A waft of white smoke drifted across the stage. Suddenly, music blared from the speakers! There is a silhouette that appeared onto the stage before the spotlights are trained on it! Dazzled, you’re right smack in the middle of 2021 – not to mention also right in the middle of the NextPit halftime show. As we would normally do, we paused and took a look at the mobile releases of 2021 while choosing our stars over the past six months.
Why not pencil in July 2 on your calendar and give yourself a quick pat on the back at 12 noon sharp? In this fantastically unique moment, we have arrived at the exact middle of 2021. This moment, distilled down to just one second, brings about uncertainty and hope. Will I still win the lottery in Q3 or Q4, or will something bad happen? And more importantly, what other smartphones will be released this year?
For smartphone enthusiasts, the past six months have been kind of exciting. This is because it felt like Xiaomi alone has unveiled a new smartphone every other day and somehow the likes of Oppo, Realme, and others seemed to have followed this strategy. However, are there any real hits?
Programme for the evening
- Opening act: The new smartphone flood from China
- Main act: The (fallen) giants
- Cooldown: Sony, Nokia and Motorola fade away
- Encore: Our smartphone stars
- Audience participation: Have your say on which are your smartphone stars!
In our half-time show, we take a look over what has been released in the past few months. For this purpose, I have requested our editorial staff on their views where flagship SoCs featured in handsets released from January to June. Apart from that, I would also very much like to hear from you as to which particular smartphones appealed to you the most in the first six months of 2021. This is also part of the reason why this article is published a week earlier than intended – I’ll present the results next week!
Okay Benjamin, let us avoid using the word “invasion”. Let’s begin with a sensational start on the sheer number of smartphones that hail from China. The flood of smartphones from various Chinese manufacturers, who definitely went all-out in terms of quantity in 2021, saw the likes of Xiaomi launch a whopping 18 smartphones in a matter of just six months.
How this article works: This article is a review of the first half of 2021. If you’re interested in a particular smartphone, just click on the corresponding hyperlink. You’ll land on our device pages, where you’ll find spec sheets, reviews, and all other related articles to the device in question.
What Xiaomi has been doing seems to be catching on at Oppo, OnePlus, and Realme as well. This is because other manufacturers too, decided to expand their smartphone catalogue by introducing numerous iterations or rebadged handsets with very little improvement between them. Let’s take a closer look:
Xiaomi, Redmi and Poco
Mind you, these are just the devices that have made it to Europe from China. For the domestic market, Xiaomi has also introduced the Mi 11 Pro and the Mi Mix Fold, in addition to other models from the Note series. Crazy, don’t you think so?
While the Find X series has always been released as part of a trio, this year Oppo decided on separating them into 4G and 5G camps. The result? A mid-range quartet that had already caused confusion upon its release.
Realme follows a similar strategy, but makes up for a lot with the release of the Realme GT. Antoine was quite enthusiastic about the Realme GT in our review, and at the same time, this underdog from China was the only manufacturer who managed to tame the performance of the powerful Snapdragon 888 without having the handset run into overheating issues. Well done!
We have reported a lot about the “Oppofication” of OnePlus recently. The manufacturer announced that it wants to dive into a deeper level of cooperation with its sister company, Oppo. In the process, we can either look forward to or fear more rebadging efforts like the OnePlus Nord CE in the future.
Additional models from China
So as a smartphone maker, China has once again showed itself to be highly efficient. This is certainly due to the Chinese mantra concerning work ethics (I would like to recommend you watch the Netflix documentary “American Factory” for additional context), but much of it is also attributed to the purchasing power and economies of scale of Chinese companies.
This is because the smartphone companies now belong entirely or at least, in part to large corporations such as BBK or TCL. You can read more about the differentiation of manufacturers in China in Ruben’s very in-depth article of Chinese manufacturers.
While the stagehands remove the flags of the People’s Republic of China as well as oversized portraits of Xi Jinping, Apple, Samsung, and others slowly make their way onto the stage. Every halftime show needs superstars to strut their stuff – the equivalent of Bob Dylan in the music world. Such as these do not have the pressure of consistently delivering hits in order to carry an aura of respect around them.
Not even “The Times They Are a-Changin'” does tech superstar Apple perform at our halftime show. Apart from new iPads and fancy AirTags, Apple hasn’t unveiled much this year. Still, you can look forward to new iPhones later this year. However, it is a totally different story with Samsung!
Mötley Crue or Steely Dan? I’m not quite sure who Samsung symbolizes in this list. This is because, in true Donald Fagen fashion, Samsung has produced some real hits this year with the S21 series and selected A models. However, there was also a flood of rather unspectacular models that are not worth mentioning. The names of these sound more like what Vince Neil would produce on stage with Mötley Crue these days. Hear it for yourself!
