The Best Galaxy S21 Alternatives – The Top Phones to buy instead!
Samsung kicked off 2021 with the launch of its flagship Galaxy S21 series. All three devices in the Galaxy S21 lineup were the best Android had on offer at the time, but other manufacturers have caught up with Samsung over the last few months. So if you’re currently in the market for a flagship smartphone, there are a few great Galaxy S21 alternatives that you can buy today.
In this post, we’ll look at some of the best smartphones that you can buy instead of the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. We’ll also discuss why you should pick one of the following devices in place of Samsung’s offering and highlight key differences between the models across all price points.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Alternatives
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is the cheapest phone in Samsung’s flagship lineup. It packs a flat 6.2-inch FHD+ AMOLED display that refreshes at 120Hz, either the Exynos 2100 or the Snapdragon 888 chip, 8GB of RAM, and up to 256GB storage. The device also offers a decent triple camera setup, featuring a 12MP f/1.8 primary camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra wide-angle camera, a 64MP f/2.0 telephoto camera, and a 10MP f/2.2 selfie shooter.
The Galaxy S21 is powered by a decent 4,000mAh battery with 25W fast charging support, 15 wireless charging support, and 4.5W reverse wireless charging support. Additionally, the phone packs a stereo speaker setup tuned by AKG, Wi-Fi 6 support, 5G capabilities, and IP68 dust and water resistance.
At a starting price of $799, the Galaxy S21 is a great pick for those who want a small form factor flagship that offers a premium design and good overall performance at a relatively affordable price. However, here are a few other options that you may want to consider:
Why the Apple iPhone 12 Mini?
For existing iOS users, the Apple iPhone 12 mini is hands down the best Galaxy S21 alternative. It comes at roughly the same price, offers top-of-the-line performance, packs a proven camera system, and helps you stay within the iOS ecosystem. It’s also a good pick for Android users who are curious to see what the other side has to offer. But the iPhone 12 mini’s below-average battery life, slow charging speeds, and 60Hz refresh rate may not appeal to power users.
Why the OnePlus 9?
The OnePlus 9 shines in these departments, and it would prove to be a much better choice than iPhone 12 mini. The phone packs a larger 4,500mAh battery that supports 65W fast wired charging and 15W fast wireless charging (North America/Europe only), and it features a 120Hz display. OnePlus’ flagship offering from 2021 trumps the Galaxy S21 on a couple of other fronts as well. The phone offers a larger 6.55-inch FHD+ AMOLED display, up to 12GB of RAM, and a better 50MP f/2.2 wide-angle camera that features a freeform lens. Unlike the Galaxy S21, it also offers a more premium glass back. Furthermore, the phone comes with the Snapdragon 888 in all regions, so users outside North America won’t have to bear with Samsung’s Exynos 2100 chip. Additionally, the OnePlus 9 runs OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11 out of the box, which some users may prefer over One UI 3.1.
Why the Xiaomi Mi 11?
In case you’re not based in the US, you can also consider getting the Xiaomi Mi 11. Despite being €200 cheaper than the Galaxy S21, Xiaomi’s flagship brings much more to the table. As Ben pointed out in his Mi 11 comparison, the Mi 11 is a much better purchase than the Galaxy S21. Xiaomi’s flagship offering feels more premium due to its glass back and quad-curved display, it packs a larger higher-resolution panel while maintaining the compact form factor, and its 108MP primary camera can deliver sharper images.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 even includes a larger 4,600mAh battery with 55W wired fast charging support, 50W wireless fast charging support, and 10W reverse wireless charging support. On top of that, it features a more capable 20MP selfie camera, an IR blaster, and a stereo speaker setup tuned by Harman Kardon. Based on hardware alone, the Mi 11 proves to be a great Galaxy S21 alternative. But when it comes to software, some of you may still prefer Samsung’s One UI 3.1 over Xiaomi’s MIUI 12.
Along with these three devices, you can also consider getting the Google Pixel 5 or the recently launched Sony Xperia 5 III over the Galaxy S21. However, you will have to make certain compromises with these phones. For instance, the Pixel 5 doesn’t pack a flagship chipset, so it won’t blaze through apps and games like the Galaxy S21. But it will capture better images. The Sony Xperia 5 III looks to be a good Galaxy S21 alternative on paper, but we’re yet to get our hands on it, so we can’t give you an outright recommendation.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Alternatives
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is a small step up from the vanilla Galaxy S21. It’s essentially the same phone, but in a larger, slightly more premium package. You get a glass back instead of a plastic one, a 6.7-inch FHD+ AMOLED display, a higher capacity 4,800mAh battery, and UWB support. Besides that, the phone’s hardware specifications aren’t all that different. It is powered by either the Samsung Exynos 2100 chip or the Snapdragon 888 SoC, has 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB storage, and offers the same fast charging capabilities.
The Galaxy S21 Plus also features the same camera setup as its cheaper sibling. On the whole, the Galaxy S21 Plus is exactly what its name says — a plus-size version of the regular Galaxy S21. As such, it also has a plus-size price tag. The phone starts at $999.99 for the 8GB + 128GB variant, and at that price point, there are a couple of other great alternatives that you can consider.
