These are the Galaxy S21 phones
A new leak reveals the Galaxy S21 design, product name, and specs details more than a month ahead of the expected announcement date. The Galaxy S21 will come in three distinct versions, including the Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21. The Galaxy 21 Ultra will be the only phone to feature a high-end camera system, glass back, and S Pen stylus support. Samsung is widely expected to unveil the Galaxy S21 series in mid-January, about a month earlier than customary. The Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21 would go on sale by the end of next month as a result.
Right now, all signs point to 2021 being a turning point for Samsung smartphones. An end-of-year scoop from Reuterscites multiple anonymous sources who claim there won’t be a new Galaxy Note this year, and a Samsung official basically confirmed as much to a Korean news agency. We’ve also seen Samsung announce plans to make its flashy new foldable phones more “accessible”, which dovetails with earlier reports saying the resources that would’ve been allocated to the Note is instead going to those foldables. The times, they are a-changing. © Chris Velazco/Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review photos
All of that means the new Galaxy S21 Ultra is more important than usual — it might be the only premium “traditional” smartphone in Samsung’s line-up for all of 2021. The pressure was on for Samsung to nail it with this phone, and for the most part, the company did just that.
Galaxy S21 Ultra will have two exciting features no other Galaxy S has
The Galaxy S21 Ultra specs and features have been leaked several times already. But actual Samsung documentation filed with the FCC confirms the most expensive Galaxy S21 phone will support a couple of features no other Galaxy S handset has. The Ultra will work with the S Pen stylus, but the handset doesn’t have a housing for the stylus like the Note phones. The S21 Ultra will also support the newest Wi-Fi standard, Wi-Fi 6E, which adds an additional chunk of spectrum to increase available bandwidth. We’re just three weeks away from Samsung’s first Unpacked press conference of 2021, where the Korean giant will unveil the Galaxy S21 smartphone series.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Octa-core Snapdragon 888
12GB+128GB, 12GB+256GB, 16GB+512GB
MicroSD card support
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display
1440 x 3200 (20:9)
108MP f/1.8 wide camera with OIS, 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera (120° field of view), 10MP f/2.4 telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, 10MP f/4.9 telephoto camera with 10x optical zoom, laser autofocus
40MP f/2.2 camera
Android 11 with One UI 3
USB-C, supports fast wireless charging
Yes, rated IP68
Yes, sub-6 and mmWave
If you’re mulling buying a Galaxy S21 Ultra, you have some decisions to make. The first is color: In addition to the Phantom Silver and Phantom Black options we’ve already seen, Samsung has navy, titanium, and brown models available on their website. (Our review unit came in matte black, and despite all of Samsung’s breathless press conference hyperbole, it doesn’t look that different from any other black smartphone.)
Everything we know about Samsung's Galaxy S21 so far
2020 is thankfully in the rearview mirror, which means -- among other things -- a year of new hardware to look forward to. While we'd normally have to wait a little longer for news of high-profile smartphone launches, 2021 is already shaping up to be a little different. For whatever reason, Samsung is planning to unveil its latest flagship devices very soon, so to prepare, we've collected everything we know about them right here. This story wasThis story was first published on January 1st, and last updated on the same day.
Your next decision will be about how much storage you need, and it’s worth really thinking about this one. Here are your options:
12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage: $1,200
12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage: $1,250
16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage: $1,380
There are two quick things worth noting: First, none of these have expandable storage, which most people won’t have a problem with. Second, the starting price is a full $200 less than the equivalent model last year. If you look at old S20 Ultra reviews, you wouldn’t find a single one that didn’t call the phone out for being too expensive. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review photos
Design and display
Well, look who got a makeover. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is just big and beefy as last year’s highest-end S20, but Samsung says it benefits from the biggest redesign in the Galaxy’s history. Apart from the weird, bandage-backed Galaxy S5, the company has tended to favor generational polishing over sweeping visual changes. Let’s be real, though: Samsung is basically just talking about what it did with the Ultra’s massive camera array.
Why now is the worst time to buy the Samsung Galaxy S20
Here's how the new Galaxy S21's rumored features stack up against last year's Galaxy S20, and how to decide which to buy.Find out if you should go ahead and buy last year's Samsung Galaxy S20, or wait for the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S21 to arrive.
Rather than place all four cameras and the laser autofocus module in a graceless lump like it did last year, Samsung moved all of them slightly to the left and extended the metal frame to wrap around them. Personally, I’m a fan of the pointedly asymmetrical look, though it isn’t without issues. One of my most used accessories is a Bluetooth game controller that telescopes to “hug” a smartphone, and it just can’t fit around that hump.
