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Best smartphones 2022: our top 15 mobile phones ranked

Today’s smartphones are wonderful things. Of course, they’re much more than mere phones – they’re so powerful, they’re more like mini computers. But they’re also excellent cameras, music players, portable cinemas, gaming machines, work stations, messaging devices, note takers, and even drawing pads if you use a stylus.
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In other words, smartphones do everything. And they do it all well.

But they’re not cheap. And understandably, when you’re spending serious cash, you want to know you’re getting a good one. The more expensive phones have more power and better cameras, and usually have bigger, brighter screens, too. But the priciest smartphone isn’t necessarily the best for you.

Here we’ve rounded up and ranked the best smartphones in the world right now, so you can make an informed buying choice. Chances are it’ll be with you for years, so you want to make sure you’re happy with your purchase.

What mobile phone should I get?

Wondering ‘what phone should I get?’ The first decision to make is which operating system you prefer. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are both very advanced, and both share lots of the same features (though they often give them different names). They also run a lot of the same apps. Broadly speaking, iOS is more intuitive and easy to use, while Android is more open and customisable if you’re willing to learn how.

What phone screen size should I buy?

Next, what size screen do you want? Some of the best smartphones have screens around 7 inches in size, which is humungous. They might actually be too large for some, especially if you want to use your device one-handed. They also command a premium, though some big, mid-range handsets are also available. On the whole, you’ll struggle to find a phone with a screen smaller than 5 inches nowadays.

It’s also worth looking at what screen technology they use. Without getting too geeky, more expensive phones have OLED screens, while cheaper ones use LCD. OLED is brighter and has better colours than LCD, so will make the picture look more lifelike. There is a notable difference, especially at bigger sizes, so it might be worth spending the extra if you watch a lot of films or TV shows on your phone.

Do I need a mobile headphone port?

On the audio side, a headphone port is becoming a rarity nowadays. Sony is the only household name still making phones with a headphone port – most others require you to use an adapter, or buy a pair of headphones that use a USB-C or Lightning connection (for Android and Apple phones, respectively). Or you could use a wireless pair, of course. But if you don’t already have them, they are an extra expense.

What mobile phone specifications should I pay attention to?

Then there’s how much power you need. Phone makers try to outdo each other in the spec war, but you shouldn’t pay too much attention to how much RAM a phone has, or any other power specs. How a phone performs is down to much more than just how much power it has. And most modern phones – and certainly all those on this best phones list – perform very well indeed.

It’s a similar story with battery life. Bigger phones require bigger batteries, as the larger, brighter screens are more of a power drain. As a general rule, you’ll struggle to get much more than a day’s use out of most phones. We’ve made clear where that’s not the case.

Then we move onto the camera. More megapixels don’t necessarily make for better photos – that’s only the case if you’re printing your snaps out at a large size. Which most people don’t. You should focus instead on aspects like colour accuracy, contrast and low-light performance – they will have much more of a bearing on your day-to-day shooting.

Lastly, the price. High-end phones are more expensive than ever, sadly, but there are some deals to be had, especially if you buy on a monthly contract. After each entry we’ve included links to our reviews, so you can read more about the phones, and links to the best deals around, so you can pick up a bargain.

Let’s see what is the best smartphone for 2022.

1. Apple iPhone 13 Pro/Pro Max: The best iPhone is the best phone full stop

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Pros

  • Huge

  • Stunning performance

  • Much improved battery life

Cons

  • Big notch

  • Pricey

  • Underwhelming camera improvements

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the biggest and most advanced iPhone you can buy, which for most people, makes it the best smartphone available right now. And if you want it in a slightly more pocketable package, there’s the iPhone 13 Pro, which is almost exactly the same phone, just slightly smaller.

The screen is not only big, it’s a thing of beauty. It uses OLED technology to display fantastic colours and better contrast (the difference between light and dark parts of the picture), which makes for a more engaging image and more immersive content. It’s fantastic for visual content, like films and games, as well as everyday use like firing up your socials, web browsing and emails.

And because it’s huge, it can fit plenty of content at once.

The 120Hz refresh rate is double that of iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini, which is also a real upgrade. The refresh rate refers to how often the screen updates its image – how often it ‘refreshes’. A screen with a 60Hz refresh rate will update 60 times every second, while a 120Hz screen – as is the case here – will double that. That makes for a much smoother, slicker picture, which should be especially noticeable during fast-moving action like sports or gaming.

But the iPhone 13 Pro Max is not just a visual improvement, it’s got better sonically too. Its speakers have a little more oomph than its predecessor’s, while listening through a wireless pair of headphones is a typically blissful experience.

Of course, a phone is much more than a multimedia device. The camera is one of the iPhone’s biggest selling points, and this one has some serious upgrades. A wider aperture makes for faster,  better performance in low light (handy for shots in dive bars). The macro mode has been improved, which is a boon for up-close snaps of flowers and insects, while the high dynamic range has also had an upgrade. These go with the cinematic video mode you find on all iPhone 13 models.

