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Best Android phones in SA for 2021 - our top picks

Best Android phones
(Image credit: OnePlus, Samsung, Oppo)

There are dozens of Android phones on the market but only a handful of phones can make our line up. 

These handsets must combine outstanding design and build quality with top notch features and performance on top of the highly customisable Android operating system. Unsurprisingly, these are also amongst the most expensive phones on the market. If you're shopping on a budget you'd do better checking our list of best value phones.

We've already tested dozens of Android phones this year including the standout Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, but we've included some more unusual models like the LG Velvet and even the Huawei P40 Pro. 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. Huawei Mate40 Pro
  7. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
  8. Huawei P40 Pro
  9. LG Velvet
  10. Vivo X50 Pro
  11. Samsung Galaxy S20FE

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

HUAWEI Mate40 Pro

HUAWEI Mate40 Pro (Image credit: Huawei)

6. Huawei Mate40 Pro

Superb build, styling and cameras

Specifications
Weight: 212g
Release date: October 2020
Dimensions: 163 x 76 x 9mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.76-inch
Resolution: 2772 x 1344
CPU: Kirin 9000
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4400mAh
Rear camera: 50 + 20 + 12MP
Front camera: 13MP
Reasons to buy
+Superb build+Superior cameras
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly expensive-No Google services

Frankly, we're getting tired of talking about Huawei's limitations without Google services. The truth is that Huawei has been working tirelessly to improve this situation, and its now easier to get most of your favourite apps than ever before. And yet this issue is causing consumers to overlook what are some of the best designed and best built phones on the market, like the Mate40 Pro. 

It looks and feels like a true flagship phone, matching today's top handsets for horsepower and screen quality, and surpassing many of them for pure style. We were surprised and delighted with genuine two-day battery life (probably down to ditching those resource hogging Google services!). But it was the superb quad rear cameras, including one with 5x optical zoom, that really won us over. 

Sure, you're going to make some compromises on software, but all the rest is a properly premium experience. 

Full review: Huawei Mate40 Pro

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

7. 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)

8. 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)

9. 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)

10. 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 S20 FE

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus (Image credit: Future)

11. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Slightly downscaled version of the full S20

Specifications
Weight: 214g
Release date: October 2020
Dimensions: 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.5-inch
Resolution: 2400 x 1080
CPU: Snapdragon 865 / Exynos 990
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4500mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 8MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+Great cameras+Solid build quality 
Reasons to avoid
-Overpriced-Mature tech

It's hard to believe but almost a year after the original Galaxy S20, no Android phone maker appears to have caught up to Samsung. The S20 was a remarkable phone and the new Fan Edition is a kind of victory lap which, despite dropping the screen resolution, cameras and RAM down a notch, affirms Samsung's dominance of the high-end Android market. You're still getting all the top-end AMOLED screen tech at an improved 120hz refresh for smooth scrolling, raw processing horsepower and superb build quality of the original, but now you're paying just a shade less for it. 

Read more: Samsung S20 Fan Edition