Last year, the pandemic forced many smartphone makers to delay their product launches, and even after launch, availability was an issue for some smartphones. This year, despite the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, some excellent smartphones have been launched in the Indian market in 2021 so far. Rather than do a single list at the end of the year, we thought why not put together a collection of what we feel are some really standout smartphones that have already launched in 2021, and deserve your attention.
How we picked the best phones of 2021 so far
In order for a smartphone to qualify, it should have been reviewed by us. Secondly, we only picked those phones that have scored at least an ‘8’ in the overall rating and the sub-scores, with the value-for-money sub-section being one exception due to fluctuating prices. Thirdly, we looked for what unique features/performance the smartphone offered compared to its peers in the same segment. Lastly, these smartphones had to have a unanimous vote from everyone in the reviews team at Gadgets 360 – these are the ones that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.
With that out of the way, let’s meet the chosen ones.
Best phones of 2021 (so far) Gadgets 360 rating (out of 10) Price in India (as recommended) OnePlus Nord CE 5G 8 Rs. 22,999 Mi 11 Ultra 9 Rs. 69,999 Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 9 Rs. 1,05,999 Vivo X60 Pro 8 Rs. 49,990 Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G 9 Rs. 55,999 Mi 11X Pro 9 Rs. 39,999 Redmi Note 10 Pro Max 8 Rs. 19,999 OnePlus 9 Pro 9 Rs. 64,999
OnePlus Nord CE 5G
The OnePlus Nord CE expands the OnePlus Nord lineup to target an even lower price, but not without some minor compromises. Starting at just Rs. 22,999, you get a good-looking phone with great software, powerful enough hardware, and decent cameras for casual use. What sets the Nord CE 5G apart from other similarly spec’d phones in its price range is OnePlus’ software, which continues to to be a class act.
Some of the compromises include the lack of the signature alert slider, a missing ultra-wide selfie camera, and a more mainstream look and feel. On the plus side, it’s relatively affordable, battery life is good, and it charges quickly.
Mi 11 Ultra
You can think of the Mi 11 Ultra from Xiaomi as a bargain Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, but rather than simply being a cheaper knock-off, the Mi 11 Ultra actually one-ups the Galaxy S21 Ultra in pretty much every possible area. If you can wrap your head around paying nearly Rs. 70,000 for a Xiaomi phone, then you’ll find that there’s a lot to like. Everything is top-of-the-line, from the build quality, display panel, cameras, and battery, to the excellent performance. All mandatory premium features are included, such as an IP68 rating and 8K video recording. Not only does this phone support wireless charging, but you can do so quickly at up to 67W.
Some of the downsides include its unwieldy size and weight, inconsistent in-display fingerprint scanner, and a few software bugs that we encountered when reviewing it. Overall though, if you have your eye on the Galaxy S21 Ultra but don’t have the budget, this is the next best thing.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Speaking of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, this in our opinion is the best Android smartphone in the market today, full stop. It commands a very high price but if you can afford it, you get the best of everything in a single package, which is still very hard to beat. It features everything you’d expect from Samsung’s top-end S line such as a great design, excellent display, blazing fast performance, and solid battery life.
Samsung has really upped its camera game with this generation too, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra arguably has one of the best sets of cameras out there. The telephoto cameras especially are in a league of their own. Apart from being expensive, this phone is also a bit heavy and bulky, and it tends to run hot when stressed.
Vivo X60 Pro
Vivo really delivered a solid product in the form of the X60 Pro which has the best stabilisation system for video recording in its class. Vivo’s second-generation gimbal system delivers butter-smooth videos when recording even during intense activities, thanks to a sensor that is physically stabilised along five axes. The ‘Plus’ model of this phone also offers the same benefits, but not a whole lot else in order to justify its steep premium. The X60 Pro is slim and looks great, delivers solid gaming performance and features a crisp 120Hz AMOLED display. If you use your phone to create a lot of video content, then you should give the X60 Pro a second look.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G
Ever wanted a premium Samsung smartphone without having to pay the “flagship” tax? Well, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G could just be what the doctor ordered. This second-generation model is very similar to the original Galaxy S20 FE which launched last year, except that you get 5G thanks to the upgraded SoC. It offers pretty much everything you could as for in a Samsung flagship, but at a highly reduced price. There’s an IP68 rating, wireless charging, a telephoto camera, a 120Hz AMOLED display, a metal body, and very good battery life. All of this is backed by a very functional Android skin and the Samsung brand name, which at under Rs. 60,000, is very good value.
Mi 11X Pro
If you’re looking for a smartphone that offers a current-gen flagship SoC at a highly competitive price, there’s no beating the Xiaomi Mi 11X Pro. With prices starting at just under Rs. 40,000, the Mi 11X Pro is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G SoC, which is one of the best SoCs you’ll find in Android phones right now. But it’s not just a raw performance beast. The Mi 11X Pro looks stylish and is built well, there’s a 120Hz crisp AMOLED screen, and you even get things like stereo speakers and an IP53 rating for water resistance.
We also found the cameras to be surpassingly good. Xiaomi’s MIUI software is the only real party pooper here, with its annoying promotional content in some stock apps. If you can look past this one flaw, the Mi 11X Pro offers tremendous value for money.
Redmi Note 10 Pro Max/ Note 10 Pro
While everyone’s rushing to offer the lowest cost 5G smartphones by cutting back on features, Xiaomi has stayed away from that race and instead focused on delivering the most power-packed smartphones under Rs. 20,000. The Redmi Note 10 Pro Max and by extension, the Redmi Note 10 Pro, are two phones that offer great combinations of features for their prices. The Redmi Note 10 Pro is more value for money compared to the Pro Max model, since it’s priced lower and the only difference between them is their primary rear camera resolutions. You get an attractive design, IP53 rating for water resistance, stereo speakers, 120Hz AMOLED display, and a massive battery with very fast charging with either of these sibling models.
Camera performance is very good too, especially their telemacro cameras that can capture some truly stunning close-up shots. If you aren’t concerned about 5G, you might be happy with this balance of cost and features.
OnePlus 9 Pro
The OnePlus 9 Pro has jumped in price compared to its predecessors, but considering the improvements over last year’s OnePlus 8 Pro, it is still an excellent smartphone. The new glossy design might not be to everyone’s liking but it’s well built and delivers excellent performance all round. Some of the new noteworthy features include 50W wireless charging and a class-leading ultra-wide camera. The display continues to impress, performance is excellent, the rest of the rear cameras are very competent in low light, and battery life is solid.