Samsung announces Galaxy S21 5G, Galaxy S21 Plus 5G, and Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G smartphones

Samsung’s new Galaxy S21 series smartphones arrive with more colours and the S Pen, but ditches the charger and microSD card slot.

Galaxy S21 series at a glance

Device Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
Display 6.2-inch, 2400 x 1080p, Dynamic AMOLED 2X (48-120Hz) 6.7-inch, 2400 x 1080p, Dynamic AMOLED 2X (48-120Hz) 6.8-inch, 3200x 1440p, Dynamic AMOLED 2X (10-120Hz)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM 8GB 8GB 12GB / 16GB
Storage Up to 256GB Up to 256GB Up to 512GB
Rear camera Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/ 2.2 1.4µm

Main: 12MP, f/ 1.8, 1.8µm, OIS

Telephoto: 64MP, f/ 2.0, 0.8µm, OIS

Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/ 2.2 1.4µm

Main: 12MP, f/ 1.8, 1.8µm, OIS

Telephoto: 64MP, f/ 2.0, 0.8µm, OIS

Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/ 2.2 1.4µm

Main: 108MP, f/ 1.8, 0.8µm, OIS

Telephoto 3x: 10MP, f/ 2.4, 1.22µm, OIS

Telephoto 10x: 10MP, f/ 4.9, 1.22µm, OIS

Front camera 10MP 10MP 40MP
Battery 4,000mAh 4,800mAh 5,000mAh
Biometrics Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
Durability IP68 IP68 IP68
Other features UWB UWB, Wi-Fi 6E, S Pen
Colours Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom Gray, and Phantom White. Phantom Violet, Phantom Black, and Phantom Silver. Phantom Black and Phantom Silver.
Price Starting at CA$1,200 Starting at CA$1,400 Starting at CA$1,650

The Galaxy S21 series consists of the 6,2-inch S21, 6.7-inch S21+, and the 6.8-inch S21 Ultra. All three feature 120Hz adaptive AMOLED displays with a dynamic refresh rate that tunes itself to the content being displayed. Users can also manually lock the refresh rate in between the specified ranges.

Samsung says that the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s display can reach a peak brightness of 1500 nits, while the other two can hit 1300 nits. Moreover, the display uses an AI-based blue light control that reduces blue light output by 50 per cent without producing a yellow tint. All displays use Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus.

Not all three phones use the same materials at the rear. The Galaxy S21 uses a polycarbonate back shell much like the Galaxy S20 FE. The Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra use Gorilla Glass Victus.

The Galaxy S21 comes in four colours: Phantom White, Phantom Pink, Phantom Violet, and Phantom Gray.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s display maintains the same WQHD+ resolution as last year, but the Galaxy S21 and S21+ now only sport FHD+. This is a bigger cause for concern for the S21+ as the pixels will be more spread out across its large screen.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Samsung’s premium lineups get the best system-on-chip (SoCs). They all use uses Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 SoC in North America.

The processor is paired with 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage on the S21 and S21+. The S21 Ultra gets up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.

With the new phones come improved cameras, both in terms of software and hardware. Samsung touts that Single Take, a feature introduced with the Galaxy S20 series that captures images using all the sensors at once, now uses five times more AI processing than the previous gen. The S21 series also brings Vlogger View that simultaneously records video on both the front and rear cameras, and an improved portrait mode with better depth analysis for natural bokeh. Samsung also said in a press meeting that the Galaxy S21 Ultra uses a new 108MP sensor with advanced mosaic processing, 12-bit colors, and three times wider dynamic range.

The Galaxy S21+ next to the new Galaxy Buds Pro.

On the front side of the S21 and S21+ is a 10MP selfie camera. The S21 Ultra uses a 40MP camera instead.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s rear main camera also boasts a significantly higher resolution than its two siblings. Whereas the two lower tiers use a 12MP camera, the Galaxy S21 Ultra uses a 108MP camera. With 108 million pixels to work with, the camera can either capture highly detailed photos in bright conditions, or group 9 pixels to act as one for shooting in the dark.

The Galaxy S21 and S21+’s 64MP telephoto camera achieves up to 30x digital zoom. The Galaxy S21 Ultra, however, features the 100x “Space Zoom” of the previous generation. This time around, Samsung has paired a 3x zoom camera with another 10x zoom camera to increase image fidelity at extreme focal lengths. All S21 series cameras feature improved AI image stabilization to reduce handshake when zoomed in.

Unlike the S Pen in the newer Note series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s S Pen is strictly passive. Samsung has confirmed to IT World Canada that the S Pen cannot act as a remote camera trigger as it has no battery or Bluetooth functionality.

In addition to performance and camera, Samsung is also segmenting the products with connectivity options. All three phones feature 5G, of course, but stepping up from the S21 also gains the user ultra-wideband (UWB) for device tracking, and Wi-Fi 6E for faster Wi-Fi wherever it’s available.

As previously rumoured, the Galaxy S21 Ultra will continue the legacy of the Galaxy Note series by inheriting the S Pen. Samsung says it has worked with Wacom to improve the pen’s angle detection for a better writing experience.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra now gets the S Pen.

When paired with the Galaxy Buds Pro, the Galaxy S21 series can record audio from both the earphone mic and the phone’s main mic, which can be useful for capturing vocals and ambiance, like instrumentals, simultaneously. The Galaxy Buds Pro, also launched today, costs $264 and is eligible for a discount via Samsung’s first national headphone trade-in program.

The Galaxy S21 keeps the 4,000mAh battery as the S20, but the S21+ gets an expanded 4,800mAh unit, a 300mAh uplift from last year. The S21 Ultra still uses the giant 5,000 mAh battery from the previous generation.

Taking after Apple, Samsung has ditched the charger in the box. With that said, Samsung has been using USB-C chargers for years, so new buyers are likely to have a spare from the previous generation. All phones support wireless charging.

Also gone is the microSD card slot. This may be concerning for users who like to keep all their data on-device as even the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G caps the storage at 512GB instead of 1 TB.

To help users keep track of their stuff, Samsung has also released the Galaxy Smart Tag, a tracking beacon users can attach to valuables. The tags cost CA$39.99 each, or CA$65.99 for two.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 series is available for pre-order online starting Jan. 14 and will be available in retail on Jan. 29. The Galaxy Buds Pro is available starting immediately.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Tom Li
Tom Li
Telecommunication and consumer hardware are Tom's main beats at IT World Canada. He loves to talk about Canada's network infrastructure, semiconductor products, and of course, anything hot and new in the consumer technology space. You'll also occasionally see his name appended to articles on cloud, security, and SaaS-related news. If you're ever up for a lengthy discussion about the nuances of each of the above sectors or have an upcoming product that people will love, feel free to drop him a line at [email protected].

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