On the last day of CES 2021, Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S21 lineup. While they may have done it a month earlier this time, the Korean manufacturer still gave us enough to be excited about. With pricing coming down and the newest tech, Samsung’s flagship trio is likely to give the industry a run for their money. To avoid making the decision of switching difficult for you, we’re telling you all you need to know about the new handsets.
S21 & S21+
Samsung segmented its flagship range last year by adding two smartphones for the more budget-minded flagship hunter. The S21 and S21+ continue this newly started tradition with a high-end spec-sheet but fewer premium materials. How does this all add up?
Samsung slashed $200 off its starting price for the S-series this year with the S21 starting at $799. In comparison, the S20 5G started at $999 when it was released 11 months ago. Similarly, the S21+ will start at $999 compared to its predecessor’s eye-watering price of $1199. This is a welcome change in a world of ever-increasing smartphone prices. Given how price-sensitive consumers are in today’s market, with flagship specs coming to cheaper and cheaper phones, this may have been a necessity as opposed to the company reducing prices out of the kindness of its heart. Irrespective of the company’s intention, this decision is sure to give them a more competitive edge in the market.
The company has also made the decision of removing chargers and headphones from the box, but this may soon become an industry standard as Apple paved the way for it when it launched its iPhone 12 line.
The Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch AMOLED display while the S21+ has the same 6.7-inch sized screen as the older S20+. Samsung has made a 120Hz refresh rate standard across its S21 lineup. For those who worry about battery life, Samsung has added Adaptive Refresh Rate (ARR) technology to its displays which means the display will not stay locked in the setting you choose but can change its refresh rate according to what is on your display and how you’re using it. If you’re just viewing a still image, the phone will lower its refresh rate to conserve battery life, but if you’re watching a video on an app that supports its maximum refresh setting, the display will kick into its 120Hz mode. The S21 and S21+ can lower refresh rates all the way down to 48Hz. However, we’ll have to wait and see if this adaptive mode saves more battery than the locked 60Hz mode of old.
There is a bit of bad news in the display department though: the S21 and S21+ no longer have a Quad HD display. The displays on these models have been dialled back to an FHD+ resolution.
One of the most controversial changes with this year’s S21 series is the camera bump which melts into the phone’s side. It certainly divides opinion as some think it’s better than last year’s camera cutout, while some think it isn’t as appealing. The contrasting colour options also add more flavour to the lineup. The bump is also made of the same metal as the frame, which means it should be more durable. The S21 comes with a matte finish in four colours: Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, and Phantom Pink. The S21+, meanwhile, comes in Phantom Black, Phantom Violet, and Phantom Silver.
We will have to wait and see how the devices look and feel in our hands but for now, they certainly look premium.
The cameras are virtually identical on the S21 and S21+. Another triple-lens rear array: 12MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide, and 64MP telephoto capable of a 3x hybrid optical zoom. This setup has been carried over from last years models, which is not necessarily a bad thing as the S20 series had some of the best cameras on the market. The front-facing selfie camera is also the same as last year, a 10MP lens with updated night and portrait modes.
Samsung has been developing its own Exynos chipset for years. However, the manufacturer offered different chipsets in different markets, opting for Qualcomm processors in the US and some other regions. For the last couple of years, however, people have complained that the Exynos based phones don’t perform as well as the Qualcomm Snapdragon versions. This year might be different with the Exynos 2100 and the Snapdragon 888 both built on Samsung’s 5nm EUV process. However, the Exynos chip is clocked at 2.9Ghz compared to the Snapdragon’s 2.84 GHz, which should offer stronger performance. If Samsung gets the thermal management right, the Exynos should turn the tables this year.
Both phones come with 8GB of RAM and storage options of 128GB and 256GB. However, there is no expandable storage option this year, so one would be better off getting the 256Gb version.
In terms of battery, Samsung has increased the battery capacity of the S21+ to 4,800mAh from last year’s 4,500 mAh. However, the battery on the S21 remains the same as last year at 4,000 mAh. Neither phone is going to be compatible with 45W chargers though as Samsung claimed the benefits of adding this feature weren’t that great.
