Galaxy S21: Everything you need to know

The Galaxy S21 range is all about looking good and spending less.

After a series of credible leaks, the Galaxy S21 range has been officially revealed at the annual Samsung Unpacked event. We now know everything there is to know about the Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. That said, not a lot was left to the imagination thanks to a series of trustworthy leaks that painted a near-complete picture for what to expect. Marketing materials and inside sources have revealed almost every detail about Galaxy S21 pricing, which colours will be available at launch, even complete spec lists made their way online. After getting an official first-look at the handset, it seems most of the leaks were on the money.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Galaxy S21.

Notable upgrades

Woman using S Pen with Galaxy S21 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features S-Pen stylus support.
  • Cheaper launch price than S20
  • Adaptive refresh rate
  • S-Pen support for S21 Ultra
  • A few compromises to build and power
  • No 4G model

As expected, the new Galaxy S21 has an upgraded triple-lens camera array, improvements to AI-powered photo processing hardware, a full-metal build, more durable glass, and an upgraded display with a variable refresh rate (48-120Hz) and support for the S-Pen with the S21 Ultra. Every device now supports 5G too, which is a welcome change. Lastly, there’s the updated look.

Not everyone’s going to love Samsung leaning into the infamous camera bump, but at first glance, it seems a little easier on the eyes. Whether it’s just as cumbersome or not, we won’t know until we get our hands on the device.

What does all that mean? It’s a more durable Galaxy with software upgrades that result in photography improvements for things like bokeh (the soft blurring of out-of-focus backgrounds). Most notable is perhaps the inclusion of S-Pen support for the S21 Ultra, something traditionally reserved for the Note range. The Wacom-developed S-Pen can be used with the S21 Ultra, but it’s sold separately. The other huge difference is the price at launch when compared with last year’s Galaxy S20 range. The Galaxy S20 5G 128GB launched at $1,499 in Australia, whereas the entry-level Galaxy S21 128GB costs $1,249, which is $250 cheaper. The cut costs result in a few minor downgrades, like slightly lower resolution in the display, and a little less RAM (12GB to 8GB), though that might not be that big of a deal (more on that further down).

Price

How much does the Galaxy S21 cost in Australia?

Galaxy S21 pink
The Samsung Galaxy S21 in Phantom Pink.
  • Starting at $1,249
  • Up to $2,149 at the premium Ultra end
  • Cheaper launch price than S20

Perhaps the biggest surprise is Samsung’s reduced launch prices across the range. Compared with last year’s 5G variants, the S21 Plus 128GB is $100 cheaper than the S20 128GB, the S21 Ultra is $150 cheaper than the S20 Ultra, and the Galaxy S21 is $250 cheaper than the Galaxy S20 was at launch.

Here’s the full list of Galaxy S21 range prices in Australia. 

Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra price in Australia
Model128GB256GB512GB
Galaxy S21$1,249$1,349-
Galaxy S21 Plus$1,549$1,649-
Galaxy S21 Ultra$1,849$1,949$2,149

Plans

All three phones are available through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Woolworths Mobile

As expected, the entire range of Samsung Galaxy S21 plans are available through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, and Woolworths Mobile. Telstra, Vodafone and Woolworths all have their own launch pricing and deals, but each carrier will throw in a pair of Galaxy Buds when you pre-order. Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus plans come with last year’s Galaxy Buds Live, whereas Galaxy S21 Ultra pre-orders come with the new Galaxy Buds Pro.

For more details on the best plans for each device, check out our guides below:

Most popular Galaxy S21 plans

Here are the most popular Galaxy S21 plans currently available in Australia.

Most popular Galaxy S21 Plus plans

Here are the most popular Galaxy S21 Plus plans currently available in Australia.

Most popular Galaxy S21 Ultra plans

Here are the most popular Galaxy S21 Plus plans currently available in Australia.

