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Worst to best: The Samsung Galaxy S series, ranked
Samsung’s Galaxy S series made its debut on June 4, 2010, and since then it’s become the phone line most people think of when Android is mentioned.
Not all phones are created equal though, so to mark a decade of Galaxy S devices we thought it would be a fun idea to rank each generation in order from worst to best. We tried to balance the critical and commercial reception with the actual importance of each phone(s), the features and specs on offer, and our own gut feelings. We’ve also decided to only stick to the mainline releases, so that means no entries like the Galaxy S20 FE and Galaxy S4 Zoom.
Related: Best Samsung Galaxy deals
It goes without saying that this is all for a bit of fun, your opinions may vary! It’s also worth remembering that many of these phones are among the best the smartphone world has ever seen — being the worst of the very best is still pretty great. With all that said, be sure to vote for your favorite Galaxy S series in the poll below and give us your own rankings in the comments!
For a more detailed look at the history of Galaxy S phones, be sure to read our retrospective here.
12. Samsung Galaxy S6
2015’s Galaxy S6 was a notable release for a couple of reasons. It marked the range’s first foray into the glass design territory popularized by the iPhone. It also saw Samsung match Apple in terms of pricing strategy, having generally been cheaper than the iPhone until this point. But the Galaxy S6 takes the wooden spoon in our rankings because it cut or compromised so many features seen on the Galaxy S5 in order to achieve this design. That meant no IP rating, no removable battery, no microSD support, and a much smaller battery.
- Premium design
- Exynos 7420 chipset was a beast
- Great camera
- Fingerprint reader that wasn’t terrible
- Native wireless charging (no special case required)
- Tiny battery
- No IP rating
- No microSD expansion or removable battery
11. Samsung Galaxy S
The phone that started it all, the Samsung Galaxy S (or Galaxy S1) seems laughable now when you check out the specs. A 1Ghz single-core chipset, 512MB of RAM, a 4-inch 480 x 800 screen. But this was pretty much as good as it got in the early days of Android, and it really was early. The biggest downsides were the uninspired design, gaudy software, and lack of a camera flash.
- Great browser back when Chrome wasn’t on mobile
- As good as it got in terms of core specs
- No camera flash
- Battery life wasn’t fantastic
- Dull design
10. Samsung Galaxy S2
Between the early nature of Android at the time and a general lack of polish, the Samsung Galaxy S1 fell just shy of greatness. Samsung’s second attempt in 2011, on the other hand, delivered one of the best Android phones to date. The Galaxy S2 offered a sturdy design, removable battery, an OLED screen, and brisk internals. An accomplished, important step in Samsung’s ascent to the top of the Android world, the only reason it isn’t higher on this list is that Samsung US and its network partners created so many variants (Samsung Galaxy S2 Epic 4G Touch, anyone?) that finding a true Galaxy S2 (the GT-I9100) was an almost Sisyphean task.
- Rear camera could compete with iPhone lineup
- 2MP selfie camera when VGA or 1.3MP was the norm
- Wide variety of video formats
- OLED screen was pretty nifty
- Mediocre battery life
- A ton of variants that created marketplace confusion
9. Samsung Galaxy S4
The Galaxy S4 wasn’t just Samsung’s most popular Galaxy S series phone, it’s also the best selling Android phone of all time. But it also felt like the moment where Samsung jumped the shark. The main culprit here was TouchWiz, as Samsung usher in a ton of bloatware and took an “everything and the kitchen sink as well” approach to its own software additions. Do you really need page scrolling via a head tilt? Or the ability to create a 5.1 surround sound system with six phones? That’s not to say that it didn’t have any interesting software additions, like “bothies” (yes, way before Nokia) and Drama Shot, but be honest, did you ever use even these novel features more than once?
