The best Samsung Galaxy S21 alternatives: 6 phones to consider before you buy

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Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

2021 has barely begun but Samsung has already launched the Galaxy S21 series, making it the earliest launch yet for a Samsung flagship range. The new phones pack big batteries, oodles of power, and impressive screens, making for intriguing propositions.

In the market for an upgrade but want to know what else is out there first? That’s where we come in, as we take a look at the best Samsung Galaxy S21 alternatives.


The best Samsung Galaxy S21 alternatives


1. Xiaomi Mi 11

Samsung isn’t technically the first manufacturer to launch a Snapdragon 888 smartphone, as the Xiaomi Mi 11 was launched at the end of December in China. The phone is actually available to purchase, albeit only in its home market for now.

The Mi 11 packs the aforementioned high-end internals, but Xiaomi has also focused on delivering a great display this time. The new phone packs a 120Hz OLED screen, as well as QHD+ resolution for the first time since 2015’s Mi Note Pro. Those who value a smooth, high-quality screen experience should keep an eye on this.

See also: Xiaomi buyer’s guide — everything you need to know

Xiaomi’s phone also packs several other neat features, including a 4,600mAh battery, 55W wired charging, and 50W wireless top-ups. You’re not getting a zoom-focused camera on the back, but the 108MP main shooter, 13MP ultra-wide snapper, and 5MP telephoto macro lens should deliver solid results anyway. Oddly enough, the phone also offers heart-rate detection via the in-display fingerprint sensor.

Again, Xiaomi’s phone is only officially available in China right now, but we’re expecting a global launch in the coming weeks.


2. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE back 3

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

Spend ~$100 extra for the Galaxy S21 over the Galaxy S20 FE and you get a more powerful processor, more base RAM, and 8K recording. But last year’s cheaper flagship does have a few advantages over the S21, such as microSD support and a notably bigger battery.

Our verdict: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review — A fine phone for frugal fans

Otherwise, the Galaxy S20 FE is still a stacked device in 2021, featuring an Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865 processor, 120Hz FHD+ OLED screen, and a flexible triple rear camera setup. Samsung is also promising three generations of Android version updates for a variety of phones, including the Galaxy S20 FE, so you don’t need to worry about software updates.

It’s also worth noting that the device is currently listed on the likes of Amazon for $600, making it $200 cheaper than the Galaxy S21.

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3. Apple iPhone 12 series

Apple iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Max camera 3

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Much like Samsung, Apple has an iPhone 12 device at several price points. You’re also getting comparable OLED screens, 5G, wireless charging, and water resistance, on top of the super-fast A14 Bionic chipset. The iPhone 12 Mini starts at $699, ranging all the way up to the iPhone 12 Pro Max for $1,099.

Our verdict: Apple iPhone 12 Mini review | Apple iPhone 12 review | Apple iPhone 12 Pro review

The iPhone 12 Mini is $100 cheaper than the base Galaxy S21, but offers a much smaller battery, no telephoto lens, and only 64GB of storage in the base model. In other words, it definitely seems like you’re getting more bang for your buck with the S21. Those wanting plenty more bells and whistles from an iPhone should look at the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max, packing features like a triple camera setup (or quad if you include the 3D depth camera), bigger batteries, and 128GB of base storage.

It’s also worth noting that the iPhone 12 family doesn’t offer the Galaxy line’s high refresh rate screens, fingerprint scanners (important during the pandemic), or 8K recording option. But it hasn’t stopped many people from buying these phones due to the slick nature of iOS and access to Apple’s ecosystem.


4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen peeking

Credit: Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Note 20 Ultra is still very pricey, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this 2020 flagship if you can find a great deal. Samsung’s previous Ultra device offers an Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset, a QHD+ 120Hz OLED screen, and the usual Samsung flagship extras (IP68 rating, wireless charging, Dex support). It also packs a microSD card slot, which isn’t guaranteed with the S21 series.

Our verdict: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review — No longer setting the bar

Unlike the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Note 20 Ultra still has a dedicated slot for the S Pen (as opposed to using a case). So if you really value the S Pen experience above all else, you should consider this phone. In saying so, you are missing out on the latest and greatest flagship silicon, a 5,000mAh battery, and two zoom-focused rear cameras if you opt for this over the S21 Ultra. Nevertheless, it still makes for one of the best Galaxy S21 alternatives.

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5. Google Pixel 5

Google Pixel 5 camera against ocean 1

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

Google is taking a different route with its latest Pixel phone, ditching flagship silicon in favor of an upper mid-range processor. So if gaming performance is extremely important to you, then you’re still better off with the S21. You’re also missing out on a couple of other features compared to the base S21 though, such as a third rear camera and a 120Hz refresh rate.

Our verdict: Google Pixel 5 review

Nevertheless, the Pixel 5 packs welcome features like a 90Hz OLED screen, IP68 water/dust resistance, a dual rear camera (featuring an ultra-wide snapper), wireless charging, and a 4,080mAh battery. Google’s Pixel phones also stand out for image quality, stock Android, and a long commitment to software updates. But Samsung is also jumping on the latter pledge with its flagships.


6. OnePlus 8 Pro

OnePlus 8 Pro 16

The OnePlus 9 might be on the horizon, but the OnePlus 8 Pro still makes for a pretty good Galaxy S21 alternative in 2021. There’s a strong argument to be made that it’s is the first full-blown premium flagship from the brand too. That’s thanks to the device offering IP68 water/dust resistance and wireless charging for the first time. But it also steps into premium territory with a QHD+ 120Hz OLED screen, much like high-end Samsung flagships.

See also: OnePlus 8 Pro revisited — the good and bad six months later

OnePlus’s Pro model also bucked the company trend of delivering good but not great camera quality, owing to the use of Sony’s IMX689 48MP sensor for the main camera and a 48MP ultra-wide camera. We could definitely do without the gimmicky color filter camera though.

As of writing, the OnePlus 8 Pro is available for $799 via the likes of the OnePlus Store. That’s the same price as the base Galaxy S21, which offers newer flagship silicon and 8K recording. But the Pro variant still gives you a proper telephoto camera, a bigger battery, faster wireless charging, and a QHD+ display.


That’s it for our rundown of the best Galaxy S21 alternatives! Are there any other phones that fit the bill? Then leave a comment below.

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