Samsung releases a range of Galaxy S flagship smartphones every year with design tweaks, camera improvements and more cutting-edge tech than the previous generation, and this year is set to be no different, with the Galaxy S21 range on the way.
2020’s Galaxy S20 lineup initially consisted of three phones, in the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra, more recently expanding to include the cheaper S20 FE. Samsung looks to be continuing this trend into 2021, with what was initially assumed to be called the Galaxy S30, but has since been confirmed to reflect the year itself, as the Galaxy S21 range.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra improved considerably on the S20 Ultra, so we’re excited to see what Samsung will stuff into these next Galaxy S phones.
When is the Samsung Galaxy S21 release date?
Looking at the company’s biggest releases of 2020, it would make sense to expect the S21 series’ debut in February 2021, however, it appears that isn’t to be the case.
Following on from a long run of rumours and leaks (included after the video clip), on 3 January 2021, Samsung issued virtual event invites to a new Galaxy Unpacked event, set to take place on 14 January at 7am PT/10am ET/3pm GMT.
The invite includes the below video clip, which conceals what’s thought to be a representation of the S21’s distinct new camera arrangement.
Beyond the phones’ collective unveiling, Samsung China along with Samsung US have now put the devices up for pre-order. In China, a CNY¥100 deposit is in place for “Samsung’s first 5G flagship of 2021.” While the site doesn’t mention the S21 by name, there’s little doubt that this is what’s on offer here.
There are no additional details with regards to product images or actual pricing, while 21 of those who do move through to final purchase, once device pre-orders are wholly available, are in with a chance of nabbing an S21 for free.
Meanwhile, US customers can reserve a pre-order (so no money is required to change hands at this stage) and doing so bags those that do US$50 credit to spend on Samsung Galaxy accessories like earbuds or wearables, along with a further $10 when using the Shop Samsung app for Android.
Previously, Jon Prosser, cited a launch date of 14 January, with pre-order availability kicking off on the same day and the phone range going on sale two weeks later on 29 January.
Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+, S21 Ultra 👀
Announcement: January 14, 2021Pre-order: January 14, 2021
Launch: January 29, 2021
Black, White, Grey, Silver, Violet and Pink
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser)
November 3, 2020
Talk of an earlier launch window has circulated for a while now, with one of the first leaks from an established source on the matter, OnLeaks (aka Steve Hemmerstoffer), pointing to the earlier-than-usual release window of January 2021, marrying up with separate reports that production and manufacturing on the next S series commenced far earlier than previous generations ever had.
Hemmerstoffer shared a number of revealing S21-related posts with claims that his source stated, “Samsung will officially introduce the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra in January 2021!”
This was then corroborated by Korean news site Maeil Business (as spotted by Sleepy Kuma, on Twitter), whose sources suggested that the phones would be announced in the first portion of January and go on sale in either late January or early February (lining up with Prosser’s claims).
Such a shift is thought to be an attempt to grab the number-one slot in the market at the fore of 2021, simultaneously pulling attention and sales away from Apple’s iPhone 12 line while also continuing to capitalise on Huawei’s inability to compete under the restrictions of the US Entity List.
What will the Samsung Galaxy S21 price be?
The freshest rumours on pricing come from tipster Landsk, via the Korean-language blog, Naver.
The pricing table mentioned highlights the potential price ranges (in US Dollars) of each of the three expected Galaxy S21 models; with the base S21 expected to cost between $850 and $899, the S21+ at somewhere between $1050 and $1099, and the top-tier S21 Ultra coming in at $1250 to $1299.
The Samsung Galaxy S20+
In the US, 2020’s base Galaxy S20 started at $999, while in the UK there was the option of a 4G-only variant costing £799 (the base S20 in the US came with 5G as standard). The S20+ cost £999/$1,199, while the spec-heavy S20 Ultra cost £1,199/$1,399.
