Suffice to say, 2020 was a strange year, and 2021 hasn't had time to return to normal. We're still dealing with a pandemic, but at least we aren't seeing any tech delays — yet.
Last year, Google delayed the release of its Pixel 4a models until August, 10 months after the Pixel 4 hit shelves. The previous "a" iteration — the Pixel 3a — came out in May, or seven months after the Pixel 3 flagship. Even though the Pixel 5 released on time in October, there's a chance the delay of the 4a models could make Google put off the release of the 5a, as well.
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Apple wasn't immune to later-than-expected releases, either — the iPhone 12 was released in October 2020. Apple usually hosts a September event, with products launching roughly a week later, but last year the iPhone 12 lineup was delayed by about a month.
This year is already shaping up to be a little different, though. For instance, Samsung announced its Galaxy S21 lineup on January 14; that usually doesn't happen until February. And the phones will be officially released on January 29.
To learn what we know about the latest smartphones, as well as what we're expecting, check out our guide below on the best time to buy a new phone.
The Best Time to Buy a Smartphone
Apple iPhone 12
Release Date: October 2020
Best Time to Buy: September, October, or November
Apple is known for its predictable schedules, with its September iPhone launch being one of the tech highlights of every year. However, last year it released the iPhone 12 in October.
As for pricing? The iPhone 11 lineup arrived in September 2019, and we saw our first drop two months later in November, when the 128GB iPhone 11 was discounted to the same price as the 64GB model. Similarly, the first deal we saw for an iPhone 12 didn't show up until December, two months after its release. That's when Verizon offered the iPhone 12 Pro Max as part of a "buy one, get one free" deal.
For the iPhone 12 mini, prices begin at $699, while the regular iPhone 12 starts at $799. If you want the iPhone 12 Pro version, prices begin at $999, or $1,099 for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G / S21+ 5G / S21 Ultra 5G
Release Date: January 29, 2021
Best Time to Buy: May, July, or November
Samsung released its Galaxy S20 lineup in March 2020, and it didn't take long for the discounts to appear. With the Galaxy S20 — priced from $999.99 — we saw the first discount two months after release in May; that's when the phone cost as little as $390 with an eligible trade-in. The Galaxy S20+ started at $1,199.99, but we saw unlocked models dip down to $650 back in July.
And then there was the premium Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung positioned it as its topmost tier of devices, and it started at $1,399.99, but we saw unlocked models drop to $875 in July.
Samsung is bringing back the same tiers for the Galaxy S21 lineup. The Galaxy S21 5G starts at $799.99, the Galaxy S21+ 5G is priced from $999.99, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G starts at $1,199.99. With a $200 decrease in the base price of each tier, the S21 lineup is already more affordable than the previous generation.
Additionally, the phones are being released earlier this year than the S20 devices were in 2020, so there's a slight possibility we could see discounts appear a month earlier, in April or June. However, November will still likely be a strong time for deals.
Samsung Galaxy Note21 5G / Note21 Ultra 5G
Release Date: August 2021 (expected)
Best Time to Buy: December
Samsung released its latest flagship phablets — the Galaxy Note20 line — on August 21, 2020. That was on trend with previous models' release dates. In 2019, the Galaxy Note10 lineup hit shelves on August 23, with prices from $949.99, and we saw our first significant price drop that December; shoppers could snag these devices from around $700 that month.
But when is the best time to buy a cell phone from Samsung's latest Galaxy Note lineup? If you're hoping for an excellent deal on the yet-to-be-released Galaxy Note21 or Galaxy Note21 Ultra, we still encourage you to check for deals around Black Friday. If you don't see any great offers then, know that we should see more notable discounts in December.
Google Pixel 5a / 5a With 5G
Release Date: TBD
Best Time to Buy: November or February
The Google Pixel 4a was released on August 20, 2020, and had a starting price of $349. Despite the already-affordable price, we still saw modest discounts on unlocked models. For instance, in December it dropped to $319, but you could save more over time by opting for a carrier-locked version. Verizon offered the phone for $5 per month for 24 months, which equates to $120.
The Google Pixel 3a, meanwhile, was released in May 2019 with a starting price of $399, and by November of that year, we saw deals that put it as low as $250.
It remains to be seen when the Pixel 5a will come out. Since the 4a arrived so late in 2020, there's a chance the 5a could be delayed, as well. Whether it's released in May or August, November should still be a solid month to watch for discounts.
Google Pixel 5
Release Date: October 15, 2020
Best Time to Buy: April
Google released the Pixel 5 in October 2020. In 2019, the Pixel 4 debuted with a starting price of $799, and by November of the same year, we saw deals for the phone starting at just $599.
The Pixel 5 has a smaller starting price of $699, already more affordable than other flagship brands. We saw a lack of deals around Black Friday, though, save for a $200-off deal at Best Buy that required qualified activation through Verizon. And we haven't seen many discounts as of this writing. They've been particularly modest, with a $50 drop the most common savings. However, we do expect to see some better offers pop up in April.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip / Z Flip 5G
Release Date: February 14 / August 7, 2020
Best Time to Buy: November or January
Samsung released its Galaxy Z Flip in February 2020, and we didn't see the first price drop on it until July. The phone had a starting price of $1,380, but the discount dropped it to $600 when users opted for a 30-month installment plan. That's still the only deal we've seen for the Galaxy Z Flip, which now costs from $1,299.99. However, now that it's been out for close to a year, we'll hopefully see more discounts.
Samsung also released a 5G version of the Galaxy Z Flip on August 7, 2020. The starting price is a hefty $1,449.99, but we've seen a few deals — more than we have for the regular Z Flip, in fact.
As soon as September 2020, we saw an offer for up to $650 off with a valid trade-in. Alternatively, another deal for the Z Flip 5G dropped its starting price to $800 with a valid trade-in. Then in November, we saw the same phone drop to a starting price of $450 with a valid trade-in.
It's important to note that these offers were all through Samsung itself, so that may be your best bet for finding a solid deal.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G
Release Date: September 18, 2020
Best Time to Buy: November
Samsung had a troublesome initial release for its Galaxy Fold phone in early 2019, with outlets like The Verge reporting screens breaking after only one day. Industry reviewers were cautiously optimistic about the next iteration of Samsung's foldable smartphone.
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Don't be confused: It's called the Galaxy Z Fold2, but it's the successor to the Galaxy Fold — Samsung has simply decided to brand its foldable smartphones line with the "Z" moniker. The phone has a starting price of $1,999.99, which is a premium price tag for sure.
Fortunately, we've seen a few deals since its release. In November last year, Samsung itself offered up to $1,000 off with a valid trade-in. We also saw an offer for a preorder, but that one only let you get up to $800 off with an eligible trade-in.
If you're still hoping to get this premium device, keep an eye out in November again this year — it's the most likely time we'll see any deals for the handset.
Readers, what new phone release are you looking forward to? And what do you consider the best time to buy a phone? Let us know in the comments below!