Another improvement is the battery life. Apple has managed to squeeze an extra two and a half hours out of the iPhone 13 Pro Max compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Considering the two are almost identical in terms of size and build, that’s nothing short of miraculous. You’ll also get potentially an extra eight hours of video playback – Apple quotes its run time as 28 hours of video showing, compared to 20 for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. If you’re taking a long journey and want your phone as a companion, this is the one for you.

Read our comparison iPhone 13, Pro, Pro Max & mini: What’s the difference?

Obviously it doesn’t come cheap, with prices starting at £1,049 for the Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro deals from £949. But then if you want the best, it’s going to cost you.

2. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: The best Android phone you can buy

Samsung Ultra S22


Pros

  • Incredible camera

  • Gorgeous display with lightning-quick refresh rate

  • S-Pen is more useful than you’d think

Cons

  • Hefty price tag

  • Battery life isn’t exceptional

  • No microSD card


Samsung’s biggest and most recent flagship device, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is one of the best handsets around. Although its phablet size makes it difficult to fit into a tight pocket, its gorgeous 6.8-inch AMOLED display more than makes up for any inconvenience you may experience from carting around such a big phone.

Its colour reproduction is bright and vibrant, making watching movies and playing games an absolute dream. And thanks to its impressive 120Hz refresh rate, it provides a beautifully smooth experience when you’re scrolling through social media feeds, watching sports or playing a game online.

With a much more angular design than its S range predecessors, the S22 Ultra very much has the look and feel of a Galaxy Note phone. And it’s clear that Samsung is using its most expensive S device to appease fans of the Note who were disappointed to see the end of the range last year.

And to sweeten it further, Samsung has brought its famous S-Pen stylus to the SS22 Ultra. If you’re sceptical about this feature, let us tell you, it’s actually a lot more useful than you’d expect. From being able to accurately sign your name on a document without having to print it out, scribble on it and scan it back in, to making quick notes or even doodling during a work meeting, it’s a lot of fun to use.

In short, we often found ourselves whipping out the S-Pen throughout the day just to amuse ourselves. And even better, it somehow makes even the most illegible handwriting look elegant and readable. Writing and sketches appear professional, even if you’re scrawling in a hurry. And it has a good range of colours and finishes, so you can personalise your notes.

Aside from this, the S22 Ultra’s main selling point has to be its incredible camera setup. It boasts two 10MP telephoto lenses, along with a 12MP ultrawide and a 108MP main wide camera. 

While serious cameraphone buffs will recognise this as pretty similar to last year’s S21 Ultra, the tech behind the lenses has had a serious upgrade to deliver better optical image stabilisation (OIS) and improved zoom capabilities.

To find out more about this phone, be sure to check out our hands-on S22 Ultra review.

With prices starting at £1,149, the S22 Ultra is one of the most expensive smartphones around. But if you want a device with a killer camera, gorgeous screens and a stylus, you won’t find a better option.

3. Sony Xperia 1 III: The best smartphone for audio and video

sony xperia 1 III

Pros

  • Detailed images

  • Best sound

  • Great all-rounder

Cons

  • Divisive design

  • Not cheap

  • Overkill 4K screen

Sony isn’t as much of a household name when it comes to smartphones, which is a real change of fortune since its Sony Ericsson heyday. But it really deserves to be – while its phones might not have the same mainstream appeal as the iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S handsets of this world, they’re absolutely packed with innovation.

For one thing, it has been shipping phones with 4K screens since 2015. That’s seven years ago, when The Martian was cleaning up at the box office and Adele’s Hello was riding high in the charts. An age, in other words.

That’s not the only screen innovation Sony has implemented here. Because not only is the Sony Xperia 1 III’s screen 4K, it also has a refresh rate of 120Hz (making it the first 4K 120Hz screen on a mobile) and an aspect ratio of 21:9, as opposed to the standard 16:9. That makes it taller and thinner than most phones, which might turn some people off. But there’s method to Sony’s madness.

The 21:9 aspect ratio gives you a wider field of view in landscape, which is why it’s becoming more popular with gaming monitors. More films are available in this format too (it’s known as ultrawide), giving you a more cinematic experience.

Fitting, really, seeing as this Sony is made very much with movies and gaming in mind. But it’s also brilliant for music playback. It’s one of the few phones to come with a headphone port, so you can use your standard headphones without having to shell out for a wireless pair. Which is very good news when you’ve just dropped a grand on a new phone.

It’s also the best-sounding phone around. If you don’t want to use wired headphones, you can take advantage of Sony’s LDAC wireless technology over Bluetooth to make tunes sound a little more polished. And it supports Sony’s 360 Reality Audio tech and Dolby Atmos, both of which create virtual surround sound, making music, movies and TV shows even more immersive.

