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Best phones in 2021: The top smartphones rated

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best phones
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The best phones offer you everything you could want from a mobile device. They deliver great cameras, the performance you need to multitask and enough battery life to last the whole day. And with strong options available at all price levels, you don't have to spend a lot to get something great. Whether you prefer iPhone or Android, there's an option for you.

When it comes to buying a new phone, some people may prefer to have the biggest display possible along with the most advanced specs. And others want a solid mid-range phone that delivers all the basics without feeling cheap. To help you pick the best smartphone for you, we test dozens of handsets in the lab and in the real world to bring you in-depth reviews and make recommendations you can trust.

Our best phones list has something for everyone, including great bargains under $500 and under $300. We've ranked all the top phones based on our testing. Here are the top smartphones right now.

What are the best phones?

Based on our testing, the new iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best phone you can buy. It delivers a new 120Hz ProMotion display along with the best cameras in a phone. This includes a new macro mode, Cinematic mode for video and brighter images in low light. Plus, you get over 12 hours of battery life in our testing. The iPhone 13 Pro is great as well if you prefer a smaller 6.1-inch display, as it has all the same features.

The regular iPhone 13 is the best phone under $800, as you get a brighter display than the iPhone 12 and improved wide and ultra-wide cameras that are a step ahead of Android phones, plus blistering performance from the A15 Bionic processor and long battery life. 

If you prefer Android, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Android phone you can buy, thanks to its powerful cameras, long battery life, gorgeous dynamic 120Hz display and S Pen support. But if you're looking for a great Android experience, try either the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro, which feature both Android 12 and a Google-built Tensor chip that enables more features that incorporate machine learning.

Those on a budget should also stick with Google. The Google Pixel 5a offers a great camera for less than $500. The Moto G Power is another good bargain, as it offers the best battery life on the market.

The best phones you can buy today

iPhone 13 Pro Max is one of the best phonesEditor's Choice

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1. iPhone 13 Pro Max

The best phone overall

Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch OLED (2778 x 1284)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 1TB / No
Rear camera: 12MP main (f/1.5), 12MP ultrawide (f/1.8), 12MP telephoto (f/2.8) with 3x
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 8.5 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:16
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class cameras+120Hz ProMotion display+Superior performance
Reasons to avoid
-Charging could be faster-No Touch ID

The iPhone 13 Pro Max earns the title of best phone thanks to a number of key upgrades. This includes a new 6.7-inch ProMotion display that scales up to 120Hz for silky smooth animations, awesome performance from the A15 Bionic chip and epic battery life of over 12 hours in our web surfing test.

The cameras on the iPhone 13 Pro Max are simply best in class, thanks to improved sensors that capture more light and a new Photographic styles feature that lets you tweak the look of your pics. But the coolest camera features are a new macro mode that helps you shoot awesome close-ups and a Cinematic mode for video that delivers a compelling bokeh effect along with automatic focusing between subjects.

The charging could be faster. But, overall, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is second to none among smartphones. 

Read our full iPhone 13 Pro Max review.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

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2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung's best phone

Specifications
Display: 6.8-inch OLED (3200x1400; 10-120Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB, 16GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear camera: 108MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra wide (ƒ/2.2), 10MP telephoto (3x zoom, f/2.4), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom, f/4.9), laser AF sensor
Front camera: 40MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 8.08 oz
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:25
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display+Dual telephoto lenses+S Pen support
Reasons to avoid
-No charger in box-Lacks microSD card slot

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a superior big-screen phone, offering a dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display that scales from 10Hz to 120Hz for super smooth performance. But the killer feature is the dual telephoto cameras, with 3x and 10x optical zoom, and the ability to Space Zoom up to 100x with a new Zoom Lock feature. The overall camera quality is improved, too, with better-looking portraits and brighter shots with Night mode.

The S21 Ultra also excels at capturing video with a new Director’s View mode that lets you record using the front and back cameras at the same time. Other highlights include snappy performance from the Snapdragon 888 chip and extra-long battery life from the 5,000 mAh battery, as the S21 Ultra lasted nearly 11.5 hours on our web surfing test. The Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t include a charger in a box or a microSD card slot, but overall it’s the best Android phone you can buy. 

The Galaxy S21 Ultra won a highly recommended award.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

iphone 13 from the backEditor's Choice

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3. iPhone 13

The best phone for the money

Specifications
Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP main (f/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.4)
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:33
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class cameras+A15 Bionic blows away Android phones+Brighter display+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Charging could be faster-No telephoto zoom or 120Hz screen

The best phone for the money, the iPhone 13 delivers a fantastic camera experience in a compact design. The main camera gathers more light now and the ultra-wide camera captures more of the scene. And the Cinematic mode for video gives you Hollywood-like depth of focus in your footage, thanks to the powerful new A15 Bionic processor. 

