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Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus unveiled: Price, release date, specs and more

Samsung Galaxy S21 colors
(Image credit: Future)

Samsung's Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus have finally arrived, and while we knew quite a bit about the hardware already, there are always a few surprises left. One rumor that proved true could be the story of the Galaxy S21 lineup, that is, the $200 price reduction for both phones, bringing them to $799 and $999, respectively.

This makes them far more competitive with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro and marks a significant change for Samsung. Of course, the question is what corners were cut to get there, so here's a look at everything you need to know about the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus price and availability

The Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus are available for pre-order from Samsung.com starting today at 11 a.m. Eastern time and will be widely available starting on January 29. 

The base model Galaxy S21 starts at $799 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage with an option to upgrade to 256GB of storage. It's available in Phantom Grey, Phantom White, Phantom Violet or Phantom Pink.

The base model Galaxy S21 Plus starts at $999 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage with an option to upgrade to 256GB of storage. It's available in Phantom Black, Phantom White or Phantom Violet.

Pre-orders made between January 14 and January 28 will receive $100 Samsung Credit for the Galaxy S21 and $150 with the Galaxy S21 Plus for use on Samsung.com and a free Galaxy SmartTag.

Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus specs

Galaxy S21Galaxy S21 Plus
Display (resolution, refresh rate)6.2 inches, 2400 x 1080-pixels (421 ppi); 120Hz Adaptive Dynamic AMOLED 2X6.7 inches, 2400 x 1080-pixels (394 ppi); 120Hz Adaptive Dynamic AMOLED 2X
5G support?YesYes
CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 888Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM8GB8GB
Storage128GB or 256GB128GB or 256GB
Rear CamerasTriple camera; 12MP, f/1.8 main; 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide; 64MP 3x telephoto f/2.0Triple camera; 12MP, f/1.8 main; 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide; 64MP 3x telephoto f/2.0
Front camera10MP, f/2.210MP, f/2.2
Video captureUp to 8K at 24 fps; 4K at 60fpsUp to 8K at 24 fps; 4K at 60fps
Battery capacity4000 mAh (25W charging)4,800 mAh (25W charging)
Water resistanceIP68IP68
ColorsPhantom Grey, Phantom White, Phantom Violet or Phantom PinkPhantom Black, Phantom White or Phantom Violet
Size6 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches6.4 x 3 x 0.31 inches
Weight6.03 ounces7.12 ounces

Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus design

The Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus haven't seen a significant redesign from last year. The biggest change for both is the rear camera array that now features Samsung's "Contour Cut Camera housing." The jutting camera array on the back of the smartphones from last year was essentially shifted slightly and joined with the top and sides of the smartphone for a smoother and more elegant look.

We'll have to see what this feels like in person, but at least at first glance, it appears to be a considerable improvement over the old design. It should be more comfortable to hold and particularly for the Galaxy S21 Plus more pocket friendly. As an added bonus for Samsung, it gives the phones a more unique profile to make them stand out.

At 6 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches and 6.4 x 3 x 0.31 inches respectively the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus are very similar in size to last year's models. Weight is just slightly heavier for both at 6.03 and 7.12 ounces, respectively.

That's a bit surprising for the Galaxy S21 as it has moved to a plastic back this year, while the Galaxy S21 Plus has retained its glass back. This is likely to spark some complaints from those that prefer glass, but after having spent time with the Galaxy S20 FE last year, I don't think this is a concern and it's certainly worth the $200 price drop.

The matte finish on the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus is worth noting as well; it's a much more premium look than the glossy finish of the past and should offer some reprieve from fingerprint smudges for those who go without a case.

Samsung Galaxy S21 front

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus display

In another move that is sure to frustrate some fans, the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus now feature FHD+ displays rather than the QHD of their Galaxy S20 counterparts. This is surely a cost-saving measure, but I suspect it is also informed by the fact that most users likely stuck to FHD+ last year on the Galaxy S20 models to enjoy the 120Hz refresh rate.

