For the first time ever, Chinese company Xiaomi has taken the second place from Apple in the global smartphone shipments ranking during the second quarter of 2021. As shown by a Canalys research, smartphone shipments grew 12% last quarter as a result of the COVID-19 vaccination around the world.
While Samsung remains in first place, Apple lost the second place ranking in smartphone shipments to Xiaomi during Q2 2021. The Chinese company also had the most significant growth in the last quarter with an 83% increase in sales, while Samsung recorded a 15% increase and Apple only 1%.
In terms of market share, Samsung accounted for 19% of global smartphone sales in Q2 2021, while Xiaomi took 17% and Apple 14%. Oppo and Vivo vie for fourth and fifth place with 10% market share each.
According to the research, one of the main reasons for Xiaomi’s growth is the more than 300% increase in sales in Latin America, coupled with a 150% growth in Africa. Compared to Samsung and Apple devices, Xiaomi offers products that cost 40% and 75% cheaper, so they become more popular in emerging countries.
And as it grows, it evolves. It is now transforming its business model from challenger to incumbent, with initiatives such as channel partner consolidation and more careful management of older stock in the open market. It is still largely skewed toward the mass market, however, and compared with Samsung and Apple, its average selling price is around 40% and 75% cheaper respectively.
Even so, Apple is still in a good position. Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan recently raised their price targets for AAPL as they believe that the iPhone 13, which is expected to be introduced this fall, will keep up the strong sales of the iPhone 12. A recent research by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners shows that the iPhone 12 line accounted for 63% of US iPhone sales in the third quarter of 2021.
Bottom line: Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is a great overall package, delivering 5G, the latest hardware, and all the extras you could ask for in a 2021 flagship.
6.2-inch AMOLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
128 or 256GB
12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP telephoto
25W wired, 15W wireless
151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm
Compact and lightweight design
Snapdragon 888 is a performance beast
120Hz AMOLED display
Very capable cameras
All-day battery life
Doesn’t have expandable storage
No MST for Samsung Pay
In 2021, Samsung has released a smaller and more affordable smartphone in the regular Galaxy S21. For shoppers that want a fully-fledged smartphone experience without completely breaking the bank, it’s well worth your consideration.
One of the best things the Galaxy S21 has going for it is the display. It’s a Full HD+ AMOLED panel, and when paired with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, it is nothing short of excellent. It’s not quite as sharp as the Quad HD+ resolution found on the S21 Ultra, but the picture still looks really crisp thanks to a smaller 6.2-inch display size. Combine that smaller display with plastic construction, and the S21 ends up being a really comfortable phone to use thanks to its small size and lightweight design.
Another highlight is performance; the Galaxy S21 features the Snapdragon 888 and 8GB of RAM. No matter what tasks you throw at the phone, it’ll handle them with ease. There’s also a 4,000 mAh battery for all-day endurance, an IP68 dust/water resistance rating, and your choice of 128GB or 256GB of storage. The camera experience isn’t as jaw-dropping as what you’ll find with the S21 Ultra, though it is a bit better than the S20 FE. Once again, it’s a nice middle-ground between the two.
You get three guaranteed Android updates and four years of security patches on the software front, making the Galaxy S21 one of the best phones for long-term use. That said, the Galaxy S21 shares the same cons as the S21 Ultra, meaning there’s no expandable storage or MST for Samsung Pay. Those are two features you do get with the S20 FE, but the S21 still manages to stand out thanks to its improved cameras, faster performance, nicer design, and more pocketable form factor.
Bottom line: The S21 Ultra stands out as the phone to get if you don’t want to spare any expense. Everything from the display, performance, cameras, and more are among the very best you can get — just be prepared for it to cost you a pretty penny.
What Samsung achieved with the Galaxy S20 FE is nothing short of amazing, and for the vast majority of you reading this, it’s the phone you should probably buy. But if you’re itching for a device that has even more to offer and you’re OK spending more to get that kind of experience, you’ll want to turn your attention towards the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
This is Samsung’s top-of-the-line flagship for 2021, and in virtually every regard, the premium nature of the S21 Ultra is easy to see. Starting first with the display, you’re treated to a massive 6.8-inch panel that’s capable of running a Quad HD+ resolution with a 120Hz refresh rate at the same time — something very few smartphones are capable of doing. This means you get razor-sharp text, buttery smooth animations, and the stunning colors of Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED screen technology.
Powering the S21 Ultra is the Snapdragon 888 chipset, paired with either 12 or 16GB of RAM. In real-world use, that means the Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the fastest phones money can buy. Keeping with the theme of high-end specs, other niceties include a 5,000 mAh battery, up to 512GB of storage, an IP68 water/dust resistance rating, and a larger in-screen fingerprint sensor that’s much faster and easier to use than the one found on the S20 FE.
As if that wasn’t enough, the tour de force of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is its camera system. The primary camera is a 108MP sensor that captures extremely detailed and colorful shots. The 8MP ultra-wide lens is a strong performer. The two telephoto cameras — featuring 3x and 10x zoom distances — allow for some of the very best zoom pictures we’ve ever seen.
There’s no denying the impressiveness of the S21 Ultra, but that’s not to say it’s without its faults. Samsung got rid of expandable storage and MST for Samsung Pay, two hallmark features of Galaxy phones before it. If you’re alright with losing out on those features, the Galaxy S21 Ultra experience is well well worth the price of admission.
Bottom line: The OnePlus 9 Pro delivers a gorgeous new design combined with top-notch internal hardware, cameras tuned by Hasselblad, and clean software. OnePlus finally has a phone that measures up to Android’s best, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is an affordable alternative to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is gunning straight for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The phone features the latest hardware you’ll find today, including the Snapdragon 888 chipset, along with LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage modules, and a marquee addition this year is the cameras.
OnePlus always nailed the hardware, but it just couldn’t deliver cameras that held up to Samsung, Google, and Xiaomi. That has changed with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The device comes with an upgraded 48MP camera at the back that takes fantastic photos. OnePlus also partnered with German camera giant Hasselblad to deliver outstanding photos to capture every moment. The result: the OnePlus 9 Pro takes amazing shots in just about any lighting condition. There’s also a 50MP wide-angle lens that may just be the best on any phone today, and you get an 8MP module that offers 3x digital zoom.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the fastest phones you can buy today, and a new 120Hz AMOLED display joins the top-notch hardware. The phone uses an LTPO display to dynamically change the refresh all the way from 1Hz to 120Hz, allowing it to conserve battery life while delivering a smooth and fluid user experience in daily use.
You’ll also find clean software without any bloatware at all in the Android 11-based OxygenOS 11. The interface has plenty of customizability, and unlike Samsung’s One UI, you will not find any errant ads anywhere. The clean UI combined with a focus on performance and customization make OxygenOS the default choice for enthusiasts.
The phone doesn’t miss out in other areas either — you get IP68 dust and water resistance, 5G connectivity over both Sub-6 and mmWave, and dual-band GPS along with NFC. But a key highlight is around battery tech — the OnePlus 9 Pro offers 65W wired charging along with 50W wireless charging, with the phone taking just 29 minutes to fully charge using the bundled charger. OnePlus also recently announced that its flagship phones would begin receiving three major Android updates — up from the two promised previously.
While it’s exciting to see the gains in this area, the one downside is that battery life itself isn’t on par with other Android flagships. For example, the OnePlus 9 Pro barely manages to last a day with heavy use, so you may want to take the charger along if you’re heading out.
That said, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a great overall package that nails the fundamentals. So if you’re not sure about the Galaxy S21 Ultra and are looking for an alternative, you will love what the OnePlus 9 Pro has to offer.
Bottom line: There are many good smartphone deals out there, but none of them are as amazing as the Pixel 4a. From its flagship-grade cameras, reliable performance, all-day battery life, and long-term software support, no other phone gives you this much for so little.
5.81-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm
Flagship camera on a budget phone
Easy to use in one hand
AMOLED display looks great
Three years of software support
The Pixel 4a is the best phone value available today, period. Google’s packed most of what makes the Pixel 4/5 series good into a smartphone that costs over 50% less. You also get a compact device that, despite its size, excels in the battery life department. Seriously, this phone lasts all day and then some.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the 4a is its camera, which is nearly on par with the Pixel 4 that preceded it. The main camera shoots exceptional photos in all lighting conditions, with Night Sight really showing its strength in poor lighting. Google even added Astrophotography mode this time around and improved the already impressive Portrait Mode. The front-facing camera is also tack-sharp and focuses more quickly than on the Pixel 3a from 2019. Both front and back, you’re getting flagship-level camera quality out of a phone that’s a fraction of the price. Google’s also improved the video quality on the 4a, thanks to an improved Snapdragon 730 chipset and 6GB of RAM standard.
So what do you lose by spending a third of the price of a more traditional flagship? Well, the Pixel 4a is made of plastic and lacks both water resistance and wireless charging, features you can take for granted at a higher price point. It also only comes in one size, a 5.8-inch variant, and one color, black. There are no storage size options, either: you get 128GB of internal memory, which should be plenty for most people, but a lack of microSD expansion may be a problem for the content collectors out there. Also, there’s no 5G support here.
All of these limitations shouldn’t impede your desire to buy the Pixel 4a, which proved to be one of the best smartphone surprises of 2020 — even if it did launch a few months late. Google’s latest budget phone is a winner, from the size to the performance to the battery life and camera quality.
Bottom line: They say that the best camera you have is the one you have with you, so make sure it’s the best it can be. Google’s Pixel 5 takes incredible photos in virtually any setting, and thanks to the company’s top-notch image processing, you don’t even have to be a pro photographer to get impressive shots.
6.0-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 90Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
12.2MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide
18W wired, 15W wireless, 5W reverse wireless
144.7 x 70.4 x 8.0mm
Among the best cameras on the market
Compact and comfortable to hold
90Hz AMOLED display
Great battery life
Three years of software updates
Might be too small for some users
The Pixel 5 is Google’s latest flagship smartphone that you can buy. Compared to past releases, it’s a huge departure. Rather than trying to have the absolute best specs possible, the Pixel 5 focuses on offering a great all-around user experience at a competitive price. And, in just about every regard, it succeeds.
First thing’s first, we have to talk about the Pixel 5’s camera performance. Simply put, if camera quality is a key priority for you, the Pixel 5 should be at the very top of your shopping list. The 12.2MP primary and 16MP ultra-wide cameras may not look all that impressive on paper, but combined with Google’s unmatched image processing, they kick out truly incredible results. The detail is sharp, colors are true-to-life, and the Pixel 5 handles low-light environments without a hitch. The best part? The Pixel 5 does all of this more reliably than any other smartphone.
Outside of killer cameras, the Pixel 5 has a bunch more to offer. We’re in love with its design, which is refreshingly compact and is made entirely out of aluminum. The paint job gives it an exceptional in-hand feel, and if you ask us. The Sorta Sage color is one of the best we’ve ever seen on a phone. Period.
Rounding out the Pixel 5 experience is a 90Hz AMOLED display, fast performance thanks to the Snapdragon 765G processor, and long-lasting battery life. For considerably less money than a lot of other flagships, the Pixel 5 is well worth your consideration.
Bottom line: Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE is a solid, affordable 5G phone that offers most of what makes Samsung flagships so good in a cheaper, colorful package.