Away from the audio/visual side, there’s still plenty to like about this phone. There’s oodles of power under the hood thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, which partners with a healthy 12GB of RAM. The 4500mAh battery provides all-day use before needing to find a plug socket, and when you do juice up, it won’t take long at all – just 30 minutes of wall time will give you 50% battery charge. Handy if you need to leave in a rush. Wireless charging is also supported, though as with all phones, it’s not quite as quick as the wired option.

The camera is also a thing to behold. Sony makes a range of excellent cameras, and it has ported that knowledge over to its phones to great effect. There’s plenty of camera tech to dig into, but the point and shoot mode is also very effective, which is good news for those of us who just want good results without dedicating too much time to getting them.

All in all, the Xperia 1 III is a powerhouse of a mobile, a great all-rounder, and one of the best smartphones money can buy.

Read our full Sony Xperia 1 III review.

4. Google Pixel 6 : Google’s latest smartphone is very nearly Pixel perfect

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Pros

  • Pure Android experience

  • Great camera

  • Lovely screen

Cons

  • So-so battery life

  • Divisive design

  • Less powerful than rivals

The Google Pixel 6 Pro is a little bigger than the standard Pixel 6, with a higher-capacity battery and more rear cameras, but it costs £250 more. As such, we think the £600 Pixel 6 is the better value of the two.

However, the Google Pixel 6 Pro was actually awarded handset of the year by our Uswitch Telecoms Awards judges. If the Pro is the better choice for you, check out our best Google Pixel 6 Pro deals.

For starters, the Google Pixel 6 is the first phone to feature Google’s own processor. The processor is the brains of any phone. Called Tensor, this chip is significant because it’s the first time Google has made its own processor for one of its own phones, instead of relying on one made by another company. With Google owning the hardware and the Android software that runs on the phone, it has complete control over every aspect of the Pixel 6, much like Apple does with its iPhones (Apple makes both the iOS software and chips that power the devices).

It helps that Tensor is mighty clever. Its focus is on imaging and machine learning, which gives the Pixel 6 some stellar smarts, like quicker language translation (without needing an internet connection, saving you precious data) and text-to-speech capabilities. Google pioneered features like this with Google Translate and the Google Lens app, and it continues to do it better than anyone else. 

So if you’re travelling a lot, the Pixel 6 will make deciphering foreign-language menus a breeze.

It also has a new feature called Magic Eraser. This lets you remove unwanted objects and people from photos (bye bye, photobombers) with a swipe and a tap.

It’s all changed on the outside, too. The back is spanned by a horizontal camera bar – a design flourish that’s unique to the Pixel 6. But it was born of necessity, with the camera lenses and sensors being too big to fit inside the body of the phone. And it uses new materials. The Pixel 6 has a matte aluminium finish, which is a departure from the Pixel 5's aluminium body covered by a thin skin of bio-resin plastic.

The toughest form of Gorilla Glass is the order of the day here, making it even harder to scratch, and the phone is rated IP68, meaning it can withstand dust and being submerged in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes. Good to know.

It comes in three cool colours too: Sorta Seafoam, Kinda Coral and Stormy Black.

The fingerprint sensor is built into the screen, so there’s no need for unsightly bezels. And a handy feature called Glance suggests apps and documents you might need based on your location and situation. Arrive at an airport, for example, and it’ll suggest your digital boarding pass. Handy.

The battery lasts an impressive 24 hours, and this can be stretched to 48 hours using the Extreme Battery Saver mode. You can charge another device wirelessly from it using the Battery Share feature, too.

Impressive. In the US, Google has also launched a subscription model for buying it, called Pixel Pass. This gives you either the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro (with an upgrade in two years), an extended warranty, 200GB of Google One storage, Google Play Pass, YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium for one monthly fee. Fingers crossed it comes to the UK soon.

5. Apple iPhone SE (2020): The cheapest iPhone Apple sells is an absolute steal

iPhone SE 2022

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Well built

  • Same winning iOS

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Well built

  • Same winning iOS

Most phones get a new model every year, but the iPhone SE isn’t like most phones. The last SE launched in 2020, four years after the original SE launched in 2016. Now, two years on, Apple has released a new, upgraded iPhone SE, and it's one of the best 'affordable' phones you can buy.

Like its predecessor, the 2022 iPhone SE is the cheapest iPhone Apple currently sells (you might be able to pick up an older model cheaper elsewhere, but this is the cheapest phone you’ll find when buying direct from Apple). And like its predecessor, it takes the body of an older iPhone and crams in some newer innards.

It looks a lot like the iPhone 8, but packs the guts of an iPhone 13.

First, the outside. It’s a decidedly more chunky look than the sleeker, modern iPhones, with thick bezels creating space for a physical home button with a built-in Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Its screen is only 4.7 inches across diagonally – that’s both its biggest strength and greatest weakness. Small phone fans will love the fact they can use it easily one-handed, while those not in favour will lament its modest proportions in the face of larger rivals. Really, it comes down to personal preference.

