The Best Smartphone to buy in September: Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and more!
This has been a great year for smartphones so far — conventional slab phones are all extremely polished, and foldables are coming into their own. So if you’re looking to upgrade your phone, now is as good a time as any. We here at XDA test almost every smartphone on earth, so here’s our expert guide on the best smartphones — covering both the best Android and best iPhone — depending on your budget or need!
Navigate this article:
- Best Overall Smartphone: Apple iPhone 12
- Best Affordable Premium Smartphone: OnePlus 9 Pro
- Best Large Foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
- Best Small Foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
- Best Smartphone Camera: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- Best Big Smartphone: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Best Small Smartphone: Apple iPhone 12 Mini
- Best Mid-Tier Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
- Best Unconventional Smartphone: LG Wing
- Best Gaming Smartphone: ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate
- Best Budget Smartphone: OnePlus Nord N10
- Best Smartphone not sold in the US: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
Best Overall Smartphone: Apple iPhone 12
The Apple iPhone 12 is not the most capable smartphone on the market right now — heck, it’s not even the most capable iPhone right now — but it tops the list here because it’s the best purchase option for most people. Yeah, it can’t capture zoom photos as well as an iPhone 12 Pro, and the 60Hz screen with a notch cutout definitely don’t look as immersive as the 120Hz nearly uninterrupted screens of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. But for the average consumer, those extra bells and whistles are not worth paying an additional several hundred dollars.
The iPhone 12 is also just the right size, it’s not as wide and unwieldy as the iPhone 12 Pro Max but its screen is not as cramped as the iPhone 12 Mini either. Throw in the fact it has 5G support in every part of the world with 5G rollout (you don’t have to worry about bands, like with Androids) and that Apple has the most complete eco-system with the widest selection of third-party accessories around, and you have a phone that holds the most appeal to most people. It’s the phone the average Joe looking for a new phone should consider first.
If you want to look at just the Android ecosystem, here are the best Android smartphones.
Best Affordable Premium Smartphone: OnePlus 9 Pro
This category is different from the above “best overall” category in that this is no longer looking at it from an average consumer perspective. This category is for people who follow the smartphone scene closely and want a phone that offers the best combination of specs, features and value.
There were a lot of worthy contenders but the OnePlus 9 Pro is our choice in this spot. It’s got a brilliant 120Hz OLED display that’s almost as good as the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s (it falls short in peak brightness by a hair), premium build quality, excellent haptics, and a really strong main and ultra-wide camera. In fact, the only area in which the Galaxy S21 Ultra clearly beats the OnePlus 9 Pro is in zooming prowess. But then the OnePlus 9 Pro charges much faster, and costs $250 less. So ask yourself, do you want sharp 10x photos or save $250?
There will be readers who push back at the idea of a $900-ish phone being called “affordable”, but four-digit pricing for top tier flagships have been a reality in the smartphone space for several years now. It’s worth remembering these are now cutting-edge personal computers. The OnePlus 9 Pro offers almost everything those four-digit phones do without crossing that mark.
Best Large Foldable Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
If you were interested in foldable phones before but had some concerns, the new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 may change your mind. It took the already exceptional Z Fold 2 and adds official water resistance, more durable materials covering the hinge and screen, and support for the S-Pen. It’s the best mobile device for multi-tasking, and Samsung somehow managed to lower the price a little bit this time too.
With a Snapdragon 888, excellent speakers, and that large 7.6 inch screen, the Z Fold 3 is excellent for gaming or movie watching. While the cameras aren’t the best around, they’re still quite good and enough for most.
Best Small Foldable Phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
Do you think current slab smartphones have become too big to fit comfortably in your pocket? If so, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is for you. A compact clamshell foldable that, when folded up, can fit into the breast pocket of a jacket or a small women’s purse, the Z Flip 3 is a compact yet powerful device.
The Z Flip 3 features a 6.7 inch 120Hz OLED display on the inside, and a 1.9 inch cover display that’s ideal for quick interactions with the phone when it’s closed. And because the phone can stay open mid-fold, it’s a great hands-free video watching or video call taking device too. With IPX8 water resistance and a durable hinge, the Z Flip 3 should ease fragility concerns.
Best Smartphone Camera: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Now that Samsung has confirmed there is no new Galaxy Note phone this year, the Galaxy S21 Ultra will remain Samsung’s absolute apex slab top dog and best camera offering until possibly 2022. That’s okay because the Galaxy S21 Ultra is that good a phone. Other than objective opinions like “it’s too big” or nitpicky things like a split-second shutter lag, this is a phone that doesn’t have a weakness. It’s the apex slab smartphone.
It has the most versatile camera system around: four strong cameras that cover focal lengths from 13mm to 240mm (not even factoring in digital zoom). The main 108MP sensor captures razor-sharp photos during the day, and at night can make do without night mode trickery due to its large sensor size. The ultra-wide is not the best ultra-wide around, but it’s still very good in terms of maintaining the sharpness and keeping consistent color science. The two zoom lenses are the best the industry has to offer right now, especially the Periscope lens that can capture 10x optical zoom photos. In fact, even up to 20x digital zoom, photos remain very usable for social media.
The rest of the phone is top-notch too — the best display in the industry, the best SoC in Android, and one of the longest-lasting battery lives in a flagship.
Samsung makes a lot of different phones aimed at different markets. If you want to take a look at a narrower list, here are all the best Samsung Galaxy phones.
