These are the Best Android Phones to buy in September: Galaxy S21 Ultra, Pixel 5a , ROG Phone 5, and more!

These are the Best Android Phones to buy in September: Galaxy S21 Ultra, Pixel 5a , ROG Phone 5, and more!

We've used 100s of phones, and here are our picks for the Best Android Phones you can buy right now!

The Android phone scene is in very good shape right now. Every reputable brand has become very skilled at crafting a great device at every price range. The top end flagships offer stunning screens and exceptional cameras; mid-tier phones are polished and could pass for a flagship for some; and entry level budget options are more powerful and well-built than before.

If you’re on the market for a new Android phone and don’t know where to start — we’re here to help.

Navigate this guide:

Best Android Phone Overall: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in black

Last year’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was our pick for the best Android phone of 2020, so it’s no surprise the Galaxy S21 Ultra — which improves on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in several ways — has dominated the top of this list this year so far. With the news that there’s no Galaxy Note 21 series this year, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a good chance to hold this top spot for the rest of the year, because the phone is that good.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has the most powerful Qualcomm SoC, the most versatile camera system, one of the most premium and unique designs, and it’s also got that Samsung marketing and distribution that makes Samsung devices easier to buy than say a Google Pixel or OnePlus phone.

This last part matters because even though the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra comes very close to matching the Galaxy S21 Ultra spec for spec, the fact it’s not sold in a major chunk of the world (including USA, which this list targets) ultimately limits its appeal. All these little things make the Galaxy S21 Ultra very hard to beat as “the best Android phone overall.”

    Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
    The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate overkill in the new 2021 flagship series, packing in a flagship SoC, a premium build, a great display, and an amazing camera setup, as well as all the extras expected on a premium flagship.

Best Samsung Galaxy Phones for every budget and need

Best Android Phone for most people: OnePlus 9

The Galaxy S20 FE held this spot for months, but its reign as the best Android for most people is up. The OnePlus 9 Pro is only slightly more expensive, but it’s got a newer SoC (Snapdragon 888), superior build quality (glass-and-aluminum sandwich instead of the plasticky S20 FE), and it has a better main camera.

The OnePlus 9, in fact, is almost as good as the OnePlus 9 Pro, save for not having quite as good an ultra-wide-angle camera, a plastic and glass build, and slower wireless charging. It still packs a gorgeous 120Hz OLED display, that aforementioned top-tier Qualcomm chip, and a Hasselblad color-graded main camera that produces sharp, punchy photos. This is a very capable almost-flagship for 2021.

    OnePlus 9
    The OnePlus 9 is the best phone to buy for most people, with a Snapdragon 888, 120Hz screen, and a glass-and-aluminum design.

Best OnePlus Phones for every budget and need

Best Android Phone for software and speed: OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus is a brand that’s always been about speed, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is once again the fastest phone on the market. Everything – from the near-instantaneous speed at which apps launch to how the notification panel whips up and down along with your finger swipes – even the UI here has been optimized for speed. All of that is backed by a super-fast 120Hz OLED panel too.

When it comes to OnePlus’ UI, OxygenOS, it’s not just about speed. It’s also, in my opinion, the best Android skin around, with plenty of customization and shortcut gestures galore. Want to use multiple different icon packs on one home screen? Or change the accent color scheme of your app drawer? Or quickly launch an app action by long-pressing the fingerprint sensor? OxygenOS offers more ways to use Android, even more so than Google’s stock UI.

The rest of the hardware is top-notch, with an excellent 50MP ultra-wide camera as a worthy companion to that new 48MP, Hasselblad color-graded main camera. Of course, you get Snapdragon 888, with UFS 3.1 storage, and some of the fastest wired and wireless charging around.

    OnePlus 9 Pro
    The OnePlus 9 Pro has the smoothest and most fluid UI around in Android -- and dare we say it, any phone.

Best point and shoot camera phone: Google Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a on wooden deck

If you care about the most pixel-dense photos or the best zoom range or the most fun (or gimmicky) camera tricks, a Samsung or Xiaomi flagship beats any Pixel. But in this “best point and shoot” category, the Pixel is still king. The Pixel 5 previously held this spot for months, and now the brand new Pixel 5a takes over.

The difference is in software. Google’s software smarts — aka computational photography — make taking photos a joy, in that you don’t really stress too much, just point and shoot and you’re going to get a shot that’s almost always perfectly balanced, with just the right amount of boosted colors and contrast (without going overboard like Samsung), accurate white balance, and enough sharpness.

There’s no minor shutter lag like you’d get in a Galaxy S21 Ultra, or that slightly artificial over-processed look from a Huawei. The Pixel series produces photos that many of us at XDA consistently prefer above anything else.

