Samsung’s annual Unpacked event is taking place a bit earlier than usual this year, but the company’s new flagship Galaxy S phones are official all the same. As expected, there are three devices in the S21 family. All three devices have the latest Snapdragon 888 ARM chip, lower price tags, and no included charger.
Samsung caught substantial flack last year for the exorbitant pricing of the S20 series, and this year it’s doing something about it. The S21 family is still not cheap, but all three models are getting a $200 price cut compared with last year. That means the S21 will start at just $800. Granted, Samsung has moved to a plastic back and 1080p display (6.2-inch, 120Hz) for the smallest S21 phone, but this is still a very competitive price when you consider the specs.
The S21+ gets a slightly larger 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz screen, and the S21 Ultra is just a hair larger at 6.8 inches, but it’s higher resolution. The S21+ will cost $1,000, and the S21 Ultra is $1,200. Both of these phones have a glass back panel.
Below the surface, these three devices are very similar. They all have the new Snapdragon 888 chip, Wi-Fi 6, universal 5G (mmWave and sub-6), 25W charging, wireless charging, IP68, and an improved in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. The S21 and S21+ have 8GB of RAM and 128-256GB of storage, but the S21 Ultra has 12-16GB and up to 512GB of storage. That’s just one of several notable upgrades for Samsung’s new premium flagship, but there’s a downgrade, too: no more microSD card slots.
Battery capacity ranges from 4000mAh in the baby S21 to 5000mAh in the S21 Ultra. Samsung has stuck with a 25W max charging speed even as companies like OnePlus have pushed past 60W. There’s no wall plug in the box, but any Samsung charger from the last year will hit 25W just fine. There are also higher-quality USB Power Delivery chargers available from third-parties that will hit 25W on the S21 while also supporting faster speeds on other devices. You also get Samsung’s 10W fast wireless charging, but of course, you won’t get that charger in the box, either.
All three phones will have the same software loadout with Samsung’s One UI 3.1 on top of Android 11. That means you’ll get all the latest APIs and Google features, plus Samsung extras like a secure folder and enhanced Windows integration.
The camera modules all have a similar style — a distinctive design element this year — wherein the camera hump merges smoothly into the metal frame around the edge of the phone. The S21 and S21+ have straightforward triple-camera modules consisting of a 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide, and 64MP “telephoto.” It doesn’t technically have optical zoom, though. The sensor is high enough resolution that it can crop the sensor to provide a passable digital zoom.
The S21 Ultra goes all-out in the camera department. The primary camera is once again 108MP, but there’s a laser autofocus module to address the inconsistencies that made the S20 Ultra camera so frustrating. You also get a 12MP ultrawide and two optical zoom lenses. There’s a new 10MP 10x periscope zoom camera, plus a 10MP 3x zoom camera. This gives you more focal lengths to work with so you can avoid using digital zoom as often. The Ultra can also capture 4K60 video and 12-bit HDR photos.
These phones will all leverage the power of the SD888 to make all those camera sensors a bit more useful. There’s a new feature called Live Thumbnails (Director Mode when shooting video) that pipes in live feeds from three different camera modules. This lets you see what each different lens can do in a given situation, allowing you to choose the one you like best.
Samsung is attempting to sweeten the deal when it comes to the S21 Ultra — it’s not just a larger version of the other phones. In addition to the distinct camera setup, this phone has a few more premium features that you won’t get on the cheaper S21 phones. While the screen is only a little larger than the Plus, the resolution is 1440p versus just 1080p on the Plus. That’s a downgrade for the baby and Plus variants of Samsung’s new flagships. The S21 Ultra also has a dynamic refresh that can operate anywhere between 120 and 10Hz for improved battery life.
While all versions of the S21 have Wi-Fi 6, the Ultra has Wi-Fi 6E as well. It’s one of the first consumer devices to support this standard, which expands Wi-Fi into the 6GHz spectrum. If you have a ton of devices on 2.4 and 5GHz, the expanded spectrum for Wi-Fi 6E could speed up your phone’s connectivity.
Most notably, the S21 Ultra will add support for the S Pen stylus, which was previously only compatible with the Note and Tab families of devices. The stylus won’t come with the phone, but you can purchase one separately. Samsung will even have cases that add a slot for the pen. However, they look pretty awkward. There will also be a better version of the S Pen for the S21 Ultra that launches later this year.
Samsung has opened pre-orders today, and most carriers will follow suit. If you’re planning to pick up the S21, the launch deals are probably the best chance you’ll have until the phone gets its inevitable mid-life price cut. Between trade-ins and monthly bill credits, you can get the new S21 phones for hundreds less than MSRP.
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