Samsung isn’t just the biggest phone manufacturer in the world. It consistently makes incredible phones with outstanding hardware design and consistently reliable software. By and large, its 2021 phones, from flagships to $100 budget phones, have all delivered high quality, and some of its 2020 phones are still worth buying today. The Galaxy S21 is one of the best Samsung phones you can buy right now for its value and hardware, but you can’t go wrong with any of our favorites below — from premium foldables to cheap budget models.
1. Samsung Galaxy S21: Best overall
It may not be very compact, but the Galaxy S21 has a lot to offer, while priced $200 less than its 2020 predecessor. Samsung achieved this by reducing the screen’s resolution to FHD+ — last year’s Galaxy S20 had a QHD+ panel — and ditching the glass back for a plastic option. The 6.2-inch AMOLED screen still has a 120Hz refresh rate, so you still get velvety smooth interactions for everything from browsing, scrolling through social media, and gaming.
You also get the latest internal hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 888 chipset, and this time there’s Sub-6 and mmWave 5G connectivity as standard. There’s no microSD slot or a charger in the box, but the base version comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
You also get reliable cameras, all-day battery life, and all the extras you care about: IP68 water resistance, 15W wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging. Of course, the best part about the Galaxy S21 is the software; Samsung will deliver monthly security updates, three guaranteed Android version updates, and four years of patches. That alone makes the S21 stand out from its rivals, and the fact that it costs less than its predecessor is just the icing on the cake.
- Gorgeous 120Hz AMOLED panel
- More affordable
- Snapdragon 888 with Sub-6 and mmWave
- Reliable cameras
- Great battery life
- Plastic body
- No microSD slot
- No bundled charger
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G – Smartphone
$700 at Amazon $500 at Best Buy $800 at Samsung
Pocketable design, great price
The Galaxy S21 delivers a bold new design and exciting performance upgrades while offering better value.
2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Best flagship
If you’re looking to upgrade to a flagship with all the bells and whistles, the obvious choice would be the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung reserved its best innovations for the S21 Ultra this year, with the phone featuring a 6.8-inch QHD+ AMOLED screen with a dynamic refresh that scales from 11Hz to 120Hz.
It also gets the latest cameras, including a 108MP primary lens and two zoom lenses that deliver 10x optical zoom and a wide-angle shooter. In short, the S21 Ultra delivers considerable camera upgrades over the S20 series, and just like the regular S21, it starts at $200 less than its predecessor.
Also, this year’s interesting addition is compatibility with the S Pen, allowing you to use Samsung’s stylus with the phone. The device comes with the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset and delivers outstanding performance gains across the board. The 5,000mAh battery lasts more than a day, and the new design is striking — particularly with the matte finish.
There isn’t a charger in the box, and you are missing out on a microSD slot this generation, but with 128GB of storage for the base version, you don’t have to worry about running out of storage. With the S21 Ultra, you’re getting a flagship worthy of the name. If you’re in the market for a Samsung flagship, you cannot go wrong here.
- Sublime QHD+ AMOLED panel
- Snapdragon 888 with global 5G
- Compatible with S Pen
- Stellar battery life
- Outstanding cameras with 10x optical zoom
- No microSD slot
- No bundled charger
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G – Smartphone
$992 at Amazon $800 at Best Buy $1,200 at Samsung
The standard for 2021 flagships
The S21 Ultra delivers everything you’re looking for in a true flagship and looks good while doing it.
3. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Best value flagship
The Galaxy S20 FE fundamentally changes the value equation for Samsung, and it continues to be one of the best Android phones you can buy even a year after its release. The phone offers most of the same features as last year’s Galaxy S20, but the fact that it is available unlocked for under $600 makes it a standout value.
The Galaxy S20 FE is powered by the same Snapdragon 865 chipset in the Galaxy S20 series, and you also get 5G connectivity. It offers the same excellent AMOLED screen and has a 120Hz refresh rate, making everyday interactions buttery smooth. However, the best part is that it has the same 12MP primary sensor as the regular S20, ensuring you get the same great caliber of photos in any lighting condition.
