Like clockwork, Samsung releases a new version of the Galaxy S flagship smartphone in the first quarter of every year. And the company didn’t let a turbulent 2020 disrupt the streak: it’s just announced the Galaxy S21 series, hosting a new Unpacked event opposite a digital-only CES 2021. Let’s take a look at the new design.
As with last year, the S21 line is split up into the base phone, a + variant, and a super-duper Galaxy S21 Ultra with top-end specs, all packing 5G radios. After years in the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series, Samsung is saying goodbye to its curved glass screen panel, opting for a more conventional flat panel with tiny bezels and a centered “hole punch” selfie camera.
The styling has shifted a bit, too: the rear camera panel is now the entire corner of the device, flowing into the metal frame on the side. It’s a unique look, which should help it stand out in a sea of square and rectangular rear cameras. Samsung says the metal-covered cameras are stronger, too. The S21 keeps Samsung’s under-the-screen fingerprint reader and wireless charging capabilities.
The base model Galaxy S21 hangs on to the same screen panel size as last year, 6.2 inches diagonally with Gorilla Glass Victus on top. It’s using a metal internal frame with rear tempered glass. Underneath the resolution is a surprising downgrade: while last year’s model used a 1440p screen, this year it’s only 1070p, though it hangs on to the 120Hz refresh rate (which can now adaptively shift its refresh rate down to 48Hz to better manage power).
The 10 megapixel selfie cam also remains, and the rear cameras are the same 12/12/64 megapixel array as last year (wide angle, ultrawide, and telephoto, respectively). Samsung says it’s dramatically improved the photo processing system for lighting, portraits, and general photography. The video system goes up to 8K resolution, with instant capture of photos during video mode. You can even see previews of snapshots from different camera modules as the video is being recorded.
Underneath you’ll find Samsung’s Exynos 2100 processor, which the company claims can deliver a 33% boost in processing across its eight cores while also boosting battery life thanks to its 5nm production process. (Galaxy S21 variants in the US and some other territories will almost certainly be using a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, probably the 865+ or 888). It’s paired to 8GB of RAM (the same as the LTE model from last year, 33% less than the 5G version) and either 128 or 256GB of storage. It hangs on to the 4000mAh battery.
Other features include an ultrasonic under-screen fingerprint sensor, IP68 water resistance, NFC for wireless payments, Wi-Fi 6, 25-watt wireless charging (and reverse wireless charging), and Samsung’s customized version of Android 11. It’ll be sold in white and grey colors, as well as pink and violet, with variations depending on your location. The Galaxy S21 goes on sale January 29th, starting at $799.
As with last year’s Plus model, the S21+ stretches the screen out to 6.7 inches, and this one uses the more dense 1440p resolution. Other upgrades over the Galaxy S21 include a 4800mAh battery (a small bump over last year), and a new Ultra Wideband system for tracking the phone’s precise location indoors.
The S21+ keeps the same front and rear cameras as the S21, as well as the 8GB of RAM and 128 or 256GB of storage. That 8GB figure is, once again, a downgrade from last year’s 5G model, and the 512GB storage option appears to be gone. The Galaxy S21+ will come in silver, black, and violet color options. The Galaxy S21+ will cost $999 when it launches on January 29th.
Galaxy S21 Ultra
The top-of-the-line Galaxy S21 Ultra model is the biggest, of course, with a slight bump to a 6.8-inch 1440p screen, which can go up to 1500 nits and wind down to just 10Hz refresh adaptively. Oddly, it’s a hair smaller than last year’s (6.9″), perhaps accounting for the lack of a curved glass panel.
One of the major differences versus in the S21 Ultra is the additional support for a sold-separately S Pen, previously the trademark feature of the Galaxy Note series. That includes the various editing and software tricks, like using the remote pen as a media controller or camera shutter button.
The other big differentiator is the cameras. The front-facing camera is mega-boosted to a 40 megapixel sensor, while the rear module uses four different sensors: two 10MP telephoto sensors in tandem, a 12MP ultrawide sensor with autofocus for macro, and a jaw-dropping 108-megapixel primary wide angle sensor.
They’re all complemented with the laser autofocus module, another element borrowed from the latest Galaxy Note. Periscope “double folded” lens design allows for better clarity from one to 100x zoom, as well as more detailed macro shots. It can also handle 4K at 60 frames from every one of its camera modules.
In addition to UWB tracking, the S21 Ultra gets access to cutting-edge Wi-Fi 6E capability, 12GB of RAM, and a boosted 512GB storage option. The S20 Ultra’s 45-watt fast wireless charging is downgraded a bit, to “just” 25 watts (matching the other S21 phones) to charge up its 5000mAh battery. It’ll be available in either black or silver.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at $1199 when it lands on January 29th.
The new standalone S Pen is only compatible with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. While that phone won’t have an internal bay like the Note series, Samsung will sell multiple premium cases that include a dedicated spot for it, including standard bumper and folio designs.
The S Pen Pro, a larger version with Bluetooth capability, is coming later this year. It offers extra functionality, like a remote shutter button. The standard model will be $40, but there’s no word on the price for the S Pen Pro.
Galaxy Buds Pro
After the somewhat unconventional “open ear” design of the bean-shaped Galaxy Buds live, Samsung is returning to its more standard true wireless earbud design. The Galaxy Buds Pro are meant to compete with the AirPods Pro and similar ultra-premium buds, with an in-ear design, active noise cancellation, and silicon tips.
The Buds Pro use the teardrop shape of the original Galaxy Buds and Buds+, with a small external mesh used for its active noise cancellation. Samsung claims it can filter out “up to 99%” of external sound, and that it’s also dramatically improved call quality. There’s also a new Voice Detect feature: the buds can automatically switch to ambient listening mode (allowing external sounds in instead of blocking them out) when it detects someone speaking around you.
Samsung says the Buds Pro can last 5 hours on a single charge from their square-shaped case, and an improved 6.5mm tweeter and 11mm woofer should boost the sound quality considerably over previous models. They’re also sweat-resistant (though not entirely waterproof) with an IPX7 rating.
The Buds Pro are available tomorrow, January 15th for $199. They’ll come in black, white, and violet options.
Samsung also introduced a new product line: the SmartTag. It’s a small, localized item tracker, using Bluetooth Low Energy. It’s more or less exactly the same design as Tile’s popular trackers, albeit in just one size and shape. Also, it’s not to be confused with Samsung’s previous Smart Things tracker, which used GPS and needed a mobile connection to function.
SmartTag uses end-to-end encryption for The tags will come in grey and black with a permanent loop for key rings and the like. The replicable coin battery works for “months,” and like Tile, it can work with other SmartThings users in a mesh network.
There’s also a SmartTag+, which include Ultrawide Band tracking for specific location tracking that can be activated via an augmented reality interface. Both the standard and + models come with a selection of cases.
The SmartTag launches January 29th for $30, with 2-packs and 4-packs available. The SmarTag+ will cost $40, starting later this year.