- Removable battery with microSD card slot
- Good daytime picture quality
- Great display
- Bloated Android skin with many gimmicky features
- Basically Galaxy S3.1 in terms of design
- Low-light image quality paled in comparison to HTC One
8. Samsung Galaxy S20
It seems like for every couple of positives about the Galaxy S20 series, there’s a negative. You’re getting a ton of features in general, impressive hybrid zoom (and periscope zoom on the Ultra), a gorgeous 120Hz OLED screen, 5G, good battery life, and 8K recording. But you’re also getting a hefty price tag (from $1,000 to $1,400), gimmicky 100x Space Zoom, no proper telephoto camera on the S20 or S20 Plus, and a take on One UI that’s starting to suffer from feature creep like Samsung skins of old. This is also the first Samsung Galaxy S series that completely ditched the headphone jack. Boo. Nevertheless, these are still some of the best premium phones of 2020, and are worthy entries in Samsung’s ongoing smartphone dynasty.
- Class-leading screens
- 8K recording with the ability to extract 33MP frames
- 120Hz refresh rate
- Versatile cameras
- Good battery life
- Disappointingly expensive pricing
- Big performance gap between Snapdragon and Exynos variants
- Zoom capabilities were overstated
- No 3.5mm port
- No Galaxy S20e
7. Samsung Galaxy S21
Samsung’s 2021 flagships go a long way towards fixing where the S20 series went wrong, but there are a few major missteps too. The Galaxy S21 series is $200 cheaper across the board, starting at $800 for the base S21 all the way to $1,200 for the S21 Ultra. The Ultra model is the star of the show here though, featuring two zoom-focused cameras (3X and 10X), S-Pen support, and a main camera that doesn’t suffer from major autofocus issues like the S20 Ultra. The series does have a few downsides, as the S21 has a plastic back while the S21 and S21 Plus both lack QHD+ screens. All three phones also ditch the in-box charger, microSD expansion, and don’t support ultra-fast charging. Still, the price drop combined with an upgraded Ultra model seems to have resulted in huge initial sales growth in the US.
- Good screens with high refresh rate
- Great picture/video quality
- Cheaper than S20 series
- Two zoom cameras on Ultra model
- S-Pen support for S21 Ultra
- Exynos chipset narrows gap to Snapdragon SoC
- No microSD card slot
- S21 and S21 Plus ditch QHD+ screens
- No in-box charger
- Plastic back for Galaxy S21
- S21 and S21 Plus don’t see camera/charging/battery changes over last year
6. Samsung Galaxy S9
The Galaxy S9 was essentially the Galaxy S8.1, which in turn shared some DNA with the Galaxy S7. It featured a similar glass design to the Galaxy S8, with lots of internal specs staying the same too. The Galaxy S series got a dual-camera setup for the first time, but this was restricted to the Galaxy S9 Plus. Other upgrades include native 960fps slow-motion recording, dual-aperture main cameras, and AR Emoji. The phones generally took a relatively safe approach at a time when rival Huawei dropped the innovative P20 Pro, and we saw plenty of more affordable flagships too. If we were just taking into account the Plus model, it’d rank above its direct predecessor, but as it is, the Galaxy S9 sits in a respectable place in the sixth spot.
- Super slow-mo could be cool
- Fingerprint reader was in a more convenient location
- Holy trifecta of a 3.5mm port, IP68, and wireless charging
- Standard Galaxy S9 was gimped (no secondary rear camera, less RAM)
- Design was an evolution of S8, which wasn’t a huge change over S7
- Battery size didn’t see an increase over S8 series either
- Dual aperture feature was interesting, but an evolutionary dead-end
5. Samsung Galaxy S8
2017 saw the vast majority of phones adopting an 18:9 screen ratio or higher. The Galaxy S8 family was no exception. It delivered plenty more gorgeous OLED screen while still feeling easy to hold. Samsung’s early 2017 flagships also saw the debut of a variety of features, such as DeX, the Bixby voice assistant, the much-maligned Bixby button, and an iris scanner that wasn’t as terrible as many thought it was going to be. The same can’t be said of the rear fingerprint scanner, however. How did anyone think that sticking it next to the camera was a good idea? Nevertheless, after a rough few months following the exploding Note 7 debacle, the Galaxy S8 series was a timely reminder that Samsung was still the top dog.
