Samsung announces Galaxy S21 series, including 8K capable, 108MP Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung has announced its latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The S21 and S21 Plus are essentially identical phones, save for their screen size and other minor differences. The S21 Ultra is designed to be not only the best phone in Samsung’s diverse lineup of Android smartphones, but Samsung believes it’s the best phone available.

Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus

The S21 and S21 Plus cost $800 and $1,000 respectively. This is $200 less than their predecessor’s launch prices last year. As The Verge points out, the 6.2″ S21 and 6.7″ S21 Plus have given something up in order to reach this lower price point. While both phones continue to deliver 120Hz refresh rates, something Apple’s latest iPhone 12 models don’t offer, the displays no longer have the subtle curved edges of the Galaxy S20. Further, resolution has decreased from 3,200 x 1,440 to 2,400 x 1,080. In terms of internal components, RAM has decreased from 12GB to 8GB.

Build quality has changed as well. Whereas the S20 had an aluminum back panel, the smaller S21 uses plastic on the back and doesn’t include an ultra-wideband radio. The larger S21 Plus does have this connectivity feature, allowing for relatively superior compatibility with Samsung’s new Galaxy SmartTag, the Korean company’s new Tile competitor.

Another cost-saving measure is that Samsung will no longer be including a charging brick or headphones in the box. Like Apple, the company says it’s for environmental reasons. It’s only been three months since Samsung poked fun at Apple for no longer including a charger with the new iPhone models.

In addition to making cuts to reduce the price of the S21 and S21 Plus, Samsung has made improvements as well. While the quality of the materials has changed, the design looks very nice. On the inside of the new models is the latest Snapdragon chipset, which promises improved performance. The fingerprint sensor has Qualcomm’s new 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2, resulting in improved speed. Both models feature 5G integration, supporting mmWave and sub-6GHz networks, so the new phones will be faster in that respect too, assuming you are in an area with support for 5G.

The two-tone design of the Galaxy S21/S21 Plus works around the camera protrusion. The camera system is basically the same on these models as it was last year. The S21 and S21 Plus each include a 12MP wide-angle camera, 12MP ultrawide camera and a 64MP telephoto lens. The front-facing camera is 10MP, although the S21 Plus has ditched the depth sensor.

While the hardware is unchanged, there have been some adjustments to software. There’s a 30x ‘Space Zoom’ mode, a ‘Director’s View’ mode for recording video allowing easier swapping between lenses, and additions to the ‘Single Take’ mode. Further, the default image processing no longer excessively smooths faces, although if that’s your style, it remains an option.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus models will be available starting January 29 and are available for preorder now. The S21 and S21 Plus include 128GB of internal storage. If you’d like 256GB of storage, it adds $50 to the price of each model. The S21 is available in Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink colorways, with the latter two having a rose gold two-tone design. The S21 Plus is available in violet, black, silver, gold and red, with the latter two colors being made to order and shipping in 3-4 weeks, as of writing.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the star of the show. Where the S21/S21 Plus are a mix of cost-cutting measures and improvements, the S21 Ultra is all about pushing hardware forward. The Ultra has a price to match, starting at $1,200.

For your money, you get a large 6.8″ OLED display with 120Hz refresh rates at full 3,200 x 1,440 resolution, something the S20 Ultra couldn’t do. The S21 Ultra includes 12GB of RAM, a 5,000mAh battery and offers storage capacity up to 512GB. The Ultra also includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. In terms of user experience, beyond promised speed improvements, the S21 Ultra is compatible with the Samsung S Pen, although it is an optional extra and many customers will likely want a compatible case with a holder for the pen as well.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers similar top-level camera specs as the S20 Ultra, including 100x zoom, a 108MP camera and 8K video recording, but there’s more to it than that and some important differences to consider. For example, the S21 Ultra includes more rear cameras than the S20 Ultra. The S21 Ultra has a 12MP ultrawide camera, 10MP camera with 3x zoom and a 10MP camera with 10x zoom. Previously, the 10x zoom was digital zoom, rather than optical.

Further, the primary image sensor is larger in the new model, although Samsung hasn’t stated by precisely how much. CNet writes that Samsung promises ‘more than three times the dynamic range of the S20 Ultra.’ Like the S21/S21 Plus, the S21 Ultra includes the same new software features for photo and video as well.

As mentioned, all these features come at a high price. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at $1,200 with 128GB of storage. 256GB and 512GB models are also available at $1,250 and $1,380, respectively. The S21 Ultra is available in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown, with the lattermost three color options being available as ‘made to order’ options, which currently adds 4-5 weeks to expected shipping time. The S21 Ultra in black and silver will ship by January 27. For those interested in the Phantom Black color, Samsung published a video specifically about designing this color.