those that don’t fancy spending triple figures.
You might be able to find better low-priced handsets if you’re willing to spend just a little bit more, but if your budget is limited, you can’t do much better than the Nokia 1.3 when it comes down to sheer affordability.
Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 215; Screen: 5.7″, 1520 x 720; Camera: 8MP; Storage: 16GB; Operating system: Android 10 Go
Apple iPhone 11 Pro: Excellence
Price: $1549 | Buy now from Kogan
What’s so special about Apple’s latest flagship? Well, aside from its wallet-scaring configuration options, the iPhone 11 Pro represents a bucketload of improvements for Apple. Its battery life is much, much better – it’s the longest-lasting iPhone ever, in fact – and the cameras are beyond compare in all conditions, especially if you’re planning on shooting video.
What’s more, the iPhone 11 Pro is also the fastest iPhone we’ve ever tested, even surpassing the mighty performances of the long list of Snapdragon 855 handsets. If you’re an Apple devotee, it simply doesn’t get any better this – the only thing to decide is whether to stick with the pocket-friendly iPhone 11 Pro or splurge on the larger iPhone 11 Pro Max. Whatever you decide, for the sake of your bank balance please make sure to protect it in a case.
Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 1.65GHz Apple A13 Bionic; Screen: 5.8″, 1125 x 2436; Camera: 12MP, 12MP (zoom) and 12MP (wide); Storage: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB; Operating system: Apple iOS 13
iPhone SE (2020): Best-value iPhone
Price: $699 | Buy now from Kogan
With the new iPhone SE (2020), you’re getting a heck of a lot of smartphone for not too much money. It might look like a bit of a relic – it shares the same design as the 2017 iPhone 8 – but the iPhone SE is Apple’s best-value handset yet. Why? Well, it’s all about what’s inside: the iPhone SE (2020) uses the A13 Bionic chipset, which is the same processor shared by the pricier iPhone 11.
That means you get the same levels of performance achieved by those four-figured flagships, at just a fraction of the cost. Likewise, the single 12-megapixel camera might seem unassuming at first but actually manages to go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 11 in terms of sheer detail capture, especially when it comes to low-light photography.
The only fly in the ointment is that the iPhone SE’s battery life is quite poor by modern standards. However, if you only have $699 to spend and you’d rather not use a big-screened handset, then the iPhone SE (2020) is a worthy choice. It may be the cheapest iPhone, but it’s still mightily impressive.
Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 2.65GHz Apple A13 Bionic; Screen: 4.7″, 1334 x 750; Camera: 12MP; Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: iOS 13
OnePlus 8 Pro: Simply superb
Price: $1176 l Buy now from Kogan
Making the shift from its “flagship-killing” roots in recent releases, the OnePlus 8 Pro is another step along the road to the mainstream for a firm that started out in life as an upstart. It’s certainly a smart move for the company – moving away from the rough around the edges bargain bin handsets to the more rarified air of premium, polished flagship phones. The OnePlus 8 Pro represents the very pinnacle of OnePlus achievements so far, and it’s good enough to rub shoulders with the very best in the industry.
Befitting a modern premium handset, the OnePlus 8 Pro is rammed with the latest mobile technology. It has a large 6.78″ AMOLED screen with a silky-smooth refresh rate of 120Hz, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor inside, supports 5G and finally has dust- and water-protection rated to the IP68 standard. It also adds an intriguing colour filter camera – taking an infrared image – and a telephoto camera that offers a 30x digital hybrid zoom.
Strong stuff from what used to be an invite-only affair with OnePlus’ releases. It does everything so spectacularly – from performance to battery life to screen quality – that little else comes close at this price. If you can’t stretch your bank balance to an iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S20 Plus, then the OnePlus 8 Pro is a very good value alternative.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.84GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 865; Screen: 6.78″, 3168 x 1440; Camera: 48MP, 8MP (telephoto), 48MP (wide) and ToF sensor; Storage: 128GB. 256GB; Operating system: Android 10