- The Apple iPhone 12 is the best Galaxy S21 Plus alternative for existing iOS users. It offers flagship-level performance, better camera capabilities, and impeccable software support at roughly the same price. On the downside, it features a 60Hz display, which may turn away some buyers.
- The Xiaomi Mi 11 Pro, just like the non-Pro variant, offers better value for your money than the Galaxy S21 Plus. It features a better display, a stronger camera setup, and faster charging capabilities than Samsung's offerings. However, the phone isn't available in several markets at the moment.
- The ROG Phone 5 is another great Galaxy S21 Plus alternative that offers better battery life, faster charging capabilities, and a host of additional gaming features. It also packs an impressive 144Hz AMOLED display that leaves the Galaxy S21 Plus' 120Hz panel in the dust.
Why the Apple iPhone 12?
As with the vanilla Galaxy S21, the Apple iPhone 12 is the best alternative to the Galaxy S21 Plus for existing iOS users. Much like the iPhone 12 Mini, the vanilla iPhone 12 offers flagship-grade performance, a great camera system, and impeccable software support. On top of that, it offers better battery backup than its mini counterpart and supports faster wireless charging. Sadly, it too has a 60Hz display, which may turn away some buyers.
Why the Xiaomi Mi 11 Pro?
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Pro, however, has no such shortcomings when compared with the Galaxy S21 Plus. The phone packs the same 6.81-inch QHD+ quad-curved AMOLED display as its non-Pro counterpart, which refreshes at 120Hz and offers a peak brightness of 1,700nits. It comes with Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chip, up to 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM, up to 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and a massive 5,000mAh battery. It also includes 67W wired and wireless fast charging support, along with 10W reverse wireless charging support.
The Mi 11 Pro is better than the Galaxy S21 Plus on the camera front too, offering a capable 50MP f/1.95 ISOCELL GN2 primary camera, a 13MP f/2.4 wide-angle camera, an 8MP f/3.4 telemacro camera, and a 20MP f/2.2 selfie shooter. Furthermore, it features a dual speaker setup tuned by Harman Kardon, Wi-Fi 6E support, Bluetooth 5.2, and an IR blaster. On the downside, it runs Xiaomi MIUI 12 Android skin, which may not appeal to some buyers, and it isn’t available in North America.
Why the ASUS ROG Phone 5?
Thankfully, ASUS offers a great Galaxy S21 Plus alternative for North American buyers — the ROG Phone 5. The ROG Phone 5 is ASUS’ latest and greatest gaming smartphone that packs a 6.78-inch FHD+ AMOLED display that refreshes at an eye-watering 144Hz. It houses Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chip, up to 16B of LPDDR5 RAM, and up to 256GB of storage. It packs an absolutely massive 6,000mAh battery with 65W wired fast charging support and two USB Type-C ports that will help you charge the phone in both portrait and landscape orientations. The device also features dual front-firing speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack with a built-in DAC, Wi-Fi 6E support, and Bluetooth 5.2.
On top of all that, the ROG Phone 5 also features a respectable triple camera setup on the back consisting of a 64MP f/1.8 primary camera, a 13MP f/2.4 wide-angle camera, and a 5MP macro camera. Over on the front, it has a 24MP f/2.4 selfie shooter. For gamers, the ROG Phone 5 offers even more features, like ultrasonic triggers and a host of gaming accessories. In my opinion, if you can look past the ROG Phone 5’s gamer-y aesthetic, the phone is a better buy than the Galaxy S21 Plus in all respects.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Alternatives
Samsung’s top-of-the-line Galaxy S21 Ultra is inarguably one of the best Android smartphones available in the market today. It’s a big step up from the vanilla Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21 Plus in almost all aspects, including the display, camera hardware, battery capacity, and more. The phone features a brilliant 6.8-inch QHD+ AMOLED display (display review) that offers a peak refresh rate of 120Hz and variable refresh rate support. And the display offers a peak brightness of 1,500nits, as opposed to 1,300nits on the other two models.
While the Galaxy S21 Ultra packs the same SoCs as its siblings, it’s available with up to 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and up to 512GB storage. The phone packs a larger 5,000mAh battery and a much more impressive camera system. The phone features a 108MP f/1.8 primary camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra wide angle camera, a 10MP f/2.4 3x telephoto camera, and a 10MP f/4.9 10x telephoto camera. Over on the front, it has a 40MP f/2.2 selfie shooter. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is also the only device in Samsung’s flagship lineup that offers Wi-Fi 6E and S Pen support.
Even though it still is one of the best Android smartphones available in the market today, if you’re willing to spend over $1,100 on a phone, there are quite a few alternatives you can consider instead.
- The Apple iPhone 12 Pro is a great Galaxy S21 Ultra alternative that is a good pick for existing iOS users. The phone offers impressive camera chops, flagship-grade performance, a LiDAR sensor, and best-in-class software support. Its 60Hz display and slow charging speeds may deter some buyers, though.
