We're going to see 5G connectivity become a standard feature not only in flagships but also in mid-range and budget phones. We'll see more screens that boast 144Hz refresh rates, which is good news for gaming and video, and camera phones continue to pile on the megapixels and extra sensors, unlike anything we've ever seen before.
Foldable designs are becoming cheaper and more durable, and battery technology is constantly improving too. We've also seen software enhancements too, making us even more excited for Android 12 and iOS 15, not to mention the first phones powered by the Snapdragon 888 chipset. And that's not even mentioning Huawei's new HarmonyOS software, set to shake up the market in April.
In this feature, we've outlined all the major smartphone launches expected to take place in 2021 and beyond, along with an outline of what new features and hardware specifications have been or are likely to be included.
Read on to ensure your next smartphone purchase is not immediately followed by the regret, tying you into a long two-year contract. (Remember that there is a chance you could upgrade your contract early.)
Pro tip: As these new phones edge closer, the outgoing flagships will fall in price and you'll be able to scoop up some great deals. If you're not bothered about having the very latest tech, check out our take on the best phones you can buy today.
Best new phones coming out in 2021
Realme GT - 4 March
Once codenamed 'Race', the next Realme flagship is set to launch in China on 4 March 2021, and will pack a Snapdragon 888 and a quad camera.
The GT is expected to kickstart a new flagship line for Realme, with a GT Pro also on the cards for 2021. Expect quad cameras, fast charging (65W on the GT and 125W on the GT Pro), and high refresh rate OLED panels - rumoured to go all the way up to 160Hz.
Nubia Red Magic 6 - 4 March
Nubia has already begun teasing the Red Magic 6 gaming phone, and the company has promised a launch on 4 March, just hours after Realme's event.
Those early teases have already confirmed that the phone will support 120W fast-charging for its 4500mAh battery, and we're certainly expecting to see the Snapdragon 888 inside.
One video even teases an electromagnetic rear design that can become transparent at the touch of a button, but we're not sure if this is really set for the official release.
Check out more Red Magic 6 rumours.
Asus ROG Phone 5 - 10 March
Asus usually announces the ROG Phone during the summer, before giving it a European launch in September, but it's shifting the schedule earlier for the ROG Phone 5 with a launch already set for 10 March.
Leaks confirm that the ROG 5 (not 4, which is an unlucky number in parts of Asia) will use the Snapdragon 888 chipset, and will have a design (and accessory range) to suit its gaming audience - complete with an angular new mini-display right on the back of the phone.
Xiaomi Mi 11 - March (UK)
Xiaomi has unveiled the Mi 11 series in China, but while it's on sale there now, it doesn't hit UK stores until March.
Mi 11 is notable for being the company's first phone with a 2K resolution screen, but it was also the world's first Snapdragon 888 smartphone, with the promise of blistering performance.
Other highlights in the spec include a 120Hz refresh rate, Harman Kardon-tuned stereo speakers that support wireless sharing with two pairs of earphones or two speakers, a 108Mp triple-lens camera, 55W wired and 50W wireless charging for the 4600mAh battery, and an in-display fingerprint sensor that integrates a heart-rate sensor.
Oppo Find X3 - March
Oppo used to treat its zoom-heavy Reno phones as its flagship line, but now the Find X series has begun to take more of a spotlight, especially in international markets.
The Find X3 series is expected to arrive some time in March 2021 packing the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset, and a heavy focus on camera, display, and charging specs.
Leaked renders show an unusual sloping camera module - pictured - which is expected to drop the periscope zoom and focus instead on 50Mp main and ultrawide lenses, along with 2x zoom and a macro lens. The company has also confirmed already that true 10-bit colour reproduction is a priority, from display to the camera and every step in between.
Get the latest Oppo Find X3 news.
Vivo X60 - Q1 2021
Like the Mi 11, the X60 series is available now in China, but while we know the X60 is coming to Europe we're still waiting to find out exactly when.
The X60 and X60 Pro - there's a Pro+ on the way later too - share 120Hz AMOLED displays and the 5nm Samsung Exynos 1080 chipset, along with 33W charging and 48Mp main cameras.
The standard phone also includes a 2x zoom portrait lens and ultrawide, with the Pro throwing in a 5x zoom periscope lens too - all developed with support from Zeiss.
Honor View 40 - Q1 2021
Honor unveiled the V40 in China in January 2021, but we're still waiting for official word on the phone's European release.