6.5-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
12MP primary, 8MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide
15W wired, Qi wireless charging
161.6 x 71.1 x 9.3mm
Flat 120Hz display is terrific
All-day battery life
Promised three years of software updates
Impressive cameras with 3x optical zoom
Sturdy design with fun color options
Not every color option is available everywhere
Camera can be slow to load
Samsung clearly understands that this is a time for people to pare back their expenses because the Galaxy S20 FE is a value flagship that really doesn’t skimp. It’s based on the successful foundation of the Galaxy S20+, featuring a spacious 6.5-inch 1080p AMOLED display with a luxurious 120Hz refresh rate, a Snapdragon 865, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and an all-day 4,500mAh battery.
Of course, to hit its affordable price point, Samsung needed to make some sacrifices, so it traded the Galaxy S20 series’ back glass for colorful plastic — the FE is available in six delicious colors — and cut back on the quality of the triple-camera setup ever-so-slightly.
Still, the S20 FE has everything you’d expect in a high-end phone and performs just as well. We especially love the IP68 water resistance and wireless charging, two features rare in this price bracket. Plus, it shares the same primary camera sensor as the Galaxy S20 and S20+, ensuring beautiful results in good light and bad.
Samsung’s One UI 3.0 is also on-board, and the company’s promising three years of platform and security updates, ensuring that you’ll be getting the latest Android features well into the next decade.
Finally, Samsung includes sub-6Ghz 5G in all variants of the Galaxy S20 FE, and we found performance to be excellent on both AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s 5G networks. If you want a Verizon version that supports mmWave, it’s also available for purchase.
Bottom line: The Moto G Power 2020 has reliable hardware combined with outstanding battery life and clean software. There are a few downsides — it’s limited to 10W charging and will only get one Android update, but you are getting a great entry-level package overall.
6.4-inch LCD, 2300×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
16MP primary, 8MP wide-angle, 2MP macro
159.9 x 75.8 x 9.6mm
At least two-day battery life
Large 1080p display
Will get only one Android update
Charging limited to 10W
If you’re in the market for an entry-level phone, the Moto G Power 2020 is still a great choice in 2021. Motorola has nailed the basics here, delivering a robust phone with all the features you’re looking for in a budget option.
The standout feature on the Moto G Power 2020 is the battery: featuring a large 5000mAh battery, the phone manages to last over two days without fail. The charging situation isn’t ideal, though; the Moto G Power 2020 has 10W wired charging, so you will want to plug in the device overnight.
The phone holds up pretty well in other areas too. You get a 6.4-inch 1080p LCD that’s decent enough in its own right, and the Snapdragon 665 is a reliable performer in normal use. The phone has stereo sound, a 3.5mm jack, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a microSD card slot. And as the phone is officially sold in the U.S., it works on all the major carriers.
In fact, it’s a better option than the Moto G Power 2021 in key areas — the 2021 model has fewer LTE bands, a lower-resolution 720p display, and a less powerful chipset. You’ll find positives on the software side as well, with Motorola offering a clean interface without any bloatware. The downside here is that the phone will get just one Android update — to Android 11 — and if you’re okay with that, the Moto G Power 2020 has plenty to offer in 2021.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a value flagship and want a phone with a gorgeous design, the latest hardware, stellar cameras, fast charging, and clean software, the OnePlus 9 is the obvious choice.
6.5-inch AMOLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
48MP primary, 50MP wide-angle, 2MP portrait
65W wired, 15W wireless
160 x 74.2 x 8.7 mm
Sublime 120Hz AMOLED display
Clean software with no bloat
65W wired / 15W wireless charging
Three years of Android updates
Single-SIM in the U.S.
With the OnePlus 9, OnePlus sets its sights on the Galaxy S20 FE. The phone delivers on the same fundamentals as Samsung’s value flagship, offering the latest internal hardware, a 120Hz AMOLED display, reliable cameras, and many extras from the OnePlus 9 Pro.
The 120Hz AMOLED display on the OnePlus 9 is one of the best you’ll find in this particular category, and thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chipset, the phone handles anything you throw at it without breaking a sweat. You also get 5G connectivity over Sub-6, Wi-Fi 6, NFC, AptX HD audio codecs, and an excellent vibration motor.
The phone has the same 4500mAh battery as the OnePlus 9 Pro, and you get 65W wired charging. What’s new this generation is the addition of 15W Qi wireless charging. It may not be quite the same as the insane 50W wireless charging on the 9 Pro, but the upside is that the OnePlus 9 works with any Qi-enabled wireless charger available today. This particular feature is missing on the Indian and Chinese models, but you’ll find it on the OnePlus 9 variants sold in North America and Europe.
Coming to the software, OxygenOS 11 continues to set the standard in terms of customizability. The bloatware-free UI is a delight to use, and recently OnePlus announced that it would begin supporting its flagship phones with three years of Android platform updates.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 is a solid contender to the Galaxy S20 FE. It has the latest hardware, great cameras, clean software, and fast charging, and for what it costs, you are getting a great overall value.
Bottom line: The ASUS ZenFone 8 is a bit of a departure from its predecessors, but it is the best smallest Android flagship you can buy right now. It has an excellent build, clean software, great cameras, 5G, and the powerful Snapdragon 888 SOC.
5.9-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
64MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide
148 x 68.5 x 8.9 mm
Easy to use one-handed
Gorgeous screen with 120Hz refresh rate
3.5mm headphone jack
No wireless charging
No telephoto camera
If you’re one of those people who still pines for a smaller, flagship-level phone, then we have some good news for you. The ASUS ZenFone 8 delivers one of the best Android experiences that you can get in mid-2021 for much less than the competition. Plus, it’s one of the smallest Android flagships around.
Unlike the ZenFone 6 and 7 series and the ZenFone 8 Flip, the ZenFone 8 has done away with the flipping camera module in favor of a more traditional design. While this new (older) form factor makes the device more pocketable, ASUS was able to retain an excellent camera setup nonetheless. It also means that it is now IP68 water-resistant. The ZenFone 8 features a gorgeous AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and it even retains an old-school fan favorite with its 3.5mm headphone jack.
The ZenFone 8 has top-notch internal specs, too, including the powerful Snapdragon 888 processor, fast 20W wired charging, and one of the cleanest builds of Android we’ve seen this year. However, you miss out on wireless charging, and ASUS’s track record for updates has left us wanting in the past.
This is the perfect phone for someone who admires the size and capabilities of something like the Google Pixel 4a but who also wants a more premium and performant Android phone.
Bottom line: Folding phones are here, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best one we’ve seen yet. It’s basically a smartphone and tablet in one device, and while it is costly, it’s also the best attempt yet we’ve seen for this form factor.
6.23-inch AMOLED, 2260×816, 60Hz refresh rate
7.6-inch AMOLED, 2280×1768, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+
12MP primary, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide
25W wired and 11W wireless
159.2 x 128.2 x 6.9mm (unfolded) and 159.2 x 68 x 16.8mm (folded)
Puts a mini-tablet in your pocket
Great cameras and battery
App compatibility issues
Just like any piece of technology, smartphones evolve and change as time goes on. We’ve seen screens get bigger, cameras get a lot more capable, and processors rival those found in computers. The next big thing for phones is the folding form factor, and so far, the best yet in this niche is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.
The best way to think about the device is as a phone and tablet in one. When the Z Fold 2 is closed, you’re treated to a 6.23-inch AMOLED display that you can use for anything you’d like — checking email, scrolling through Twitter, watching YouTube videos, you name it. Should you find yourself wanting a larger canvas, however, all you need to do is open up the Z Fold 2 up. There, you’re treated to a larger 7.6-inch AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It’s a lot like having an iPad Mini that you can fold up and take with you wherever you want, and if you ask us, that’s pretty amazing.
As you might expect for a new technology like a folding phone, the Z Fold 2 does come with some unique dilemmas. For example, the Ultra-Thin Glass for the tablet display is prone to scratches more than traditional glass. The folding design raises questions about long-term durability, and not all apps are properly optimized for that larger display size. There’s also the matter of price, with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 costing more than two OnePlus 8 Pros.
This isn’t a phone that we recommend everyone go out and buy right now, but as far as folding phones go, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best we’ve seen to date. If you’re willing to spend the money and put up with those quirks, the Z Fold 2 has a lot to offer.
Bottom line: The Galaxy A52 5G gives you amazing hardware in the form of a 120Hz AMOLED screen and a Snapdragon 750G chipset with 5G connectivity. Although the design looks similar to the S21 series, you also get great cameras and all-day battery life, which is much more affordable.
If you want to switch to a 5G phone but don’t want to pay too much money, then the Galaxy A52 5G may just be the ideal option for you. Samsung has always delivered value packages with the Galaxy A series, and it is taking things to a whole new level in 2021.
The Galaxy A52 5G offers considerable upgrades over its predecessor; the 6.5-inch AMOLED panel now has a 120Hz refresh rate, giving you a level of immediacy during daily interactions that was missing in last year’s Galaxy A51. The internal hardware has also received a boost, and the Snapdragon 750G chipset is faster in almost every day-to-day scenario.
The camera has received some attention as well, with the A52 5G now offering a 64MP lens at the back. There’s even a MicroSD slot and a 3.5mm jack, two features you won’t find on the Galaxy S21 series. And thanks to a generous 4500mAh battery and 25W fast charging, you don’t have to worry about battery life.
Samsung added IP67 dust and water resistance to the Galaxy A52 5G, making it just that little more enticing. Oh, and there’s, of course, 5G connectivity here, so if you’re thinking of switching to a 5G plan this year and need a mid-range phone, the Galaxy A52 5G ticks all the right boxes.
Bottom line: The ASUS ROG Phone 5 is designed for gamers. It has an incredible build, a stunning 144Hz AMOLED display, and is paired with a massive 6,000mAh battery and 65W wired fast charging. There are also great accessories and extras to help you get the most out of your mobile gaming experience.
6.78-inch AMOLED, 2448×1080, 144Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
64MP primary, 13MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro
172.8 x 77.2 x 10.2mm
Huge battery (6,000mAh)
144Hz refresh rate
3.5mm headphone jack
Gaming inspired design
Fast and fluid performance
This phone is BIG
No wireless charging
No water resistance
Gaming phones are definitely a niche category, but the folks who are interested in these devices really care how they perform. ASUS knows this subset extremely well and has been cranking out heavy-duty gaming phones for several years now. Its ROG line of phones complements its gaming PCs quite well, and there is undoubtedly a lot of crossover between owners of these computers and phones.
The latest in the vaunted ROG series is the ROG Phone 5. It boasts one of the largest capacity batteries we’ve seen (6,000mAh) for extended play sessions, as well as a brilliant AMOLED display with an high 144Hz refresh rate to make your content fly. You also get a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you don’t have to worry about audio latency, and it’s all powered by the latest and greatest Snapdragon 888 chipset.
There are several great accessories that you can purchase separately to help you get even more out of the experience, such as gamepads, coolers, and cases, but the phone looks great au naturale. The biggest drawbacks of the phone are that it doesn’t have wireless charging or an official IP rating, and it is quite a big and heavy device.
Bottom line: The Redmi Note 10 Pro takes things to a whole new level in the budget segment. The phone has a 120Hz AMOLED display, robust internal hardware, a 64MP camera that takes great photos in any lighting, and a gigantic 5020mAh battery with 33W fast charging. You can’t ask for much more in a budget phone.
