Samsung Galaxy S21 lineup unveiled, setting the bar extremely high for the competition


Samsung is kicking things off in 2021 with a bang, unveiling the new Galaxy S21 lineup today, about a month earlier than usual. Due to the pandemic, today’s launch event was virtual. It would have been nice to have some hands-on time with the new devices, but for now, let’s go over all the details. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started. 

Just like last year, Samsung’s 2021 lineup consists of three different devices, the Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra. The differences between the S21 and the S21+ are less apparent this time around, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra has been beefed up more than ever, delivering the ultimate smartphone experience, if that’s what you’re after. 


Samsung Galaxy S21 Pricing

Before we get into all the specs let’s talk about pricing for a minute. Surprisingly, all three smartphones are cheaper than their 2020 counterparts – a welcome change after three years of skyrocketing prices. Across the board, the Galaxy S21 lineup is $200 cheaper than last year’s models, coming in at $799, $999, and $1199 respectively for the Galaxy S21, S21+, and the S21 Ultra. While a phone’s price is technically not a feature, it’s definitely one of the most compelling reasons why you should consider buying these phones this year. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 & S21+: a return to form

To achieve these lower price points, a few compromises had to be made to achieve those lower prices, specifically for the two cheaper devices. If you’re into comparing spec sheets between last year’s models and the new S21 device,s you’ll notice that the S21 and S21 Plus have been downgraded from 12GB of RAM to 8GB and the resolution of their 6.2-inch and  6.7inch AMOLED displays has dropped from QHD+ to FHD+.

For those keeping track, the last time a flagship Galaxy S smartphone used an FHD+ resolution display was the Galaxy S5. 

To be honest, I don’t think either of these downgrades are a huge issue since Android performs just fine with 8GB of RAM and I set the resolution of my Galaxy S20 to FHD+ so that I could use its 120Hz refresh rate. The new phones will keep the same 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, but this time around Samsung is going with flat displays which will reduce glare and improve usability by reducing the number of false taps on the screen. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 series specifications, pricing & launch date

As for performance, all three phones will be using the same snapdragon 888 with integrated 5G in North America and Asia and Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 for markets in Europe and India. While we haven’t gotten to test the new chipset’s capabilities yet, Qualcomm claims its chipset should deliver a 25 percent improvement on the CPU side while the Adreno 660 GPU is expected to deliver a 35 percent improvement in graphic rendering. Needless to say, all three Galaxy S21 devices will be incredibly powerful. 

The camera setup on the regular S21 devices are also the same with a single 10MP selfie camera that keeps through the display up front and a triple camera module on the back, featuring two 12MP cameras for the standard and ultrawide cameras and a 64MP sensor for the 3x telephoto camera which identical to what the phones had last year, save for the ToF sensor that’s been removed from the S21+. 

Battery capacity remains the same as well on the S21 at 4,000 mAh while the Plus gets a slightly larger 4800 mAh cell. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: the ultimate smartphone?

Switching over to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, this is where you’ll want to spend your money if you’re looking for the ultimate flagship experience. Some of the basics are the same as the other two devices like the Snapdragon 888 chipset, IP68 dust and water resistance, stereo speakers, 5G support for mmWave and sub6 networks, fast wired and wireless less charging and of course reverse wireless chargings. The real differences come down to the display, battery capacity, cameras and memory. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 versus the S21+ and S21 Ultra: which one should you buy?

If you really need a QHD+ display, this is where you’ll find it with a 6.8-inch AMOLED panel featuring a 120Hz dynamic refresh rate, 1500 nits of brightness, and a 3 million to 1 contrast ratio. Needless to say, this should be the best smartphone display we’ve ever seen. 

The base model of the ultra comes with 12GB of RAM, but you can pay more to get 16GB. I honestly don’t know who on earth would need more than 12GB of RAM, but if you do, the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s got you covered. As for storage, like the other two devices, it starts at 128 GB with the option to upgrade to 256GG, but the ultra also has a half TB option as well. Just keep in mind that there is no microSD expansion slot on any of the S21 models, so you’re limited to what you get in the phone itself. 

But the real reason you should consider upgrading to the Galaxy S21 Ultra is for its cameras. The phone sports four sensors on the back which include a 108MP main camera, a 12MP ultrawide camera, and two 10MP telephoto cameras that feature 3x and 10x magnification. Samsung is still marketing the zoom capabilities of its Galaxy S21 devices as “Space Zoom” but this time around they’ve dramatically improved the stabilization with “zoom lock” so that your subject stays centered in your viewfinder without needing a tripod. Samsung says that they’ve also solved the focus issues they had on last year’s Galaxy S20 Ultra by adding laser autofocus to help the 108MP main camera sensor to find and lock in on its focal point a lot quicker. 

Samsung is also bumping up video capture on all five cameras to 4K/60 fps, including the 40MP selfie camera. The Main 108MP will also be able to capture 8K video again, but this time you’ll also be able to extract single frames from the videos to save them as images. 

On the battery front, the Ultra packs a 5,000 mAh cell which should guarantee all-day battery life under nearly any conditions. And as rumored, you also get S Pen support like Samsung’s Note series. It comes as a separate accessory, or you can use an S Pen you might already have lying around. You just won’t have a place to store it. Fortunately, Samsung’s got you covered on that front with a Galaxy S21 Ultra case with an S Pen slot on the side. 

I have to say, there’s a lot to like about Samsung’s Galaxy S21 lineup. Though there are few downgrades on the regular S21 and S21+, the lower prices of the two phones more than makeup for them and should make these phones a lot more compelling for the average user.

As for the S21 Ultra, it’s all in the name. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-equipped smartphone for media consumption, multitasking, gaming, and photography this year, and it’s still the middle of January. 

Nick Gray
I'm a life-long tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC. After writing about tech for more than a decade, I jumped at the opportunity to take on the role of Editor in Chief at Phandroid. Please contact me at [email protected].

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