Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus vs. Galaxy S20 Plus: Should you upgrade?

Galaxy S21 Plus Colors
Galaxy S21 Plus Colors (Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy S20+

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

The Samsung Galaxy S20+ was a powerhouse upon its release and had a price tag to match. With that, you got a beautiful QHD display, SD card support, MST for mobile payments, and a huge battery. This phone is still a great buy today.

Samsung Galaxy S20+

A step forward

SD and MST support
120hz refresh rate
Gorgeous QHD Display
Older processor
Fewer storage options
Smaller battery

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Render Phantom Violet Back Official

The Samsung Galaxy S21+ has a better processor, and there are more storage options, but the upgrades to this phone over its predecessor are minimal. One big upgrade is the price, which Samsung lowered for this generation of devices. But Samsung had to make some sacrifices to get there.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

A step back

Cheaper at introduction
Bigger Battery
Better Processor
Brighter Screen
Dynamic Refresh Rate
FHD+ resolution
No upgrade in Camera
Flat screen

Typically, year after year, we see gradual improvements in a phone's successor. The processor will be a little better, the screen will get a little sharper, and you'll get something a little more in the new version, making decisions like this very difficult. This year, Samsung went differently (and some will argue a better way) by deciding how to deliver value for your hard-earned dollars best. Samsung brought down the cost of their "Plus phone," but it had to cut many corners to do that. But is it the right pick for you?

Samsung Galaxy S20+ vs. S21+: What are the differences?

Interestingly enough, there are few differences between the two phones. The body of the phone is the same, within fractions of millimeters. The Galaxy S21 Plus sports a flat screen while the Galaxy S20 Plus has the curved screen of old. Some will call this an improvement, but that is strictly a matter of taste. Let's take a look at the specs.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Samsung Galaxy S20+Samsung Galaxy S21+
Display6.7 inch AMOLED6.7 inch AMOLED
Resolution1080 x 24001440 x 3200
Refresh RateUp to 120HzUp to 120Hz
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 865Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Storage128GB128GB / 256GB
Main Camera12MP Wide12MP Wide
Telephoto Camera64MP Telephoto64MP Telephoto
Ultrawide Camera12MP Ultra-wide12MP Ultra-wide
Front Camera10MP Wide10MP Wide
Memory Card?YesNo
Dimensions161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8mm161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8mm
Water ResistanceIP68IP68
Battery4,500 mAh4,800 mAh

Two notable departures from the phone are SD card support and Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST). SD card support would allow you to insert a memory card into your phone and greatly increase its memory capacity without costing too much. The best microSD cards out there will double your storage. As 5G and cloud services proliferated, SD card support became less necessary.

Samsung Galaxy S20+ vs. S21+: It's all about that processor

In terms of computing power, the obvious difference between the two is the Galaxy S21's Snapdragon 888 processor. Qualcomm's most powerful processor to date boasts a 25% improvement in CPU performance and a 35% boost in GPU performance. That means your phone will be faster and will be able to churn through hordes of data in the blink of an eye. Most notably, processing videos, animations, and gaming will have zero lag nor stutter.

Plus, the Snapdragon 888 carries an integrated 5G modem, which will make the chip more power-efficient. The Snapdragon 865 required a separate modem. Power is much more efficient when everything is located in the same processor. That means the Snapdragon888 will be even easier on your battery.

Samsung Galaxy S20+ vs. S21+:The cameras are the same, but different

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Camera

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

The camera module on the Galaxy S21 is identical to that on the Galaxy S20, minus the TOF sensor. But here, the Snapdragon 888 also makes a big difference in the realm of photography. The Image Signal Processor (ISP) on the Snapdragon 888 got a significant boost in the form of the Spectra 580.

The Spectra 580 has three different 14-bit ISPs that can take in up to 2.7 Gigapixels of light in a second. That's a 35% increase over what was found in the Snapdragon 865. Plus, the ISP can shoot up to 120 photos per second or three 4K video streams at the same time. The camera setup on the S21 won't even make the ISP flinch since it's capable of processing images from three different 28MP cameras at once. Overall, Qualcomm alone is upping Samsung's photography game.

Samsung Galaxy S20+ vs. S21+: Only slightly better

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Source: Samsung (Image credit: Source: Samsung)

Taken on its own, the Galaxy S21+ is a really great phone. It's got almost everything you could want in a premium phone. It has a beautiful design, gorgeous screen, top-tier processor, good amounts of RAM and storage (although not the best). It has a great camera setup. Unfortunately, this phone follows the Galaxy S20 from last year, and most of it is the same as its predecessor. It takes a little time to wrap your head around the fact that this year's phone isn't really demonstrably better in any real way, except price. The Samsung Galaxy S21 is essentially a Galaxy S2.0.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Galaxy S20+ was a monster phone in its own right. If anything, it's the preview of the phone we'd be getting this year. Once you factor in a slightly bigger battery, more storage, and a beefier processor, the Galaxy S21 looks like a very powerful phone. Still, it's not enough of an upgrade to justify buying it if you already have the Galaxy S20+.

When you consider everything together, the Galaxy S21 is slightly better than the Galaxy S20, but only slightly. That's because of the price drop that the world economy basically demanded of Samsung. Unfortunately, SD card components and MST coils, and R&D on a new camera setup drive up cost immensely. Basically, Samsung got a reality check. Hopefully, as we advance, Samsung will continue to offer value in its flagships.

Samsung Galaxy S20+ vs. S21+: Should you upgrade?

The bottom line is that if you already have a Samsung Galaxy S20+, there is no reason to upgrade. In fact, some might argue that the S21+ is a downgrade in many ways. All the same, the Samsung Galaxy S20+ is still a powerful phone, with an exceptional array of cameras and a few extras that this year's phone doesn't have. That is a phone to be proud of and easily able to survive another year, if not more, in your pocket.

But if you don't own an S20+, then the S21+ is a great phone in its own right. It's got the latest generation processor, larger storage options than the S20+, a slightly bigger battery, and by the way, it's less expensive than its predecessor. It's a good buy. It just doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Adam Doud

Adam has been writing and podcasting the mobile tech space for almost a decade. When he's not writing, he hosts the Benefit of the Doud podcast, spends way too much time on Twitter, and redesigns his office space over and over.