Chance are you may be on the lookout for a new phone. The good news is, our current list of the best phones features a great selection of options, including lower-cost models that won't put a dent in your bank account. But there's bad news, too — the smartphone market is about to get a pretty radical shake-up with an influx of new handsets.
Now that we're in the second half of 2021, we're on the verge of seeing a spate of smartphone launches, as phone makers jockey for position to get their gear in front of shoppers prior to the holiday season. Industry leaders Apple and Samsung are all but certain to show off new phones in the coming months, and they'll be joined by the likes of Google, OnePlus and others.
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- Battle of the flagships: iPhone 13 vs. Galaxy S21
- Plus: iPhone 13 leaker just tipped bad news for the camera
You'll find in-depth looks at all the upcoming phones elsewhere on Tom's Guide, but here's where you can get a summary of when to expect the big phone releases anticipated during the second half of the year. Use this guide to plan out your smartphone purchases — or maybe see if there's a smartphone you should hold out for. After all, when 2021 wraps up, next year's Samsung Galaxy S22 will be right around the corner.
Google Pixel 5a
- When to expect it: August 2021
- What you'll pay: $349 to $499
- Read more in our Google Pixel 5a hub.
Earlier this year, we thought we'd already have the Google Pixel 5a in hand by this point. After all, two years ago, Google introduced its lower-priced budget phone lineup during its May developer conference. That didn't happen this time around, but the Pixel 5a is still very much on the horizon. A number of industry observers are pointing to an August launch for the Pixel 5a, and Google has said to expect a new version around the same time that the Pixel 4a debuted last year. The month of that debut? August.
When it does arrive, expect the Pixel 5a to feature an improved processor with 5G connectivity — something you could only get from the more expensive Pixel 4a 5G last year. Google may finally add a second rear camera lens to its budget phone, going by leaked images allegedly shot by the Pixel 5a.
As a result, the new phone is unlikely to match the Pixel 4a's value-heavy $349 price tag, but you never know where Google will manage to keep the costs down. Still, we'd expect a price between $349 and the Pixel 4a 5G's $499 cost.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
- When to expect it: August 2021
- What you'll pay: Around $1,599
- Read more in our Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hub.
Of all the anticipated phones on this list, we're probably most confident about the ship date for the Galaxy Z Fold 3, the successor to Samsung's top-of-the-line foldable phone. Samsung always holds a Galaxy Unpacked product launch in the August time frame. And with the Galaxy Note 21 rumored to be a casualty of the ongoing processor shortage, it sounds like it could be the Galaxy Z Fold 3's time to shine, with Samsung placing the spotlight on foldables this year.
After early rumbling that Samsung might move up its launch event to May — it didn't, obviously — rumor mongers have settled on an early August date for the next Unpacked event, with the Galaxy Fold shipping before the end of the month.
So what can you expect from this revamped foldable? Besides support for the S Pen that used to be the exclusive accessory for the Galaxy Note series, the Z Fold 3 looks to be the first Samsung phone with an under-display camera. (That'd be the front camera on the phone's 7-inch plus interior display.) Otherwise, Samsung looks to be continuing to refine the design of its foldable phone. It could also get a price cut by as much as 20% off the current $1,799 cost of the Galaxy Z Fold 2.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
- When to expect it: August 2021
- What you'll pay: $1,249
- Read more in our Galaxy Z Flip 3 hub.
The only thing cooler than releasing one folding phone at an August launch event is releasing two. And whenever you hear a rumor about the Galaxy Z Fold 3 launch drawing closer, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is normally a part of that conversation, too. (We got a closer look at the Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Galaxy Z Flip 3 and the different approaches they take to being a foldable device.)
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a follow-up to last year's original Galaxy Z Flip. No, you didn't miss a model. Samsung likes to get the numbers of phone releases to align, and technically, this is the third version of the Flip since a 5G edition has also shipped.
Like the Galaxy Z Fold 3, the focus on the Galaxy Z Flip seems to be fine-tuning the features that are there like the cameras and the outer notification display which was a little slender for the tastes of some users. Samsung may be looking to offer this phone for a lower price, too, though the rumored $1,249 cost is actually $50 more than the reduced rate the Z Flip 5G is currently selling for.
Most anticipated phones: iPhone 13
- When to expect it: September 2021
- What you'll pay: $699 to $1,099
- Read more in our iPhone 13 hub.
This is the big one. Whether you're an iPhone fan or not, whatever Apple does with its phones sets the stage for the rest of the industry. And the iPhone 13 is looking like a pretty big deal.
