Which top Android phone is worth your attention? Which one should you give a miss? Here’s a guide to the ones to target for your next upgrade and the ones not to bother with.
1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
Price: from €1,299
Strengths: joint-best cameras on an Android, great screen, overall top performer
Weaknesses: most expensive mainstream flagship prices, no charger in box
Specs: 12GB/16GB Ram, 128GB/256GB/512GB storage, Samsung Exynos chip, 5,000mAh battery
Verdict: It may be the most expensive phone and come without a charger, but this is still the top Android flagship phone on the market.
The 6.8-inch S21 Ultra has the best overall cameras on Android (and, in some instances, beats the iPhone 12 Pro Max) and at least matches its Android ultra-rivals for screen performance. It’s also very nicely designed.
As well as being 25pc brighter (up to 1,500 nits), this year’s ‘Ultra’ display is the only one that gives you the opportunity of having the ultra-high screen resolution at the full 120hz refresh rate.
Samsung normally doesn’t allow this as it leads to a faster drain on battery life. But they’ve shoved a much bigger 5,000mAh battery in there to help remediate against this.
Another element that separates this Ultra model is the camera setup. The Ultra has five camera holes on the back, compared to the three on the other two S21 models. One of those, a second optical zoom, has been added to satiate Samsung’s lust in becoming the top zoom cameraphone in the world.
Overall, it works; the addition of a 10x optical lens to a 3x optical lens improves zoom ranges for most situations. Yes, the 100x ‘space zoom’ is still usually blurry and hard to use, but I’ll give it a pass because nothing else even tries to do this. The addition of a laser to help focusing is also there to steady the ship.
Unfortunately, Samsung put its own Exynos 2100 processor into the S21 Ultra models we get in Ireland and Britain, compared to the Snapdragon 888 in the US variants. The Exynos isn’t quite as good.
Other features worth noting include reverse wireless charging and an under-screen fingerprint button. The matt black colour option is also a really pleasing design aesthetic.
2. Oppo Find X3 Pro
Strengths: top screen, very powerful, great all-round user experience
Weaknesses: a bit pricey and zoom lens is modest
Specs: 12GB Ram, 256GB storage, Snapdragon 888 chip, 4,500mAh battery
Verdict: This is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2021 so far. Other than a slightly weak zoom lens, Oppo has nailed it: the Find X3 Pro is probably the most user-friendly flagship Android phone launched on the Irish market this year.
It has top-end engine power, a really superb 6.7-inch display, one of the best Android OS implementations and some really fun extras, such as a microscopic camera among its (generally great) rear camera array.
Even at a price that feels a tad high for a challenger brand, it’s a genuine contender at the top of the Android pile.
The 6.7-inch display, for example, more than hits the required metrics, with an excellent 120hz dynamic refresh rate, a super-bright 1300 nits and a pretty stunning quadHD-plus (1440p) resolution. It’s also more ergonomic to use than some rivals thanks to its 20:9 format and relatively light weight.
Its engine delivers with a beefy 12GB of Ram (more than most laptops), an ultra-fast Snapdragon 888 processor (which beats Samsung’s S21) and 256GB of storage. Sometimes it’s hard to really tell the difference between a phone with 6GB, 8GBN or 12GB of Ram, or a Snapdragon 888 versus a Snapdragon 765 processor. But take my word for it: this combination is lightning fast. There is just about zero lag when you do anything at all on it, short of the most intensive gaming flow.
Speaking of power, here’s a novelty: this comes with a charger in the box. And not just any charger, but a 65-watt fast charger that brings it up to about half full in 15 minutes. The phone also supports reverse wireless charging and can itself wirelessly charge at 30 watts.
3. Asus Rog Phone 5
Strengths: unmatched for gaming and battery life
Weaknesses: a little heavy
Specs: 16GB Ram, 256GB storage, Snapdragon 888 chip, 6,000mAh battery
Verdict: If gaming is an important consideration for you, Asus’s new Rog 5 really can’t be touched among this year’s flagships.
I’ve never used a smartphone that comes close to this one on that front.
For that matter, I’ve never used a phone as muscular or as fast. This 6.7-inch phone is simply a beast: 16GB of Ram on top of a Snapdragon 888 processor.
If you go for the ‘Ultimate’ model variant (€1,299), you get even more – an insane 18GB of Ram and 512GB of storage.
It also has an astonishing 144hz display, just about the fastest screen on the market. And its speakers are also the best on the market, if you want to take a break from headphones.
Add this to 65-watt charging, a huge 6,000mAh battery and some specialist accessories (like an attachable Aeroactive Cooler fan that keeps it cooler during gameplay and a custom game pad) and you have the standout gaming handset of the year so far.
It’s not perfect: its camera system doesn’t have a telephoto zoom lens, for example.
But for anyone who likes to dip into some shooters or role-playing games and is looking for an alternative to the usual flagships, this is it.
While my model (16GB of Ram and 256GB of storage) costs €999, an 8GB/128GB version is available for €799.
The Rog 5 Ultimate version (€1,299) features a second small display on the back.
OnePlus 9 Pro
Strengths: great screen, nice design, fast charger
Weaknesses: relatively modest engine, storage and battery life, camera still behind rivals (despite Hasselblad hookup)
Specs: 8GB Ram, 128GB storage, Snapdragon 888 chip, 4,500mAh battery
Comment: OnePlus has been known as the affordable device brand that matches flagship specifications. But its 9 Pro model has a flagship price without matching some specifications of its biggest rivals.
The more basic OnePlus 9 (€719) seems a better deal.
Huawei P40 Pro+
Strengths: joint-best cameras on an Android, great design
Weaknesses: no Google Play store, specs now a little old
Specs: 8GB Ram, 256GB storage, Kirin 990 chip, 4,200mAh battery
Comment: Without the Google ban, this would be much higher up the pecking order, even despite it being last year’s model. This is largely because Huawei’s camera systems are generally the best or joint-best.
But even though you can side-load many of your normal apps onto it, the absence of Google’s Play Store is just too awkward for many.