In spite of the widespread shutdowns of 2020, phone manufacturers didn’t skip a beat. All models that were scheduled for a 2020 release via major networks came out as expected, despite some altered release dates. And US phone sales by year’s end only saw a minor dip compared to pre-COVID projected numbers, proving many doubters wrong. And the best new smartphones of 2021 are expected to outdo sales of the preceding year.
Last year also officially entered 5G into public consciousness. Even though the full reach of the new mobile technology is still yet to be realized, consumer excitement for 5G reached new heights in 2020. (Note: In some areas, 5G speeds did reach 3GB per second which is VERY fast.) And in this new year, the technology and the excitement surrounding it will only increase.
What’s In Store For Smartphones In 2021?
The Evolution Of The Folding Phone
In 2020, the folding phone was granted new life. The once-forgotten Razr resurfaced to wide acclaim, its new design benefitting from modern smartphone technology. Folding phones no longer peel and crack after minimal use as they once did. In fact, the Z Fold 2 was dubbed 2020’s best phone by some reviewers. Despite their appeal, however, the 2020 Razr was outside most people’s price range with a $1,500-2,000 price tag.
Fortunately, lower Razr prices for 2021 have been announced in an attempt to make the phone more accessible to everyone. Foldable phone manufacturers are already addressing issues by making improvements to new models to be released later this year. For example, LG announced that they’re releasing a foldable phone early-to-mid 2021 with a thinner scrolling screen.
Cameras With Better Zoom
Despite smartphone cameras continually getting better, the zoom feature remains one of the most difficult to advance. This is because increasing the magnification comes from increasing the physical distance separating elements of the lens. Phone manufacturers have tried to circumvent this reality to some success. Samsung took inspiration from basic periscope science by placing an extra-long lens sideways into one of their thinner phones (the Galaxy S20 Ultra) to capture images using a mirror. Recent industry rumors purport that Apple intends to do something similar with future iPhones, possibly with models released this year.
5G Will Continue It’s Inevitable March Forward
Many industry authorities thought that 2020 would be the year of 5G. In some ways, it was. 5G infrastructures certainly made significant headway all over the world. But overall availability and speeds underwhelmed. This was due (in part) to 5G coverage lagging behind the advances of phone manufacturers. As 2020 came to a close, the majority of available 5G still wasn’t that much faster than 4G. Yes, network improvements were hindered by government shutdowns. But some of the challenges come from available airwave licenses that carriers need to make top-quality 5G a reality. Fortunately, many more FCC spectrum auctions are scheduled for this year which will greatly increase each carrier’s 5G capabilities.
The real truth is that full coverage of the ridiculous speeds 5G is capable of (10+ GB per second) are still being rolled out. There’s still much to be done before that happens, such as improvements on network gear, wireless modems, and phone design. But it’s certainly upon us and will become a reality sooner than we think; perhaps no more than a year.
Ultra-Wideband Will Open More Doors
It’s been almost two years since Apple put ultra-wideband chips in their iPhones. It was initially implemented to enable effective and accurate file-swapping (e.g. AirDrop). But the technology is getting better, as expected. Locations can now be recognized down to the centimeter. Take the BMW 2021 5 Series, for example. These sedans implement advanced ultra-wideband tech (integrated with 5G) that allow owners to lock and unlock their cars with their smartphone.
Many of the best new smartphones of 2021 will include ultra-wideband chips. But phones aren’t the only devices that will get them. Things like key tags and wallet tags to prevent losing them are already here. Or multi-player AR (augmented reality) games. And garage doors that open automatically as you approach. A whole ecosystem of devices and objects that interact with each other in real-time is just around the corner.
Alright. Let’s get to the list.
Best New Smartphones 2021
Apple iPhone 13
The 2020 release of the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 was a huge moment in Apple’s history. And, as usual, sales of the upcoming iPhone 13 will likely reach the same heights. Word has it that Apple plans to launch four versions of the 2021 iPhone; 2 budget models and 2 Pro models.
Even though the features and design of the 13 aren’t expected to deviate much from the 12, there are some changes in the works. For example, some leaked information says that Apple plans not to include any ports at all on the iPhone 13, relying solely on wireless charging technology. Also, it hasn’t been officially announced that it will be called the iPhone 13. Some speculate that it may be dubbed the iPhone 12S. We’ll see as the year progresses.
Learn the most recent rumours about the iPhone 13 here.
Samsung Galaxy S21
Many are still surprised to learn that Samsung, not Apple, is in fact the smartphone market leader. Approximately 1/5 of sales worldwide belong to the South Korean electronics giant who is expected to announce more details this month about their 2021 releases.
Known predominantly for their industry-best smartphone cameras, it’s safe to assume that they still intend to outdo themselves in that category this year. Pro-grade cameras that are super-intelligent with incredible capabilities are likely in store.
