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Best Samsung phones 2021: Which Galaxy model should you buy?

best samsung phones
(Image credit: Future)

A shake-up could be coming to our list of the best Samsung phones, currently dominated by Samsung Galaxy S21 releases from the spring. Samsung usually rolls out two flagship phone releases per year — one in the first half, and one in the second half. Now that we're in July, that summer Samsung phone launch is looming.

But Samsung could mix things up this year. Instead of a new Galaxy Note phablet, as has been the customer in recent years, the phone maker is rumored to be focusing on new versions of its foldable phones. Whatever Samsung ends up doing, the new entries figure to challenge for the top spot among the best Samsung phones — not to mention the best phones overall.

Still the phones Samsung has available right now are still pretty formidable. Finding the best Samsung phone of the bunch is a matter of figuring out what kind of phone you're looking for and how much you're willing to pay. Chances are, Samsung has a phone with the features you want at the price you're looking for. These are our picks.

What are the best Samsung phones?

Released earlier this year, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung's ultimate smartphone at this point. The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus are both impressive phones in their own right, with dynamic displays, fast processors and lower price tags compared to last year's S20 models. They're just as deserving a place in the debate over the best Samsung phone.

There are cheaper options, still, especially with the launch of the Galaxy A52 5G. Last year's Galaxy S20 FE also remains a popular option for getting flagship features at a lower price, though a new version could be coming before the end of the year.

As for Samsung's foldable phones, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 has emerged as the best foldable phone you can buy, though it's pretty expensive, even after a $200 price cut. More significantly, a successor is on the way as we've mentioned, so unless you need a new phone now, wait a month or two to see what Samsung has in store for its foldable lineup.

The best Samsung phones you can buy right now

Best Samsung Phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultratom's guide top pick

(Image credit: Future)

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The best Samsung phone you can buy

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.8 inches
Android Version: 11 with One UI 3
Processor: Snapdragon 888 (US)/Exynos 2100 (WW)
Cameras: 108MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 2 10MP telephoto, and laser autofocus sensor (Rear); 40MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 12GB, 16GB/128, 256, 512GB
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display+Dual telephoto lenses+S Pen support
Reasons to avoid
-No charger in box-Lacks microSD card slot

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra takes its spot at the top of our best Samsung phones list for a number of reasons. Start with the Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip, which powers the U.S. version of the phone, which gives the best performance results we’ve seen from an Android device. We also appreciate that the S21 Ultra is the first phone outside of Samsung’s Galaxy Note lineup to support the S Pen, giving your productivity an added boost.

But a couple of features really stand out from those selling points. The Galaxy S21 Ultra features a dynamic display with a refresh rate that can scale between 10Hz and 120Hz, depending on what you’re doing. (Tasks like scrolling get the faster refresh rate, while more static activities get a battery-saving speed.) You’ll find two telephoto lenses on the back of the S21 Ultra — one with a 3x zoom, the other capable of a 10x zoom — cementing Samsung’s place as the phone maker that handles zooms lenses the best.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra remains a pricey phone, but it’s debuting at $200 less than the Galaxy S20 Ultra cost when it arrived in 2020. If you want the best features Samsung offers, snap up this device right away.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

best samsung phones: galaxy note 20 ultra

(Image credit: Future)

2. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Still a great Samsung phone with an S Pen included

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.9 inches
Android Version: 10 with One UI 2.5
Processor: Snapdragon 865 Plus (US)/Exynos 990 (WW)
Cameras: 108MP, 12MP, 12MP and laser autofocus sensor (Rear); 10MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 12 GB/128, 512 GB
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic 120Hz display+Smoother S Pen performance+Powerful 50x zoom camera
Reasons to avoid
-Large camera bump on back-Expensive

It's just about a year old now, and it's been supplanted as the best Samsung phone by the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Still, the Galaxy Note 20 remains a great choice for phablet fans given all the advances Samsung introduced in this model. 

One of the most eye-catching features on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra remains the phone's dynamic refresh rate that automatically adjusts based on what you're using the phone for. There are other productivity-minded features, too: The S Pen is more responsive than ever, with latency reduced to 9ms. Samsung's DeX feature works wirelessly with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The phone is also powered by the Snapdragon 865 Plus, which is still an excellent chipset even after the Snapdragon 888's arrival.

