The Best Smartphone to buy in September: Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and more!

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!

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Best Overall Smartphone: Apple iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 in Sierra Blue

Apple’s new iPhone 13 Pro takes this top spot because it offers much improved low light cameras over previous iPhones; a game-changing Cinematic mode that lends an air of authenticity to amateur videos; the most powerful mobile processor; and a price that seems reasonable by 2021 flagship standards. It’s not well into the four-digit pricing like some of the 2020 premium flagships.

Of course, if you’re an Android fan, we’d recommend you take a look at our best Android smartphone list, but if you’re a general consumer looking for a phone that will work well, last you years, keep resale value, and have a strong eco-system, then look no further than the iPhone 13 Pro.

    iPhone 13 Pro
    The iPhone 13 Pro is probably the best well-rounded smartphone right now.

Best Affordable Premium Smartphone: OnePlus 9 Pro

The 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.

    OnePlus 9 Pro
    The OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the best Android phones of the year and the overall best value for phone fans.

Best Large Foldable Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

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.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
    The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the best foldable phone money can buy right now.

Best Small Foldable Phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

the Z Flip 3 in flex mode

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.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
    The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a stylish clamshell foldable that brings back the compact form factor.

Best Smartphone Camera: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra held out in hand with a swimming pool in the background

Now that Samsung has confirmed there’s 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 Galaxy S21 Ultra
    If you care about smartphone photography, the S21 Ultra is for you.

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 13 Pro Max

iPhone 13 Pro Max

Last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max was already a very big phone, and this year’s iPhone 13 Pro Max one ups it by adding a bit more thickness and weight. In return, you get a 120Hz screen and improved battery life over last year — two things that usually don’t go together.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max also improves on last year’s phone with a larger image sensor and faster ultra-wide lens, so expect superior low light photography compared to previous iPhones. Powering the phone is the Apple A15 Bionic, which is hands down the most powerful mobile processor right now. So if you want the biggest and best that Apple has to offer, this is it.

    iPhone 13 Pro Max
    The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the phone to get if you want an unapologetically big smartphone.

Best Small Phone: Apple iPhone 13 Mini

The iPhone 13 Mini

The iPhone 13 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’s still among one of the most powerful phones around, thanks to that Apple A15 Bionic chip and well-optimized iOS. Apple’s even improved on the below-par battery life of the iPhone 12 Mini for this year’s update.

You get a pair of 12MP rear-facing cameras that, while not the most versatile system around, can capture awesome still photos and best-in-class videos. Starting at $799, this is also one of the cheaper iPhones around.

    iPhone 13 Mini
    The iPhone 13 Mini is a very small phone with a lot of power.

Second-Best Small Smartphone: ASUS Zenfone 8

Obsidian Black ASUS ZenFone 8 on transparent background

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.

    ASUS Zenfone 8
    The ASUS Zenfone 8 is the rare Android flagship with a screen under 6-inches and weight under 180g.

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.

    Galaxy S20 FE at Samsung
    The Galaxy S20 FE is a near-flagship quality Samsung phone at a good price. You get a lot of premium features seen on more expensive phones, at a much lower budget. For some users, the polycarbonate body is also a plus.

Best Unconventional Smartphone: LG Wing

The LG Wing in swivel mode showing two screens

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.

    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.

Best Gaming Phone: ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate

ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate review

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.

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

Best Budget Smartphone: OnePlus Nord N10

oneplus nord n10 5g product image

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.

    OnePlus Nord N10
    The OnePlus Nord N10 is the most affordable 5G-ready, high-refresh screen phone available in the US.

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

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra's camera module

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.

    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 Smartphone not sold in the US: OPPO Find X3 Pro

OPPO Find X3 Pro camera system

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.

    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.

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!

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.