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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: Do you need to upgrade?

Renders of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra next to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra (left) and Galaxy S21 Ultra Digital Trends

As in previous years, the Samsung Galaxy S24 series includes three handsets. The best of these, the Galaxy S24 Ultra, includes many features missing from the less expensive (and smaller) Galaxy S24 and Galaxy S24 Plus models. But how does the Galaxy S24 Ultra compare to one of its predecessors, the Galaxy S21 Ultra? And should Galaxy S21 Ultra customers consider making the upgrade? In this article, we’ll focus on the Galaxy S24 Ultra and its similarities and differences with the Galaxy S21 Ultra — and ultimately help you decide whether it’s time to upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: specs

  Galaxy S24 Ultra Galaxy S21 Ultra
Weight 8.18 oz (233 g) 8.04 oz (229 g)
Dimensions 6.4 x 3.11 x 0.338 inches (162.6 × 79.0 × 8.6mm) 6.50 x 2.98 x 0.35 inches (165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm)
Screen size, specs
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Corning Gorilla Armor
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X

Corning Gorilla Glass Victus

Screen resolution 3120 x 1440 pixels, 19.5:9, 505 ppi

120Hz refresh rate

2,600 nits peak brightness

3200 x 1440 pixels, 20:9 ratio, 516 ppi

120Hz refresh rate

1,500 nits peak brightness

Operating system Android 14 and One UI 6.1 Android (13, 12, 11), Samsung One UI
Storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 (4 nm) Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (5 nm)
RAM 12GB 12GB
Camera 200MP main, f/1.7

12MP ultrawide, f/2.2

10MP telephoto, f/2.4 (3x zoom)

50MP telephoto, f/3.4 (5x zoom)

12MP front

108 MP main, f/1.8
12MP ultrawide, f/2.2
10MP telephoto, f/2.4 (3x zoom)
10MP periscope, f/4,9 (10x zoom)
40MP front
Video 8K UHD (7680 x 4320) @ 30 fps

4K UHD (3840 x 2160) @ 120 fps

FHD (1920 x 1080) @ 240 fps

FHD (1920 x 1080) @ 240 fps

4K UHD (3840 x 2160) @ 60 fps

8K UHD (7680 x 4320) @ 24 fps

4K UHD (3840 x 2160) @ 60 fps

FHD (1920 x 1080) @ 240 fps

HD (1280 x 720) @ 960 fps

4K UHD (3840 x 2160) @ 30 fps

Galaxy AI Yes No
Authentication Ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint 2D Face unlock, Ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint
Resistance Water, Dust; IP68 Water, Dust; IP68
Battery
5,000 mAh
45W wired charging
15W wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging

5,000 mAh
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging

Network support 5G (sub-6, mmWave) 5G (sub-6, mmWave)
Colors  Titanium Black

Titanium Gray

Titanium Violet

Titanium Yellow

Titanium Green

Titanium Blue

Titanium Orange

Phantom Black

Phantom Silver

Phantom Titanium

Phantom Navy

Phantom Brown

S-Pen support Yes, included Yes, separate purchase
Price From $1,300 From $1,200 (original)

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: design and display

When comparing the Galaxy S24 Ultra to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the differences begin with the display and design. Both phones come with an impressive 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. However, the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Armor, while the earlier model offers Corning Gorilla Victus.

The newer phone is the first to feature Gorilla’s latest glass, which is more resistant to micro scratches and everyday wear. It also performs better in drop tests on concrete than any previous version, and it promises fewer reflections and glares. From a design perspective, the new phone is also flatter and wider. It should also be noted that the Galaxy S24 Ultra is the first Samsung phone made with titanium, just like the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. The older Galaxy S21 model is made of glass and aluminum.

There is a significant difference in screen brightness between the Galaxy S24 Ultra and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The Galaxy S24 Ultra offers a peak brightness of 2,600 nits, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a maximum brightness of 1,500, which feels outdated. Both phones have a 120Hz refresh rate. The new Galaxy S24 Ultra has a screen resolution of 3120 x 1440 pixels, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and 505 pixels per inch (ppi). The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a screen resolution of 3200 x 1440 pixels, with a 20:9 aspect ratio and 516 ppi.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: performance and battery

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra's screen, resting on a bench.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Galaxy S24 Ultra has a better chip and higher performance than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. This is because it is equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, which has a faster prime core clocked at 3.3 GHz, compared to the 2.8 GHz prime core of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset in the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset also utilizes newer CPU core architectures, improving overall performance and efficiency. Both chipsets support ray tracing, but the Adreno GPU in the 8 Gen 3 chipset offers advancements in graphical capabilities compared to the Adreno 740 present in the 888 chipset.

If you primarily use your phone for basic purposes, you might not notice much difference with the newer model. However, if you use your phone for mobile gaming, video editing, and multitasking, you will definitely see a significant improvement with the latest version. The Galaxy S24 Ultra also includes new AI tools optimized for the new chip, which you can learn more about below.