The Pixel 5a is also a great option of course, for its low starting price, and Pixel-exclusive software features. It’ll also be one of the first phones to run Android 12. Even with the Pixel 6 coming soon (at probably flagship prices), the Pixel 5a is a great option to buy now.

    Google Pixel 5a
    The Google Pixel 5a may be a bit bland looking, but it's still got that Pixel camera, software experience, and a sweet price tag

Best Smartphone Cameras of 2021: Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, OnePlus — We’ve tested them all!

Best Cheap Android Phone: Google Pixel 5a

Hand holding Mostly Black Google Pixel 5a

 

The Pixel 5a also wins this category, as most other budget options in the US simply can’t keep up with Google’s software and camera prowess. There are many other excellent budget options from the likes of Xiaomi, but they don’t sell in the US. If you live outside the US or are open to importing, check out our list of best cheap Android phones.

    Google Pixel 5a
    The Google Pixel 5a may be a bit bland looking, but it's still got that Pixel camera, software experience, and a sweet price tag

Best overall camera phone: Huawei P40 Pro+

Best Android Phone – Huawei P40 Pro Plus

For a good half-year in 2020, the Huawei P40 Pro+ was the undisputed zoom camera king. However, Samsung’s recent release, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, has dethroned Huawei in the zoom game by a bit. With that said however, the P40 Pro+ still has a superior low light camera (50MP RYYB sensor with a larger image sensor size than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 108MP sensor) and a sharper 40MP ultra-wide-angle camera, so one could argue it’s still technically the most accomplished camera system all around.

However, Huawei’s image processing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so it really comes down to preference. But no matter what, the P40 Pro+ camera system is one of the most accomplished around even a year later. Unfortunately, the Huawei P40 Pro+ also can’t run core Google Mobile Services apps due to the ongoing sanctions placed by the US government, so be sure you weigh the pros and cons before considering one.

    Huawei P40 Pro+
    With a 10x optical zoom camera and an 40MP ultra-wide-angle camera, the Huawei P40 Pro+ has the most versatile and capable cameras on the market. The rest of the package is pretty premium too -- unfortunately, there's the Google ban issue to consider.

Best Android phone for Gaming: ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate

ASUS ZenFone 8 next to ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate

Left: ASUS ZenFone 8. Right: ASUS ROG Phone 5.

Last year’s ASUS ROG Phone 3 was our pick for gaming phone of the year, and this year’s update, the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, is even better — thus making it an easy favorite for the best gaming phone of 2021.

So what makes the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate a gaming beast? Let’s start with the 144Hz display, which the handset can maintain without micro-stutters. Throw in a massive 6,000 mAh battery to handle that variable refresh rate, which means you won’t have to worry about finding a charger mid-day. Then add functional shoulder buttons named “AirTriggers” that give extra control to first-person shooters in ways most normal smartphones cannot, and the cool “ROG Vision” screen that adds a lot of flair to the device.

Of course, when you’re done gaming, the ROG Phone 5 works fine as a regular smartphone too, with a reliable camera system, Snapdragon 888, and up to 18GB of RAM. No app will bog this thing down.

    ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate
    ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is, as the name implies, the ultimate gaming phone with up to 18GB of RAM.

Best Large Foldable phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The brand new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 takes the already excellent Z Galaxy Fold 2 and makes practical improvements across the board. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is more durable all around with water resistance and stronger materials, a bit lighter and thinner, and supports the S-Pen. With Xiaomi’s and Huawei’s foldables sold only in the US, this gives the Galaxy Z Fold 3 a clear landslide victory in this category.

And perhaps most importantly, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is cheaper than previous devices in this line too. If you want the best and most polished large screen foldables, this is a no-brainer.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
    The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the most polished foldable smartphone ever -- and it's cheaper than the previous generations too!

Best Small Foldable phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

The Galaxy Z Flip 3

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a major improvement over the Galaxy Z Flip 5G. The outside cover display is four times larger, allowing for easy access to notifications and other functionality without opening the phone; the inside screen had its refresh rate doubled to 120Hz; the phone gained IPX8 water resistance, and it’s 50% cheaper than the last generation.

In fact, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the cheapest foldable phone ever released yet, priced not far from a typical flagship slab smartphone. While the Galaxy Z Flip 3 lacks a proper zoom lens, everything else about it is flagship level, so it’s definitely a strong case to be made that the foldable phone has finally gone mainstream.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
    The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the cheapest foldable phone ever, and also the most durable and stylish one too.

