It’s about time for developers to decide which smartphone they want in their pockets in 2021. There are few major changes that can be seen in this line-up – for example, almost all phones are 5G enabled. A few in this list come with quirky features and are outliers but most come under the “premium and developer-friendly” category.
Developers are known to prefer flagship models, be it Android or Apple. They do not directly go for top-of-the-line smartphones but instead go for ones that are pretty close to the top in terms of performance and are value for money.
There are also certain brands that are usually popular with them, thanks to their clean software experience. Since digital content consumption as well as taking notes on the go is common with developers, large-screen phones are also popular with many. You will be getting many of these as well as a few outliers in this list, all of which are very popular with developers. Here are some of our best smartphone picks for developers.
1. OnePlus 9 Pro
While the company mainly focused on the Hasselblad cameras that are packed in this, the phone itself is a great overall performer and can be considered by developers who like the OnePlus brand or those who prefer the Android ecosystem. Despite the partnership, the cameras aren’t the best ones on an android phone, but come pretty close. They are also the best cameras on a OnePlus phone ever. It has a premium finish and comes in two different options– either 8 GB ($969) or 12 GB ($1069) of ram.
It boasts a large 6.7inch QHD+ AMOLED display that offers deep blacks and vibrant colors along with a 120Hz refresh rate. The display compares to that in the Galaxy S21 plus and beats the iPhone 12 Pro. The camera performance is overall great, but the night mode is often inconsistent. The 4,500 mAh battery keeps this one going for longer hours, while the 65W charger gets it from 0 to 50 in 15mins and to 99% in just 30 – making it one of the fastest charging phones on the market today.
The biggest plus for developers who are more concerned about the software aspect would be the guaranteed OS updates till Android 13 and security patches till 2024.
2. Google Pixel 5
The default Android phone for developers who prefer the clean vanilla experience remains the Google Pixel line-up, due to the lack of better options by other brands. The latest offering, the Pixel 5, at $699 starts a full $100 below what the Pixel 4 did. The battery at 4,080mAh is almost double the Pixel 4’s 2800 mAh. It also supports reverse wireless charging along with the latest 5G tech. The strangest thing remains the fact that this top-of-the-line phone comes with the Snapdragon 765G chipset, which is a level below the 800 series which pixel phones usually sport. This has caused it to lack advanced features like 3D face unlock. What is weirder is that Google sells the Pixel 5 in just the 128Gb variant, and doesn’t offer any expandable memory card options either. Since most developers may already be using cloud storage options, this may not be a dealbreaker as such.
The display is a gorgeous Full-HD OLED sporting a 90Hz peak refresh rate and while it does not sport the top-of-the-line cameras, its image preprocessing makes up for it.
3. iPhone 12
At this moment, the default iPhone or the iPhone 12 is possibly the best choice for developers who want the most optimized phone at the best price range. The iPhone 12 sports a gorgeous new design, full 5G support, great cameras, and even better performance than the iPhone 11. However, even at $799, the lack of a charger and limited base storage are drawbacks. The iPhone 12 also features a ring of magnets at its back, which enables the MagSafe compatibility. This lets you stick magnetic accessories including chargers and power banks with just a slap.
The speed at which things get done in this 6.1-inch phone is hard to compare to any other phone in the market. The dual cameras are impressive and perform better than the iPhone 11. Battery life is solid and would last you a day in normal usage. While faster refresh rates are missing, IP68 water resistance has been added, along with the crystal-infused ceramic shield technology to protect against drops.
4. iPhone 12 Mini
Smaller phones usually mean fewer features, and we have grown used to the fact that the best phones, packed with features, will be large and bulky. Mini or lite versions are expected to have lesser features and would commonly be missing some top-tier additions. These do not apply to the iPhone 12 mini. In fact, it is just a shrunk-down version of the iPhone 12 with the same features. It packs in its 5.4inch body all the features of the 6.1inch iPhone 12. As expected, the battery is slightly smaller at just 2,227mAh.
Priced at just $699 for the unlocked version, it is a great addition for developers who are already in the Apple ecosystem and do not use their phones for consuming a lot of video content. The resolution is slightly lower at 2340 x 1080, but it is still the same OLED panel with HDR and 1200nit maximum brightness. The display is actually sharper at 476ppi when compared to the iPhone 12 or the iPhone 12 Pro (both at 460ppi).
The cameras remain the same as the iPhone 12, so you wouldn’t be losing out on the photography angle. It also packs the same 5 nm A14 Bionic SoC. The phone supports a 12W wireless MagSafe charger, as compared to the 15W supported by all the others in the latest line-up.