Inside is the A15 Bionic chip, which is the same processor as the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro and Pro Max. That means blazingly fast performance, whether you’re snapping photos or playing games from the App Store.

Of course at this (relatively) budget price, Apple has had to cut some corners. There’s only one rear camera, for starters. While it is a very good camera, it’s not quite up to scratch in an era where phones regularly have four rear lenses. But while the battery life is a shorter than with its pricier rivals – you get 15 hours of video, or 50 hours of pure audio listening - it's an improvement on the previous SE. Most people will get a day’s use out of it, maybe slightly less if you’re doing a lot of watching. But you’ll need to charge it daily, no question about it.

Still, if you can live with these compromises – and we certainly can – this is a great price to pay for an iPhone. Its asking price of £419 is less than half that of the iPhone 13 Pro. Phenomenal.

Read the full iPhone SE (2022) review.

6. OnePlus 9 Pro: A return to form for the flagship slayer

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Pros

  • Great picture

  • Brilliant for gaming

  • Excellent camera

Cons

  • Top heavy

  • Not that cheap

  • Too big for some

You might not have heard of OnePlus. In terms of phone makers, it’s a relative newcomer to the scene, launching in 2013 as an offshoot of Chinese mobile maker Oppo. But what it lacks in heritage it more than makes up for in ambition.

Its phones were originally positioned as ‘flagship slayers’ – in other words, they offered top specs and performance at a fraction of the price. But as the brand has grown and its phones have become more popular, it’s started launching pricey flagships of its own.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a return to its roots. It offers top-line specs – including no fewer than four rear cameras – but is noticeably cheaper than rivals’ flagships. Though at £829, it’s still not exactly cheap.

You do get a lot of phone for your money, though. As well as the quad camera set-up on the back, there’s a 16-megapixel selfie taker. And the screen is big, bold and beautiful, standing a gargantuan 6.7 inches. That’s the same size as the biggest iPhone, which costs about £200 more.

It’s built to last, too. The IP68 rating means it’s impervious to dirt, dust and water, and you get ‘premium’ features like facial unlocking as part of the package.

But let’s go back to those cameras. They are undoubtedly one of its biggest selling points, as not only are there four of them, they are also made in conjunction with Hasselblad, the Swedish photography company that captured the first time humans walked on the moon. So that’s all the heritage you need.

In fact, its cameras are so significant they create quite a bump on the rear of the device, which makes it a bit top-heavy to hold. It’s not a deal breaker, but you might think twice before letting any particularly butter-fingered friends hold it.

It’s a treat for gamers, too. That’s because OnePlus has increased the syncing speed between the processor and the display to make the screen more responsive. And there are two gaming modes – one to optimise the phone for the title you’re playing, and the other also cuts down on background activity and shuts off notifications while you play, so you don’t get distracted.

It’s also one of the quickest phones when it comes to charging up. Using the Warp Charge 50 power plug, it goes from zero to full battery in just 30 minutes. That’s crazily quick considering most phones struggle to reach 50 per cent charge in that time. It’s all in a day’s work for a flagship slayer like this.

Read our OnePlus 9 Pro review.

7. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G: The top phone from Samsung’s 2021 range is still flying strong

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Pros

  • Big, wonderful screen

  • Incredible battery life

  • Excellent all-round camera

Cons

  • Lacking sonically

  • No expandable storage

  • Evolution, not revolution

The purists will no doubt argue this phone should be in the number one slot on this list. And with good cause – at 6.8 inches, the screen is slightly bigger than the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s, and it has a higher resolution too, making everything look that little bit sharper (in theory anyway – in reality, the improvement is too minimal to be noticed by the human eye). It has a bigger battery too, and higher resolution cameras.

So on paper, it’s the better phone. But in the flesh it’s a different question, and most people will find Apple’s handset easier to use.

That’s not to detract from the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s an absolute monster of a phone. The screen is nearly 7 inches big – that’s tablet territory. The camera software has been refreshed, making it more usable and effective over the Galaxy S20 Ultra. And the cameras themselves produce stunning results, the kind you would proudly hang on the walls of your house, let alone post on social media.

The quad camera array comprises a 108-megapixel sensor, two 10-megapixel ones (one periscope telephoto, and one standard telephoto) and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle one. It records video in 8K (double the resolution of 4K) and has Samsung’s HDR10+ codec onboard for creating videos with better contrast.

And the front camera is no afterthought. It has a whopping 40-megapixel sensor, which will give you selfies and video calls in ultra-sharp definition. Better look your best.

It’s so powerful, it can even double as a computer. That’s thanks to Samsung’s DeX service, which effectively turns your mobile into a workstation. This has featured on phones in the past, but it’s always been a bit of a novelty. However, the S21 Ultra has so much power that the feature is actually useful, and means you don’t have to lug a laptop around to get work done. Just don’t forget your charger.

