Galaxy S21: What did Samsung change since last year? Not a whole lot

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Samsung’s new lineup (from left): the $800 Galaxy S21, $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus and $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra. 

Drew Evans/CNET

Samsung took to its virtual Unpacked stage in January to take the wraps off its next-gen Galaxy S21 lineup, consisting of the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra. All three are available to purchase now. So it’s a good time to revisit the company’s now last-gen flagship phones, the Galaxy S20 family, to examine what the South Korean phone-maker has changed, especially in light of its lackluster sales performance. The short answer? Not a whole lot.

Although Samsung made tons of improvements to last year’s Galaxy S20 series (including the addition of 5G and higher refresh rates, for instance), there are few salient changes in the Galaxy S21 lineup. For instance, the base S21’s major features like the screen size (6.2 inches), battery (4,000 mAh) camera module, and display (120Hz), remain largely unchanged. 

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To be clear, Samsung did make the usual upgrades to the phone’s processor and the software it runs — it’s now on Android 11 with a Snapdragon 888 processor. It also improved the fingerprint sensor and 5G connectivity. Plus the highest-end S21 Ultra can now support a stylus known as the S Pen (sold separately), which is one of the more significant changes that blurs the line between the S series and the more pro Note series. There’s also the revamped camera housing design, which accentuates the camera lenses on the phones’ backs while linking them with their metal frames.

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But the standout feature of the S21 isn’t found in the device’s hardware or software. It’s its price tag. The S21 lineup has a starting price of $800 (£769, which is approximately AU$1,350), which is $200 less than last year’s $1,000 Galaxy S20. According to CNET’s Shara Tibken, it’s also the “flagship device’s biggest advantage in an increasingly crowded 5G phone market.”

It’s also important to note what Samsung removed from its S21 family to allow it to start at that lowered price. One of the most controversial changes is the lack of an in-box wall adapter and earphones. The South Korean company is pushing its customers to reuse older accessories in the name of the environment, just like Apple did with the iPhone 12 family. 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.”

If you want more more information on the differences between Galaxy S21 versus the Galaxy S20, take a look at our chart below.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. S20 vs. S20 FE vs. Note 20 specs

Galaxy S21

Galaxy S20

Galaxy S20 FE

Galaxy Note 20

Display size, resolution

6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (2,400×1,080 pixels),

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

6.5-inch super AMOLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels

6.7-inch AMOLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels

Pixel density

421ppi

563ppi

405ppi

393ppi

Dimensions (Inches)

2.80 x 5.97 x 0.31 in

2.72 x 5.97 x 0.311 in

6.29 x 2.97 x 0.33 inches

6.36 x 2.96 x 0.33 in

Dimensions (Millimeters)

71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9 mm

69.1 x 151.7 x 7.9 mm

159.8 x 75.5 x 8.4 mm

161.6 x 75.2 x 8.3 mm

Weight (Ounces, Grams)

6.03 oz; 171g

5.75 oz; 163g

6.70 oz; 190g

6.84 oz, 194g

Mobile software

Android 11

Android 10

Android 10

Android 10

Camera

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

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

12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 8-megapixel (3x telephoto)

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

Front-facing camera

10-megapixel

10-megapixel

32-megapixel

10-megapixel

Video capture

8K

8K

4K

8K

Processor

Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz)

64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5 GHz + 2.0 GHz)

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (5G) Samsung Exynos 990 (4G)

Snapdragon 865+

Storage

128GB/256GB

128GB

128GB

128GB

RAM

8GB

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

6GB

8GB

Expandable storage

None

Up to 1TB

Up to 1TB

None

Battery

4,000 mAh

4,000mAh

4,500mAh

4,300mAh

Fingerprint sensor

In-screen

In-screen

In-screen

In-screen

Headphone jack

No

No

USB-C

USB-C

Special features

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

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

120Hz screen refresh rate, support for 30W fast charging and 15W fast wireless charging

S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; water resistant (IP68)

Price off-contract (USD)

$800 (128GB)

$999

$699

$1,000

Price (GBP)

£769

£799, £899 (5G)

£599 (4G) £699 (5G)

£849 (4G) and £949 (5G)

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