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RedMagic isn't a big name in the US, but it's been busy carving out a niche for budget gaming phones. Gaming phones almost always come with compromises, and a budget option even more so. Still, for $600, the RedMagic 6 is killer on paper with a Snapdragon 888, 12GB of RAM, and a 165Hz display, but prodigious specs aren't always enough when poor support is on the table. Still, some mobile gamers might make that trade-off for super-smooth gameplay when the RedMagic 6 launches later this month.
There's no doubt that the Asus ROG Phone 5 is a beast — as a gaming phone, it packs all of the latest and greatest hardware, and that makes it a really chunky boy. Asus has a laser focus on gaming-centric features that will delight its core demographic, but the ROG 5 isn’t a complete nightmare to use outside of gaming either. The ROG Phone 5 offers stable everyday use with the added benefit of killer specs that can be tweaked and adjusted like a gaming PC. This is indeed a phone for gamers, but that means it lacks some popular features, and the software has some rough edges.
Xiaomi's phones have long been known for their exceptional value proposition. You can always find the latest specs and features in a Xiaomi flagship phone, and it won't cost you an arm and a leg. It's something you don't often see these days when $1,000 has become the standard price for high-end hardware. That's not how Xiaomi rolls, though. With the Mi 11, Xiaomi has one of the best flagship phones on the market, offering killer specs and a great value, unless you happen to be in the US.
"Good" and "bad" smartphones can have qualifiers — as in, "good but too expensive" or "bad but so cheap it doesn't really matter." After all, everything is worth something to someone. But Samsung's recent Galaxy S21 isn't just a good phone, now that we're starting to see the rest of what 2021 has to offer, it comes in at a good price, too. In fact, the more I use it, the more I like it. So, we're taking the rare step of giving the Galaxy S21 our Most Wanted award.
Last year, Samsung released its most ambitious (non-folding) phone to date: the Galaxy S20 Ultra. It didn't go over especially well. A sky-high $1400 price tag and unremarkable camera performance torpedoed the phone outright in our final assessment, a rare miss for Samsung in the premium smartphone segment.
In 2021, Samsung is trying to reboot the Galaxy S20 Ultra formula with the S21 Ultra. And while the differences on paper (and often in practice) aren't what you'd call huge, the end result is a more palatably priced phone with a much-improved camera system — notably addressing our two biggest gripes.
OnePlus has been hugely successful in 2020. It's the only company in the US that managed to grow during the pandemic and decline of smartphone sales. Clearly, it's doing a lot of things right, but that doesn't mean its products are perfect. Performance, battery life, and software features have always impressed, but photo quality has always been behind the curve, and its update policy falls behind its competitors now, as does the quality of those updates over time. Will the nearly $1,000 OnePlus 9 Pro fix these last two lingering issues?
There was a time not that long ago that OnePlus phones were a guaranteed excellent value. That's no longer the case as the company has increasingly focused on flagship devices and carrier partnerships, pushing the cost of some devices over $1,000. Still, that doesn't mean OnePlus is incapable of delivering a good value anymore. The new OnePlus 9 is only $729, which is more than two Benjamins less than the OnePlus 9 Pro. It's even cheaper than the OnePlus 8T it replaces, which is a welcome reversal of trends.
For the last several years, Samsung's flagship Galaxy S phones have been split into three variants: a kitchen sink smartphone at the high-end, an entry-level device, and that phone in the middle you probably don't think about. This cycle, I've spent some time with Samsung's middle child, the Galaxy S21+, and I came away impressed. It's not as capable as the S21 Ultra, of course, but the form factor, build-quality, and features carve out a niche in the saturated smartphone market. I'd even go so far as to say the Galaxy S21+ is worth the $1,000 asking price for some people.
For the last couple years, Xiaomi’s been releasing its flagships lineup on a tic-toc cycle, with a volley early in the year, and another round — the T models — later that same year. For example, the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro landed in February 2020, followed by the Mi 10T and Mi 10T Pro in September 2020. So far this year, we got the Mi 11 in January, with a rumored Mi 11 Ultra coming soon. And that’s not including the “Lite” models.
Xiaomi may have diversified its product range to offer flagship phones, but the sub-$200 segment is still where all the action happens. The fact that it has maintained its lead in the budget segment, despite the increased pressure from Realme and Samsung, speaks volumes about how well Xiaomi knows what it's doing. That shows in the 2021 Redmi Note series. With the Redmi Note 10, Xiaomi has once again managed to find the balance between performance and price, which matters more than anything else in a market like India. But that doesn’t mean the Note 10 has no weak spots — it's got its fair share of them, and they could easily be a dealbreaker for some.