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

From OnePlus and Google to Xiaomi and Samsung itself, there are quite a few great alternatives to the S21 series.
By
December 9, 2021
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus purple 2
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Samsung launched its Galaxy S21 series in the very earliest days of 2021, but they’re some of the best flagships around. You’ll find the powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset on all three phones, along with Samsung’s brilliant displays. Even though the Galaxy S21 series is Samsung’s best yet, it isn’t a match for everyone. Here are some of the best Galaxy S21 alternatives to try instead.


The best Samsung Galaxy S21 alternatives

1. Xiaomi Mi 11

Xiaomi Mi 11 hero shot
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Samsung isn’t technically the first manufacturer to launch a Snapdragon 888 smartphone, as the Xiaomi Mi 11 launched in China at the end of December 2020.

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 and 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 Mi 11 review

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 primary 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.

If you want to take a more premium approach, try the Mi 11 Pro and the Mi 11 Ultra on for size. They keep the same front display with serious boosts to the rear camera setup. You’ll also pay quite a bit more to add either device to your pocket.

Xiaomi Mi 11
£749.00 at Amazon

2. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE back 3
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

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 also promises three generations of Android version updates for various 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.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
$699.99 at Samsung

3. Apple iPhone 13 series

iPhone 13 Pro review showing back in hand
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Much like Samsung, Apple has an iPhone 13 device for everyone. You’re also getting comparable OLED screens, 5G, wireless charging, and water resistance on top of the super-fast A15 Bionic chipset. The iPhone 13 Mini starts at $699, reaching up to the iPhone 13 Pro Max for $1,099.

Our verdict: Apple iPhone 13 reviewApple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

The iPhone 12 Mini is $100 cheaper than the base Galaxy S21 but offers a much smaller battery, no telephoto lens, and 128GB storage in the base model. In other words, it 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 13 Pro or Pro Max, packing features like a triple camera setup (or quad if you include the 3D depth camera), bigger batteries, and up to 1TB of onboard storage.

It’s also worth noting that only the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max offer 120Hz refresh rates, and there’s still no fingerprint reader to be had. But it hasn’t stopped many people from buying these phones due to the slick nature of iOS and access to Apple’s ecosystem.

Apple iPhone 13 screen profile in hand
Apple iPhone 13
The vanilla model with all the basics.
The standard iPhone 13 features a similar camera array as last year's iPhone 12 but has some new design elements, such as a reduced notch.

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen peeking
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

Unlike the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Note 20 Ultra still has a dedicated slot for the S Pen (instead of using a case). So if you 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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
$1,199.99 at Amazon

5. Google Pixel 6 series

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro lying on autumn leaves
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

After a year in the midrange realm, Google is back to flagships for the Pixel 6 series. Not only do they pack the biggest batteries and displays of any Pixel series, but Google has finally upgraded the camera specs in a big way. Perhaps most importantly, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro pack the first Google Tensor chip with a promise of five years of security patches.

Our verdict: Google Pixel 6 review | Google Pixel 6 Pro review

If you go for the vanilla Pixel 6, you’ll be treated to a 6.4-inch Full HD+ display with a central 8MP punch hole camera. The premium Pixel 6 Pro kicks that to 6.7-inches with a WQHD resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. As for the rear cameras, both models pack 50MP primary lenses with 12MP ultra-wide options. Only the Pixel 6 Pro adds a 48MP telephoto lens to the mix for added flexibility.

Unlike previous Pixels, you can choose how much storage you need. The Pixel 6 comes with either 128 or 256GB, and the Pixel 6 Pro adds a 512GB option to the mix. You’ll get 8GB of RAM on the vanilla model or 12GB on the Pro, as well.

Google Pixel 6
$599.00 at Amazon
Google Pixel 6 Pro
$899.00 at Amazon

6. OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro close up of hassleblad
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

It may be among the most expensive devices on this list, but the OnePlus 9 Pro makes a pretty good Galaxy S21 alternative in 2021. OnePlus has moved fully past the flagship killer phase and into the killer flagship market with its impressive spec sheet. The device offers IP68 water and dust resistance and faster wireless charging than the OnePlus 8 Pro could touch. But it also roots further into premium territory with a QHD+ 120Hz OLED screen, much like high-end Samsung flagships.

See also: OnePlus 9, OnePlus 9 Pro, and OnePlus 9R buyer’s guide

OnePlus’s Pro model also moved to bring Hasselblad into the picture for an all-new camera array. It’s capped off by 48MP and 50MP shooters with depth and telephoto lenses offering their support. You’ll get a Snapdragon 888 SoC as well, just as you would expect from a 2021 flagship.

As of writing, the OnePlus 9 Pro is available for $969 via the likes of the OnePlus Store. That’s nearly the same price as the base Galaxy S21 Plus, so you certainly have a big decision on your hands.

OnePlus 9 Pro
$1,069.00 at Amazon

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.