Speaking of which, it can last over 24 hours before needing a charge, and the good news continues when you do need to juice it up. Its super fast charging delivers over 50% battery life in just 30 minutes, while wireless charging makes for cable-free powering up. And the wireless powershare feature lets you charge up your wireless earbuds or another phone just by placing them on the back of the S21 Ultra. Now that’s power.

The S21 Ultra also supports Samsung’s S-Pen stylus, so you can write or draw on screen. Whether you’re jotting down ideas, annotating a piece of work, sketching out architectural plans or just idly doodling during a boring meeting, it gives you a whole new way of interacting with the device. It’s another innovation in a phone that’s bursting with good ideas.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review.

8. iPhone 13/13 Mini: The same phone in two different sizes

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Pros

  • Impressive screen

  • More reasonable size

  • Slick user interface

Cons

  • Pricey

  • Not a huge improvement on the iPhone 12

  • Rivals have bigger screens

If you don’t want the more powerful iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max, you could opt for the standard iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. While they might be lower-specced, they’re anything but lightweight.

The standard iPhone 13’s screen is 6.1 inches diagonally (the same size as the iPhone 13 Pro’s), while the Mini shrinks it to 5.4 inches. Other than the size, screen resolution and weight, the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are identical in terms of specs. And if you like the idea of a smaller iPhone, the iPhone 13 Mini is as advanced as they get – rumour is Apple will kill off the model this year, with no iPhone 14 Mini in the pipeline. That’s because its sales have reportedly not met Apple’s expectations.

Both the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are powered by the same A15 Bionic processor, which keeps things moving suitably speedily. And they have 4GB of RAM – that’s nowhere near some of their rivals, some of which boast 12GB. But it’s all you need for these particular handsets.

On paper, the cameras are also a little underwhelming. But as anyone who’s used one will tell you, there’s a lot more to photographic performance than pure specs. The new wide camera features a big sensor which lets in more light, making for clearer shots in dimly-lit scenes, while the optical image stabilisation tech found in the iPhone 12 Pro Max now features on both lower-end iPhone 13 models. It all makes for accurate colours, plenty of sharpness and tons of detail, especially in low light.

Perhaps more importantly, the camera is a doddle to use. It’s a fine line between offering comprehensive photography controls and overwhelming the user, and Apple has judged it perfectly.

Apple also improved battery performance across the whole iPhone 13 range, and the 13 and 13 Mini are no different. The former lasts two and a half hours longer than the iPhone 12, while the 13 Mini goes for an extra one and a half hours than the 12 Mini. Crucial if you’ve forgotten your charger.

Check out iPhone 13: Everything you need to know.

For those not fussed about the pro camera features of the pricier iPhone 13 models, these two will do just fine. If you're keen to buy the Mini, check out our best iPhone 13 Mini deals.

9. Samsung Galaxy S21/S21 Plus: Last year’s phones still retain their excellence

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Pros

  • Brilliant display

  • Decent battery life

  • Ace camera

Cons

  • No expandable storage

  • Rivals sound better

  • About to be succeeded

At time of writing, the Galaxy S21 is about to be succeeded by the S22. Which makes it redundant, right? Not necessarily. Because while it might be last year’s phone, it still has a lot to offer in terms of functionality. And watch that price – with a new model on the horizon, there are bound to be plenty of deals around.

The S21 Plus offers a 6.7-inch screen, while the standard S21 stands at a still healthy 6.2 inches. As ever with these phones, we would recommend you see them for yourself in person – either in a shop or by handling a friend’s – before you buy. Especially if you haven’t upgraded for a few years, you might be surprised at how big phones have become.

But both run on the same processor, and both have the same camera arrangement. Bar a bigger battery in the S21 Plus, they’re nigh-on identical.

Which means you get stunning photos from either. Indeed, a year on from its debut it remains one of the best camera phones money can buy. Colours are bright and punchy, shapes are sharply defined and there’s plenty of detail in the darker parts of the picture, too. The portrait mode lets you tweak the lighting and add background effects, while the single take mode now includes a slow-mo capture and highlight video reel. You can also lock the zoom in place, which is handy when taking snaps at full reach.

8K video recording comes as standard, and you can switch between the view from all four lenses during recording.

The plastic back doesn’t feel quite as premium as the S20’s metal casing, but its muted colourways still look the business, and it’s rugged and waterproof enough to survive the great outdoors.

If you want the 120Hz refresh rate and S Pen stylus support, you’ll have to step up to the S21 Ultra. But these two phones will do most of us quite happily. Check out our best Samsung S21 deals.