Expect a 120Hz curved OLED display with a dual hole-punch front-facing camera setup, a 50Mp RYYB-pixel-arranged primary camera, and impressive 66W wired charging alongside 50W wireless charging.
We're not sure yet if it will launch in Europe - likely as the View 40, if it does - and it's still unknown if Honor will be able to include Google Mobile Services on the international version of the phone, since the company is now free of the trade restrictions against former parent company Huawei.
Get the latest Honor V40 news.
Black Shark 4 - Q1 2021
The Black Shark 4 is already confirmed to be on the way, and it's mostly likely that we'll see the next phone from the Xiaomi sub-brand around March 2020.
It's already been confirmed to feature 120W charging and a 4500mAh battery, which together will apparently deliver a full charge in less than 15 minutes.
Otherwise, it's expected to be powered by the Snapdragon 888, and while it will probably stick to an FHD display, it's likely to ramp it up to a 144Hz refresh rate.
OnePlus 9 - Q1 2021
Just like Samsung, OnePlus is also rumoured to be bringing its next flagship out a little early, moving from its customary April/May slot to a March 2021 release for the OnePlus 9.
Expect to see a lot of what we saw in the OnePlus 8T - especially 120Hz display and 65W fast charging - along with upgrades to the Snapdragon 888, a new camera sensor, and hopefully the introduction of wireless charging to the standard model.
On that note, we're not sure whether to expect a 9 Pro or not. There was no 8T Pro, but that may just mean that OnePlus is dropping its 'Pro' models down to annual events.
Read more about the OnePlus 9.
Samsung Galaxy A52 - Q1 2021
Samsung is expected to release the mid-range successor to the A51 some time this spring, and thanks to a variety of leaks we think we know what to expect.
Leaked images now show the phone from almost every angle, with a range of colours launching and a 6.5in AMOLED screen on the front. Expect that to be 90Hz on the 4G model and 120Hz on the 5G variant - a difference that comes in part from slightly different Snapdragon chipsets in each.
A quad camera should round things out, with a 64Mp main camera and 12Mp ultrawide joined by a macro and a depth sensor.
Read more Galaxy A52 news.
Sony Xperia 1 III - Q1 2021
Sony usually announces its latest Xperia flagship in February, so we're hoping the same will be true for the Xperia 1 III.
Like its predecessor we're expecting a focus on camera specs and display quality - hopefully with a jump up to 90Hz or 120Hz without losing that 4K resolution.
Leaks so far point to a Snapdragon 888 chip - no surprise - while leaked renders show off a periscope camera, the classic Sony 21:9 aspect ratio, and - more surprisingly - a headphone jack!
Sony Xperia 10 III - Q1 2021
The last two years have seen a new Xperia 10 model in spring, so it stands to reason that we're about to see the Xperia 10 III show up soon.
Expect a mid-range phone, likely running the Snapdragon 690 based on one leak. Expect it to keep Sony's slim 'n' tall aspect ratio too, though beyond that solid rumours are thin on the ground.
Huawei P50 - Q1 2021
We've had the Mate 40 phones, so next up from Huawei are the P50 series, expected to be announced in March 2021 if the company follows its usual release cycle.
Expect to see three phones - a P50, P50 Pro, and P50 Pro Plus - with prices going up and over a grand for the top model.
They should be powered by the Kirin 9000 processor found in the Mate 40 phones, and will likely borrow some of those phones' camera features too. They could also be the first Huawei phones to use 120Hz panels, though most rumours so far still only point to 90Hz.
Here are the latest Huawei P50 rumours
Moto Edge S - Q1 2021
The Moto Edge S is yet another phone that's had a launch in China, but hasn't yet been confirmed for the rest of the world.
While it has the flagship 'Edge' name in China, rumour has it a global release would see it named the Moto G100 - putting it at the upper end of the company's budget line.
That's despite featuring the powerful Snapdragon 870 chipset, along with a 64Mp rear camera, 5000mAh battery, and 6.7in 90Hz display.
There are compromises too though: that display is LCD, not OLED; charging is limited to 20W wired; and the display is flat with a thick bezel, giving away that this isn't a true flagship, despite the 870 chip.
Xiaomi Mi Note 11 - Q1 2021
We're overdue the announcement of the Mi Note 11, though despite that there have been very few leaks about the device so far - though just enough that we're confident it is on the way.
