3 major changes Samsung made to the Galaxy S21 to get that $200 price cut

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Drew Evans/CNET

Samsung’s much-awaited Galaxy S21 lineup arrived in January — and the standout feature isn’t found on its software or hardware. It’s its price tag. The next-gen flagship lineup starts at $800 (£769, AU$1,249) for the baseline Galaxy S21, rises to $1,000 (£949, AU$1,549) for the Galaxy S21 Plus, and maxes out at $1,200 (£1,149, AU$1,849) for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, representing a $200 price cut for the trio of models from last year’s S20 family.

Samsung promises its new S21 lineup works better than its predecessors, despite its cheaper price tag. But Samsung is a publicly listed business after all, and it needed to make a bunch of calculated compromises to allow the S21 to hit that lowered price, even if component costs are trending lower. Here are a few ways Samsung did exactly that.

Read more: The best phone to buy for 2021

1. Removed bundled charger and earphones

One of the most controversial omissions is the in-box wall adapter and earphones. Samsung is pushing its customers to reuse older accessories in the name of the environment, just like Apple did with the iPhone 12 family. Samsung has been using standardized USB-C type charging ports since 2017, so older chargers will still be compatible with the S21 phones.

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2. Memory, storage and resolution reduced or eliminated

The S21 line also lost expandable local storage, joining last year’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Z Flip foldables in ditching the microSD card slot because “usage has markedly decreased,” according to the company. One of the other trade-offs getting less attention is: a reduction in RAM on the base S21 (it has 4GB less RAM than the S20); the reduction of the screen resolution (by half) on the S21 and S21 Plus.

3. S21 phone loses glass backing

For its base S21, Samsung replaced the Gorilla Glass from the back with a high-end plastic called polycarbonate, going in the direction of its more pro Note 20 line. The S20 Plus and Ultra however, each have Victus glass on both the front and back.  

If you need more details, read CNET’s Galaxy S21 review for more or take a look at our specs chart below.

Samsung Galaxy S21 lineup vs. S20 lineup

Galaxy S21

Galaxy S20

Galaxy S21 Plus

Galaxy S20 Plus

Galaxy S21 Ultra

Galaxy S20 Ultra

Display size, resolution

6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x, (2,400×1,080 pixels)

6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X; (3,200×1440 pixels)

6.7-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x, (2,400×1,080 pixels)

6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3,200×1,440 pixels)

6.8-inch Edge WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, (3,200×1,440 pixels)

6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3,200×1,440 pixels)

Pixel density

421 ppi

563 ppi

394 ppi

525 ppi

515 ppi

511 ppi

Dimensions (Inches)

2.80×5.97×0.31 inches

2.72×5.97×0.31 inches

2.97×6.35×0.3 inches

2.9×6.37×0.30 inches

2.97×6.5×0.35 inches

2.99×6.57×0.35 inches

Dimensions (Millimeters)

71.2×151.7×7.9mm

69.1×151.7×7.9 mm

75.6×161.5×7.8 mm

73.7×161.9×7.8 mm

75.6×165.1×8.9 mm

76.0×166.9×8.8 mm

Weight (Ounces, Grams)

6.03 oz; 171g

5.75 oz; 163g

7.12 oz; 202g

6.56 oz; 186g

8.07 oz; 229g

7.76 oz; 220g

Mobile software

Android 11

Android 10

Android 11

Android 10

Android 11

Android 10

Camera

64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)

12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)

64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)

12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight camera

108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 10-megapixel (3x telephoto), 10-megapixel (10x telephoto)

108-megapixel (wide-angle), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight camera

Front-facing camera

10-megapixel

10megapixel

10-megapixel

10-megapixel

40-megapixel

40-megapixel

Video capture

8K

8K

8K

8K

8K

8K

Processor

Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz + 1.8GHz)

64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)

Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz+1.8GHz)

64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)

Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz + 1.8GHz)

64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)

Storage

128GB/256GB

128GB

128GB/256GB

128GB/512GB

128GB/256GB/512GB

128GB/512GB

RAM

8GB

12GB (5G), 8GB (LTE)

8GB

12GB (5G), 8GB (LTE)

12GB, 16GB

12GB, 16GB

Expandable storage

None

Up to 1TB

None

Up to 1TB

None

Up to 1TB

Battery

4,000 mAh

4,000 mAh

4,800 mAh

4,500 mAh

5,000 mAh

5,000 mAh

Fingerprint sensor

In-screen

In-screen

In-screen

In-screen

In-screen

In-screen

Headphone jack

No

No

No

No

No

No

Special features

IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging

5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; water resistant (IP68)

IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging

5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; water resistant (IP68)

IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 100x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, 10x optical zoom

5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; 100X zoom; water resistant (IP68)

Price off-contract (USD)

$800 (128GB)

$999

$1,000 (128GB)

$1,199, $1,349

$1,200 (128GB)

$1,399 (128GB), $1,599 (512GB)

Price (GBP)

£769

£799, £899 (5G)

£949

£999 (5G)

£1,329

£1,199 (128GB), £1,399 (512GB)

Price (AUD)

AU$1,249

AU$1349 (4G), AU$1,499 (5G),

AU$1,549

AU$1,499 (4G), AU$1,649 (128GB), AU$1,899 (512GB)

AU$1,849

AU$1,999 (128GB), AU$2,249 (512GB)

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