In January every year, Samsung launches its main S-series phones.
The event is normally accompanied by huge amounts of hype and speculation (as well as a load of leaks). And this year, of course, was no different, with a full line up leak of the new S21 phones hours ahead of the official launch.
Still, the new S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra models look set to be some of the most impressive phones of the year — though the latter has some, shall we say, interesting design details.
Let's take a closer look at the latest Samsung phones.
Samsung S21 Ultra – A Smorgasboard of Specs
Let's start with the biggest, most expensive phone Samsung launched today — the S21 Ultra.
As ever with Samsung's bleeding-edge phones, the spec sheet is staggering. Everything is larger, more powerful, and more impressive than the last iteration.
It has a huge 6.8-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate and a 1440×3200 resolution. Plus, you can actually run the S21 Ultra at its highest resolution setting and 120Hz at the same time, unlike last year's phones.
It runs Android 11 with Samsung's latest One UI 3.1 skin. It has the latest and greatest Snapdragon 888 processor, along with a huge 12GB of RAM, as well as 128GB of storage as standard. There's also a 256GB storage option as well as a 512GB version which gives you an eye-watering 16GB of RAM.
The S21 Ultra is stacked when it comes to cameras. It has a 108Mp (yes, 108Mp) main lens, a 10Mp periscope telephoto lens for huge zooming, another 10Mp telephoto lens, and a 12Mp ultrawide lens. It can record 8K video at 30fps, or 4K at 60fps. Round the front, there's a single 40Mp selfie camera.
The 21 Ultra is 5G-ready and works on both sub-6Ghz and mmWave connections.
Finally, it has a huge 5,000 mAh battery, 25W fast-charging, 15W wireless charging, and can reverse wireless charge other devices. It also now works with the S Pen stylus normally reserved for Samsung's Galaxy Note devices.
The price? Try $1,199. Oh, and that stylus costs an extra $40, or $70 if you want a case that can store the phone and the stylus.
Of course, specs don't make a phone. In fact, the S21 Ultra is certainly not a phone we'd recommend for everyone.
It's big, heavy, and has the kind of features that only the most serious power users require.
We also think the rear looks a bit, well, odd. That camera bump is huge and the asymmetry is jarring — particularly with those two smaller lenses closer to the center of the phone.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus – The Sweet Spot?
Let's start with the price, the Samsung S21 Plus costs $999. That is a full $200 less than the equivalent S20 Plus from last year.
Wait, a phone that costs less than its predecessor? How is that possible in this day and age?
Well, we're going to be honest with you, the S21 Plus is found lacking in some areas compared to the S20 Plus.
For example, it has the same 6.7-inch display as the S21 Plus. But, unlike last year's model, the sides are flat, rather than curved. The resolution has dropped as well, from 1440×3200 to 1080×2400. However, you can now run full resolution at 120Hz, which is good.
RAM has decreased from 12GB to 8GB. We'd expect most people won't actually notice the difference but it's still a strange sight to see in 2020. However, the S21 Plus does get the newer, faster, and better equipped Snapdragon 888 chipset. It also has a new and improved in-display fingerprint sensor and the battery has jumped from 4,500 mAh to 4,800 mAh.
There are three rear cameras, a 64Mp telephoto lens, a 12Mp wide angle lens, and a 12Mp ultrawide angle lens. 8K video can be recorded at a sluggish 24fps, while 4K can be achieved at 60fps. Round the front, there's a single 10Mp selfie snapper.
The S21 Plus certainly looks like it could be the pick of the bunch. It isn't as over-the-top as the S21 Ultra but it also retains more premium features that aren't found on the S21.
It is still quite expensive at $999 but it looks set to be well worth it.
Samsung S21 – Behind the Times
The S21, meanwhile, also costs $200 less than the S20 it replaced from last year.
It has a 6.2-inch flat display with a 1080×2400 resolution and 120Hz refresh rate. RAM also stands at 8GB.
However, the S21 gets a polycarbonate plastic rear case, not aluminum or glass. We don't have a problem with plastic phones here at Tech.co — in fact, we quite like a lot of them, including the Pixel 4a. But, when you're spending $799 on a phone, we'd expect a bit more.
Similarly, the 21 doesn't have an ultra-wideband radio which means it won't work as well as the two more expensive phones with Samsung's new Galaxy SmartTag Bluetooth locator.
It gets the same 64Mp telephoto, 12Mp wide-angle, and 12Mp ultrawide lenses from the S20 and the same selfie camera.
The battery is no larger than last year's model and nor are the charging speeds. Oh, but you won't get a charger included with your new $799 Samsung phone, just like the latest iPhones.
All told, we can't think of a massively compelling reason to upgrade from the S20 to the S21.
In fact, we'd go as far as saying that the S20 FE (the cheaper, mid-to-high-tier phone Samsung launched last year) might be the best phone for most people looking at the new S21.