Samsung has just announced the hotly anticipated Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus to round out CES 2021.
The S21 and S21 Plus debuted alongside the more expensive Galaxy S21 Ultra on 13 January and are the biggest mobile releases of the show, providing us with a key insight into what phone tech to expect over the next 12 months.
But, in a bizarre move, during our press session we found, in many ways, the Galaxy S21 loses more features than it gains when compared to last year’s Galaxy S20 – at least on first impressions.
Expandable storage is gone; you’ll have to make do with a plastic (Sorry, ‘glastic) rear; and the screen’s resolution tops out at just FHD+. Oh, and you’ll have to spend extra on your own charger and headphones – cheers, for setting this precedent last year with the iPhone 12 Apple.
Still, there’s plenty to look forward to, with highlights including a number of camera additions and a strong focus on offering buyers a unique new design.
Here to make sure you don’t miss any key information about the S21 and S21 Plus when pondering an upgrade, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about the new phones, including pricing, FAQs (frequently asked questions), specs and more.
Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, we haven’t had the opportunity to properly use the S21 series yet, so all the information comes from Samsung via briefing sessions. We’ll hopefully have the phones very soon and we’ll bring you a more detailed hands-on findings when that time comes.
FAQS – All the big questions quickly answered
How much is the Galaxy S21?
Prices for the Samsung Galaxy S21 start at £769 €849/$799. This is a slight reduction over the outgoing Galaxy S20. The Samsung S21 Plus will cost from £949/€1049/$999.
Does the UK Galaxy S21 have a Snapdragon 888?
In the US the phones will run using Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 chip. In the UK the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus are powered by the Exynos 2100.
Is there a microSD card slot?
Neither the Samsung Galaxy S21 or S21 Plus feature expandable storage. They’re available in either 128GB or 256GB sizes.
What’s the difference between the S21 and S21 Plus?
The Galaxy S21 Plus offers a larger 6.7-inch display and a bigger 4800mAh battery. It also comes with UWB support and a higher price tag.
Is a charger included with the Galaxy S21?
No, you’ll need to provide your own charger and earphones for both the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus
What software does the Samsung Galaxy S21 run?
Android 11 and Samsung’s custom OneUI interface.
Does the Galaxy S21 support the S Pen?
No, S21 and S21 Plus do not offer support for the S Pen. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does, however.
Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus – Price, release date
You can pre-order every version of the Samsung Galaxy S21 right now, with the handsets hitting shelves on 29 January. Prices for the Samsung Galaxy S21 start at £769 €849/$799. This is a slight reduction over the outgoing Galaxy S20. The Samsung S21 Plus will cost from £949/€1049/$999.
We’re expecting both the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus to be widely available through UK and US network vendors and across big sites such as Amazon. Of course, with all non-essential shops currently closed in the UK, you’ll only be able to get these phones online for now.
This is the earliest we’ve seen Samsung unveil its flagship smartphone in quite some time, with a typical release happening in March. But, with the pandemic continuing to have an impact across the globe, it looks like this year might be quite different.
- Galaxy S21 Pre-order: Vodafone | Carphone Warehouse | Mobiles.co.uk
- Galaxy S21 Plus Pre-order: Vodafone | O2 | Mobiles.co.uk
Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus – What does it look like?
Visually, the S21 series looks quite different to its predecessor – at least when you consider the rear of the phones.
The basic Galaxy S21 design has been heavily leaked over the past few months, but we remain unsure whether we’re fans of its distinctive “Glastic” back. We weren’t fans of the Galaxy S20 FE’s plastic back, which felt a little cheap, when we tested it and the S21’s looks alarmingly similar.
The camera model is now very much part of the design. It sits towards the top-left of the phone, quite close to the handset’s edge. The housing immediately around the sensors is glossy, whereas the rest of the rear sports a matte finish – which should help reduce the remnants of grubby fingerprints.
While the back is plastic, the S21 still has a Gorilla Glass Victus screen and metal rails, which look a lot more premium. The S21 Plus opts for an all-glass design. Another cost-cutting measure it seems.
