The big picture: Global smartphone sales increased 26 percent in the first quarter of 2021, with Samsung leading the way. While that figure may seem encouraging at first glance, strong comparisons to 2020 are somewhat unfair considering last year was a bit of an anomaly.

Gartner in its latest market intelligence report notes that Samsung sold 76.6 million handsets globally in Q1, capturing 20.3 percent market share in the process. The launch of mid-priced phones as well as the early shipping of flagship 5G handsets both contributed to sales growth, Gartner said.

Apple finished in second place with 58.6 million iPhones sold, good enough for a market share of 15.5 percent. Similarly, Cupertino benefited from the launch of its first 5G-enabled iPhones, a feature that Gartner believes will continue to be a major growth driver for Apple throughout 2021.

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi grabbed 12.9 percent of the market on sales approaching 49 million units while Vivo and Oppo each secured a 10.2 percent slice of the pie.

Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner, cited a number of factors that led to boosted sales in Q1 including an improvement in consumer outlook, sustained working and learning from home and pent-up demand from 2020.

"Consumers started spending on discretionary items as the pandemic situation improved in many parts of the world and markets opened up," Gupta added.

That said, we can't ignore the fact that the base for comparison in 2020 in lower than it was in 2019. "This explains the double-digit growth," Gupta noted.

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