Going by the Mi Note 10, we should expect top camera and battery specs paired with a mid-range processor, and we'd expect to see it announced some time in the next few months.
New BlackBerry Phone - H1 2021
You read that correctly, BlackBerry is back from the dead again. In August, that US company Onward Mobility licensed the BlackBerry name and has announced that it will work to release a new BlackBerry device in the first half of 2021.
According to Onward Mobility, the new BlackBerry will have 5G network capabilities and a physical keyboard. These really are the only two indications of specs that we have aside from the phone running Android, as currently the announcement is only of the partnership’s existence and nothing more.
OnePlus Nord 2/SE - H1 2021
Following on from the Nord N10 and N100 models, we're still expecting OnePlus to unveil a true successor to its mid-range Nord phone some time in 2021, and early signs point to it being called the Nord SE.
There haven't been any leaks about the device yet, but it's likely it would jump from 90Hz refresh rate to 120Hz and upgrade to the 65W fast charging seen in the OnePlus 8T.
Throw in Android 11 and a new processor and that would make the Nord 2 very tempting indeed. Complicating things are separate rumours that point to an upcoming phone called the Nord N1, so we're a little unsure how the various Nord phones will fit together into OnePlus's strategy for 2021.
Google Pixel 5a - H1 2021
The Pixel 'a' phones are always budget-friendly takes on the flagships that arrive a little later, so we're expecting to see a Pixel 5a turn up some time next year - mostly likely in summer 2021.
We don't know much about what to expect from the 5a, if it does arrive, but at this point 5G support is a given. A 90Hz refresh rate is also likely, along with an upgraded processor and - wishful thinking alert - maybe even waterproofing or wireless charging.
Get the latest Pixel 5a rumours.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 2 - Q3 2021
It's all but a given that a second Galaxy Flip 2 is on the way - a proper sequel after the half-step upgrade of the Z Flip 5G - and we're expecting to see it some time in the second half of 2021.
While we had hoped it would launch alongside the S21 series in January, tipsters have suggested it's currently more likely delayed to late summer, so there's a bit longer to wait.
When it does arrive, expectations are for a larger outer display and a bigger battery, and almost certainly a jump to the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
Read the latest Galaxy Z Flip 2 news & rumours
Apple iPhone SE 2 or SE Plus - H2 2021
Apple's new iPhone SE went on sale back in April, but rumours since have pointed towards the launch of either a follow-up or a Plus model. If you're thinking that might be imminent, though, don't hold your breath; we could be waiting until the second half of 2021.
The long-rumoured SE Plus is not simply a larger version of the iPhone SE, mind you. Prolific Apple leakster Ming-Chi Kuo suggests that the iPhone SE Plus will feature either a 5.5 or 6.1in display and, crucially, it’ll sport a “full-screen design” like that of the iPhone 11 range. It may also have Touch ID built into the power button.
Asus ZenFone 8 - Summer 2021
The ZenFone 7 launched last September, so it stands to reason that this year will see the ZenFone 8 follow suit.
Expect to see another flappy, flippy camera module - now a bit of a ZenFone trademark - but beyond that we're unsure what Asus has in mind for its flagship series.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 - Q3 2021
It's normally a given that we'd see a new flagship Galaxy Note phone in autumn, but this year it's a little uncertain if we'll see the Note 21 at all.
Rumours have begun to point towards Samsung killing the Note line off, with its trademark S-Pen stylus already supported by the S21 Ultra and expected to be compatible with the next Galaxy Z Fold too - already taking the Note's place as the big-screen flagship in Samsung's lineup.
Leaksters mostly disagree so far on whether the Note 21 will be the last Note phone, or if the Note 20 was the final release and we just didn't know it at the time. We should get a better sense soon as leaks start to appear - or don't.
Read the latest Note 21 rumours.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 - Q3 2021
Samsung is widely expected to launch the next generation of its flagship foldable series in autumn 2021.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 will pick up where the Fold 2 left off, but is rumoured to add in S Pen stylus support, and potentially an invisible under-display selfie camera inside the phone.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE - Q3 2021
Much like the S20 was followed by the S20 FE, it's widely expected that the S21 will eventually be joined by the S21 FE - most likely around October if last year's release pattern is anything to go by.
