Samsung is probably the best-known manufacturer of Android devices on the planet — you’ve likely known some less-tech-savvy people who refer to Android phones on the whole as “Galaxies.” That’s both because its devices are generally competent and well marketed, and also because the South Korean giant makes roughly a billion models at every conceivable price point. So, if you’re looking to buy, how do you choose? Here, we break down your options — from super-premium to the bare necessities.
Premium: $700 and up
It probably won’t come as a surprise that, when it comes to getting the best phones Samsung offers, regardless of price, the flagship S21 line is your best bet. This is especially true considering there’s been no Note phone this year. But there are some differences between the three S21 models beyond size.
Galaxy S21 Ultra
If you’re after peak Samsung in 2021, the Galaxy S21 Ultra should be your go-to. It’s a huge son of a gun, with a 1440p, 120Hz, 6.8-inch screen, and it’s fast, packing the latest Snapdragon 888 processor and a minimum of 12 gigabytes of RAM. In our review, we found that its cameras were fantastic, too. David had especially high praise for its 10x telephoto lens, calling it “an absolute gem.”
It’s expensive, though, with an MSRP starting at $1,200 and going all the way up to $1,380 for the highest trim. But if you want what’ unequivocally the best Samsung has to offer, this is it.
Step down to the S21+ and you’re missing out on some camera features (mainly telephoto lenses, which the Ultra has two of), screen real estate (it’s got a 6.7-inch screen to the Ultra’s 6.8), and marginal performance enhancements (it’s “only” got eight gigs of RAM), but you’re also saving some serious cash. In our review, Ryan loved the S21+’s comparatively svelte build and flatter display relative to the more-expensive S21 Ultra. “The S21 Ultra is undeniably a ‘better’ phone,” he wrote, “but it’s $200 more expensive and not nearly as comfortable to hold.” You can grab an S21+ starting at $1,000.
The regular Galaxy S21 offers the premium Samsung experience in a relatively compact package, with a “small” 6.2-inch display. Sure, its back is plastic, but it’s pretty dang nice plastic, and that’s just about the only concession made to hit its considerably lower MSRP. In our review, Ryne concluded that “When you get right down to it, the Galaxy S21 is a great phone at a great price,” and that’s hard to argue: it starts at $800, and has already seen sale prices as low as $650.
Mid-range: $300 – $699
Samsung’s top-tier phones don’t cost as much as they once did, but it’s still fully reasonable not to want to spend more on a phone than you do on rent. Thankfully, the company offers a number of mid-range options, the best of which straddle the flagship line.
Galaxy S20 Fan Edition
The S20 FE occupies an interesting niche in Samsung’s smartphone portfolio. At an MSRP of $699 (and frequently on sale for less), it offers a lot of what made last year’s S20 lineup desirable for a much lower price. It’s got the 120Hz display and the Snapdragon 865 CPU (complete with 5G!), plus higher-end perks like wireless charging. My review postulated that it may have been the best phone of 2020 — and I think it would have been if it weren’t for some units experiencing a strange touchscreen issue. Still, if you’re prepared to return or exchange your device should it be affected, the S20 FE is a fantastic package that’s priced right.
Samsung’s recently announced 2021 A-series lineup for the US didn’t include the Galaxy A72 — but that’s okay, because last year’s A71 is still a banger. It doesn’t have wireless charging or an IP water- and dust-resistance rating like the S20 FE, but it’s still got some fairly luxurious trimmings like a 1080p AMOLED display and the 5G-capable Snapdragon 765G chipset — the same one used in Google’s flagship Pixel 5. It’s not available unlocked, but you can get it from a bunch of carriers starting at $600.
We haven’t had the chance to use the brand-new Galaxy A52 just yet, but it looks very promising. It’s packing the 5G-capable Snapdragon 750G chipset, a 120Hz AMOLED display, six gigabytes of RAM, and Android 11 — plus the promise of three OS version updates and four whole years of security patches. At $500, it looks like a fantastic value.
On Verizon? Consider the carrier-exclusive Galaxy A42 5G. It offers some of the same perks as the A52 — namely the Snapdragon 750G CPU, ample 128-gigabyte internal storage, and Android 11 — for $100 less. Pick one up from Samsung or Verizon. And if you keep your eye out, you can find last year’s Galaxy A51 for $350 or less from time to time on Amazon or direct from Samsung.
Budget: $299 or less
Say you’re in the market for an even lower-cost device. Not a problem! Samsung is all over the budget market with smartphones from as low as $110.
Samsung’s new Galaxy S32 is a bit of a wonder. At $280, it’s one of the cheapest 5G-capable phones you can buy. It’s running on a pretty modest MediaTek 720 CPU and four gigs of RAM, but that’s more than enough horsepower for what most folks do on their phones. It’s also got a beefy 5,000 milliamp-hour battery, an in-display fingerprint sensor, and Android 11 in tow — so it shouldn’t feel like much of a compromise. It’s only available through a handful of carriers, though.
Another new addition to the A-series lineup, the A12 has plenty to offer for less than 200 bucks. Like the A32, it’s got a big 5,000 milliamp-hour battery, and an ample 6.5-inch screen (although it’s only 720p). It’s guaranteed three years of security updates, too. If you’re looking for a bargain on AT&T, Cricket, Metro, or T-Mobile proper, definitely check this one out. It’s $180.
Clocking in at just $110, the Galaxy A02s is about as cheap as smartphones get. It’s super basic, with an older processor and just two gigabytes of RAM. It doesn’t even have a finger print sensor. But hey, it’s got the same big battery as the A32 and A12, and it’ll make calls and send texts with the best of ’em. If you’re in the market for something no-frills and inexpensive, this definitely fits the bill. It’s slated to go on sale later this month from a bunch of different carriers, as well as unlocked, direct from Samsung.
The Galaxy A21 sports a lot of the same parts as the newer A12 — same processor, same RAM, similar display — with the benefit of being sold unlocked (from retailers like Amazon) to use on any carrier. Given the current market, its $250 MSRP is a bit steep, but it’s been spotted on sale for as low as $149. If you see one at that price, you’ve found yourself a great deal.