The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra & S21 Review: The Near Perfect and The Different

After many years of ever-increasing flagship device prices, this year Samsung is taking a quite different approach with the new Galaxy S21 series – not only stopping the price increases, but actually reducing this year’s flagship line-up prices compared to the 2020 predecessors.

This year, Samsung is also more notably differentiating the specifications of the devices – there’s still a base model, a larger “+” model, and the super-sized “Ultra” model, however only the Ultra model has managed to come out rather unscathed, with the two other traditional models finding themselves with technical compromises that we haven’t seen in past years, such as lower resolution, last-gen panels, different build materials and designs, on top of the usual different camera configuration.

Today we’re reviewing the Galaxy S21 Ultra in both Exynos and Snapdragon SoC flavours, as well the baseline Galaxy S21 – contrasting two very different devices in Samsung’s new series, coming in at two very different price points.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Series
  Galaxy S21 Galaxy S21+ Galaxy S21 Ultra
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

1x Cortex-X1 

@ 2.84GHz 1x1024KB pL2
3x Cortex-A78 @ 2.42GHz 3x512KB pL2
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2

4MB sL3

Samsung LSI Exynos 2100

1x Cortex-X1 @ 2.9GHz 1x512KB pL2
3x Cortex-A78 @ 2.8GHz 3x512KB pL2
4x Cortex A55 @ 2.2GHz 4x64KB pL2

4MB sL3

Display 6.2-inch
2400 x 1080 (20:9)

48-120Hz
1300nits peak

6.7-inch
2400 x 1080 (20:9)

48-120Hz
1300nits peak

6.8-inch
3200 x 1440 (20:9)

10-120Hz
1500nits peak

SAMOLED
HDR10+

120Hz Refresh Rate

Dimensions 151.7 x 71.2 x  7.9mm

171g (mmWave),
169g (sub6)

161.5 x 75.6 x  7.8mm

 202g (mmWave),
200g (sub6)

165.1 x 75.6 x  8.9mm

229g (mmWave),
227g (sub6)

RAM 8GB 8GB 12 / 16GB
NAND
Storage
128, 256GB 128, 256 GB 128, 256, 512 GB
Battery 4000mAh (15.4Wh) typ.

3880mAh (15.01Wh) rated

4800mAh (18.57Wh) typ.

4660mAh (18.03Wh) rated

5000mAh (19.25Wh) typ.

4855mAh (18.87Wh) rated

 
   
Front Camera 10MP
4K video recording
F/2.2, 80-degree
40MP
4K video recording
F/2.2, 80-degree
Primary Rear Camera 79° Wide Angle
12MP 1.8µm Dual Pixel PDAF
79° Wide Angle
108MP 0.8µm DP-PDAF

3×3 Pixel Binning to 12MP
8K24 Video Recording

fixed f/1.8 optics
OIS, auto HDR, LED flash
4K60, 1080p240, 720p960 high-speed recording
Secondary
Rear Camera
76° Wide Angle
(Cropping / digital zooming telephoto)
64MP 0.8µm

f/2.0 optics, OIS

8K24 Video Recording

12° Telephoto
(10x optical)
10MP

f/4.9 prism optics, OIS

Tertiary
Rear Camera
3x optical
10MP

f/2.4

Quartenary
Rear Camera
120° Ultra-Wide Angle
12MP 1.4µm f/2.2
Extra
Camera
Time of Flight (ToF) 3D Sensor
4G / 5G
Modem
Snapdragon 5G
TBC
Exynos 5G
TBC
 
SIM Size NanoSIM + eSIM
Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax 2×2 MU-MIMO,
BT 5.1 LE, NFC, GPS/Glonass/Galileo/BDS
+ WiFi 6E
Connectivity USB Type-C
no 3.5mm headset
Special Features Under-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
(Qualcomm QC 2.0, Adaptive Fast Charging, USB 3.0 PD PPS),
reverse wireless charging (WPC & PMA),
Ultra Wideband

IP68 water resistance

Launch OS Android 11 with Samsung OneUI 3.1
Launch Prices 128GB 5G:
$799 / €849 / £769

256GB 5G:
$849 / €899 / £819

128GB 5G:
$999 / €1049 / £949

256GB 5G:
$1049 / €1099£999

128GB 5G:
$1199 / €1249 / £1149

256GB 5G:
$1249 / €1299 / £1199

512GB 5G:
$1379 / €1429 / £1329

 
 
 

Starting off with the core hardware components of the new S21 series, the new flagships are amongst the first devices in the market powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 SoC as well as Samsung LSI’s new Exynos 2100. The two new silicon chips this year are more similar to each other than in previous years – both featuring almost identical CPU setups and both being manufactured on the same process node, only leaving more significant differences on the part of the GPUs and other multimedia design aspects.

Ahead of our full device review today, we spun off a dedicated SoC-centric two weeks ago which goes into more technical details of how this year’s new silicon chips perform as the baseline computing platforms for 2021 devices, so I would recommend readers mostly interested in those technical details to read that piece ahead of continuing with the other aspects of the new S21 series today.

As a short summary, I’d say that this year’s SoCs are to be viewed as smaller incremental improvements over last generation iterations – at least on the Snapdragon side of things which applies to north American variants of the new S21 series. Other global customers of the S21 series which will be seeing the Exynos variants being deployed in their devices, while not having fully caught up to the Snapdragon’s performance and power efficiency, will however see extremely large generational improvements compared to what we’ve seen in the Exynos-powered S20 series, so this year’s differences between the two SoC types will be smaller.

In terms of DRAM and storage configurations, the S21 and S21+ come with 8GB of LPDDR5 in either 128GB or 256GB storage configurations. The larger S21 Ultra features generally 12GB of RAM alongside its 128 and 256GB configurations, however also sees a 16GB top-of-the-line version with 512GB storage.

