Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra Hands-on Review

Last Update 2021-01-14


Samsung’s flagship smartphones for 2020 were some of the best Android phones, and now we get the next-generation Galaxy S21 series with a beautiful new design language. One of the most popular phone makers, Samsung has today launched the Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra at the Galaxy Unpacked 2021 Event. The phones have arrived as successors to the last year’s Samsung S20, S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 ultra. The flagship Galaxy S21 series has many exciting features such as SDM 888 / Exynos 2100 5nm processors, AMOLED displays, centered punch-holes, 5G support, 25W fast charging support, and under-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensors. The top-end Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also comes with Stylus Pen support (which makes it the best and first S-series phone to have this feature).

Samsung Galaxy S21 series prices and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S21 price starts at $799 / £769, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus cost begins at $999 / £949 and the S21 Ultra starts at $1,199 / £1,149 – saving $200 compared to the prices of the Samsung Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra from last year. To reach those prices, the Samsung S21 and S21 Plus come with flat 1080 x 2400 AMOLED displays (6.2-inch and 6.7-inch screens, respectively) instead of the 1440 x 3200 resolution found in the S20 phones. Samsung S21 and S21 Plus also start at 8GB of RAM, unlike the 12GB base specs of their predecessors. The vanilla Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus will be on pre-order from tomorrow until January 29 when they will go into stores. The Galaxy S21 Ultra will also be available for purchase from January 14.

Samsung S21 vs S21 Plus vs S21 Ultra: which is for you?

Much like the previous Galaxy S20 generation, the Galaxy S21 series also have three phones. There is the regular Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21 Plus, and the premium flagship Galaxy S21 Ultra. If you want an updated flagship from Samsung, the vanilla Galaxy S21 is the best choice for you, as it offers an updated SoC with a relatively modest package. It is the most accessible way to get a new Galaxy 2021 flagship in the first half of this year without abusing your pocket. The S21+, on the other hand, is a middle-sibling in the series and also a best option for fans. It has the most needed features at a relatively normal price tag, giving users the sweet medium. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is obviously the overkill option. It is the most premium and feature-packed smartphone from the South Korean company and makes sense for users who want the absolute best within conventional smartphone realms.

Design and display

Starting off with the Galaxy S21, it has almost the same design as the Galaxy S20. The only major differences between the two smartphones are the new camera module, which flows over the device’s left edge and blends with the frame, and the flat display. This new camera design comes in a couple of different finishes, which depends on the base colorway of the phone. Samsung offers the Galaxy S21 in four colors — Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom White, and Phantom Pink. The Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink colorways have a copper-colored frame and camera module, the Phantom Gray colorway offers a black frame and camera module, and the Phantom White colorway features a silver frame and camera module. All variants of the Galaxy S21 have a plastic back. Samsung Galaxy S21 comes with a 6.2-inch 2X AMOLED display with a Full HD+ resolution of 1080 x 2400 pixels and 20:9 aspect ratio. The phone also has a 120Hz refresh rate, 1300 nits brightness (peak), HDR10+, and Gorilla Glass Victus protection. The handset measures 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm and weighs around 171 grams.

As for the Galaxy S21 Plus, the device isn’t much different from the S21. It features the same design elements, including the new camera module, but it has a slightly larger footprint. However, the handset is different from the regular Galaxy S21 in terms of material choice. Samsung offers a glass back on the Galaxy S21 Plus, unlike the plastic back on the vanilla Galaxy S21 sibling. Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus will only be available in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom Gold, and Phantom Red colors. The smartphone houses 6.7 inches Dynamic AMOLED display which provides 1300 nits brightness, HDR10+, and Full HD+ resolution of 1080 x 2400 pixels. There is also a Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the front panel, and the device offers 88.3% screen-to-body ratio. Like Galaxy S21, it also has a flat display. Samsung S21+ has 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm dimensions and 202g weight.

On the other hand, the premium Galaxy S21 Ultra also features a similar camera island design, but it is much larger than the camera island on the other two variants. This is due to the fact that it includes a total of 4 camera sensors. Unlike the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus, the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a curved display. The display is also a QHD+ display as against the FHD+ display on the other two phones. And for the first time ever, a Samsung flagship can run on QHD+ resolution at the maximum 120Hz refresh rate. One noticeable and excited feature of this phone is indeed Stylus support. Yes, this is true; Samsung S21 Ultra has Note lineup’s well-loved Stylus pen support. With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the S Pen will be sold separately and stored separately. There’s no dedicated slot within the device to hold the stylus. Instead, Samsung offers a couple of case options that can make it easier to store the stylus when not in use. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with 1500 nits (peak) brightness, HDR10+, and Gorilla Glass Victus protection. As with the Galaxy S21 Plus, the Galaxy S21 Ultra features a premium glass back. The device only comes in various color variants —Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, and Phantom Brown.

Front and rear cameras

Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus have the same front and rear cameras. The devices have 12MP primary sensors with f/1.8 aperture and OIS, 64MP telephoto shooter with f/2.0 aperture, 1.1x optical zoom, and 3x hybrid zoom, and 12MP ultrawide sensor with f/2.2 aperture and 120-degree FOV. On the front panel, the devices offer a 10MP sensor with f/2.2 aperture and Dual Pixel PDAF technology.

The camera setup on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is significantly better, with a second-gen 108MP primary camera, the same 12MP wide-angle camera as the other two siblings, a 3x 10MP telephoto sensor, and a 10x optical “super” telephoto sensor. The new telephoto sensors have 130% larger pixels and dual-pixel autofocus, and with the 10x telephoto sensor, Samsung offers 100x Space Zoom feature. All three phones in the Galaxy S21 series offer 8K video capture capability at 30 frames per second, and 4K video capture at 60 frames per second. The smartphones can record Full HD video at 240 frames per second.

Software, processor, and battery

As usual, Samsung has unveiled these devices in two Chipset variants. The S21 series smartphones are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100 processors. Both the Exynos 2100 and Snapdragon 888 are 5nm chipsets, and they also have ARM CPU cores in the same 1+3+4 arrangement and have built-in 5G modems. Both chipsets have new GPUs that bring significant upgrades over their predecessors. Both SoCs also support mmWave and sub-6GHz spectrums. As for the software, Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra run One UI 3.1 based on Android 11 OS. Samsung provides many new features with this new UI skin. Other flagship phones from the brand, such as Note 20 series and S20 series, may get this new layer via updates.

In terms of batteries, the regular Samsung S21 comes with a 4,000 mAh battery that supports 25W fast charging and 15W fast wireless charging. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus has a 4,800 mAh battery that also supports 15W wireless charging and 25W fast charging. On the other side, the premium Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a massive 5,000 mAh battery with the same fast and wireless charging support as two siblings. The smartphones also come with 4.5W Reverse wireless charging support.