Xiaomi knows how to deliver a value-focused package, and with the Redmi Note 10 Pro, it is setting a new standard for budget phones. The phone has features previously only seen on flagships, including a 120Hz AMOLED display that makes an immediate difference in day-to-day use.
The Snapdragon 732G delivers decent performance for most tasks, including intensive gaming. The phone also has generous memory and storage options, and you get a 3.5mm jack, microSD slot, NFC, and even an IR blaster that lets you control your TV or other AV gear. The phone also has IP53 dust and water resistance to withstand the occasional splash of water or be submerged in a pool without any issues.
The 5,020mAh battery on the Redmi Note 10 Pro easily delivers over a day’s worth of use as for battery. When you need to charge the phone, the bundled 33W charger ensures the battery is full in just over an hour. You won’t find wireless charging here, but honestly, the battery life is good that you don’t need to plug it in during the course of a day.
The 64MP camera is also new, and it takes great photos in just about any lighting condition. This may just be one of the best cameras you’ll find for under $300, making the Redmi Note 10 Pro that much more enticing. Xiaomi has made a lot of changes on the software front as well. MIUI 12 comes with Android 11 out of the box, and the UI is cleaner than earlier iterations. You get more customization options than you’ll end up using, and there are genuinely useful features here.
Ultimately, the main drawback is that the phone isn’t available officially in the U.S. You can pick up the global version of the Redmi Note 10 Pro from Amazon, but you miss out on the warranty.
How to pick the best Android phone
Android phones have never been better than they are right now. So regardless of how much or little money you can spend, you can go out and buy a phone that you’ll be thoroughly happy with. Out of every single phone on the market in 2021, however, we have to give our top recommendation for the best Android phone to the Samsung Galaxy S21.
Samsung makes amazing phones every year, but you need to pay out the nose for the privilege of owning one more often than not. With the Galaxy S21, you get a top-tier Samsung experience for less than previous years, and that makes it a better overall value.
Compared to a more expensive Galaxy handset like the S21 Ultra, the standard S21 does an admirable job of holding its own. It has a 120Hz AMOLED screen, excellent performance, great battery life, and the same One UI software experience. Even wireless charging and an IP68 rating are here, and the only area it misses out on is the Quad HD+ display and a glass back.
There are plenty of other options on this list if something about the Galaxy S21 just isn’t clicking for you, but we think it’s easy to see why it has our highest recommendation at the end of the day.
1. What size screen should I get?
You should consider many different things when buying a new Android phone, and it all starts with the display. This is the component you interact with more than anything else, so you must get one that you’ll enjoy using. Things like the resolution and refresh rate of a screen are worth talking about, but more so is the size.
Smartphones come in different shapes and sizes, and the biggest determining factor for that is the display. A 6.8-inch screen results in a much larger phone than one with a 5.8-inch one, and because of that, you need to know how big or small you’re willing to go.
Take the Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example. It has the largest display on this list (outside of the Z Fold 2, but that’s different), and because the screen is so huge, it’s a phenomenal canvas for watching movies, playing games, and browsing the web. Basically, any kind of content consumption you do looks better on a larger display because the more room you have, the bigger and easier to see your media is. The downside to this, however, is that phones like the S21 Ultra can be rather unwieldy. Especially if you’re someone with smaller hands, managing a phone like that can be a pain in the butt.
Then there are smaller-sized phones, such as the Pixel 4a. It’s substantially easier to manage and can actually be used with one hand, but you have less room for your movies and games on the flip side. It also means you can fit less content on the screen at one time, and if you’re someone who likes to increase your font size, things are easier to read, which could result in you having to do a lot of scrolling.
And, of course, there are plenty of phones that fall somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. If you’re really concerned about whether or not a phone will be too big or small, your best bet is to honestly go hands-on with it yourself at your local carrier store or Best Buy before making your purchase.
2. Are software updates important?
It’s easy to compare displays, processors, and cameras, but something that’s just as important to talk about is software updates. Android is constantly evolving and getting better, and unfortunately, only certain phones are backed by a few years of software support.
As it currently stands, Google, Samsung, and OnePlus are the best in the business when supporting their phones with long-term updates. All of the Pixels, Galaxy devices, and OnePlus phones mentioned on this list are backed by three years of major OS updates from their initial release, which is by far the best support any Android phone maker has to offer. Google even goes a step further with three years of guaranteed monthly security patches, and while Samsung does the same for its flagships, it is now starting to follow suit for its mid-range devices.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you have a company like Motorola. Take the Motorola G Power, which is only promised to get a single update to Android 11. Security patches are even worse, with Motorola having a track record of falling multiple months behind on updates.
So, how important is it that your phone gets software updates? That ultimately depends on how much you care about new Android features. Google releases a new version of Android every year, and while these updates don’t tend to be that drastic from year to year, they give your phone important features and security settings that help keep it running in tip-top shape for a long time. It also ensures that your phone stays compatible with all the apps and games on the Play Store because as Android versions become too outdated, app developers eventually drop support.
A phone like the Motorola G Power won’t be unusable two years down the road just because it’s running Android 11 and not Android 13, but it’s also a bit disheartening to buy a product and know it’s backed by such a small window of post-purchase support. This divide in updates is something Android has been faced with for years, and while companies are gradually getting better in these regards, we still have plenty of room to grow.
3. How many cameras and megapixels do I really need?
Over the last couple of years, there’s been a trend going on with certain phone companies where they throw as many cameras onto their devices as possible. As it’s become more common for phones to ship with two, three, or even four cameras, there’s something of an expectation that phones have to have multiple camera sensors to be any good.
Spoiler alert — this isn’t true.
Let’s look at the OnePlus Nord 9, for example. It has a 48MP primary camera, 50MP ultra-wide, and a 2MP monochrome portrait camera. Compared to the single 12.2MP camera on the Pixel 4a, one would assume that the OnePlus 9 takes better photos, but that’s not always the case.
Having those extra camera sensors can be a lot of fun, but only if they’re high-quality. Far too often, we see companies throw in a bunch of extra cameras on their phones only to have these secondary lenses not be very good. The primary camera sensor is always the most important, so that’s the one you want to be concerned about the most.
On a similar note, more megapixels (referred to as MP) don’t always mean you’re getting a better camera. As mentioned above, the 48MP camera on the OnePlus 9 sometimes takes photos that aren’t as good as those taken from the 12.2MP camera found on the Pixel 4a. There are so many other factors that come into play with phone cameras, so don’t let the megapixel count be your only factor for judging them when you’re out shopping. Read reviews, look at camera samples, and you’ll have a much better understanding of what kind of camera you’re dealing with.
4. What size battery should I get?
Battery life isn’t the most fun thing to talk about with smartphones, but ultimately, it’s one of the most important components. Your phone can have the best display and processor around, but if it’s constantly dying throughout the day, what’s the point?
There are many different battery capacities for all of the phones on this list, and if you don’t regularly keep up with them, it can be difficult to know what a good size is and what isn’t. So, here’s a general rule of thumb. If you’re buying an Android phone in 2021, the ideal capacity is 4000mAh or larger. As phones move toward larger displays with faster refresh rates, more battery is needed to keep them powered throughout the day.
Of course, this can vary a bit depending on the type of phone you’re buying. The Pixel 4a, for example, only has a 3140mAh battery but can still get through a full day of use without a hitch. What gives? It has a small display by 2021 standards and only has a 60Hz refresh rate, resulting in substantially less power use.
These are factors you’ll need to consider when shopping for your phone, but generally, more mAh means more battery life.
5. What smaller features should I look out for?
Last but certainly not least, there are a few smaller features and specs that can be easy to overlook when doing your shopping — a prime example being NFC. NFC stands for Near Field Communication, and it’s the chip in most phones that allows you to pay with your smartphone with Google Pay at grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Most of the phones on this list support NFC, but many cheaper Motorola phones often lack the feature. You may not care about Google Pay, but if you do, it’s worth double-checking that the phone you want to buy does, in fact, have NFC.
Another spec to check for is an IP68 rating. This is a seal of protection many phones have, and it ensures they’re protected from a certain amount of dust and water. If you happen to get caught outside in the rain or take your phone to the beach, an IP68 rating is nice peace of mind that your phone should survive just fine.
Some phones lack this IP rating yet boast water resistance or have a water-repellent coating. Those devices are also probably fine to get splashed with water here and there, but you don’t have that same guaranteed protection. The best-case scenario is to avoid getting your phone wet whenever possible, but if you happen to be around the water a lot, it’s probably worth getting something with that IP68 protection.
We should also address a trend that’s been going through the smartphone space for a few years now — the death of the headphone jack. The vast majority of new phones coming out these days no longer have the port, but few holdouts continue to offer it. It’s certainly nice to have if you’re someone that primarily uses wired headphones or earbuds, but if you’ve moved on to the wireless bandwagon, it’s not something you need to be all that concerned with.
This one’s for the fans! Or for the chemistry students with a penchant for iron alloys? It’s not ‘lite,’ that’s for sure. This is the Galaxy S20 FE 5G (or Fan Edition). The latest member of the S20 family comes with some spec changes to meet a lower price point, while still maintaining important bits to qualify for the S-series badge.
One of those is the high-end chipset, and that’s a good point to clarify that not all FEs are the same – there is a 5G-capable version and an LTE-capped one. The 4G-only model follows the usual regional differentiation with some parts of the world getting the Exynos 990 while others have their FEs equipped with the Snapdragon 865.
On the other hand, the 5G model is Snapdragon-only this time, regardless of locale. It’s this version that we’re reviewing, though we may be dropping the ‘5G’ when referring to the phone for the remainder of this review.
Placed in between the S20 and S20+ in terms of screen size, the Fan Edition packs a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display. This one’s not HDR10+ compliant and has a FullHD resolution next to its QHD brethren, but Samsung did keep the 120Hz refresh rate.
As part of the tri-set of cameras on the FE, it gets to keep the S20s main big-sensor 12MP shooter. The ultra wide-angle cam takes 12MP shots too, but from a smaller imager than on the non-fan editions. And the telephoto is different too – fans will be shooting with an 8MP almost-3x zoom unit, as opposed to the slightly odd 64MP non-tele tele setup on the S20 and S20+. Meanwhile, the selfie camera on the FE is a 32MP Tetracell unit, which may sound like an upgrade compared to the 10MP modules of the S20 and S20+, but there’s more to that as you go deeper. We’ll be doing all sorts of camera comparisons later on, of course.
Tere are some other less apparent downgrades here and there. Like the as-yet unspecified type of glass on the front instead of Gorilla Glass 6 and the plastic back where the non-fan S20s have more Gorilla Glass 6. The Fan Edition also tops out at 8GB of RAM (6GB in the base version), while the regular S20s start at 8GB and can be had even with 12GB.
Whether it’s an upgrade, a downgrade, or simply a side-step, the Fan Edition gets an optical fingerprint reader, not the controversial ultra-sonic reader of the other phones in the Galaxy S and Note roster.
Filed strictly under downgrades, however, is the retail bundle.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G unboxing
The S20 FE‘s box is Fan Edition too – it’s not the black packaging of the true flagships. It’s still the same thick cardboard, only white, and the S20 name is printed on the front, just like on the non-FEs. There are many emoji-looking imprints, something you don’t get on the regular S20 or Note20 boxes.