The Note 20 Ultra's hefty camera bump takes some getting used to, and people who balk at paying four figures for a smartphone will want to look elsewhere. But the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra delivers one of the most versatile big phone experiences of any Samsung handset. And it's very possible that a new Galaxy Note won't ship this year, making the Note 20 Ultra the best phablet you can get for the foreseeable future.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

best samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy S21

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3. Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung’s lower-cost flagship phone

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.2 inches
Android Version: 11 with One UI 3
Processor: Snapdragon 888 (US)/Exynos 2100 (WW)
Cameras: 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 64MP telephoto (Rear); 10MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 8GB/128, 256GB
Reasons to buy
+Excellent dynamic 120Hz display+Powerful performance+Excellent telephoto lens
Reasons to avoid
-No charger or microSD card slot-Plastic back

The price is right for the Galaxy S21, the least expensive of the new Samsung flagships. At $799, the Galaxy S21’s starting price is $200 less than what Samsung charged for last year’s Galaxy S20. That price also compares well to Apple's iPhone 12.

In some ways, the feature set reflects that lower price, as Samsung uses plastic for the case on the S21 and leaves out a microSD card. You’ll also have to deal with a 6.2-inch screen with scaled-back resolution. But that display also has a dynamic refresh rate, altering the speed at which the screen refreshes based on the task on hand. And the Galaxy S21 has the same Snapdragon 888 chipset that powers the S21 Ultra to the best performance for an Android phone.

Throw in excellent cameras that fare well against comparable models from Apple and Google, and you’ve got a great phone for a less astronomical price.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Best Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy Note

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4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20

A great flagship phone for less than $1,000

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.7 inches
Android Version: 10 with One UI 2.5
Processor: Snapdragon 865 Plus (US)/Exynos 990 (WW)
Cameras: 12MP, 12MP and 64MP (Rear); 10MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 8 GB/128 GB
Reasons to buy
+Excellent cameras+Outstanding performance+Attractive design
Reasons to avoid
-No fast refresh rate-Battery life is so-so

As good as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra are, both phones cost well over $1,000. The Galaxy Note 20 comes in at $999, and you don't have too make too many compromises to save hundreds of dollars for a still powerful phablet.

The Galaxy Note 20's 6.7-inch display skips the faster refresh rates found on those more expensive phones and instead of a glass back, you get a plastic one. Neither sacrifice is too great, though, especially when it means getting a phone with cameras that perform as well as the Note 20's triple lenses do. You also get the S Pen — the secret weapon of the Galaxy Note lineup — and all of the note-taking improvements that have come with the Note 20 Ultra.

Throw in excellent performance from a Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset — the same one in the more expensive Note 20 Ultra — and you'll be impressed by all the value Samsung has packed into the $999 Galaxy Note 20. However, it barely beats out the Galaxy S21 Plus for a place on this list solely because of the S Pen. If you want a $999 phone that has the latest specs and a glass back, then be sure to check out the S21 Plus.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review.

Best Samsung Phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

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5. Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Another big screen option from Samsung

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.7 inches
Android Version: 11 with One UI 3
Processor: Snapdragon 888 (US)/Exynos 2100 (WW)
Cameras: 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 64MP telephoto (Rear); 10MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 8 GB/128, 512 GB
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous 120Hz AMOLED display+Excellent performance+Crazy zoom feature
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky and unwieldy-No microSD slot or included charger

There's not much separating the Galaxy S21 Plus from the Galaxy S21, though the former phone offers a larger screen, bigger battery and a more polished design than the less expensive S21. Whether that's worth the extra $200 depends on how you feel about extra screen space, as the S21 Plus lasted about as long as the S21 on our battery test even with the larger power pack.

You will get an excellent phablet if you opt for the Galaxy S21 Plus, particularly when it comes to the 6.7-inch OLED panel. That's because like other members of the S21 family, the Plus' screen has a dynamic refresh rate that adjusts based on what you're using the phone to do. (It matches the S21's 48-120 Hz range.) Cameras are also excellent, particularly the Galaxy S21 Plus' telephoto lens, which features a 3x optical zoom and a 30x zoom digital zoom.

Fans of big phones won't mind how bulky the Galaxy S21 Plus can be. They'll just be happy to have a solidly designed phone that gives them the display real estate they demand.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review.

Best Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

(Image credit: Future)

6. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Best value for a Samsung phone

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.5 inches
Android Version: 10 with One UI 2.5
Processor: Snapdragon 865
Cameras: 12MP, 12MP and 8MP (Rear); 32MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 6 GB/128 GB
Reasons to buy
+Affordable price+Big 120Hz display+Solid performance
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life could be better-Doesn't ship with fast charger

Maybe you were impressed by the different Galaxy S20 models that debuted in 2020, but you were put off by the fact that they cost $999 or more. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE can alleviate that sticker shock by packing in many of the best features in the S20 but for $300 less. It compares well to a number of phones, including Apple's latest models, as we found in our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12 face-off.

