Tom’s Guide Awards 2021: Our favorite phones of the year

The past year has been a year of contrasts for phone makers. On the one hand, companies that make smartphones continue to find ways to innovate, whether it’s dynamically refreshing displays, improvements to AI-powered cameras, or fast-charging batteries. On the other hand, the Samsung-Apple dominance in the mobile market has become so pronounced that some phone makers, like LG, have decided to throw in the towel.

Granted, the latest iPhone and Galaxy flagships continue to stand out – just look at who wins some of our best prizes. But the phones of the not-so-usual suspects have also made their mark, whether it’s packing high-end features into a more reasonably priced handset or bringing 5G connectivity to more people.

Best phone overall: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Avenir)

The iPhone 12 series introduced 5G to Apple’s line of smartphones. More than that, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best phone we’ve ever reviewed. It got high marks with its 6.7-inch OLED display, versatile cameras, and powerful performance. But the iPhone 12 Pro Max really stands out for its long battery life, as it lasted nearly 11 hours on our web browsing test. It’s by far the most durable iPhone 12 model and our favorite phone from last year.

Highly Recommended: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung took it out of the park with the Galaxy S21 Ultra with its giant screen, five cameras, a powerful and spooky zoom and S Pen support. It is the ultimate Android phone.

Highly recommended: OnePlus 9 Pro
An affordable flagship, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a powerful device with a stellar display, super fast charging, and high performance cameras.

Best value for money: Google Pixel 4a

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: Google Pixel 4a

(Image credit: Avenir)

Google’s affordable Pixel 4a is our choice for the best value. For just $ 349, the camera hits well above its weight thanks to Google’s computer photography prowess. The Pixel 4a is a compact handset with a good display for the money and 128GB of storage. In virtually every other area, Google’s Baby Pixel is an incredibly well-rounded handset that anyone looking for a budget phone should consider, with the best photography for the money.

Highly Recommended: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE offers leading flagship specs and performance for $ 700, including an excellent display, 120Hz display, and powerful cameras.

Highly recommended: OnePlus Nord N200 5G
The value of the OnePlus Nord N200 5G comes down to the fact that it offers 5G and a 90Hz display for just $ 240. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best 5G value period.

Best phone battery life: Motorola Moto G Power (2021)

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: Moto G Power (2021)

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Successor to the phone with the best battery life we’ve ever tested, the Moto G Power (2021) is still a long-lasting phone. Its 5,000mAh battery lasted over 14 hours in our web browsing battery life test, meaning it can easily go through two days of regular use before needing recharging. It’s also a very affordable phone, which makes it all the more appealing.

Highly recommended: Nubia RedMagic 6
ZTE’s mobile gaming brand Nubia RedMagic 6 impressed us with its performance and long battery life, which lasted over 13 hours in our testing.

Highly recommended: Asus ROG Phone 5
Asus launched the ROG Phone 5 series earlier in 2021, offering great performance and a big battery. This lasted over 12 hours in our testing, which is ideal for a 5G phone.

Best Phone Design: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Avenir)

The king of the Galaxy S21 series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a big and beautiful phone. It sports the most beautiful design ever produced by Samsung, straddling the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series in terms of appearance. The camera bump blends in perfectly with the bezel, the screen takes up almost the entire front of the phone, and the phone looks amazing overall.

Highly Recommended: Apple iPhone 12
The iPhone 12 offers a premium look and feel with its square design; it contains a Ceramic Shield touch screen; and it’s available in a wide variety of colors (including a pretty purple) to suit any preference.

Highly Recommended: Oppo Find X3 Pro
The Find X3 Pro is a beautiful phone, showing off the best of what Oppo has to offer. The camera bump rises smoothly from the body and the black and blue color options look gorgeous.

Best foldable phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

(Image credit: Avenir)

Samsung’s top-of-the-line foldable impressed with significant improvements over its predecessor. A stronger hinge and better glass improve the durability of the Fold 2. The phone also has a larger front display, improved multitasking features, and great cameras. We can’t wait to see how Samsung is evolving the foldable.

Highly Recommended: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G
The clamshell alternative to the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Galaxy Z Flip 5G is a great example of what you can do with a more compact design and convenient Flex Mode.