There’s special treatment on the inside too, but not the good kind. The accessories package is rather sparse, and besides the phone, you’re only getting an adapter and a cable to go with it. Even worse, it’s the plain old Adaptive Fast Charging unit that’s Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 compliant – 15W max, USB-A out – lame. Non-fans are treated to a 25W adapter and earphones, but the budget cuts for this one didn’t allow for such frivolous expenses.
With the Galaxy S20 FE context is really important, more important than with most other phones. It’s got a flagship chipset inside and a 120Hz Super AMOLED display with battery life that’s spectacular for the combo, plus a hugely capable camera system, all in an IP68-rated body. Okay, that’s no big deal, there are a lot of phones that can squeeze into the above description. But the key bit is that they’re either a lot more expensive, or have regional appeal. The S20 FE? You can have that everywhere, for well under the price of a true flagship.
For example, in the US, the S20 FE is only available in 5G trim, and while its MSRP is $700, it’s been going for $600 since launch, unlocked. An S20 5G, meanwhile, is $1000 (by the way, so is the S20+ 5G, because US).
In Europe, a 4G-only Fan Edition starts at around €630, with a €100 premium if you want the 5G variant. For the S20+ those numbers are €700+ and €900+ – from reputable retailers, that is. And if you have your eyes set on getting a Snapdragon in a Galaxy S20 on this continent, for one reason or another, it’s really just the Fan Edition 5G.
In India, you can’t officially get the 5G version, but the LTE flavor has a list price of INR50K. Compare that to INR78K for an S20+ and INR70K for an S20.
Yes, we meant pricing when we said context.
The closest you can get to the S20 FE’s price (and get it globally) is the OnePlus 8 – that one goes for $600/€650/INR45K. The Galaxy’s display goes up to 120Hz (90Hz on the OP) and it has a telephoto camera plus a microSD slot. The 8 has longer battery life and faster charging capability, but it’s not like the Galaxy is lacking in this respect.
If you’re in Europe and exploring the possibility for an S20 FE 5G, that puts the Asus Zenfone 7 on the table and it’ll get you wider 5G band coverage. More importantly, it’ll come with a flip up mechanism that brings unmatched main camera versatility to selfies.
A case could be made for the brand new Mi 10T Pro 5G. With a 144Hz display, 108MP main camera and a 5,000mAh battery it’s looking really promising on paper, and early impressions from the ongoing review process indicate it can deliver. This one, with 5G capability, is more affordable than the Galaxy S20 FE with no 5G.
A very smart buy if you’re in India is the iqoo 3. Starting at INR35K for a 4G variant (since there’s no 5G Fan Edition in India anyway), the iqoo 3 matches the S20 FE’s 8GB/128GB and has spectacular battery life, a headphone jack and a decent camera. The Galaxy does counter with other niceties like a microSD slot, IP68 rating, 120Hz display, and… well, overall superior camera. Hm, but you could grab the iqoo 3 5G and have next-gen connectivity, 12 gigs of RAM and 256GB of storage for 10% less than a 4G Fan Edition.
OnePlus 8 • Asus Zenfone 7 ZS670KS • Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro 5G • vivo iQOO 3 5G
Galaxy S20 FE money also buys you a Google Pixel 5, a flagship by name but a midranger at heart with an inferior chipset and a limiting camera system among other deficiencies. It does have wide 5G support, Google’s software and all that. We really wouldn’t, though. And we usually would or at least consider it.
This one is for the fans, isn’t it? But if you aren’t one already, the Galaxy S20 FE may very well convert you – a Samsung flagship at the core at a friendlier price.
A few concessions had to be made for the lighter price tag and it’s almost as if the least expensive one bugs us the most – the charger dates back to the Galaxy Note4 times. The plastic back isn’t as classy as the glass one on higher-end Galaxies, though this could be a con or pro, depending on where you stand. For whatever reason, we’re not finding the FE’s 4K recording up to the S20 standard. And lastly, the selfie camera isn’t the best Samsung can offer.
But that’s about it. The Fan Edition may not be a truly top-tier device by the book, but it’s got the key markings of one with just the right corners cut to meet a more appealing price point. It then represents amazing value – for a Galaxy in particular, but also against competing offerings. It’s got our recommendation.
IP68 rating for dust and water protection, variety of color options.
Smooth 120Hz Super AMOLED display.
Top-class battery life.
Getting the 5G version bags you a Snapdragon-powered Galaxy in Europe.
The ultra wide and tele cameras aren’t the downgrades they appear to be compared to the other S20s, the triple camera as a whole is mostly great.
Bundled with a slow 15W charger.
Plastic back looks fine but is the opposite of ‘premium’.
No AF for selfies, unreliable portrait mode on the front cam.
Galaxy S21 Ultra just won a global award for being the best smartphone
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a great device. It has the top position in our list of best Samsung phones. It’s certainly the Android flagship to beat for all OEMs this year. The handset has now picked up a new award that further highlights its exceptional nature.
Samsung certainly knows a thing or two about making award-winning phones. Many of the company’s flagship handsets have been similarly praised in the past as well.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G has won the Best Smartphone category at the Global Mobile Awards during the Mobile World Congress 2021. The annual GLOMO awards highlight the hardware, software and services that enable innovation in the global mobile industry.
Having been named the Best Smartphone of the past year, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G was regarded by the category judges as the “best Android smartphone Samsung has ever made.” The device delivers exceptional performance backed by innovation across the board. It features a professional grade camera system, a brilliant display and a gorgeous contour cut design. The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is also the first Galaxy S series smartphone to support the S Pen.
While the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G won the coveted award, another Samsung device was also shortlisted for this category. The Galaxy S20 FE was shortlisted because of its incredible value for money. The handset offers flagship-level functionality in a more affordable package.
Samsung fans are now looking forward to the Galaxy S22 which is expected to kick things up a notch. Before it arrives, the Galaxy S21 FE is also on the horizon. Samsung is likely going to unveil the Galaxy S21 FE towards the end of this year.
Android 11 brings much-needed privacy and security features alongside exciting UI changes.
Android 11 continues to push Google’s vision of Android forward. With Android 11, Google is making a few tweaks to refine the platform instead of making wholesale changes. Privacy is a big focus with Android 11, with Google introducing one-time permissions and granular control over what sort of data you share.
There are new features to get excited about as well — the power button menu picked up a massive overhaul, the Conversations view does a great job highlighting your messages, and there are little tweaks throughout the interface that give it an added polish.
Android 11 is powering the best Android phones of 2021, and manufacturers are doing a better job rolling out the update to their 2020 phones. So here’s everything you need to know about all the new features in Android 11, and when your phone will receive the update. We also highlight what’s on the horizon with Android 12; Google just rolled out the first public beta, introducing a radical new UI and exciting new features.
Is Android 11 available for my phone?
Following months of Developer Previews and Betas, Google launched the final build of Android 11 on September 8, 2020. The update was available for Pixel phones on day one as per usual. This year, Android 11 was also available on the same day for select handsets from the likes of OnePlus, Xiaomi, OPPO, and Realme.
That’s a big step forward for Android updates as a whole, but there’s also still plenty of work that’s left to be done. Samsung is now rolling out One UI 3.0 based on Android 11 to its flagships and mid-range devices, but the likes of Motorola, Nokia, Sony, and others are yet to roll out the update.
While that’s certainly annoying, we’re making things as easy as possible for you by tracking any and all Android 11 updates as we learn more about them.
What’s going on with Android 11 on non-Pixel phones?
As noted above, this year’s Android update rollout was a bit different compared to past releases. Instead of Pixels being the only phones treated to the new software, handsets from other select manufacturers were also treated to Android 11 in some form.
Let’s first look at Samsung, which is marketing its Android 11 update as One UI 3.0/3.1. Most of the core design principles remain in place, but there is a lot that’s new to check out. Samsung’s touting things like an improved lock screen, a more customizable always-on display, new accessibility tools, and more.
Samsung has already delivered the Android 11 update to most of its 2020 phones, and is now working its way down the list to its 2019 phones. It shifted to the One UI 3.1 build in recent months that debuted on the Galaxy S21 series.
We should also mention OxygenOS 11, which is the Android 11 update for OnePlus phones. OxygenOS 11 introduced a major design shift for OnePlus, with the company moving away from its stock Android aesthetic and embracing design elements found in Samsung’s One UI interface. OnePlus rolled out the OxygenOS 11 stable build with the 8T, and the Android 11 update is now available for the OnePlus 8 series, 7 series, and set to make its way to the 6/6T. The stable build is also making its way to the Nord shortly.
Nokia has also kicked off its Android 11 update rollout, with the Nokia 8.3 5G picking up the stable update starting February 8. HMD has lagged behind in this area over previous years, but with the Nokia 8.3 now on Android 11, we should see the update rolling out to other Nokia devices in the coming months.
Then there’s Xiaomi. The stable MIUI 12 update based on Android 11 is now rolling out to the Mi 10 series and Redmi Note 9 devices and should make its way to other Xiaomi phones very soon. We’ve rounded up Xiaomi’s Android 11 rollout timeline to make it easier for you to learn when your phone will get the update.
Motorola has kicked off the Android 11 update to the foldable Razr 5G starting April 15. LG has also started to roll out the Android 11 update, with the V60 and the Velvet receiving the stable build. Although LG will no longer make phones, it has stated that it will deliver the Android 12 and Android 13 updates to its current portfolio.
Lastly, we have ColorOS — the custom Android interface used on OPPO smartphones. ColorOS 11 is rolling out now to OPPO devices, and it offers a lot of exciting improvements. In addition to the usual Android 11 goodies, some other highlights include a customizable dark mode, a power-saver mode to extend battery life, and a new feature called OPPO Relax 2.0 that aims to help you unwind and fall asleep at night.
Where can I learn more about Android 11?
We’ll dive into some of Android 11’s biggest features below, but before we do any of that, we should address the elephant in the room — is Android 11 any good? The short answer, yes — it is very, very good, as per our Android 11 review.
Understandably, some people may find Android 11 boring or not very different from Android 10, but the fact of the matter is that Android no longer needs massive overhauls every year the way it used to. The core Android experience is darn good, and Android 11 elevates it even more. All of the conversation improvements are great for streamlining notifications, more powerful permissions are always something we’re happy to see, and the new power button menu adds a ton of extra functionality.
There are a couple of changes we aren’t completely in love with (namely the new multitasking window and Suggested Apps feature for the home screen), but those things are easy to overlook. The vast majority of what Google did with Android 11 was for the better, and the result is software that’s more functional and enjoyable to use.
How do Android 11 chat bubbles work?
As mentioned above, there isn’t one single overhaul or massive change found with Android 11. Instead, it’s a mix of many small tweaks here and there. A few of them focus on improving your messaging experience, with Google offering a lot in this department.
First on the list, we have chat bubbles. Similar to what Facebook’s offered for years with its Messenger app on Android, chat bubbles in Android 11 hide your ongoing conversations in little bubbles on the side of your screen. You can move the bubbles around, and tapping on them reveals that specific conversation. The Bubbles API is available for all messaging apps, with Google encouraging developers to adopt it.
In another effort to make sure you can get to your messages as quickly as possible, Android 11 introduces a dedicated conversation section in your notification shade that offers instant access to any ongoing conversations you have. It also makes it easier for your messaging notifications to stand out from others, ensuring you never miss an important text ever again.
