The pandemic might’ve slowed and stopped many things in 2020, but it didn’t prevent the tech world from pumping out a bunch of really stellar smartphones.
That trend looks to continue unabated into 2021, with the Samsung Galaxy S21 already releasing plus leaks and rumours pointing to big new phones from all of the other major makers. We’re sure to see 5G support in nearly every noteworthy release, including in more and more phones further down the price scale. We hope to see some really distinctive designs in the mix as well.
If you’re plotting an upgrade sometime this year, here’s a look at all of the big phones that are rumoured or leaked for this year so far. And stay tuned, as we’ll be updating this list with new entries and info over the course of the year, as well as with links to our reviews of released phones.
(Lead concept image via OnLeaks)
Apple iPhone 13
It’s early days still, what with the excellent iPhone 12 (shown) just launching a few months back, but there are already several leaks and rumours about what to expect from the iPhone 13.
Multiple reports from the supply chain suggest that the iPhone 13 may feature a smaller notch — something that’s been rumoured since the iPhone X released, to no avail — but otherwise be pretty similar to the iPhone 12’s aesthetic. A grippier matte backing is also rumoured, but potentially only for the Pro models (it’s unclear).
We could also see the sensor-shift optical image stabilisation from the iPhone 12 Pro Max extend out to the full iPhone 13 line, along with an improved ultra-wide camera and added astrophotography smarts. And let’s hope that the rumoured 120Hz screen refresh rate that didn’t make the cut on the iPhone 12 shows up on the iPhone 13 – rumours suggest it will, along with an always-on display (as seen in a concept render up top). There’s talk of a 1TB storage option, too, which would double the current peak available on the iPhone 12 Pro.
Apple’s usual release window is in September, although the pandemic pushed the last one to October. We expect to see the iPhone 13 in the same kind of autumn window this year.
Last year saw OnePlus entirely shed its “budget flagship” status with its priciest phones to date, then try to make up for it by rolling out mid-range and low-end models. It’ll be interesting to see how the company positions itself in 2021, and all eyes are on the OnePlus 9 to reassert the brand’s status as a fan favorite.
OnePlus CEO has stated on social media that the company is focused on improving the quality of its cameras this year, as that has long been the weakest point of the experience. Rumours have circulated around partnerships with camera heavyweights like Leica or Hasselblad, but there’s been nothing definitive on that front.
The above OnePlus 9 Pro concept render from leaker OnLeaks shows how this year’s most premium model might look, with a 6.7in screen and a design borrowing from both the OnePlus 8 Pro and OnePlus 8T. OnePlus has teased a launch event for 8 March, and rumours suggest that there will be a OnePlus 9R or 9 Lite alongside the standard and Pro models, as well as the first OnePlus smartwatch.
Oppo Find X3 Pro
The Oppo Find X2 Pro was one of last year’s smartphone surprises, delivering an excellent high-end Android with plenty of bells and whistles. Soon we’ll see whether Oppo can top it as quite a bit has leaked around the Oppo Find X3 Pro ahead of a confirmed launch event on 11 March.
Noted leaker Evan Blass (or evleaks) spilled a motherload of details around the phone, including this wild narrative trailer above that shows off just about anything you’d need to know. The 5G phone comes with a 6.7” screen at QHD+ resolution and 120Hz, there’s a Snapdragon 888 onboard, and the quad-camera array has an interesting 60x microlens camera for super-zooming close up into objects like a microscope. Useful? Maybe!
Along with all of those top-end perks, including 30W wireless charging and 65W wired charging, the phone’s design has some interesting curves. It’s a bit iPhone 12 Pro Max-ish, but also not. WinFuture has a closer look via leaked renders. We’ll see it in a matter of days, along with the less-robust Neo and Lite models.
Huawei P50 Pro
Huawei appears poised to roll out a new P-series model this spring, with concept renders and leaks of the P50 Pro emerging of late. These glimpses suggest a phone that doesn’t visually deviate too much from its predecessor, with another waterfall-style screen onboard.
The biggest visual change on the front appears to come with a single, centered camera cutout in the screen, rather than a double-wide cutout in the left corner. We’ll surely see Huawei’s Kirin 9000 5G processor and some seriously great cameras too, but if nothing changes with the United States’ restrictions on Huawei in the coming months, then there still won’t be Google apps and services onboard. A leaker suggests that the P50 Pro could boast the first-ever 1in mobile camera sensor, from Sony.
The latest rumours point to a late March unveiling, perhaps 26 March, so stay tuned for official word before too long.
Google Pixel 5a
Things got a bit confusing between the Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G, and Pixel 5, all launching in the later months of last year, especially with the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 boasting a lot of similarities. And things might get even more perplexing with the rumoured launch of the Pixel 5a.
That’s a concept render above from OnLeaks, and if you thought it was just the Pixel 4a 5G, well… we get it. There are no obvious differences that we can see, so maybe Google just found a design it really likes or the leaks just haven’t sprouted enough details yet.
Timing will be the most interesting part of the equation. Given that Google just launched the latest three Pixel phones within the last handful of months, we wouldn’t expect anything anytime soon. OnLeaks suggests no significant changes, so it could just be an incremental rollout with a bit more power. Hopefully some more interesting leaks arrive soon.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
With S Pen stylus support officially coming to other Samsung phones and the Note line rumoured to be phased out, could the foldable Galaxy Z Fold take up the mantle of Samsung’s super-luxe productivity phone?
Rumours point to an incoming Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 this year with an S Pen slot, and the inclusion makes sense: the huge, tablet-sized screen on the inside of the foldable phone is an excellent surface for on-the-go work needs. LetsGoDigital and ConceptCreator produced the above concept render, borrowing some of the Galaxy S21’s design allure while adding the S Pen and slot. The latest leaks suggest an under-display camera and a June or July release, as well.
Additionally, Samsung is rumoured to be preparing a more affordable Galaxy Z Fold model for 2021, potentially called the Galaxy Z Fold FE to follow in the footsteps of the budget-friendlier Galaxy S20 revision. We haven’t heard much chatter about how the purported FE version will cut corners to trim down the price, but leaving out the S Pen would make sense alongside some more modest spec and material choices.
We thought we’d see the successor to the Nokia 6.2 by now, but no such luck. However, a recent leak from OnLeaks showcases what looks to be the refreshed design, and we should see it before too long.
Expected to be released either as the Nokia 6.3 or 6.4 (should Nokia skip a digit), the new phone doesn’t look dramatically different, but the back camera module has a more distinctive ring-like look and OnLeaks says the fingerprint sensor sits in the power button on the right side of the screen now. Expect a larger 6.45in display this time around.
Our 2021 phone reviews
Here’s a quick look at the 2021 phones we’ve already reviewed. Click the link on each to read the full, scored appraisal!
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G: A big, beastly phone with dazzling cameras – but more than you probably need.
Xiaomi Mi 11: A slick flagship at a more palatable price, albeit with software and camera niggles.
Motorola Moto G30: Low on power, but an incredible value – with a 90Hz screen, too!
Motorola Moto G9 Plus: Not as cheap, but a smoother overall experience at a good price.
Motorola Moto G10: Shockingly cheap, but you should pay the £30 extra for the G30 instead.