When it comes to value from year to year, there’s also what comes in the box to consider. There’s a chance that this year’s Galaxy S series will go the way of the iPhone 12 line and ditch both the in-box headphones and power adapter that usually feature.
Such news comes from Korean site ChosunBiz, who suggests that – in a similar fashion to Apple’s latest iPhones – Samsung will nix the earbuds and potentially the adapter from the boxes of its Galaxy S21 handsets, citing an ‘industry source’ who stated that “beyond the similarity between the functions and designs of the Galaxy and the iPhone, they have a great influence on each other’s launch policy.” [machine translated from Korean]
What about the Samsung Galaxy S21 specs?
In terms of what to expect from the hardware that Samsung is utilising for its next-gen Galaxy S devices, the previously-mentioned posts from OnLeaks gave us our first look at renders of both the standard Galaxy S21 and the beefier S21 Ultra, along with dimensions and a couple of additional tidbits.
In mid-November Android Police were plied with a number of additional details, corroborated by multiple sources, covering both specs and design elements that provided the most robust look at what this year’s Galaxy S phones would offer.
A spy shot of both the S21+ and S21 Ultra then cropped up thanks to tech YouTuber Sakitech, showing both phones side by side, still covered in protective film (as shown in the video below).
This was then promptly followed by a source who supplied Android Police with what appeared to be legitimate leaked promotional footage for all three S21 devices; the S21 and S21+ dressed in Phantom Violet, and the S21 Ultra in Phantom Black.
Here’s the spot for the Galaxy S21:
…and here’s the almost identical clip for the S21+.
The spot for the S21 Ultra is a little different, lingering longer on that sizeable camera module.
At the tail end of 2020 well-known tipster Evan Blass shared what is supposedly the first official press images of the base Galaxy S21. It’s not much to look at – the phone’s front is arguably the least interesting of its design, but it is nice to see the proportions of screen-to-bezel here.
Source: Evan Blass | Voice
The most obvious change compared to last year’s S20 line is the new camera bump, the design of which is seen to flow in from the phone’s corner.
Samsung Galaxy S21 | Source: Steve Hemmerstoffer
Beyond that, the base S21 is stated to feature a flat 6.2in panel with a hole-punch front camera and approximate dimensions of 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm. Thickness supposedly rises to 9mm if you take into account the new camera bump. It’s also said to sport a plastic back, not unlike last year’s Galaxy Note 20.
Fellow tipster IceUniverse observed that, in a side-by-side comparison between these renders and press shots of the Galaxy S20, the 2021 phone actually sports thicker bezels, alluding to more affordable construction methods.
Whether this is just a case of Samsung saving money at the manufacturing stage or that this year’s phones will actually end up cheaper remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting observation that has bigger implications for Samsung’s strategy in 2021.
In a separate post, IceUniverse also restates that the base S21 and the Plus models will both feature flat or “2D” displays, while the Ultra’s is set to sport curved edges. Bezels along all sides are also said to be of equal thickness, rather than sporting a thicker bottom edge compared to the other sides.
Additional details from the initial Android Police report state that the standard S21 and the Plus will make use of LTPS 120Hz Full HD+ screens (lower resolution than last year’s models), while the Ultra will opt for an LTPO WQHD+ adaptive 1-120Hz panel.
Astonishingly, you can also see the S21+ in action in the video below. YouTuber Random Stuff 2 somehow got ahold of what certainly looks like a real piece of S21+ hardware and shows it off in detail in an ‘unofficial review’ video on his channel. The video is only five minutes long, so well worth watching if you’re curious.
Perhaps most interestingly, in the case of the Ultra, Samsung is apparently adding in S Pen stylus support, although unlike its Note line, the phone won’t feature an integrated stylus and instead it’ll be sold as a standalone accessory, along with a compatible case complete with its own S Pen holder.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra | Source: Steve Hemmerstoffer
This – echoed by a recent statement from Samsung’s own DJ Koh – feeds into reports that Samsung might be retiring the Note line in 2021, to make room for devices like the Galaxy Z Fold Scroll.