Samsung’s new aesthetic signals a new visual lineage for its high-end smartphones, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t change the fundamentals of the Ultra’s design. That’s a polite way of saying the S21 Ultra is still massive. There are some minor differences in heft — a fraction of a millimeter here, a few grams there — but the S21 Ultra is still about the same size and shape as last year’s S20 Ultra, so it’s going to be too big for a lot of people. With that in mind, if you’re even thinking about buying this phone (and you can figure out a safe way to do it), it’s definitely worth holding one before you splurge on it. The Ultra basically weighs as much as an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but is a lot easier to handle because of the screen’s tall and narrow aspect ratio.
What to expect from Samsung’s Galaxy S21 event
Three new phones, new earbuds, and an item trackerSamsung is widely expected to announce its next lineup of flagship phones, which will likely be called the S21, S21 Plus, and the S21 Ultra. The S21 Ultra is rumored to have top-of-the-line specs, cameras, and, in a first for an S-model Galaxy phone, support for Samsung’s S Pen stylus. The S21 and S21 Plus are expected to have similar specs but differentiate in size.
Speaking of, $1,200 also gets you what has to be one of the best-looking screens I’ve ever seen in a smartphone. (I mean, just look at that image above.) Screens are Samsung’s thing the way camera sensors are Sony’s thing, so none of this really comes as a surprise. It’s one of Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X panels. Colors are rich, viewing angles are great, and its max brightness is higher than ever — think 1500 nits — so the phone never falters outdoors.
Just like on the Note 20 Ultra, Samsung went with a variable refresh rate display — it sinks as low as 10Hz when you’re just looking at photos, and surges to 120Hz when you’re scrolling through Twitter or playing compatible games. And for the first time, you can get this screen running at its full 3200x1440 resolution and at its peak 120Hz refresh rate at the same time. I know people who have been just clamoring for this, and having that extra pixel density can be helpful at times — say, when you’re trying to see all the detail in one of the camera’s 108-megapixel photos. Generally, though, you should just leave this screen at Full HD. The difference in resolution isn’t as meaningful as having smooth on-screen motion, and believe me — your battery will thank you. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review photos
A phone that’s as dedicated to excess as the Ultra needs to offer excellent performance, and that’s just what we got out of Qualcomm’s new, 5nm Snapdragon 888 chipset. This is the first 888 phone we've had the chance to test, and as you’d expect, it sets a high bar for the rest of 2021’s smartphones — there's more than enough power here to keep all your go-to apps and graphically intense games running beautifully.
Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, S21 Ultra arrive Jan. 29 with new design, $200 price cut
The lineup starts at $800 instead of last year's $1,000. And the Ultra supports an optional $40 S Pen accessory.The South Korean electronics giant on Thursday, during its first virtual Unpacked event of the year, showed off its three new phones : the $800 Galaxy S21, the $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus and the $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra. (In the UK, the S21 will start at £769, just £30 cheaper than the S20.) It also unveiled new $200 earbuds, called the Galaxy Buds Pro; $30 Tile-like Galaxy SmartTags that can track nonelectronic items like pets; and a $40 S Pen accessory. The event took place on the last day of this year's CES and more than a month earlier than normal.
That's hardly a surprise when benchmarks point to notable performance gains over last year's Snapdragon 865, which was already more than fast enough for most use cases and most people. What’s more, we’ve long passed the point where people routinely push their high-end smartphones to their limits, not that that’s going to stop chipmakers from pushing the envelope anyway.
I mention all this because it can be easy to take this kind of performance for granted. What benchmarks are less apt at describing is how fast the S21 Ultra feels — between that extra compute power, that 120Hz screen, and some software tweaks, the Ultra feels like the most immediately responsive phone I’ve used in a long time. (We’ll soon see if the rest of the year’s premium smartphones can replicate that feat.) And beyond that, being able to play high-fidelity mobile ports of gorgeous PC tech demos like Bright Memory never fails to impress.
Performance aside, there are some notable changes to the Galaxy S experience this year. For one, the Ultra ships with Samsung's OneUI 3 running atop Android 11, which comes with enough tweaks that it probably warrants a full review on its own. Since this review is pretty long as-is, I'll just shout out a couple standout additions here. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
In addition to less obtrusive message alerts and a cleaner approach to notifications, the S21 Ultra also packs Google's excellent Discover Feed in lieu of the lousy, ad-ridden Samsung Daily. You also get Samsung Free as a possible Discover replacement and, while it’s not as immediately helpful as Google’s feed, it offers niceties like free streaming video channels. It’s odd, yes, but I’d take this over a screen full of Bixby nonsense any day. I was also really looking forward to trying Samsung’s Private Share app, which lets you securely share files and control access to them. The problem is, the feature only works as long as your intended recipient also has a Galaxy phone running the Private Share app.