Samsung this year has dropped the microSD slot for storage expansion, marking the S21 series as the second time Samsung has removed this feature after the S6 series a few years ago. Back then, baseline storage capacities landed in at 32GB up to a maximum of 128GB, and Samsung had reintroduced the microSD slot in the S7 series which only went up to 64GB of internal capacity.

I’m not too sure what Samsung’s reasonings were with the removal of the slot on the S21 series this year – but I do have to admit I haven’t used a microSD in a few years now following increases of the baseline storage capacities of phones. A further consideration is that the industry has utterly failed to transition away from slow microSD cards onto newer standards. Samsung’s own UFS Card standard announced back in 2016 has seen zero adoption in the mobile market – I’m not actually aware of SoCs who actually sport a second UFS controller to actually enable these cards. I’m also not aware of any phone supporting the UHS-II microSD interface standard, so again quite standards failure here in the broader industry.

The silver lining here is that Samsung does employ 128GB as the base storage, and for the first time ever, the 256GB storage option upgrade this year only costs $/€/£50 – a much cheaper upgrade not only compared to past years, but also cheaper than the up-sell many contemporary competitors are offering today, and for the first time an upgrade that I would consider of actual good value and which I wouldn’t hesitate recommending.

In terms of other feature discrepancies between the S21 Ultra and its cheaper siblings, one of note is that the new model is the only one in the line-up which features a new Broadcom WiFi 6E compatible BCM4389 chipset, whereas the S21 and S21+ features the same WiFi 6 module from last year. This is the first time Samsung has actually differentiated the models within a flagship series in this manner – so although WiFi 6E isn’t widespread yet and most users likely are still lacking a proper compatible router, it does mean the Ultra is theoretically more future-proof in this regard.

For US users particularly, one other feature removal of the S21 series is the lack of MST payment options. This should be largely irrelevant in most of the rest of the world, but Samsung is removing an important and unique differentiation factor for the S-series in America – if you’ve been relying on it for smartphone payments, it’s something to keep in mind as it’s now gone.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra – The True Flagship

As we’ve noted, Samsung’s differentiation between the various S21 models is greater than ever before – making the new S21 Ultra the only real (almost) no-compromise device in the series this year. In many regards, the new Ultra is actually the new pinnacle of smartphone flagship technologies, with Samsung going all-out in almost every aspect.

Starting off with the biggest ticket item on the spec list, the new S21 Ultra’s display is the most technically impressive piece of technology in the new phone. Still at QHD 3200 x 1440 resolution, Samsung now also actually allows native software rendering at the full 120Hz refresh rate.

Furthermore, this is now as Samsung calls it an “Adaptive Refresh Rate” display, which in the S21 Ultra implementation not only means coarse software-based refresh rate switching between 60 and 120Hz modes, but also fine-grained transparent hardware-based LFD (low frequency drive) refresh rate switching down to 10Hz. Although with a few quirks, this is currently the most cutting-edge high refresh rate display implementation in any mobile phone in the market right now, essentially solving almost all battery draw concerns of the much-praised 120Hz HFR mode of modern flagships.  It really seems to be an outstanding display in every regard.

On top of the new high-refresh rate technologies, the S21 Ultra is also the first phone OLED display to employ a new generation emitter material, allowing it to go significantly brighter, or to be much more power efficient with its luminosity compared to other displays in the market. It really seems to be an outstanding display in every regard.

In terms of design, the front face of the new Galaxy S21 Ultra is nearly indistinguishable from that of the S20 Ultra – it’s still a large glass panel with gently curved sides with minimal bezels in every direction, as well as a central front-camera hole-punch design which doesn’t look to have changed from last year’s model.

The new phone is actually 1.8mm shorter and 0.4mm narrower this year, and Samsung does say the display is now 6.8” instead of 6.9”, however for other design reasons we’ll go into in a bit, this actually isn’t immediately noticeable.

The big new fresh design element of the new S21 series has to be the new camera layout as well as the “camera island”. Unlike the hodgepodge camera design of the S20 Ultra which looked like a last-minute attempt to cram in as many cameras as possible into something manufacturable, the new S21 Ultra camera layout feels extremely well though-out in terms of its looks, and how it integrates into the rest of the phone body. The whole camera “island” has a metal cover protecting it, rather than a larger glass piece over all the cameras, with the new design featuring individual recessed glass pieces over each camera module.

The new design partly solves one issue with these new huge camera bumps – the edges of the camera island, by fully integrating itself into the corner of the phone and seamlessly melting with the actual side-frame of the device. This does mean however that the side-frame in that corner of the phone is hilariously thick, however I still much prefer this kind of design over previous attempts – it much more embraces the cameras rather than trying to accommodate for them.

 
S21 Ultra (left) vs S20 Ultra (right)

One aspect that I didn’t see being talked too much about the new S21 Ultra is its general ergonomics and the design of the side-frame and back panel. Unlike the S20 Ultra, the new phone actually has now a thicker side frame on the sides of the phone, whereas the S20 Ultra had more of the glass back panel flowing further towards the sides. I had expected the S21 Ultra to feel smaller than the S20 Ultra, however because of this new frame design this actually isn’t the case, as the back curvature this year is much less pronounced.


S21 Ultra (top) vs S20 Ultra (bottom)

The top and bottom frame is also less rounded than the S20 Ultra, and in general I’d say this makes the phone feel thicker than before, even though both generations are measuring at the same 8.9mm body thickness.

One last thing I wanted to comment on the S21 frames is the fact that they feel more grippy and have more friction to them. Although both are glossy finishes, the S21 (on purpose or not) has more friction to it, and also does for this reason more easily collect dirt and fingerprints.

The Galaxy S21 – The Cheaper Not-Quite Flagship

The new Galaxy S21 is this year’s weird new little flagship for Samsung. This year we opted to buy the smaller S21 rather than the more usual “+” model as we wanted to give the new device a try-out, as it does have some unique design elements.