- Improved photo quality due to multi-frame image processing
- Fantastic design
- DeX genuinely brought a PC-like experience to the table
- 3D Touch home button was a great replacement for a physical button
- No dual cameras when rivals had it for a year
- Bixby button couldn’t be remapped at first
- Fingerprint scanner location was awful
- Average battery life
4. Samsung Galaxy S3
The Galaxy S/Galaxy S1 may have started the series and the Galaxy S2 may have shown us that Samsung’s camera team could compete with Apple, but the Galaxy S3 was the high point for the firm’s first few flagships. The Galaxy S3 delivered an interesting plastic design, a retooled, nature-themed TouchWiz UI with a few neat features (Smart Stay to keep the screen on, a popup video player), and speedy internals. Taken together, you had the range’s first real iPhone killer in terms of both sales and overall quality.
- Powerful internals
- Removable battery and microSD support
- Great camera
- Some useful software additions
- TouchWiz UX not as smooth as many other Android skins
- Plastic design didn’t feel as premium as metal or glass
3. Samsung Galaxy S10
2019’s Galaxy S10 family had something for everyone, from the more affordable Galaxy S10e to the Galaxy S10 Plus with all the bells and whistles, and even a souped-up 5G model. This something-for-everyone approach resulted in some of the best Galaxy flagships ever. It also marked the first year of Samsung offering multiple cameras on all devices, a long-overdue move when the likes of LG, Huawei, and Xiaomi had dual cameras or more for a couple of years already. Toss in slick punch-hole designs, the debut of the One UI skin, and gorgeous OLED screens, and there was a lot to like here.
- Flexible camera setups on all models
- Class-leading OLED screens
- The Galaxy S10e with its great specs and price
- Last Galaxy flagships with headphone jacks
- IP68 rating and wireless charging
- Cameras good but not great (especially at night)
- 15W charging is slow compared to most rivals
- In-display fingerprint scanner was hit-and-miss
2. Samsung Galaxy S5
Was 2014 the best ever year for smartphones? If it is, then some credit has to go to the Galaxy S5, which saw Samsung bringing its A game. The Galaxy S5 was the first mainline Galaxy flagship with water resistance, but it didn’t come at the expense of a removable battery or microSD support. This was also one of the first Samsung phones with 4K recording (following the Galaxy Note 3). Furthermore, the phone’s real-time HDR capability was a great addition at a time when HDR photography on most phones was still a slow, blurry mess. The only big disappointment was the swipe-based fingerprint scanner, which paled in comparison to the iPhone 5S’s touch-based scanner. A beloved phone that just misses out on the top spot by a hair.
- Water resistance
- Removable battery and microSD support
- Great image quality with real-time HDR
- Swipe-based fingerprint scanner wasn’t as intuitive as touch-based scanners
- MicroUSB port requires a plastic flap to seal against water damage
1. Samsung Galaxy S7
The best Galaxy S series of all-time addressed all of the Galaxy S6 series’ glaring issues, and boy did it fix a lot. Bigger batteries? Check. Water resistance? Yep. MicroSD expansion? Indeed. Otherwise, the Galaxy S7 series also delivered a similarly capable 12MP main camera, 240fps slow-mo (matching the iPhone), and speedy internals. A top seller and a textbook case of meaningful evolution and not just iteration for iteration’s sake, the Galaxy S7 also served as the antithesis of the iPhone range at the time. All hail the Galaxy S7.
- Water resistant design
- Wireless charging
- MicroSD expansion
- Great photo/video quality
- Glass design easily attracts fingerprints
- MicroUSB when major rivals switched to USB-C
That’s it for our Samsung Galaxy S series rankings! Do you agree with the order? Let us know down below.