Speaking of messages and notifications, Android 11 makes it possible to send images directly from the notification shade when replying to a message.
What’s new with permissions in Android 11?
Looking back on Android 10, one of its highlights was its improved handling of app permissions. Android 10 gave users more control over applications and what they could access, and Android 11 keeps this train rolling with a wonderful new addition.
Now, when an app asks for permission to use sensitive features like your location, microphone, or camera, you can choose to only grant it access on a one-time basis. The app will be able to use that permission during that instance of you using the app, but the permission is revoked as soon as you leave it. The next time you use the app, and it wants to use that permission, it needs to be granted access again.
Giving apps permission to these aspects of your phone should not be taken lightly, so we’re thrilled to see Google giving users more control over their data like this.
Does Android 11 have a built-in screen recorder?
For the past few Android releases, we’ve been patiently waiting for Google to add a built-in screen recorder. It’s not something you’ll use every day (if ever for some people), but the fact that such a basic function isn’t baked into Android at its core is getting annoying.
Thankfully, Android 11 finally changes that. This Android version does include the feature, accompanied by a clean UI and toggles for recording audio and showing touches with your recording.
There’s not much else to say about this, other than the fact that we’re glad we can finally put this feature request to bed.
Is Android 11 compatible with folding phones?
If there’s been a place of notable advancement in the Android space, it’s been with displays. Companies are doing what they can to offer the best and most exciting smartphone screen possible, and as great as this is, Android needs to catch up with better support for all of these advancements.
Folding phones are proving to be quite popular so far, and especially with devices like the Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola RAZR that have the “flip phone” folding design, Android 11 adds the “hinge angle sensor API” so apps can easily detect the hinge of these folding phones. With this information, developers can adapt their apps to work around the hinge and create unique experiences because of that (like how Google Duo changes its UI when you do a half-fold on the Z Flip).
The other big upgrade displays have seen has to do with faster refresh rates. It’s no longer uncommon for phones to ship with screens that refresh at 90Hz or 120Hz, and Android 11 allows developers to take better advantage of these powerful displays. Developers can select which refresh rate their services should run at, and if the developer determines their app looks best at 90Hz or 60Hz, they can make that decision and have the phone’s display change its refresh rate accordingly when using that app.
How does Android 11 work with 5G?
5G is finally starting to make its way to people, and more and more folks have started connecting to the next generation of wireless data. To ease the transition, Android 11 adds a very important “Dynamic Meterdness API.”
That may not sound very exciting on paper, but it essentially allows phones to take full advantage of all the power 5G brings.
If the API detects that you’re connected to an unlimited 5G signal, you’ll access the highest possible quality for videos and graphics. The potential for 5G is pretty darn cool, and this API ensures you take full advantage of the speeds available to you.
What phone should I get for the best Android 11 experience?
Whether you want to be among the first to get Android 11 or experience it the way Google intended, the Pixel 5 is the phone for you. It’s the newest flagship Pixel currently available, and if you prefer metal over plastic or glass, it’s a hard phone to ignore.
The Pixel 5 is all about delivering a flagship-quality Android experience for a relatively low price, and in these regards, it succeeds tremendously. Google crammed a lot into the Pixel 5, including phenomenal cameras, an OLED display, good performance, long battery life, and more. The design is a little plain, but the phone’s also a great size for one-handed use.
Best of all, the Pixel 5 and other Pixel devices get quarterly Feature Drops from Google, bringing new features to the Android 11 experience without requiring a full-scale platform update.
When is Android 12 coming?
The Android 12 public beta is now live, and the OS is the biggest visual change in Android’s history. Google is rolling out the new Material You design aesthetic, giving you much better customizability and new privacy features.
The key highlight is that you now have a color palette that lets you change system-wide colors to your liking, including the notification shade, volume controls, lock screen, and more. The notification shade has a cleaner design, and there’s a dedicated snooze button that lets you mute notifications with ease.
Android 12 is also set to add scrolling screenshots, but the feature isn’t quite live at this moment. And while the home screen UI itself is unchanged from Android 11, there’s now an option to set a 4×5 grid. You can also easily share Wi-Fi with Nearby Share, making it easier for others to connect to your Wi-Fi network.
The stable version of Android 11 was released a few months ago, and while it isn’t the most revolutionary update we’ve ever seen, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about it. Whether you’re looking forward to the new conversation notifications, chat bubbles for messaging apps, or the upgraded permission handling, it may be a while before you can actually start messing around with all of these software goodies.
The update is available for the Pixels and selects OnePlus phones, while the Galaxy S20 and Note 20 lineups have also received their One UI 3.0 update which is based on Android 11. We’ve rounded up all of the current info to help give you a better idea of when Android 11 will arrive on your device.
The timelines change based on manufacturer and region, but the list below should give you a broad overview of if and when you will get the Android 11 update on your phone.
The phrase “fast Android updates” is usually an oxymoron, but Google‘s lineup of Pixel phones is the exception to that rule. Whenever a new update or security patch is released, Pixels are the first-in-line for that software — making this one of the biggest benefits of owning a Pixel in the first place.
The Android 11 stable update is now available to download on all Pixels starting with the Pixel 2 series. Here’s the full list:
Samsung used to be one of those manufacturers that you couldn’t rely on for good software support, but within the last year, it’s improved significantly. Samsung announced that it’s now committed to three years of major OS updates for all of its flagship phones, starting with the Galaxy S10 series.
The company has been on a tear as of late, releasing the final version of One UI 3.0 (based on Android 11) to the likes of the Galaxy S20, Note 20, and even the Galaxy Z Flip 5G. A few other devices are seeing the update as well that weren’t exactly expected as soon as they have arrived.
We can look forward to all of the following phones to get an Android 11 update:
Galaxy S10 Lite
Galaxy S20 Ultra
Galaxy S20 FE
Galaxy S21 Ultra
Galaxy Note 10 Lite
Galaxy Note 10
Galaxy Note 10+
Galaxy Note 20
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Galaxy Z Fold 2
Galaxy Z Flip 5G
Galaxy A52 / A52 5G
Galaxy A72 / A72 5G
Galaxy A32 5G
Galaxy M31 / M31s
The Galaxy S9 series should be able to run Android 11, but Samsung revealed its roadmap for which devices would see the update. Sadly, the S9 was not on the list. However, the company did commit to bringing security updates to these devices for at least the next year.
As for the speed at which Samsung will roll out Android 11 to its phones, we’re anticipating the update to drop within a few months of the initial launch. Google introduced Android 10 on September 3, 2019. The Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S9 got the update in December and January, and Samsung has been following the same trajectory with Android 11 for its enormous lineup of smartphones, with many devices being updated in late December 2020 or throughout January and into February 2021.
What started out as a small enthusiast brand has transformed itself into a mainstream player in the U.S. smartphone space. OnePlus kicks out some of the best Android phones, and thankfully, it’s quite good when it comes to updating them to new software builds.
OnePlus is rolling out the Android 11 stable update to the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro. There’s a new visual layout in OxygenOS 11, along with a host of exciting features.
Despite seeing a few issues with the official OxygenOS 11 rollout for the OnePlus Nord, it seems that everything is back on track.
Here are the OnePlus devices that will make the switch to Android 11:
OnePlus 9 Pro
OnePlus 8 Pro
OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition
OnePlus 7T Pro
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G
OnePlus 7 Pro
OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition
With the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro making their arrival, that adds a couple of more devices that are running Android 11. Plus, both of those devices will see the update to Android 12 and at least Android 13. Which is more than we can say about the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and Nord N100 which are slated for only one major Android release. Meanwhile, those are still running Android 10, and the company has not given any indication as to when Android 11 will come to the budget-friendly handsets.
OnePlus 6 and OnePlus 6T owners who have been waiting patiently for the arrival of Android 11 will have to keep waiting a little bit longer. The company has confirmed that the Android 11 update won’t be arriving until after the release of Android 12, which is currently slated to launch this fall.
Xiaomi is one of the world’s largest phone manufacturers, and the brand has turned its attention to Western markets in the last two years. Xiaomi sells phones from $100 all the way to $1,200, and it has made a name for itself as the go-to player for value.
The company has already pushed the Android 11 update live for owners of the Xiaomi Mi 10 and has turned its focus onto the Mi 10T and Mi 10T Pro. A new beta program has opened for these devices, as Xiaomi continues to bring the latest version of Android to its vast lineup of smartphones.
Based on a post that showed up on Xiaomi‘s MIUI community forums, the Android 11 update will be going out to 30 models across Xiaomi, POCO, and Redmi product lines. More phones will be added to the list, but for now, these are the Xiaomi phones that will be updated to Android 11:
OPPO is also turning its attention to Western markets. The Chinese manufacturer made a lot of changes to its ColorOS interface over the last 12 months, making it more palatable to a global audience.
OPPO has introduced ColorOS 11 based on Android 11 in closed beta for the Find X2 series and the Reno 3 Pro series, with a stable update slated to arrive before the end of the year.
We have a tentative timeline for when OPPO phones will get the ColorOS 11 beta based on Android 11. These are the OPPO devices that have already received the update to ColorOS 11:
A74 / A74 5G
Find X2 / X2 Pro
Find X3 Pro
Reno 2 F
Reno 4 5G
Reno 4 Pro 4G / Pro 5G
Reno 5 Lite
Reno 5 Pro+
Reno 5 Pro 5G
Reno 5 Z
Note that these are the expected timelines for the beta builds and not the stable update:
From October: Reno 4 Pro 5G
From November: Reno 4 5G, Reno 4 Pro 4G
From December: Reno 4 4G, F11, F11 Pro, F11 Pro Avengers Edition, A9, A92, A72, A52, Find X2 Pro Automobili Lamborghini Edition
From Q1 2021: Reno 10x Zoom, Reno 2, Reno 2F, Reno 2Z, Reno 3 Pro 5G, A91, F15
From Q2 2021: Reno, Reno Z, A5 2020, A9 2020
When will my Realme phone get Android 11?
Realme is also doing a closed Android 11 beta based on Realme UI 2.0 for the X50 Pro. Realme UI 2.0 comes with a host of new features, but at this moment, there’s no indication of when the stable build will be made available.
We don’t know how many Realme phones will be updated to Android 11, but most devices released in the last 18 months should qualify for the update. Here’s the list:
Although Huawei phones aren’t very common/popular in the United States, the manufacturer gets a lot of attention in other parts of the world.
Huawei‘s Android 11 update will take the form of EMUI 11, and the company has finally shared its roadmap for what devices will receive this update. The list is surprisingly long, with even some tablets getting in on the Android 11 action.
There are a lot of Huawei phones we expect to get Android 11/EMUI 11, including:
Huawei Mate 40 series
Huawei P40 series
Huawei P30 series
Huawei Mate 30 series
Huawei Mate 20 series
Huawei Mate X/Xs
Huawei Nova 5T
Regarding how fast those updates will be pushed out, you’ll likely have to wait a few months. The Huawei P30 and P30 Pro received Android 10 in mid-November, shortly followed by the Mate 20 series.
This past year has been an exciting one for Motorola. The company is still churning out high-quality budget devices, and alongside those, we’re seeing Moto‘s return to the flagship space. However, it’s still straggling behind in an area that’s been a pain point for years — software updates.