Again, much like on the Ultra, the new S21’s key differentiating feature is its design. Samsung has opted to go with a very different screen panel and general screen design for this year’s S21 and S21+ – going lower resolution as well as going for fully flat glass.

In terms of the panel itself, I immediately questioned Samsung’s choice of going with a FHD-class display, after essentially 5 years and generations of 1440p panels on the S-series. I am able to say that I did notice the change quite immediately, even though we’re talking about the smaller S21 – the larger S21+’s display will make the resolution difference likely even more of a point of contention.

The panels on the S21 and S21+ don’t have the fancy new features the S21 Ultra has. It’s still the same emitter generation as on the S20 series, meaning it has the same brightness and efficiency, and it lacks the more advanced LFD high-refresh rate power management, although the “Adaptive Refresh Rate” mode this year does actually work on a software granularity and has that going for itself versus the S20’s series constant 120Hz mode.

In general, the display design here isn’t bad – it’s still a great display, and I do feel it has generational advantages such as better viewing angles and a seemingly better lamination, giving it a more popping sticker effect. The flat display and the lower resolution do however feel very conventional, and not-quite flagship like.

The phones this year are cheaper than their predecessors, but I feel like Samsung here is compromising on one of the most defining aspects of the Galaxy S series – having uncompromising best-in-class displays, no matter the model you chose. Other than the software adaptive refresh rate mode, I don’t feel like the S21 display is any better than the S20’s, and in terms of build quality, subjectively feels worse and cheaper. You might argue or not if that makes sense on the S21, but the S21+ is still a $1000/€1049 phone, competing with the likes of the Xiaomi Mi 11 which now has a better screen design and specifications at only €749. The whole design decision gives me very mixed feelings, and I’m still not too sure on the general conclusion of the matter.

The back panel of the S21 is made of plastic, which had been a contention point ever since Samsung reintroduced the material in their flagship series with the Note20. After having experienced the device first-hand, I can say that it’s absolutely not an issue. In fact, you might very well be fooled about what the material actually is, were it not for the temperature behaviour – glass still noticeably feels cooler than plastic.

In terms of texture, the matte finish works extremely well, but it is quite different to that of the glass S21 Ultra and S21+ – it has much more friction to it and just isn’t as smooth, but that’s about it when it comes to the differences. I haven’t had the phone long enough in daily usage to talk about one contention point of the new plastic material: long-term durability and scratch resistance. I still remember past plastic Galaxy phones suffering from scratches and abrasions due to use – we’ll have to see how the S21 fares after several months or a year.

The camera island on the S21 is brilliant in its design. Much like on the S21 Ultra, this is an aluminium cover that protects individual recessed glass elements for the three main camera modules. Samsung harmonised the camera design between the S21 and S21+ by dropping the ToF sensor from the latter in comparison to the S20+ – which is fine by me as frankly I never really used it even though it was my daily driver for the past year.

The camera island on the S21 is brilliant in its design. Much like on the S21 Ultra, this is an aluminium cover that protects individual recessed glass elements for the three main camera modules. Samsung harmonised the camera design between the S21 and S21+ by dropping the ToF sensor from the latter in comparison to the S20+ – which is fine by me as frankly I never really used it even though it was my daily driver for the past year.

Streamlining the camera design around the three main modules and pushing them towards the corner works extremely well when it comes to aesthetics, and Samsung really hit it out of the park here with the S21 as it achieves in my opinion an attractive and very unique look, especially on this violet-gold variant of the phone.

Probably the only gripe I have here is that Samsung should probably swap the ultra-wide-angle module away from the corner from the phone with one of the other modules – I’ve caught myself with my fingers in the camera frame a few times.

Much like on the S21 Ultra, the frame of the phone isn’t quite as round as on the S20 series. This is particularly important for the S21+ which this year has grown from 73.7mm width to 75.6mm, and also increasing its weight from 187g to 202g – it’s no longer the medium sized model to the Ultra, but actually essentially the same footprint although it is 1.1mm thinner. This increase in width along with the flat display means the S21+ really can’t be compared to the S20+ in terms of form-factors, especially when the S21 Ultra has the same footprint now.

Overall, then new S21 series this year are quite brave divergences for Samsung. The new camera design and layout in my opinion are fantastic. The S21 Ultra also looks great, although it’s a massive device by nature. The S21 and S21+’s new screen designs still give me mixed feelings, and although the new lower price points seem to be working well for Samsung, I do feel it a pity to see the series compromise in its defining features.

Following our more in-depth review of the SoCs powering the S21 family, today we’re focusing more on the general system performance and user experience. In many instances, this aspect of a device is defined by the software making good use of the available hardware capabilities more than the actual hardware itself.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Web Browsing 2.0PCMark Work 2.0 - Writing 2.0PCMark Work 2.0 - Photo Editing 2.0PCMark Work 2.0 - Data ManipulationPCMark Work 2.0 - Performance

In the PCMark results, both the Exynos and Snapdragon S21 Ultras showcase massively impressive results. While the Snapdragon 888 variant of the S21 isn’t all that much of a massive upgrade compared to the Snapdragon 865 powered S20 series phones, the new Exynos 2100 S21’s are very much leaving its predecessors far behind.

WebXPRT 3 - OS WebView

Speedometer 2.0 - OS WebView

JetStream 2 - OS Webview

The web-browsing tests are showcasing similar results, with the Snapdragon S21’s showcasing smaller generational boosts, while the Exynos S21 sees massive performance uplifts.

General Performance – Outstanding

In general, the performance of the new Galaxy S21 series this year is nothing short of outstanding. In terms of software optimisations and general responsiveness of the devices, they’re practically perfect, and essentially the way the phones now behave is as optimal as can be achieved whilst still remaining reasonable with every-day power efficiency.

