Skip to main content

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

best samsung phones
(Image credit: Future)

A new device has emerged at the top of our list for the best Samsung phones. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung's ultimate phones, packing premium features into a handsome design, while still offering the phone for less than an Ultra model before it. It's not just the best of the new Galaxy S21 models — it's one of the best phones, period.

But Samsung has plenty of options, especially after introducing three new phones to kick off 2021. With its new lineup, Samsung features an impressing array of options, ranging from flagships to budget buys.

Finding the best Samsung phones comes down to figuring out what kind of phone you're looking for and how much you're willing to pay. These are our picks.

What are the best Samsung phones?

Now that we've tested the Galaxy S21 model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has emerged as our top choice, beating out the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Both Ultra phones offer impressive cameras, big screens and S Pen support — a first for the Galaxy S lineup. But the Galaxy S21 Ultra also delivers that for a lower price.

The Galaxy S21 is no slouch, either, with a dynamic display, fast processor and lower price tag compared to last year's S20 models. Of that line, we still like the Galaxy S20 Plus — especially if its price has been discounted — and the Galaxy S20 FE which delivers top features for a midrange price.

If you're dead set against spending a lot of money, you can turn to the Galaxy A51, Samsung's  midrange phone. At $399, it won't break the bank, though you'll be making some performance and camera trade-offs you wouldn't have to with Samsung's pricier phones, including 2019's S10 models. Samsung has also started rolling out less expensive 5G phones, including the Galaxy A71 5G.

As for Samsung's foldable phones, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 has emerged as the best foldable phone you can buy. That's no knock on the Galaxy Z Flip 5G, which is an impressive handset in its own right for people who prefer flip phones.

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

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

Dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display
Dual telephoto lenses
S Pen support
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 to the best 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 cost a year ago. If you want the best features Samsung offers, snap up this device right away.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen upgrades

(Image credit: Future)

2. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Still a great Samsung phone with an S Pen included

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

Dynamic 120Hz display
Smoother S Pen performance
Powerful 50x zoom camera
Large camera bump on back

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is Samsung's ultimate smartphone and the best Samsung phone you can buy right now. While the Galaxy Note 20 commands a high price — at $1,299, it's more expensive than the Galaxy S20 Plus though not as pricey as the S20 Ultra — but its many advances are well worth the premium Samsung charges.

One of the most eye-catching features on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is 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. And the phone is powered by the Snapdragon 865 Plus, currently the best chipset available for Android phones.

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 the most versatile big phone experience of any Samsung handset.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

best samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung’s lower-cost flagship phone

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

Excellent dynamic 120Hz display
Powerful performance
Excellent telephoto lens
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.

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

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20

A great flagship phone for less than $1,000

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

Excellent cameras
Outstanding performance
Attractive design
No fast refresh rate
Battery life is so-so

As good as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S20 Plus 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.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review.

Best Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

(Image credit: Future)

5. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Best value for a Samsung phone

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

Affordable price
Big 120Hz display
Solid performance
Battery life could be better
Doesn't ship with fast charger

Maybe you were impressed by the different Galaxy S20 models that debuted this spring but put off by the fact that they cost $999 or more. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is here to alleviate that sticker shock by packing in many of the best features in the S20 but for $300 less.

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.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review.

Best Samsung phones: Galaxy S20 Plus

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

6. Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

Another big-screen option

Screen Size: 6.7 inches | Android Version: 10 with One UI 2 | Processor: Snapdragon 865 (US)/Exynos 990 (WW) | Cameras: 12MP, 64MP, 12MP and time-of-flight sensor (Rear); 10MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 12 GB/128, 512 GB

Impressive cameras
4,500 mAh battery lasts a long time
Ample screen features 120Hz refresh rate
120Hz refresh rate only works at lower resolution

The Galaxy S20 Plus has been the standout among the Galaxy S20 lineup, not because it offers the most high-end features — the Galaxy S20 Ultra has a more powerful telephoto lens and main camera — but because it struck the right balance between premium features and price. 