Design and colours

Looking better for less

Galaxy S21 colours
(Left to right) Galaxy S21 Phantom Grey, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink.
  • Plastic back panel
  • Six colour options on plan, eleven in total
  • Nicer camera bump

Before launch, a leak suggested there would be 11 colour options in total, with some really vibrant choices in the mix. As we said at the time, it was unlikely that Australia would get all 11 colour options but the reality is far more boring than we predicted. Australia will be getting every colour of the S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, but there’s a catch. If you’re buying on a plan, you only have have six colour options, at a stretch (Black/Grey and White/Silver are almost identical), whereas the the rest and, arguably, most interesting colours (Phantom Red, Brown,  Titanium, Navy and Gold) are exclusive to Samsung’s online store.

Here’s the full list of Galaxy S21 colours available:

  • Phantom Brown: S21 Ultra (Samsung Online exclusive)
  • Phantom Navy: S21 Ultra (Samsung Online exclusive)
  • Phantom Titanium: S21 Ultra (Samsung Online exclusive)
  • Phantom Gold: S21 Plus (Samsung Online exclusive)
  • Phantom Red: S21 Plus (Samsung Online exclusive)
  • Phantom Black: S21 Plus and Ultra
  • Phantom Silver: S21 Plus and Ultra
  • Phantom Violet: S21 and S21 Plus
  • Phantom Grey: S21
  • Phantom White: S21
  • Phantom Pink: S21

The design refresh won’t be for everybody. I like the dual-tone look of the camera bump and the body and while the infamous camera bump remains, it doesn’t seem as gaudy at first glance. But looks were only half the issue with last year’s camera bump, it was more about the feel. Laying the handset on its back felt like you were using the precious camera lens as a kickstand. We can’t comment on how the S21 feels in the hand, but we’ll update this page with our impressions when we get our hands on it.

The other design change in the S21 is that the rear panel is no longer made of glass, rather polycarbonate plastic. This is being discussed as a downgrade by many, but the butter-fingered among us should be thankful for the step back.

Display

Same stellar display with sligthly lower resolution.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and S-Pen
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra supports the S-Pen stylus.
  • Variable refresh rate: 48 – 120Hz
  • Lower resolution than S20
  • Same size as last year (Ultra is a little smaller)
  • A little brighter

There aren’t many changes to the display this year. The S21 and S21 Plus have remained the same size as the S20 and S20 Plus at 6.2 and 6.7 inches, respectively. The S21 Ultra is a fraction smaller this year, at 6.8 inches but also a little brighter at 1,500 nits peak brightness (compared to last year’s 1,400 peak).

The S21 and S21 Plus have also opted for a lower resolution display, 2400 x 1080 compared to last year’s 3200 x 1440. But it’s worth repeating, the resolution isn’t everything. Both displays still boast last year’s tidy Full HD Dynamic AMOLED “Infinity-O” display, though this year’s version has opted for a variable refresh rate (48 – 120Hz), rather than a locked 120Hz, meaning the display will boost as high as 120Hz when the situation calls for it.

Camera

Software improvements, while hardware remains largely the same.

Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Black
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Black.
  • No major hardware upgrades from S20
  • No depth sensor on S21 Plus
  • Software improvements across the board

Better camera, better processor, better display. That could be the pitch for just about every smartphone upgrade these days, but not the Galaxy S21. Samsung’s commitment to cutting the price means the cameras on the S21 and S21 Plus remain largely unchanged. Both devices still have triple-lens rear camera arrays with a 12MP Ultra-wide (F2.2. aperture) lens, a 12MP Dual-Pixel Auto Focus Wide-Angle (F1.8 aperture) lens, and a 64MP phase detection telephoto lens (F2.0 aperture) that boasts 3x hybrid optic zoom and a 30x digital Space Zoom. The S21 Plus actually loses the S20’s depth sensor, which is a shame, but it’s all in the name of matching the specs of the S21 and S21 Plus while maintaining the Ultra as the premium product. Which we’re fine with if it means driving the price down a little.

