If you're in the market for a new Android smartphone this holiday season, chances are the Samsung Galaxy S21 is somewhere on your shortlist. For many Android buyers, the Samsung flagship is the default choice given the company's recent track record of predictable brilliance and generous discounts in the U.S.
But at this time of year, we're barely a couple of months away from the Galaxy S22 series becoming available, replacing the S21 at the top of Samsung's flagship lineup. So is the S21 still worth the cash? We've broken down the top six factors to consider if you're eyeing a festive S21 purchase.
The S21 is a great all-rounder
There's a reason the Galaxy S21 occupied the top spot on our list of best Android phones for most of 2021: It's a superb all-around flagship that does pretty much everything you could want. And unlike the higher-specced, big-screened S21 Ultra, picking it up won't cost you an eye-watering sum. The standard price for an unlocked S21 is $799 at the time of writing.
In the U.S., it's powered by Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon 888 processor, with 8GB of RAM as standard. It's got a brilliant, smooth 120Hz Full HD+ display and a capable triple camera system offering both ultrawide and 3X optical zoom capabilities. And handy conveniences like Qi wireless charging and 25W fast wired charging mean refills are as hassle-free as possible.
It's a better value than ever
Even outside of any holiday sales that might be going on, there aren't many phones that offer as much as the S21 at its $799 price point. Usually, there are some trade-offs, like the lack of a telephoto camera or a slower display with flagship phones under the $900 mark.
Samsung also offers aggressive trade-in credit for the S21 when you replace older handsets — especially Samsung, Apple, or Google models. The company will still give you $200 for a Galaxy Note 10 when traded in to buy a new S21, for instance, knocking the price down to $599. Trading in a more recent device can knock that price down even further.
But the Galaxy S22 — and S21 FE — are coming soon
New Samsung phones are on the way. The Galaxy S21 FE is rumored to be announced at the CES trade show in Las Vegas in January, followed in February by the Galaxy S22 series. The base model S22 will likely offer some sizable hardware upgrades over the S21, like a new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, refreshed cameras, and a new glass-backed chassis. Meanwhile, the S21 FE could undercut the regular S21's value, offering a similar feature set at an even lower price.
With both phones likely to put pressure on the S21, we couldn't blame you for waiting — at least until the S21 FE appears in the coming weeks.
Samsung has fantastic software support
Samsung's latest software update commitment means the S21 will get Android platform updates until 2024, with a further year of security patches after that. (That means Android 14 and One UI 6, if you're counting.) This level of software commitment is among the best you'll find in the Android world, coming close to matching the support lifespan of Google's Pixel 6 phones. (Admittedly, you'll wait a little longer for those Samsung updates in later years.)
That means even as it approaches its first birthday, the S21 is likely to see timely updates for quite some time. As we've witnessed with the One UI 4 update rollout, Samsung has wasted no time pushing the latest version of its software to older phones like the Galaxy S20 series. (The 2020 flagships have had to wait around an extra month to get One UI 4, following the rollout for the S21 line in November 2021.)
But there's fierce competition from Google
The S21's closest Android competitor is probably Google's Pixel 6. The base model Pixel 6 sells for just $599 and boasts a technically superior main camera sensor, Google's attractive Material You design language, and day-one Android platform updates for four years after launch.
On balance, the two are very closely matched, and as always, your buying choice should come down to budget versus feature set. Samsung offers a brighter 120Hz display, a dedicated telephoto camera, and a faster in-screen fingerprint scanner. But the Google device will be supported for longer, has more AI-powered software smarts thanks to its Tensor processor, as well as longer battery life.
Consider Samsung's resale value
Samsung flagships like the Galaxy S21 are second only to Apple's iPhones in retaining resale value, particularly when used for trade-in credit with Samsung itself. When a new Samsung phone launches, often the most generous deals are reserved for existing Galaxy owners trading up to pick up a new handset, so that Samsung can keep current customers on board.
So even if you're paying $799 upfront for an S21, you'll likely be able to reclaim some portion of that cost later, providing you want to stay within the Samsung ecosystem. Your best bet is to look out for special sales events where Samsung often offers enhanced trade-in prices on certain models.
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Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.