2021 Gift Guide: Top Smartphones and How Much You Will Pay For Them

By on November 16, 2021

Much like our other tech guides this year, we analyzed the top performing smartphones on Ben’s to help our readers get a good understanding of what prices will be like when the Black Friday sales hit.

Unlocked phones are generally the most popular option to our visitors because of their flexibility and ease of use with low-cost prepaid plans. But when you buy unlocked, the phone will cost more since you’re losing that phone company subsidy.

Black Friday sales tend to focus on major carrier promotions and big trade-in offers, and we’ll mention the notable ones as they relate to the specific phones. Keep in mind, these credits are tied to expensive monthly plans.

The general rule is, you pay less upfront with a locked phone, but over the long term (2+ years), you end up paying more than you would with an unlocked phone and a low-cost prepaid plan. How much depends on various factors, but it’s worth sitting down and calculating the costs.

For this guide, we divided smartphones into three categories: Samsung, Apple, and the rest. It’s still an Android vs. iOS world out there…

Take note of your favorite models below and set a deal alert on Ben’s to get a jump on the lowest prices of the holidays!

Samsung Smartphones

Samsung’s new foldable phones, the Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 made a big splash this year with glitzy ads and impressive sales.

  1. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G 6.7″ 128GB (2021): Earlier in the fall, this foldable phone was on sale for $700 with T-mobile activation at Best Buy ($300 off). That deal is sure to come back when Best Buy rolls out its big Black Friday sale on Nov. 19. Walmart is offering up to $750 in eGift Cards with eligible trade-in on Nov. 26. Verizon, AT&T, Samsung and Boost Mobile all have or will have big discounts tied to trade-ins. On the unlocked front, it’s been as low as $850 and $925 on Amazon. [Amazon (unlocked)]
  2. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G 7.6″ 256GB (2021): The Flip’s bigger, fancier cousin was on sale for $1300 with T-Mobile activation at Best Buy ($500 off). Expect that sale again come Nov. 19. Like the Flip 3, the Fold 3 has big discounts with trade-ins at the major carriers. The unlocked version has been as low as $1500, and probably won’t go any lower in the next few weeks. [Amazon (unlocked)]
  3. Samsung Galaxy A32 5G 6.5″ 64GB (2021): This popular low-priced Samsung has been as low as $100 through Boost Mobile, and that offer is sure to return for Black Friday. The unlocked version has been as low as $205 on Amazon so that’s the price point you want to aim for. [Amazon (unlocked)]
  4. Samsung Galaxy S21+ Plus 5G 6.7″ 128GB (2021): It’s currently on sale for $800 with T-Mobile activation at Best Buy ($200 off). Verizon, AT&T and Samsung all have or will have big discounts tied to trade-ins. The unlocked model has been as low as $700 and $750 depending on the color. That’s a big discount for a current year unlocked phone and the best you’ll see for the next few weeks. [Amazon (unlocked)]
  5. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G 6.8″ 128GB (2021): Currently $900 with T-Mobile at Best Buy, this behemoth phone will likely get an additional $50 to $100 off come Black Friday. Plus, Verizon, AT&T and Samsung all have or will have big discounts tied to trade-ins. The lowest we’ve seen the unlocked model go is $900 ($300 off) on Amazon, and that’s as good a price to expect around Black Friday. [Amazon (unlocked)]

Apple iPhones

Apple dominates the smartphone space (nearly 40% of global smartphone revenue). The best deals for recent iPhones are going to be with the carrier promotions as deals on new, unlocked iPhones are pretty sparse.

