Here’s how the Samsung Galaxy S series stack up in 2023

Samsung has become synonymous with premium mobile experiences worldwide, and it’s hard to ignore its dominance as a strong force in the Android smartphone space. The Galaxy S series flagships didn’t find them themselves atop the pile of iPhone alternatives overnight, though. The company has more than a dozen phones in the series, and it had to go through a few iterations before making it to the big leagues. Not all the Galaxy S series phones were created equal, so we decided to take look back and rank them from worst to best. It’s worth mentioning that all these phones were among the best in the market when they arrived, so “worst” in this context only means they’re not as impressive as the others mentioned in this collection.

We’ll only be looking at the mainline Galaxy S series flagships to keep things concise in this post, so the list doesn’t include models like the Galaxy S20 FE. We haven’t included the new Galaxy S23 series either because we’re yet to fully test the phones and form an opinion to see where they fit in the ranking.

13. Samsung Galaxy S – 2010

Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S, a.k.a the phone that started it all back in 2010 — believe it or not —is the one I have to start the list with. It wasn’t particularly a bad phone, especially for something that came out over a decade ago, but it didn’t scream “quality” the way many of its successors that came after it did. It fell through the crevices due to the general lack of polish and some glaring omissions in the hardware department. There was a lot to like about the phone, including its 4-inch Super AMOLED screen that was lovingly described as “massive” by many critics at that time, but it also left a lot to be desired. It had a plastic back that wasn’t particularly pleasing to look at or even hold. It didn’t even have an LED flash for the rear camera, which, even at that time, was kind of a deal-breaker. I vaguely remember borrowing a unit of Galaxy S to compare it to a Samsung Corby, which I owned at that, and I was left completely unimpressed.

12. Samsung Galaxy S6 – 2015

The next on my list is the Samsung Galaxy S6. This particular phone was pretty impressive in some ways, but I also think it completely dropped the ball in other key areas. I can confidently say that it was a significant improvement in terms of the overall build quality and design in the series, especially compared to the “band-aid” Galaxy S5. Still, it couldn’t justify itself as an upgrade due to the lack of some essentials like an IP rating, a removable battery, a microSD card slot, and more. Yes, we’re used to not having those novelties in 2023, but things were different — dare I say better — back in 2015. Not to mention the Galaxy S6 was also going against some solid options like the One M8 and One M9 from now-defunct HTC in the flagships space, so it needed more than just solid numbers on the specs sheet.

11. Samsung Galaxy S4 – 2013

The Samsung Galaxy S4 may be one of the best-selling Galaxy S series phones of all time, but that’s largely due to the success of the Galaxy S3 in my books. It’s almost like the Galaxy S4’s successful run was almost inevitable after Samsung made a splash with the S3 before it. But if you look at the Galaxy S4 closely or compare it to its closest competitors at that time, you’ll notice how it wasn’t all that impressive or significantly different from the Galaxy S3. I also wasn’t a fan of how Samsung tried to do a lot of new things with its TouchWiz software, many of which, quite frankly, felt like fillers for their presentation. They sounded really cool on paper, but did you ever see anyone using their head movements to scroll a webpage on the Galaxy S4? Not me. The Galaxy S4, I’d say, was a fitting upgrade for Samsung to show its hardware process, but it didn’t really move the needle for me.

10. Samsung Galaxy S9 – 2018

Galaxy S9

The Samsung Galaxy S9 followed the footsteps of the Galaxy S4 necessarily, and it ended up being just another flagship phone with year-over-year hardware upgrades. It’s almost like if you’ve seen the Samsung Galaxy S8, then you’ve seen the Galaxy S9 as well. The company took a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” approach to maintain the same look and feel of the Galaxy S8 while introducing subtle enhancements. Which, according to our own Ben Sin, is a trend Samsung is still following. This was also the year Samsung started playing a little safe with smartphone offerings as opposed to taking too many risks. Even the noteworthy improvements in the Galaxy S9 series, like the dual-camera setup, were reserved for the Plus model. It was a decent phone with some good features, like an IP68 rating and wireless charging, but it just felt like a placeholder with zero surprises.

