Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Plus: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Vs S21 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Vs S21 Plus (Image credit: Android Central)

Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Silver

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is an absolute beast of a flagship, offering a stunning 120Hz QHD+ AMOLED panel with dynamic refresh rate, the latest internal hardware with 12GB of RAM as standard, and global 5G connectivity. It works with the S Pen, has Wi-Fi 6E connectivity, a 5,000mAh battery, and quad cameras that deliver truly outstanding photos.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

The ultimate flagship

QHD+ AMOLED with 120Hz dynamic refresh
Snapdragon 888 with global 5G
Android 11 out of the box
Compatible with S Pen
Quad cameras, 40MP front lens
Great 5,000mAh battery
No microSD slot

Galaxy S21+

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Render Phantom Violet Back Official

The Galaxy S21+ is by no means a bad phone, but it misses out in a few areas. You are still getting the latest silicon the industry has to offer, along with Sub-6 and mmWave connectivity, a great FHD+ AMOLED panel with 120Hz refresh, fantastic cameras, and all the extras. If you don't need the features that are exclusive to the S21 Ultra, this is a great alternative.

Galaxy S21+

Missing a couple features

120Hz FHD+ AMOLED panel
Snapdragon 888 with global 5G
Android 11 out of the box
Great battery life with 4,800mAh capacity
Fantastic cameras
Slightly more affordable
No QHD+ panel
No microSD slot
Doesn't work with S Pen
No wide-angle lens

The Galaxy S21 series is now official, and there are three models to choose from: S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra. All are likely to be some of the best Android phones in 2021. Here are all the differences between the S21+ and S21 Ultra, and what device is better suited to your needs if you're looking for a new phone in 2021.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21+: There are a lot of differences here

With the Galaxy S21 series, Samsung is once again setting the bar for the industry to follow. But unlike last year, where there was little difference between the S21+ and S21 Ultra, Samsung is doing things a little differently. The S21+ comes with a few compromises, with Samsung's latest innovations reserved for the S21 Ultra instead.

Unlike last year, most of Samsung's latest innovations are exclusive to the S21 Ultra.

What that means is that there are a lot of differences this time around. The Galaxy S21+ has a 6.7-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen, but the resolution itself is FHD+ — not QHD+ like last year. The S21 Ultra, however, gets a QHD+ panel. What's interesting this time is that Samsung is enabling 120Hz even in QHD+ mode, and is rolling out dynamic refresh rate that scales from 11Hz to 120Hz.

Another differentiator is the curvature of the screen — the S21+ has a flat panel whereas the S21 Ultra gets a dual curved panel. As for the internal hardware itself, both devices are powered by Qualcomm's latest 5nm Snapdragon 888 chipset.

Qualcomm says the platform is up to 25% faster in day-to-day tasks and 35% faster for gaming, so we will have to see how those claims hold up in real-world use. Global versions of the S21+ and S21 Ultra feature the Exynos 2100, with Samsung LSI overhauling its design to bring it to a level footing with Qualcomm.

However, the biggest difference is the S Pen. Samsung is making its stylus compatible with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but only that model; you won't be able to use it with the S21+. So if you like using the stylus, you now have the ability to do so with Samsung's 2021 Galaxy S flagship.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Vs S21 Plus

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

As for the rest of the hardware, the S21+ has 8GB of RAM and is available with 128GB or 256GB of storage. The S21 Ultra, meanwhile, has 12GB of RAM with the 128GB and 256GB models, and there's also a 16GB/512GB version. Samsung got rid of the microSD slot on both phones, so you will need to pick up the 256GB model if you want more storage.

The S21 Ultra edges out the S21+ in most key areas.

The S21 Ultra has Wi-Fi 6E connectivity, with the S21+ featuring Wi-Fi 6. Both devices have Sub-6 and mmWave 5G connectivity, and Samsung offers global 5G bands. There's also ultra-wideband connectivity on both phones.

Rounding out the hardware, both phones have IP68 dust and water resistance, 15W wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, and 25W wired charging. They also feature glass backs and a layer of Gorilla Glass Victus at the front and back.

The S21 Ultra has four cameras at the back: a 108MP primary lens, 12MP wide-angle module, and two 10MP zoom lenses that go up to 10x optical zoom. There's also a 40MP camera on the back, and Samsung is touting significant gains from the S21 Ultra, making it the default option if you take a lot of photos. The S21+ features a 12MP + 12MP combo on the back, but it's missing a wide-angle lens.