This $699 phone runs on a powerful Snapdragon 865 system-on-chip with 5G connectivity. Its 6.5-inch OLED display features the super-fast 120Hz refresh rate that makes for smoother scrolling. And while its 8MP telephoto lens isn't as sharp as the 64MP lens on the S20, we're still impressed by the Space Zoom feature.

You'll make some tradeoffs with the Galaxy S20 FE — the phone features a plastic case and its included charger isn't as fast — but this is a great phone for people who want premium features at a reasonable price. At $100 less than the Galaxy S21, it's still a good value unless you have to have the Snapdragon 888. Just be aware that rumors of a Galaxy S21 FE are swirling, which means Samsung could roll out an S20 FE replacement before the year is out.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review.

best samsung phones Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

(Image credit: Future)

7. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

The best Samsung phone that folds

Specifications
Screen Size: 7.6 inches (main), 6.2 inches (cover)
Android Version: 10 with One UI 2.5
Processor: Snapdragon 865 Plus
Cameras: 12MP, 12MP and 12MP (Rear); 10MP/10MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 8 GB/256 GB
Reasons to buy
+Big cover display+Flex mode support+Improved multitask
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-No water resistance

Samsung clearly learned from the missteps with the original Galaxy Fold, building a much more thoughtfully designed foldable with the Galaxy Z Fold 2. And while we appreciate the larger displays — both the cover screen and the interior panel are larger than before — as well as the reinforced hinge, what really makes the new Fold standout is its role as a productivity booster.

The reinforced hinge brings the same Flex Mode that Samsung introduced with the Galaxy Z Flip to the Fold lineup, allowing you to split your screen into different functions. Multitasking with three apps returns, and you can now pair apps together to launch at the same time. Other apps have been redesigned to take advantage of the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s full screen, essentially turning your phone into a tablet.

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is much better buy now that Samsung has permanently cut the price by $200 to $1,799. Still, that's a lot to pay for a smartphone, even one that offers three rear cameras and a Snapdragon 865 Plus processor. Samsung is reportedly working on a successor, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 that could arrive by August according to some rumors. Until that phone arrives, though, the Fold 2 is the best foldable device in Samsung's lineup.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review.

Best Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

8. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Low-cost 5G from Samsung

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.5 inches
Android Version: 11 with One UI 3
Processor: Snapdragon 750G
Cameras: 64MP, 12MP, 5MP and 5MP (Rear); 32MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 6 GB/128 GB
Reasons to buy
+120Hz display+Versatile main camera
Reasons to avoid
-Inconsistent performance from other cameras-Display scratches easily

Samsung's midrange phone lineup is currently led by the Galaxy A52 5G. (That's the case in the U.S., at least, where the Galaxy A72 5G won't be shipping.) Despite a lower price tag than the Galaxy S series, you'll find a lot of the key features that highlight those phones. Samsung includes a 6.5-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate, though there's no dynamic adjustment for the Galaxy A52 5G's screen.

The main 64MP lens takes some pretty compelling shots, even if the other cameras on the phone (a 12MP lens plus dedicated macro and depth sensors) can't keep pace with the photos produced by top camera phones in this price range. You will appreciate the A52 5G's Snapdragon 750G chipset, its hearty battery life and the fact that a phone charger ships with the phone.

If you're looking for a Samsung phone for less than $500, the Galaxy A52 5G is a pretty solid choice, though the Galaxy A42 and A32 go even lower on price. (See how these phones stack up in our Galaxy A52 5G vs. Galaxy A42 5G vs. Galaxy A32 5G comparison.)

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review.

best samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

9. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

A clever flip phone design

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.7 inches
Android Version: 10 with One UI 2
Processor: Snapdragon 855 Plus
Cameras: Dual 12 MP (Rear); 10MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 8 GB/256 GB
Reasons to buy
+Ultra thin glass adds durability+Compact design when folded+Good performance and cameras
Reasons to avoid
-Subpar battery life-Still expensive relative to other phones

With the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, we finally have a foldable phone that can hold its own with other devices. Just like the Motorola Razr, Samsung drew on the flip phones of yesteryear for inspiration, but unlike Motorola's flawed device, the Galaxy Z Flip feels solid and well built. Credit the layer of Ultra Thin Glass that Samsung uses on the phone's 6.7-inch interior display and the overall quality of the phone's hinge.

Folding the device into something the fits neatly into a pocket isn't just a cosmetic gimmick. Samsung has figured out a way for you to make the most of the Galaxy Z Flip's foldability, with a Flex mode that splits activities between the top and bottom half of the display. The Galaxy Z Flip also supports multitasking with many apps, allowing you to run two apps at a time.

