[Music] all right welcome to the smartphone awards 2021. so as you can see by the table in front of me we've got plenty of smartphones that have all come out in the past 365 days or so or at least the calendar year in all shapes and sizes and well it's a bit of tradition around here to reward some of the best ones in a bunch of different categories for a bunch of different reasons to sort of incentivize and show the best of the stuff that came out during this year so we've got nine categories and in each one of these categories we're going to have an overall winner and that winner will get a shiny super cool mkbhd edition trophy which is sweet but then also we'll probably have a runner-up and maybe even some honorable mentions depending on how close the category is honestly some of these are toss-ups but some of these are pretty firm winners for sure but before we get into all of that i do want to take a moment of silence and remembrance of lg see we always want more competition in the smartphone space more variety more options and so it's always a bummer to end up with less than before so let's take a quick moment to remember when life was good all right let's give out some trophies so our first up category is best big phone now we already know most phones are pretty big that's not a surprise but i do want to reward the ones that make the best use of a lot of space so if you're going to go out of your way to get a bigger than normal phone you really want a phone that takes advantage of having that extra space big screen big battery big specs and just an overall good software experience to use it all so in 2021 we got a bunch of different versions of this but the best big phone for this year was samsung's galaxy z fold three and i'm really glad we have a folding phone that's able to win awards like this so obviously you've got the big 7.4 inch display on the inside and you close it up and you still get a very usable display on the outside i've talked at length about the idea of folding phones and the benefit it can possibly afford you and clearly they're getting better every year the technology is not perfect yet but fold three was kind of the hard work king of all the folding phones that came out like if you made me pick a folding phone to use right now full time it would without a question be this one and it gives you the best big phone experience of any phone out here immediately as you unfold it so huge shout out to the fold three for being a real option for a lot of people now i'm pretty firm on that being the winner but i do have some honorable mentions i'm gonna give a shout out to a non-folding phone galaxy s 21 ultra which also came out right at the beginning of this year as being pretty much the standard big phone experience big screen big battery big cameras big specs and great software everything about this phone hit all its marks and i also want to give a shout out to uh the gamer phone which has continued to either top this category or be right up near the top this is the rog phone five one of the special editions with this like matte white back but they've done the same thing they always do huge battery but it's also got a screen on the back it's got triple cameras it's uh it's a whole thing so for the gamers who like the front-facing speakers and the huge higher frustrated screen this is definitely still top of the list for people who are into that so then next up best small phone now this is uh it's the opposite of what we just went into clearly phone's been getting bigger and bigger and it's more and more rare to have a really good even flagship level phone that's small like genuinely small and so i want to reward this this is the thing that i sort of created a bunch of categories for in the first place it's like this phone might not get that many awards without this category but i do want to highlight it and so i actually think this is my closest race yet it could have gone either way between number one or number two but i'm gonna give my best small phone award my best use of not much space to the iphone 13 mini so we already know what this is about it's basically got all the same specs as the larger iphone 13 but crunch down into a smaller body iphone 13 is a flagship this one has the same cameras it's got the same performance it's got basically the same screen just smaller and it's all crunched down into a mini phone and it fixed what we were really complaining about with the last iphone 12 mini which actually won this award last year which was a kind of weak battery life by just making the phone a little bit thicker and giving it a physically larger battery all the things we like about a mini flagship phone are happening in the iphone 13 mini but it was close and i'm telling you it's close because it honestly could have gone either way and i would have been totally fine with it but i'm giving the runner-up for best small phone this year to samsung's z flip 3.
This is a small phone when it's folded but when you unfold it you end up with sort of a normal sized phone now it's debatable how much utility this has i mean you kind of use it the same way as a normal candy bar size phone but the fact that you're able to fit all of that normal sized phone down into half the size when it's folded and you get the satisfaction of closing it and you also get the ability to fit it into smaller pockets smaller bags and into smaller spaces makes this one a really fun option i like this phone a lot like i said i wouldn't choose it personally if i had to pick one of the folding phones but that's because i'm not a small phone person so this one is really compelling to see and they dropped the price all the way down to 9.99 at launch which made waves so another real folding phone option i'm also going to give two honorable mentions in this category for smaller phones one to the oppo find n which was released like literally right under under the buzzer it just got in on time but this is a smaller version of basically the z-fold three and i really liked it i talked about it a lot in the video about how it might actually be a preferred form factor and then the other is actually the asus zenfone 8 over here it's a pretty solid phone i mean it got really deep in the blind smartphone camera test like it does every year but also it's just a nice compact size i like the design and it fits in pockets like some of these other bigger phones don't if you're looking for a smaller phone definitely don't count out the zenfone 8.