Speaking of that refresh rate, both models now offer the adaptive refresh rate found on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra last year, which allows them to scale from 48Hz up to 120Hz depending on the content on the screen. This is a worthwhile trade for that resolution as getting to enjoy those smooth frame rates without having to sacrifice the battery life that comes with running at 120Hz all day is much more useful than the extra pixels.

The rest of the display technology is otherwise the same with an edge Dynamic AMOLED 2X that remains one of the best panels on the market. Peak brightness is now 1,000 nits on both models. Samsung rarely disappoints with its displays, so we'll be interested to see how they perform in our testing.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus camera

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus cameras

While the camera housing got a new look, the cameras on the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus are identical to the triple array of last year. This includes a 12MP at f/1.8 primary wide-angle, a 12MP at f/2.2 ultra-wide and a 64MP 3x telephoto at f/2.2. 

This was already a versatile set of lenses and while it would perhaps have been nice to see some additional advancements. We've seen Google stick with the same camera on the Pixel line for years now while constantly improving the results so perhaps we'll see something similar from Samsung this year.

To that point, Samsung is offering an increased focus on AI-powered photography, something that it has lagged behind Google and Apple in the past. The Snapdragon 888 chipset found in both models offers some enhanced photo capabilities in this regard as well, so it's possible that this is finally the year that Samsung puts things together.

Samsung has added a number of new and improved camera modes again this year. Night Mode should deliver better results and the Single Take 2.0 will leverage the aforementioned AI to produce a collection of photos and videos based on a single extended capture. While the 30x Space Zoom is more of a neat trick than a useful photography tool, the new Zoom Lock should help to make those photos more usable with added stability.

Video options are similar to last year with 8K capture at up to 24fps, the Snapdragon 888 technically supports up to 30fps, so it's possible we see that unlocked with a software update. A helpful new addition is the 8K Snap, which will let you extract a high-resolution photo from your 8K recordings. Considering most of us don't have 8K displays, this is perhaps the most useful application of 8K right now beyond future-proofing. One other cool new video feature is Vlogger View, which lets you capture video from all of the rear and front cameras at once and switch between each seamlessly; the name implies who it is targeting, but it could be a useful tool for capturing video of your family or a sporting event.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus colors

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus performance

The Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus are both powered by the new Snapdragon 888 chipset. Qualcomm has stated that it offers a 20% boost to CPU performance and 25% to graphics when compared to the Snapdragon 865 in last year's Galaxy S20 lineup.

The Snapdragon 888 is no threat to the A14 Bionic's dominance, however, other than iPhone 12 owner bragging rights this isn't really much of a concern. The reality is that the Snapdragon 888 should offer plenty of power for any productivity, gaming, or any other task that you can throw at it. 

RAM drops to 8GB rather than the 12GB of last year's models. This hasn't been a problem for me with the Galaxy S20 FE, but it is something we'll look carefully at in our review. Storage options are 128GB or 256GB.

Connectivity is fully future-proofed with support for 5G and Wi-Fi 6.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra battery screen

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus battery life and charging

The Galaxy S21 gets the same 4,000 mAh battery as last year, while the Galaxy S21 Plus gets a bit of a bump up to 4,800 mAh (versus 4,500 last year). Samsung didn't have any specific battery claims, but it states that it is applying a number of new AI features to ensure better battery life than last year, we'll find out in our lab and real-world tests. 

The rumors of Samsung removing the charger from the box were true, so Samsung fans can now commiserate with Apple fans over their lost chargers, although Samsung fans at least saw a $200 price drop to go with the lost charger.

If you need a new charger and want the full speeds available, both phones support fast charging at up to 25W, so that's your target.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus back

(Image credit: Future)

Outlook

While there are certainly a few steps backward with the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus, I'm not convinced that any of them will make for a meaningfully worse experience for users. The $200 price drop puts them in direct price competition with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro and, if you compare the features side-to-side, it's pretty clear that the Samsung phones still have the edge in most regards.

Improvements like the adaptive 120Hz refresh rate and superior computational photography could easily have buyers forgetting about the few hardware downgrades and simply happy to have an extra $200 in their pocket.