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Samsung Galaxy S21: Everything you need to know

The Samsung Galaxy S21 series is finally here. Leaked into oblivion, almost nothing has been left to the imagination — though given how great the phones look, that may not be a bad thing. With a clean design, camera upgrades, new processor, and more, the Galaxy S21 series will likely be among the bestselling phones of 2021.

As you would expect these days, there isn’t just one Galaxy S21 model — there are three. With the standard Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and Galaxy S21 Ultra, there should be something in the lineup for a wide variety of buyers. Here’s everything you need to know about the new Samsung Galaxy S21 series.

Galaxy S21 models — what’s the difference?

As mentioned, there are three Galaxy S21 models on offer, and there are some key differences and some key similarities between them. They all, for starters, offer the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor in the U.S., or the Exynos 2100 in international models. They also ship with Android 11, and the overall software experience will be identical. And all three devices support 25W wired charging, 15W wireless charging, and Samsung’s Wireless PowerShare feature that allows you to charge your Galaxy Watch or Buds (or other Qi devices).

We’ll dive into the differences in specs between the Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra in the sections below, but the main reasons you should buy one over the others are display size and, perhaps, camera specs. The Galaxy S21 Ultra, as you would expect, has the largest display (6.8 inches) and largest battery (5000mAh), but that display also has a wider range of refresh rates (10 to 120Hz), a higher max brightness, and striking curved edges. It also has the best camera thanks in part to the two telephoto lenses, which offer 3x and 10x optical zoom — the S21 and S21+ are stuck with minimal optical zoom and lean on digital zooming.

The other major difference is the fact that the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports Samsung’s S Pen. While there’s no space in the phone itself to store that S Pen, and you’ll have to buy it separately, this may appeal to some power users who didn’t already jump onto a Galaxy Note.

Read on for a more detailed explanation of specs and the differences between the models.

Galaxy S21 price and release date

The entire Samsung Galaxy S21 series was unveiled on January 14, and are now up for pre-order. All three devices will go on sale on January 28, so there’s a relatively long two-week pre-order period.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE was a hit for the company, and it looks like it’s taking that to heart — the company has lowered the price of the entire Galaxy S21 series, with the Galaxy S21 starting at $800. Part of that is almost sure to compete with the $700 iPhone 12 Mini, but whatever the reason, it’s nice to see companies taking flagship-quality phones that don’t cost $1,000 seriously. Here’s a rundown for the entire Galaxy S21 lineup’s pricing.

  • Samsung Galaxy S21$800 for the 128GB model, $850 for the 256GB model
  • Samsung Galaxy S21+$1,000 for the 128GB model, $1,050 for the 256GB model
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra$1,200 for the 128GB model, $1,250 for the 256GB model, $1,380 for the 512GB model

You can pre-order the Galaxy S21 right from the Samsung website, and when you do you’ll get some nice perks like a $200 gift card toward a future Samsung purchase.

The phones will go on sale officially in stores on January 29.

Galaxy S21 design and display

Turns out, all the leaks were correct. The Samsung Galaxy S21 series offers a revamped design compared to the S20 from last year, and it looks pretty good.

All three models offer a larger camera bump that immediately draws attention to itself when you see it on the back of the phone. The way that it’s built, the camera bump is actually connected to the frame of the phone, around the edge — which is a nice touch. The camera bump on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the largest, to accommodate for the quad camera on the device, versus the triple camera on the Galaxy S21 or Galaxy S21+.

There are a wide range of new colors, but it’s all a bit confusing. The Galaxy S21 has four color options (white, pink, grey, violet), the S21+ has three (silver, violet, black), and the S21 Ultra has two (silver, black). It’s important to note that not all colors are available on all models, but there is a solid selection of colors no matter which model you go for.

On the front, Samsung has slimmed down the bezels a little, but the overall look of an edge-to-edge display with a hole-punch cutout for the front-facing camera remains. The S21 and S21+ have a flat display, while the S21 Ultra has curved edges like prior Galaxy S models.

Speaking of the display, it’s a doozy. On the Galaxy S21, there’s a 6.2-inch display, while the Galaxy S21+ sports a 6.7-inch display. The Galaxy S21 Ultra has the largest, coming in at 6.8 inches. All three devices support HDR10+. The Galaxy S21+ and the Galaxy S21 Ultra both offer glass backs, however the standard Galaxy S21 has the same plastic back as the Galaxy S20 FE. Of course, for those who slap a case onto their phone, that won’t really matter.

Perhaps controversially, the Galaxy S21 and S21+ offer a 1,080p resolution, which is a step down from the standard S20, which had a 1,440p resolution — though on the S20, you had to drop to a 60Hz refresh rate to get it. The Galaxy S21 and S21+ have an adaptive refresh rate, which can move between 48Hz and 120Hz — which honestly is an improvement overall. We tend to agree that a high refresh rate is more impactful than a high resolution, but some users might disagree.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers the best of both worlds. It has a 1,440p resolution, and the adaptive refresh rate is stepped up to range from 10Hz to 120Hz, which should help save battery. On paper, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has among the best displays on a smartphone.

Under that display, finally, there’s an upgrade: Samsung has a new, larger fingerprint sensor. The Qualcomm-provided ultrasonic fingerprint sensor that was fine in the Galaxy S10 was way behind the times for the S20, and has finally been replaced for the S21. Qualcomm’s second-generation ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is larger and claims to be over 50% faster — we sure hope that’s true.