10. Sony Xperia 5 II: A smaller, cheaper take on the Xperia 1 II

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Pros

  • Great HD video

  • Intelligent sound

  • Sleek design

Cons

  • Relatively small

  • 4K video lacks detail

  • Divisive screen

Bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes you want a flagship phone in a smaller case. If that sounds good to you, then the Sony Xperia 5 II could be for you. It’s very similar to the Xperia 1 II, but shrunk down to be more pocketable. Think of it as the iPhone Mini of the Sony Xperia range, but with a more confusing name.

Like its bigger brother, the Xperia 5 II is pitched at those who prioritise video quality on their phones. It gets the same 120Hz refresh rate as the Xperia 1 II, which means the screen refreshes the picture 120 times every second. Which results in minimal blur during fast-moving content like games and sports.

It also has the same 21:9 aspect ratio, making it taller and thinner than a lot of rival phones. While this lets you watch videos in a ‘truer’ format, closer to how the directors intended, it won’t be for everyone – some may find the tall screen a little odd looking, while others will love that it can fit longer feeds on social media. That means less scrolling, more consuming.

There is one rather large compromise on the screen. Not only is it much smaller than the Xperia 1 II’s, it’s also not 4K. Instead it maxes out at Full HD resolution. But criticising a phone screen for not being 4K is rather like slamming a sports car because it doesn’t fly.

In fact, many people will prefer the smaller screen, as it makes the phone a lot more pocketable. As ever, we would recommend seeing it for yourself in the flesh before making a decision. At the very least, measure out its dimensions so you get an idea of how it will handle.

Like many modern phones, the Xperia 5 II has its fingerprint scanner on the side of the device. (This is necessary because the phone’s bezels are too narrow to house it.) Fingerprint recognition is handy to have, though it’s harder to use when the phone is lying flat on a table.

It’s also one of the few phones nowadays with a headphone port. Most phones followed Apple’s lead in ditching this in order to make the phone’s body slimmer, but many people still use wired headphones, and they will welcome the fact they don’t have to spend extra on a new wireless pair.

The Xperia 5 II also has expandable storage in the form of a microSD card slot. Again, this is becoming more of a rarity, as built-in storage increases and more people opt for cloud storage. But many will get a lot of use out of it. The Xperia 5 II charges quickly and supports wireless charging, too. The 4,000mAh battery gives you all-day use, and the camera is every inch the match of the Xperia 1 II’s – photos are clear and bright, with as much detail as anyone could want.

The Xperia 5 II is basically a flagship phone from 2020, shrunk. It’s also a lot cheaper than a more recent flagship. If that appeals to you, what are you waiting for?

Read our Sony Xperia 5 II review.

11. Sony Xperia 1 II: A big, bold phone made for movies

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Pros:

  • Superb sound and video

  • Headphone jack

  • Great camera

Cons

  • Screen not 120Hz

  • No facial recognition

  • Divisive screen

The Sony Xperia 1 II is the earlier version of the Xperia 1 III featured further up this list. It packs superb audio and video skills, but its feature set is understandably a little less advanced than its more recent sibling.

Not that it’s left behind though. Far from it. In fact, it packs a 4K screen, which is still a lot more advanced than most flagship phones. And at a huge 6.5 inches in size, it brings out plenty of detail in your favourite movies and TV shows.

Again, the 21:9 aspect ratio is the order of the day – film fans will love it, but the tall, thin look might turn off some traditionalists.

The screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass, which is the best in the business. The phone has an angular design, but it’s softened by the nicely rounded corners.

One feature conspicuous by its absence is facial recognition. This has quickly become the go-to method of unlocking a device or authenticating for apps like banking, so its absence is a bit disappointing. That’s one of the downsides of buying a slightly older handset.

Like its Xperia siblings, it too has a headphone port, so you can plug in your wired earbuds without needing a wireless pair.

Turn it around and you’re faced with four rear cameras, and they’re arranged in a bump that’s a lot less bulky than some phones. It helps the phone lie more flat on a table, and not rock, like those with bulkier camera arrangements.

The cameras produce superb results too. It locks on to focus quickly, creating snaps that look natural, with sharply defined edges and bags of detail. They also look a lot less processed than some rivals, with colours given a more realistic hue.

The 4,000mAh battery lasts all day, and there’s a handy fast charging feature for when you need to step out in a hurry – plug it in, and you’ll get 50 per cent charge in just 30 minutes. It can charge wirelessly too, for added convenience. Though as ever, juicing it up wirelessly will be slower than using a standard cable.

Most phones leave the audio performance as a bit of an afterthought, but not the Sony Xperias. This handset is no different from its siblings in that it sounds superb. Sony – creator of the Walkman – still has a finger very much in the audio pie, and it shows. The fact this phone supports  Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and the Dolby Atmos audio codecs for virtual surround sound is the icing on the audio cake.

Read our Sony Xperia 1 II review.