Samsung also goes slightly off-book with its two-tone colour choices. The headline-grabbing “Phantom Violet” model combines a light purple colour with pinky-gold accents, which works well. There’s a gold option, too, along with more modest white and black choices. If you plump for the Plus, silver will be an option too.
From the front, the Galaxy S21 looks very much like the excellent Samsung Galaxy S20 FE we reviewed towards the end of 2020. The screen is flat, rather than curved, and the front camera sits inside a very small cutout. This feels like the most unobtrusive notch we’ll see until under-display selfie cameras hit the mainstream.
Both phones have an IP68-rated body, which means they’ll survive submersion into 1m of water for 30 minutes, USB-C for charging and a larger ultrasonic fingerprint sensor inside the display – but they lack a 3.5mm headphone port. See the table below for dimensions and weight.
|Samsung Galaxy S21||71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9 (mm)||172g|
|Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus||75.6 x 161.5 x 7.8 (mm)||202g|
Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus performance and specs
There are a couple of interesting points that immediately jump out when you glance over the basic specs of these two phones. First, the display is no longer of the WQHD+ type featured on last year’s models, here it’s FHD+ instead. If you want that sharper resolution, then you’ll need to pay up for the Ultra model.
This will no doubt be disappointing for many and it does feel as if Samsung is encouraging those who want “the best” to choose the Ultra model instead. But, since it wasn’t actually possible to use the higher-resolution option on the Galaxy S20 for that smoother 120Hz refresh rate, we didn’t end up making the most of it anyway. In our experience for most people, a 1080p picture at either 6.2 or 6.7 inches will be more than sharp enough.
Screen size is the biggest difference between the S21 and the S21 Plus – and if you prefer a large device, then the 6.7-inch Plus is for you.
A benefit to these displays is the adaptive refresh rate, which alternates between 48Hz and 120Hz to offer the best screen performance for the task at hand, and hopefully saves some battery life in the process.
A higher refresh rate (how many times the display “refreshes” per second) results in smoother scrolling and a more responsive device. However, watching a video at 120Hz is largely pointless and soaks up more battery, hence the benefit of being able to reduce the speeds.
|Galaxy S21||6.2-inch FHD+, 120Hz Adaptive AMOLED||Snapdragon 888 (US), Exynos 2100 (UK, Europe), 5G||8GB||128/256GB (no microSD)||4000mAh cell, wired and wireless|
|Galaxy S21 Plus||6.7-inch, 120Hhz Adaptive AMOLED||Snapdragon 888 (US), Exynos 2100 (UK, Europe), 5G||8GB||128/256GB (no microSD)||4800mAh, wired and wireless|
Despite the lower resolution, we still expect big things from these screens. They have a Blue Light Filter mode for better eye care, and they remain AMOLED panels for proper HDR video playback on Netflix and YouTube. The Galaxy S20 family offered similar tech and claimed a spot as some of the best performing screens when we tested them last year.
We’re also happy to see that both panels are flat, rather than curved. While this is likely a cost-cutting measure, we’ve always preferred the usability of a flat display to the more futuristic-looking curved alternative as they’re far easier to get a solid grip on. Based on our past experience they also throw up fewer reflections and are far less prone to picking up stray touches.
The Galaxy S21 series is powered by a 5nm chipset, which will vary depending on your region. Some, including the US, will get a Snapdragon 888 version, while us Brits will have an S21 powered by the Exynos 2100.
In past reviews we’ve been critical about the gulf in both performance and battery life when comparing the Snapdragon to its Exynos counterparts, and while we can’t make a judgement on this until we’ve properly tested both, it’s still a shame there isn’t complete parity.
During a briefing session ahead of the phone’s unveiling, Samsung reps claimed the 5nm chipset here represented a 20% increase in CPU performance and a 35% graphics boost over previous variants. All models will pack 5G support, something we’d expect on just about every mid-range and high-end Android phone this year. To non-techies, this means the phones should offer top end performance and be capable of running pretty much any app or game you throw at them for at least the next few years.