While the the Galaxy S20 Plus isn't equipped with a 108MP main camera like the S20 Ultra, the four cameras that are there produce excellent shots that match up well with what the best camera phones produce. You'll still get excellent pictures — including crystal clear zooms from that 64MP telephoto lens — if you opt for the Galaxy S20 Plus, and you'll save $200 off the more expensive Ultra.

All the other top features packed into the S20 lineup are on hand with the Plus model. That includes 5G connectivity — the S20 supports both mmWave and low band-based networks — and the Snapdragon 865 processor that's still a top performing chipset. The Galaxy S20 Plus also enjoys the same 120Hz refresh rate Samsung has given all the S20 models, so you'll get the smoothest scrolling available (albeit only at lower resolutions and without the dynamically adjusting rate on newer S21 models). 

The S20 Plus is less attractive now that the S21 phones are here, but if you can find one for a significant discount, this remains an appealing option among the best Samsung phones.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review.

best samsung phones Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

(Image credit: Future)

7. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

The best Samsung phone that folds

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

Big cover display
Flex mode support
Improved multitask
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.

At $1,999, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 certainly isn’t cheap, but you get a lot of value for money, including three rear cameras and a Snapdragon 865 Plus processor. This doesn’t just surpass the original Fold — the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best foldable phone you can buy.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review.

best samsung phones galaxy S20 ultra

(Image credit: Future)

8. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

A very good Samsung phone if you can afford it

Screen Size: 6.9 inches | Android Version: 10 with One UI 2 | Processor: Snapdragon 865 (US)/Exynos 990 (WW) | Cameras: 108MP, 48MP, 12MP and time-of-flight sensor (Rear); 40MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 12, 16 GB/128, 512 GB

Phenomenal cameras
Gorgeous 120Hz display
5G support
Very expensive
120Hz mode is a battery killer

You’ll find cheaper phones made by Samsung, especially now that the S21 family is here. But few phone surpass what the Galaxy S20 Ultra offers, even a year after its release.

At a debut price of $1,399 for the base model with 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the Galaxy S20 Ultra doesn’t come cheaply (though we'd expect prices to fall in the wake of the S21 Ultra's arrival). But you can really see where Samsung packed in all those extra features. The 6.9-inch display can feature a 120Hz refresh rate (at lower resolutions) that really make for noticeably smoother scrolling. Opt to forego that faster refresh rate, and you can enjoy nearly 12 hours of battery life, thanks to the 5,000 mAh battery powering the Galaxy S20 Ultra. 

The Galaxy S20’s true standout feature is its camera, though, with a 108MP main shooter and 48MP telephoto lens joined by an ultra wide-angle lens and a time-of-flight sensor. These lenses combine to present very crisp, highly detailed shots, even when you zoom in. (The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s beefed-up telephoto lens supports a 10x lossless zoom, after all.) As impressive as that is, we're bothered by some autofocus issues that emerged as we continued to test the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung has since issued a fix.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review.

best samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

9. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

A clever flip phone design

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

Ultra thin glass adds durability
Compact design when folded
Good performance and cameras
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 S20 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 11 Pro or the Pixel 4 when it comes to taking photos. For that reason — and for the Galaxy Z Flip's still lofty $1,380 price — 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.

If you want 5G connectivity, Samsung has released the Galaxy Z Flip 5G. It features a better processor — the Snapdragon 865 Plus — and new colors, but it's essentially the same phone with a higher $1,449 price.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip review.

best samsung phones: Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

10. Samsung Galaxy S20

5G support in a compact design

Screen Size: 6.2 inches | Android Version: Android 10 with One UI 2 | Processor: Snapdragon 865 (US)/Exynos 990 (WW) | Cameras: 12MP, 64MP, 12MP (rear); 10MP (front) | RAM/Storage: 12GB/128GB

Improved camera with 3x lossless zoom
Display features 120Hz refresh rate
Compact design
Disappointing battery life
Over-smoothed faces on some photos

Among last year's flagships, the Galaxy S20 Ultra has all the features and the Galaxy S20 Plus has the best balance between capabilities and price, making it easy to overlook the Samsung Galaxy S20. But if you can find the phone at a decent price, it's still a good alternative to more expensive options from Samsung.

