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Best Android phones in South Africa for 2021

(Image credit: Future)

While Apple limits itself to four or five new models a year, Android phones have no such constraints as all the top manufacturers go toe to toe on every spec, from screen size to processing power to camera quality. 

Dozens of new Android phones appear each year, but we have simplified the situation for you by testing almost all of them and then listing the best all-rounders here.  

We take account of everything from build quality to battery life and 5G capability to arrive at this list.  Unsurprisingly its dominated by models like the Samsung Galaxy S21 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra although LG, Huawei and even Vivo have a strong showing too.

These tops phones are not cheap. If you're a value shopper see our list of best budget phones instead.

Click through on any of the phones below to see more detail. It all means that you can quickly find the right Android for you. And check back soon to see new entries on the list.

Best Android phones at a glance

  1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
  2. Samsung Galaxy S21
  3. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
  4. Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus
  5. LG V60 ThinQ
  6. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
  7. Huawei P40 Pro
  8. LG Velvet
  9. Vivo X50 Pro
  10. Samsung Galaxy S10 & S10 Plus
  11. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite
  12. LG G8s ThinQ

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A top tier smartphone, and it takes our best crown

Specifications
Release date: January 2020
Weight: 227g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 12GB / 16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP
Front camera: 40MP
Reasons to buy
+The best camera zoom+Mesmerizing design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive at any level-No microSD card slot

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung’s top, premium flagship for 2021, and what a phone it is. For the first time Samsung has offered S Pen support on an S-range handset here, meaning that you can optionally get the Galaxy Note range’s best feature.

But even without that, this is a stunning handset, with a brilliant quad-lens camera capable of 10x optical zoom. In fact, in our review we called it the best camera zoom on any readily available Android phone.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also looks great, with a smooth Gorilla Glass back that has a matte finish that looks better than the reflective Galaxy S20 range, while around the front there’s a curved edge-to-edge 6.8-inch screen.

And speaking of that screen, for the first time on a Samsung phone you get both a QHD+ resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate at the same time. And being a high-end Samsung screen this is one of the best around.

There’s also oodles of power of course, and while obviously very expensive, this actually has a cheaper starting price than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra did at launch. 

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

2. Samsung Galaxy S21

Not the best of the S series, but nevertheless great

Specifications
Release date: January 2020
Weight: 169
Dimensions: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.2-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic, versatile camera+Cheaper than the Galaxy S20
Reasons to avoid
-No microSD support-Screen isn’t the best

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is the most basic and affordable of the Galaxy S21 range, but it has a lot going for it beyond its relatively low price.

The triple-lens camera is highly versatile, including the three core lenses that we’d expect from a premium smartphone – namely a main one, a telephoto, and an ultra-wide. They all perform well too.

There’s also high-end power, solid battery life, and an AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. At 6.2 inches it’s also a lot more compact than the rest of the S21 range, so it’s ideal if you don’t want a massive phone.

And beyond being the most affordable of the range, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is actually a step down in price from its predecessor, so it’s a bit of a bargain – though to achieve that the screen resolution has been dropped to Full HD+, and the back of the phone is ‘Glasstic’ rather than actual glass.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

3. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

An Ultra-sized phone

Specifications
Release date: August 2020
Weight: 208g
Dimensions: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.9-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3088
CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus / Exynos 990
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 108MP, 12MP, 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Useful S Pen features+Great-looking screen
Reasons to avoid
-Slow charging-Ultra-expensive

Samsung's latest super-premium Note smartphone is the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, with advanced features, a great-looking screen, and special features for the S Pen stylus which comes included in the phone, that give you added versatile ways to use your device.

Sure it's expensive, and pretty huge, and doesn't actually have all the bells and whistles of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. But those weaknesses are made up for with plenty of advantages.

This is a real top-end phone with top specs in every sector, so if your budget (and hand) can stretch for it, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may really be one worth considering.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

4. Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus

Still top Android phones

Specifications
Release date: March 2020
Weight: 163g/186g
Dimensions: 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm/161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.2-inch/6.7-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Snapdragon 865 / Exynos 990
RAM: 8GB/12GB
Storage: 128GB (S20) or 128GB/256GB/512GB (S20 Plus)
Battery: 4,000mAh/4500mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Great screen+Excellent cameras
Reasons to avoid
-High price-Iterative improvements

The Samsung Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus are – along with the Galaxy S20 Ultra – Samsung’s main 2020 flagship phones, so it’s no wonder they make this list.

While the S20 Plus has a slight specs edge, thanks to a larger 6.7-inch screen, a bigger 4,500mAh battery, a fourth camera lens (for depth-sensing) and optionally more storage, they’re largely very similar phones, so they’re fit to share the same spot.

Both have a highly capable camera array, with 12MP standard, 12MP ultra-wide, and 64MP telephoto sensors, and both also have top-end power, thanks to a Snapdragon 865 or Exynos 990 chipset (depending on where in the world you are) and up to 12GB of RAM.

