The best Samsung Galaxy S21 alternatives

best Samsung Galaxy S21 alternatives
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

You might be looking at the Samsung Galaxy S21 and wondering if it's the best phone you can get right now. While it's definitely one of the best phones available, each of the three S21 models have their share of flaws. What's more, while Samsung has knocked the price of each model down by a couple hundred dollars from previous Galaxy S phones, the S21 is still pretty expensive compared to some of the other best Android phones.

It's those rivals we're looking at here. If you're weighing whether to buy a new Android phone, but aren't convinced by Samsung's latest offering, we have rounded up the best Galaxy S21 alternatives for you to check out.

Organized by key features, some of the phones do a better job than the S21 in certain areas, while others offer identical or comparable abilities while costing less. We highly rate all of them, so whether you pick up an S21 or a different device, you're guaranteed to get a great phone.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative for fast charging

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: OnePlus 8T

OnePlus 8T (Image credit: OnePlus)

Samsung doesn't include a charger with any phone in the Galaxy S21 series, requiring you to either use a charger you’ve already got or pay up for a new accessory. It’s the same move Apple made with the iPhone 12, and while it may be good for the environment, it does add on to the cost of your phone.

Even if you pick up a charger for your Galaxy S21, all three models offer a maximum of 25W fast charging when plugged in and up to 15W for wireless charging. That's acceptably quick, but certainly not class-leading.

The OnePlus 8T and Oppo Find X2 Pro offer 65W charging out of the box, which is certainly impressive. The OnePlus 8 Pro offers more modest 30W fast charging, but also up to 30W wireless charging if you want to ditch the cables. Even the budget-centric OnePlus Nord N10 5G offers 30W charging for less than $300, beating the Galaxy S21 on both charging speed and price.

Our pick: OnePlus 8T — it’s more fully featured than the Nord N10 and more widely available than the Oppo Find X2. OnePlus’ flagship lasts longer than every S21 model save for the Ultra, and it charges much faster.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative for compact phones

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Google)

The smallest available Galaxy S21 is the basic S21, which measures 6.2 inches. That's fairly small compared to the 6.7-inch Plus and 6.8-inch Ultra models, but it's no good if you like to have a phone that will easily slip into a jeans pocket.

It's surprisingly hard to find smaller phones than that these days. If you want something much dinkier, there's the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 Mini, or the 4.7-inch iPhone SE if you want something a lot cheaper. On the Android side, your best option is probably the Google Pixel 5 at 6 inches. There's also the Pixel 4a at 5.8 inches if you don’t mind a phone with less stylish design and fewer flagship features.

Our pick: Pixel 5 — Assuming an iPhone 12 mini is a non-starter for Android fans, the Pixel 5 is a compact phone that delivers a great camera.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative for storage

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (Image credit: Future)

Samsung killed off a big legacy feature this year for users who like using expandable, removable storage with their phones. All Galaxy S21 models ship without an SD card slot, limiting you to the onboard storage for whatever model you buy. That’s a potential problem if you're a keen photographer or videographer who will easily fill up even 256 GB or 512GB of storage.

If you want removable storage, you can turn to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which still features a microSD card slot. Alternatively, less expensive phones like the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G let you expand storage by up to 1TB via a microSD card. Another option — spring for cloud storage, as Google One storage plans cost $9.99 a month for 2TB.

Our pick: Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — not only can you max out on-board storage at 512GB, but the microSD slot lets you add up to 1TB of storage.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative for stylus compatibility

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Galaxy Note 20 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Only the Galaxy S21 Ultra works with an S Pen, the first Galaxy phone outside of the Note to offer such support. But the stylus is sold separately, meaning you’re paying another $40 on top of the $1,199 cost of your phone. And that’s before you buy a case, which you’ll need to do as the S21 offers no slot to store the S Pen. 

In this case, it’s hard to top the original, as both the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra offer a built-in S Pen. If you don’t mind going the bargain route, Motorola’s $299 Moto G Stylus — an updated version to last year’s Moto G Stylus— includes a stylus, though it’s not nearly as fully featured as the S Pen. You will get long battery life from the Moto G Stylus, though.

Our pick: Galaxy Note 20 — This is the cheaper of Samsung’s two Note 20 models, and it’s also $200 less than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. And you don’t have to pay extra for the S Pen.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative for battery life

Best Galaxy S21 Alternatives: Moto G Power (2021)

Moto G Power (2021) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The battery life for the Galaxy S21 Ultra impresses, as Samsung’s phone lasted 11 hours and 25 minutes on our Tom’s Guide battery test. That places it on our best phone battery life list (though the S21 Ultra achieves that result with the adaptive display feature turned off). The other S21 models turned in times that were closer to the result for the average smartphone. 

