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Finder's team of experts have tested and reviewed every single phone featured in this guide to come up with our list of the best smartphones. For each phone, we assess and test the design, cameras, performance, battery life and overall value for money.
Our editorial team selected the phones on this list based on their overall quality and value compared to other phones on the market.
Google's flagship Pixel phone for 2021 is a great match for the Telstra 5G network. It's the first phone in Australia to directly offer 5G mmWave compatibility, which means in coverage areas where Telstra has mmWave, you'll experience seriously fast network speeds. A plethora of powerful and smart camera features can turn you into a photo pro without trying hard. Add to that good battery life and a slick 120Hz capable display and you've got one of the best phones of the year, hands down.
Google's own "Tensor" processor runs the Pixel 6 Pro but doesn't quite live up to the hype. While the iPhone 13 family still offers faster processing power, you won't really notice this in daily usage. And, the lower asking price of the Pixel 6 Pro means that its monthly repayments are considerably lower than Apple's premium iPhone range.
If your tastes for a Telstra phone run more in the Apple direction, there's a clear winner to go for, and that's the Apple iPhone 13 Pro. It combines the power of the Apple A15 Bionic processor found in all the iPhone 13 models with a great 6.1 inch screen with 120Hz refresh rate and the exact same camera array as you'll find on the more expensive Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max.
That's a big step and a change for Apple, because it used to keep the very best camera features as an exclusive for its Pro Max lines only. Putting those cameras on a smaller iPhone means it makes less of a dent in your pocket and less of a dent in your bank account, while retaining the same camera quality, as we found in our iPhone 13 camera shootout.
There's arguably less of a case to be made to upgrade from the iPhone 12 Pro unless you need those better cameras. But, for anyone else upgrading an existing iPhone or coming fresh to the Apple side of the smartphone fence, this is the model to buy.
Samsung was one of the first smartphone makers to release a flagship phone in 2021 with the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G. It's a sign of just how great a phone it is that it's remained at or near the top of our best phone rankings for the entire year.
It's also effectively been Samsung's "Note" phone for 2021, because it was the first device sold by Samsung with S-Pen compatibility in mind. You don't get Samsung's smart stylus with the phone by default (it's sold separately) but combining its 6.8 inch 120Hz capable display with an S-Pen makes for a superb pocketable productivity device. It's likewise no slouch in the camera stakes, even though its much-hyped 100x "Space Zoom" doesn't really deliver great results. Ignore that, and focus on its 108MP primary sensor, great low light pickup and excellent wide angle sensor and you'll do just fine.
The downside of being an early 2021 flagship is that the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G's days as the S series flagship are seriously numbered, with most signs pointing to a February 2022 release for the Galaxy S22 series.
Telstra does still stock the cheaper Pixel 4a 5G if you want a low-cost Pixel phone, but that's a much older Pixel handset. Sadly, Google doesn't seem interested in releasing the Pixel 5a down under. That leaves the Pixel 6 as the better long term buy if you want an affordable Telstra Android phone with guaranteed updates on board.
It's not quite as fancy as the Pixel 6 Pro, but if you favour a smaller handset than the hefty 6 Pro, it could be a good match for you. You get a 90Hz capable 6.4 inch display in a range of appealing colours and only standard sub-6Ghz 5G rather than mmWave 5G, but for most even in 5G areas that's the more likely set of frequencies you'll hit anyway.
On the camera front the Pixel 6 benefits from Google's smart AI-assisted photography, with telephoto the notable omission from its bag of tricks.
Samsung's really the leader in foldable phones right now, although we're expecting to see some real competition in 2022 on that score. The third generation of its Galaxy Z Fold 3 makes a lot of sense as a Telstra contract handset. Foldables are still pricey prospects, but that's something that's a lot easier to deal with when you break out those repayments into smaller monthly parcels rather than upfront.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has improved resistance, especially water resistance, which was a big problem for earlier foldable phone generations. Being a foldable, it expands out from a standard looking phone into a more expansive tablet style display, perfect for if you need to do actual work on your phone.
Or for that matter if you want to stream a little Netflix when nobody's looking.
That's especially true given the use of an in-display camera module, because there's no notch or hole punch or anything on the interior display. The resultant selfie camera isn't superb, and the Galaxy Z Fold 3 isn't quite as good a camera phone as the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G.
Like the S21 Ultra 5G, you also get S-Pen support, although for a smaller range of S-Pens. Plus it's not included. Again, though, this is where the internal display screen really benefits, because it's simple to run multiple apps at once and share data between them with the stroke of an S-Pen.
The regular model iPhone for any given year is often the people's pick, because while Apple does still charge a premium for its iPhone lines, it's not as stratospheric as the pricing for the Pro models. If you don't need the Pro camera features, you can save a few bucks by opting for the iPhone 13 on a Telstra contract.