An FCC filing relating to the S21 Ultra, as unearthed by Android Authority, reinforces the promise of S Pen compatibility, with direct mention of its testing and functionality alongside the phone, within a dedicated report. The entry suggests that the S21 Ultra may be able to charge the S Pen and that the stylus’ hover-and-click gesture remains intact.
With no internal cavity for the S Pen to reside within on the Ultra, you may be wondering where and how it’ll be stored and charged. For that, we turn to Roland Quandt and WinFuture.de who served up leaked photos of the phone’s official ‘Clear View’ folio case, which will apparently serve this additional purpose.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is getting is getting an optional S Pen, making the Galaxy Note series kinda obsolete.
Here’s your first official look at the new Stylus and how Samsung will let you carry it along in the official Clear View and Silicone Covers: https://t.co/HtAuyoVrfi
— Roland Quandt (@rquandt)
January 4, 2021
Mention of a silicon case (not pictured) offering up similar functionality has also been reported. WinFuture also suggests the S21 Ultra’s S Pen, which will be sold separately, will cost around €40.
Like its predecessor, the S21 Ultra is set to sport additional camera sensors (at least four instead of three) compared to its more modest namesakes, along with the new camera bump ‘island’ design.
Hemmerstoffer’s original article on the next Ultra’s camera setup also mentions a possible dual telephoto sensor setup, alongside a wide and an ultrawide sensor.
The display is stated to be 6.8in (according to AP) and is supposedly curved along the edges, unlike the standard model, while the phone is said to measure in at 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm or 10.8mm thick if you, again, factor in the camera bump.
Not long after the above renders were served up, OnLeaks brought a revised take on the Ultra to the table; renders that highlight a reworked camera module with what appears to be an additional component.
Initially, it was unclear whether this was a ToF (time-of-flight) depth sensor or something else but it was a feature that wasn’t made apparent until the latest DVT (Design Validation Test) prototype was spotted (this is described as the phase before mass production).
To add to OnLeaks’ renders, website MySmartPrice acquired unrendered CAD files of the Galaxy S21+, with more measurements to match.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ | Source: MySmartPrice
The renders show a familiar layout compared to OnLeaks’ imagery of both the standard and Ultra models, with an ‘island’ triple-sensor camera bump, a centrally-justified hole-punch selfie camera and no sign of a headphone jack.
Dimensions clock in at 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.85mm, while the phone is reported to sport a 6.7in flat display (corroborated by AP’s report).
If you’re curious to see what the S21+ might more realistically look like (beyond Sakitech’s one leaked photo), renders of the phone – again supposedly based on accurate CAD files – emerged by way of a collaboration between xleaks7 and Italian site CoverPigtou.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ | Source: xleaks 7 × CoverPigtou
Following on from analyst Ross Young’s initial tweet on the matter, beyond base colour’s for each device, AP’s report also includes the branding that Samsung likes to preface its colourways with, “Phantom.”
The standard Galaxy S21 will come in Phantom Pink, Phantom Grey and Phantom White, while both it and the Plus model will also be up for grabs in Phantom Violet. Both the S21+ and S21 Ultra will also come in Phantom Black and Phantom Silver.
For a better look, WinFuture.de acquired renders in December 2020, showing off the S21/S21+ in a range of their purported colourways, as well as the S21 Ultra in Phantom Silver.
Samsung Galaxy S21/S21+ (above), S21 Ultra (below) | Source: WinFuture.de
So what about beyond the bodywork? The S21 range looks as though it’ll support Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chipset or the company’s own forthcoming Exynos 2100 flagship chip – depending on market.
While previous generations of Galaxy S phones have demonstrated a disparity between the Exynos and Qualcomm-based internals, this year’s Exynos 2100 will reportedly be “on-par or better than the Snapdragon .”