The S21 Ultra has made a few more changes to its camera than the S20 and S21 Plus. Firstly, the telephoto lens is only 10MP now, but it has a wider aperture (F4.9) than the S20 Ultra (F3.5) which could be considered more important than megapixel count. The 108MP pro sensor has seen an upgrade, allowing to capture 12-bit HDR photos, and each lens is now capable of shooting in 4K at 60 frames-per-second (including the front-facing selfie camera)

The Ultra also throws a much longer optical zoom, managing a 10x zoom with the phone’s hardware compared to the 3x zoom of the S20 Ultra. The digital 100x space zoom is still there too. The S20 Ultra’s Space Zoom has definitively labelled a gimmick when it first launched, but Samsung’s improvements to its AI-powered photo processing might make that feature a little more worthwhile.

Battery and charging

All in all, one less brick in the wall.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Violet with Galaxy Watch and Live Buds
(Left to right) Galaxy Live Buds, Galaxy S21 Phantom Violet, and Galaxy Watch Active 2
  • Same 4,000mAh battery in S20 and 5,000mAh battery in Ultra
  • Bigger 4,800mAh battery in S20 Plus
  • USB-C charging
  • No charging brick included

The battery of the S21 remains the same. It’s still a huge 4,000mAh lithium polymer battery, while the S21 Plus has gotten a small increase in battery size, from 4,500mAh to 4,800mAh. Though the biggest issue with the S20’s battery wasn’t so much the size, but the hit it took with 5G switched on. You have the option to switch 5G off, but most everyday consumers won’t know that when they first unbox their phone. Hopefully, the Galaxy’s new processor is better at balancing 5G connectivity and battery life than the model before it.

The biggest news here is that Samsung has followed in Apple’s footsteps, completely removing the power brick from the box. So all you get is a USB-C to USB-A cable to use with your previous brick. This is far less egregious than Apple’s lightning to USB-C setup. But just like Apple, the eco-friendly marketing is overshadowed by the simultaneous release of a proprietary wireless charger. Both companies used the same excuse when they stopped including headphones in the box, while also promoting their own premium wireless earbuds.

We’ll know more about the Galaxy S20’s real-world battery life once we’ve got our hands on the device.

Processor and memory

Farewell expandable memory.

Galaxy S21 in Phantom Pink
Galaxy S21 in Phantom Pink
  • Updated processor
  • Less RAM
  • 128GB and 256GB for S21 and S21 Plus
  • 256GB and 512GB for S21 Ultra
  • No expandable memory

Not every feature has fallen victim to cut costs. The Galaxy S21’s processor has been upgraded, which should result in better performance across the board, but is particularly relevant for photography, making up for the dip in camera hardware specs with beefier AI-powered post-processing.

There is, however, less RAM in the S21 and S21 Plus than the generation prior, dropping from 12GB of RAM to 8GB in the S21 and S21 Plus (the Ultra is still packing 12GB in the 128GB model, and 16GB in the 512GB model).

Broadly speaking, more RAM is typically a good thing and allows for smoother multi-tasking but the more important factor is how the operating system uses that RAM. The iPhone 12, for example, only has 4GB of RAM, but you wouldn’t know it because the iOS operating system is optimised to the eyeballs, allowing it to handle applications and data as efficiently as a device with more RAM.

Once again, whether the drop in RAM is enough to impact day-to-day use is yet to be seen. It won’t likely make much of a difference for the everyday user, and we’d take a cheaper launch price over more RAM any day of the week.

Lastly, there’s internal storage. Both the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus are available in 128GB and 256GB, while the S21 Ultra is available in 256GB and 512GB. However, most notably, the entire S21 family has removed the MicroSD slot, effectively canning expandable storage. Expandable storage was one thing Samsung users have always been able to depend on, and its removal is going to ruffle some feathers amongst fans.

Network and connectivity

No 4G models in sight, with 5G for all.

The entire Galaxy S21 family side-by-side.
  • 5G connectivity
  • No more cheaper 4G models
  • WiFi 6E

We bemoaned the need for a cheaper 4G handset when Galaxy S20 first launched. It just further complicated an already complicated market. And we praised the iPhone 12 for removing that element of choice. The illusion of 5G as a premium was paper-thin, particularly when most Australians couldn’t access it yet. We’re happy to report that, not only does the entire S21 range come with 5G but that even this year’s 5G models come cheaper than last year’s 4G options.