9. Samsung Galaxy S20 – 2020

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra was one of the first phones to use a 108MP main camera and a Periscope zoom lens. 

The Samsung Galaxy S20 is a pretty good phone in its own regard, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that it was a misstep in the series when you look at other phones. For one, it will go down as the first Galaxy S series phone to ditch the headphone jack. Also, the Galaxy S20 series phones ended up being a lot more expensive due to the inclusion of 5G, which, at least at that time, wasn’t exactly useful for a lot of people. Samsung didn’t even put a telephoto camera on the regular Galaxy S20 and the Plus models to make room for novelties on the Ultra model. I know people who still use a Galaxy S20 series phone right now and love its gorgeous 120Hz OLED screen and good battery life, but the rest of the phones in the series have done a lot more to earn a higher rank.

8. Samsung Galaxy S21 – 2021

Samsung Galaxy S21

What followed the Galaxy S20 series was a much better package in terms of overall pricing. The Galaxy S21 series was $200 cheaper across the board, so it was automatically a good recommendation over its predecessor. The new phones in the Galaxy S21 series looked very different and more mature in the flagship space, and it’s safe to say that they have aged rather gracefully over the last two years. As impressive as these phones were, Samsung did drop the ball in some key areas. Samsung once again played it completely safe by making no radical changes to the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21 Plus over their predecessors, besides lowering the price tag or improving the looks. The plastic back on the regular model was also a bit of a letdown for those who prefer using small phones. The Galaxy S21 series phones were also the first ones to ditch the in-box chargers to set a precedent for the others to follow in the series.

7. Samsung Galaxy S22 – 2022

An image showing a person holding the Samsung galaxy S22 in hand with a bunch of miscellaneous items in the background over a wooden table.

The Galaxy S22 series devices are currently the best phones that Samsung offers in this range, and they’re significantly better than the ones that came to the market before them. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, in particular, earned a lot of brownie points for its impressive hardware. It was also a landmark release for integrating the S Pen with a dedicated slot. Both the regular S22 and the Plus models also earned our recommendation for bringing some good improvements while maintaining the same $800 and $1000 price tags, respectively. But I still can’t rate them over the other models in the series, mainly because of how the Galaxy S22 couldn’t hold its own with a smaller battery and comically slow charging speed.

6. Samsung Galaxy S2 – 2011

A render of the Samsung Galaxy S2.

A lot was riding on the Galaxy S2’s success after a mediocre entry into the space with the Galaxy S. Luckily, the S2 managed to get a lot of things right, including a better set of cameras that could compete with the iPhone lineup and a much improved and sturdier design. It also had powerful internals to make it a significant upgrade over its predecessor. The only reason why it didn’t make it higher on this list is because of the convoluted buying options in the U.S. Samsung ended up churning out multiple versions of this phone in the U.S., that too with different internals. The Galaxy S2 variant sold on T-Mobile, for instance, was powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, whereas the other variants had a 1.2GHz Exynos CPU. It’s not like these phones were significantly different from each other, but having far too many options didn’t make it easier to make a purchase decision either.

5. Samsung Galaxy S8 – 2017

Galaxy S8 root sampwnd

The Galaxy S8 was easy to recommend due to some major improvements it brought to the table. One of the highlights of this phone was the 18:9 OLED screen that made it instantly better to look at and use than the Galaxy S7. The Galaxy S8 series also introduced the DeX mode, which has now evolved into one of the most useful features of the Galaxy S series flagships. Not everything about the Galaxy S8 was an instant hit, though. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the Bixby voice assistant and the dedicated Bixby button, for instance. Even the fingerprint scanner placement could’ve been a lot better, but Samsung thought it was a good idea to stick it next to the camera. That being said, I still consider the Galaxy S8 to be one of the better phones in the series, and I was willing to look past the minor annoyances. That says a lot about the phone, especially considering it was hot on the heels of the exploding Note 7 debacle.

