Samsung Galaxy S21 series is official with better cameras, S Pen support, and lower prices for 2021

Galaxy S21 series
Galaxy S21 series (Image credit: Samsung)

What you need to know

  • The Galaxy S21 series is finally official, going up for pre-order January 14 at 11AM EST and rolling out in the U.S. and other markets January 29.
  • The S21 Ultra is the first device in the Galaxy S series to offer S Pen support, with separately sold compatible cases providing a way to store the S Pen when not in use.
  • Samsung is offering up to $200 of in-store credit for pre-orders, along with up to $700 of trade-in credit and a free SmartTag tracker.

Never one to be shown up by events like CES 2021, Samsung has finally made its Galaxy S21 series official after months of leaks and rumors. As expected, the series consists of a trio of devices including the Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra, with a renewed focus on camera performance and Samsung's biggest design overhaul in years.

Samsung says that a major priority for the S21 series was bringing the company's renowned flagship experience to a more accessible price point than last year, with the baseline Galaxy S21 starting at just $799.99 on January 29, with pre-orders opening January 14 at 11AM EST.

As was the case with last year's S20 series, the three Galaxy S21 models differ mainly in size and camera specs. All three new models feature Samsung's new Contour Cut Camera housing that integrates with the metal frame for a sleek, modern look that's unlike any other phone on the market, while up front is an improved iteration of Samsung's Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O displays — this time, you get a flat display on the S21 and S21+.

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CategoryGalaxy S21Galaxy S21+Galaxy S21 Ultra
Operating SystemAndroid 11Android 11Android 11
Display6.2 inches, 2400x1080 (421 ppi) resolution, Dynamic AMOLED 2X6.7 inches, 2400x1080 (394 ppi) resolution, Dynamic AMOLED 2X6.8 inches, 3200x1440 (515 ppi) resolution, Dynamic AMOLED 2X
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 888Qualcomm Snapdragon 888Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Memory128/256GB, 8GB RAM128/256GB, 8GB RAM128/256/512GB, 12/16GB RAM
Rear Camera12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm (wide)12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm (ultra-wide)64MP, ƒ/2.0, 0.8μm (3X telephoto)12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm (wide)12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm (ultra-wide)64MP, ƒ/2.0, 0.8μm (3X telephoto)108MP, ƒ/1.8, 0.8μm (wide)12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm (ultra-wide)10MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.22μm (3X telephoto)10MP, ƒ/4.9, 1.22μm (10X telephoto)
Front Camera10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22μm10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22μm40MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.7μm
Dimensions151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm, 171g161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8mm, 202g165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm, 229g
ColorsPhantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, Phantom WhitePhantom Violet, Phantom Silver, Phantom BlackPhantom Silver, Phantom Black

Aside from the new design aesthetics, the Galaxy S21 series serves as a launching point for Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 processor, but it also introduces some departures from Samsung releases of the past. Namely, none of the three devices within the S21 series support microSD for expandable storage, and Samsung will no longer be including wired headphones or a charging brick in the box — Samsung says this is because "more and more Galaxy users are reusing accessories they already have and making sustainable choices in their daily lives to promote better recycling habits."

To offset the removal of expandable storage, Samsung is offering storage tiers ranging up to 512GB on the top-end Galaxy S21 Ultra, which also sports a powerful 16GB of RAM. All other S21 models will be available in either 128GB or 256GB, with between 8GB and 12GB of RAM.

Each Galaxy S21 variant features an in-display fingerprint sensor that's 1.7X larger than before, along with a new Eye Comfort Shield that actively counters against blue light. Both the Galaxy S21 and the S21+ feature a new triple-lens camera system with a 12MP primary sensor and a myriad of new shooting options. 8K Video Snap has been improved, allowing you to grab sharper stills from 8K footage shot on either phone, and Super Steady video mode now supports 60fps video.

Writing with the S Pen on the Galaxy S21 Ultra

Source: Samsung (Image credit: Source: Samsung)

The new Director's View mode allows you to monitor live previews from each lens at the same time, with the option to swap views on command to show different perspectives within in a single capture. Speaking of, Single Take mode is now in version 2.0, with new options for Highlight Video and Dynamic Slow-Mo recordings. On the photography side, Space Zoom has been improved as well, with a new Zoom Lock feature that reduces camera shake to produce cleaner, clearer images at 30X zoom.

Of course, for the ultimate power user, the Galaxy S21 Ultra will provide Samsung's top-of-the-line experience, featuring a curved 6.8-inch display that reaches up to 1500 nits of peak brightness. This is also Samsung's first phone to support a 120Hz variable refresh rate at QHD+ resolution, though it can dip down to as low as 10Hz when displaying static images to preserve battery life.

The S21 Ultra finally introduces S Pen support to the Galaxy S line.

The S21 Ultra delivers Samsung's most powerful quad-camera system, fronted by an upgraded 108MP "Bright Night" sensor with 9:1 pixel binning, drastically improved low light performance, and the ability to capture 12-bit HDR photos. This is the first device in Samsung's lineup that allows you to capture 4K video at 60fps across all five of its lenses, front and back, with the option to capture in 12-bit RAW format while shooting in Pro Mode.

Powering the 100X Space Zoom on the S21 Ultra is Samsung's first-ever dual telephoto lens system, consisting of an optical 3X zoom and an optical 10X zoom — both of which feature Dual Pixel autofocus for improved clarity.

Perhaps the most signficant distinguishing feature of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is its support for Samsung's S Pen stylus, which was previously reserved for the company's Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab models. The S21 Ultra features the same Wacom technology to enable pressure-sensitive drawing and writing, though without a way of charging the S Pen, Bluetooth-enabled wireless features like remote shutter operation is incompatible.

Galaxy S21 Ultra with S Pen

Source: Samsung (Image credit: Source: Samsung)

The Galaxy S21 Ultra will work with S Pens from previous Galaxy Note or Galaxy Tab devices, and Samsung will additionally be selling both standalone S Pens and S Pen-compatible S21 Ultra cases. When asked about what this means for the future of the Note series, Samsung's TM Roh responded "we remain committed to providing the best mobile experience to our consumers and will continue to actively listen and consider consumer feedback in our product innovations."

Both the Galaxy S21+ and S21 Ultra feature UWB 5G, with sub-6 support on the Galaxy S21, and the S21 Ultra comes equipped with the newly announced Wi-Fi 6E. In addition to improved networking speeds, UWB will allow the S21+ and S21 Ultra to be used to automatically unlock compatible cars from partnering brands.

All three Galaxy S21 models will be available for pre-order starting January 14 at 11AM EST, with incentives like a free Galaxy SmartTag and a $100, $150, or $200 credit (depending on your chosen model) available through Samsung directly. The Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra will launch January 29 for $799.99, $999.99, and $1199.99, respectively, and Samsung is offering up to $700 of trade-in credit at the time of purchase.

Hayato Huseman

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.