So okay next up best camera who's going to get the camera award and the smartphones this year i feel like i kind of say this every year but i've mentioned it recently on twitter and i'll say it again it's kind of hard to go wrong really with almost any of the options on this table especially if you're spending premium smartphone money you're probably getting a pretty good camera and the differences come down to subjectivity but for me there really still is a clear winner for the best overall smartphone camera system because that's a whole package that includes not just the apps that use the camera but photo quality low light videos low light photos overall video quality different codecs and formats available and just what you would use to shoot videos with if you had the option this one's a no-brainer for me it's the iphone 13 pro so the iphone 13 pro is actually a pretty substantial jump up in the camera department from the last iphone which is also really good so it takes much better photos you might remember the really huge sensor from the 12 pro max last year that's now the primary sensor in these phones with the improved stabilization and it also has these new picture profiles which are super useful for changing the look of the photos and baking that in of course but then also prores video i shot an entire video on this channel during this year on an iphone 13 pro with 4k prores video super useful to have that available to you so just as far as overall smartphone camera package i got to go iphone 13 pro but i do want to give my runner up to a phone that's still to this day gets carried by i think more people in the tech world than any other that i know because of its camera and i still really like the photos it takes and looks and that is the pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro the pixel 6 pro here also has that telephoto camera some people like it a lot some people not so much but just as far as the the look of the photos the contrasty hdre computational look that you get out of a pixel still some of my favorite photos i've ever taken on a smartphone come from these cameras so it's still a google phone still making great photos shout out to the pixel 6.
I also want to give two little honorable mention shout outs one to the vivo x70 pro plus i didn't get to make a video on the phone this year but i'm going to give a link in the description to a really good one about it extremely interesting camera setup and also just the overall phone is well built but definitely worth checking out that camera and also uh to our blind smartphone camera test winner the pixel 5a which beat the pixel 6 in the first round and then just kept crushing right through and eventually won in the finals so i always do this it's on the table there it is pixel 5a shout out to the blind smartphone camera test winner so next category best battery best overall battery experience this is this is for your power users this is for people who need the phone to last not just all day but as long as possible maybe you want to go a whole weekend on one charge maybe you know you're not going to be near an outlet for an extended 20 plus hour international flight all this stuff you need the best overall battery there's a couple options here that are going to do really well and i like to factor in not just overall battery size but now increasingly in this award charging speed charging convenience wireless charging all that sort of stuff for just the best overall battery experience now that being said our winner this year is the iphone 13 pro max this is the battery experience king so again something apple did with their iphones this year is bump up the overall size and weight of their phones to include a physically larger battery now on paper it's not the biggest sale actually i think it's about a 400 milliamp hour battery or something like that but we know what apple's magic has been doing for the past couple years with their silicon and just optimization and these phones just last forever so this is easily a two-day phone for a lot of people and if you turn off promotion and just use it at 60hz all the time i can feel confident going a whole weekend maybe even three days on one charge on this phone so that's super cool to see it also has decently fast charging and also supports wireless charging but the runner up has yet again the at least tied for the largest battery of any phone that i tested that came out this year that's the rog phone five six thousand milliamp hour battery which is incredible to see it also has quite fast charging but it does not have wireless charging so that's something to keep in mind but again the whole gaming phone thing like they keep saying these phones are supposed to be really great just for gaming and they are but a lot of the things that are good for gaming are great for the rest of the media experience front facing speakers big higher fresh rate screens huge batteries who doesn't want that stuff so shout out to the gaming phone so next up we have our design award this used to be uh this used to be the build quality award and then it was like the flashiest coolest design but now i'm just it's just the design award this is the best overall design and this award is uh easily the most wide open totally subjective it's just what i like and how i feel about a phone's design and what i think is my favorite phone design of the year now there's a couple criteria that go