While the 120Hz mode last year came at a great cost in power efficiency, and I even personally opted to use 60Hz in everyday usage because of that, the new adaptive refresh rate displays on the S21 series, particularly the superior implementation on the S21 Ultra, means that most people will be able to enjoy this highly user-experience augmenting feature without any major drawbacks this year.

We’re shortly also recapping the GPU and gaming performance of the new S21 Ultras. We investigate that this new generation of SoCs isn’t quite as power efficient as we would have hoped for, meaning the increased peak performance the new chips are advertising comes at a great cost in power consumption.

Generally, any contemporary phone is only able to continuously dissipate between 4 and 5W of power through radiation and convection (42 to 50°C peak skin temperatures at 22°C ambient), and once it reaches that peak thermal envelope, it will have to throttle performance.

Basemark GPU 1.2 - Medium 1440p - Off-Screen / BlitGFXBench Aztec Ruins - High - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screenGFXBench Aztec Ruins - Normal - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screenGFXBench Manhattan 3.1 Off-screenGFXBench T-Rex 2.7 Off-screen

A Stand-Still Year for GPU Performance

This year’s Galaxy S21 devices look quite unimpressive when it comes to their gaming performance.

For the Snapdragon S21, I think Samsung here can do better in terms of thermal management, as the phones currently throttle down to 3W even though the device could in theory supports more. Xiaomi’s Mi 11 with the same chip showcases much better performance (we’ll have a review of that device soon), so it’s an area of improvement which could very well be achieved with future firmware updates.

For the Exynos S21, it’s a large generational boost for Samsung, however the absolute numbers are still lagging behind Snapdragon 865 devices. This is important to note for devices such as the S21+ – the S20 FE 5G actually features a Snapdragon 865 SoC in traditional Exynos markets, and if gaming performance is an important aspect for your, that device might be the more interesting purchase.

We’ve noted many times now that the displays of the S21 series are relatively special, although for different reasons depending on the model.

The S21 Ultra’s new panel uses a new hybrid oxide pack panel technology along with a new OLED emitter generation that allows it offer seamless fine-grained refresh rate switching along with getting extremely bright while being much more power efficient. The smaller S21 doesn’t have any of the new display technologies, it is lower resolution, but still has software based adaptive frequency features. I did note that at least in terms of hardware build quality, the smaller S21 does seem to have advantages over the S20 series when it comes to its lamination, as I am seeing better viewing angles, and the panel being better glued to the glass.

When it comes to colour accuracy, we find Samsung’s usual display modes, limited to a “Vivid” setting that’s more saturated in terms of the colours, and allows you to fine-tune colour temperature to your taste, and the “Natural” screen mode that tries to adhere to sRGB and Display P3 colour gamuts and features near 6500K whites.

We move on to the display calibration and fundamental display measurements of the Galaxy S21 Ultra and S21 screens. As always, we thank X-Rite and SpecraCal, as our measurements are performed with an X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer, with the exception of black levels which are measured with an i1Display Pro colorimeter. Data is collected and examined using Portrait Display’s CalMAN software.

Display Measurement - Maximum Brightness

When it comes to screen brightness, the Galaxy S21 isn’t all much different to the S20 series, although it does allow for brighter manual brightness up to 393 nits on our unit. Peak full screen whites are still at around 700 nits when in auto-brightness mode under bright ambient conditions.

The S21 Ultra’s brightness is beyond any other OLED display on the market right now. Manual brightness is still limited by Samsung to only 462 nits, however when in auto-brightness, it goes to a staggering 942 nits – almost beating the superbly bright RGBW LCD display of the LG G7.

If you’re looking for a device which does excellently under sunlight, then the S21 Ultra is definitely the right choice.

Portrait Displays CalMAN
Galaxy S21 Ultra

In terms of greyscale accuracy, the good news for this generation is that it seems Samsung has done a better job than in past years. Whites fall in at 6423K on the S21 Ultra, much less red than the S20 series devices’ calibration, with general great colour balance at dEITP of only 1.2. Gamma curve also looks reasonable although it’s still hard to measure this accurately due to Samsung’s APL brightness adjustments, even with fixed 50 APL and 50% windows sizes during out measurements.

Portrait Displays CalMAN
Galaxy S21

The smaller Galaxy S21 also does very well, with great colour temperature out of the box .

Portrait Displays CalMAN
Galaxy S21 Ultra

Saturation accuracy on the S21 Ultra is great in all aspects except the reds, which for some reason are undersaturated at the maximum intensities.

Portrait Displays CalMAN
Galaxy S21

The smaller S21 doesn’t have the same issue, showcasing generally more accurate colours.

Portrait Displays CalMAN
Galaxy S21 Ultra

Portrait Displays CalMAN
Galaxy S21

Gretag MacBeth test patches with common colours such as skin tones fare well for both the S21 Ultra as well as the S21, although the latter does better, showcasing less luminosity errors.

Overall, Samsung did uncharacteristically well this year when it comes to colour accuracy. After a few years of glaring gamma issues and too warm whites, the S21 series seems to be able to achieve great results out of the box, early on in its firmware, which couldn’t be said of the S10 or S20 series.

The S21 Ultra’s display in terms of its fundamentals is outstanding – it gets extremely bright, more than any other phone in the market right now. Together with the 1440p resolution and 120Hz refresh rate, it represents the single best mobile display in the industry right now.

The smaller S21 display is good, although really not in the same class as the Ultra’s panel. There’s really nothing much to write home about here, as it’s very much similar to many other 1080p panels in the industry, with good brightness levels, good colour accuracy, and of course also featuring that 120Hz adaptive refresh rate mode. If the Ultra’s panel is an S-tier display, the baseline model’s display is A-tier.

Battery life of the S21 series is interesting as there’s two opposing factors that come into play. We’ve seen that this generation of SoCs are actually less energy efficient than last year’s iterations during interactive workloads. This comes at the benefit of higher performance, but generally it’s accurate that the new chips use more power. On the other hand, we also have more efficient displays, and high-refresh-rate operating modes.