  1. Apple iPhone 13 5G 6.1″ 128GB (2021): Since it’s the hottest phone of the season, there are plenty of deals that will substantially lower the price of a locked model. On Black Friday, Walmart will offer up to $550 in gift cards with purchase of any iPhone 13 model on AT&T and Verizon plus trade-in. Apple Store is currently promoting up to $900 in credits with various carrier trade-ins. Because the iPhone 13 is new and in high demand, you’re not going to find an unlocked version below retail ($829), unless you get lucky on a random eBay auction. [Apple]
  2. Apple iPhone 12 5G 6.1″ 64GB (2020): The appeal of the iPhone 12 is that it can be almost totally subsidized if you choose to get a locked model through a carrier. For Black Friday, Walmart will be giving a $350 eGift Card with purchase on AT&T or Verizon, plus up to $250 for trade-ins. After gift cards, that’s about $100 for the phone. Verizon’s also offering credit (up to $700, nearly the price of the phone) for trade-in with Unlimited Plan. You’ll be hard-pressed to find more than 5% off the $729 retail for a brand-new unlocked version. Apple Store will probably offer a $50 gift card with purchase on Black Friday. If you’re okay with refurbished, you can find it for around $650. [Apple]
  3. Apple iPhone SE (2nd Gen) 4.7″ 64GB (2020): If you go the locked route, the deals are aplenty with this low-cost iPhone. You can get it for free with a new line on an unlimited plan at Verizon. Cricket Wireless has the 128GB model for $100 when you prepay $120 for 2 months service. We’ve seen the 64GB model refurbished with a 30-day plan on Total Wireless for $122. Like the iPhone 12, there aren’t many deals for brand-new unlocked models, though you might find $50 off the $399 retail on eBay or a $50 gift card from Apple on Black Friday. [Apple]
  4. Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max 5G 6.7″ 128GB (2021): Like the other iPhones on this list, your best option for a deal is a locked phone. In addition to the Walmart gift cards on Black Friday, you’ve got the major carrier promotions with up to $900 in credits. Unlocked deals will be hard to find for anything brand-new (a hefty $1099 retail). [Apple]

Other Smartphones (The Rest)

If you’re not tied to Samsung or Apple, then you’re going to find the best bargains from the rest of the field, especially on unlocked models.

  1. Google Pixel 6 5G 6.4″ 128GB (2021): The big carriers are all offering hefty credits (up to $700) with the usual trade-in and installment plans. On Black Friday, Target will have the unlocked version of Google’s new phone for $549 ($50 off retail). Google will start its Black Friday sale on Nov. 18. Details are unknown, but we’ve already seen Google throw in a Pixel Buds A-Series for free with purchase of Pixel 6. [Google]
  2. Motorola Moto G Play 6.5″ 32GB (2021): This budget smartphone is aimed at the prepaid market, though it will work with postpaid plans. We’ve seen HSN sell it locked with a year’s worth of Tracfone service for just $80. Walmart sells it for $49 locked with AT&T. If you want it unlocked, there aren’t any major price cuts, although Amazon has sold it for as low as $150 ($20 off retail). [Amazon (unlocked)]
  3. TCL 20 SE 6.82″ 128GB (2021): This unlocked only budget phone was recently on sale for as low as $133 on Amazon in early November, nearly $60 off retail. That’s a Black Friday price that’s sure to return in the coming weeks. By the way, it’s compatible with T-Mobile and AT&T LTE networks, but not Verizon (CDMA). [Amazon]
  4. OnePlus Nord N100 6.52″ 64GB (2021): Metro by T-Mobile is currently offering a locked phone for free when you switch to this prepaid carrier. They have unlimited plans starting at $50 / mo. We’ve seen the unlocked version go for as low as $140 at B&H Photo Video a handful of times and even $130 on Amazon once ($40 to $50 off retail). That’s the price range to aim for during the holiday shopping season. [Amazon (unlocked)]
  5. OnePlus Nord N10 5G 6.49″ 128GB (2021): This step-up model from the Nord N100 is also free when you switch to the Metro by T-Mobile prepaid carrier. The unlocked model has been $220 on Amazon a couple times and even $200 once ($80 to $100 off retail). Expect that unlocked price to drop below $240 when Black Friday rolls around. [Amazon (unlocked)]

Check Ben’s for the latest Smartphone deals

About Joe Warner

I'm the senior editor of The CheckOut. I am an aficionado of shiny gadgets and classic Hollywood movies and can also tell you the names of the late '80s Swedish Davis Cup team members.

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