5. iPhone 12 Pro Max
If you want the best phone money can buy, then the iPhone 12 Pro Max starting at $1099 is your best bet. Developers who are attached to the Apple ecosystem and go for their top-end products would find this phone a perfect addition to their collection. It comes with an impressive 6.7 inch OLED display that boasts an immersive color-accurate experience like none other. Thanks to its larger size, it also provides the best battery backup among the entire Apple line-up at the moment. It copies all the bells and whistles from the basic iPhone 12 and then adds more. While it is a bit bulkier and heavier, the extra screen and battery life make up for it. The camera also sets it apart as a flagship phone, and they are the top cameras in a handheld cellphone device at the moment. The LiDAR sensor on this device (which is absent on the non-Pro models) also helps in faster autofocus.
As for performance, the A14 Bionic coupled with 6 GB of RAM is the ultimate setup that any developer may want. It outperformed the Note 20 Ultra-on the 3D Mark Wild Life Graphics Benchmark by producing almost double the number of frames per second. For developers who like big, bulky phones, this is the best option.
6. Galaxy S21 Ultra
At $1200, or around $100 above the iPhone Max Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S21Ultra is possibly the best mainstream android phone any developer can lay his hands on. It comes with the most powerful Snapdragon chip on the market, the 888, a spectacular 108MP camera, and a glass back. The 6.8 inches dynamic AMOLED display provides a smooth 120Hz refresh rate along with a very sharp WQHD resolution.
On the camera front, the 3x and 10x optical zoom that come with the dual telephoto lenses along with the Zoom-Lock feature helps take clearer pictures of objects far away. You can use the S-pen with the device, but you will have to buy it separately. The monolithic design and the contour cut camera make it a design wonder, but it still remains too large to be held in one hand.
7. Galaxy Z Fold 2
While folding phones have been touted to be the “next-big-thing” for a while now, Samsung’s offerings remain the only ones that are usable (other than the Motorola Razr which comes pretty close but lacks the top-level features). The phone is a massive leap over the first iteration. The display is bigger, has no inner notch, and is a more durable phone– looks like foldable phones are moving in the right direction finally. While feature-wise it may not hit the top levels set by the Galaxy 21 Ultra, it is a great foldable phone for developers who love the form factor.
The cover display has grown to 6.2 inches, and you can get most of your normal work done without “unfolding” it. Applications also perform better with this new screen format, and multitasking has got a lot smoother. However, the display still smudges easily, and the center crease is still noticeable. It comes at a staggering $1800 (discounted from the original $2000) and yet lacks water resistance. This phone is only for those who would be willing to sacrifice flagship features even at such a massive price, just for the foldable 7.6 inches internal display.
8. Mi 11 Ultra
While this isn’t officially available in the USA, it is one of the phones in our line-up that stands out, thanks to its monolithic design, massive cameras, and dual displays. It also offers a top of a line QHD panel with 120Hz refresh rates, 67W charging, and a telephoto lens for those who are crazy about features. Priced at £1,199.00 in the UK (close to $1700), the phone is also the most expensive one on this list, and hence for some may not be worth the extra features it sports. The body is ceramic and comes in either black or white. It is both elegant and more resistant to scratches than glass or plastic bodies.
The giant 6.81-inch screen allows you to change the refresh rate to either 120Hz, 90Hz, 60Hz, or 30Hz, based on the content you are consuming. The rear display is the size of a fitness band and offers a few quirky features. It shows the date, time, battery, and some notifications, but can also be used when you are trying to click selfies using one of the rear cameras. The model also comes with the top android processor at the moment– the Snapdragon 888, along with 12 GB Ram and 256 GB internal memory.
9. Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
The only device on this list that comes with a stylus, this 6.9-inch 120Hz beast would fit in few pockets if any and are more likely to attract developers who are into noting down things throughout the day. At $1300 it is also one of the more expensive devices on this list.
The 108MP camera with laser autofocus also adds up to the appeal of this giant. The new S pen is also more responsive and taking down notes on the go is a breeze– and it boasts of a 9ms response time. Scrolling down a feed feels the smoothest on the mega screen once you turn on the adaptive motion smoothness on this device. While the air action comes in handy, the fails to respond at times and may not be useful in day-to-day use. While the device does come with the 865 plus processor from Snapdragon, and not the higher model of 888, it doesn’t lack anything on the performance front and the phone takes it all, without throwing any heating issues.
10. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
For developers who love the Galaxy line-up but do not want to shell out the extra bucks, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE comes really close to the top-level model without you having to break the bank. At just $699, it offers a 6.5inch 120Hz OLED display and comes with a powerful triple camera system. The top of the line Snapdragon 865 processor paired with 6 GB of RAM is also enough for any task that you may throw at it.
While there are a few cost-cutting measures that were adopted, none of them really hurt. It does sport a plastic back instead of the posh glass, though. It also comes with an IP68 rating, which is also becoming a norm for top-end phones. All the three cameras in the back and the 32MP front-facing one do a great job and photos are comparable to those clicked on iPhones.
While this list might give you a clear picture of what developers want today, the list may look different in the next 6 months, once the iPhone 13 and the Pixel 6 come out. We’ll have to wait and watch for other phone manufacturers to bounce back from the pandemic and come up with new, innovative phones that stand out and gain the attention of developers and common folk alike.