Samsung hasn’t removed any of the extras either. The Galaxy S20 FE has IP68 dust and water resistance, 15W wireless charging, and even 5W reverse wireless charging. The 4,500mAh battery lasts all day without any issues, and there’s 25W wired charging as well.
The Galaxy S20 FE has picked up the One UI 3.1 update, ensuring you get all the new features in Android 11. The only downside with the phone (if you can call it that) is that it has a polycarbonate back instead of glass, but the matte texture masks its plastic build. If you’re looking to save some cash, you can pick up the S20 FE instead of the regular Galaxy S21.
- Incredible 120Hz display
- Top-end specs
- Incredible cameras
- 5G connectivity
- 4,500mAh battery with 25W fast charging
- No headphone jack
- Polycarbonate build
Best value flagship
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Smartphone
$625 at Amazon From $700 at Best Buy $700 at Samsung
The best value yet from Samsung
The S20 FE has outstanding internal hardware, amazing cameras and costs several hundred dollars less than the S20 series.
4. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Best for productivity
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is evidence that foldables are going mainstream. Samsung didn’t change the design too much from last year’s Z Fold 2, but there are several refinements that make the latest foldable stand out a lot more.
For starters, the Z Fold 3 has a much more durable design thanks to a new aluminum alloy chassis, and the phone picks up IPX8 water resistance as well, putting it on par with true flagships. Because the Z Fold 3 is launching in lieu of the Note series, Samsung has enabled S Pen integration this time around, and you can use the stylus with the device just as you would a phone in the Note portfolio.
That’s possible because of the new plastic layer on the screen; Samsung went with a new material that’s thinner, more durable, and mimics the feel of glass, so you’ll feel like using a regular phone when interacting with the inner screen. That has been a big issue with previous foldables, so for Samsung to fix this issue is a huge deal.
There are considerable upgrades on the hardware front as well. The Z Fold 3 features the latest internal hardware in the form of the Snapdragon 888, and you get 120Hz AMOLED panels for the inner and outer screens this time, ensuring smooth visuals in daily use. You also get 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage as standard, and while Samsung has retained the same cameras as last year, the Z Fold 3 delivers much better photos thanks to better software tuning.
And for the software, you’ll find One UI 3.1 based on Android 11, and the device will get three Android version updates as well as four years of security updates.
At full price, it’s $200 less than the Z Fold 2 but still more than twice the price of the S21. Thankfully, it’s been significantly discounted in recent months; combined with the right trade-in deal, you may be able to snag one for about the same price as a regular Samsung flagship.
- Fold-out screen is great for productivity
- Now works with the S Pen
- Latest internal hardware
- Much more durable design
- 120Hz screens inside and out
- IPX8 water resistance
- No zoom lens
- Average battery life
Best for productivity
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G – Smartphone
From $1,650 at Samsung (+ up to $900 trade-in) From $1,481 at Amazon From $1,000 at Best Buy
Unlock the future
A durable design combined with S Pen integration and water resistance makes the Z Fold 3 the ultimate productivity phone.
5. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: Best foldable
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is one of the most intriguing phones of the year. Like the Z Fold 3, the device has a durable chassis that’s resistant to water ingress, and there’s a new plastic cover for the screen that feels like interacting with a regular glass panel.
Compared to the Galaxy Z Flip, it also received lots of interesting changes to the front. The cover screen is significantly larger than last year, making it that much more useful for viewing incoming notifications and calls. The phone itself is nearly identical to the Galaxy S21+ in terms of hardware, featuring a 120Hz AMOLED screen — one that folds in half — along with the latest internal hardware and great cameras.
The folding screen makes the Z Flip 3 one of the most compact devices you can find today; the unique design makes it easily pocketable, and you can always fold it out to access the sizeable inner screen. The one issue with the device is its battery; the diminutive battery barely lasts a day with a full charge.
