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Samsung Galaxy S21 series: A guide to everything you need to know about the Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra

One of the new Galaxy S21 phones has an unexpected feature, and the starting price points are cheaper than last year's Galaxy S20 series.

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The new Galaxy S21 series smartphones.

Image: Samsung

There are three new smartphones from Samsung: the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21+ and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung unveiled all three on Thursday, Jan. 14, which just so happened to be the last day of CES 2021. However, the devices were introduced at Samsung Unpacked in a virtual livestream from South Korea, not as part of the official CES events.

Samsung gave the event the advance title of "Welcome to the Everyday Epic" in a play on Samsung's idea that every day can be epic. As expected, the three devices are loaded with features and in a big switch from previous phones in the S series, the S21 Ultra even works with the S Pen. In the past, the only Samsung phones that the S Pen worked with was the Galaxy Note series. 

This is part of the regular announcement cycle for Samsung, but it is a bit early, likely due to the lack of a Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona this winter. On Feb. 10, 2020, in person in San Francisco, Samsung introduced the S20 lineup of flagship phones: The Galaxy S20, the Galaxy S20 Plus and the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Then, the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra were announced in August 2020, at the first ever all-digital Galaxy Unpacked. 

SEE: Photos: A first look at the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra (TechRepublic)

"This year, we've seen what we call a bifurcation within the premium smartphone market, where there's a growing diversity of needs amongst different types of consumers. And we actually saw this play out during the S and Notes series launches in 2020," said Drew Blackard, vice president of product management for Samsung Electronics America. "So on one hand, we see some consumers increasingly prioritize value. We hear things like they're less willing to pay for the most expensive phone, or that a more affordable model might be good enough to meet their needs. But on the flip side, there's still those who need to get their hands on the latest Galaxy device." He said that during the first month after launching both the S20 and the Note 20, the Ultra devices in each series made up the highest percentage of Samsung's sales. 

Lower price points for each Galaxy S21 series phone

Blackard said the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21+ are designed for anyone who wants a full-featured phone at a "more accessible price point than last year." The Galaxy S21 starts at $799.99 and the Galaxy S21+ starts at $999.99. 

In comparison, at launch the Galaxy S20 started at $999 and the Galaxy S20+ at $1,199. Even the Ultra series is less expensive than last year's, starting at $1,199.99 this year for the Galaxy Ultra S21, compared to $1,399 for the Galaxy Ultra S20.

Gartner Senior Principal Analyst Tuong Nguyen said the adjustment in price is likely a response to different factors:

  • Global economic uncertainty due to the pandemic—this makes it harder to justify the previous trend of increasing price for flagship devices.
  • Long replacement cycles—consumers are holding onto their phones longer. The impact may not be as pronounced with very high-end flagship devices, but it still applies when purchasing an incremental improvement over something you currently own.
  • Competition pricing—Apple maintained the price ceiling for the iPhone 12 launches.
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Image: Samsung

Key features of the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21+

At first glance, the changes that are noticeable on the Galaxy S21 and the S21+ are a contour-cut camera design that's integrated in the device's metal frame, an updated matte finish, and a new color, Phantom Violet, that has a contrasting gold-colored frame for a stylish effect. Blackard said, "This is the biggest step forward in design for the Galaxy S Series ever."

The 6.2-inch screen on the S21 is a dynamic AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate to give a smoother scrolling and viewing experience. There's also an eye comfort shield that automatically adjusts blue light levels to reduce eye fatigue. The S21+ has the same AMOLED display and eye comfort shield, but the display is larger at 6.7 inches. 

The S21 phone itself is the most compact of the series at 71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9 mm, and the S21+ is 75.6 x 161.5 x 7.8 mm, so it's slightly larger. 

There are three cameras on both phones. Steven Hawk, director of product management for Samsung, said, "It's a triple camera system with a dual pixel, 12 megapixel main lens, a 12 megapixel ultra-wide lens, and a 64 megapixel tele lens."

The camera shoots 8K video and can turn it into a high-res still with 8K video snap. Hawk said, "We developed a new feature called the Director's View, to give creators more dynamic control while the action is going on. You can see your scene from multiple perspectives simultaneously, and switch between lenses, new recording, to piece together the exact video you want." There's also Vlogger's Mode, so the user can record with the front and rear cameras at the same time to capture the scene and the reactions of the crowd. 

The phones also support multi-mic recording to capture audio.

Key features of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a quad camera with a dual pixel 12 megapixel ultra-wide lens and an 108 MP megapixel wide lens. There's also two telephoto lens. And a laser auto-focus sensor that was first introduced on the Note20 Ultra. This phone has 4K, 60 fps for filming across all five lenses, including the front camera. 

The display on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a 6.8-inch Edge WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED screen. It has a 120Hz refresh rate.

Hawk said, "Compared with the Galaxy S20, you'll get a 25% brighter picture at a max 1500 nits, and a 50% improved contrast ratio. And like the S21 and S21+, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has an eye comfort shield that reduces eye fatigue."

The phone is the largest of the series, at 75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9 mm. And it has the S Pen as an optional accessory for the first time in the Galaxy S series. 