Both phones come with 8GB of RAM and are available with 128GB and 256GB storage options. Neither appear to support expandable storage, though, which is a shame. This could prove a pain if you’re planning to shoot lots of 8K footage.
Other features include stereo speakers, Samsung DeX for connecting the phone to a monitor, and UWB support on the Plus model – which lets the phone act as a key for your car, for example. It’s odd that the latter is missing on the smaller model.
Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus camera
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has the most exciting camera array, but both the S21 and S21 Plus come with a strong focus on photography and videography. Each phone has a triple-camera array consisting of 16-megapixel wide, 16-megapixel ultra-wide and 64-megapixel tele (zoom) sensors. There’s a 10-megapixel sensor around the front, too, for selfies and facial unlocking.
|Model||Rear (wide)||Rear (ultra wide)||Rear (tele)||Front||Video|
|Samsung Galaxy S21||12MP f/1.8||12MP f/2,0||64MP f/2.0||10MP f/2.2||8K, Single Take 2.0, Directors View|
|Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus||12MP f/1.8||12MP f/2.0||64MP f/2.2||10MP f/2.2||8K, Single Take 2.0, Directors View|
While the hardware is cool, during our briefing it was the Galaxy S21 and Plus’ new software that stood out. There’s a large focus on AI processing. Specifically, Samsung says there’s 5x more of it, though what that specifically means remains lost on us as well. The only concrete details it gave to back up the weird figure is that both have the ability to capture stills from 8K video, and the ability to record from multiple cameras with Director’s View (including the front one) at once. Nothing revolutionary, but welcome additions nonetheless.
Obviously, it’s hard to properly assess the cameras purely from a spec sheet – especially when many of the specs are identical to previous models. We’ll need to review them in use to evaluate the upgrades over the S20 and how they compare to the S21 Ultra.
- These are the best camera phones around
Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus battery life and charging
Last year the iPhone 12 signalled the end of phones coming bundled with chargers and headphones. Following Apple’s lead (best forget those Facebook posts), Samsung has ditched the charger and earbuds from the Galaxy S21 series. Some regions may supply both in the box as a result of local laws, but this won’t be the case in the UK or US.
Here is what Samsung EVP and head of customer experience, Patrick Chomet, said to justify the move during our briefing:
“We discovered that more and more Galaxy users are reusing accessories they already have and making sustainable choices in their daily lives to promote better recycling habits. To support our Galaxy community in this journey, we are transitioning to removal of the charger plug and earphones in our latest line of Galaxy smartphones.
“We believe that the gradual removal of charger plugs and earphones from our in-box device packaging can help address sustainable consumption issues and remove any pressure that consumers may feel towards continually receiving unnecessary charger accessories with new phones. We’ve also been implementing standardized USB-C type charging ports since 2017, so older chargers can still be compatible with our newest Galaxy models.”
The reasoning seems similar to that of Apple: environmental concerns and many people reusing older accessories. Still, you’ll want to invest in a newer charger (or use one capable of faster speeds) to benefit from the proper fast-charging offered here as most old plugs won’t have a high enough wattage count.
There’s support for ‘fast’ wireless charging, too, and Reverse Wireless PowerShare for juicing up other devices on the back of the S21. Speeds for this haven’t been confirmed to us yet.
Trusted View – Deputy Editor Max Parker
“When it comes to Android flagships, nothing makes a bigger splash than the S series from Samsung. Launching it earlier than usual puts it front and centre sooner, and pits it right up against the iPhone 12.
“First impressions are that there aren’t a whole host of upgrades here, and it certainly seems like Samsung is pushing those who want “the best” to the flashier and pricier S21 Ultra model. The screen has a lower resolution than the S20, the SD slot has gone, and the lack of a curved panel and plastic back on the S21 means this looks more like the Galaxy S20 FE. Not a bad thing as such, however, some of the “luxury” has certainly been lost.
“Nevertheless, the design has been freshened since the dull S20, and I have hope that the Exynos 2100 is better equipped to match the Snapdragon 888 in the States. It’s a little cheaper than the iPhone 12 too, which is certainly welcome.”