Samsung had a remarkable end to 2020 with a number of standout devices like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the affordable Galaxy S20 FE, so all eyes are on the Galaxy S21 to see if it can keep the ball rolling in 2021.
Samsung was killing it with its late-2020 smartphone lineup, but it wasn’t doing so in a vacuum. The iPhone 12 was, by far, the most notable competition with the dominant A14 Bionic processor and the addition of the new smaller screened iPhone 12 mini along with the massive iPhone 12 Pro Max.
We’ve already seen considerable leaks and rumors regarding all three expected Galaxy S21 models, so here’s everything we know so far about the release date, pricing, design, specs and more.
Galaxy S21 release date
Samsung’s Galaxy S launch has fallen in mid-to-late February for years now, arriving immediately before Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile event in the world. It typically kicks off the flagship smartphone releases for the year.
However, according to nearly every reliable rumor and leak available, including the most recent that originated from one of Samsung’s own stores in India, that will come to an end in 2021 as Samsung will reportedly move the launch up a full month and announce the Galaxy S21 on January 14.
Prolific and reliable leaker @OnLeaks claimed the event would move to January all the way back in October and, in early November, we got further clarification from one of the most reliable leakers, Jon Prosser, who pinpointed the announcement date as January 14 along with revealing a few other details.
Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+, S21 Ultra 👀Announcement: January 14, 2021Pre-order: January 14, 2021Launch: January 29, 2021Black, White, Grey, Silver, Violet and PinkNovember 3, 2020
If that wasn’t enough, @MaxWinebach threw his support behind the January 14 date when he shared a number of leaked promo videos for the Galaxy S21. Given the additional confirmation from the Samsung store source this month, it seems that, barring a change in plans, we will be getting the Galaxy S21 on January 14.
Galaxy S21 price
The Samsung Galaxy S20 started at $999 at launch last year with the S20 Plus jumping up to $1,199 and the S20 Ultra at $1,399. It was a bit of a shock and certainly set the tone for many of the smartphone announcements that followed through the summer with $1,000+ flagships becoming the norm.
Many of the fall launches told a slightly different story though, with an increasing number of excellent devices launching in the $700 to $800 range, including Samsung’s own Galaxy S20 FE. While it is possible that Samsung sticks to its established pricing, there are some rumors that we could see a fairly aggressive price drop for the Galaxy S21 this year.
One South Korean blog made that claim earlier this month, reporting that its sources were pointing to a potential $100 to $150 price drop across the entire range, which would bring the Galaxy S21 down to $849 to $899, the Galaxy S21 Plus down to $1,049 to $1,099 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra down to $1,249 to $1,299, depending on the config you choose.
While we haven’t seen considerable hard evidence for these claims, it seems credible for a few reasons. One is simply the current economic conditions dictating that this will help Samsung perform better. The company has seen massive sales with the Galaxy S20 FE; bringing the core Galaxy S line closer to that pricing could yield similar results.
A significant reason for the price spike last year was the increased Snapdragon 865 cost; it’s possible Qualcomm has reduced that with the Snapdragon 888, although we don’t have confirmation of that. Finally, Samsung has traditionally run sales early and often on its new smartphones, making the retail pricing a bit misleading. The company could simply be adjusting the retail pricing and we won’t see the immediate aggressive discounts.
Galaxy S21 specs
Naturally, these are all unconfirmed specs at this time, but here are the best estimates for the four iPhone 12 models based on available rumors and leaks.
|Samsung Galaxy S21||Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus||Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra|
|Display||6.2-inch FHD+, 120Hz||6.7-inch FHD+, 120Hz||6.8-inch WQHD+ LTPO, 120Hz adaptive|
|Processor||Snapdragon 888||Snapdragon 888||Snapdragon 888|
|Cameras||12MP Primary, 12MP ultrawide, 64MP telephoto||12MP Primary, 12MP ultrawide, 64MP telephoto||108MP Primary, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto, 10MP 10x telephoto|
|5G support||Sub-6GHz and mmWave||Sub-6GHz and mmWave||Sub-6GHz and mmWave|
|Battery||4,000 mAh||4,800 mAh||5,000 mAh|
|Colors||Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Pink, Phantom Violet||Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Pink, Phantom Violet||Phantom Black and Phantom Silver|
Galaxy S21 design
Design is one thing we believe we have down cold for the Galaxy S21 with the aforementioned leak from Max Weinbach giving us actual teaser videos for each of the three variants. Prior to that, we had extensive leaks regarding the precise schematics for the devices and had seen numerous renders, which also align with the devices seen in the teaser videos. This leaves us with no doubt that they are real.
pic.twitter.com/TvnFyFgzMADecember 8, 2020
While those who were hoping for a drastic redesign will be let down, the Galaxy S21 does look like a nice refinement of the Galaxy S20. The most notable change is on the back; the camera array. What was formerly a standalone rounded rectangle just a few millimeters from the top and side edges now flows smoothly into the frame. While this is unlikely to resolve my complaint about these devices being incapable of resting flat on a surface, I think it will be a marked improvement in the feel and the ease with which it goes in and out of a pocket.