- The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max offers all the features that you get with the iPhone 12 Pro in a larger package. As such, it packs a bigger display and higher capacity battery. This makes the phone a great Galaxy S21 Ultra alternative for iOS users. It still offers a 60Hz display though, so it won't feel as smooth as the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
- The Mi 11 Ultra is Xiaomi's top-of-the-line flagship for 2021 and as such, it packs the best hardware money can buy. It features a great camera system, faster charging support, and a secondary display. Despite that, the phone is priced cheaper than the Galaxy S21 Ultra, making it a great alternative for Android users.
- The ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate offers everything you could ever want from a gaming smartphone -- a great 144Hz display, a massive 6,000mAh battery, top-of-the-line performance, and a host of gaming features. It even packs an eye-watering 18GB of RAM, making it a viable alternative to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Why the Apple iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max?
Once again, the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max are great Galaxy S21 Ultra alternatives for iOS users. The phones are pretty much the same as the other two iPhones mentioned above, but they feature larger batteries, bigger displays, and an additional 12MP f/2.2 telephoto camera. The phones also pack a ToF 3D LiDAR sensor, which you won’t get with the cheaper models. Sadly, Apple’s top-of-the-line smartphones still don’t feature a high refresh rate display.
Why the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra?
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is essentially a Mi 11 Pro on steroids, which makes it a perfect alternative to the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It features the same display, SoC, battery capacity, etc. as the Pro-variant, but it comes with a better camera system and a secondary display on the back. It features a 50MP Samsung ISOCELL GN2 primary camera that can capture DSLR-like bokeh and offers better low-light capabilities than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The main camera also captures excelled dynamic range in photos and videos.
The Mi 11 Ultra features a 48MP ultra-wide camera that has a 128° FoV. It delivers photos that are closer in quality to the main camera than previous Xiaomi phones. The phone also includes a 48MP 5x periscope zoom camera that maxes out at 120x digital zoom. While on paper, this zoom lens falls short of what the Galaxy S21 Ultra has to offer, the actual results are almost as good. The second screen in the camera module is another great addition, and it lets you easily capture high-resolution selfies using the main 50MP camera.
Why the OnePlus 9 Pro?
Sadly, the Mi 11 Ultra isn’t available in the US. So if you’re looking for a Galaxy S21 Ultra alternative that runs Android, you’ll have to get either the OnePlus 9 Pro or the ASUS ROG Phone Pro/Ultimate. The OnePlus 9 Pro is a decent choice for those who want a performance-focused device. It features a brilliant 120Hz QHD+ display that is as good as, if not better, than the one on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It offers much better wired/wireless fast charging support than Samsung’s offering and it packs Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chip.
Sadly, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s main camera performance isn’t better than what the Galaxy S21 Ultra has to offer. While the phone does include a better wide-angle lens, its zoom capabilities aren’t as good and its main camera is barely at par with the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 108MP primary sensor. The phone also packs a smaller 4,500mAh battery, but that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most buyers as OnePlus offers much faster 65W wired fast charging support and 50W wireless fast charging support.
Why the ASUS ROG Phone 5 Pro and ROG Phone 5 Ultimate?
The ASUS ROG Phone 5 Pro and the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate are also viable Galaxy S21 Ultra alternatives for those in the US. The phones are more or less the same as the vanilla ROG Phone 5, but they offer a few additional features. The ROG Phone 5 Pro comes with 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM And 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage, a secondary color display on the back, and two additional touch sensors. The ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, on the other hand, packs an eye-watering 18GB of LPDDR5 RAM, 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and a monochrome secondary display on the back. The phone also features two additional touch sensors on the back panel.
The ROG Phone 5 Pro and ROG Phone 5 Ultimate are great picks for mobile gamers, as they offer a host of gaming-specific features and accessories. But if you’re not into mobile gaming, you can pick the devices for their insane battery life and fast charging capabilities. On the downside, the ROG Phone 5 devices won’t offer the same camera capabilities as the Galaxy S21 Ultra and ASUS’ software support isn’t as robust as what Samsung offers with its latest flagships.
What is the absolute best Galaxy S21 alternative?
Which one of the Galaxy S21 alternatives mentioned above are you going to purchase? In my opinion, the iPhone 12 Pro is a great overall alternative to all three Galaxy S21 devices, provided you have the budget for it. If not, the vanilla iPhone 12 is also a great choice. If you want to stick to Android phones though, I would recommend getting one of the Xiaomi Mi 11 phones mentioned above. All three of those phones are better than Samsung’s flagship offerings in several aspects, and they’re all significantly cheaper as well.
Sadly, the phones aren’t available in North America and, if you’re in the region, you’ll have to go with either a OnePlus 9 series phone or one from the ROG Phone 5 lineup. Between the two, I would personally prefer ASUS’ offering, but the OnePlus 9 Pro isn’t a bad option either. If you don’t find any of these Galaxy S21 alternatives appealing enough, you should probably stick to Samsung’s offerings since they are also pretty goood phones by themselves.