into that just for me i i've said this before but i i couldn't give this to a phone that has like a super fingerprinty glossy back but there's a lot of things about holding a phone and just the way the the back feels even if you're not looking at it the way the camera bump protrudes or doesn't protrude things like that a lot to consider with a good design but it's got to look good at the end of the day and so my award winner for design for 2021 well that would be the samsung galaxy s21 ultra right here grabbing another award this phone was not only one of the best big phones but one of the best looking phones you can tell it's matte black so it's got a soft spot in my heart right off the bat but i i kept talking over and over again during the year about how i really appreciated samsung embracing the camera bump doing something unique with it and actually sort of making it look really good honestly it also has a great display that didn't curve over the edges nearly as much as previous generations which was nice also the display goes pretty much corner to corner center hole punch was fine with me just didn't really make any mistakes as far as design and holding it in the hand there's also a subtle thing that happens with a lot of the phones on this desk where if the camera bump is just the right size it kind of acts as a spot to hold with your finger depends on how big your hand is of course is just a personal thing but i really like that about this and several other phones here nevertheless galaxy s21 ultra gets my design award for 2021 but i do have a couple runner-ups because i want to give some shout outs to again things that i think went really well one oppo find x3 pro just this simple camera bump on the back here which was sort of sloped up you can tell it wasn't too jarring it just basically sort of curved its way onto the camera plateau on the back really like that also like the blue matte finish not a whole ton of dramatic colors on this desk you might have noticed so i'm a fan of when they do mix it up i really like to find x3 pro here also oppo again with the reno 6 this one i just like the way it felt just the the soft satin soft touch back not a lot of soft touch-backed phones out here and then let's just give a crazy design thanks for taking a risk award to the legion phone there's not a lot of phones like this out there i still remember shooting the thumbnail for this phone like you can there's two usbc ports you can charge it in double wattage if you want or super fast but it's a phone designed to be held mostly in landscape there's a battery on each side camera module in the middle fans front-facing speakers this was a it was a crazy phone but like in a world where you kind of only have a couple of shapes i'm glad we're still getting weird crazy stuff like that so i gotta at least shout that out so the next award is going to be called the value award now this is a different name from last year this used to be called the budget best budget phone award and basically i think the word budget means something different slightly different for everyone basically depends on how much you want to spend but i'm calling this best budget because this is just overall best bang for the buck that's the definition it can be any price it just has to have immense value and so now the value award actually goes to a phone that made its sibling look pretty bad in value which is kind of funny but it's the pixel 6 the standard google pixel 6.
so you can see why this isn't the budget phone of the year it wasn't that cheap it was 5.99 but the value you got from this phone at 599 with the tensor chip which performed really well with this high refresh rate oled display with these really great cameras which matched the pixel 6 pro decent battery life but also just overall nice charging and nice wireless charging this phone with its great software made the pixel 6 pro look like a bad deal it was that good and so i highly recommend this if you're looking in the pixel line and this gets my value award this is like a really easy phone to recommend because of the price it launched at now again this is a category that's changed over the years and obviously has a lot of competition there's phones like the poco f3 which have incredible value it's much more along the lines of a budget phone and deserves to be highlighted just for that there's also the samsung a52s of the world there's the realme gts of the world just a lot of good overall phones for less money i keep saying this good phones might not be getting cheap but cheap phones cheap phones are getting good all right so the next category the award you don't want to have to give but hey i'm giving it anyway it's the bust of the year basically the the worst phone to come out this year maybe not the worst overall phone actually but just the phone that shouldn't have happened the way it did i've given all kinds of different phones this award whether they launched at the wrong price or had awful marketing or just were just bad phones in general bad builds whatever generally like i said it's kind of hard to go wrong with a lot of the stuff on this desk whether you're looking at camera quality or battery or value this is part of the thing about living in the world of smartphones is there's so many good ones to pick from but i have to give a bust of the year and because i give a bust of the year i have to give it to the what is the 1500 uh surface duo 2.