Other highlights include a brighter 6.1-inch display and a smaller notch up top so you get more screen real estate. The biggest improvement is battery life, as we saw about 10.5 hours of endurance, which is an improvement of over 1.5 hours from the iPhone 12. Add in a base 128GB of storage for your $799 and you can’t go wrong with this iPhone. 

Read our full iPhone 13 review.

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Google Pixel 6 held in hand

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Pixel 6

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Pixel 6

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Google Pixel 6 home screen

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Google Pixel 6

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4. Google Pixel 6

The best Android experience

Specifications
Display: 6.4-inch OLED (2400x1080)
CPU: Google Tensor
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 50MP main (f/1.85), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0)
Weight: 7.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:13
Reasons to buy
+Tensor chip adds smarts to the phone+Excellent photo-editing features+Android 12 is a welcome update
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life can be short over 5G-Lacks telephoto lens and 120Hz display of Pixel 6 Pro

The Google Pixel 6 is the best smartphone to get if you want the ultimate Android experience, especially now that Google has started using its own Tensor chipset to power the phone. Tensor keeps pace with the Snapdragon 888 inside most of the other top Android phones, but more importantly, it powers the kind of machine learning-driven experiences that make Google's phones unique.

The cameras feature a 50MP main lens, but the real story remains the software, where Tensor helps power features like Magic Eraser for easily removing people from the background of your shots and Motion Mode for making action shots look more dynamic. If you want a telephoto lens and a bigger display, you can always upgrade to the Pixel 6 Pro for $899.

That's $300 more than the starting price for the Pixel 6, and that cost happens to be one of the better features of the phone. It's hard to find a better starting price for such a premium device.

Read our full Google Pixel 6 review.

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Google Pixel 5a review

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Google Pixel 5a review

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Google Pixel 5a review

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Google Pixel 5a review

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Google Pixel 5a review

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5. Google Pixel 5a

The best budget camera phone

Specifications
Display: 6.43 -inch OLED (2400 x 1800)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No
Rear camera: 12.2MP (f/1.7), 16MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Weight: 6.5 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:45
Reasons to buy
+Spectacular cameras+Big, bright display+IP67 water resistance
Reasons to avoid
-Same chipset as Pixel 4a 5G-Limited to U.S. and Japan

The Google Pixel 5a is the best sub-$500 phone you can buy right now, as it offers the best photography available on a mid-range phone. If you don't want to spring for a pricey flagship device, the Pixel 5a is your best alternative, particularly for fans of Android.

With the Pixel 5a, Google adds a second rear lens to its budget phone — a 16MP ultrawide shooter to augment the 12.2MP main camera. That expands the Pixel 5a's flexibility over previous models, while the phone continues to benefit from Google's prowess with computational photography. The Pixel 5a's display is big and bright, and this phone offers IP67 water resistance, something missing from past A series models.

You will pay $100 more for the Pixel 5a than the Pixel 4a's bargain basement price, but Google has added 5G connectivity and an improved processor to this model. (The Pixel 5a also costs $50 less than last year's Pixel 4a 5G.) The Tensor ship in the Pixel 6 delivers a better overall experience, and it's only $150 more than the Pixel 5a, but Google's least expensive new phone remains an outstanding option for bargain hunters.

Read our full Google Pixel 5a review.

iphone 13 pro display on leaning against booksEditor's Choice

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6. iPhone 13 Pro

A powerhouse flagship with great battery life

Specifications
Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP main (f/1.5), 12MP ultrawide (f/1.8), 12MP telephoto (f/2.8) with 3x
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 7.2 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:42
Reasons to buy
+Fast A15 Bionic performance+Stellar cameras+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively slow charging-No Touch ID

If you want the power of the iPhone 13 Pro Max in something more compact, the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro is the best phone for you. This flagship packs all of the same great features and performance as its bigger brother, including a new 3x telephoto zoom camera, 120Hz ProMotion display and support for ProRes video.

The iPhone 13 Pro also benefits from longer battery life, as this iPhone lasted over 11 hours on our web surfing battery test. We just wish the charging was faster. Add in a brighter display, a slick Cinematic mode for video and impressive new macro photography and you have a superb all-around phone. 