Although the Mate X2 hasn’t been released in Europe yet, I’d like to mention it in this list. This is because the foldable is powered by HarmonyOS, making it a rather exciting device to look forward to. Otherwise, Huawei very briefly showcased the Huawei P50 Pro at a launch event. While interesting, these are not so suitable for markets outside of China due to the company’s tiff with the US government.
Surely you have noticed that Honor has made a clean break from Huawei. The former subsidiary is now celebrating its newly acquired independence with the Honor 50, which shares a very close family resemblance. In our halftime show, it continues to garner applause as Google’s services are finally back on board with Honor handsets.
In the first and second quarters of the year, Google continues to hold back when it comes to new hardware. While there’s not much to report concerning the rumored Pixel 5a, the supercompany’s absence from our mega event isn’t a bad thing. After all, Google is preparing a real banger with the impending release of Android 12. Show a little bit more patience, my young padawans.
Following the example of good old Aristotle, we’ve just overshot the climax of our event. I’m sure that all of us need a short break now, so I’ll pass around some cool drinks. With Sony, Nokia, Motorola, and other rather unexciting smartphone manufacturers, we are gearing up to present our smartphone stars. So it’s going to be exciting once this bit is over.
Sony’s new smartphones have been a long time coming, and have yet to land in our editorial office, but I do know that you are partial to the Xperia range. The two more expensive models sport variable telephoto lenses which make them all the more desirable. The Xperia Pro was also released in 2021, but with an MSRP of just under $2,500, it’s more for enterprise users.
Motorola has only surprised us with one device in the last few months: the re-release of the Motorola Defy! Otherwise, there were many entry-level and mid-range devices that weren’t worth a second look.
- Gigaset GX290 Plus
- Gigaset GS4
- Gigaset GS3
- Gigaset GS290
In order for our half-time show to go beyond the original time, I’ve listed a few more interesting models for you. Do also take into consideration how the likes of Ulefone, Doogee, or Oukitel too, are out there – which translates to even more handsets. I hope you’ll forgive me for concentrating on the above brands only.
I also chose this shortcut because I collected a few more votes from the editors. The question here was, “Which smartphone has been the best buy among my colleagues so far in 2021?” The crux of my question is this, “What smartphone would you buy with your own money in 2021?”
Antoine: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or Realme GT
If I had to buy a phone right now at this time and wanted to forgo financing, I’d go with the Realme GT. The phone has a really unbeatable price-performance ratio and actually only the camera is unworthy of a flagship.
If I could wait a little longer, I would buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra on installments or maybe even wait for the Galaxy Z Fold 3.
Rubens: Aquos R6
I almost bought a used Panasonic CM1 the other day, just out of curiosity. A newer model with a 1-inch camera sensor would be the Aquos R6, and that sounds really interesting. The Leitz Phone 1 would be an interesting alternative, but here the non-centered Leica button bothers me too much. Despite the import complications, I’d give the Aquos R6 a shot!
Casi: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Among this year’s top smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra seems to be the one that strikes me as the most complete – with no obvious weaknesses. When buying a smartphone, I pay a lot of attention to the quality of the camera, more than any other specs.
Along with that, I want a design that appeals to me a lot, and in combination, the two fit best for me in the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Rahul: Redmi Note 10 Pro or Vivo X60 Pro.
In India, most buyers and shoppers would probably go for the Redmi Note 10 Pro. It is simply a fantastic value-for-money proposition. However, if I had more money to spend, I would try a Vivo smartphone again.
Even though I couldn’t review the X60 Pro 5G, I liked what Vivo did with the X50 Pro last year.
Ben: Asus Zenfone 8
Hello, my name is Benjamin and I like to quote myself! Jokes aside, for me, the Zenfone 8 was the most interesting device for me. After countless giant smartphones with mega screens, I’m “tired” enough to wish for small and decent smartphones to make a return.
Since I’m not allowed to pick the Pixel 5 from 2020, hence it is going to be the Zenfone 8 for this article. It’s a nifty thing, for sure!
The last act of this spectacular half-time show is wholly dedicated to you. That’s right, the NextPit community, whom we always like to let have the last word. Now, the same question is also addressed to you, which smartphone you would choose?
Once again I would like to throw you into the Jigsaw torture cellar and ask in a disguised, deep voice: “I want to play a game with you. Which smartphone would you buy from the year 2021 with your own money?”
The poll runs on Google Sheets, as it allows us to tabulate results of all NextPit readers across all sites in a single poll. As you can see above, there is only a simple selection available. We will present the results in our newsletter next week.
As the last note comes to a close and the curtains fall, we stand somewhat shocked at the spectacular performance that just concluded. Our ears are slightly numb and we feel a mixture of being overwhelmed and are strangely satisfied. Before you head home, I would like to invite you to join us for a little discussion about the Year 2021 in Tech.
Are you happy with the devices that manufacturers like Samsung, Oppo, and others have delivered over the past few months? What shocked you and what left you completely aghast? Does it still feel weird without having Huawei around, and what are you looking forward to in Q3 and Q4? The comments section will transform into a backstage area today!