Best Big Phone: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
There are many Android phones with 6.7 inch screens, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max‘s 6.7 inches feels bigger because Apple uses a wider aspect ratio and the screen is completely flat. It’s an unapologetically big phone, with hard stainless steel sides and the weight to boot.
In addition to the large screen, you also get the best battery life in an iPhone in years, a slightly superior camera system with superior OIS than the other iPhone 12s, and a 2.5x optical telephoto lens (65mm equivalent) that makes the iPhone 12 Pro Max the best phone for portraits.
Best Small Phone: Apple iPhone 12 Mini
The iPhone 12 Mini isn’t just small — it’s tiny. It’s a phone that most people will be able to use with one hand with ease. Despite its small size, it is still among one of the most powerful phones around, thanks to that Apple A14 Bionic chip and well-optimized iOS. In fact, everything we said about the iPhone 12 a few paragraphs up applies here, as the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini are virtually the same phone, except for differences in screen and battery size.
The latter however is the Mini’s downfall — its super small battery has struggled to last a full day for most reviewers. But if you can usually afford a midday quick top-up, that’s not going to be an issue. At $799, it’s also relatively cheap for an Apple product.
Second-Best Small Smartphone: ASUS Zenfone 8
With dimensions of 148mm x 68.5mm x 8.9mm and a weight of 169g, the ASUS Zenfone 8 isn’t quite as petite as the iPhone 12 Mini, but in the Android space, it’s still a breath of fresh air. Most adults should be able to use the phone one-handed with relative ease, as the 5.9-inch OLED screen doesn’t stretch too high up.
Despite the small size, the phone packs Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 SoC with a 4,000 mAh cell and copious amount of RAM. You also have a 64MP main camera, a 12MP ultra-wide, and a headphone jack! If you are tired of big Android phones, this is the one to get.
Best Mid-Tier Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE was highly popular last year because it offered a flagship SoC and 120Hz Samsung AMOLED screen at a much lower price than the company’s top-tier Galaxy S and Note phones. In April 2021, the Galaxy S20 FE’s Snapdragon 865 can no longer be called flagship level, so this phone is now firmly a mid-ranger, which is a fitting place for this plasticky device anyway.
Still, that 120Hz screen is as vibrant as ever, and while the cameras here aren’t as groundbreaking as the S21 Ultra’s, it’s still very capable and versatile. If you want the Samsung flagship experience at a discount, this is worth a look.
Best Unconventional Smartphone: LG Wing
When LG released the weird Wing last year with its swivel design that revealed a second screen, it appeared to be a comeback of sorts for the South Korean tech company, whose mobile division had fallen on hard times.
Little did we all know, the LG Wing would be the last LG smartphone, with the announcement that LG electronics is closing its mobile department. For a farewell product, the LG Wing is very noteworthy — it may not have the best cameras or processor, but it has a unique design that is not only a breath of fresh air in the sea of familiar slabs but also genuinely useful for people who frequently multitask.
LG promises continued software support for its already released products, so interested consumers have some assurance on that end.
Best Gaming Phone: ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate
If you do lots of mobile gaming and want a device that can keep up, then look no further than the ASUS ROG Phone 5. Between the blazingly fast and buttery smooth 144hz display, large 6,000 mAh battery, dual front-facing stereo speakers, up to 18GB of RAM, and touch-sensitive shoulder buttons, there isn’t a smartphone out there more equipped to handle mobile gaming.
Best Budget Smartphone: OnePlus Nord N10
Retailing for $299, it’s hard to find a phone at this price point (in the US) that’s more capable than the OnePlus Nord N10. For a quarter of the price of an iPhone 12 Pro Max or Galaxy S21 Ultra, you’re getting a 5G-ready handset with a 90Hz OLED display and a multi-camera system that offers a solid wide and ultra-wide camera.
One thing to note, even the very definition of “budget” differs from person to person, and a singular choice may not be able to properly appreciate the nuances of all individuals. If you’re looking for more options, here are some other great cheap Android phones for you to consider.
Best Smartphone not sold in the US: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
Featuring a Snapdragon 888, 120Hz OLED display, a 50MP with the largest image sensor in the smartphone space, and a capable ultra-wide and Periscope zoom lens to boot, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra may be the one slab phone that can challenge the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra for slab phone supremacy.
If you’re into selfies, there’s also a second display located on the camera island module so you can take selfies with the main camera system (there’s still a selfie camera on the front side of the device if you prefer to shoot the traditional way).
The Mi 11 Ultra isn’t selling in North America, but it’s available in China, chunks of Europe, and Southeast Asia, and will soon be available in India. So importing one shouldn’t be difficult — if you’re ready to pay the Samsung/Apple-level four-digit price.
Second-Best Smartphone not sold in the US: OPPO Find X3 Pro
In our review, we called the OPPO Find X3 Pro the phone with the best ultra-wide camera around, and that title still stands. That’s because OPPO uses the exact same Sony IMX 766 sensor for both the main and ultra-wide cameras. This also means there’s more consistency between photos captured by the main and ultra-wide camera.
Elsewhere, the Find X3 Pro has a brilliant 120Hz, WQHD+ 10-bit display panel that can display over a billion colors, and is powered by all the latest components like Snapdragon 888 and UFS 3.1. There is also a never-before-seen microscope camera that allows the phone to capture eerily close-up shots, like the ability to capture individual strands of fabric in your shirt. It does lose out to the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra in zooming capabilities, hence this runner-up spot.
There are a lot of good phones to choose from right now, and we hope this guide helped. We will update this guide every month as we test more phones, so be sure to check back often. Let us know which phone you’re using now and which one you’d consider as your next phone!