12. Apple iPhone 12 Pro/Pro Max: Last year’s best iPhones are still a force to be reckoned with

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Pros

  • Lovely screen

  • Big

  • Great sound

Cons

  • Big notch

  • Not much better than the iPhone 12

  • No charger in the box

These might be last year’s iPhones, but they’re anything but yesterday’s news. Because while they might not be the latest and greatest Apple has to offer, they still have plenty going for them.

In fact, bar a few tweaks here and there, these phones are nigh-on identical to this year’s models. Let’s examine these tweaks in full. 

First, they run on an older processor, the A14 Bionic, as opposed to the A15 Bionic. Apple claims some drastic performance improvements, but the truth is that most of us won’t notice. Not at first, anyway – the newer processors are likely to come into their own further down the line, as apps and games become ever more demanding. So future-proofers will want the newer model.

They also miss out on some extra camera enhancements, though they do run the same basic camera system. In a nutshell, their successors let in more light for more detailed snaps, have more powerful zooms and a new Cinematic mode that lets you shift focus from one person or object to another while videoing. The upgrades aren’t insignificant, but really, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max already have awesome cameras, so chances are you won’t miss these extra features.

In fact, the extra skills actually make the camera arrangement slightly bulkier. Which makes the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max the more pocketable phones.

The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max also have a maximum storage capacity of 512GB, which is half that of their successors. But considering the extra cost, most people will happily stick with the lower maximum.

The newer phones have longer battery lives (2.5 hours extra on the 13 Pro Max than the 12 Pro Max), and smaller notches taking up less of the screen.

But enough of what these phones don’t have. Because as we’ve already said, they do have plenty going for them.

Like big, beautiful screens, awesome sound quality (either through headphones or the phones’ speakers), amazing cameras and very decent battery lives. Even in the face of newer competition, they still more than hold their own. In the fast-moving world of smartphones, where last year’s models are considered old, that’s high praise indeed.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review and iPhone 12 Pro Max camera review.

One thing to note: Apple no longer sells these phones direct, but you’ll find them at plenty of networks and other resellers. If you're in the market for an iPhone, check out our best iPhone 12 Pro deals.

13. Apple iPhone 12/12 Mini : Still two of the best phones around

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Pros

  • OLED screen on both models

  • Unbeatable UI

  • Great app support

Cons

  • Relatively old

  • Relatively small

  • So-so battery life

The iPhone 12 range marked a real breakthrough for the iPhone line. For the first time, every handset in the range has an OLED screen, meaning brighter bright bits, and darker dark bits of the picture, with more gradual differences in between.

Previously, OLED screens were reserved for only the higher-end iPhones (in the iPhone 11 family, only the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max had the technology – the standard iPhone 11 had to make do with regular old LCD).

But with every iPhone in the 12 range having the tech, it means you’re guaranteed a great viewing, playing and all-round using experience no matter which handset you opt for.

There’s more choice than ever, too. Because for the first time, Apple offered a Mini version, which packed the same specs as the main iPhone 12 into a smaller chassis. Apple has since gone on to replicate this with the iPhone 13 Mini, but the rumour is that it will be the last Mini variant Apple launches.

Every handset in the range boasts 5G too – another first for the iPhone family. And they all have excellent cameras, although naturally the further you go up the range the more advanced the snappers get.

So which should you opt for? If you want easy one-handed operation, the iPhone 12 Mini is for you, check out our best iPhone 12 Mini deals. And if you want the same awesome phone but with a 6.1-inch screen instead of a 5.4-incher, go for the standard iPhone 12. The specs for the two are pretty much identical, so it really comes down to which size you prefer. And both have the same effortless usability that we’ve come to expect from an iPhone.

Read our full iPhone 12 review.

14. Samsung Galaxy S20/S20 Plus: Oldies, but still goodies

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Pros

  • Natural screen

  • Feature-rich

  • Superb camera

Cons

  • Old

  • Still quite pricey

  • Not a huge upgrade over the S10

The Samsung Galaxy S20 actually followed the Galaxy S10. Confused? It’s simple really: in 2020, Samsung changed its naming convention. Whereas previously it had called its S series phones Galaxy S, S2, S3, S4 etc, in 2020 it decided to adopt the year of the phone’s launch into the name. So the S10 was followed by the S20 in 2020, then the S21 in 2021.

Why? It didn’t give a reason, but it was probably because S20 sounds more advanced than S11. And the S20 launched the same year as the iPhone 12, made by Samsung’s arch rival Apple. If you saw a Galaxy S11 next to an iPhone 12 on a shop shelf, chances are you would assume the iPhone 12 was more advanced, going on name alone. And obviously Samsung doesn’t want that happening.

But what’s in a name? Because while the S20 might sound a lot more advanced than the S10, it’s not that much of a quantum leap in terms of specs and performance. It was the first Samsung Galaxy S phone to come with a 120Hz screen, 5G connectivity for superfast internet speeds away from a wi-fi hotspot, and it’s a little taller and narrower than the S10. The camera has also been upgraded, and it was the first Samsung Galaxy S handset without a headphone port.

