These are the Best Android Phones to buy in May 2021: Galaxy S21 Ultra, OnePlus 9, ROG Phone 5, and more!

These are the Best Android Phones to buy in May 2021: Galaxy S21 Ultra, OnePlus 9, 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!

Right now is perhaps the best time to buy an Android phone — all the spring flagship releases have been announced and reviewed, giving you an idea of what each phone brings to the table, and it’s not so late in the year that you might as well wait for the fall releases. In 2021, we got arguably more excellent spring releases than ever before; here’s XDA’s expert guide on the best Android phone for you depending on your need.

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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 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 for most of 2021 so far.

To be honest, it’s going to be tough for other phones to knock the Galaxy S21 Ultra off the list because it’s a near-flawless slab smartphone with a lot of extra factors on its side. Not only does it have the latest flagship processor, the most versatile camera system, a premium and unique design, but it’s also got that Samsung marketing and distribution, it’s also the Android phone with the most visibility and availability worldwide. For example, a Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra comes very close to matching the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but the phone is not sold in chunks of the world. All these little things make the Galaxy S21 Ultra very, very hard to beat as “the best Android phone overall.”

I’m of the belief that the smartphone industry is slowly pivoting to a foldable/rollable future, and these slab smartphones may be in their final year or two of being the default form factor. If that is the case, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is about the pinnacle of the slab phone right now.

    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

OnePlus 9 in purple

The Galaxy S20 FE held this spot for months, but its reign as the best Android most people should buy 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 Android Phone for software and speed: OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro camera module

OnePlus is a brand that’s always been all about speed, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is once again the fastest phone on the market. Everything – from the way apps launch at rocket speed 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 5

Best Android Phone – Google Pixel 5

Google’s Pixel series, even back when it was aspiring to be a premium flagship, never really fully got hardware right. Whether it was the original Pixel’s outdated bezels, Pixel 2 XL’s display problems, Pixel 3 XL’s giant, unsightly notch, or the Pixel 4’s mediocre battery life and wonky facial recognition system, every generation of Pixel has had a glaring hardware flaw that is difficult to overlook. But despite that, many reviewers and tech enthusiasts still gladly carried a Pixel over the years, because Google’s camera software processing was that good.

That camera prowess is why the Pixel 5 cracks this list, despite a spec sheet and hardware craftsmanship that sits a tier or two below other brands’ offerings listed here. But with the Pixel 5, you know you’re getting color science that is always on point, dynamic range perfectly balanced, and the best portrait/bokeh mode around. For the first time, we even get an ultrawide angle camera in a Pixel. Throw in the usual Pixel perks like the purest version of Android and Pixel-specific features from Google, and the Pixel 5 is an easy recommendation.

    Google Pixel 5
    Google's newest brings several new features, but the most important is that Pixel camera with its glorious image processing and dynamic range is back. If you just want to point, tap the shutter button, and expect a great shot, look no further.

Best Cheap Android Phone: Google Pixel 4a

Best Android Phone – Google Pixel 4a

If you want that Pixel 5 primary camera performance but want to save a bit, the Pixel 4a (not to be confused by the larger and more expensive Pixel 4a 5G) is one of the cheapest options on this list.

You lose out on the ultra-wide-angle camera and 5G connectivity, but you still have virtually the same primary camera as the Pixel 5. If it’s just standard 1x point-and-shoot photos, the Pixel series is hard to beat. If you want to see other choices on a budget, check out our guide to the best cheap Android phones.

    Google Pixel 4a
    The Google Pixel 4a brings virtually the same main camera as the Google Pixel 5, which means it's got one of the very best cameras on the market. Everything else about the phone is solid if unspectacular -- but at this price, and with a camera performance at this level, it's hard to complain.

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 is 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 cannot 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

ROG Phone 5 Ultimate

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 Android foldable phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

Best Android Phone – Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

This used to be a landslide win for the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 in this category, considering the only other real options were the Huawei Mate XS, which is pricier, not on sale officially in the US, can’t run core Google apps, and has a folding-screen-on-the-outside design that looks stunning but raises serious durability concerns. The Galaxy Z Fold 2, meanwhile, is widely available, has no software restrictions, and has a firmer folding screen made of “ultra-thin glass” that is protected when not in use. The new Huawei Mate X2 does improve upon a lot and gives some real competition to the Galaxy Z Fold 2, but the Galaxy Z Fold 2 still takes the cake as most people can still comfortably buy and use the device, which remains a con for Huawei.

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 feels the most polished and refined of all foldable phones released so far and has won the hearts of several of us here at XDA already. Other than water-resistance and perhaps a thinner build (neither of which are realistic requests at this time as the technology isn’t there yet), there’s not much you can fault the Galaxy Z Fold 2 for.

    Galaxy Z Fold 2
    The most cutting edge phone of the year -- but it will cost you a pretty penny. However, if money is no object and you need to have the very best that Samsung offers, look no further than the Galaxy Z Fold 2. We love it, and so will you!

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 is 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 the company's most ambitious and powerful slab phone yet.

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

OPPO Find X3 Pro

The OPPO Find X3 Pro is one of the most recent flagship Android release 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 set-up. 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 is the last LG smartphone to hit the market.

    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 4a is still a good value smartphone stateside. But ultimately, if you have money to spend though, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 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.