It's also looking like a return to Apple's usual way of doing things after a pandemic-scrambled scheduled for the iPhone 12 rollout in 2020 that saw phones make an October debut and others arrive in November. From what we know, all the phones will be launching in September, and while nothing concrete has leaked out of Cupertino, just glancing at a calendar and remembering Apple's way of doing things can help you make a pretty good guess as to when the iPhone 13 will ship.
We're expecting four models this fall, the same as last year, and with the same prices, too. That means the iPhone 13 mini will start at $699 — yes, Apple's reportedly keeping that phone around despite the iPhone 12 mini's struggles — and scaling up to the iPhone 13 Pro Max at $1,099.
The Pro models are rumored to be getting the most sought-after feature — fast-refreshing displays that match what the best Android phones offer. All four iPhone 13 models are likely to see their notches shrink, and iPhone 13 camera improvements are expected across the board.
Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro
- When to expect it: October 2021
- What you'll pay: Unknown
- Read more in our Google Pixel 6 hub.
Here's another fall phone ship date that says more about what a phone maker's done in the past. Google typically releases its phones in October — even the rare exception like the Pixel 5 launched on Sept. 30 last year, hours ahead of the usual October time frame. So we'd expect Google to stick to that schedule this year.
We're less certain about price, especially with the rumors that Google will release two phones — the standard Pixel 6 and a larger Pixel 6 Pro. Leaked Pixel 6 specs give us a pretty good idea of what Google has in the works — that Pro model is getting a telephoto lens and a giant battery to power its rumored 6.7-inch screen. The phones could also be powered by a Google-designed chip, just like Apple uses its own processors for the iPhone. So the Pixel 6 could hold the line on price, as Google has tried to do with recent phones, while the Pixel 6 Pro lets you splurge a little.
Google isn't shy about tipping its hand on phones — it's already essentially confirmed the Pixel 5a, for instance. So we could be hearing more of an official word on when to expect this device between now an October, maybe in a teaser at the Pixel 5a's launch.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
- When to expect it: August 2021 or October 2021
- What you'll pay: $599
- Read more in our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hub
The date for this phone's launch is up in the air. Original rumors had the Galaxy S21 FE joining the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip on stage at Samsung's upcoming Galaxy Unpacked launch event, whenever that takes place. (We said August, and we're sticking to that.) But subsequent reports say the S21 FE has been delayed. Samsung said nothing's been set on whether it's halting the project, and at least one rumor monger expects the phone to arrive in October.
But before you write off the chances of seeing the Galaxy S21 FE any time soon, leaker Evan Blass offers a ray of hope. In a forecast for what Samsung will be announcing this August, Blass includes the Galaxy S21 FE alongside the two foldable phones (plus a bunch of other devices).
We hope that's the case. The FE models launched last year, when the Galaxy S20 FE delivered many of the same features found in the Galaxy S20 lineup, but without the high cost. With Samsung lowering the price on the Galaxy S21 this year, you could argue that there's not much of a demand for that kind of phone any more. Still, if Samsung could scale back a few features and lower the price to $599, that's something a lot of shoppers would welcome.
There are plenty of Galaxy S21 FE renders to we know the phone exists somewhere if only on Samsung's drawing board. Let's hope that Samsung can bring us a successor to the well-received Galaxy S20 FE and that it will be a phone worth waiting for.
- When to expect it: September - October 2021
- What you'll pay: Unknown
- Read more in our OnePlus 9T wish list
Here's another phone whose release date hinges heavily on what the phone maker's done in the past. OnePlus tends to roll out its flagship devices every six months or so, and with the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro (pictured above) arriving at the end of March, that puts this year's T Series device on track for a launch in late September/early October.
We wish we were as confident about the phone's rumored specs, but right now, most of the speculation around OnePlus seems to focus on the new entries to its Nord series, like the OnePlus Nord 2. Still, going by OnePlus' track record, the OnePlus 9T should feature modest tweaks from the spring phones. We'd wager that OnePlus will be looking to roll out more camera improvements to make some hay of its announced partnership with Hasselblad. We could see an upgraded processor, too, now that Qualcomm has announced the Snapdragon 888 Plus.
Anticipated phones: Outlook
That's just a half-dozen or so of the most highly anticipated models expected to arrive this fall. Motorola likely has some releases in the works, as does HMD Global under the Nokia brand. So there could be even more phones joining this list as smartphone rumors bubble to the surface.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.