This is it. This might be the most awaited device of the year. Samsung’s Ultra series promises the best of the best with no compromise on build quality. For fans of the brand, this is the holy grail of smartphones.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is an expensive bit of kit. However, like its siblings, pricing for the phone is considerably lower than last year. It starts at $1,199 for the 128GB version. Last year’s Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra started at $1,399 for the same setup. While the target market for buyers of the Ultra series may not be too worried about the pricing of the phone, no one minds a $100 discount. The S21 Ultra is still more expensive than its main competitor; however, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which starts at $1,099.
The display of the S21 Ultra could just be the best on the market. The 6.8-inch AMOLED display is truly a thing of beauty. It stretches across the phone and blends into the sides of the phone. Its curved edge-to-edge screen virtually eliminates bezels. The S21 Ultra display is also bright, really bright. At maximum brightness, the display lights up like it’s powered by a mini-nuclear reactor, as it goes all the way up to 1,500 nits. By way of comparison, even the iPhone 12 tops out at 1,200 nits. The extra 300 nits are going to make a noticeable difference in direct sunlight. The display is also a Quad HD display unlike the other two S21 phones and can now operate at 120Hz in its maximum resolution setting. The Ultra also has the Adaptive Refresh Rate (ARR) but can lower its refresh rate as low as 10Hz.
In terms of design, the Ultra is not that different from the S21 and S21+. It is bigger, which might be a problem for some users. However, the materials used and the colour options are different. Samsung used a special glazed glass for the back of the phone and devised a special colour film to give the phone a distinctive look. Samsung also gives you the option to pick from a variety of custom colours that can be matched with a carbon-fibre like a pattern on the camera bump. The standard colours are Phantom Black and Phantom Silver, which are also offered on the standard S21 but seem to have a slightly different colour gradient. The custom colours that you can spec through Samsung’s website in select countries include Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, and Phantom Brown.
The camera on the S21 Ultra is its pièce de résistance. Samsung’s 108MP camera makes a comeback here for detailed photography on the go. It is accompanied by two 10MP telephoto cameras, on that shoots at 10x optical zoom and another that shoots at 3x optical zoom. Combined, these two cameras can deliver up to 100x of digital zoom. Samsung also added a 12MP ultra-wide camera and a laser-assisted phase-detection autofocus (LAPDAF) module to the back of the phone. At the front, Samsung has incorporated a 40MP camera that should allow you to take incredibly detailed selfies. Software tricks like Single Take mode allows you to take videos and photos simultaneously using all of the cameras you have at your disposal while the new Director’s View lets you capture video with both the front and back cameras simultaneously. There’s no doubting the phone’s hardware, but further testing will need to be done in order to see how the camera performs in the real world.
The Ultra has the same processor as the S21 and S21+. However, it beats both in the RAM department. The 128GB and 256GB models come with 12GB of RAM while the monster 512GB model comes with 16GB of RAM. If specs are what you’re looking for, this phone is for you.
In terms of battery, the phone comes with a 5,000 mAh battery that should last all day. Samsung has also put in a new, redesigned in-screen fingerprint sensor that is larger than the one in previous models and is said to be faster as well. This should mean that you might be able to open your phone on the first try and might not have to deal with the stress that came with wayward thumb placement.
There’s also a new S-pen that works with the S21 Ultra, for all the creators out there. It may not be as useful as the pen that comes with the Note series, but it’s still something some users would want to have.
Which one should you get?
For the power user, the Ultra will be the most appealing option. However, for the average person, the standard S21 might offer the best value. At $799 it is a lot cheaper than the Ultra. It offers greater value with respect to the S21+ as well since both phones have similar specs, with the only real differences being in terms of battery and display size.
Whichever one you get through, the entire new S21 lineup has the design and performance capabilities to make the experience of using your smartphone a little bit better.