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Best Samsung phone for you in 2021

Samsung continues to lead the world in smartphone market share with Huawei recently passing up Apple for the second spot. Samsung offers a range of smartphones with the A-series, S-series, Note line, and new foldable Android smartphones.

Samsung continues to lead the world in smartphone market share, with 20% of the market. Huawei took the lead last quarter, but Samsung moved back on top in Q3 2020, while Apple follows with about 14%. 

Samsung's latest foldable, the Galaxy Z Fold 2, is a stunning feat of engineering, and after testing one out, I purchased the black model with red metallic hinge. It's been my daily driver since it arrived and is one of my favorite phones over the past 20 years, easily securing the top spot in my 10 best smartphones list.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G

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While I fell in love with the Galaxy Fold last year, I didn't include it in my 10 best smartphones list because it seemed like an extravagant purchase. However, given the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the third iteration of its folding phone and has been significantly improved, it deserves to not only be on this list but to be at the top.

I spent a couple of weeks with a review unit, and after just a couple of days with that evaluation device, I ordered my own. I exercised patience and ordered a black phone with a metallic red hinge and it is lovely. The Z Fold 2 is priced at $2,000, but if you use your device as much as I do daily to get work done, then the price can be justified.

The Z Fold 2 serves as a very capable smartphone and small tablet, providing an extremely strong and fast 5G connection in both modes. The outside display offers a typical 6.2-inch smartphone experience while the large 7.6-inch main display is stunning with a 120Hz refresh rate and Samsung's lovely AMOLED technology.

You get the fastest RAM and internal storage speeds available today, triple rear cameras, two other 10MP cameras, and much more. The 4500mAh battery easily gets you through a full day, even when using the large main screen.

$2,000 at Best Buy $2,000 at Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

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While the Galaxy S20 series that launched in early 2020 provide compelling options, they are flagship phones priced in the $1,000 and higher range. In order to offer customers another alternative, Samsung recently released the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) 5G phones. The S20 FE is available in five lovely colors to suit your style.

Priced at $699.99, you may think Samsung compromised a lot to offer a powerful 5G phone. However, we see a 6.5-inch Infinity-O display with 120Hz dynamic refresh rate, high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, large capacity 4500mAh battery, 6GB of RAM, 128GB storage with a microSD card slot, IP68 dust/water resistance, three rear cameras (one with 3X optical and 30x super-resolution zoom), and a high resolution 32MP front camera.

Where are the compromises? Exactly, there really aren't any and yet the $700 price is where we see phones in the upper mid-range with less capable specs appear. The S20 FE challenges Google's new Pixel 5 and other phones.

View Now at Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy Note 20/Note 20 5G

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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The Note 20 devices bring everything we saw on the S20 series, with some improvements in the cameras. Of course, the S Pen is a staple of the Note series, and with the Note 20, we see more Air Actions that are actually proving to be quite useful and reliable this year.

Samsung's two Note 20 series devices are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus, unique AMOLED 6.7- and 6.9-inch 120Hz refresh rate displays that automatically adjust for the content being displays, 8GB and 12GB RAM, 128GB with a 512GB storage option for the Ultra (with a microSD for even more capacity), three rear cameras, IP68 rating, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5. Battery capacity is 4,300mAh and 4,500mAh.

$900 at Amazon $900 at Best Buy $350 at Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

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Samsung announced the Galaxy S20 series earlier this year and I've spent a few months with the S20 Ultra 5G. The focus on the S20 line this year is universal 5G and improved camera experiences. The camera on the S20 Ultra had some auto-focus issues at launch that has since been fixed with updates. The camera is different than previous Samsung devices and the large main sensor doesn't support macro mode like Samsung phones of the past.

The Samsung S20 Ultra 5G is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, a 6.9-inch AMOLED 120Hz refresh rate display, 12GB RAM (with 16GB option), 128GB to 512GB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, three rear cameras with very high hybrid zoom levels, IP68 rating, WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5. A battery capacity of 5,000mAh ensures you can get through a full day.

5G is supported in the S20 Ultra 5G, across all available bands in the US. It's an expensive phone, but future-proof for 5G so that is worth it for businesses. It's a very large phone, but this size also means you can get real work done on the 6.9-inch display.

$1,100 at Amazon $1,400 at Best Buy $1,397 at Sam's Club

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus 5G

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Given that the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G is a very large phone, the S20 Plus 5G may be the better option for the masses. It feels much better in the hand and offers nearly the same capability as the S20 Ultra 5G, at prices $200 less.            

