SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

smartphones
what to expect in 2021

Smartphones — What to Expect in 2021 

While 2020 was a challenging year for many, it was a pretty good year for smartphone releases. With fan-favorites like the second-generation iPhone SE and the Galaxy S20 5G, the bar for 2021 releases is fairly high. Smartphone enthusiasts have come to expect top quality, premium designs — and many are looking for options to get those features without breaking the bank. While most of the year's upcoming releases are unsurprising — yet still exciting — there are a few new contenders in the battle for the top phone of the year. 

  • What Phones Will Come Out in 2021 
  •  Samsung Galaxy S21 
  •  BlackBerry 5G 
  • Apple iPhone 13
  • Microsoft Surface Duo 2
  • Nokia 10
  • Google Pixel 6
  • Apple iPhone SE Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 21
  • OnePlus 9

If you're ready to upgrade, here's what you can expect in 2021.

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

smartphones
Features for 2021

Multiple cameras

Faster processors

5G connectivity

Enhanced security

Sleek design

Cost options

Smartphone Features for 2021 

Smartphones evolve quickly, with each year bringing new features and improvements into focus.

Overall, here's what you can expect for upcoming phones in 2021: 

  • Multiple cameras: In just a few years, smartphones have grown from being two-camera devices to sporting multiple rear-facing cameras. Users have come to expect premium releases to have at least three lenses on the back, usually a combination of wide, ultra-wide or telephoto, with high resolutions and zoom capabilities. With more people working from home, camera quality and a stable connection are even more important for some users. 
  • Enhanced security: Security has become more important to phone users than ever before, and security professionals expect the conversation surrounding mobile privacy and safety to expand even more this year. Some 2021 releases, like the BlackBerry® 5G, are keeping security at the center of the design, rather than a secondary feature. 
  • Faster processors: Each year brings with it faster, more powerful processor chipsets, each designed to handle the increasing specs and demand of premium devices. Always check the internal performance specs of a device before purchasing, especially if you do a lot of mobile gaming or video streaming. 
  • Sleek design: Smartphones usually fall into one of two design categories — sleek, sharp edges or rounded curves. 2021 will see releases of both designs, available in dozens of different colors and finishes. Samsung® and Apple® phones will likely continue shipping without earbuds or chargers in the box, so keep that in mind as you shop. 
  • 5G connectivity: Last year was the first time we saw 5G phones really enter the arena, and it will become the new normal for upcoming releases as more carriers and towers gain 5G access. Fortunately, as 5G technology improves, the price point for 5G-enabled devices should also start to be more accessible. 
  • Cost options: Some manufacturers have started shifting their focus to offer both premium smartphone offerings and more impressive mid-range models to accommodate all user budgets. Keep an eye out for a larger range of prices and varying specs across each release. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

What Phones Will Come Out in 2021? 

Of all the new phones coming out in 2021, these are some of the most highly anticipated: 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung fans who weren't ready to pay for Samsung's S20 lineup last year have a lot to be excited about with the upcoming Galaxy S21 5G release.

Samsung Galaxy S21 

Samsung fans who weren't ready to pay for Samsung's S20 lineup last year have a lot to be excited about with the upcoming Galaxy S21 5G release. Samsung's focus was on creating a less expensive device that still offered many of the same new-release staples, including multiple first-rate camera lenses, great battery life and a powerful chipset. The S21 lineup, which is scheduled to release at the end of January, will include a base S21 5G model, as well as the S21+ 5G and S21 5G Ultra.

To make the prices more affordable, Samsung opted out of including a microSD card and substituted the base model's glass back for a polycarbonate one. Devices will no longer ship with a charger in the box, a move that's becoming common across manufacturers to reduce waste and lower costs.

Each variation includes an AMOLED display with an easier-than-ever in-screen fingerprint sensor for unlocking the device. They ship with the latest Android 11, complete with new and enhanced conversation, accessibility, content capture, predictive tools, device controls and privacy and security features. Android 11 pairs with the Samsung One UI 3.0 skin, which includes improved notifications, faster widget access and an upgraded Samsung Free aggregate news feed.