It's the microsoft surface 202. so i remember when the first one of these phones came out and it obviously had one of the sweetest hinges which is a really nice piece of hardware one of the sweetest back folding hinges of any phone we've ever seen and so there's a little bit of hope that it might be amazing and maybe the second one would be amazing because they didn't have cameras and i don't know there's just a bunch of bugs with the software but we'll give it some time they launched the second one it's more expensive than the first one and it's worse it's just not as good um and so i'm kind of sad that it's not doing better like i want to see a phone like this which is dual screen instead of a single folding screen work i think it's a cool idea but as you could tell by the review video there's still just too much unfinished about it the software's still not great the camera is just not very good i mean to have those big cameras on the back to sacrifice the full 360 fold and still not be good cameras there's just no way to recommend that phone to most people lots of other things on this desk i could just hand any of these phones to most people i would just never give a duo to to anyone i really liked now next up this is this is one of my favorite awards to give the most improved award and often what we'll see is companies learning from their mistakes and actually listening and doing a much better version of something than the year before it's actually happened a couple times where a bust of the year turns into a most improved award the next year which is pretty cool to see but this year's most improved award just goes to a phone that did everything better than last year last year's phone not easy to recommend this year's phone kind of doesn't have any flaws they did a great job so the most improved award is going to go to samsung's galaxy s21 ultra as a huge improvement over the galaxy s20 ultra we all understood what samsung was trying to do with the ultra thing and when the s20 came out and the s20 ultra was the top of that line we saw the big numbers and we saw the 100 x on the camera and we knew what they were getting at but there were some weird autofocus issues with the camera never really resolved themselves and they ended up having to add hardware in future phones for that laser autofocus but generally hard to recommend the s20 ultra s21 ultra comes along and just nails it just everything again they they have a great screen great battery great cameras that actually focus and they still maintain a lot of those super big numbers and the ultra thing lives on so that's a huge improvement over last year and you know you generally you generally don't see like massive year-over-year jumps big gaps uh between phones but i do have some honorable mentions as well for most improved one is going to go to samsung's z-flip three not only did it become a much better phone with this larger display and better usability on the outside like this is one of the things that made the phone much easier to recommend but the price also went down that's huge that's incredible that you don't usually see a phone make it a big leap in usability and leap down in price so i want to shout out the flip 3 and i hope i hope other phones do that again to be honest i also will shout out iphone 13 pro just because we got a much better camera system and a much better battery and i don't know how many years late but we finally got the pro motion displays so camera screen and battery sort of the three most important things about a phone all got bumped up on this year's iphone pros so anytime you can nail the fundamentals like that you deserve a shout out good job but we've got our most improved and that s 21 ultra so that leads us to the final award of the night the biggest one actually the sort of the one we've all been waiting for which is the mvp the phone of the year now the thing about phone of the year is again now we're drifting back a little bit more into subjective territory meaning it's not just straight up the best phone to come out during the year but if you think about it kind of like the the mvp award in a sports league maybe maybe the nba or nfl or something like that it's a little more about that plus the impact you have on the game plus the overall like challenges you may have overcome there's just a little more that goes into the mvp plus a little bit of which one was my favorite so with all of that considered and looking at all the phones that came out this year in 2021 i think we got to give an acknowledgment to a phone that came out right at the beginning of the year and was one of the absolute best phones you can buy at its price the entire year and that's galaxy s21 ultra from samsung it's your mvp yet another award for this phone but honestly it deserves it i think it's really easy to forget about the phones that come out in like january february because this is a year old at this point now which is crazy to say compared to all the other phones here but the price did steadily drop a little bit i mean you can buy this phone now for like what 700 600 bucks which is kind of insane and it's really good at everything a big flagship phone should be good at it really doesn't have any of the flaws maybe you might have the camera be a little bit of a downside or you might have the battery be a little bit of a downside you know with pixel it was the battery with the gaming phones as the cameras like there's always something there's always something but galaxy s21 ultra on top of having a pretty great premium design to package it all nailed it they nailed it with this phone now i do have a runner up for the mvp the second highest voted in this imaginary world where i'm voting on these uh and that is the iphone 13 pro and again with this phone it comes down to okay they took the three most fundamental things about a phone and made them all way better than last year so overdue but they finally added the promotion 120 hertz viable refresh rate and it looks great with this battery they made the phone literally larger to have a much better battery life it doesn't necessarily charge super fast but that might be nice to see and then the cameras all got better world-class cameras great photo and video quality i wouldn't mind seeing usb-c or like having a charger in the box but the phone itself is really good and i really like using the iphone 13 pro and then i also want to give a shout out a sort of honorable mention in the mvp category to pixel 6.
i think this might be underrated as how important this phone actually is this year obviously this is the google phone so we're looking at you know google software all the stuff that comes from having a pixel but also tensor having your own custom silicon and that trend moving forward and being 5.99 at launch which is an incredibly good price for a phone that basically has all of the flagship features you'd probably want so why spend a thousand dollars when you can have a phone for 5.99 that does all the same stuff and so i i want to give that shout out the best value phone is also worthy as a second runner-up to mvp phone of the year but that's it that's it for my awards again this is all hand selected by the entire judging committee which is me so if you have any problems with them let me know in the comments section because i picked them all but also we can talk about these i think we're going to have a discord stages event pretty soon maybe in the next day or so so follow me on twitter or join our discord channel if you want to be up there and grab a mic and we can talk about it but generally i think my sentiment is still the same lots of really interesting phones still coming out even though they're mostly the same shape you know you still have a rectangle slab but you get crazy weird cameras or you get gaming aesthetic or you get you know tensor processor you get amazing world-class design like there's a bunch of different stuff available and you kind of have a hard time going wrong with a lot of it so shout out to great phones for being a great reason to be alive in 2021 that's been it for the smartphone awards i've been your host marquez brownlee thanks for watching and i'll catch you guys next year peace [Music]