On the Galaxy S21 Ultra, both software and hardware adaptive frequency work on a frame basis, allowing it the maximum power efficiency benefits even during 120Hz operation. Together with the much more luminance efficient screen, we should be looking at outstanding battery efficiency.

The regular S21 is more interesting as we hadn’t had the opportunity to see Samsung’s adaptive refresh mode on a display which doesn’t support hardware LFD. Here, the mode switching between 120Hz and 60Hz is on a coarser software level – the display will switch to 60Hz on static screens, but only after around a second of inactivity. That’s actually still great for power efficiency compared to the constant 120Hz of the S20 series, which means that in general every-day scroll-and-read behaviour, the 120Hz mode of the S21 and S21+ should still be much more efficient than their predecessors.

Web Browsing Battery Life 2016 (WiFi)

In our web-browsing test, the results here are slightly different to our provisional test results we had published a few weeks ago- notably on the 120Hz runs.

Nevertheless, the results for the S21 Ultra are outstanding. Even though in theory the SoC is more power hungry, the new display is so much more efficient, that we’re seeing the S21 Ultra takes a large lead of 13% at 60Hz for the Snapdragon variant. The generational differences for the Exynos variants here is much smaller due to how more much responsive and aggressive the new SoC is, which mostly counteracts the new luminosity efficiency of the screen.

In 120Hz mode, the new Ultra devices both take massive leaps over their predecessors- showcasing the new adaptive frequency and LFD mechanisms and how they make 120Hz viable in every-day usage.

Even the smaller S21, the software based adaptive refresh helps a lot as the shift from 60Hz to 120Hz now only costs around 8% in battery life, whereas last year on the S20+ it had a +25% impact.

People will notice the Snapdragon S21 Ultra has a larger delta between its 60 and 120Hz modes, and I think that’s because for some reason the Snapdragon 888 behaves much less aggressive in its 60Hz setting, while the Exynos S21 is tuned to be equally responsive regardless of refresh rate, which is a software discrepancy between the two phones.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Battery Life

Overall Battery Life: Great

In general, the S21 Ultra’s battery life is just fantastic thanks to the new generation display and its heightened power efficiency. The advantages here will vary depending on how you use it – if you tend to use it in dim environments at lower brightness, you might not see the improvements as much as if you’re in a bright scenario and tend to use your phone at high brightness levels. The brighter it will be, the better the S21 Ultra will fare. In super bright scenarios, the phone will be unmatched.

For the S21, and likely applicable to the S21+ as well, battery life is also great. While not as powerful as the Ultra’s adaptive refresh mechanisms, the new software-based implementation on the S21 means that 120Hz is also a very viable option this generation.

While we’re seeing battery life this generation still favour the Snapdragon chips, the Exynos this year isn’t all that far behind, and given the general user experience equality between the two phones, it’s not a major point of contention anymore.

The new Galaxy S21 series have again very different camera setups between the regular variants, and the new Ultra variants. On the normal S21, we’re seeing the same camera configuration as on the last generation S20 series, a 12MP 1.8µm pixel f/1.8 main camera, a secondary wide-angle lens with 64MP 0.8µm pixels and f/2.0 optics that also allows you for high quality digital zooming, and finally a 12MP 1.4µm pixel f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle lens that’s also found in the Ultra models.

The Ultra models this year has changed more significantly. The 108MP main sensor with 0.8µm pixels that bin down to 2.4µm equivalent pixels in 12MP mode on paper looks the same as its predecessor, but is actually a new model that is advertised to feature new dual-conversion gain as well as varying conversion gain capability within one frame readout for better HDR captures. The optics are still f/1.8 with OIS here.

In terms of zoom lenses, we’ve seen much differentiation compared to last year. The 4x optical module from the S20 Ultra has been replaced by a 10x optical module, however the sensor resolution has been reduced from 48MP down to 10MP. The aperture is a very dark f/4.9, and of course has OIS which is needed at these focal lengths.

To narrow the gap in focal length between the 24mm equivalent main camera and the 240mm equivalent periscope telephoto module, we see the introduction of a fourth new camera module with 3x optical magnification (72mm equivalent), with a 10MP sensor and f/2.4 aperture. This is a traditional optics stack module.

For today’s comparison, I included both new Snapdragon and Exynos S21 Ultras to investigate any possible differences in processing between the two models, as well as a slew of other competing phones, including the new Mi 11 which we’ll review soon. Due to the extreme focal length of the new S21 Ultra telephotos I added in reference shots using a 50-230mm alongside the usual 18-55 shots on my Fujifilm X-T30; the shots here should serve as reference for colour reproduction and possible dynamic range of a proper camera, alongside the smartphone shots.

We’ll first focus on the telephoto photos in this page, looking at the main and wide-angle more closely in the next page’s results.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( )( ) ]

Starting with the first shot, what’s immediately noticeable at the longer focal lengths is that there’s only very few phones which are able to do better than the S21 Ultra. Having a 10x optical telephoto at 240mm is well beyond other contemporary phones, and in this regard, it does seem to pay off for Samsung to invest in this massive camera module in terms of internal space.

The Snapdragon and Exynos shots are a bit different here, and I do prefer the brighter and more accurate exposure of the Exynos, although the picture is grainier.

At the 3x telephoto level, the S21 Ultra’s new module pays off in terms of bridging the quality gap, however for some reason I’m not too blown away here, particularly if you compare it to the 3x digital zoom of the Galaxy S21 and S20’s 64MP secondary module.

What’s really disappointing for me is to see Samsung’s 2x level is still horrible – it’s simply just a digital zoom of the 1x 12MP main camera capture, whereas other hi-res main camera module vendors such as Huawei or Xiaomi are using crops out of the 52/108MP modes which much superior quality.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( )( ) ]

Continuing on with a zoom of the clock face here, the S21 Ultra remains pretty much unrivalled in terms of sheer resolving power and detail.