In addition to a 120hz refresh rate, the Galaxy S21 lineup is among the first to use Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 888 processor, which boasts 5G compatibility, a 25% higher-performing CPU and a 35% increase in GPU over the Galaxy's previous Qualcomm processor. Snapdragon 888 also lends itself to improved camera performance and faster capture speeds, as well as an enhanced focus on AI features.

Despite the lower cost, you still get the same great camera quality you've come to expect from a new Galaxy device, in addition to improved Night Mode, Portrait Mode and a better-than-ever Single Take feature that lets you capture photo and video at the same time. Director's View even lets you use both the front and back cameras at once.
Specific camera, battery and color specifications vary between models. Each also has its own dimensions: 

  • Galaxy S21 5G: The base model weighs just over 6 ounces with a flat, Full HD+ 6.2-inch display screen and comes in Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink. It's available with either 128GB or 256GB of storage space. There are three rear lenses — a 12MP Wide, a 12MP Ultra Wide and a 64MP Telephoto — equipped with a Hybrid Optical 3X zoom. The front camera is 10MP. Every lens shoots 4K videos at 60 frames per second, and you can achieve as high as 8K recording at 24 frames per second on the back. As far as the battery goes, you won't be disappointed. The S21 5G has a 4,000 mAh battery that, according to a test conducted by TechRadar, will likely last all day. 
  • Galaxy S21+ 5G: Both the S21+ and the Ultra swap the polycarbonate back for a glass back. At 7.13 ounces and equipped with a 6.7-inch display screen, the S21+ is slightly bigger than the base model. There is also an increased 4,800 mAh battery capacity. The color lineup offers a mix of new and returning colors, including Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Gold, Phantom Violet and Phantom Red. The camera lenses and space variations remain the same. 
  • Galaxy S21 5G Ultra: True to Samsung's previous releases, the Ultra makes up for its increased price for its extra features, like S-Pen support, Quad HD resolution, curved display edges and the addition of a 512GB storage variation. There are also better — and more — camera lenses. The back houses four, including a 108MP Wide Angle, two 10MP Telephotos and a 12MP Ultra Wide. The front camera is a 40MP lens. The device powers these upgrades with a 5,000 mAh battery capacity. Color options include a line of dark neutrals, like Phantom Black, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown, and the lighter Phantom Silver and Phantom Titanium models.
     

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

Though there have been a few rumors about a possible Google Pixel Pro 5, nothing has been confirmed, making the Pixel 6 the most likely candidate for a 2021 release.

Google Pixel 6 

Though there have been a few rumors about a possible Google Pixel Pro 5, nothing has been confirmed, making the Pixel 6 the most likely candidate for a 2021 release. Since Google just released its $699 Pixel 5 back in October 2020, it may be a few months before we get confirmed news about the expected Pixel 6 release — but that hasn't stopped tech insiders from speculating about its features.

As a refresher, last year's Pixel 5 ran on a Snapdragon 765G processor and had a 6-inch display. Cameras, though powerful, were simple — a 12.2MP sensor paired with a 16MP ultra-wide lens on the back, with an 8MP lens in the front. The still-available device shoots video in 1080p and 4K. The design was controversial upon release, with some disappointed with the lack of innovation and others satisfied with the recycled aluminum enclosure and sage or black color options. The phone was intended to be a mid-range offering, so the specs of the next addition to the Pixel lineup rest upon whether Google wants to put out another affordable mid-range phone or opt for a more premium device.

Industry experts have weighed in on what they want and expect to see, including:

  • A telephoto camera lens — not yet present in any of the Pixel lineup — that would offer better quality zooming. 
  • A sleeker, more visually interesting design without sacrificing the lightweight frame. 
  • An extended window for guaranteed Android updates, an increase from the current three-year promise.  