The world’s fastest phone: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Avenir)

Apple’s premier iPhone wins the award for the fastest phone. The A14 Bionic processor won us over with its synthetic and real references, and it is a powerhouse in everyday tasks. Even the most intensive games don’t put it in phase. The iPhone 12 Pro Max commands the best price, but it delivers the best performance of any smartphone.

Highly recommended: OnePlus 9 Pro
The most powerful Android phone to date is the OnePlus 9 Pro with its Snapdragon 888 processor and up to 12GB of RAM.

Highly recommended: Asus ROG Phone 5
The Asus ROG Phone 5 delivers premium gaming performance and is one of the fastest Android phones.

Best Camera Phone: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Avenir)

Apple wins again with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which offers the best cameras on a smartphone. The triple lens setup covers most bases, including the 2.5x telephoto lens. Night mode is fantastic and live photos can be really helpful in capturing key moments.

Highly Recommended: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers the most impressive zoom capabilities of any smartphone, period.

Highly Recommended: Google Pixel 5
The Pixel 5 is one of the best camera phones in many circumstances, especially with its Night Sight and Astrophotography modes.

Fastest Charging Phone: OnePlus 9 Pro

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: OnePlus 9 Pro

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

OnePlus has built a reputation for providing the fastest charging speeds on a phone. With the OnePlus 9 Pro, the company has supported 65W wired charging and 50W wireless charging. The phone can fully charge in just 30 minutes, making it easy to extend the 4,500mAh battery. from the phone.

Highly recommended: Asus ROG Phone 5
ROG Phone 5 has a 6000mAh battery and 65W of charge to quickly get it back to full capacity.

Highly Recommended: Oppo Find X3 Pro
Oppo’s VOOC charging technology is basically the same as OnePlus’ Dash charging, so the Find X3 Pro can charge almost as fast as the OnePlus 9 Pro.

Best iPhone app: Wakeout

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: Wakeout

(Image credit: Wakeout)

Many people sit at desks for hours on end, whether they are working or playing. It can be difficult at times to remember to get up a bit and move around, especially for people who tend to focus on their work. Wakeout offers over 1,500 small exercises that can be performed while sitting at a desk, standing in the kitchen, or anywhere in the home or office. There is a mini workout for everyone at Wakeout.

Highly recommended: Endel
Endel offers personalized soundscapes to help you relax and focus, based on your circadian rhythm, current activity, and the weather.

Highly recommended: Drafts
Writers will love Drafts, which offers plenty of writing tools for capturing notes, ideas, and tasks.

Best Android App: Niagara Launcher

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: Niagara Launcher

(Image credit: Niagara Launcher)

One of the beauties of Android is the ability to customize much of the operating system, including installing a third-party launcher. Niagara is Tom’s Guide’s choice for the best Android app, offering a clean and minimal user interface, plenty of customization possibilities, and great support. This is a non-traditional launcher, which focuses on favorite apps brought to the fore, with the app drawer becoming a single-level alphabetical list. Navigating Niagara is a snap.

Highly recommended: Plexamp
Plexamp is an audio-only application for Plex Media Server. It is a perfect app for listening to music, audiobooks, and podcast subscriptions.

Highly Recommended: Dolby Enabled
Dolby On is a powerful recording app for Android, with automatic effects such as noise reduction, equalization, spatial audio and more.

Best Wireless Operator: T-Mobile

Tom's Guide Awards 2021: T-Mobile

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

Wireless carriers disagree on much, but no one disputes who has the most extensive 5G network. T-Mobile 5G now reaches 300 million people, making it by far the largest network. And while other carriers may claim to have faster speeds, T-Mobile’s Ultra 5G service is growing as well, improving the carrier’s overall performance. Even after the completion of its Sprint merger, T-Mobile continues to offer some of the best mobile phone plans, from its $ 70 unlimited data plan to a very cheap $ 15 / month option that still gives you 2, 5 GB of data. more 5G service. T-Mobile still sets the standard for other major carriers.

Highly recommended: visible
Visible, owned by Verizon, has enhanced its Party Pay plan for multiple lines by allowing you to add an unlimited number of lines to your account; the discount carrier now also offers 5G coverage.

Highly Recommended: Mint Mobile
Mint continues to be a top choice for bargain hunters, with surprisingly low monthly rates for people willing to pay for a year of smartphone service in advance.