4. Samsung Galaxy S10 – 2019

Samsung made a splash with the Galaxy S10 family in 2019, and they were easily one of my favorites in the series. It was the first time we were introduced to more than two new flagships simultaneously, so there was essentially something for everyone to buy. The affordable and compact Galaxy S10e was simply too good to pass, and I still yearn for one to this day. Even the regular Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy S10 Plus had a lot going for them, even though they weren’t as good as the souped-up Galaxy S10 5G model. The Galaxy S10 series also marked the arrival of Samsung’s One UI software and multiple cameras on all variants. My favorite phone will always be the Galaxy S10e, but the entire series as a whole looked quite promising in 2019.

3. Samsung Galaxy S5 – 2014

The Samsung Galaxy S5 isn’t the most exciting phone in the Galaxy S lineup, but it’s also the one with the least problems. And to say that when Samsung didn’t even try to play it safe as it does these days means, it really deserves a top 3 spot. The Galaxy S5 was essentially a combination of a lot of little things that came together to work in favor of the phone. My favorite was perhaps the addition of water resistance, even with a removable plastic shell that lets you access the battery and the microSD card. It even looked impressive on the camera front, with support for 4K video recording and real-time HDR. My biggest gripe with this phone was the lackluster fingerprint scanner and a not-so-impressive design. Remember the swipe-based fingerprint scanner that made you oh-so-carefully swipe your finger down the exact center of the home button to work? Yeah, it wasn’t for me, so I ended up buying its rival, the HTC One M8, and settled for no fingerprint scanner instead. Also, how can you forget the Gold variant of the Galaxy S5, a.k.a the Galaxy S5 band-aid?

2. Samsung Galaxy S3 – 2012

The Samsung Galaxy S3 was definitely not as impressive as many other devices in the series, but it stands as one of the most impactful phones in Samsung’s early flagship journey. It offered a solid combination of powerful internals, a good camera, and some useful additions like a removable battery and microSD support. I can’t say I was a huge fan of the nature-themed TouchWiz UI, but it did have some neat features that made it arguably better than other phones on the market at that time. You can check out our dedicated video revisiting the Galaxy S3 below:

1. Samsung Galaxy S7 – 2016

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge Android Oreo

The Samsung Galaxy S7 was easily the best phone we had seen in the seven iterations that came before it, and it had the kind of impact that only a handful of phones in the series have had so far. The Galaxy S7 was the kind of phone that was fit to serve just about anyone, and it checked a lot of boxes to trounce the competition and put Samsung’s Galaxy S series ahead of many in the flagship race. From microSD card support and water resistance to the addition of a solid set of cameras and good looks, the Galaxy S7 was a major upgrade to the S6. Even its sibling, the Galaxy S7 Edge, was bigger and better in almost every way. They both come together to hold the top spot in this list of the best Samsung Galaxy S series, mainly for trading a significant blow to the competition at that time and setting up the stage for a successful run leading up to the current lineup.

And that wraps up this Samsung Galaxy S series rankings! The Samsung Galaxy S series, as I mentioned earlier, has become synonymous with the premium smartphone experience in the Android space, so it’s impossible to question the legacy of these phones. It has evolved into a force to reckon with, and we can’t wait to see what Samsung is cooking for us behind the scenes for the next phones in the series. I didn’t consider the new phones for this ranking for now because we’re still in the process of testing them to see where they fit. In the meantime, you can check out our Galaxy S23 series hub or pick them up for yourselves using the link below.

A lot of these phones hold different values and mean completely different things to many people, so your lineup may look entirely different from mine. And that’s why I’d love to know about your favorite phones in the Galaxy S series in the comments below! Also, if you want to look at the best Samsung Galaxy S series phones you can buy right now, then check out our best Samsung Galaxy phones collection instead.

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