In terms of software, both phones run One UI 3.0 based on Android 11 out of the box. With Samsung providing three guaranteed Android updates to its flagships, you won't have to worry about these phones becoming obsolete anytime soon.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21+: All the specs

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CategorySamsung Galaxy S21 UltraSamsung Galaxy S21+
Operating systemAndroid 11One UI 3.0Android 11One UI 3.0
Display6.8-inch 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED3088x1440 (20:9)HDR10+Gorilla Glass Victus6.7-inch 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED2400x1080 (20:9)HDR10+Gorilla Glass Victus
Chipset (NA)Snapdragon 8881 x 2.84GHz X13 x 2.42GHz A784 x 1.80GHz A55Adreno 6605nmSnapdragon 8881 x 2.84GHz X13 x 2.42GHz A784 x 1.80GHz A55Adreno 6605nm
Chipset (Global)Exynos 21001 x 2.9GHz Cortex X13 2.8GHz A784 x 2.2GHz A55Mali-G78 MP145nmExynos 21001 x 2.9GHz Cortex X13 2.8GHz A784 x 2.2GHz A55Mali-G78 MP145nm
Storage128GB/256GB/512GB UFS3.1128GB/256GB UFS3.1
microSD slot
Rear camera 1108MP f/1.8, OIS8K at 30fps4K at 60fps12MP f/1.8, OIS8K at 30fps4K at 60fps
Rear camera 210MP, f/3.0telephoto, OIS5x optical zoom12MP, f/2.2wide-angle
Rear camera 312MP, f/2.2wide-angle64MP, f/3.0telephoto, OIS5x optical zoom
Rear camera 410MP, f/2.2telephoto
Front camera40MPauto focus10MP f/1.7auto focus
Connectivity5G (Sub-6 and mmWave)Wi-Fi 6E MU-MIMOBluetooth 5.1 LE, NFC, GPS5G (Sub-6 and mmWave)Wi-Fi 6 MU-MIMOBluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, GPS
AudioUSB-CStereo speakersUSB-CStereo speakers
ChargingUSB-C PD3.0Fast charge (25W)Wireless chargingUSB-C PD3.0Fast charge (25W)Wireless charging
Water resistanceIP68IP68
SecurityIn-display fingerprint sensorFace unlockIn-display fingerprint sensorFace unlock
Dimensions165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm228g161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8mm202g
ColorsPhantom Black, Phantom SilverPhantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Violet

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21+: There's a clear winner

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

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

Last year, the Galaxy S20+ overshadowed the S20 Ultra because of its feature-set. There wasn't much in the way of differentiation between the two products, and the issues with the S20 Ultra's camera meant that the S20+ was the better overall option.

The situation has been reserved for 2021. The Galaxy S21+ feels like a modest upgrade in a lot of areas, with the S21 Ultra getting all the exciting features. The S21+ has an FHD+ AMOLED screen with 120Hz refresh, whereas the S21 Ultra has a QHD+ panel and dynamic refresh rate tech that scales from 11Hz to 120Hz.

The S21 Ultra has the upgrades you care about, making it the clear winner.

Both phones feature the Snapdragon 888 (Exynos 2100 in global markets), but the S21 Ultra has the edge in terms of memory. The phone has 12GB of RAM as standard, with the S21+ featuring 8GB across all storage versions. There's no microSD card on either phone, and with the base models offering 128GB of storage, you will need to pick up the 256GB if you want additional storage.

Then there's the camera: Samsung has fixed the issues with the S20 Ultra, and the 108MP camera on the S21 Ultra should be one of the best of any phone this year. It is also getting two 10MP zoom lenses that go up to 10x optical zoom, and the quad camera array gives it a distinct edge over the S21+. The S21 Ultra also has a 40MP camera at the front, with the S21+ featuring a more modest 10MP lens.

That isn't all either. The S21 Ultra also gets Wi-Fi 6E connectivity, and the biggest feature addition is the compatibility with S Pen. It is a big deal that Samsung is bringing the S Pen to a phone that's not in the Note series, and while the stylus isn't bundled, you will be able to pick it up as an accessory. The fact that you're getting all these features for just $200 more than the S21+ makes the S21 Ultra the obvious choice in 2021. Add to that the fact that you are already saving $200 over last year's Galaxy S20 Ultra, and you can use that surplus to get a great case for your S21 Ultra. There really isn't anything missing here, and the sheer number of features you're getting makes it one of the best phones this year.

The flagship you deserve

The Galaxy S21 Ultra takes things to a whole new level. You'll find Samsung's latest innovations here, including a stunning QHD+ AMOLED panel with 120Hz dynamic refresh, Snapdragon 888 chipset with global 5G, 108MP lens with two 10MP zoom modules, Wi-Fi 6E, and a 5000mAh battery. Still not sold? You can even use the S Pen with this phone.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.