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The best smartphones for students in 2021

With so many options in today’s market, here are some recommended picks for anyone looking to upgrade

by David Warner
Samsung and Apple offer two of the highest-performance phones available for students (Rami Al-zayat/Unsplash)

With the shift to online learning, the demand for students to be connected has never been greater. What better way to be connected than with an upgrade to the device we use the most — our smartphone?

From Slack messages to Instagram stories, students rely on their smartphones for everything. Whether it’s streaming the latest Netflix obsession, scheduling their lives in their mobile calendar or even paying their bills, a smartphone is a student’s best friend.  

While different operating systems have come and gone, there are two main contenders in today’s market: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Both operating systems have been in development for over 10 years and are capable of offering smooth and feature-heavy user experiences.  But for some users, the seamless integration between the iPhone and other Apple devices might be a plus, especially if they’ve already bought into the Apple ecosystem.

Android phones typically don’t offer the same device integration, but they’re often cheaper and won’t leave you with a drawer full of dongles.

Finding a phone that checks all of the boxes can be challenging, so On the Record has narrowed down our best picks in the categories we think matter most for students: battery life, camera quality, performance and price.

Battery life: Motorola Moto G Power (2021)

Photo courtesy of Motorola

Did you forget to plug in your phone after staying up all night cramming for your midterm? The Motorola Moto G Power has you covered. It might not win any benchmark awards, but if you’re always reaching for a charger, then look no further.

Sporting one of the largest batteries among phones today with a 5,000 milliamp-hour (mAh) capacity, Motorola’s phone has plenty of power to last you a full day or more.

Camera quality: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G OR Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Photo courtesy of Samsung
Photo courtesy of Apple

If photos are what you’re after, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G boasts an impressive 108-megapixel wide-angle camera, along with a 40-megapixel front-facing camera.

If you don’t mind sacrificing image size, Apple’s latest high-end phone, the iPhone 13 Pro Max, produces very pleasing and natural photos that arguably outclass the photos taken by the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G.

Performance: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G OR Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Photos: See above.

Samsung and Apple’s top phones take the victory here once again, both providing premium user experiences with impressively-built phones. Either option will have more than enough power to handle any demands for the busy student.

Your choice will most likely come down to what other electronic devices you own, but be prepared to pay a price to match the performance.

Price: Google Pixel 4a

Photo courtesy of Google

For students looking to save some money without sacrificing performance, the Pixel 4a is a great option. Google’s Pixel line is noteworthy for getting the latest Android updates directly from Google, with a commitment of at least three years.

With phones made by third-party companies like Motorola or Samsung, updates might take longer to get to the user. The Pixel also sports a very respectable camera and while its performance won’t blow away top-of-the-line phones, it’s well-equipped for any student.

Some audiophiles might also appreciate its headphone jack, an addition that has become a rarity as wireless audio takes over.

David Warner was a copy editor and reporter with an interest in arts and life for On The Record in fall 2021.

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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