After a Google patent for a future phone with an invisible selfie camera surfaced, some believe that the Pixel 6 — or maybe its successor — will play around with a front-facing camera that exists under the screen for a more streamlined design. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

BlackBerry 5G

the new 5G model is geared toward productivity, professionals and those who want to own a BlackBerry because of nostalgia and what it represents.

BlackBerry 5G 

At one point in history, BlackBerry dominated the world of mobile telephones. Many will remember its popular two-way pager that evolved into a mobile phone with a trackball and full keyboard. As other smartphone entities like Apple began finding their footing and pushing the boundaries of what a mobile phone could be, BlackBerry neglected to match the pace and eventually discontinued their phones altogether in 2016, seemingly forever. Now, Texas-based startup OnwardMobility wants to change that with the BlackBerry 5G, slated for an early or mid-2021 release. No word yet on carrier compatibility or estimated price point.

Of the new phones coming out in 2021, the revived device is the most unexpected — in more ways than one. Like the BlackBerry phones of the past, the new 5G model is geared toward productivity, professionals and those who want to own a BlackBerry because of nostalgia and what it represents. Though we're a long way from trackballs, the new BlackBerry 5G is turning heads with its fresh take on a physical keypad. The company has yet to confirm the final design, so we're still unsure what form that physical keyboard might take, but it's enough to keep all eyes on the upcoming release.

Another popular selling point will be the renewed dedication to security and privacy, a feature many smartphone users have been adamant about in today's releases. The team is also focusing on more American-made features and components. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

Apple iPhone SE Plus

The original iPhone SE — now dubbed the SE first-generation — debuted in 2016 but didn't see quite the same success as its 2020 follow-up. 

Apple iPhone SE Plus 

The original iPhone SE — now dubbed the SE first-generation — debuted in 2016 but didn't see quite the same success as its 2020 follow-up. The second-generation model released last year and still available for purchase remains a favorite for many because of its lower price point and powerful A13 Bionic chip processing power. The 12MP and 7MP back and front cameras are even commendable quality — albeit a bit average compared to Apple's more premium lens offerings — for the price point.

Though very little is known about the SE follow-up, insiders agree on a few speculations:

  • The phone will be physically larger than the SE 2020.  
  • It will not be released until after the iPhone 12, likely toward the end of the year. 
  • It may be similar to the iPhone 8 Plus since the SE 2020 and original iPhone 8 were similar. 
  • It will have multiple camera lenses on the back, unlike the original. 
  • The cost will likely be under $500. 
  • The design may be more streamlined, with less space taken up by bezels. 
  • It will rely on Touch ID rather than Face ID. 

Of course, this is all speculation — stay tuned to find out more information as it's released. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

Though never done before, some also speculate the new iPhone 13 — or the devices that follow soon after — may offer a variation with a terabyte of storage space

Apple iPhone 13 

Though the iPhone 12 and its variations were released just a few months ago, Apple enthusiasts are already excited for the upcoming iPhone 13, which will likely hit shelves by autumn 2021. Little is known and nothing confirmed about the device, which may not even be called the iPhone 13 — but there are a few things we can assume:

  • It won't be too drastic of a design change, considering the iPhone 12 debuted with the most drastic design change in recent years. 
  • There will probably be multiple variations, as with previous releases, like a 13 Pro and Mini.
  • We may see a return of TouchID to combat the mask-related concerns with using FaceID to unlock.  
  • It could have a smaller notch than the iPhone 12. 
  • The camera lenses will likely remain similar, if not the same, but there may be enhancements to existing photo modes. 
  • A predicted 120hz refresh rate.
  • A possible upgrade to the already-powerful Bionic chipset processor.
     

Though never done before, some also speculate the new iPhone 13 — or the devices that follow soon after — may offer a variation with a terabyte of storage space. It's also likely that Apple will continue shipping new devices without earbuds and chargers in the box, as they have with the past few releases. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

Samsung Galaxy Note 21 

The Samsung Galaxy Note 21 — though still unconfirmed — would be the follow-up to 2020's Note 20. Though last year's model had an Ultra variation, the speculated Note 21 may not. In fact, Samsung may be preparing to phase the line of devices out altogether.

