Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra: The best deals right now
Here's how to score the lowest price on all the new Samsung Galaxy phones.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
The Samsung Galaxy S21 lineup arrived last month with one unexpected, but welcome, surprise: lower prices. The new phones start at $800, a full $200 below the Galaxy S20's starting price of last year. They rise sharply from there, however, and $800 is still anything but cheap.
As usual, various carriers have rolled out the usual free-with-trade-in and buy-one-get-one offers, and at least one smaller operator is sweetening the deal with discounts and freebies. Below I've rounded up what I consider to be the best Galaxy S21 deals available right now. (For a more complete list of options, see CNET's roundup of where, when and how to buy the Galaxy S21.)
First, however, two buying tips to consider:
Forget the S21; get an S20 instead. Instead of marking down the price, Samsung is discontinuing the S20 lineup -- despite it being a terrific, top-rated phone (with a microSD card slot, something the S21 lacks). That means closeout discounts are imminent, and deals on refurbs will be even better. At Back Market, for example, the unlocked Galaxy S20 starts at around $550, a price that includes a full 12-month warranty.
Wait. Last year, it was literally a matter of weeks after launch when bigger, better S20 deals started rolling out. Although the S21's lower starting price might result in smaller discounts, I've never seen a Galaxy phone release that wasn't followed by better prices in the weeks and months following. If you're not in a big hurry, it pays to be patient.
For sake of simplicity, all the deals below are focused on the Galaxy S21 with 128GB, but they apply to the S21 Plus and S21 Ultra as well (unless otherwise noted). In most cases you'll just add $200 and $400, respectively.
If you don't want to get in bed with one of the Big Three carriers but do want to finance your phone, Samsung offers free financing -- for 36 months. That means you can pay as little as $22.23 per month for the Galaxy S21, but you'll be doing that for three years.
The good news is that you're not locked into an expensive Big Three plan. You can take the Galaxy to just about any carrier you want, even one that charges just $15 to $20 a month for service. Here are eight affordable alternatives to the Big Three.
You can also get a pretty decent credit for your trade-in if you have one. (No hoop-jumping required, just click the trade-in pull down to instantly see what your phone is worth.) And when you buy an S21 from Samsung, you get a $100 credit you can use immediately -- or save for later -- on accessories. The S21 Plus nets you a $150 credit; the S21 Ultra, $200. You also get one of the new Samsung SmartTags, a $30 value.
T-Mobile is offering an $800 bill credit, paid out over the course of 24 months, when you trade in an eligible phone. That credit would effectively cover the entire cost of the an S21, or heavily defray the cost of an S21 Plus or S21 Ultra.
What phones qualify as "eligible"? Surprisingly, it's not just last year's models. You can get that full $800 credit for an iPhone X, a Google Pixel 4a or a OnePlus 7T, for example. You can also score a $400 credit on even older phones, like the iPhone 8, Google Pixel 3a and LG V50.
This can get a little confusing at checkout, though: You'll receive a one-time bill credit for the "fair market value" of the phone (which might be just a couple hundred dollars), then the balance across that 24-month period.
Visible shaves a few dollars (literally a few) off the price of the Galaxy S21, but the bigger news is the $200 Samsung.com gift credit you'll receive after 32 days of active service with the carrier. And if you also port your number from an eligible carrier, you'll receive a free pair of Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. That's a $170 value, and a decidedly better perk than the free SmartTag that's offered elsewhere.
For those unfamiliar with it, Visible runs on Verizon's network and offers an unlimited, no-contract plan for $40 a month. Sign up for Party Pay and you can get that payment down as low as $25.
US Mobile isn't offering to sell you a Galaxy S21; rather, it's offering to give you discounted service when you buy the phone elsewhere (like from Samsung, above) and bring it to US Mobile for service.
It would play out like this: You buy a US Mobile SIM card (using promo code SG21, which should be automatically applied for you), then sign up for the service plan of your choice. Every month you stay with US Mobile, you'll receive 50% off that plan, for a maximum 12-month savings of $250.
This isn't a contract, though, and there's no penalty if you decide to walk away after, say, six months. After that first year is up, your plan will automatically revert to the standard rate.
One new plan that's worth a look: Unlimited talk and text and 30GB of high-speed data for $30 a month. The discount would shave that to $15 a month for the entire first year.