There are still quite obvious differences in processing between the Snapdragon and Exynos, and I prefer the latter’s more natural retention of detail as I feel the Snapdragon at these zoom levels feels like overly too artificial in detail.

The 3x results are also much in favour of the Exynos, though this highly depends on the areas we’re looking as it seems Samsung is employing extensive image stacking depending on the area of the image, with some sections being notably sharper or blurrier than others. It’s still very weird that even at what’s supposed to be the sensor’s native resolution, it generally doesn’t seem that it’s actually native in the result, with the S21’s 64MP module not being that far behind.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( )( ) ]

In this scene, beyond again showcasing the far reach of the S21 Ultra, we’re again seeing very different processing between the two chipset variants, with this time around the Snapdragon unit showcasing a more natural look with more details.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( )( ) ]

Samsung’s segmented multi-frame processing is also extremely visible here – the Exynos has better details in the highlights, although very noisy, and blurry shadows, but the Snapdragon has better shadows, albeit blurry highlights.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( )( ) ]

In a more demanding high dynamic range shot as here, the S21 Ultras didn’t do well when zooming out to the horizon, both underexposing too much with far too fast shutter speeds.

This was a generally tough scenario for all the phones involved so they really didn’t do well at all in terms of exposures and dynamic range.

Overall Telephoto Experience

In terms of far-reaching focal lengths, the new Galaxy S21 Ultra is pretty much unrivalled in the market right now. We’ve seen attempts from other vendors in deploying such optical designs at this magnification, but those were usually combined with tiny sensors, or bad optical performances. The S21 Ultra’s strength is in the optical design of the new periscope module – although it’s only f/4.9, and that can show in some scenarios, it has extremely good optical characteristics in terms of sharpness and general lack of haze, which was previously a problem in the first generation of these kind of modules.

Samsung’s problem I think still lies more in the intermediary zoom levels. 2x zoom is still abhorrent in the way that it’s just a digital magnification of the 1x main sensor output at 12MP, and we yet again see the regular S21 outperform the Ultra at this focal length frame, which is kind of embarrassing.

The 3x telephoto module helps bridge the gap, but it’s still a very large gap to the switch to 10x and the dedicated module. It’s best to avoid anything beyond 5x and 10x as it just looks bad. Samsung here is employing sensor fusion between the 3x and 10x module in small segmented patches, and much like the sensor fusion on the S20 Ultra, it still looks terrible in this implementation as it’s just inconsistent.

I wish Samsung would finally have a more solid solution for these intermediate levels of magnification, the regular Galaxy S21 just offers a significantly better quality and more streamlined experience in this regard, much like the S20 outperformed the S20 Ultra last year. The company should take notes from Huawei and how they use their high-resolution sensor in different binning modes to solve this.

We swivel to the main sensor capture experience and quality. Luckily, I was able to get captures on a very sunny day to really stress the HDR processing the cameras, which isn’t always straightforward to do on winter days.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

In the first shot what’s quite obvious is the lens flare that affects most of the phone cameras in this scene. Unfortunately, anti-reflective coatings aren’t something that are very prevalent in the mobile smartphone camera industry so it’s something you probably won’t see a lot of vendors put much effort in.

Disregarding that, the new S21 phones are all doing extremely well, and generally being able to outperform all other phones in terms of the dynamic range they’re able to capture, which sees a slight improvement to the Note20 Ultra.

There are processing differences between the Exynos and Snapdragon, particularly visible on the ultra-wide angle module, with much better retention of shadow detail on the part of the Snapdragon unit.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

This shot is also very demanding as shooting against the sun isn’t your recommended capture style.

Although the S21 phones are doing very well, I would say they’re falling more notably behind the iPhone 12’s processing which is able to get much more dynamic range out of the shot.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ][ Note20U(S) ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 (  ) ]

Here, I thought the S21 phones fell flat with their HDR. The S20 and Note20Ultra more accurately retained the highlights of the scene while the S21 and S21 Ultra’s pictures histograms looks empty in the last 10-15% of levels, even though this is in the broad sun.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 (  ) ]

For once not facing the sun, we’re seeing different characteristics between the phones. The S21 Ultra compared to the Note20 Ultra is able to showcase much better fine details both in highlights as well as the shadows. Oddly enough, while the bright areas are generally the same for the Exynos model, it suffers a lot in the shadows and blacks.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 (  ) ]

The tendency of the Exynos doing worse in the shadows continues on in this scene. It’s to be noted that all the phones here had trouble with colour temperature which was far too warm, though the S21 improved upon the S20.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 (  ) ]

This scene was interesting as the Snapdragon and Exynos did very different approaches in terms of capture although both came to a very similar result. The Exynos’s exposure was half of that of the snapdragon, and allowed it to retain highlight details in the clouds, although the Snapdragon’s lower ISO capture allowed it for more details in the shadows.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

In more high dynamic range scenes, the S21 phones again do extremely well against the competition, although the generational differences are rather small. Again, we see very large differences in the blacks between the Snapdragon and Exynos phones in this scene when you look at the UWA image and the car on the right.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

In less demanding shots like this one, the differences between the phones are much more minor in terms of exposure, but we are seeing large colour and detail variations. I have no idea what happened to the Snapdragon S21U as the grass on the right looks horrible compared to the Exynos S21U, which in turn looks worse than the Note20 Ultra, which is by far the most accurate phone in this scene.

HDR Daylight Verdict: Generally good, but extremely inconsistent

Generally, my view of the S21’s daylight performances are very much typical of a fresh Samsung device: a very much inconsistent processing mess. The S21 Ultra has extremely capable hardware, but the problem is that as with every last Galaxy S launch over the last few years we’re seeing very odd processing results. Sometimes the phone can capture great shots with dynamic range and detail far better than any other device, and sometimes it falls flat on its face. The fact that the Note20 Ultra is able to often beat out the new S21 Ultras in picture quality means that this is solely a software issue, and the firmware of the new phones just isn’t mature enough.