Ultra Wide Band is being expanded on the Ultra and the S21+. "Soon, you'll be able to use Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy S21+ to automatically unlock your car doors without pulling out your keys. Thanks to our partnership with Google, we'll be introducing another car integration as well," Hawk said. "We're combining the Android Auto experience with SmartThings, for a seamless and comprehensive connected-car experience. Before arriving home, you can turn on the porch lights and even raise the temperature of your thermostat for a warm welcome on your arrival."

What it means to have the S Pen on the Galaxy S21 Ultra

There has been speculation that the S Pen's compatibility with the Galaxy S21 Ultra might mean Samsung could phase out the Note series in the future. Samsung said there's no information on that. 

Nguygen said, "Making the S Pen available to more devices makes sense; by positioning the accessory as part of the larger Samsung smartphone family (rather than a one-off only usable by a niche segment of users). The future of the Note series depends on how Samsung decides it wants to handle the segmentation of its flagship line. Meaning, how many different categories and options does Samsung want to offer to this ultra-high tier audience."

Color options on the S21 series

In the US, the Galaxy S21 will be available in Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink and Phantom White in 128GB and 256GB models with 8GB RAM (256GB available in Phantom Gray only). The Galaxy S21+ will be available in Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver and Phantom Black in 128GB and 256GB models with 8GB RAM (256GB available in Phantom Black only). The Galaxy S21 Ultra will be available in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown.

Pricing for the phones

As mentioned earlier, pricing for the Galaxy S21 starts at $799.99, the Galaxy S21+ starts at $999.99, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at $1,199.99.

Where and when to buy the Galaxy S21 series

Pre-orders for the Galaxy S21 series began on Jan. 14. Between Jan. 14-28, consumers who pre-order can get $100 Samsung Credit with a Samsung Galaxy S21 and $150 Samsung Credit with a Galaxy S21+. All pre-orders will also include a free Galaxy SmartTag, which is the new tracking tag that Samsung also introduced at Unpacked. The phones will start shipping on Jan. 29. 

Specifications for the Galaxy S21 

Screen: 6.2" Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (2400x1080)

Rear Camera: Triple, Ultra Wide: 12MP FF, FOV 120° F2.2, 1.4μm

Wide-angle: 12MP Dual Pixel AF, OIS, F1.8, 1.8μm

Telephoto: 64MP Phase Detection AF, Hybrid Optic 3X, OIS F2.0, 0.8μm

30X Space Zoom

Front Camera: 10MP Dual Pixel AF, FOV 80°, F2.2, 1.22μm

Battery: 4,000mAh

Dimensions: 71.2x151.7x7.9mm

Weight: 171g

Memory: 8GB RAM (LPDDR5) with 128GB / 256GB internal storage

Network and Connectivity: [5G]5G Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6 / mmWave [Wi-Fi 6E] [Ultra Wide Band]

AP: Snapdragon 888, 5nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor,

2.8GHz (Maximum Clock Speed) + 2.4GHz +1.8GHz

OS: Android 11

Specifications for the Galaxy S21+

Screen: 6.7" Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (2400x1080)

Rear Camera: Triple, Ultra Wide: 12MP FF, FOV 120° F2.2, 1.4μm

Wide-angle: 12MP Dual Pixel AF, OIS, F1.8, 1.8μm

Telephoto: 64MP Phase Detection AF, Hybrid Optic 3X, OIS F2.0, 0.8μm

30X Space Zoom

Front Camera: 10MP Dual Pixel AF, FOV 80°, F2.2, 1.22μm

Battery: 4,800mAh

Dimensions: 75.6x161.5x7.8mm

Weight: 202g

Memory: 8GB RAM (LPDDR5) with 128GB / 256GB internal storage

Network and Connectivity: [5G]5G Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6 / mmWave [Wi-Fi 6E] [Ultra Wide Band]

AP: Snapdragon 888, 5nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor,

2.8GHz (Maximum Clock Speed) + 2.4GHz +1.8GHz

OS: Android 11

Specifications for the Galaxy S21 Ultra

Screen: 6.8" Edge FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (3200x1440)

Rear Camera: Quad, Ultra Wide: 12MP Dual Pixel AF, FOV 120°, F2.2, 1.4μm

Wide-angle: 108MP Phase Detection AF, OIS, F1.8, 0.8μm

Telephoto 1: 10MP Dual Pixel AF, Optical 3x, OIS, F2.4, 1.22μm

Telephoto 2: 10MP Dual Pixel AF, Optical 10x, OIS, F4.9, 1.22μm

100X Space Zoom

Laser AF Sensor

Front Camera: 40MP Phase Detection AF, FOV 80°, F2.2, 0.7 μm

Battery: 5,000mAh

Dimensions: 75.6x165.1x8.9mm

Weight: 229g

Memory: 12GB RAM (LPDDR5) with 128GB / 256GB internal storage; 16GB RAM (LPDDR5) with 512GB internal storage

Network and Connectivity: [5G]5G Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6 / mmWave [Wi-Fi 6E] [Ultra Wide Band]

AP: Snapdragon 888, 5nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor,

2.8GHz (Maximum Clock Speed) + 2.4GHz +1.8GHz

OS: Android 11

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By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is Associate Managing Editor at TechRepublic. She oversees TechRepublic's news team and TechRepublic Premium. She focuses on tech and business and how the two worlds intersect. Teena's lifelong journalism career has included writing on s...