Read our full iPhone 13 Pro review

oneplus 9 pro

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7. OnePlus 9 Pro

A very good flagship value

Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (3168 x 1440; 1-120Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB, 12GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.8), 50MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 8MP telephoto with 3x optical (ƒ/2.4), 2MP monochrome
Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.4)
Weight: 6.95 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:40
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful 120Hz display+Crazy fast wired and wireless charging+Fantastic cameras
Reasons to avoid
-Morning Mist model is very slippery-Nightscape photos are inconsistent

The OnePlus 9 Pro features the best cameras ever included with a OnePlus phone. With help from camera specialist Hasselblad, the OnePlus 9 features an excellent array of lenses that capture color accurately and produce photos that rival what you get from leading camera phones, as you can see in our OnePlus 9 Pro camera face-off

There are other features beyond the cameras that make the OnePlus 9 Pro a great challenger to the Galaxy S21 Ultra. You get a display with a dynamically adjusting refresh rate, scaling between 1 and 120Hz. That helps with battery life, as the OnePlus 9 Pro lasted more than 10.5 hours on our battery test. OnePlus’ WarpCharge 65T technology means your phone can be fully charged in a little more than 30 minutes. Throw in a Snapdragon 888 processor and lots of RAM, and you have one of the best performing Android phones around. 

The OnePlus 9 Pro won a highly recommended award.

Read our full OnePlus 9 Pro review.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 review

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Samsung Galaxy S21 review

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Samsung Galaxy S21 review

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Samsung Galaxy S21 review

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8. Samsung Galaxy S21

A Samsung flagship for less than $800

Specifications
Display: 6.2-inch OLED (2400x1080; 48-120Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP (ƒ/1.8) wide; 12MP (ƒ/2.2) ultrawide; 64MP (ƒ/2.0) telephoto with 3x optical zoom
Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.07 oz
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:54
Reasons to buy
+Excellent dynamic 120Hz display+Powerful performance+Refined design
Reasons to avoid
-No charger or microSD card slot-Plastic back

If you’re looking for a flagship at an affordable price, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is one of the best phone options around. The S21 makes a great first impression with its sleek contour cut camera design, which blends the camera into the back of the device. And the cameras themselves impress, too, with improved portraits and a new Zoom Lock feature that lets you get better results up to 30x zoom.

The Galaxy S21 makes some trade-offs for its $799 price tag. You won’t find a charger in the box or a microSD card slot, and the back is plastic instead of glass. But this Samsung phone makes up for those shortcomings with strong performance from its Snapdragon 888 chip, a larger fingerprint sensor for easier unlocking and fun features like Single Take 2.0 for capturing photos and videos at once. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 flex mode

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 multi-active window

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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9. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The best phone with a foldable screen

Specifications
Display: Interior: 7.6 inch OLED (2208 x 1768; 120Hz); Exterior: 6.2 inches (2268 x 832; 120Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB
Storage / Expandable: 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 12MP telephoto (f/2.4)
Front camera: 10MP (f/2.2), 4MP under-display (f/1.8)
Weight: 9.55 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 7:52 (60Hz), 6:35 (120Hz)
Reasons to buy
+More durable, water resistant design+Dual 120Hz displays+Improved mutitasking
Reasons to avoid
-S Pen isn't included-Still pricey

Samsung continues trying to make foldable phones more appealing to mainstream shoppers, and the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a big step forward in that regard. While the $1,799 price is still a lot to pay for a phone, it’s $200 lower than the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s debut cost. And the phone is more durable than ever with an IPX8 water-resistance rating, Armor Aluminum Frame and Gorilla Glass Victus display.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 also introduces new features such as displays with 120Hz refresh rates (both inside and out), an under-display camera on that interior screen and S Pen support. That latter feature is optional, though, meaning you’ll need to pay extra for the stylus. 

More apps than ever before support the Galaxy Z Fold, so chances are, the apps you use on a daily basis will benefit from the phone’s support for multitasking. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 isn’t for everyone, but it’s the best foldable phone Samsung’s released yet.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review.

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10. iPhone 11

An even better value at an even lower price

Specifications
Display: 6.1-inch LCD (1792x828)
CPU: A13 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4) / 12MP
Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.84 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:20
Reasons to buy
+Great photos, especially with Night Mode+Fast A13 Bionic CPU+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Fast charger not included-Just 64GB of storage to start

For a shockingly low $499, the iPhone 11 offers amazingly good low-light photos via its Night Mode, and there’s a new ultra-wide lens that lets you fit in more subjects or scene with its 120-degree field of view. Selfies get a serious upgrade, too, with a 12-MP camera that automatically switches to a wider view when you turn the phone to landscape mode. 