After testing out the S20 Ultra 5G, I visited my local T-Mobile store and traded in my iPhone 11 Pro for a Galaxy S20 Plus. ZDNet's Jason Cipriani's full review of the S20 Plus accurately depicts the appeal of the S20 Plus and if I was to keep an S20 series the Plus would be the best version for me.

The Samsung S20 Plus is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 6.7-inch AMOLED 120Hz refresh rate display, 12GB RAM, 128GB to 512GB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, three rear cameras, IP68 rating, WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5. A 4,500mAh battery keeps you going for at least a day.

We have seen up to a $200 price decrease on the S20 Plus since the launch, along with various bundles and trade-in offers.

$1,299 at eBay

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

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(Image: ZDNet)

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 sat on top of our 10 best smartphone list for much of the past year. While the headphone jack is gone, everything else has been improved on the 2019 version of the Galaxy Note.

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is an excellent enterprise smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, massive amounts of RAM, fast internal storage, microSD card expansion, capable rear quad-camera system, and much more. There is no 5G across the Note 10 series, but there is a variant for 5G on T-Mobile. The focus here is on the S Pen experience and 5G is sure to launch across the series this year.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus has a Link to the Windows button in the quick controls area along with support for the latest version of DeX. Extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the Note 10 Plus is convenient for road warriors.

The Note 10 Plus starts at $950 and will likely drop further when the Note 20 is announced. There are also generous trade-in options available.

$570 at Walmart

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G

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The focus on the S20 line this year is universal 5G and improved camera experiences. The S20 5G is the most affordable S20 model, currently starting at $800. Other than smaller size, there are not many differences between this S20 and the S20 Ultra model.

The S20 5G is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 6.2-inch AMOLED 120Hz refresh rate display, 12GB RAM, 128GB to 512GB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, three rear cameras, 4,000mAh battery, IP68 rating, WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5. The S20 does not support high band (mmWave) faster 5G networks, but these have limited range and in the current coronavirus situation is not as useful as longer-range low-band 5G networks.

$640 at Amazon $1,000 at Best Buy $998 at Sam's Club

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

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Image: Best Buy

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 has a slightly smaller 6.3-inch display compared to the Note 10 Plus 6.8-inch display. With this smaller display comes a smaller capacity 3,500mAh battery. It also does not have the TrueDepth sensor on the back.

You still get the full S Pen experience and the Note 10 is easier for people to handle with its smaller size. 8GB of RAM is also provided, which is still plenty to get work done.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 has a Link to the Windows button in the quick controls area along with support for the latest version of DeX. Extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the Note 10 is convenient for road warriors.

The Galaxy Note 10 is currently priced at $800 so as you look across available $800 phones you need to decide what is most important to you.

$950 at Walmart $1,000 at Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Z Flip 5G

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The Samsung Galaxy Fold was one of my favorite devices ever launched by Samsung, but in the end, it just didn't meet my daily needs at a price that was too high to accept. This year Samsung launched the Galaxy Z Flip with the folding mechanism positioned for portrait mode.

It sold with limited availability for a price of $1,400, but the people who did pick one up seemed to love the design and construction.

The phone has a large 6.7-inch AMOLED screen when unfolded and closes in half to make it more portable. It is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of internal storage, and a small 3,300mAh battery. Battery life is one concern with this phone, especially at a high price.

The Z Flip has dual rear cameras and a side fingerprint sensor. It is a capable phone, but more of a fashion statement than a business phone.

$1,150 at eBay

Samsung Galaxy A51

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Image: Samsung

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The 2020 Apple iPhone SE has been garnering attention due to its $400 starting price. Samsung just launched its first A-series device in the US with the Galaxy A51 and it looks to take on the iPhone SE directly with the same $400 price.

For $400, Samsung A51 buyers get a Samsung Exynos 9611 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage with a microSD card slot, 6.5-inch Super AMOLED screen, four rear cameras (including a depth sensor), 32MP front-facing camera, Android 10, and a large 4,000mAh battery.

Specifications indicate Samsung is launching a serious iPhone SE contender here that even has a 3.5mm audio port. There is no dust/water resistance, but otherwise, it looks to be a capable device.

$400 at Amazon $400 at Walmart $400 at Best Buy