They also both have a stunning 1440 x 3200 display with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz.

The design is premium too, and they’re both packed full of features, like reverse wireless charging, 5G, an in-screen fingerprint scanner, and water resistance. They might not quite be the very best anymore, but they’re not far off.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S20 review

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review

LG V60 ThinQ 5G

LG V60 ThinQ  (Image credit: LG)

5. LG V60 ThinQ

Foldable 5G flagship flying below the radar

Specifications
Release date: May 2020
Weight: 214g
Dimensions: 169 x 78 x 9mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 2466 x 1080
CPU: Snapdragon 865 / Adreno 650 GPU
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 13MP + TOF
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+5G enabled+Very well priced+Free second screen 
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto camera

LGs latest flagship deserves far more recognition. To our mind it matches, and even surpasses, the Android market leaders and looks very good doing it, especially with its new gold-coloured chamfered aluminium edges.  It sports the same top-end Snapdragon 865 CPU as its competitors, and that's paired with the fastest GPU available for Android phones, the Adreno 650, which handily outperforms the chip in Samsung's S20 series.

And the V60 is 5G-enabled (something else not offered in Samsung's S20 range in SA) for those looking for a future-proof superphone investment. It is also LGs first phone to record 8K video, a feat rounded out with its array of 4 mics which creates a kind of surround sound effect, and there's video stabilisation included. Like Samsung the V60's primary 64MP camera uses pixel-binning to create better quality low light shots. 

The clincher though is the folio cover which, for free, adds a second, beautiful FHD+ OLED screen. Using two apps side-by-side won't impress everyone, nor will the dual screen gaming, but it's likely to be the most affordable folding phone most consumers will be able to afford for a while yet. 

Full review: LG V60 ThinQ

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

6. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

A top Android phone, and the best with a stylus

Specifications
Release date: August 2019
Weight: 196g
Dimensions: 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3040
CPU: Snapdragon 855 / Exynos 9825
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 256/512GB
Battery: 4,300mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 16MP + 3D ToF
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Best screen on a smartphone+Handy S Pen Stylus
Reasons to avoid
-Supremely expensive-Camera isn't the 'best'

While the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus may not top our list of the best Android phones anymore, that's only because it's been beaten by its successor. Saying that, it's still worth considering if you're looking for a new Android phone.

There's a lot to love in Samsung's Note phablet, from its beautiful 6.8-inch screen to the powerful selfie camera and the S Pen stylus which transforms your smartphone experience.

Sure, the cameras aren't as good as the Huawei P30 Pro, and the body leaves a bit to be desired with its huge frame and slippery design, but this is still a great smartphone if you can stomach the price.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review

Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Huawei)

7. Huawei P40 Pro

A superior Android experience... eventually

Specifications
Release date: March 2019
Weight: 165g
Dimensions: 149.1 x 71.4 x 7.6mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
CPU: Kirin 980
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 64/128/512GB
Battery: 3,650mAh
Rear camera: 40MP + 16MP + 8MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+Great camera+Powerful processor
Reasons to avoid
-No wireless charging-P30 Pro is superior

The only Huawei phone on the list right now is the P40 Pro, which claims its spot by virtue of its truly excellent hardware, superb build quality and refreshingly different Android experience. Once you hack your way past the lack of Google services and get things tweaked to your liking this handset delivers with its gorgeous screen, best-in-class camera system and beefy Kirin processor. 

Huawei Mobile Services is surprisingly good and weighs down the Android experience far less than Google's bloated, but ubiquitous, apps, we found. As such it could have placed far higher on this list if it wasn't a bit technically challenging to get started without the Play Store.

The upspecc-ed P40 Pro Plus model has even better camera tech, including second telephoto camera, but the price premium pushed it just marginally out of the running.  

Read more: Huawei P40 Pro review

LG Velvet

(Image credit: LG)

8. LG Velvet

Stylish look for media creatives, with 5G

Specifications
Weight: 180g
Release date: July 2020
Dimensions: 167.2 x 74.1 x 7.9mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 2,460 x 1,080
CPU: Snapdragon 765 5G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4300mAh
Rear camera: 48+8+5MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+Empty List
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

This is the first of the new-look phones from LG: a range that will replace the traditional G-series phones with more unusual and more innovative models to complement the V-series flagship models. The Velvet certainly is a striking looking design with perfectly symmetrical front and back sections in a premium high gloss glass finish. It's a multimedia powerhouse phone with a superb 6.8-inch OLED screen, stereo speakers and 5G connectivity for uploading and downloading video at top speeds. The four-camera array is arranged in an unusual and eye-catching "droplet" configuration and features a 48MP main shooter with a wide angle and depth sensor on the rear and 16MP selfie cam. The Velvet uses the tall-and-thin form factor, so this big-screen phone remains very pocketable. It's all round good value for a 5G phone in SA.  

