Premium: $700 and up
It probably won’t come as a surprise that, when it comes to getting the best phones Samsung offers, regardless of price, the flagship S21 line is your best bet. This is especially true considering there’s been no Note phone this year. But there are some differences between the three S21 models beyond size.
As much as Google would like to lead in the space, the Android hardware conversation is all but defined by Samsung. The Korean manufacturer is the go-to for tons of shoppers, so much so that “Android” and “Galaxy” are synonymous to many. It also offers roughly six million different models, with prices from just over a hundred bucks to well into four-digit territory. So if you’re looking to buy, how do you choose? Here, we break down your options — from super-premium to the bare necessities.
Galaxy S21 Ultra
If you’re after peak Samsung in 2021, the Galaxy S21 Ultra should be your go-to. It’s a huge son of a gun, with a 1440p, 120Hz, 6.8-inch screen, and it’s fast, packing the latest Snapdragon 888 processor and a minimum of 12 gigabytes of RAM. In our review, we found that its cameras were fantastic, too. David had especially high praise for its 10x telephoto lens, calling it “an absolute gem.”
It’s expensive, though, with an MSRP starting at $1,200 and going all the way up to $1,380 for the highest trim. But if you want what’s unequivocally the best Samsung has to offer, this is it.
Step down to the S21+ and you’re missing out on some camera features (mainly telephoto lenses, which the Ultra has two of), screen real estate (it’s got a 6.7-inch screen to the Ultra’s 6.8), and marginal performance enhancements (it’s “only” got eight gigs of RAM), but you’re also saving some serious cash. In our review, Ryan loved the S21+’s comparatively svelte build and flatter display relative to the more-expensive S21 Ultra. “The S21 Ultra is undeniably a ‘better’ phone,” he wrote, “but it’s $200 more expensive and not nearly as comfortable to hold.” You can grab an S21+ starting at $1,000.
The regular Galaxy S21 offers the premium Samsung experience in a relatively compact package, with a “small” 6.2-inch display. Sure, its back is plastic, but it’s pretty dang nice plastic, and that’s just about the only concession made to hit its considerably lower MSRP. In our review, Ryne concluded that “When you get right down to it, the Galaxy S21 is a great phone at a great price,” and that’s hard to argue: it starts at $800, and has already seen sale prices as low as $650.
Samsung’s top-tier phones don’t cost as much as they once did, but it’s still fully reasonable not to want to spend more on a phone than you do on rent. Thankfully, the company offers a number of mid-range options, the best of which straddle the flagship line.
Galaxy S20 Fan Edition The S20 FE occupies an interesting niche in Samsung’s smartphone portfolio. At an MSRP of $699 (and frequently on sale for less), it offers a lot of what made last year’s S20 lineup desirable for a much lower price. It’s got the 120Hz display and the Snapdragon 865 CPU (complete with 5G!), plus higher-end perks like wireless charging. My review postulated that it may have been the best phone of 2020 — and I think it would have been if it weren’t for some units experiencing a strange touchscreen issue. Still, if you’re prepared to return or exchange your device should it be affected, the S20 FE is a fantastic package that’s priced right.
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