Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Plus vs S21 Ultra: What’s the difference?

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Samsung Galaxy S21 series

Samsung has just unveiled a trio of new Galaxy phones and they could be some of the most sought after Android devices on the market. But how do you choose between the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21 Plus and the Galaxy S21 Ultra?

Once again, Samsung isn’t releasing a single flagship device. Instead, we’ve got three phones each with unique additions (and sacrifices) coming in at differing prices. Samsung’s range isn’t quite as varied as the massive iPhone 12 line, however it does offer a good amount of choice.

Let’s have a look at these three phones and see which one you should keep an eye on ahead of our in-depth reviews.

Pricing and availability – Get your wallet ready

Let’s start with pricing as none of these phones are affordable, even if (in the UK at least) they’re slightly  cheaper than the S20 series was when in launched in February 2020.

The starting RRP of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is £1149/€1249/$TBC, which is marginally less than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 256GB model and more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 starts at £769 €849/$TBC. This is a minor reduction over the outgoing Galaxy S20, at least in the UK, which launched at £799 in March 2020. By launching at £799, Samsung undercuts Apple’s iPhone 12 in some regions.

The Samsung S21 Plus will cost from £949/€1049/$TBC. Again, this price is slightly lower than that of the S20 Plus, which retailed for £999/€1099 at launch.

All three models are available to pre-order now and they’ll ship on January 29. This is the earliest Samsung has ever released a flagship S series phones and it’s one of the first big phone announcements of 2021.

Screen and design – Same overall look, different details

As you can see from the images below, these phones all have the same overall look. Samsung has really tried to build the camera module into the design, making it stand out more and cling to the top corner. The S21 and S21 have a smaller camera panel as they have fewer sensors, with the Ultra needing more space for its impressive-looking lens setup.

Samsung Galaxy S21 series

All three phones have an IP68 rating, a USB-C port on the bottom for charging, stereo speakers and a small cut-out on the display for the front camera. They also all boast a new, much larger optical fingerprint scanner that is built into the screen. One thing you won’t find on any of these phones is expandable storage. 

There are a few notable differences, though. Size and weight being one of them, with the Ultra tipping the scales at a whopping 228g. For comparison, the Galaxy S21 weighs 172g. Check the table below for full dimensions. One reason for the much lighter Galaxy S21 is that is ditches the glass on the back for plastic, Both other models have glass rears. 

Model Dimensions Weight
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm 228g

 

Model Dimensions Weight
Samsung Galaxy S21 71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9 (mm) 172g
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus 75.6 x 161.5 x 7.8 (mm) 202g

 

The S21 Ultra is the largest phone and as such has the biggest display. Here you’ve got a 6.8-inch curved panel, whereas the S21 Plus has a flat 6.7-inch screen and the smallest S21 packs a flat 6.2-inch version.

There’s more to differentiate the displays than just size. The S21 Ultra has a max brightness of 1500 nits, packs a WQHD+ resolution and an adaptive refresh rate that cycles from 11Hz-120Hz depending on what you’re doing. If you’re watching a YouTube video, for example, it’ll refresh less than if you’re playing Fortnite. This should help save battery, based on our experience reviewing the Note Ultra, which has a similar screen.

The S21 and S21 Plus also have adaptive 120Hz displays, however they can only drop to 48Hz. They both also have slightly lower FHD+ resolutions – quite an odd move for a series that usually sticks to the best possible screen, though in our experience reviewing other phones FHD+ will be more than sharp enough for most people.

Specs and camera – The Ultra is the king here

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra lives up to its branding (and price) by packing in a selection of specs that have come right out of the top-drawer. Choose this model if you want the most RAM and the biggest storage sizes. For instance, RAM on the Ultra model is either 12 or 16GB, with storage options coming in at 128GB, 256GB and 512GB. It’s also the only model to support the S Pen stylus traditionally seen on Samsung’s Note line of phones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The S Pen works on the S21 Ultra

As a comparison, both the S21 and S21 Plus have 8GB RAM and either 128 or 256GB storage.

You’ll find the same chipset inside all phones, so even if you plump for the cheapest version it’ll still be seriously fast. In the US the chipset of choice is the Snapdragon 888, while us in the UK and certain other markets will have Samsung’s own Exynos 2100. Whether they’ll be obvious performance differences remains to be seen and we’ll need more time with the phones to judge this.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a wildly different camera array to the S21 and S21 Plus, with an extra zoom lens along with more pixel-packed sensors. Here’s a quick overview of the Ultra camera specs:

Model Rear wide Rear ultra wide Rear Tele 1 Rear Tele 2 Front Video
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 108MP, OIS, f/1.8 12MP, f/2.2 10MP 3x zoom, OIS, f/2.4 10MP 10x zoom, OIS, f/4.9 40MP 8K, Single Take 2.0, Directors View

 

That duo of tele lenses enables up to 100x Space Zoom with hopefully less shake than was present on the S20 Ultra we tested last year. We also hope the updated focusing system means we won’t have issues with focus hunting this time around. Samsung has also said you’ll be able to capture 12-bit RAW files, record video from multiple cameras at the same time and grab snapshots from 8K footage.

Moving over to the S21 and S21 Plus, these have more modest specs – however, we still expect good things based on experience review last year’s flagship Samsung phones as most of the software features remain the same. This means they should offer decent colour representation, high dynamic range and generally be capable of taking decent pictures for use on social media.

Model Rear (wide) Rear (ultra wide) Rear (tele) Front Video
Samsung Galaxy S21 12MP f/1.8, OIS 12MP f/2,0 64MP f/2.0 10MP f/2.2 8K, Single Take 2.0, Directors View
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus 12MP f/1.8, OIS 12MP f/2.0 64MP f/2.2 10MP f/2.2 8K, Single Take 2.0, Directors View

Battery life – The Ultra has a bigger battery, but that’s not the whole story

Until we’ve put these phones through our testing and review process, we can’t make any comments on how long these phones will last for. All we know at this stage is the sizes of the cells inside. For the S21 Ultra that’s a 5000mAh cell, 4800mAh for the S21 Plus and 4000mAh for the S21. All three phones can be charged at 25w wired and 15w wirelessly and pack Reverse Powershare for charging up accessories.

None of the phones comes with a charge plug in the box though, so you’ll need to use an older USB-C charger or buy one separately. If you’re upgrading from something like the Galaxy S10 or Galaxy S9 then that plug is not capable of providing full charge speeds to these phones.

While the Ultra has the biggest cell, it also has the biggest display with the highest-resolution so there’s every chance it could be the S21 Plus that comes out on top in battery tests.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Plus vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Early impressions

The obvious missing piece in the S21’s arsenal is a device to go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 12 Mini. There’s nothing here that offers a smaller experience. Still, the range is full of variety and starts well below £1000. Some sacrifices have been made (screen res, material choices etc) but £769 €849/$TBC isn’t too bad considering.

Hopefully the Ultra model lives up to its billing this time around, but we’d still suspect the two more modest offerings being the more in-demand devices in the long term. 



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