Both phones include a 5,000 mAh battery, which means both should last for over a day between charges. Though both support 15-watt wireless charging, the Galaxy S24 Ultra supports 45W wired charging. The Galaxy S21 Ultra maxes out at 25W wired charging. And while the battery capacities are the same, improved efficiency with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 means the Galaxy S24 Ultra will last longer on a single charge. In our testing, it’s easily a two-day smartphone.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: cameras

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in Titanium Gray camera module.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

While it’s true that camera improvements are expected from one (or more than one) phone generation to the next, the Galaxy S21 Ultra already had an impressive camera system. Still, there are big changes to take note of with the newer model. The main camera of the Galaxy S24 Ultra has been upgraded to a whopping 200-megapixel sensor from the 108MP main camera of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. This megapixel increase allows for sharper images, and the newer sensor is also capable of capturing better colors, more pleasing nighttime shots, and more.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra’s secondary telephoto lens now includes a 50MP sensor with 5x optical zoom, which is a significant improvement over the 10MP sensor with 10x optical zoom of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. This upgrade means a better balance between zoom capability and image quality.

The rear camera bump on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

It’s also interesting to note that the front-facing camera on the Galaxy S24 Ultra has been downgraded to a 12MP sensor from the 40MP sensor of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. However, the megapixel count is not the only factor determining camera quality, and the S24 Ultra’s sensor still offers very good-looking selfies.

Regarding video, the Galaxy S24 Ultra offers 8K video recording at 30 frames per second (fps), a slight upgrade from the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 24f s. Samsung has also improved the newer model’s 4K video recording.

The S21 Ultra still has a very competent camera system, but as our camera tests have proven, the Galaxy S24 Ultra has one of the best camera packages available on a phone in 2024.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: Galaxy AI and S Pen

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and the S Pen stylus.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

If you purchased a separate S Pen for your Galaxy S21 Ultra, you’ll be pleased to know that the Galaxy S24 Ultra now comes with one included in the price. Of course, the newer model costs more, so maybe this isn’t such a big deal.

The bigger deal is the introduction of Galaxy AI on the entire lineup of Galaxy S24 phones. The new AI features include four main tools: Circle to Search, Live Translate, Notes Assist, and Generative Edit. None of these are available on the Galaxy S21 Ultra through a software update or otherwise.

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra using the Circle to Search feature.
Circle to Search Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The most advertised of these features, Circle to Search, lets you search your device by simply circling images or text on the screen. For example, if you circle a picture of a store, the phone will automatically bring up relevant information, such as the store’s location, reviews, and availability. Meanwhile, Live Translate is for anyone who communicates with people who speak different languages. This feature allows you to translate and transcribe conversations in real time. With Notes Assist, you can quickly summarize lengthy documents or articles. Doing so highlights the main points, making reviewing and retaining information more manageable.

Finally, the Generative Edit feature is perfect for photo enthusiasts who want to enhance their pictures without using a separate photo-editing app. This feature lets you perform powerful photo-editing tricks such as moving subjects and removing unwanted objects, making your photos look even more impressive.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in Titanium Orange and in Titanium Silver.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The new Galaxy S24 Ultra has 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of storage and is priced starting at $1,299. It can be purchased in-store in four colors or on the Samsung.com website in those four shades and an additional three colors.

When it was launched, the Galaxy S21 Ultra was priced at $1,199 and was available with either 256GB or 512GB of storage. At launch, the phone was available in five different colors.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: is it time to upgrade?

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra laying face-down on a table with puzzle pieces surrounding it.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Several new features distinguish the Galaxy S24 Ultra from the Galaxy S21 Ultra. On the hardware side, the newer model is available in titanium and boasts a stronger display and better chip. The camera system has also been improved, giving the S24 Ultra one of the best camera experiences on a phone today. On the software side, the Galaxy S24 Ultra offers Galaxy AI, providing you with a suite of helpful photo-editing, translation, and other AI tools.

If you are wondering whether it is worth upgrading from the Galaxy S21 Ultra to the newer model, there is another point to consider. Your current phone is promised to receive four major Android software updates, which means you will continue to receive updates until 2025. In other words, if you are satisfied with your Galaxy S21 Ultra, you can hold onto it for another year worry-free.

On the flip side, if you’re itching for an upgrade and have the money to spend, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is a phenomenal phone. You can also trade in your Galaxy S21 Ultra when buying it to drastically reduce the price, and the sooner you do so, the more money you’ll get for your S21 Ultra. It’s not an absolutely necessary upgrade, but if you have the means to do so, we think you’ll be more than happy with it.

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Bryan M. Wolfe
Bryan M. Wolfe has over a decade of experience as a technology writer. He writes about mobile.
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