Here's everything Samsung announced at its Galaxy S21 event
Samsung devoted its first Unpacked event of 2021 to the Galaxy S21, but that’s not all the company had to share. In addition to three new phones, Samsung announced the Galaxy Buds Pro and its first SmartTag lost item tracker. Galaxy S21 and S21+ Samsung’s new S21 and S21+ phones come with a refreshed design and the latest silicon from chipmaker Qualcomm, but those aren’t the features that will draw people to these devices. Instead, it’s the fact that they will start at $800 and $1,000 when they go on sale on January 29th.
Samsung started leaning into 5G with its 2020 flagship, but here we are a year later and the experience remains mixed. Our review unit came pre-activated on Verizon’s 5G network, and for the most part, data speeds were pretty much as fast — or not fast, depending on where you are — as the LTE networks we had access to before. (Note: Engadget is owned by Verizon Media, but our editorial independence remains fully intact and Verizon has no say over what we publish.)
Yes, there are occasions when you’ll happen on a mmWave node and see your download speeds shoot through the roof — we’re talking more than a gigabit per second. If you find that kind of coverage, consider yourself lucky and don’t get attached. When I tried the S21 Ultra in Bryant Park, one of the easier-to-find mmWave 5G hotspots in New York City, the difference between gigabit speeds and the status quo was often a few steps. Hell, sometimes, I didn’t even need to move: while perched on the steps near the park’s west edge, back-to-back speed tests returned wildly different results.
Point is, 5G is here and it can be pretty good depending on what carrier you’re using. But even though these networks stand to get much better with time, actual, valuable performance improvements can be harder to come by than you might expect right now. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review photos
And of course, there’s the S Pen. Over the years, we’ve seen Samsung slowly release versions of its hallmark stylus for laptops and tablets, but never for non-Note smartphones until now. As mentioned earlier, that’s probably because there’s a strong chance we won’t actually get a Galaxy Note this year — or ever again, if Reuters’ reporting is on the money.
It feels weird to use one of these styluses on a non-Note phone at first. There’s a bit more latency here, so you’ll see your strokes trailing behind the tip of your S Pen. And while the S21 Ultra’s Wacom digitizer means you can still click the S Pen to access your shortcuts, you can’t do any of the remote control tricks that made the Note 20 Ultra such a joy to use. (For that, you’ll probably have to wait for Samsung’s S Pen Pro to ship later this year.) Don’t get me wrong: you can still take notes and sketch portraits with the S21 Ultra just fine, it just lacks the elegance and technical finesse that the Galaxy Note was known for.
Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra,
Starting at $799.99
Clearly, there’s much more going on inside this phone than usual, so how does its battery stack up? So far, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has seemed on par with devices like the Note 20 Ultra. With the screen set to Full HD, I usually finished a day of consistent use with between five to six hours of screen-on time logged and plenty in the tank left for the following morning. For many people, the Ultra will be a multi-day phone. Just know that it’s definitely possible to drain the phone in a day without much effort, especially if you run the screen at its max resolution.
Frankly, I was expecting a little better since the S21 Ultra has a 5,000mAh battery, and because the Snapdragon 888 has a built-in modem instead of a separate module. On the whole, we’re looking at quite good — not game-changing — battery life. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review photos
Even more cameras
One of the big reasons the Ultra costs as much as it does is because of its cameras. This year, you get five of them: a 40-megapixel front camera for needlessly detailed selfies, plus a 108-megapixel wide camera, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, and a pair of 10-megapixel telephoto cameras: one with a 3x optical zoom range and another with a 10x optical range. Throw in a laser autofocus to fix the issues we saw with last year’s S20 Ultra and we’ve got one of the most competent camera setups Samsung has ever put together.
That 108-megapixel wide camera is going to do most of the heavy lifting, and it’s a solid all-around performer. That’s partially because of Samsung’s ludicrous sensor and the way it treats nine smaller sensor pixels as one big one by default, but also because of Samsung’s approach to colors. They’re really punchy, especially when you’re looking at photos on the phone, to the point where they usually look better than reality.
That’s classic Samsung, and ordinarily, this is where I’d say that whether the images the Ultra takes are “better” than others depends on the way you like your photos to look. This time though, I gotta give it to Samsung — I’ve been using Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max pretty extensively, and its Smart HDR seems a touch too aggressive at times, making photos look a little “moodier” and more contrasty than in real life. Samsung’s images might skew a little vivid, but they’re often the more natural-looking — I never expected to say that.
If detail is more important to you than anything else, you can also shoot at the sensor’s full 108-megapixel resolution. Assuming you get close enough to your subject, you can capture just about everything it has to offer, with all of Samsung’s eye-catching image processing intact. (For cases where you’d prefer to have a completely untouched image to play with, switch to Pro mode and shoot in 12-bit RAW instead.) There are two things you should keep in mind, though. First, the resulting files usually weigh in between 20 and 30 megabytes -- that's about ten times larger than normal, so be mindful of your storage. The other thing is that shooting in full resolution means you don't get the benefits of pixel binning, so you probably shouldn't try using this setting in low light.