The 6.1-inch LCD on the iPhone 11 isn’t OLED-great, like what you get from the newer iPhone 12, but it’s colorful and bright. A blazing A13 Bionic processor, long battery life and your choice of six colors solidify the iPhone 11 as a winner. It's also an even better deal with the iPhone 13's arrival triggering yet another $100 price cut on this older phone.

Read our full iPhone 11 review

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Moto G Power (2021) review

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Moto G Power (2021)

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Moto G Power (2021) review

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Moto G Power (2021)

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11. Moto G Power (2021)

The phone with the best battery life

Specifications
Display: 6.6-inch LCD (1600x720)
CPU: Snapdragon 662
RAM: 3GB, 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 32GB, 64GB / No
Rear camera: 48MP main (ƒ/1.7); 2MP macro (ƒ/2.4); 2MP depth (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Weight: 7.3 oz
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 14:04
Reasons to buy
+All-day battery life+Low price including a sub-$200 model
Reasons to avoid
-Only one Android software update

When you want a long lasting phone, get one of Motorola’s Moto G Power models. That continues with the 2021 version of this budget phone, which rides its 5,000 mAh battery to 14-hour-plus result on our battery test. That places the Moto G Power (2021) near the top of our list for best phone battery life, alongside last year’s edition.

There’s more to the Moto G Power than just a big battery. The cameras are decent for a budget phone, even the macro lens. And Motorola now offers a cheaper version if you don’t mind living with less RAM and storage: the 3GB/32GB model costs $199, while the 4GB/64GB model has that familiar $249 price tag.

Read our full Moto G Power (2021) review.

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Best camera phone: iPhone SE 2020

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iPhone SE 2020 review

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iPhone SE 2020 review

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iPhone SE 2020 review

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12. iPhone SE

The cheapest iPhone you can buy

Specifications
Display: 4.7-inch LCD (1334x750)
CPU: A13 Bionic
RAM: 3GB
Storage/Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 5.22 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:18
Reasons to buy
+Affordable price+Fast A13 Bionic performance+Very good cameras
Reasons to avoid
-Big bezels-No Night mode

You don't have to spend big bucks to get your hands on an Apple phone. The iPhone SE brings just about everything you like about Apple's devices but at a lower $399 price. That's $300 less than the iPhone 12 mini, and $50 cheaper than Google's Pixel 5a.

You get an older, iPhone 8-inspired design with noticeable bezels around the LCD screen, but fans of compact phones will like the iPhone SE's small size and the fact that it's powered by an A13 Bionic processor — still capable of outperforming far more expensive Android devices. The single rear lens on the iPhone SE also delivers great photos, thanks in no small part to Apple's excellent computational photography.

Read our iPhone SE review.

How to choose the best smartphone for you

  • Android or iPhone? Android phones give you more choice in terms of price, size and innovative designs. However, iPhones offer speedier software updates, better games and apps and better security and privacy. See our iPhone vs Android face-off.
  • Unlocked or carrier? Most shoppers in the U.S. buy new phones through their wireless carrier. But an unlocked phone gives you the freedom to buy the device without any sort of contract and then bring it to the provider you want to use.
  • Screen size: If you're looking for a big phone, 6 inches and up is a good place to start. The biggest phones are 6.5 to 6.8 inches. If you want something you can easily use with one hand, go with one of the best small phones with a screen under 6 inches.
  • Cameras: Don't pay attention to the megapixel count. Instead, look at camera face-offs between phones to see the photo quality and look for special features like Night Mode to get better quality in low light. Also see our best camera phone roundup.
  • Battery life: Generally, phones with larger batteries (measured in mAh) offer the longest battery life, but that's not always the case. That's why we run our own battery test.

How we test smartphones

In order for a smartphone to make our best phone list, it needs to excel on several tests that we run on every handset. We perform some of these tests in our labs and some in the real world.

When it comes to performance, we rely on such synthetic benchmarks as Geekbench 5 and GFXBench to measure graphics performance. These tests allow us to compare performance across iPhones and Android devices. We also run a real-world video transcoding test on each phone using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result.

To measure the quality of a phone's display, we perform lab tests to determine the brightness of the panel (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and score of 0 is perfect.

One of the most important tests we run is the Tom's Guide battery test. We run a web surfing test over 5G or 4G at 150 nits of screen brightness until the battery gives out. In general, a phone that lasts 10 hours or more is good, and anything above 11 hours makes our list of the best phone battery life.

Last but not least, we take the best phones out in the field to take photos outdoors, indoors and at night in low light to see how they perform versus their closest competitors. We take shots of landscapes, food, portraits and more, and also allow you to be the judge with side-by-side comparisons in our reviews.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for nearly 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.