After staying mum for a little while, Motorola finally revealed which of its latest devices will be receiving an update to Android 11, and the list is as follows:
Motorola RAZR / RAZR 5G
Moto G Stylus
Moto G Power
Moto G Fast
Moto G 5G / 5G Plus
Moto G Pro
Motorola One Fusion / Fusion+
Motorola One Hyper
Motorola One Zoom
Motorola One Action
Motorola One Macro
Motorola One 5G
Moto G8 Plus
Moto G8 Power
Moto G40 Fusion
Moto G9 Play
Moto G9 Plus
Moto G9 Power
Lenovo K12 Note
That’s a solid list at first glance, but it comes with a big caveat. For every phone but the Edge+ and RAZR, Android 11 is the one and only software update they’ll receive. There’s also the fact that Motorola took its time with the Android 10 update, with the platform version not coming to the Moto G7 until May 11, 2020.
Keeping with the theme of manufacturers that often drop the ball for software updates, we have LG. With no update roadmap in place, here are the devices we think will get Android 11:
Android 10 was made available for the LG G8 in December 2019, with the LG V50 starting its Android 10 update in February 2020. We don’t consider that to be a fast turnaround time, but it is better than what we usually see from LG.
Our fingers are crossed that LG gets even faster with rolling out Android 11, but we’ll have to wait and see if that pans out.
Nokia has announced its Android 11 update schedule, with the first slate of devices set to receive the update by the end of 2020. While Nokia’s devices fall under the Android One initiative, phones like the Nokia 7.2 and Nokia 9 PureView won’t get the Android 11 update until Q2 2021.
After officially rolling out Android 11 to the Nokia 8.3 5G, the company’s Chief Product Officer took to Twitter, suggesting that the rollout would be coming much quicker than expected for the rest of Nokia’s devices. Only time will tell if that’s to be believed, but Nokia seems to be sticking to its timeline that was laid out late in 2020.
The Samsung Galaxy A11 is a budget-friendly smartphone that features a 6.4-inch HD+ “Infinity-O” display, 13MP + 5MP + 2MP triple rear cameras, and a single 8MP punch-hole selfie camera.
It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 chipset with 3GB of RAM and Android 10 OS. There’s also a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, dual-SIM 4G LTE connectivity, and 32GB of expandable storage.
A 4,000mAh battery powers the device with support for 15W fast charging via USB Type-C.
6.4″ 720×1560 LCD
32GB, with microSD expansion
13MP f/1.8 main
5MP f/2.2 wide-angle
2MP f/2.4 depth camera
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi (dual-band), USB Type-C, Bluetooth 4.2, 3.5mm headphone jack, Fingerprint sensor
163.1 x 76.3 x 8.0, 177g
Samsung has so many budget phones that it can be hard to keep track of them all. One of the company’s more recent releases is the Galaxy A11, a low-end device with an MSRP of $179.99. However, the sub-$200 price bracket is a highly competitive one, and the Galaxy A11 is fighting the new Moto E, Nokia 2.3, and even other Samsung-made phones for your hard-earned cash.
The Galaxy A11 sits near the bottom of Samsung‘s phone lineup in the United States, alongside last year’s Galaxy A10e and the Galaxy A01. It’s a capable smartphone, but depending on what features you care about, there are better options out there.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
Samsung‘s budget phones mostly look the same, and the Galaxy A11 is no exception. The device has a plastic exterior, coated with a glossy finish that easily attracts smudges and dirt. I get that the idea is to emulate the look and feel of glass, but I would have really preferred a simple matte coating.
The rear cover attracts fingerprints and dust very easily
The back of the phone also has a fingerprint sensor near the top, which worked just fine in my testing. There are also three rear cameras, including a main 13MP lens, a 5MP wide-angle camera, and a 2MP depth sensor. A flash is located to the right of the camera array.
The Galaxy A11 has a 3.5mm audio jack on the top, which is (thankfully) common in phones around this price, but what isn’t common is the A11’s modern USB Type-C port for charging. There are still plenty of sub-$200 phones in the United States using the older microUSB connector, so Samsung gets brownie points there.
At 6.4 inches across, the Galaxy A11‘s screen slightly larger than the display on the Galaxy S20 (6.2″), but smaller than the screen on the Galaxy S20+ (6.7″). While the A11’s panel isn’t full HD, at only 1560×720, the screen looks decent enough watching for YouTube videos and scrolling through social media. There’s no massive notch for the camera, like on the Galaxy A10e or A01 — just a hole on the top-left of the display.
Powering the phone is a Snapdragon 450 chipset, paired with 2GB RAM and 32GB of storage. That’s not a lot of memory to work with, and the Snapdragon 450 is three years old at this point. Even though the chipset is capable of operating in 64-bit mode, Android on the Galaxy A11 runs in 32-bit mode to reduce memory usage. That means no Pokémon Go.
The Galaxy A11 is also missing NFC, so you can’t use Google Pay, Samsung Pay, or any other contactless payment applications. It’s still rare for sub-$200 phones in the United States to come with NFC support, but that doesn’t make the omission any less frustrating. The Google Nexus S from 10 years ago had NFC — it should be basic functionality in every smartphone now.
Software, performance, battery
The Galaxy A11 comes with Samsung‘s custom version of Android 10, also known as One UI 2.1. That means the software experience is fairly similar to what you get on flagship Galaxy S and Note smartphones, minus the features that require specific hardware. There are all the usual Android 10 features (full-screen navigation, improved notifications, system-wide dark theme, etc.), plus the functionality Samsung adds on top.
If you’ve used a Samsung phone at any point in the past few years, you’ll feel right at home on the Galaxy A11. Samsung still makes duplicates of Google’s applications that you can’t fully remove (or even disable, in some cases), and you can’t use third-party launchers with the new gesture navigation, but overall I don’t have many complaints with One UI.
However, if you buy the Galaxy A11 from a carrier, prepare for a lot of bloatware. My review unit came from Boost Mobile, and over 15 third-party apps were automatically installed out of the box. Some of them, like Boost’s FastNEWS app, were even sending spam push notifications.
The Galaxy A11‘s performance is about what you would expect for a cheap phone. Apps can take a few seconds to start up, and there are slowdowns when the phone is waking from sleep, but day-to-day use isn’t outright horrible. Battery life, at least, is excellent — the large 4,000mAh battery should last most people over two days.
Samsung’s One UI software might not be to everyone’s liking, but it does provide plenty of features over stock Android. Some carriers are adding lots of pre-installed apps on the A11, though.
A USB Type-C port isn’t too common on sub-$200 phones, at least in the United States.
THE NOT SO GOOD
The glossy plastic rear cover is gross.
The Galaxy Nexus from a decade ago had NFC, not having it in any Android smartphone more than $50 is just ridiculous at this point.
The US version of the Galaxy A11 doesn’t seem to be available unlocked, so you’re stuck using carrier models.
Samsung is best known for its big, powerful, and obscenely expensive phones. But what does $250 buy you in the Galaxy lineup these days? Getting your head wrapped around Samsung‘s budget offerings is an understandably difficult task given their confusing naming scheme and year over year model refreshes, but the Galaxy A21 is one of the latest price-conscious phones from the Korean manufacturer. It’s available on a number of US carriers now, including Boost, which is the version of the phone we reviewed. While the A21 offers a large screen and decent battery life, the phone’s overall performance and cameras (for the price) should give budget-conscious big-phone enthusiasts pause.
The Galaxy A21 is humongous — it’s a little taller and wider than even the S20 Ultra (although the Ultra is thicker). The A21 doesn’t share its expensive cousin’s luxurious screen-to-body ratio, though; whereas the S20 Ultra sports a 6.9-inch display, the A21 packs a marginally less ample 6.5-inch screen. Its bezels are hardly distracting, though, especially in this price segment. Also not distracting: the hole-punch selfie camera tucked into the top left corner.
The screen’s an IPS LCD panel that’s nice and vivid, but it’s only 720p — which is pretty rough at this size, shaking out to 270 pixels per inch. It also doesn’t get nearly bright enough to comfortably use outdoors on a sunny day. There’s a little bit of a shadow around the hole punch selfie cam, too, though it’s not particularly irksome when you’re not looking for it.
Volume and power keys live along the right edge of the phone, and while the power button is at a fine height, the volume controls sit way too high on the phone’s plastic frame. Unless you have particularly long feelers, you’ll have to shimmy the phone down in your hand to tweak the volume. The rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is similarly out of reach — when holding the phone in a natural position, my index finger just barely reaches the bottom of the sensor. This is not a phone for the small-handed.
The phone’s bottom edge has a USB-C port, a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack (hooray), and a single down-firing speaker. The speaker actually sounds okay, all things considered. It’s not as tinny as I expected, but it’s situated to the left of the USB port, which makes it exceptionally easy to cover when you hold the phone in landscape.
Like its frame, the A21‘s rear panel is plastic. I have nothing against plastic bodies in phones; glass is delicate and expensive. But the plastic Samsung uses here has a glossy, reflective finish, which means it catches and shows oil from your hands extremely well and stands up poorly to anything that might feel like scratching it. Cases aren’t hard to find, but the phone doesn’t come with one — just a 12W power brick and a USB-A-to-C cable.
Software, performance, and battery life
Samsung‘s OneUI skin is a known quantity at this point. But in case you haven’t used a Galaxy phone since TouchWiz: it’s fine. Samsung’s suite of apps — the dialer, the calculator, the gallery, et cetera — are all lacking the design finesse seen in their Google counterparts and Samsung’s settings menus can be a little nebulous. But on the whole, OneUI is mature and thoughtful. It doesn’t have any grating quirks to sink the experience, and I didn’t mind living in it during my time with the A21.
Unfortunately, the phone is absolutely packed with bloatware. Facebook, Amazon apps, Microsoft apps, two weather apps, and no fewer than four music streaming apps all come preloaded, among others. Boost Mobile itself also had its way with my review unit, stuffing it with junk like a “secure Wi-Fi” utility — which costs an extra $2 a month to enable, as repeated notifications will remind you. There’s no unlocked variant of the phone, and I have to assume other carriers are more or less just as heavy-handed.
Considering the A21‘s Mediatek Helio P35 processor and three gigs of RAM, you probably wouldn’t expect it to be particularly snappy — and you’d be right. Multitasking is a bit of a slog, but generally speaking, performance was never bad enough to frustrate me outside of the odd occasion where an app would take a few beats to open. The phone visibly struggles under the weight of more demanding games like Asphalt 9: Legends, but simpler titles like Mario Kart Tour run just fine.
Battery life is solid. Once over two days of sporadic mixed use, I managed to eke out about five and a half hours of screen time. Considering that time included gaming, streaming videos over Wi-Fi and 4G, taking photos, and idling for nine or so hours overnight, that’s really impressive.
The Galaxy A21 comes with a quad camera setup, as prominent branding next to the sensors eagerly points out. There’s a 16.1-megapixel primary shooter, an eight-megapixel ultrawide, a two-megapixel macro, and a two-megapixel depth sensor. The two latter cameras are complete junk. A lot of manufactures have been taking this tack lately: jam in a couple of additional cameras and boast about how many you’ve got. I wish they’d stop.
Macro performance (see above) is straight-up bad. Images are soft and colors are skewed even in ideal lighting. You’d be better off cropping a photo from the primary shooter.
