Samsung just made a huge mistake with Galaxy S21 pricing in India

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy S21 series, and the exciting news is that all three models cost $200 less than their Galaxy S20 counterparts — at least in the U.S. Samsung was able to bring down the costs by switching the S21 and S21+ to FHD+ screens and getting rid of the charger and earbuds in the box, and in doing so it made the S21 series that much more affordable.

But that's not the case in India. Unlike other global markets, the S21 series costs considerably higher in India, and that's because of one factor: 5G connectivity. Samsung released 4G-only versions of the Galaxy S20 series last year in India, and by not offering 5G, it was able to be aggressive with the pricing. Here's the breakdown of Galaxy S20 launch prices last year:

  • Galaxy S20: ₹66,999 ($916)
  • Galaxy S20+: ₹73,999 ($1,012)
  • Galaxy S20 Ultra: ₹92,999 ($1,272)

Here's the Galaxy S21 pricing in India:

  • Galaxy S21: ₹69,999 ($958)
  • Galaxy S21+: ₹81,999 ($1,122)
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra: ₹105,999 ($1,450)

There's a ₹13,000 ($178) difference between the base version of the S20 Ultra and S21 Ultra, so instead of the phone being $200 lesser, it is costlier by that same margin. The regular S21 doesn't fare well either for a phone that costs ₹69,999 ($958), with Samsung offering a plastic back and an FHD+ 120Hz panel — similar to the Galaxy S20 FE, which is one of the best Android phones right now.

With the S20 FE now selling for just ₹40,999 ($561), it's hard to see why anyone would pick up the S21 over the 2020 value flagship. Even the S20+ is available for ₹54,999 ($754), which is a bargain over the S21 and the S21+.

Samsung backed itself into a corner, leaving the door wide open for OnePlus and Xiaomi.

Now, what makes this particularly annoying is that there was no need for Samsung to go this route. There is no 5G connectivity in India, and that situation won't change for a while. Local carriers Airtel and Vodafone Idea haven't signaled their intent to roll out 5G service, and while Jio is running limited 5G trials at the moment, it has a long way to go before delivering 5G connectivity to the general public.

So why did Samsung decide to launch 5G-enabled versions of the Galaxy S21 series in India? The answer has to do with the iPhone 12. Apple's 2020 flagships include 5G connectivity across the board, and Samsung must have felt the need to follow suit. After all, it removed the charger and earbuds from the packaging — just like the iPhone 12.

Samsung's strength lies in local manufacturing — all of its phones sold in India are locally made — and distribution, but it hasn't been able to use them to its advantage in this scenario. Its fumbles with the Galaxy S21 pricing in India means the South Korean manufacturer has left itself vulnerable against Chinese rivals. OnePlus in particular has done well in the premium category in India, and while the OnePlus 8 didn't see much momentum, the company is looking to change that with the upcoming OnePlus 9 series.

The same holds true for Xiaomi. India's largest phone manufacturer made inroads into the high-end segment last year with the Mi 10, and the Mi 11 continues that momentum with exciting upgrades. Of course, both OnePlus and Xiaomi offered 5G-enabled phones in India last year and will do the same in 2021, and even then the OnePlus 9 and Mi 11 should debut in India for considerably less than the regular Galaxy S21.

So if you are in the market for a new high-end phone in India, you're better off with last year's Galaxy S20 series. While the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a slate of exciting features, the S21 and S21+ don't really push the needle in terms of hardware to warrant the prices that Samsung is asking right now.

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.