Samsung leaked info about the S21 back in December, revealing that the Galaxy S21 line will have three iterations: Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra. It has since been launched (Jan 14) and shipped (Jan 29). If they follow their pattern from recent years, the additional models will likely be available in March. And as suspected, the price of the S21 was lowered due to a dip in sales of the 2020 Galaxy S20. This phone is all but guaranteed to be one of the best smartphones in 2021.
Learn the latest on the Samsung Galaxy S21 here.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 2
Capitalizing on the increased popularity of foldable phones, Samsung has three of them scheduled for a 2021 release. Though specs haven’t been released, AndroidCentral.com projects the Z Flip 2 “will be powered by the Snapdragon 875” and will have “at least 8GB of RAM, plenty of storage, and (hopefully) a larger battery” than its predecessor. The same article projects the price for this model at $1,280.
The latest info about the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 2 is found here.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
This will be the first Samsung phone ever to feature an under-display camera. It will also have a newer, stronger version of the Ultra-Thin Glass featured in the Z Fold 2, making this new phone less fragile. The phone will also be S-pen compatible. The Snapdragon 875 (assumed name) processor will almost certainly be integrated, as well.
According to TomsGuide.com, it will feature a “7-inch interior display and a 4-inch exterior display.” It’s worth noting that this is notably smaller than its predecessor, the Z Fold 2. But it’s safe to assume that Samsung has made this change for a reason. A reason that we’ll find out soon enough.
It’s been announced that there will be two versions of the Z Fold 3. A “budget” version and a full version.
The Z Fold 2 was $1,999, Samsung’s most expensive phone ever. And there isn’t any reason to believe that the Z Fold 3 will be priced any lower than that.
Click here for recent Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 info.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold Lite
The Z Fold Lite is slated to be the most affordable of the three with a 4-inch external display and a 7-inch internal display, just like the Z Fold 3. This model is expected to be available in the first quarter of 2021, probably in March.
Samsung A22 5G
This is designed to be the next, less-expensive iteration of the A21 that was released in Apr 2020. Gizmochina.com reports that it may cost less than $400.
Get all the specs for this affordable 5G phone here.
Though not officially announced, unofficial sources report that LG will release 2, possibly 3, new smartphones in the first 6 months of 2021.
One of which will be the LG Rainbow, the successor to the LG Velvet. Insiders believe that it will likely include Qualcomm’s next 700-series chipset and come with a colorful gradient glass back. Intended as LG’s new flagship device, it will likely have a March 2021 unveiling.
The LG Rollable – a larger yet lighter model (7.4 x 6.8 inches) – is expected to launch somewhere between now and June. It’s expected address to the creasing problem inherent in foldables. However, with the recent news that LG may be exiting (at least partially) the smartphone market, the future of this LG device and others could be in jeopardy.
Xiaomi Mi 11
Largely unknown to US consumers, Xiaomi is a big player in the Chinese smartphone market. They actually already unveiled its new flagship series, Mi 11 – including the Mi 11 and the Mi 11 Pro – on Dec 28, 2020. They will be available this year and are the first Chinese phones to integrate the new Snapdragon 888 chip. Though not officially announced, it’s expected that a Lite version will be available at some point. Also not yet announced is the strong likelihood of a new 2021 version of the Red Note 10.
Also, rumors exist that Xiaomi plans to release an inward-folding smartphone this year. The name of the device has not been released. See all details here.
The Xiaomi M1 11 is currently available in China but won’t be elsewhere for a few more months. And officially worldwide released date does not yet exist.
Oppo X 2021
Another major Chinese phone manufacturer, Oppo already unveiled the new Oppo X 2021 last year in November. The phone will be available on an unspecified date this year. It features a 6.7-inch panel capable of expanding to 7.4 inches as well as a rollable screen. More information is found here.
Oppo Reno5 Pro+ 5G
This is Oppo’s first smartphone to include the Snapdragon 865 chipset. It will also have a curved Super AMOLED display with a punch hole in the corner.
Google Pixel 5A, Pixel 6, and Foldable Pixel
Leaked information reveals the new Google Pixel 5A will be released between April and June 2020. The Pixel 6 and an unnamed foldable Pixel model (codename: Passport) will be released between October and December 2020. It’s also been confirmed that two more Google devices will see the light of day this year (codenames: Raven and Oriole). Not much more is known about these new Google devices as of yet. See details here.
Nokia 9.3 PureView
Best New Smartphones 2021 – Conclusion
All of the Android phones on this list feature the new QUALCOMM Snapdragon 888. The chip is built at the 5-nanometer scale has an integrated 5G modem. It’s the most advanced smartphone chip to date available for mass production.
5G smartphone shipments reached almost 19% of global volume in 2020. By 2024, as 5G gets better and better all the time, this number is projected to reach 58%.