The longest lasting smartphone we’ve tested this year is the Moto G Power (2021), and while that phone boats some good features for a $249 device, it’s a big step down from the experience of using a Galaxy flagship. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the device to get if you want a long battery life, but don’t want to skimp on features.

Our pick: Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — it’s another long-lasting Samsung flagship.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative for photography

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: Google Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It's hard to outdo the camera hardware of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Not only do you get a 108MP main camera, a 40MP selfie camera and a 12MP ultrawide, you also benefit from two 10MP telephoto cameras, one with 3x zoom and the other with 10X zoom. The S21 and S21 Plus still have outstanding photography powers too, with their combination of 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 64MP telephoto and 10MP selfie cameras.

In terms of the best camera phones, there's only one that beats the Galaxy S21 Ultra - the iPhone 12 Pro Max. That's almost as expensive as the S21 Ultra, but it's the price you have to pay for ultimate photo performance.

For cheaper options that still give the S21 series a run for its money, the Google Pixel 5 will offer equally good main and ultrawide photography, though it lacks a dedicated telephoto sensor. Still, the Pixel’s Super Res Zoom feature more than makes up for that lack of hardware by tapping into Google’s computational photography powers. For a cheaper version, the Pixel 4a 5G boasts the exact same camera hardware as Google’s flagship device.

Our pick: Pixel 5 — assuming you don't want to convert to an iPhone, Google’s flagship is the best camera phone you can get outside of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative for pure Android

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: Motorola Edge Plus

Motorola Edge Plus (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At its core, Android 11 is the same on every device. But phone makers can tweak the interface, and Samsung’s One UI 3.0 on the Galaxy S21 models can come across as overbearing to some people.

We're big fans of OnePlus' OxygenOS because of its sharp design and limited number of unwanted apps. You'll find it preinstalled on the OnePlus 8T, but it's also available on older OnePlus phones like the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro. Motorola also does a good job of not cluttering up Android, and the few things it introduces, such as gesture-based Moto Actions, are actually useful. The $999 Motorola Edge Plus comes the closest to matching the Galaxy S21 feature set.

Still, the purest version of Android can be found on the Google Pixel line of phones. The Pixel 5 is the pinnacle of Google's crop of phones for the moment, and while its hardware is lacking in a few areas compared to the Galaxy S21's, the user experience is top notch.

Our pick: OnePlus 8T — OnePlus’ phones offer the best assortment of features without imposing too much on the Android experience.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative on performance

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max (Image credit: Future)

It’s hard to beat any of the Galaxy S21 models and their Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip — at least among Android phones. The Galaxy S21 benchmarks are the best we’ve seen from any Android phone, which isn’t surprising since Samsung’s devices are the first to arrive in the US with the new Qualcomm chipset.

But as good as the S21 models are in terms of performance, they’re still out-muscled by the iPhone 12 family and Apple’s A14 Bionic processor. The iPhone 12 produces better benchmarks in our testing, including real-world tests like transcoding videos.

If you’re committed to Android, a powerhouse like the iPhone 12 Pro Max may be a non-starter. In that case, you may want to hold off a few months to see what other Android phones arrive with a Snapdragon 888 inside and how they compare to the Galaxy S21.

Our pick: iPhone 12 Pro Max — iOS or Android debate aside, this is the best performing phone out there, and it’s cheaper than the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Best Galaxy S21 alternative on price

Best Galaxy S21 alternatives: OnePlus 8T

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

While the Galaxy S21 models may be cheaper than their predecessors, the S21 Plus and S21 Ultra still cost $999 and $1,199, respectively. That’s a lot to pay for a phone for some people, though at least the Galaxy S21 offers a decent alternative at $799.

For lower-priced flagships, it’s hard to beat either OnePlus or Google. The OnePlus 8T starts at $749 and features a display with a 120Hz refresh rate as well as solid performance and fast charging. The Pixel 5 is even cheaper at $699, though Google dialed back on the processing power to reach that price.

Our pick: OnePlus 8T — Outside of Samsung’s own phones, the flagship devices out of OnePlus come the closest to matching the Galaxy S lineup on a feature-by-feature basis.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.