Samsung has, in fact, started to tease the 2100 directly, with the chip slated as launching on 12 January – two days before the S21 range is set to make its debut.
#Exynos_is_backA whole new Exynos is coming.January 12th, 2021. pic.twitter.com/d85kT9Xvru
— Samsung Exynos (@SamsungExynos)
December 18, 2020
A Galaxy S21 with the Snapdragon 888 was initially spotted on Geekbench 5 (via GSMArena), its model number being ‘SM-G991U’. It was listed as running Android 11 and sporting 8GB of RAM, and it scored 2916 in the multi-core test.
However, what is alleged to be an Exynos 2100-powered Galaxy S21+ (also sporting 8GB of RAM) appeared on benchmarking app Geekbench, with a multi-core score of 3107 – a big step up from the score of 2695 we saw when we tested the S20+, though behind the Snapdragon version.
More recently, the Exynos version has again been spotted on Geekbench, now revealing much better performance than we had been anticipating. @UniverseIce has shared a screenshot revealing a score of 3963 points in the multi-core test.
An FCC listing has since reaffirmed the existence of a Snapdragon 888-powered Galaxy S21, headed for the US market specifically, citing a chipset with the model name ‘SM8350’. The device itself is also listed with the model number ‘SM-G991U’ and the listing makes mention of 9W reverse wireless charging, mmWave 5G, WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC connectivity and battery model EB-BG991ABY, which recently appeared on China’s 3C certification site with a 4000mAh capacity.
On top of OnLeaks’ camera insights, the next Ultra’s camera is again reported to centre around an updated 108Mp sensor.
Galaxy S21 Ultra，Still 108MP, the sensor is the successor to HM1
— Ice universe (@UniverseIce)
August 19, 2020
The S20 Ultra was a fine phone save for its disappointing cameras, which struggled with autofocus issues and other faults that don’t come across based on its spec sheet alone.
There’s a rumour that Samsung might drop the time-of-flight sensor from the S21 too, just as it has done with the Note 20 phones. The hardware helps with portrait mode photos but Samsung lags behind here compared to Apple and Google.
This has also been corroborated by a separate IceUniverse leak, that suggests the S21 Ultra will instead use a laser autofocus system – the same adjustment made to the Note 20 Ultra’s camera system (to great effect).
As for that 108MP snapper, the tweet also points to the as-yet-unseen ISOCELL Bright HM3, the “successor to the HM1” as mentioned above. While it’s said to offer the same 0.8µm individual pixel size and same pixel count as the HM1, it supposedly offers 12% better light sensitivity, meaning faster low-light shooting, among other benefits.
Separately, SamMobile states, via industry sources in Korea, that the upcoming flagship will still feature a quad-camera setup. Improvements, though, will come as “more telephoto glass should equate to a better variety of quality images at higher focal lengths.”
The site says the S21 Ultra’s dual telephoto zoom lenses will feature 3x and 5x magnification respectively using a periscope mechanism. There will also be a 108Mp wide-angle camera, 12Mp ultra-wide lens and a 40Mp selfie camera.
Some of this info is at odds with what appears to be the most up-to-date insight on these phones’ camera setups (from AP), with mention of 10Mp 3x and 10x optical zoom cameras instead.
Meanwhile, the other two members of the range won’t come with significant upgrades in this area. Like the Ultra, they won’t have a time of flight (ToF) sensor but will have better optical image stabilisation. Reports of a 12Mp main sensor, a 12Mp ultrawide and a 64Mp telephoto, much like last year’s devices, is said to feature across both the base and Plus models.
Up until this point, we’ve stated that the ultrawide across all three devices is set to sport a 12Mp resolution but while that may still be the case by default, a new tweet from Ice Universe implies that it’ll actually be a 48Mp sensor (presumably pixel-binning to reach that 12Mp cited resolution).