Best Foldable Phones: The Top Folding Smartphones that you can buy right now

Best Stock Android phone: Google Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a with grassy background

While some of us at XDA prefer OnePlus’ OxygenOS because it adds some useful customization options to pure Android, there are enthusiasts out there who want Google’s pure vision for Android — the one Google designers set out to build. In that case, the Google Pixel 5a is the best phone running stock Android right now.

Not only is this version “pure” but it’s also going to get the fastest updates coming out of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View.

    Google Pixel 5a
    The Google Pixel 5a may be a bit bland looking, but it's still got that Pixel camera, software experience, and a sweet price tag.

Also great: Nokia 8.3 5G

Nokia 8.3 5G

You don’t have to go Google just to get the stock Android experience, however. Google’s Android One program allows other phone brands to participate in the stock Android experience if they so choose, and the Nokia 8.3 5G is one of the better Android One phones around.

It’s got a Snapdragon 765G, a 6.8 inch IPS LCD display, a large 4,500 mAh battery, and a solid 64MP camera. But of course, it’s that clean Android software with timely updates that shines.

    Nokia 8.3 5G
    The Nokia 8.3 5G is a mid-range phone with clean Android software.

Best Android phone not sold in the US: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra with its 50MP main camera and a second screen

Xiaomi’s Mi 11 Ultra is its most expensive phone yet (not counting the yet-to-be-released Xiaomi foldable), but there’s good reason. The Mi 11 Ultra is a hardware beast, packing the brand new Samsung GN2 sensor with the largest image sensor in the industry, a very good 48MP ultra-wide camera, and a Periscope zoom lens that’s just a hair below what the S21 Ultra’s Periscope zoom can do. Elsewhere, the phone has 67W wired and wireless charging (the charging brick is included with the box too) and of course, the Snapdragon 888 with plenty of RAM.

There’s even a second display on the back of the device, which means selfie lovers can snap self-portraits with the phone’s very capable main camera system.

    Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
    The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a culmination of the company's best hardware in a smartphone yet, featuring a great display, a great camera setup, great performance, and more.

Second best Android phone not sold in the US: OPPO Find X3 Pro

OPPO Find X3 Pro camera system

OPPO Find X3 Pro

The OPPO Find X3 Pro is one of the most recent flagship Android releases and it’s great enough to take this top spot for phones not sold in the US. Featuring a true 10-bit panel and a unique back design, the Find X3 Pro is one heck of a looker.

We particularly love the Find X3 Pro’s ultra-wide-angle sensor, which uses the same 50MP Sony IMX 766 sensor as the main camera, which means ultra-wide angle shots look almost as sharp and rich as the main camera. Throw in the micro-lens that can double as a magnifying glass and the usual Snapdragon 888 and 12GB of RAM, and you have one of the most powerful and polished smartphones of 2021 so far. Its lack of a Periscope zoom lens does keep it a notch below the Galaxy S21 Ultra, however.

    OPPO Find X3 Pro
    OPPO's latest is a highly polished smartphone with a true 10-bit display that allows it to display over one billion colors.

Best for multi-tasking: LG Wing, Microsoft Duo

LG Wing, Microsoft Duo

LG Wing

If productivity is paramount, then two screens are obviously better than one. The LG Wing and Microsoft Duo take very different approaches to this dual-screen setup. The Wing, in “normal mode,” resembles any other slab smartphone — it’s big, tall, curvy, with almost all-screen on its face. But give the bottom left side of the screen a little push and the front screen swivels, revealing a second screen in the backplate.

Microsoft Duo Second Screen

The Microsoft Duo

The Microsoft Duo meanwhile, is more like two screens connected together by a very premium hinge. The Duo folds and opens like a book, and unlike the Wing, both screens are the same size and quality.

Neither phone carries the most powerful SoC or best cameras, but these are productivity machines first and foremost. To be able to run, say, Slack on one screen with a word document or an email on the other is something most of us remote workers would enjoy.

Plus, with LG’s exit from the smartphone space, the LG Wing is now a potential collector’s item — it’s the last LG smartphone to hit the market.

    LG Wing
    The LG Wing is special not just because of its dual screen T-shaped design, but also because it's the last LG phone for the foreseeable future.
    Microsoft Duo
    The Microsoft Duo is an amazingly thin dual-screen device that opens and close like a book. While there were some software quirks at launch, Microsoft has fixed enough of it that the device is usable. If you need to run two apps at the same time often, this is one of the best options.

If we must pick the best overall phone here, it’d be the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. However, for those who don’t mind importing, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra rivals the Galaxy S21 Ultra in many areas (and wins in some). For those on a budget and who want the safest option, the Google Pixel 5a is still an excellent option. But ultimately, if you have money to spend though, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is still the ultimate device.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.