The iPhone 13 does share the same A15 Bionic processor as the bigger Pro models (or the smaller iPhone 13 Mini), so you're still getting best-in-class performance in a phone that should get iOS upgrades for years to come. It's 5G compatible (sub-6Ghz only) on the Telstra network and available in a wide range of colour choices too.
iPhones have long been the world's most popular camera phones, and this is where the iPhone 13 is a little limited for its price range, with just a dual camera array at the rear to shoot with. Performance is still good and there's a huge range of iOS camera apps to explore to make the most of what the Apple iPhone 13 can offer.
If you're after the biggest and boldest iPhone you can get on a Telstra contract, it's the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max. Apple doesn't call it the Pro Max for no reason. It has the largest display on any iPhone, and the most impressive battery life as well. You get the same Apple A15 Bionic processor as the rest of the iPhone range, but more RAM than on the non-Pro models, which gives it a performance edge for more intensive applications.
One of the big benefits for the iPhone range as a whole is ease of use, and Apple's controlled iOS environment is a joy to use on the iPhone 13 Pro Max, although that larger size won't suit everyone. If you just need the better cameras we'd suggest the slightly less expensive iPhone 13 Pro. But, if you want the one with everything and the Apple-approved kitchen sink, then the iPhone 13 Pro Max won't disappoint.
The Galaxy S20 FE is an older handset, but that means you can pick it up at a much reduced contract price through Telstra. Given it was initially pitched as a more "affordable" Galaxy phone anyway, that makes it an easy pick if you're after a Telstra contract phone that won't leave your wallet sobbing for mercy.
Affordable doesn't have to mean massively compromised either, with the Galaxy S20 FE shipping in a range of colours with a superb 120Hz capable display, quality cameras and a processor that still packs a decent performance punch. It's worth noting that the 4G model does ship with a slower Exynos processor. The 5G model is definitely the one to buy right now.
The compromises for price hit hardest in battery life, which is only average. Also in the fact that it's a plastic body handset, not quite as robust as Samsung's more expensive full premium fare. There's been rumours of an S21 FE for ages now, but Samsung doesn't seem keen to rush such a device to market.
Foldables don't have to be just about expanding out into tablet forms. You can also make foldables that fold down for easier placements in pockets and purses. Telstra offers 2 of these, with the Motorola RAZR and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G. We'd plump for the latter if an old-school flip phone excites you, thanks to the Galaxy Z Flip 3's water resistance and wide range of colour choices. A phone like this is as much a fashion statement as anything else, after all.
Folded out, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 really does resemble any other Galaxy phone, save for the fact that it's got a small crease in the middle. That allows it to flip down into a square with a tiny external display. You can't use it as a full phone, like you can with the Galaxy Z Fold 3, but it will give you essential notifications, music control and even a tiny selfie screen if you don't want to unfold your Z Flip 3.
For its price, you do get somewhat lesser camera capabilities and notably ordinary battery life, however. Buying a battery pack with your Telstra points would be a smart move for Galaxy Z Flip 3 owners.
For some phone users, the shift towards big "phablet" style phones has been very unwelcome. If you've got smaller hands, or you just hate the heft of a big screen phone, you're often left with very few choices when it comes to really exciting smaller smartphones.
Enter the iPhone 13 Mini. As the name suggests, it's a smaller iPhone 13, packing just a 5.4 inch display. That's enough for apps for sure, and it makes single handed use a breeze for anyone. You get the same dual lens camera as the iPhone 13 as well. Apple's iOS is very popular in Australia because it's just so easy to use and configure.
The iPhone 13 Mini is also 5G (sub 6GHz) compatible on the Telstra network, although that 5G can sap the battery pretty quickly. That's absolutely the iPhone 13 Mini's biggest issue, because its small frame limits the battery quantities it can pack in. As a result, if you're using it a lot in a day, you're probably going to run out of power before you head to bed. Pack a charger or battery pack though, and you'll be fine.
The Motorola Moto G82 is an odd hybrid of the cheaper aspects of Motorola's G-series phones and the select features from fancier Edge phones.
The Motorola Moto e32 is a cheap phone that outperforms its budget rivals and for those on a strict budget it’s a fair buy.
The Motorola Edge 30 improves on the Edge 20 in a lot of important ways – but not when it comes to camera features.
The Motorola Moto G22 is one of the company’s more basic phones, but it does have surprisingly good battery life for a budget handset.
The Oppo Find X5 Pro is a gorgeous and powerful phone that’s a delight to use. But with a steep price can it compete with Apple & Samsung?
The TCL 30+ hits the basics for a mid-range phone, but it never really goes any further than that, lagging well behind the best phones in this price space.
The Samsung Galaxy A53 is an entirely adequate phone, but it doesn’t compare well against other phones in its price class – or even cheaper options like the Galaxy A33 5G.
It’s not quite Samsung’s cheapest Galaxy A series phone for 2022, but it might just be Samsung’s best value A series phone this year.
Oppo’s Find X5 Lite impresses primarily on the strength of its exceptional battery endurance.
Quick verdict: The Oppo Find X5 is a pretty good phone, but for the asking price it needs to be great. And it doesn't quite manage that.
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