For a lot of iPhone owners, best smart phone 2021 this isn’t an upgrade year, especially if you’re coming from a 12 or a 13. But if you do need a new iPhone right now and you want the very best device, then Pro is the way to go. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max usher in some new ideas from Apple that the standard 14 doesn’t get, like the “Dynamic Island,” a playful mash-up of hardware and software that turns the notch into a shape-shifting status indicator. There’s also a new high-resolution camera and an always-on display.
The iPhone 14 Pro, which starts at $999, is the very best iPhone you can buy right now. But it’s a bit of an early adopter special. There’s plenty that’s good but a lot of room for Apple to fine-tune and improve these features over the coming years. If you’re not ready to spend a thousand dollars on the first iteration of a new design, then look at last year’s iPhone 13. The standard iPhone 14 is an incremental upgrade over the 13 and doesn’t get you that much more; the 13 is still available and starts at $699. That’s our choice for most people, but the 14 Pro does have a lot to offer.
The 14 Pro also has a new 48-megapixel main camera, which uses pixel binning to maximize light sensitivity and produce 12-megapixel images. The real-world improvements are subtle, with more fine detail in shadows and in low light, but the differences compared to a standard 12-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 14 are hard to see unless you’re looking really closely. The higher-resolution sensor also enables a 2x telephoto mode that’s essentially a 12-megapixel crop from the middle of the sensor. It’s the new default view for portrait mode, and it’s one that feels like a happy medium between the wide and 3x telephoto that have been the only options on iPhones past.
Outside of the new stuff, best smart phone 2021 there’s a lot that’s familiar. The phone’s battery gets through a moderate day of use, though it seems to run down a little faster than the 13 Pro. The camera may not be the leap forward in photography that Apple claims it is, but it’s still one of the best in the game and records stunning video clips. And the new A16 Bionic chipset handles intensive tasks like gaming without a problem.
Those of us in the US have plenty of budget phones to choose from, best smart phone 2021 but high-end Android phones are a little scarce compared to the bountiful options overseas, where Xiaomi, Huawei, and Oppo are on the table. Thankfully, the options we do have are very good. While it has close competition in the Google Pixel 6, we think that the Galaxy S22 Plus is the best Android device for most people.
The S22 Plus features a big, bright 6.6-inch screen with 120Hz refresh rate, the excellent flagship-grade Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and three high-quality rear cameras. You don’t get the10x telephoto or the built-in S Pen of the S22 Ultra, but you do get a more spacious screen than the 6.1-inch standard S22. It’s a comfortable middle ground that’s the right configuration of features and size for most people.
The 1080p screen is bright, with a smooth-scrolling 120Hz top refresh rate. Generally, it’s just a pleasure to use. Even without the Ultra’s 10x telephoto, the camera system is versatile and dependable, best smart phone 2021 with an excellent portrait mode. Its build quality is top-tier, with an IP68 rating for robust dust and water resistance and a minimalist, understated design. The 4,500mAh cell will last lighter users a full day, but moderate and heavy users who stream a decent amount of video will likely find themselves running the battery down into the single digits by the end of the day. It doesn’t have the best battery life among flagship phones, but it’s good enough for most people.
Samsung promises up to four software OS upgrades for the S22 Plus, making its shelf life one of the longest among Android phones. Now, Samsung’s software is still our least favorite part of a Samsung phone: it’s more cluttered and contains more duplicate apps than we’d prefer. If you’re looking for an alternative that’s a little sleeker, the OnePlus 10 Pro is a good option. It won’t get software updates for quite as long — three OS upgrades versus four for the S22 — and its cameras aren’t as good as Samsung’s. Otherwise, it’s a very nice device with a UI that’s a little more sophisticated.
Battery and software gripes aside, there’s a lot to like about the S22 Plus. It may be one of a handful of truly high-end Android phones offered in the US right now, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a winner only by default; it also happens to be a very good device.
The iPhone 14 seems like the obvious choice for anyone who needs a new iPhone but doesn’t want to step up to the 14 Pro. But hear me out: the iPhone 13 does almost everything that the 14 does, and it’s $100 cheaper. Sure, if your carrier is offering you a good trade-in offer or dirt-cheap financing for the 14, or you want the (slight) year-over-year upgrades, then go ahead and get that one. It’s great! But if trade-in deal season is over or you’re paying out of pocket, we think the standard iPhone 13 is the better buy; the $799 14’s improvements are so minor that they’re not worth the extra money.
By opting for the 13, you don’t miss out on anything as far as the screen or processor is concerned. The iPhone 13 features a 6.1-inch screen with a standard refresh rate — no smooth-scrolling ProMotion here — as does the 14. There’s an A15 Bionic chipset in both phones, and although the 14’s is a slight upgrade with an extra GPU core, they both deliver excellent performance. They’re both MagSafe compatible for wireless charging and IP68-rated for robust water and dust resistance.
Upgrading to the 14 does get you a slightly better camera system, but the improvements are subtle. The ultrawide and front-facing cameras do better in low light compared to the 13, and the main camera features a bigger sensor that’s able to hold on to detail in dim conditions a little better. But for the most part, you have to go looking for these differences in fine details — most people viewing their images at web- and social-media-friendly sizes won’t see what’s changed.