Read more: LG Velvet review

Vivo X50 Pro

(Image credit: Vivo)

9. Vivo X50 Pro

Advanced cameras and 5G smarts

Specifications
Weight: 181g
Release date: August 2020
Dimensions: 158 x 73 x 8mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.6-inch
Resolution: 2376 × 1080
CPU: Snapdragon 765
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4315mAh
Rear camera: 48+13+8+8MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+Impressive build quality+Advanced camera system
Reasons to avoid
-Last year's CPU

We're as surprised as anyone to find Vivo on our top 10 list, given that their offerings to date have been of the budget variety. But this 5G handset certainly is not with wonderfully tactile frosted glass on the rear panel, an excellent 6.6-inch screen and a seriously advanced camera system.  The main 48MP camera is mounted on a gimbal which has the effect of mechanical image stabilisation far superior to traditional optical image stabilisation (IOS) that works a treat for creating smooth video on the move and for truly amazing low light shots. That's rounded out with an excellent 5x optical telephoto lens. There's also plenty of RAM and storage to keep things flying. 

Read more: Vivo X50 Pro review

Samsung Galaxy S10 & S10 Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

10. Samsung Galaxy S10 & S10 Plus

Two top Android phones

Specifications
Release date: March 2019
Weight: 175g
Dimensions: 157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.4-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3040
CPU: Snapdragon 855 / Exynos 9820
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 128/512GB/1TB
Battery: 4,100mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 16MP
Front camera: 10MP + 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Great screen+Excellent cameras
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap-Design offers little grip

The Samsung Galaxy S10, and in particular the plus-sized S10 Plus, was for a long time the best Android phone you could buy, and while the S20 range has now superseded them, they're still great phones.

The Galaxy S10 Plus is a big phone that's designed for big hands - and it takes the very best of what's on the smartphone market and puts it together in a compelling package that we've loved testing.

The Super AMOLED display has been measured as the very best around (at least, at the time), with super colours, plus there's a fingerprint scanner embedded in the display.

Battery life is an improvement over the S9 Plus, thanks to the larger battery inside, and you also get Samsung's new Wireless PowerShare, allowing you to wirelessly charge other devices on the rear of the handset.

The trio of cameras on the rear of the Galaxy S10 Plus are also great, offering loads of features, shooting modes and overall clarity. The standard S10 is a very similar phone - a slight step down in a few ways, but also cheaper.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S10 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

(Image credit: Samsung)

11. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

Specifications
Release date: Feb 2020
Weight: 199g
Dimensions: 163.7 x 76.1 x 8.7mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Exynos
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4500mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+Empty List
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

We like the idea of a scaled back Note 10. Until the launch of the S20 series the Note was Samsung's most expensive phone, sporting the usual line up of top shelf components and turbocharged performance. But we think there is a niche of small business operators who appreciates the virtues of the Note: the big squared-off screen format combined with stylus functionality, but without the monster price tag. At R12,000 the Note 10 Lite is 30% cheaper than the Note 10.

On the Lite you are still getting full-strength multimedia handling, including an excellent triple rear camera with all Samsung's usual camera smarts for helping you capture great shots without trying too hard, and a massive, silky 6.7-inch super AMOLED screen at better-than-HD resolution (that's bigger and better than the Note 10). There is even a headphone jack!

The Note 10 Lite has a 4500mAh battery, again, bigger than the Note 10,  and the fractionally downscaled CPU (Exynos 9810) runs more lean than the full Note 10 CPU too. Other than screen scribbling the S-Pen stylus performs all the same tricks, like advancing music tracks and PowerPoint slides, and remote-snapping photos. 

Altogether it's on our list as a great-value, powerful and professional business tool.

LG G8s ThinQ

(Image credit: LG)

12. LG G8s ThinQ

Specifications
Release date: September 2019
Weight: 180g
Dimensions: 155.3 x 76.6 x 7.99mmmm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.21-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2248
CPU: Snapdragon SM8150
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 3.550mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 13MP + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Empty List
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

The "lite" version of LG's G8X flagship this model maintains the brands reputation for excellent build quality, and still holds on to many of the key features found on the more pricey version.

It sports a triple rear camera arrangement including a 2x telephoto which is not available on the G8X. The other sacrifices are not deal breakers for us. It has a smaller 3550mAh battery which works out okay since its powering a lesser CPU and a slightly smaller 6.21 inch screen at a slightly lower resolution (1080 x 2248). 

You're still scoring LG's sturdy build and the innovative palm recognition system (called Hand ID by LG,  you pass your hand over the front of the phone where the front facing sensor reads your unique vein patterns to unlock the phone). Add in LGs powerful audio decoding subsystems, using specialised processors, then check the price and it's more obvious how this "lite" phone  made our top 10 list. 

Read more: LG G8S ThinQ review