The ultra-wide camera sensors of the Galaxy S21 series are upgraded to IMX 563, with a 123° wide angle (S20 series 120°)
— Ice universe (@UniverseIce)
December 13, 2020
The tweet states that the ultrawides across the S21 range will have a wider field of view than their predecessors and will also use Sony’s IMX563 sensor – the same snapper used by the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s Space Zoom system. Better yet, autofocus is set to reportedly be part of the ultrawide experience too.
For a brief moment, it was also thought that this next range of Galaxy S phones would be the first of Samsung’s to debut an under-display front-facing camera setup, however, according to Korean news site The Elec (via Android Authority), this tech is now being bumped onto the Galaxy Z Fold 3 – assumed to be launching later into 2021.
The reasoning behind the S21 series missing out? Low yield at the manufacturing stage – a limitation of certain cutting-edge technologies that makes it a much better fit on a more exclusive device like the Z Fold 3 – assuming that’s what Samsung decides to call the future foldable.
Separately, it looks like there could be significant upgrades to the phone line’s wired charging chops. Dutch publication GalaxyClub reports that the S21 could support 65W charging speeds, up from 45W on Samsung’s current flagships. The site has unearthed a Samsung charger certification called ‘EP-TA865’, with the last two digits hinting at 65W. This seems like a credible rumour, especially when you consider the current charger is officially known as ‘EP-TA845’.
That said, an unknown Samsung device dubbed ‘SM-G9910’ (for reference, the Galaxy S20 was model number SM-G981) has recently made its way through 3C approval (again, China’s approval certification system) with a reported 25W fast charging; this coming via MyFixGuide, who previously suggested that this year’s S21 Ultra will have a 4855mAh battery.
Separately, the same source has suggested that the base S21 will feature a smaller 3880mAh cell.
AP’s report states that all three phones will support a minimum of 25W fast charging and feature 4000mAh, 4800mAh and 5000mAh batteries respectively, matching up with the previously-mentioned FCC listing, in the case of the base S21.
As for software, the S21 range will reportedly arrive on Android 11, with Samsung’s own One UI 3.1 overlay on top. We don’t know much about what to expect from the update, except for one odd tidbit: SamMobile reports it will introduce Bixby Voice as a biometric option, letting users unlock their phone using voice recognition powered by Samsung’s beleaguered virtual assistant, though no doubt this will be even less secure than the phone’s facial recognition tech.
Samsung Galaxy S21 wish list
Here are a few things we wish Samsung would do to improve the S21 handsets over the S20 generation.
120Hz at full resolution
We’d like to see the option of 120Hz at full QHD+ resolution (on the Ultra at least, as it’s transpired that the S21 and S21+ may top out at Full HD+ resolution anyway). On the S20s you had to pick between QHD+ at 60Hz or Full HD+ at 120Hz – you can’t have both at their highest settings simultaneously. Samsung needs to fix that this time around, as other OEMs already offer it.
Better all-round camera performance
The Note 20 Ultra was a better-balanced phone all-round, and the S20 Ultra has ended up being one of 2020’s big smartphone disappointments. Samsung’s saturated images are just about keeping up, but Apple has a better all-round camera array on the iPhone 12 line than any of the S20 phones.
Face ID-style biometrics
If it can’t do an in-screen camera then we’d like Samsung to try and incorporate a 3D Face ID system, similar to Apple, if possible. Currently, manufacturers are avoiding doing this because the camera array needed requires a physical notch. But until Samsung’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensors are more reliable, it’d be nice to have secure face unlock and biometric identification. All the S20 and Note 20 phones only use 2D face recognition for unlocking and not for biometrics.
Snapdragon for everyone
Unless Samsung can bring the Exynos chips up to scratch with Qualcomm’s 8-series (which does seem to be a possibility), then we’d love to see the Snapdragon 888 in every S21 phone in 2021. It’d go some way to improving the phones destined for European customers who are year-after-year buying a device with noticeably worse battery life and a lower ceiling on performance.
Related stories for further reading