While the Z Flip 3 is worth buying at full price, keep in mind that some carriers will give you one for free or at a major discount if you trade in even a cheap or older smartphone when you buy it.
- Durable design with water resistance
- Larger cover screen
- Great cameras
- Unique foldable design
- Latest internal hardware
- No zoom lens
- Battery doesn’t last as long as regular flagships
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 – Smartphone
$925 at Samsung $925 at Amazon $799 at Best Buy
The obvious foldable choice
The Z Flip 3 combines a unique foldable design with exciting hardware and great cameras, making it a standout choice.
6. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Best for stylus fans
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the last of the Note series, so if you’re interested in a traditional high-end phone with a large screen, this should be your obvious choice. The phone has a massive 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel, and it is powered by the Snapdragon 865+ chipset. You also get 12GB of RAM as standard, with storage options from 128GB to 512GB.
The Note 20 Ultra is the phone you get if you want one of the largest phones in the market today. The large screen is ideally suited for games and consuming videos. The 120Hz AMOLED panel has outstanding colors, delivers HDR10 content in Netflix and other streaming services, and you get stereo sound.
Then there’s the stylus. If you’re used to a stylus on earlier Note devices, there’s plenty to like on the Note 20 Ultra. Samsung made it easier to take notes thanks to lower latency, and there are better handwriting recognition features that make the device an ultimate tool for productivity.
You also get a 108MP camera at the back, a 12MP zoom lens that goes up to 50x hybrid zoom, a 12MP wide-angle lens, and a 10MP camera at the front. There’s the ability to shoot 8K video, Wi-Fi 6 and global 5G connectivity, IP68 water resistance, wireless charging, and that bold new design looks outstanding.
Look, there’s nothing really missing here, and if you’re looking at a phone for productivity, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a great choice. The only potential downside is that, as a 2020 phone, you’ll get one fewer OS update and a year of security updates than the S21 Ultra; and it mostly still sells for the same price as at launch.
- Best stylus experience on any phone
- Outstanding performance
- Large AMOLED screen
- Excellent battery life and fast charging
- Expandable storage
- No headphone jack
- Might be too big for some
Best for stylus fans
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Smartphone
$1,200 at Best Buy $1,200 at Samsung
The ultimate phone for stylus fans
If you want a large phone with a stylus and the latest hardware with 5G, the Note 20 Ultra is the obvious option.
7. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G: Best mid-range option
With the Galaxy A52 and A52 5G, Samsung offers the mid-range phones to beat in 2021. The Galaxy A52 5G is the default option in the U.S., and it is packed with the latest innovations that Samsung has to offer.
The phone has a 120Hz AMOLED display — just like the Galaxy S21 — and it has a gorgeous design at the back with a matte finish that makes it easy to hold and use. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 750G platform powers the phone, and it comes with Sub-6 5G connectivity as standard. You also get a 64MP camera at the back that takes great photos in just about any lighting scenario, and the phone works with all 5G carriers in the U.S.
Another big change this year is IP67 dust and water resistance, making the A52 5G immune to the elements. The phone will also get three guaranteed Android updates along with monthly security updates, and in this regard, it is identical to the flagship S21 series. You will find much bloatware out of the box, but you can uninstall it easily. For what you’re ultimately paying for the Galaxy A52 5G, you are getting a brilliant phone.
- Gorgeous design
- 120Hz AMOLED screen
- Robust hardware with 5G
- Stellar battery life
- Three years of updates
- Lot of bloatware
- No 4K video at 60fps
Best for less
Samsung Galaxy A52 5G Smartphone
$425 at Amazon From $400 at Best Buy $500 at Samsung
The best mid-ranger from Samsung yet
The Galaxy A52 5G has powerful hardware with 5G, a sublime 120Hz display, standout cameras, and IP67 water resistance.