Verizon customers should be aware that they can buy a version of the Galaxy S20 specially tailored to that carrier's 5G network. The Galaxy S20 5G UW can use Verizon's high-speed mmWave-based network, and it also works with the more extensive low-band 5G coverage Verizon added in late 2020.

There's more to the S20 than 5G. The three rear lenses take attractive pictures, even without the time-of-flight sensor found on other models. We were particularly impressed with the phone's 64MP telephoto lens and its 3x lossless zoom. You're also getting an excellent display with a super-fast 120Hz refresh rate — the same feature that highlights the more expensive S20 models. However, with the new S21 models shipping by the end of the month, you may want to look at other phones than last year's model.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 review.

Best Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy A71

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

11. Samsung Galaxy A71 5G

A less expensive 5G phone from Samsung

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

Good battery life
Solid performance
5G connectivity for less than $600
Lots of bloatware
Middling cameras

Up until 2020, if you wanted a 5G phone from Samsung, you had to buy one of the phone maker's flagship handsets — and, as a result, pay up for the privilege. The arrival of the Snapdragon 765 system-on-chip and its integrated 5G modem has brought 5G connectivity to less expensive phones, including the Galaxy A71 5G.

The $599 Galaxy A71 5G offers good battery life, decent performance and — most importantly — connectivity with all kinds of 5G networks. (The version built specifically to work with Verizon's high-speed mmWave-based 5G coverage costs $50 extra.) 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.

The problem with the Galaxy A71 5G is that there are cheaper 5G-ready devices out there, including Samsung's own Galaxy A51 5G. For $100 more, you can get the Galaxy S20 FE, which boasts more impressive features along with 5G connectivity. And if 5G isn't that important to you, you'll want to consider even cheaper phones outside of Samsung's lineup.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A71 5G review.

best samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy A51

(Image credit: Future)

12. Samsung Galaxy A51

Samsung's budget buy

Screen Size: 6.5 inches | Android Version: 10 with One UI 2 | Processor: Exynos 9611 | Cameras: 48MP, 12MP, 5MP and time-of-flight sensor (Rear); 32MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 4 GB/128 GB

Excellent display
Sleek design
Affordable price
Camera struggles in low light
Performance and battery life underwhelm

Samsung's Galaxy A phones have been a welcome addition to the midrange market, and there's plenty to like about the Galaxy A51. Samsung's phone features an excellent OLED screen and a sleek design. The four rear cameras proved versatile in our testing, and with 128GB of built-in capacity, Samsung didn't skimp on storage. All of this comes in a phone that costs $399, so you don't have to pay Galaxy S prices to get a good smartphone.

Still, the Galaxy A51 disappoints in some areas, especially if you're looking a phone that can rival Apple's low-cost iPhone SE. For starters, those cameras perform best in ideal conditions — when the lights are low, the quality of photos drops noticeably. And the Exynos 9611 powering the Galaxy A51 underwhelms, especially when you consider that Apple uses its top-of-the-line processor in the similarly priced iPhone SE. Just be aware that there's also a 5G-capable version of the A51 available if you want the faster connectivity.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A51 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 S20 Ultra, for example, if you're not prepared with at least $1,400, 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 Galaxy A51, as we noted, but there's a 5G version of the Galaxy A51 on the way for $499. Meanwhile, the Galaxy A71 5G is now on sale for $599. (A version that runs on Verizon's super-fast 5G network is available for $649.)

Be aware that there are always new Samsung phones lurking around the corner. After the Galaxy S21 ships, 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.

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 (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.