The front panel on both the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus are flat with a centered hole-punch camera at the top. The Galaxy S21 Ultra gets the more premium looking curved edge display, but still features the centered hole-punch camera.
The rest of the design looks essentially identical to the Galaxy S20 with rounded edges, a volume rocker, and a multifunction button along the right side with a USB-C port at the bottom.
Samsung, as always, will give us some new color options this year with “Phantom” being the term applied to all of the colors this time around. The Galaxy S21 will be available in Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom Gray and Phantom White. The Galaxy S21 Plus gets Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom Black and Phantom Silver. Finally, the Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t enjoy quite as many options with Phantom Black and Phantom Silver. The matte finish paired with some of the bold accent colors, such as the Phantom Violet with its gold edges and camera array, could make a serious statement.
Galaxy S21 cameras
When it comes to pure camera specs, Samsung has certainly been the dominant player in the US smartphone market. Based on what we know of the Galaxy S21, it will hold on to that title in 2021.
Starting with the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus, these devices will reportedly share identical camera specs including a 12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide and 64MP telephoto. This matches exactly with what the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus offered last year, so the specs we’re looking for here are upgrades to either the Pixel size, aperture or sensor size, and we have yet to see anything that detailed leak.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is again the standout with a move to a four-lens array on the back. A new 108MP primary matches the MP count from last year, but is reportedly an updated sensor; this is accompanied by a 12MP ultra-wide then a pair of 10MP telephoto lenses at 3x and 10x zoom. This will allow Samsung to offer the 100X Space Zoom that got a lot of attention last year. Finally, for those who had issues with the S20 Ultra focusing, the S21 Ultra is adding the laser focus system from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which we found to be reliable.
While it doesn’t seem like Samsung has managed to actually reduce the size of the camera bumps ( something I found irritating last year) I am eager to see whether having integrated them into the edge of the phone has improved matters. Visually, it’s a big upgrade whether it has a functional impact or not. As always, the simple solution is to add a case, which is never a bad idea for your roughly $1,000 smartphone anyway.
Galaxy S21 display
The screens of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus are, in some ways, a step back from the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus. While they retain their 6.2 and 6.7-inch sizes, they will apparently only offer FHD+ resolution, rather than the QHD+ of their predecessors. I suspect the reasoning lies in the fact that users last year needed to choose between QHD+ resolution or 120Hz refresh rate and the vast majority presumably made the latter choice. With that knowledge, Samsung can save money on a feature that was going largely unused.
I don’t view this as a problem. Having used the Galaxy S20 FE, which was also locked at FHD+, the AMOLED is still brilliant and I can’t imagine moving away from 120Hz for the extra resolution as the smooth performance is worth the trade-off.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra takes a slight hit on screen size, dropping to 6.8 inches from 6.9 inches last year, but it more than makes up for that with the move to an LTPO panel, like what was found on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. This means that it is able to offer a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate on its QHD+ screen, shifting the resolution and frame rate based on what is on screen. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra remains the best smartphone display that I tested in 2020, so that gives me high hopes for the S21 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy S21 performance
Samsung is typically one of the first to use Qualcomm’s latest flagship chip each year, and that likely won’t change. Referring back to the leak from Samsung’s store in India, the Galaxy S21 will house a Snapdragon 888 inside.
Further support with a glimpse at early benchmarks comes courtesy of a Geekbench 5 listing for the Galaxy S21. These first numbers were a little rough considering that, while the Galaxy S21 put up a solid 1,075 single-core that would put it ahead of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s 985 single-core with the Snapdragon 865+, the multi-core was 2,916, falling short of the 3,294 we saw from the Note 20 Ultra.
I would be patient on this one as there is little to no chance that the Snapdragon 888 won’t outperform the Snapdragon 865+ once it is optimized. At the same time, if you had any hope that the Galaxy S21 would somehow manage to outperform the iPhone 12, you can put that wish to rest.
Some of the other performance benefits of the Snapdragon 888 also won’t be felt with these synthetic benchmarks, so we’ll need to get the devices in for review to find out how real-world performance affects things like photo performance.
Galaxy S21 outlook
It seems Samsung isn’t rocking the boat with the Galaxy S21. Based on what we know, there’s a lot of continuity from the Galaxy S20 with just a few tweaks that could make for a better overall user experience.
Given Samsung’s place in the market, I don’t think that’s really a problem as it continues to offer a few hardware advantages others are failing to match with its displays and ludicrous camera options, particularly with what we expect to see on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The real story of the Galaxy S21 is likely to be the potential pricing change. The minimal design change and a couple of feature reductions would likely be forgiven in the face of a $100 to $150 price cut.
The good news is we don’t have long to find out. On January 14, we expect to see Samsung take the stage and answer all the rest of our questions about the Galaxy S21.