Since getting the phones and capturing the image samples on the day-1 firmware update, I’ve since gotten 2 further updates on the Exynos and one on the Snapdragon model, both always stating improved camera quality and improvements, which I would very well believe to be accurate and change the results showcased here. After all, Samsung on the S10 and S20 has released camera updates months into a device’s lifecycle, and I wouldn’t be surprised for the same to happen to the S21.

Generally speaking, the results of the S21 series are both good and bad because of this. There are hints of superb image quality, marred with general inconsistencies. The issues are more prevalent for the Ultra phones than for the simpler baseline models. I feel like Samsung has a swiss army knife here in terms of a camera solution, but all the knives and tools are dull.

Low-light photography of the new S21 series devices should be relatively uneventful. Both the Ultra and the regular models don’t have any superior light gathering abilities compared to their predecessors, so in general the differences between the generations should solely lie in terms of software algorithm updates – if there’s actually any.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S)  – ] [ S21U(E)  – ]
[ S21(E)  – ] [ S20+(E)  – ]
[ Note20U(S)  – ] [ iPhone 12 Pro  – ]
[ Mate40 Pro  – ] [ Mi 11  – ]
[ Mi 10 Pro  – ] [ Pixel 5  – ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

In the first scenario, we see the S21 phones showcase excellent results in their respective night modes. There are small differences when it comes to colour temperature and blacks, where the new Ultra phones don’t seem to be as fine-tuned as the Note20 Ultra or the baseline S21, but generally fall in amongst the best performing phones.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

This scene really wasn’t kind to the new Ultras, as the Note20 Ultra produced significantly better and more realistic shots in all capture modes. We’re again seeing some of Samsung’s stark software inconsistencies at play.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

The S21 Ultra issues continue here as well, the Snapdragon unit is just far blurrier than the Exynos and the Note20 Ultra, while the Exynos’ colour temperature is too cool and overcompensates the orange sodium lamps.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

In this scene I was curious to see the dynamic range the phones would be able to retain in night mode – those lamps actually weren’t all that bright at all, it’s just that the rest of the scene was just very dim.

The Samsung phones didn’t improve all that much generationally, and still lag behind the leader in low-light dynamic range, Huawei.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

This scene is easier to analyse, as essentially, we’re seeing little to no differences with the new S21 series phones bar a bit of colour temperature variations.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ]
[ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ]
[ Note20U(S) ] [ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

Going into lower light situations, we’re seeing larger differences. The S21 Ultra Snapdragon falls flat on its face here in terms of night mode processing as everything is a blurry mess. The Exynos variant fares significantly better, and is actually along with the Exynos S21 the best results of any phones night modes, going as far as clearly depicting the Orion and Pleiades constellations in the background sky.

Click for full image
[ S21U(S) ] [ S21U(E) ][ S21(E) ] [ S20+(E) ] [ Note20U(S) ]
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ Mate40 Pro ] [ Mi 11 ] [ Mi 10 Pro ] [ Pixel 5 ]
[ X-T30 ( ) ]

Lastly, just for fun and because I had an unusually clear night sky, I tried out pointing the phones at the sky to see what happens. These are all handheld shots without a tripod. Sadly enough, the Ultra phones lagged behind the regular S20 and S21, and far behind the Huawei Mate 40 Pro.

Low-light verdict: Pretty much the same

Low-light photography on the S21 series, hasn’t really changed all that much from the S20 series. Frankly speaking, in some scenarios, it might be even worse due to the immature software, particularly on the Snapdragon S21 Ultra. We didn’t really expect any improvements this generation as essentially, it’s all pretty much the same hardware, but I was still disappointed to see that the software side of things is still handicapping Samsung from achieving better results.

The same conclusion applies here as on the daylight shots, in that we don’t really have a conclusion. The results are too inconsistent, and I’ve already had two newer firmware updates I would need to re-test things on. The picture quality will undoubtedly improve, but it’s getting quite tiring to wait months for Samsung to sort things out.

As we’re wrapping up the review, I’m left with quite a few different views on the new S21 series, all depending on the model, with also some value considerations depending on the price you’re able to get the new phones at.

Starting off with the design of the new phones, particularly on the S21 Ultra. From the front, the S21 Ultra isn’t all that different from the S20 Ultra, which is fine – don’t change what isn’t broken. Until we get under-screen front cameras, it’s unlikely we’ll see Samsung change the successful formula here.

On the back of the phone, Samsung has really made more dramatic changes on the S21 series. On the Ultra, this means a much more cohesive design for the camera island, getting rid of the rather half-baked looking attempt on the S20 Ultra. This also applies to the simpler 3-camera setup of the S21 and S21+ which now look even more streamlined and unique – I really like both designs, and I think Samsung managed to create a new characteristic design aspect to their phones.

This generation is also the first for Samsung to adopt a matte back cover finish. On the S21 Ultra, this is a frosted chemically etched glass. It’s not much different to any other matte glass implementations, but it’s well executed – good riddance on glossy glass backs. On the smaller S21, there’s also a matte finish, but it’s out of plastic. I was generally unconvinced of the material till I used it, and it’s actually absolutely fine. It doesn’t quite have the same premium feel of the matte glass variants, but it’s still much better than the glossy plastic of past days. Only thing to see is how this material handles long-term usage and scratches.

The display of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is absolutely outstanding. It combines high resolution, high refresh rate, high brightness, high accuracy, and high power-efficiency into a package that you will find in no other device right now. It’s pretty much the best Samsung has been able to achieve to date, and the cornerstone feature of the new S21 Ultra.

