Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Is the upgrade worth it?

The base Samsung Galaxy S21 looks great, but we break down whether it’s worth investing even more in the pricier S21 Ultra.

Woolworths Mobile
Woolsworth Mobile
Galaxy S21 128GB
4 out of 5 stars
4
  • pro
    18GB/mth, unlimited calls/text, data rollover
  • pro
    From $54.44/mth (36mths)
Woolworths Mobile
Woolsworth Mobile
Galaxy S21 Ultra 128GB
4 out of 5 stars
4
  • pro
    18GB/mth, unlimited calls/text, data rollover
  • pro
    From $72.44/mth (36mths)
Telstra
Telstra
Galaxy S21 128GB
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
  • pro
    40GB/mth, unlimited calls/text
  • pro
    From $107/mth (24mths)
Telstra
Telstra
Galaxy S21 Ultra 128GB
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
  • pro
    40GB/mth, unlimited calls/text
  • pro
    From $136/mth (24mths)
Optus
Optus
Galaxy S21 128GB
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
  • pro
    10GB/mth, unlimited calls/text
  • pro
    From $73.68/mth (36mths)
January 15, 2021
4 min read

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Our verdict

Put simply, the only reason to buy a Samsung Galaxy S21 instead of an S21 Ultra is because you want to save money. How much you’ll save isn’t to be snuffed at, but the considerable extra investment in the S21 Ultra gets you everything you’d want in a top-tier Galaxy phone: better performance, improved battery life, a better display, and insanely high-res photography.


Buying a new Samsung Galaxy smartphone is already a sizeable investment if you opt for a new base model, but the cost goes up more if you opt for the top-tier Ultra variant. And that’s absolutely the case in our comparison between the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the S21 Ultra.

Read on for the full breakdown or have a gander at our other comparison pages: the S21 vs the S20 FE and the S21 vs the S10.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Price

This is an easy one and, spoilers, the only category that the Samsung Galaxy S21 wins over the S21 Ultra. While the S21 base handset costs start at $1,249, the S21 Ultra costs kick off at $1,849, which is a whole lot more. That’s a cost difference of $600, or around the cost of buying a Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G handset. If you’re keen to save hundreds, pick the S21 over the S21 Ultra.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21

Model
128GB
256GB
512GB

Galaxy S21

Galaxy S21 Plus

Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 plans

Below is a daily updating list of the most popular Postpaid plans that include a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S21 handset (plans will be added as soon as they're available).

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra plans

If you’d prefer to pay more per month for the top-tier Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, check out this list of popular Postpaid plans below (plans will be added as soon as they're available).

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Specs

Scroll on if you’re after comparisons across specific meaningful categories, but before we dive into those breakdowns, check out the side-by-side specs for the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra.

Specs
Galaxy S21
Galaxy S21 Ultra

Price (RRP)

From $1,249

From $1,849

Display

6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2XHDR10+

6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2XHDR10+

Resolution

1080 x 2400

1440 x 3200

Pixels-per-inch (ppi)

~421

~516

Refresh rate (max)

120Hz

120Hz

Max brightness (nits)

1300

1600

Weight

171g

220g

Battery capacity

4,000mAh

5,000mAh

Charging

Fast Charging 25WUSB Power Delivery 3.015W Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging4.5W Reverse wireless charging

Fast Charging 25WUSB Power Delivery 3.015W Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging4.5W Reverse wireless charging

Front (selfie) camera

10MPDual video callAuto HDR4K up to 60fps1080p @ 30fps

40MPDual video callAuto HDR4K up to 60fps1080p @ 30fps

Rear cameras

Ultra-wide camera (12MP, 120°, F2.2)Wide-angle camera (Dual Pixel 12MP, F1.8)Telephoto camera (64MP, F2.0)

Ultra-wide camera (12MP, 120°, F2.2)Wide-angle camera (Dual Pixel 108MP, F1.8)Telephoto camera (10MP, F2.4)Periscope telephoto (10MP, F4.9)

Camera features

LED flashAuto HDRPanorama

LED flashAuto HDRPanorama

Video recording

8K @ 30fps4K up to 60fps1080p up to 120fps720 @ 960fpsHDR10+Stereo sound rec.