Worth the upgrade?

Early impressions look promising.

Firstly, we can’t recommend you go out and buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 until the reviews start to roll in. There are a few compromises that have been made to help trim the costs, and that could warrant concern for some. On paper, the cost-cutting on hardware wouldn’t be enough to turn me away, personally.

The annual release cycle of smartphones has become such a boring slog, and I truly feel like people have had just about enough over the past few years.

We’re seeing more interest in the mid-range market than ever, and with the financial devastation that 2020 wrought, the bravest move a smartphone manufacturer could make is drop the cost of their flagship smartphones.

Sure, a few hundred dollars off an absurdly expensive smartphone isn’t going to win Samsung a Nobel Peace Prize, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Here’s to looking good, and spending less.

Specs

Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE vs Galaxy S20.

If you’re really looking to get down and dirty with the nitty-gritty technical specifications of the Galaxy S21, we’ve listed the tech specs below and stacked them up against the Galaxy S20 and the Galaxy S20 FE.

Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 vs Galaxy S20 FE
SpecsGalaxy S21Galaxy S20 5GGalaxy S20 FE 5G
Price (RRP)From $1,249From $1,499From $1,149
Display6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
HDR10+
6.2-inch Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED 2X
HDR
6.5-inch Infinity-O Display Super AMOLED
HDR
Resolution1080 x 24003200 × 14402400 × 1080
Pixels-per-inch (ppi)~421~563~407
Refresh rate (max)120Hz120Hz120Hz
Max brightness (nits)130012001200
Weight171g163g190g
Battery capacity4,000mAh4,000mAh 4,500mAh
ChargingFast Charging 25W
USB Power Delivery 3.0
15W Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging
4.5W Reverse wireless charging
Super Fast Charging
Fast Wireless charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
Super Fast Charging
Fast Wireless charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
Front (selfie) camera10MP
Dual video call
Auto HDR
4K up to 60fps
1080p @ 30fps
Dual pixel 10MP AF
Aperture: F2.2
32MP
Rear camerasUltra-wide camera (12MP, 120°, F2.2)
Wide-angle camera (Dual Pixel 12MP, F1.8)
Telephoto camera (64MP, F2.0)
Ultra-wide camera (12MP, Aperture: F2.2)
Wide-angle camera (Super Speed Dual Pixel 12MP AF, Aperture: F1.8)
Telephoto camera (PDAF 64MP, Aperture: F2.0)
Ultra-wide camera (12MP, Aperture: F2.2)
Wide-angle camera (12MP Dual Pixel AF, OIS, Aperture: F1.8)
Telephoto camera (8MP, Aperture: F2.4)
Camera featuresLED flash
Auto HDR
Panorama
Space Zoom (up to 30x super-resolution zoom)
3x hybrid optic zoom
Single Take
Night Mode
Live focus
Space Zoom (up to 30x super-resolution zoom)
3x optical zoom
Optical Image Stablisation
Video recording8K @ 30fps
4K up to 60fps
1080p up to 120fps
720 @ 960fps
HDR10+
Stereo sound rec.
8K @ 24fps
4K up to 60fps
1080p up to 240fps
720 @ 960fps
HDR10+
Stereo sound rec.
4K up to 60fps
1080p up to 240fps
HDR
Dolby Vision HDR
Stereo sound rec.
Memory (RAM)8GB RAM8GB RAM8GB RAM
Internal storage128GB
256GB
128GB128GB
Expandable storageNoMicroSD (up to 1TB)MicroSD (up to 1TB)
ProcessorExynos 2100Exynos 990Exynos 990
Operating SystemAndroid 11
One UI 3.1
Android 10
One UI 3.0
Android 10
One UI 2.5
Network5G5G5G
S Pen/StylusSupportedNot supportedNot supported
WirelessWiFi 6
Bluetooth 5.1
WiFi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
Water and dust resistanceIP68 (up to 1.5m for 30 min)IP68 (up to 1.5m for 30 min)IP68 (up to 1.5m for 30 min)

Now that you know, here are your next steps.

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