Considering the A21‘s price, though, I don’t hate photos from the main and wide cameras. They can produce some passable shots with good light, which is about all you could ask for in the budget segment. But they do struggle everywhere else. Scenes with high dynamic range are particularly tough, uniformly exhibiting either blown out highlights or crushed blacks. Low light photography is also a no-go.
Buy it if:
You want a big phone and your carrier makes it easy for you to grab this one.
You don’t need a powerful device.
Don’t buy it if:
You can save up for a better phone in the $350-400 range.
The Galaxy Note 20 series is finally official. Samsung introduced the Note 20 and Note20 Ultra last night and now we’re going hands-on with the ultimate S-Pen-packing Galaxy for 2020.
Similarly to the S20 family from the spring, the Ultra comes with exclusive all-out hardware not available on the vanilla model. In a somewhat bizarre turn of events that includes the 120Hz 1440p+ display, while the Note 20 has a plain 60Hz 1080p panel. Earlier this year even the smaller S20 had the high refresh rate and the extra pixels.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra retains exclusivity on some of the camera bits too. The periscope telephoto, is something you won’t be able to get on the Note 20, though it’s a different module than the one on the S20 Ultra. For zooming in, the Note 20 has the same 64MP non-telephoto telephoto that stirred some controversy on the S20 and S20+ for the way it was marketed.
The 108MP Nonacell primary cam is also an Ultra-only feature and this appears to have been carried over from the S20 Ultra. Same thing with the smaller Note’s 12MP main shooter that you can find on the S20 and S20+.
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G specs
Body: 164.8×77.2×8.1mm, 208g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), stainless steel frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins); Colors: Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White.
Front camera: 10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.2″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF; Dual video call, Auto-HDR.
Video capture:Rear camera: 8K@24fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS & OIS; Front camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30fps.
Battery: 4500mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging, Reverse wireless charging 9W.
Misc: Fingerprint (under display, ultrasonic), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer; NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent); Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), ANT+, Bixby natural language commands and dictation; Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified); S Pen Stylus, 9ms latency (Bluetooth integration, accelerometer, gyro).
The Ultra is protected by the brand new Gorilla Glass Victus front and back and both phones get a stainless steel frame – that’s a first on a Samsung smartphone. Oddly enough, the Note 20 comes with a plastic back – that one we hadn’t seen in a while on a high-end Samsung handset.
Both Notes get the S Pen too, at least this much is still guaranteed. It’s been moved to the left of the phone now, a major change from all previous generations. It comes with added gestures and it’s got improved latency for an even more pen-on-paper-like feel – on the Ultra, that is, the vanilla model doesn’t get that either.
Galaxy Note20 Ultra hands-on
The Note20 Ultra and Note 20 sit atop the Galaxy lineup and as such offer premium build quality and design. Having said that, even here the Ultra has an edge on the vanilla model.
Both phones get a stainless steel frame, a new development for Samsung high-end phones after sticking with aluminum for their skeleton needs until now. Apple has had steel on iPhones since the X, now Samsung joins in too.
Where the two differ is in the material of both front and back. The Note20 Ultra is where Gorilla Glass Victus debuts and Corning’s latest should be safer than GG6 in the event of impact while also offering improved scratch resistance. It’s two sheets of Victus on the Ultra – both front and back, while the camera is protected by Gorilla Glass 5.
Gorilla Glass 5 is what your Note 20‘s display is covered by, but that’s not what’s raising eyebrows quite as much as the choice of material for the back – the Note 20‘s rear panel is plastic. Reinforced polycarbonate, as Samsung calls it, and while we’re not entirely opposed to plastic-backed phones, it does sound out of place on a $1000 phone.
Victus or polycarbonate, both phones have this satin matte finish so they ward off fingerprints nicely. We welcome that decision, glossy Galaxies are practically impossible to keep clean. Thankfully, the IP68 rating for dust and water protection is a common feature too as plastic is able to keep the elements out just as well as glass.
At launch, the handsets will be available in three colors each, the Mystic Bronze hero colorway shared between them. The Note 20 also gets Gray and Green, while the Ultra will be available in Black and White – all of them Mystic, as the official naming will have it. Mind you, color options will vary by region with most markets getting two of the three available at launch.
The camera assembly of the Note20 Ultra is quite the chunky one, though having seen the S20 Ultra, we knew it was coming. It feels like this one sticks out even more and that would make sense – after all, the Note20 Ultra is a good 0.7mm thinner than the S20 Ultra at 8.1mm vs. 8.8mm so the camera island gets more prominence. If anything, it’ll be even easier to support the handset by propping your index finger against the camera bump’s edge than it was on the S20U, thus saving your pinky some heavy lifting.
The Note 20 proper has a sizeable camera cluster too, but it’s simply not of the same scale. Both phones wobble on a flat surface, for what that’s worth.
Looking at the front, Galaxy Note20 Ultra follows in the footsteps of the Note10 Plus from last year – a large rectangular slab of a phone with sharp corners and a very technical, no-nonsense look. It’s, in fact, precisely as wide as the Note10 Plus, though a couple of millimeters taller. The S20 Ultra, in contrast, is two further millimeters taller, but a millimeter narrower – so the Note20 Ultra is more squarish.
The Ultra’s display is curved to the sides – ever so slightly, and only at the absolute edges, but it’s curved nonetheless. It’s got almost nonexistent bezels too and the tiniest of punch holes and that’s certainly the closest Samsung has come to a ‘full-screen display’. It will probably pose issues for handling, if you’re one to need extra space to rest your fingers and/or hate curved screens. That’ll be a task for the review to examine, but even in a quick hands-on session it’s clear that for sheer ‘wow’ factor the Note20 Ultra’s display is only bested by foldables.
The Note20 non-Ultra, meanwhile, has more ordinary appeal, to put it this way. Its display is flat, so there’s that, and it’s got a somewhat thicker black border all around. The punch hole in the display is also that extra bit bigger. It’s not bad-looking by any stretch, but it’s no Ultra.
We were particularly vocal last year when the Note10 and Note10 Plus arrived with the power button on the left side, as opposed to the right where it had always been. It was a one-off type of thing, never to be seen on other Galaxies since.
Starting with late 2019 models and continuing into 2020, the volume rocker got relocated to the right, joining the power button on those non-Note10 models – a decision much easier to live with. All of this is to serve as context for us to say that the Note20s have the power button on the right, where it should be, and we’re happy. Of course, our outrage last year was a bit overdramatic as you get used to where a button is in no time, but it’s nice that you won’t need to this time around.
But hear this – the S Pen slot on the Note 20 generation is on the left side of the phone when looking at the display – it’s either that or the Power button it seems.
The S Pen has always been on the right, and it’s a natural position for pulling the stylus out with the right hand, which you’ll then use for writing or drawing, or camera remote, or Air actions (unlikely as that last bit may be). On the other hand, if you’re left-handed, it may very well be the best Galaxy Note to date.
In all fairness, however, we didn’t experience any notable difficulties getting at the S Pen on the Note20 Ultra with either hand. We had a minor argument at the office whether the left-side button placement on the Note10 was related to the S Pen’s position inside the phone and if the internal design was unable to accommodate both on the same side. By the looks of it, that must have been the case.
Ambidextrous Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra
The S Pen itself is virtually identical to the one we got last year. It’s got the clicky top, the button on the side, and the capacitor, gyro, and accelerometer within to enable the remote actions. The stylus also matches the paintjob of the phone it comes out of, though we did enjoy the contrast of the blue S Pen on the Aura Glow Note10s – or as we call that one ‘motor oil in a puddle’ for its rainbow light effects.
Circling back to the Ultra vs. non-Ultra differences, only the ultimate S Pen-wielding Galaxy supports storage expansion via microSD, while the vanilla Note 20 has to make do with what it has from the box. It’s one of the easier downgrades to swallow given that it was the case with the smaller Note10 last year too – so in way, it was expected. Then there’s the matter that the Note 20 comes with decent 128GB storage in its base 5G version and you can bump that to 256GB, while the LTE variant is 256GB only. Still, if all three S20s could have expandable storage, maybe both Note20s could?
One difference on last year’s models that was also seen on the S20 family but is now gone is fast charging support. The Note10+ and the S20 Ultra could be charged faster with optional 45W bricks, while the plainer models only went as high as 25W. Well, the Note20 Ultra and the Note 20 both only go as high as 25 watts. It’s hardly a big deal since the 45W adapter had to be purchased separately and it didn’t bring the kind of speed advantage the numbers would suggest.
The charging situation may be a welcome bit of parity between the Note20s.
Display and S Pen
Displays have always been among the key selling points of Samsung phones – after all, it is a leading manufacturer of OLED panels in these sizes. The Galaxy Note20 pair is no different in this respect. Well, sort of.
Both panels boast a crazy high peak brightness of 1,500nits, a 25% increase over the S20s from just six months ago. That’s useful for displaying HDR10+ content, which they support, but will also be helpful for outdoor visibility – not that the previous ones weren’t great at that, it’s just that the Note20s will be better.
Of course, don’t expect to light up the entire screen with pure white and get all those nits – OLEDs scale brightness depending on the number of pixels being lit. We’ll certainly be doing our own testing, when we get a review unit in our office.
And that’s where the common traits of the two Notes’ displays end. You see, it’s only the Ultra that supports the 120Hz rate, and it’s only the Ultra that has a QHD resolution. Meanwhile, the vanilla Note 20‘s specsheet reads 60Hz and FullHD, and that’s… disappointing.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra’s 6.9-inch display has a 1440x3088px resolution with 496ppi density in the somewhat unorthodox 19.3:9 aspect ratio. It’s branded as Dynamic AMOLED 2X, Samsung’s marketing speak for high refresh rate and the Note20 Ultra does go all the way up to 120Hz, complete with 240Hz touch sampling.
The HRR is done differently this time around than it was on the S20s, where you could pick between 60Hz and 120Hz and the phone would stay locked at those refresh rates regardless of what you’re doing on it.
Here, you get two options – Standard (60Hz) and Adaptive, and that Adaptive mode is what’s having us all excited. The Note20 Ultra will be able to dynamically adjust the refresh rate based on the activity you’re in and the content being displayed, thus striking an optimal balance between smoothness and battery life. We’ll be sure to examine it in more detail come review time.
What’s abundantly clear already, however, is that you still don’t get to the run the Note20 Ultra in its full resolution at its maximum refresh rate. Adaptive mode only works in 1080p, 1440p only works in 60Hz.
In more uplifting developments, the Note20 Ultra adopting a 120Hz screen enhances the S Pen experience. Samsung says it’s improved the latency with which the phone recognizes and displays your S Pen input and it’s now down to 9ms from the old Note’s 42ms, making for an even more paper-like feel.
The Note 20 doesn’t match that number, however – its latency stands at 26ms. It’s still an improvement over the outgoing model, but in what we feel is becoming a theme, it’s no Ultra. Samsung talked about ‘AI-based point prediction’ which aims to anticipate the trajectory in which you’ll be moving the S Pen, and that could be more at play here.
Both phones do get more Air actions, an S Pen functionality introduced with the ‘active’ stylus on the Note9. These are called Anywhere actions and work across the UI as opposed to the limited availability in the ones we had until now. Five new actions are introduced, and you’ll able to launch Smart Select and Screen write with two of them, while the other three serve for basic navigation – Back, Home, and Recent tasks. We’re not entirely sure someone would really use those, and in the limited time we had with the phones, we couldn’t get them to work reliably. Maybe we’ll give them another chance in the in-depth review. Solid maybe.