For the sake of speculation, we'll assume there will be a Note 21. Insiders predict a late summer release and a similar price point to the Note 20's debut cost of $999. If Samsung follows their usual patterns, there could be a Note 21 Ultra, though that is also uncertain. The Note 21 will likely have whatever processor Samsung's using for its current Galaxy release — in this case, the Snapdragon 888 — which will boost overall speed and performance.

Some are hoping for a slight change to the design, namely a glass back for the base Note 21 and not just the Ultra, as was the case with last year's release. One predictive rendering of the upcoming Note shows it with a wraparound camera module and more screen real estate. Some insiders have noted that, without the included S-pen that gives the Note its name, it would be nearly indistinguishable from the Galaxy S21 Ultra. That said, it would be a welcomed addition for anyone who loves the convenience and productivity benefits associated with the Note line.

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

Microsoft
Surface Duo 2

The flagship Microsoft Duo has a 5.6-inch display screen on the left and an 8.1-inch screen on the right, with the folded unit weighing nearly 9 ounces.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 

The flagship Microsoft Duo has a 5.6-inch display screen on the left and an 8.1-inch screen on the right, with the folded unit weighing nearly 9 ounces. Instead of the standard front and rear cameras, it had a single front-facing 11MP adaptive lens equipped with various modes and portrait settings, as well as 4K video at 30 and 60 frames per second. It costs about $1,400.

If Microsoft plans to release a sequel to the Duo in 2021 or 2022 — something that has not yet been confirmed but highly speculated — experts are hoping for an internal processor that better matches the price tag as well as wireless charging capabilities. Fans of the Duo love the innovation and convenience of having two separate screens supporting different apps, but many would also enjoy a camera on the back of the device to make photographing less clunky. It's also likely to include 5G support to compete with other devices across the board. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

OnePlus 9 

In 2020, OnePlus released the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, each equipped with a solid battery and the same Snapdragon 865 processor present in the Galaxy S20 lineup. In a poll comparing the Galaxy S20 Plus to the OnePlus 8 Pro, more than 47% of respondents preferred the OnePlus device over the Galaxy — an impressive score for a company not yet considered a top carrier partner in the United States.

Now, the company is gearing up for its 2021 OnePlus 9 release. We don't know the date or even the quarter yet, but experts think it's likely to drop this spring. Early renderings show it having a front-facing selfie camera and a three-lens setup on the back. The display size will probably remain close to or larger than last year's display at 6.55 inches. Keeping up with the competition, the 9 will likely have a Snapdragon 888 processor like other 2021 Android phones.

Other predicted features include: 

  • Wireless charging abilities. 
  • A 48MP primary and 48MP ultra-wide lens. 
  • Similar rounded edges to last year's releases. 
  • A $699-$799 price range for the base model. 
  • A 4,500 mAh battery

The OnePlus 9 is also expected to be the base model of an entire OnePlus 9 lineup, including upgraded Pro versions. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

NOKIA 10

If their 2021 device overcomes some of the bumps they saw last year, the Nokia 10 could be one of the top releases of the year.

Nokia 10 

The 2020 Nokia 9 PureView — with its five camera lenses and in-screen fingerprint sensor — was met with mixed reviews. Insiders hope the 2021 Nokia 10 will be a bit more impressive while sticking close to the mid-range $599 price tag. The phone is likely to hit shelves in late 2021, though nothing — including the device's official name — is confirmed. Assuming they continue with another mid-range release, you can expect the latest Snapdragon chipset and multiple camera lenses like last time. We might also get an upgraded metal body and glass display for a more refined finish.

It may or may not be 5G compatible — a feature that will undoubtedly play a large part in the total price upon release. With each release, it's clear that Nokia wants to forge its own path in the world of smartphones, with familiar specs that still surprise. If their 2021 device overcomes some of the bumps they saw last year, the Nokia 10 could be one of the top releases of the year. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

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