While getting a little long in the tooth now, the camera is still fantastic. Admittedly it lacks the flagship features of Samsung’s more recent Galaxy S phones, but it still does what most of us will need it to do: take great snaps. They look natural and detailed, and if you want to dig into the more comprehensive photography features there’s plenty to get your teeth into.

Which just about sums up the Galaxy S20. Plenty to like for both average Joes and phone aficionados alike.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review.

15. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: The two-year-old flagship is still a worthy contender

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Pros

  • Insane zoom power

  • Gorgeous screen

  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Quite old

  • Still quite pricey

  • Huge

Two years is a lifetime in phone terms – after all, it’s the length of most contracts, so is the time when most people are seeking an upgrade. But the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is proof that a two-year-old phone can still cut the mustard.

It was the first Samsung Galaxy S phone to come with a 6.9-inch screen, and while it’s been bettered elsewhere, it’s still very large by today’s standards. In fact, it might prove too big for some.

It also saw the introduction of the insane 108-megapixel camera and equally insane 100x space zoom. Both of these carried over to the 2021 model, the S21 Ultra, but this was their original home.

Even two years on, these stats are impressive. But what’s more impressive are the results they give you. With such a ridiculous zoom length on offer, you might expect a fair bit of noise in the photos, but artificial intelligence cancels that out. AI also helps compensate for the wobble inevitable while at full zoom (just as images are magnified many times, your every tiny movement is also exacerbated).

Away from the headline specs, the quad camera system still holds up against today’s best. Snaps are clear and bright with vivid colours that really ‘pop’ from the screen. Low-light performance is also very good, thanks to the larger image sensors letting in more light.

Samsung’s own Exynos 990 processor keeps things running smoothly, ably assisted by a maximum of 16GB of RAM (a model with 12GB of RAM is also available, which also only has 128GB of storage compared with 512GB for the 16GB of RAM option).

It only comes in two storage models (128GB and 512GB), but it does have a microSD card slot for expanding storage. Most phone makers have phased these out now, but if you have a load of content you like to take with you, and you don’t mind swapping in a memory card, it could save you money on a phone by letting you opt for a lower internal storage option.

A large 5,000mAh battery lasts you all day, which is no mean feat considering the huge screen it has to keep powered. And it juices up nice and quickly too, thanks to fast charging tech.

Even two years on, this phone still commands a premium price. Spend a few minutes with it, and you’ll soon see why.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera review.

16. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Another Samsung definitely worth considering

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Pros

  • Works with the stylus

  • Big, beautiful screen

  • Great design

Cons

  • Rivals sound better

  • Bettered for video quality

  • Huge

Hang on, another Samsung flagship phone from 2020? How many did it launch that year? Bear with us, and we’ll explain.

This is the top of the range phone in the Galaxy Note range, which Samsung has subsequently discontinued. It shares a lot of the same specs and features as the S20 Ultra which was released the same year (2020), but comes with the S Pen stylus for enhanced functionality.

Writing and drawing on-screen, in other words. But it also has more skills than that. Air Gesture features let you control the phone without touching the screen, while a button on the stylus can act as the shutter on the camera, so you can take group shots without having to hold the phone yourself. Just invest in a decent tripod.

The matte finish on the back is much less of a fingerprint magnet that some of its glossier rivals, though considering most people will put it straight in a case, this shouldn’t be an issue.

While the battery is a little smaller than the S20 Ultra’s, it’s still a healthy size, and provides a full day’s use. That’s as much as you can expect from a modern smartphone, unfortunately – the days of only charging your phone twice a week (a la the Nokia 3310) are long gone.

The camera is the same winning shooter found on the S20 Ultra, and while its zoom is a little less powerful, it still tramples over most of the competition. Despite its power and advanced features, the camera isn’t too tricky to use – instead, Samsung has tricked it out with some simple gestures like a swipe up to switch between front and back lenses. Which makes using it much simpler for simple, non-photo nerds like us.

And you can’t argue with the results. Snaps are bursting with colour, while the edges are so clean we fear we might cut ourselves on them. Video recording is another highlight, with the option of 4K, or even 8K recording. (8K has twice the resolution of 4K – you can currently buy 8K TVs, but there’s not much 8K content to watch on them.) Overkill? Almost certainly. But we love it all the more for it.

The screen has a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz, meaning it refreshes the picture an astonishing 120 times a second. This is a real boon for fast-moving content like games and sports, as the higher refresh rate means the picture in front of your eyes is made up of more up-to-date information, which will mean less blurring. Essential when the action gets hectic.

Sonically, it’s another masterclass from Samsung, though it has since been superseded by its newer rivals on both the Android and iOS side alike. But if you’re looking to listen to some tunes on the way to work, or want a film soundtrack to distract you from a packed train carriage, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is more than up to the task.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

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