On a related topic to the S Pen, Samsung Notes has gotten an overhaul for this Note generation. It comes with improved handwriting recognition, straightening of already written text, new background colors and templates, PDF imports, audio-synced annotations, PowerPoint integration and syncing between different devices and platforms. If you do actually use your Note for keeping handwritten notes, this could offer a nice boost to your workflow.
The Note 20 pair comes with Android 10 and OneUI 2.5 out of the box. That’s a newer version of Samsung’s Android overlay than we’ve seen on previous Galaxies, and while there’s little immediately recognizable as new, we’re certain there will be small bits we notice when we delve deeper. Perhaps more importantly, the Notes are promised to get three major OS updates – so expect to see Android 13 on the Note 20 in 2022.
The Galaxy Note 20 and Note20 Ultra have finally arrived after much anticipation and the usual months-long stream of leaks. The S Pen flagships don’t bring massive surprises and will remain high on shortlists for Samsung fans, there’s no doubt about that.
What’s taking us longer to wrap our heads around is the significant segmentation between the Ultra and the non-Ultra – it wasn’t quite so prominent last year with the Note10 and Note10 Plus, and even the S20s from the spring had less of a gap in features. Is it Samsung trying to nudge you into buying the more expensive Ultra or is a way of getting the S Pen into more hands by offering two products that differ in more than just size?
We’ll try to answer this and many other questions once we get to properly review the two phones. For the time being, we can say that pre-orders will be made in this office, though seemingly not quite as many as last year.
This year, the Galaxy S21 series came earlier than expected, and it brought a slew of changes. The Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus now feature lower-res OLEDs, no microSD expansion, and no chargers in the box. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is what the original Ultra should have been – jam-packed with high-end features, no asterisks, no fine print. Still no charger, though.
The original S20 Ultra was supposed to be the greatest Galaxy to date, but it fell short of that. You could enjoy a 120Hz refresh rate, but only at a lower 1080p resolution. The telephoto camera was advertised as 5x, but it was, in fact, 4x, and let’s not even start with the Space Zoom. The ultrawide camera had a great sensor, but it couldn’t do macro shots due to the lack of autofocus. The battery was large, but battery life was poor. You get the point.
Well, the Galaxy S21 Ultra makes up for everything. It has a large 1440p screen with native 120Hz support, adaptive at that. It also brings two dedicated telephoto snappers – one for 3x and another one for 10x optical zoom. Its ultrawide camera does feature autofocus, which works for macro shots. The new Ultra also offers ultrawide-band support, and surprise, surprise, S-Pen support as well. This has to be the first non-Note Galaxy phone to offer that – one for the history books.
There is no S-Pen socket on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and neither is there a bundled stylus. But you can use any S-Pen that’s been in circulation, as well as the newly announced S-Pen for S21 Ultra and the upcoming S-Pen Pro. Samsung has also opened the S-Pen to third-party companies that make Wacom-based styluses, so you can expect even more options in the upcoming months. Finally, you can store the stylus in your pocket or opt for some S21 Ultra cases with dedicated pen holders.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the only S21 model to come with a 1440p OLED screen, unlike the previous generation. And even better, it now supports 120Hz at that high resolution, so you don’t need to choose between high res and high refresh rate. This new Ultra screen also supports Adaptive Refresh Rate that can vary between 10Hz and 120Hz, just like the Note20 Ultra.
The latest Galaxy bears the latest chipset, of course. All international models use the new Exynos 2100 SoC by Samsung(like the one we are reviewing), while the USA and China will be getting devices running on the Snapdragon 888 instead. The RAM has been bumped to 12GB, and there is a limited 16GB model, too.
The camera has seen a welcome upgrade. The wide snappers remain relatively the same – a 108MP shooter with f/1.8 26mm lens and a 12MP cam with f/2.2 13mm optics, but now it features autofocus. The zoom system has been completely revamped, though – it now features two 10MP imagers, one for 3x optical zoom and another for 10x optical zoom via a 240mm periscopic lens.
Other flagship tidbits worth mentioning – a 40MP selfie eye with AF, stereo speakers, Wi-Fi 6e, 5G connectivity, ultrawide-band support short-range communication, fast wired and wireless charging for the large 5,000mAh battery.
This year isn’t off to a good start for the fans of the rich retail bundles, though. Like Apple and Xiaomi, Samsung has removed the chargers and headphones from the retail boxes and ships each Galaxy S21 only with a cable.
Let’s take a deep dive in the specs now.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G specs at a glance:
Body: 165.1×75.6×8.9mm, 227g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), aluminum frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins), Stylus support.
Front camera: 40 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.8″, 0.7µm, PDAF.
Video capture:Rear camera: 8K@24fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30fps.
Battery: 5000mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging 4.5W.
Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, ultrasonic); Stereo speakers; NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent); Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), ANT+, Bixby natural language commands and dictation, Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified), Ultra Wideband (UWB) support.
The Note10 was the one to retire the 3.5mm jack, and now the Galaxy S21 is retiring the microSD slot. Samsung makes up for that with a minor price difference between the 128GB and the 256GB models – just €50. It’s up to you to decide whether this compensation is enough, though.
There are some omissions, too, this time – inside the retail box.
Unboxing the Galaxy S21 Ultra
Well, well, well, how the tables have turned?! It was just last October when Samsung mocked Apple for not including chargers with the latest iPhones. And a mere two months later, Samsung was caught scrubbing these jabs off the internet in preparation for the launch of its own charger-less flagship.
It’s not the first time Samsung had done this, is it? We still remember how the audio jack mockeries disappeared overnight, foreshadowing the jack-less Galaxy Note 10.
So, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Samsung phone to come without a charger or headphones. The maker joins Apple and Xiaomi in a quest to make the planet cleaner, and this ought to make a positive impact eventually. It just requires one small sacrifice from you, the user – you need to buy a USB-C charger if you don’t own one and keep it for the long haul.
The thin Galaxy S21 Ultra box contains a USB-C-to-C cable and the phone. That’s it.
The Galaxy S21 pre-orders do include various freebies such as a 25W charger, Galaxy Buds, and even a SmartTag, so you aren’t without options. Samsung switched to USB-C chargers since the Note10 and S20 generations, so the chance of you having one isn’t that big, and it’s a good thing you can now grab it for free.
Our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also came with one very thin protector, almost invisible in fact, applied in the factory. It’s plastic and will be good only against scratches, but it’s still better than nothing.
The new Galaxy Ultra impresses with three key features, and it will be remembered for those novelties – the new 120Hz Quad HD OLED and its S-Pen support, and the versatile quad-camera on the back that relies on real optics instead of some hybrid trickery.
Yes, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the all-powerful Galaxy right now, and that alone is enough to sell it. It’s the Ultra model – meaning there is no better phone on the market today. Indeed, there isn’t.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Pro isn’t even official yet, Huawei is yet to unveil the P50, and we are yet to see recent Huawei devices with Google app integration. The OnePlus 9 is unannounced as well, while the next iPhones are far ahead in the future.
Speaking of iPhones, Samsung really outdid itself by dropping the charger immediately after Apple’s done it. It could have waited a year or announced it a year ahead to allow a transition period, but it’s Samsung – some things are done in the heat of the moment. Like saving the planet, for example.
And that’s the reason while the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max comes as our first suggestion. The Max costs as much as the Ultra, and subjectively, it’s the prettier and supposedly sturdier device. The iPhone also impresses with performance and LiDAR scanner if you have the use of it, that is. The camera performance is somewhat on par with the Galaxy as far as primary and ultrawide shooters are concerned. The iPhone cannot match the zoom capabilities of the Ultra, plus it runs on iOS, so if you’ve invested in Android apps, there are two major deal-breakers right there.
Thinking about the camera, we just can’t but mention the elusive Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra (about $950). It’s officially sold only in China, but if you value a complete package with an outstanding camera – this is the one, folks. It has a 120Hz 1080p OLED, Snapdragon 865 chip, and stereo speakers to get you started, but we found its quad-camera (0.5x + 1x + 2x + 5x) to be among the best on the market as far as photo quality is concerned. This Ultra also comes with a 120W adapter, which recharges its flat battery for 27 minutes, so there is that, too.
Another limited-edition phone that comes to mind is the Google-less Huawei P40 Pro+. It has a 1200p 90Hz OLED and one of the best camera configurations money can get you on a handset – 50MP primary, 8MP 3x, 8MP 10x, 40MP ultrawide, and 3D ToF. Indeed, that’s a similar setup to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and Huawei’s cameras save some incredible photos. The P40 Pro+ stock is scarce but not that hard to find. It costs about €800/£900 – meaning it is cheaper than the Ultra. Then again, no Google on it.
Back to more popular and easier to find choices – the OnePlus 8 Pro seems relevant even 10 months after its launch. It solved the 120Hz Quad HD OLED conundrum way before Samsung; it runs on a powerful Snapdragon 865 chip; and it offers a reasonably good quad-camera on the back with a 48MP primary, 8MP 3x tele, 48MP ultrawide, and a 5MP color filter cam intended for some artsy shots. The OnePlus 8 Pro runs on the especially smooth Oxygen launcher and is €500 cheaper than the Galaxy. Sure, it can’t offer 20% more powerful chip, 10x zoom and S-Pen support, but do these cost €500? You decide.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max • Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra • Huawei P40 Pro+ • OnePlus 8 Pro
If you’ve stayed with us that long, you’ve probably noticed we are conflicted about this Galaxy S21 Ultra. It is the perfect smartphone on paper, even without a microSD expansion and a bundled charger. But we’ve had ups and downs while using it for the past week. By the end of this review, we realized the good stuff far outweighs the bad, and most of what we didn’t like could be fixed with an upcoming update.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra absolutely deserves its Ultra insignia – it has the best OLED screen with Wacom layer at that, the most powerful hardware, one of the largest batteries, good stereo speakers, and pretty advanced camera system. We were thoroughly impressed by the screen performance and the battery endurance, like the UI and the S-Pen features, and saw many good photos and videos saved by the various snappers.
We aren’t huge fans of the new industrial design – mostly how the camera on the back was made. The phone is large and slippery, making it very uncomfortable to handle without a case. The photo quality wasn’t always flagship-grade – Samsung needs to tone down its image processing even if it results in some noise or lesser dynamic range. We’ve always preferred images with natural-looking processing, and so far, both Apple and Samsung have failed us. Here’s hoping that at least Samsung does something in this direction with a software update.
If you are after the best and newest phone on the market – look no further – that’s the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It has its issues, but the overwhelmingly good features elsewhere and a patch or two will make up for everything. Samsung is definitely off to a good start this year with its Ultra!
The best OLED screen, 1000+nits, 1440p, 120Hz, HDR10+, S-Pen.
Phenomenal fingerprint scanner performance.
Outstanding battery life, fast to top-up the 5,000mAh battery.
Stereo speakers with good loudness.
The fastest Android chipset, 5G, Wi-Fi 6E, Ultra-Wide Band.
OneUI is super smooth, clutter-free, S-Pen support.
The daylight photos are good across the board even if a bit overprocessed.
The selfies are excellent.
The 4K30 videos are great.
Somewhat bulky and slippery.
The image processing needs further refinements.
We don’t miss the microSD slot, but some of you might.