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Is the Samsung Galaxy A21 a good buy in 2021?

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Although its high-end devices tend to get the lion’s share of attention from the media, Samsung offers a ton of downmarket options, too — many in the sub-$250 space, like the Galaxy A21. When we reviewed it last year, we concluded that, while it wasn’t really groundbreaking option in the affordable space, it was a fine pick if it met your budgetary and performance needs. But is that still true today?

The A21 is, in most respects, an unremarkable low-end smartphone. Its internals — a MediaTek CPU and three gigs of RAM — can’t muster much grunt, but are completely adequate for basic tasks like web browsing, mobile banking, and watching videos. Even lighter 3D games run fine. Multitasking and other intensive uses can be a bit of a slog, but if you’re a light-use kind of person, that’s not something you need to worry about.

Unlike a lot of budget devices, software support isn’t a concern on the A21. Like many of its high-end phones, this one is covered by Samsung’s newfound commitment to providing four years of security updates — which is awfully generous for a phone you can grab for as low as $150 if you keep your ear to the ground (although its price more often hovers around $250). They’re only quarterly, not monthly, but you can still be guaranteed your phone won’t have any glaring security holes for long for years to come.

Nothing’s really changed about the A21 since it launched: it’s still a decent, cheap phone with a big screen, and that’ll be true for a while to come. What has changed, though, is the landscape around the A21. While we don’t know anything about a direct sequel to the A21 in the form of a hypothetical Galaxy A22, Samsung just announced a bunch of new A-series phones coming to the US this spring, including the Galaxy A12.

The A21 is still a decent, cheap phone with a big screen.

For $180, the A12 matches the A21 spec-for-spec in a lot of areas for a lower MSRP: same MediaTek Helio P35 SoC, same three gigs of RAM, same 6.5-inch, 720p LCD panel (although with a teardrop instead of a hole punch), and similar camera setups. But the A12 beats the A21 in one key way: it’s got a 5,000mAh battery, 25 percent larger than the A21’s. It’s also got a more modern design, and a matte finish instead of the fingerprint-prone glossy plastic found on the A21. Although, be advised, it lacks NFC for contactless payments through Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

If you can save up another hundred bucks, the $280 Galaxy A32 is an even bigger improvement over the A21. It’s got 5G, a 90Hz display, a better CPU, one gig more RAM, a higher-resolution primary camera, 64 gigs of storage (compared to 32 in the A21 and A12), an in-display fingerprint scanner, and it launches with Android 11 — all for only $30 more than the A21’s MSRP. (And, like the A21 but unlike the A12, it does have NFC.)

The downside of each of these two alternative picks is availability. While you’re now able to pick up an unlocked Galaxy A21 from a number of retailers, the A12 and A32 are only available through carriers: Cricket, Metro, and T-Mobile (plus AT&T for the A12). If you’re not on any of those carriers, you might be better off grabbing an unlocked A21 — especially if you catch it on sale.

Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy A21:

Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy A12:

Where to buy the Galaxy A32:

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