The Snapdragon 855 Plus chipset powering the phone delivers strong performance, though more recent handsets are faster (including Samsung's own Galaxy S21 models). The two rear cameras on the Galaxy Z Flip produce shots that are almost as good as the best camera phones, though we'd still prefer either the iPhone 12 Pro or the Pixel 5 when it comes to taking photos. For that reason, it's hard to recommend this foldable phone over less expensive, more capable flagship devices. But the Galaxy Z Flip proves that a foldable phone can truly deliver the goods, and that's a big step forward.

You've got two choices with the Galaxy Z Flip — an LTE version or a 5G version. Apart from their cellular connectivity, they're essentially the same phone, though the Galaxy Z Flip 5G costs less than the original model. (In fact, at $1,199, it's the same price as the Galaxy S21 Ultra.) We'd recommend the 5G version over the more expensive standard Flip, though you could also wait for the forthcoming Galaxy Z Flip 3, set to arrive at the same time as the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip review.

Best Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy A71

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

10. Samsung Galaxy A71 5G

Last year's phone is still solid

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.7 inches
Android Version: 10 with One UI 2
Processor: Snapdragon 765
Cameras: 64MP, 12MP, 5MP depth and 5MP macro (Rear); 32MP (Front)
RAM/Storage: 8 GB/128 GB
Reasons to buy
+Good battery life+Solid performance+Price has dropped
Reasons to avoid
-Middling cameras-Last year's hardware

You might have forgotten about the year-old Samsung Galaxy A71 5G, especially since Samsung has launched the Galaxy A72, which promises newer hardware, even if it lacks 5G connectivity. But the A72 won't be headed to the U.S. — it's too similar to the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung's decided. That means the A71 5G is still an option in this country, especially since its price has fallen from the original $599 cost and it remains available from both carriers and retailers.

The Galaxy A71's launch price was already pretty low for a 5G phone, so anything below $599 is an even better value. That's especially true, when you consider that the A71 5G offers good battery life, decent performance and — most importantly — connectivity with all kinds of 5G networks. You'll also appreciate the big, 6.7-inch OLED screen, which reinforces the idea that you have big screen options beyond the pricey Galaxy Note series.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A71 5G review.

How to choose the best Samsung phones

Picking which Samsung phone to buy is primarily driven by budget considerations. You're not going to spring for a Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example, if you're not prepared with at least $1,199 even if you opt to spread those payments out over time. But other factors need to be taken into consideration as well.

Start with how you use your smartphone. If it's primarily a productivity device, you'd want to focus on the Galaxy Note lineup, specifically because of the powerful S Pen that comes with Samsung's large-screen phone. If you turn to your phone for photography, the Galaxy S series is usually first in line for Samsung's camera innovations.

Budget-minded shoppers will want to consider the now-released $499 Galaxy A52 5G as well as other models in the midrange Galaxy A series. You can also find discounts on Samsung phones by buying directly from the phone maker and trading in your current device. Check out the best Samsung phone deals for the latest savings.

Be aware that there are always new Samsung phones lurking around the corner. We're expecting a successor to the Galaxy Z Flip at some point this year. As for Samsung's other foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is also rumored to be in the works, potentially replacing the Galaxy Note lineup later this year. The status of the Galaxy Note 21 remains up in the air.

How we test Samsung phones

To find the best Samsung phones, we test the company's handsets the same way we test every smartphone we review. We run benchmarks on each phone, including synthetic benchmarks like Geekbench 5 and 3DMark to measure graphics performance. That allows us to compare Samsung device to other phones, including Apple's iPhone. In addition, we use real-world testing that includes a video transcoding test using Adobe Premiere Rush. 

In our lab, we measure the brightness of the phone's display (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (using the sRGB and DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and score of 0 is perfect.

To determine how long a Samsung phone's battery lasts, we have the phones continuously surf the web over LTE with their screens set to 150 nits of brightness. The average smartphone lasts for 10 hours, with the best phone battery life reaching 11 hours or more in our testing.

Our camera testing involves taking photos with each Samsung phone we review and comparing them to similar shots from comparable models.We take shots of landscapes, food, portraits and more, and also allow you to be the judge with side-by-side comparisons in our reviews. 

Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. It's hard to nail down one thing that Jordan is passionate about, since his attention span for a single given topic or activity doesn't last long. Jordan tends to lurk on social media, but you can best reach him on Twitter: @jccpalmer — his Instagram feed is mostly photos of his cat.