8. Samsung Galaxy A42 5G: Best on a budget
If you’re looking for a more budget-focused option, the Galaxy A42 5G may just be the ideal phone for you. The phone is powered by the same Snapdragon 750G platform as the A52 5G, and that means you get incredible hardware that’s designed to last for a few years with ease. You also get Sub-6 5G connectivity, and if you’re looking to make the switch to 5G, the Galaxy A42 5G lets you do so on a budget.
The phone has an alluring design at the back, and it comes with a 48MP camera that takes great photos — as well as a 20MP selfie camera that’s decent in its own right. You also get an AMOLED screen, and while the 720p resolution isn’t ideal, it has vibrant colors.
The standout feature of the Galaxy A42 5G is the battery life. With a 5000mAh battery under the hood, you’ll easily get two-day battery life out of the phone. Samsung will deliver three Android updates to the phone, making it an excellent overall choice if you’re looking for a 5G-enabled budget phone.
- 5G on a budget
- Amazing battery life
- Striking design
- Powerful hardware
- Three years of updates
- 720p display
Best on a budget
Samsung Galaxy A42 5G – Smartphone
$300 at Best Buy
$400 at Samsung
Lowering the barrier for 5G
The Galaxy A42 5G combines outstanding battery life with powerful hardware and 5G connectivity — all on a budget.
9. Samsung Galaxy A12: Best entry-level pick
Want a Samsung phone for less than $200? Then you should take a look at the Galaxy A12. The phone has a massive 5000mAh battery that easily lasts over two days on a full charge, and you get a 48MP camera at the back, decent hardware that’s reliable in daily use, and a modern design that belies the A12’s budget roots.
The phone has a 6.5-inch 720p display, and while it isn’t as vibrant as the AMOLED panels that Samsung uses on the rest of its portfolio, it gets bright and doesn’t have too many issues. The software will also be familiar if you’ve used a Samsung phone in the past, and overall the Galaxy A12 has the basics covered if you’re in the market for an entry-level phone.
- Two-day battery life
- Modern design aesthetic
- 48MP camera
- 3.5mm jack
- Stellar value
- Older chipset
- Screen limited to 720p
Best entry-level pick
Samsung Galaxy A12
$180 at Samsung
A reliable budget pick
The Galaxy A12 isn’t the most powerful phone around, but it nails the basics and delivers a great experience in day-to-day use.
The Galaxy S21 is the best Samsung phone in 2021
The Galaxy S21 is Samsung’s best phone in 2021 and the default choice for people who want to upgrade to a flagship. The 120Hz AMOLED display is sublime, the internal hardware is the fastest of any phone today, and you get Sub-6 and mmWave 5G connectivity as standard. The camera at the back takes great photos. You get wireless charging and IP68 water resistance, and all-day battery life. There isn’t anything missing here, and the fact that the Galaxy S21 now starts at $700 makes it a truly outstanding option in 2021.
Then there’s the Galaxy S20 FE. Again, the phone destroys its rivals when it comes to value, and it is great to see Samsung offer such an attractive option for considerably less than its regular flagships. The 12MP camera takes gorgeous photos. The 120Hz AMOLED screen is fantastic to use. It has wireless charging, IP68 water resistance, and a large 4,500mAh battery. If you want a value flagship right now, this is the phone to get.
But if you are interested in a true flagship with all the latest tech, you will want to look at what the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers. The phone is the only one in the Galaxy S21 series to feature a QHD+ AMOLED screen, and it has the latest Snapdragon 888 silicon along with massive camera upgrades and all the extras you’ll need.
On the lower end, Samsung offers the Galaxy A52 5G with hints of the flagship Galaxy S models trickled down to a mid-range price that can be incredibly appealing if you can’t push your budget as high as the S20 FE. The Galaxy A52 5G has a 120Hz AMOLED screen, 5G connectivity, and powerful hardware designed to last several years.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Harish Jonnalagadda is the Asia Editor at Android Central. A reformed hardware modder, he now spends his time writing about India’s burgeoning phone market. Previously, he used to ponder the meaning of life at IBM. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.