8K @ 30fps4K up to 60fps1080p up to 240fps720 @ 960fpsHDR10+Stereo sound rec.

Memory (RAM)

8GB RAM

12GB RAM16GB RAM (512GB model)

Internal storage

128GB256GB

128GB256GB512GB

Expandable storage

No

MicroSDXC

Processor

Exynos 2100

Exynos 2100

Operating System

Android 11One UI 3.1

Android 11One UI 3.1

Network

5G

5G

S Pen/Stylus

Not supported

Supported

Wireless

WiFi 6Bluetooth 5.1

WiFi 6Bluetooth 5.1

Water and dust resistance

IP68 (up to 1.5m for 30 min)

IP68 (up to 1.5m for 30 min)

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Camera

If you want to capture top-of-the-line picture and video, you’re going to have to pay for it. While the Samsung Galaxy S21 has a great selfie camera and triple-camera configuration on the back, it can’t compete with the S21 Ultra. For starters, the selfie camera is four times the resolution on the S21 Ultra (40MP vs 10MP).

On the back, the wide-angle camera on the S21 Ultra boasts nine times the resolution of the S21 (108MP vs 12MP). While on paper the S21 has a higher-res telephoto camera – 64MP compared to the S21 Ultra’s 10MP equivalent – the S21 Ultra combos the regular telephoto lens with a 10MP periscope camera for even greater versatility. Low-light photography is also set to be better on the S21 Ultra, too.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Design

Normally, this consideration would be moot given the reality that the big difference between the chasses is that one houses a bigger screen. But what edges the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra to the top is the inclusion of an S Pen, which is typically reserved for the Samsung Galaxy Note line and is rumoured to be an improved stylus. On top of this, the S21 Ultra has five colour choices (with Black being the only crossover choice) compared to the S21’s four options. Given the extra screen real estate, the S21 Ultra isn’t a whole lot bulkier or heavier, either.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Display

There’s no contest here, either, with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra offering a noticeably improved screen in comparison to the S21. The S21 Ultra’s screen is bigger (6.8-inch vs 6.2-inch), boasts a higher resolution (1440x3200 vs 1080x2400), and better max brightness (1600 nits vs 1300). If that doesn’t dissuade you, both Samsung smartphones have 120Hz refresh rates on HDR10+ AMOLED 2X displays.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Performance

On paper, the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra should both perform pretty much identically. That’s because they both have an eight-core Exynos 2100 processor to handle demanding apps and tasks. Where the S21 Ultra pulls ahead is in multitasking which, thanks to at least 12GB of RAM (compared to the S21’s 8GB), means it should feel snappier when you’re jumping between stacks of open apps.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Battery life

A bigger screen size, higher resolution and better max brightness are great user-friendly perks, but they’re also boons that are more draining on battery life. Combine that with more powerful innards, and it’s a good thing that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 5,000mAh. This is comfortably above the 4,000mAh battery life of the S21 and suggests that the S21 Ultra should have comparably better battery life, as was the case with the S20 Ultra compared to the S20.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Ultra: Which should I buy?

If budget is important to you, the easy answer is to buy the Samsung Galaxy S21, which still has great features for the price you pay. For those with a bigger budget for a new smartphone, though, the extra investment in an S21 Ultra gets you beefier performance, boosted battery life, a better screen, and superior photography/video results.

Now that you know, here are your next steps.

Still looking? Read up on the entire Samsung Galaxy family

Or find a better phone plan for the latest handsets

Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence
Nathan Lawrence has been banging out passionate tech and gaming words for more than 11 years. These days, you can find his work on outlets like IGN, STACK, Fandom, Red Bull and AusGamers. Nathan adores PC gaming and the proof of his first-person-shooter prowess is at the top of a Battlefield V scoreboard.

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