The S Pen has finally come to the Galaxy S21 — here's how it works

Samsung Galaxy S21 Spen Case
Samsung Galaxy S21 Spen Case (Image credit: Android Central)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 series has landed, ushering in the next generation of Samsung flagships. There's a lot to talk about with these new phones, but above all else, one of the most exciting talking points is something we never thought we'd see on a Galaxy S — the S Pen.

That's right. After years of being exclusive to Galaxy Note devices, Samsung has finally brought the S Pen to the Galaxy S21. The implementation is mostly what we've come to expect, but there are a few key differences you'll want to keep in mind. Let's break it all down.


Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The addition of the S Pen to the Galaxy S lineup is a big deal, but at least with this current implementation, it is a bit limited. Only the Galaxy S21 Ultra is compatible with the S Pen, meaning it won't work with the baseline S21 or S21+.

It makes sense for Samsung to limit such a radical new feature to its Ultra offering for this first time around, and on top of that, it helps keep costs down even more for the S21 and S21+.

We'd ideally like to see S Pen support expand to the entire Galaxy S family with the S22, S23, and so on, but at least for right now, you'll need to buy the Galaxy S21 Ultra if you want this experience.


Samsung Galaxy S21 Spen Case

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

If you've ever used an S Pen with a Galaxy Note, you'll be right at home with the S21 Ultra's S Pen. It's slightly larger than previous iterations of the stylus, but it's still very compact and comfortable to hold. Also similar to previous models, this S Pen still has a physical side button.

Perhaps the biggest change to the S Pen's design is how it's stored when you aren't using it. There's no built-in slot on the S21 Ultra for hiding the S Pen inside of it, meaning you'll need to buy a special case from Samsung for easy storage.

That's a lot less convenient than the experience we're used to from the Galaxy Note, but it's also a good compromise to cater to both audiences. If you don't care about using the S Pen, you can ignore it completely and never have to think about it. If you do want the S Pen, you can use it like normal and store it on the S21 Ultra with a case. It may not be perfect, but Samsung didn't have a lot of other options here without completely transforming the S21 Ultra into a full-on Note.


Samsung Galaxy S21 Spen Case

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

In regards to how you can use the S21 Ultra's S Pen, it's mostly what you'd expect. You can take handwritten notes, draw/doodle, annotate documents, navigate the user interface, and more.

Unfortunately, this S Pen doesn't offer any of the remote/Bluetooth functionality that we've had since the Galaxy Note 9. This means you won't be able to use the S Pen to remotely open the camera app, control music playback, etc.

That is a downside if you were a fan of those extra features, but when it comes to the core S Pen experience, it's on full display with the S21 Ultra.


Samsung Galaxy S21 Spen Case

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Here's where things get a bit controversial — you'll need to pay up for this year's S Pen. Despite costing a hefty $1,199, the Galaxy S21 Ultra does not come with the S Pen for free. Instead, you'll need to buy it as an optional accessory for $39.99.

Furthermore, Samsung's first-party cases with slots for the S Pen retail for another $69.99. In other words, if you were to buy the S Pen and a case to go with it, you'd be shelling out another $110 on top of what you already spent for the S21 Ultra. That's in addition to other top accessories like a good screen protector.

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.