2021 in smartphones: losing LG, Samsung Galaxy S21, iPhone 13, Pixel 6 and more

The iPhone 13, Google Pixel 6 and Samsung Galaxy S21 on a multi color background
The iPhone 13, Google Pixel 6 and Samsung Galaxy S21 (Image credit: Apple, Google, Samsung)

2021 has been yet another odd year for most of us, but it has also been an exciting one in the world of smartphones, with a lot of change in the Android space and improvements for Apple’s iPhone line.

The Covid-19 pandemic delayed many tech launches, but we’ve still seen some top-tier smartphones released throughout the year.

We’re here to run you through all the big launches as they happened and remind you how the year went down in smartphones. Let’s get started with the very beginning of 2021.

January to March - A messy conference season 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 face down on a table.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 (Image credit: Future)

CES 2021 was the first virtual CES ever, thanks to the ongoing pandemic discouraging people from congregating. The biggest phone story was the LG Rollable, which was exhibited for the first time via a short teaser trailer. Everyone expected it to launch at some point in 2021 but, well, that didn't happen. Because in late January, LG revealed that it might stop making smartphones, which it did. More on that bombshell later.

More reliable news came from Samsung. The company used a similar timing to CES 2021 to announce the Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra. All three models arrived at the end of January and proved highly successful. 

Other phones actually at CES 2021 included Motorola showing off its G-series phones, and TCL highlighting its new TCL 20 lineup. During CES, Sony showed off its 360 Reality Audio support, in a bid to take on Dolby Atmos and other spatial audio technology.

While CES 2021 broke some exciting news, MWC 2021 was postponed to late June due to concerns about Covid-19. Away from CES, the Honor V40 was launched, and the Xiaomi Mi 11 was released as a rival to Samsung’s Galaxy S21.

March was also a busy month, with the March 11 unveiling of Oppo Find X3, a smartphone leading the way for a new generation of flagship Oppo phones. That same month, Samsung introduced new mid-range models, the Samsung A52 and A72.

The OnePlus 9 went on sale in March, proving to be a good-value option with no significant issues. Gaming phones also got some love with the release of not only the ASUS ROG 5, but also the Nubia Red Magic 6 and the Xiaomi Black Shark 4

April to June - Farewell LG 

LG Rollable

The LG Rollable smartphone (Image credit: LG)

April was the month LG officially bid us adieu, quitting the smartphone world. That meant no possibility of the LG Rollable, or the rumoured LG V70 ThinQ either. 

During this period, we also saw initial glimpses of what we could expect from the release of iOS 15 later in the year - a redesigned Control Center in particular, stole everyone's attention. 

Apple's first launch event of 2021 was in April. Spring Loaded focused on Macs and iPads, but it also introduced a new iPhone 12 color: purple. 

The Oppo Find X3 series, including the Oppo Find X3 Pro, Find X3 Neo, and Find X3 Lite, also finally went on sale in the UK. Oppo continued its busy season with the introduction of some cheap 5G headsets - the A54, A74 and A94

Samsung released the Galaxy M12, a cheap phone with a massive battery. At the same time, the company was declared the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world, yet again, with a 22% market share. 

Motorola got in on the budget market by unveiling the Moto G20. However, it was Realme, with its Realme 8 5G, that had the cheapest 5G phone in the UK at that time. 

In the US, the Department of Defense removed Xiaomi from its blacklist, which had prevented US investment in the manufacturer. Xiaomi soon confirmed that its ban was lifted

Also, after a long time, Honor phones finally started offering Google apps again, a result of separating from its parent company, Huawei. June was littered with iPhone rumors, though it would be still be months before we got any concrete details about the iPhone 13.

 July to September - Summer, Samsung and Apple 

iPhone 13 Pro Max

The iPhone 13 Pro Max (Image credit: TechRadar)

With the start of summer and into July, we heard plenty of rumors about the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3. Would it finally be time for us to see a great foldable phone?

It wasn't until August, at Samsung Unpacked, that those two phones were confirmed. Those phones became Samsung’s cheapest foldable phones when they finally launched later that month.

But summer wasn't all smooth sailing for Samsung. The company lost its title of being the world's biggest smartphone vendor to Xiaomi.

Elsewhere, and also in July, the OnePlus Nord 2 was released. Much anticipated, the Nord 2 was a welcome addition to the mid-range phone market, especially because it offered some surprisingly high-end specs for its price. 

Nokia also announced some new phones - the exceptionally rugged Nokia XR20, along with the C30 and its huge battery, and the Nokia 6310, which was a reimagining of the original 6310 phone. 

Motorola was busy in the summer too, officially confirming that the Moto G60s would be coming to the UK. These phones offered a 120Hz screen with a lower price tag than the competition.

The iPhone 13 range was also announced in September, and Apple promised better features, better video recording facilities, and - finally - a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate OLED screen, specifically for the iPhone 13 Pro

The camera features across the range were arguably the most exciting aspects. But alas, delivery and supply issues forced some early adopters to wait weeks before they could enjoy their latest iPhone acquisition.

October to December - Even more phones to come

Google Pixel 6 Pro being held in a hand.

Google Pixel 6 Pro (Image credit: Future)

With the end of the year came the promise of big phone launches, as well as renewing concerns about Covid-19 making a comeback. Still, new phones, right?

New Xiaomi phone launches swiftly followed in the form of the Xiaomi 11T and 11T Pro. 

October also meant the predictable unveiling of the latest in the Google smartphone line, the Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro. Elevating its photo-taking capabilities, the Pixel proved to be an ideal phone for photography fans.

Remember that battle for biggest smartphone manufacturer? Well, by the end of the year, Samsung was crowned supreme again, and Apple beat Xiaomi to second place.

December was mostly full of Samsung Galaxy S22 leaks, and many hopes that the phone will, following tradition, be unveiled in early 2022. Just in time for us to get excited by another year of phone-related news.  

Jennifer Allen

Jennifer is a roving tech freelancer with over 10 years experience. Having graduated from Swansea University with a degree in Media and Communication Studies, and later with a diploma from Staffordshire University with a post graduate diploma in Computer Games Design, she's written for a huge number of publications, including T3, FitandWell, Top Ten Reviews, Eurogamer, NME and many more. 

Her main areas of interest are all things B2B, smart technology, wearables, speakers, headphones, and anything gaming related, and you'll find her writing everything from product reviews to buying guides and hunting down the latest coupon codes to save you money. In her spare time, she enjoys the cinema, walking, and attempting to train her pet guinea pigs. She is yet to succeed.