Galaxy S21 battery and specs

As mentioned, all three Galaxy S21 devices offer a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in North America, and either the Snapdragon or Exynos 2100 in various international markets. But coupled with that processor, specs vary a little. Here’s a quick rundown of RAM and storage in the different models.

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21+: 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: 12GB or 16GB of RAM and 128G, 256GB, or 512GB of storage

Any of the models listed above should be more than powerful enough to handle everything you can throw at it in 2021, including mobile gaming, heavy multitasking, and more. It’s important to note that none of the Galaxy S21 phones have a MicroSD card slot.

As you would expect, the bigger the phone, the bigger the battery. The standard Galaxy S21 has an already relatively large 4,000mAh battery, with the S21+ stepping things up to 4,800mAh, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra boasting a 5,000mAh battery. We’ll have to wait and see just how long these batteries last, especially given the 120Hz refresh rate — though the fact that its a variable refresh rate should help.

Galaxy S21 Galaxy S21+ Galaxy S21 Ultra
Display 6.2-inch FHD+, 120Hz 6.7-inch FHD+, 120Hz 6.8-inch QHD+, 120Hz

S Pen support

Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Memory 8GB 8GB 12GB or 16GB
Storage 128GB or 256GB 128GB or 256GB 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB
Camera 1 (main)

12MP, 1.8μm, f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF

12MP, 1.8μm, f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF 108MP, 0.8μm, f/1.8, Phase Detect AF, OIS
Camera 2 (ultrawide)

12MP, 1.4μm, f/2.2, 120° FoV

12MP, 1.4μm, f/2.2, 120° FoV 12MP, 1.4μm, f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF, 120° FoV
Camera 3 (telephoto)

64MP, 0.8μm, f/2.0, Phase Detect AF, OIS

64MP, 0.8μm, f/2.0, Phase Detect AF, OIS 10MP, 1.22μm, f/2.4, Dual Pixel AF, Optical 3x zoom, OIS
Camera 4 (telephoto) n/a n/a 10MP, 1.22μm, f/4.0, Dual Pixel AF, Optical 10x zoom, OIS
Front camera 10MP, 1.22μm, f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF, 80° FoV 10MP, 1.22μm, f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF, 80° FoV

40MP, 0.7 μm, f/2.2, Phase Detect AF, 80° FoV

Water resistance IP68 IP68 IP68
Battery 4000mAh 4800mAh 5000mAh
Charging 25W wired, 15W wireless

Wireless PowerShare

25W wired, 15W wireless

Wireless PowerShare

25W wired, 15W wireless

Wireless PowerShare

Dimensions

71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9mm

171g

75.6 x 161.5 x 7.8mm

202g

75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm

229g

Galaxy S21 cameras

The camera is perhaps the biggest difference between the three Galaxy S21 models. That’s a trend across the smartphone industry — the priciest iPhone 12 Pro Max has the best camera of the iPhone 12 series.

The standard Galaxy S21 and S21+ offer the same camera systems. For starters, there’s a triple-lens camera with one 12-megapixel wide-angle camera featuring dual pixel autofocus and an f/1.8 aperture. Next up is a 12MP ultrawide camera with a 120-degree field-of-view and an f/2.2 aperture. And, last but not least, is a 64MP “telephoto” camera, which is barely an optical zoom over the main camera but can provide a digital zoom up to 30s. Keen observers will notice that this isn’t a change from the Galaxy S20 series — Samsung’s expecting to find improvements thanks to new processing and the Snapdragon 888’s ISP (image signal processor).

The Galaxy S21 Ultra steps things up. The ultrawide camera on the device is the same, but that’s where the similarities end. The main sensor sits in at 108MP, with an effective output of 12MP. And, there are two telephoto lenses: One 10MP with 3x optical zoom and an aperture of f/2.4, and one 10MP with 10x optical zoom and an f/4.9 aperture. Both have optical image stabilization to stabilize those long zoom shots. Altogether, the Galaxy S21 Ultra steps “Space Zoom” to a hefty 100x zoom.

The cameras support a range of new features. Notably, there’s an improved 8K Snap feature, which lets you take a photo while recording an 8K video. And there’s the new Director’s View video-capture mode, which allows users to see and switch between cameras while recording video, and Vlogger Mode, which captures the rear camera and the front camera at the same time.

It won’t come with a wall charger

Samsung was quick to mock Apple after the company ditched the power adapter for the iPhone 12 series, but the company is now changing its attitude and getting rid of the accessory for the Galaxy S21. Samsung has confirmed that the Galaxy S21 series will not come with a wall charger.

It’s not necessarily a surprising development, and this isn’t the first time that Samsung has shot itself in the foot by mocking Apple. Notably, the company was quick to criticize Apple for getting rid of the headphone jack, but it also no longer includes a headphone jack on many of its flagship phones.

Samsung Galaxy SmartTags and Galaxy Buds Pro

Apple AirTags have been rumored for months, but it looks like Samsung has beaten Apple to the punch. Samsung SmartTags are small, low-power trackers you can attach to anything — think keys, backpacks, kids, or pets — that allow you to locate whatever they’re stuck to through Bluetooth. You’ll actually get a SmartTag for free if you pre-order the Galaxy S21, which is a nice touch.

The Galaxy Buds Pro true-wireless earbuds are definitely not free — they’re $200, and now sit at the top of Samsung’s range of earbuds. We’ve had a chance to put them to the test, and found that they’re actually really quite nice. While they’re not perfect, considering the finicky touch controls and slightly subpar call quality, they sound great, offer some awesome smart features, and more. Check out our full review here.

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