Spec details are thin on the ground so far, and there's already disagreement - on whether it will have a 60Hz or 120Hz display, for example. Still, most agree the phone will have an AMOLED panel and the latest Exynos and Snapdragon chipsets.
Apple iPhone 13 - Q3 2021
As soon as one iPhone is out, it's time to look to the next, which means we're thinking about the iPhone 13 series already.
New iPhones usually launch in September, but the iPhone 12 was a bit later in October - either way we should see the iPhone 13 series in autumn 2021.
It's likely we'll see a range of four phones again, from a Mini up to a Pro Max, all powered by a new A15 Bionic processor.
Word is that the notch will still be there, but smaller, and we're hoping we'll finally see the display itself jump up to 120Hz. Storage is rumoured to go up to 1TB too, and we're keeping our fingers crossed for the return of Touch ID too, maybe even in an under-display sensor.
The more out-there rumour is that Apple might go entirely port-less now that it can lean on MagSafe charging, but we think that change is more likely to roll out for the iPhone 14 or beyond...
Read the latest iPhone 13 news
Google Pixel 6 - Q3 2021
Google normally releases a new Pixel flagship every autumn, so it stands to reason that the expected Pixel 6 will turn up some time in autumn 2021.
We don't know a lot about what to expect from the phone yet, but a jump to a 120Hz refresh rate sounds plausible, and it's also probably time for Google to upgrade its main camera sensor - unchanged for a few years now - to make sure it clings onto its photography crown.
Other leaks point to a device known as the Pixel XE, but it's not yet clear if this is a fake, a new phone, or simply a codename for the Pixel 6.
Google Pixel Foldable - Q4 2021
This is a bit of a wild card - but leaked internal documents suggest that Google may be working on a Pixel-branded foldable device to launch in late 2021.
Beyond the device's existence there haven't been many leaks with details of what sort of foldable device it will be, or what specs it will have, but we know a lot of people will be curious about a Google-branded folding phone with that Pixel camera.
LG Rollable - 2021
The second phone in LG's Explorer Project - following on from the flippy LG Wing - is the Rollable, expected to launch some time in 2021.
The key conceit is a flexible rolling display, which essentially allows the phone display to extend - you simply pull on one edge and your normal-size phone becomes a tablet.
We don't know any other specs at all yet, but keep an eye out for more.
Sony Xperia Compact - 2021
Here's an unexpected one: word on the street is that Sony is set to revive its Compact line with a new pint-sized Xperia phone some time in 2021.
We've already seen renders of the handset appear online, though tipsters still disagree on whether this will offer flagship specs or something more affordable.
Those renders do suggest a dual rear camera and a single 8Mp selfie camera, and the surprise move away from the slim 21:9 aspect ratio Sony has used in recent years for something a little more blocky.
Check out the latest Xperia Compact rumours.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 4 - 2021
Xiaomi broke the rhythm of the Mi Mix series by pivoting to the wrap-around display concept device Mi Mix Alpha, but we're still expecting a proper Mi Mix 4 to turn up some time in 2021.
We don't know a lot about what to expect from the phone yet, but since Xiaomi usually uses the Mi Mix line to test its wilder tech out, we're expecting either that wrap-around screen to come to the 4, or for Xiaomi to unveil its first proper foldable phone.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold FE - 2021
Samsung is yet to confirm anything official, but we have pretty good reason to expect that a more affordable 'Fan Edition' of the Galaxy Z Fold is set to launch some time in 2021 - only we have no idea when.
One early leak pins the phone as costing $1,099, with a Snapdragon 865 chipset - last year's flagship - though curiously claims it will lack the 5G support that has so far been mandatory with that chip.
Others claim that the Fold FE will simply be the first-gen Fold, re-packaged at a lower price tag to reflect the older tech - that would mean the even older Snapdragon 855, but would explain how Samsung could hit a mainstream price point.
Read more Galaxy Z Fold FE rumours and news
Foldable iPhone - 2022/2023
A folding iPhone has been rumoured ever since the first foldable display tech existed pretty much, but thanks to leaks and rumours we have pretty good reason to believe Apple is at least working on a foldable iPhone - even if it's probably years away.
Apple is rarely the first to market with new tech, though given that Samsung has already released several iterations of its folding tech there's a risk Apple will look backwards if it doesn't follow suit until 2023 - though if it can perfect the tech in that time it may well be worth the wait.
Check out all the foldable iPhone rumours so far.