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.
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.
"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.
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.
You could argue that Motorola made budget phones worth buying when it launched the original Moto G in 2013. That device was a marvel at the time—for under $200, you could get a smartphone that didn't suck. Suddenly, everyone was making $200-300 phones that also mostly didn't suck. Today, the mid-range space is much more crowded, and Moto has sometimes failed to make a splash with the annual Moto G revamp. This year there are three new G-series phones, including the Moto G Power. Arguably, this is the device with the widest appeal. There's no stylus included, but it's got more muscle than the G Play, and it has a big honkin' battery.
Premium Sony phones like the Xperia 5 II are hard to review. They're made for a very specific demographic — one so specific as to comprise roughly zero percent of the market. They're made for people who want both niche features like a physical shutter button and features that used to be common but now aren't, like headphone jacks, expandable storage, and displays without notches or hole-punches.
And that's fine! If you're a member of that subset of a subset of consumers, you'll probably like the Xperia 5 II very much. But the phone costs $950, which, after a barn burner of a year for very competent phones that cost $800, $700, $600, and less, is a bitter pill to swallow.
While Google did release a "flagship" Pixel 5 this year, I think the more budget-friendly Pixel 4a 5G has stolen its thunder. The sleeper-hit is basically a bigger Pixel 5 that's missing a few features, but $200 cheaper. That means skipping out on an IP rating, 90Hz display, a bit of RAM, and a metal (ish) build, but you get a bigger screen and a headphone jack, paired with with the same camera, internals, and the Pixel software experience. At just $500, this is my favorite phone of 2020.
2020 has been a very, very good year for smartphones. We've seen some wild and crazy stuff land, from folding to flipping devices, and the average phone is better than it's ever been. That puts the OnePlus 8T in a tough spot: It's a good phone that adheres to OnePlus' usual formula, but the competition is better than it's ever been, and "good" isn't enough to beat them.
Phones have gotten boring in the last few years, but things are getting weird again, and thank goodness. I have been doing this long enough to remember the last time phones got weird—I've reviewed phones with spring-loaded keyboards, tablet docks, curved bodies, and all manner of multi-screen configurations. After settling on the flat glass slab form factor, OEMs are finally starting to take more risks. No phone better exemplifies this trend than the LG Wing. While LG has been pushing dual-screen accessories for a while, the Wing is the first modern LG phone that integrates a second screen in the handset.
Samsung's top-end phones are getting more and more expensive at an alarming rate, as evidenced by the fact that very few people bought an S20 during the series's launch window. Seeing the gap to fill between bargain-bin budget phones and outright luxury devices, this week, Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition. It costs $700 (currently $600 on sale), and it packs a ton of features we're used to seeing in flagships with very few compromises. This might just be the best phone of the year.