In contrast, the regular S21 screen looks relatively boring. It’s still plenty accurate and showcases good characteristics, but it’s just not in the same weight class as the new panel on the S21 Ultra. It’s now a flat display screen – many people might prefer that, but I thought that the screen curvature on the S20 series was already as minimal as you could get it. I’m sure I’ll get flak for this opinion, but because of the flat screen, the S21 just feels like a cheaper phone to me. The 1080p resolution for some will be acceptable, particularly on the smaller S21, but for me I think it was a compromise too much, especially on the larger S21+.

Beyond the technical choices made here, I feel like it also generally dilutes what the Galaxy S series has stood for the past decade; having uncompromising displays. In that regard, besides the new software adaptive refresh rate capabilities, the new S21 and S21+ screens aren’t actually better than the S20 and S20+ screens in my view.

Performance of the new S21 phones is excellent. The Snapdragon 888 is a good iteration on last year’s chips, although the improvements are probably below what you’d expect. The Exynos 2100 is a very large generational improvement and although it doesn’t quite match the Snapdragon variant, it’s the closest it’s ever gotten to. For everyday usage, you will absolutely not see a difference, although prolonged gaming is still a Snapdragon variant advantage.

Battery life of the new phones is excellent. The S21 Ultra is carried by the new outstandingly efficient display – the brighter the scenarios you tend to use your phone in the more pronounced the battery advantages of the Ultra will be. The regular S21 while not featuring the same display advantages so at 60Hz you might not see big differences generationally, however the software based adaptive refresh rate will significantly improve 120Hz battery life.

When it comes to the cameras of the S21, although their new design is great, their picture quality doesn’t really showcase similar improvements. On the S21 Ultra, frankly speaking, Samsung should ditch their 108MP sensor in favour of their 50MP unit. It’s been an interesting experiment for these two generations, but we’ve seen that the sensor offers little to no advantages other than being able to market the 108MP figure. The company still hasn’t figured out how to do basic things such as a high-quality 2x magnification mode – you’d might forgive them that in the first generation, but not in the second generation here. The picture quality advantages of the 108MP sensor otherwise just boils down to better details in daylight shots – otherwise the 12MP sensor of the S20 and S21 are pretty much equivalent in every other way.

Samsung’s addition of a 3x optical module to the Ultra helps it bridge the quality gap, but it’s still there, and gets pretty bad in the 5-9x range, on top of the horrible 2-2.9x range. For portrait mode shots, the Ultra doesn’t even use the new 3x telephoto module, instead falling back to the main module. The innovative 64MP sensor implementation of the S21 still beats the S21 Ultra here – I’m a great fan of this approach, Samsung just needs to deploy it on the Ultra and generally rethink their whole system at the lower focal lengths.

The 10x telephoto module of the Ultra however is fantastic, and is by far the strongest system in the market right now. Given the internal hardware space this module takes up, it had better be amazing, so at least it paid off in that regard.

The S21 and S21+ camera setup is the same as on the S20 and S20+, which I’m completely fine with. It’s just a much simpler and streamlined capture experience, and I really don’t have anything negative to say about the hardware here, it’s very good balanced out system.

Samsung’s camera weaknesses on the S21 series seems to be continuing immaturity on the software side of things. We saw many processing inconsistencies, not just between the usual Snapdragon and Exynos models, but also compared to the S20 series or even the Note20 Ultra, where the new phones are sometimes just worse. This is actually a very familiar scenario we’ve seen too many times before in the last few years- the devices tend to launch with rather lacklustre camera software that then gets improved upon in the months following the release. It happened to the S10 series, the S20 series, and I’m pretty sure it’ll happened to the new S21 series as well. Samsung has great potential for improvement here, but currently the general conclusion today is that you’ll be getting a rather inconsistent capture experience.

Galaxy S21

The S21 launched at an MSRP of $799 or 849€. For the US, at the time of writing, there’s actually already early promotions on the new phones, and the S21 can be had for $699. While I’ve had mixed feeling about the phone, at that price, the S21 just destroys everything else in the market right now, and I would outright recommend one to buy it.

European users right now still have to pay the full MSRP, which is actually still quite a lot more, but generally speaking, it’s very hard to find a smaller form-factor device that is as well-rounded as the S21, so it’s certainly appears to also be a good value purchase.

Galaxy S21+

Although we didn’t review the S21+ today, it’s not all that much of a different device than the S21 other than it being larger. In terms of MSRP prices, the S21+ being priced at $999, $200 higher than the S21 in that regard didn’t make much sense – a glass back and a slighter bigger phone isn’t worth that large a difference. However, Samsung also does a promotion here in the US, delivering the S21+ at $799 at time of writing, which is a very good offer – if you are satisfied with the 1080p screen in this larger form-factor.

European users have to pay 1049€ – which currently is just off-putting. I would strongly recommend users to consider the 749€ Xiaomi Mi 11, or actually even look at the 630€ S20FE 5G instead.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

Finally, we arrive to the S21 Ultra. This is Samsung’s best phone ever. It’s not perfect, and I won’t be giving it any awards due to the camera quirks, but it’s as close as we’ve ever gotten to a no-compromise device in years. In the US, it’s currently at $999, which frankly speaking is again a great price compared to the competition. In Europe, it’s starting at 1249€ which is still extremely steep, but again, there’s very little other options right now that offer as much as the S21 Ultra, so I do think it warrants itself to sit in that price niche.

The real only draw-back of the S21 Ultra this year is the fact that it’s still a massive phone, both in size and weight, and that it won’t cater to everybody. I think what Samsung should do in the future is either create four models of the S series, three being the same as the current line-up but renaming the Ultra to “Ultra+” and keeping form-factor and features as today, and introducing a slightly smaller and thinner Ultra, keeping the same no-compromise display, and possibly getting rid of the periscope camera for a more high-end traditional lens setup.

All in all, although this generation hasn’t been perfectly executed, and I still have mixed feelings about the displays on the S21 and S21+, it’s generally a much better and well rounded line-up than last year, especially with the new more attractive pricing.