Speaking of low-light, the S21 Ultra’s Night Mode is noticeably better than last year’s, which often produced images with a yellowish-greenish cast. Though my usual gripe still applies — Samsung phones want night photos to look as bright as possible, which is nice in theory but not always what you want. That said, it also stacks up really well against the competition — I tested it against the Pixel 5 and Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, and the Ultra generally produced the cleanest results. Just remember that cleanest doesn’t necessarily mean “best.” The iPhone can blow out parts of images, but its photos actually look like they were taken at night. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera sample photos
Meanwhile, the 12MP ultrawide is back, and it’s the most forgettable camera here. That’s not a knock on its performance: it takes perfectly nice photos when you can’t back up from your subject, or when capturing more space is your biggest concern. It’s just that, it doesn’t come in handy all that frequently. The two telephoto cameras are a different story.
Having two distinct zoom cameras in a single phone is unusual, but they both do a great job of putting you closer (sometimes much closer) to the action. Even better, we’re working with pure optical zoom here, so the resulting photos — while maybe not as detailed as ones you’d take with the main camera — are still impressive. That’s especially true of the 10x zoom camera, which seemed unnecessary going into this review and now I don’t want to give it up.
If you need even more range than that, there’s always Space Zoom, which lets you push in as much as 100x on a subject. Again though, Space Zoom raises some ethical concerns. Knowing you can watch someone who has no idea you’re even there never stops feeling unsettling. There are of course more legitimate uses for Space Zoom, though, and it feels more polished overall. For example: when you’re framing up your shot, the camera tries to keep whatever you’ve settled on in the frame. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a huge improvement over pointing and praying. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra zoom comparison
Space Zoom feels much more functional, more consistent than it did last year, especially at super-long range. One could even argue the relative merits of shooting at 30x zoom — it brings you dramatically closer to your subjects, and the results are still clear enough to be worth sharing. But shooting at 100x still feels like a meaningless flex on Samsung’s part. It’s proof of what the company can do, but I get the impression Samsung never stopped to think about whether should.
There’s still more in Samsung’s bag of camera tricks, though. SingleTake, a feature designed to collect a flurry of stylized photos and clips from a single seconds-long recording produces a slightly wider variety of results, but you probably won’t find more than two or three that are actually worth hanging onto. And beyond that, a new (and pretty well-hidden) content eraser tool lets you selectively remove objects from your photos, sort of like Photoshop’s content-aware fill feature. It’s very much a work in progress, though, so you’ll probably wind up with at least a few failed or awkward attempts for every successful, clean excision it makes. © Provided by Engadget
The Ultra is also very capable at video, if that's more your speed. Samsung added a bevy of new features to spice up your footage (and I'll get to those), but there's one big upgrade to note right off the bat. For the first time, you can shoot 4K60 video using any of the Ultra's cameras -- even the one pointed straight at your face all the time. If that somehow wasn't enough, you can also switch to full-blown 8K video recording, even though I can just about guarantee you don’t have a display that can properly do it justice yet. Hell, even some desktop PCs will struggle to play back that footage.
That's where Samsung's new features start coming into play. If you’re going to record in 8K anyway, have fun, and know you can tap a button to pull some pretty decent stills from the video stream. Meanwhile, Director’s View is a legitimate treat — rather than blindly switching between cameras and hoping for the best, you can now see video streams from each of them so you know exactly what you’re committing to. And just like last year, Samsung's Super Steady video mode returns -- with support for 60fps recording, no less -- to make sure you run-and-gun footage doesn't turn out a shaky mess.
No matter what weirdo tool you’re using to help you shoot, your footage will mostly turn out great. Emphasis on "mostly". There are some exceptions though — at least a few of my clips with very detailed scenes look grainy and overprocessed when looking on a proper monitor, but those were thankfully in the minority. Overall though, this is one area where devices like the iPhone 12 Pro Max still has the edge.
They say the best camera is the one you have with you, but the flexibility these cameras offer means there’s little chance you’ll encounter someone, something, or someplace you aren’t equipped to deal with. © Provided by Engadget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review photos
In many ways, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a by-the-book upgrade — it’s faster, its cameras are more polished, and its software is a little cleaner. Calling it a thrill would be a stretch.
The Ultra shines, not because of game-changing updates, but because it addresses basically all the problems we saw in last year’s model. This is a competent little machine, and that counts for a lot more than ambitious, half-baked features. Best of all, it’s less expensive than the model it replaces. With all that in mind, the Galaxy S21 is definitely worth the splurge for power users and camera fanatics, though I’d recommend waiting a while before buying one. Samsung is notorious for its aggressive deals and promotions even shortly after a device’s launch. So in this case — as in many others — your patience may be rewarded.
Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra, .
Starting at $799.99