Assuming the orders we placed for a Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Ultra arrive today, a solid two days before launch, we’ll finally get to dive into the newest and best that Samsung has to offer. While getting our hands on these two devices is going to be fun enough, if we didn’t do this for a living and need to bring these devices in house, I’ve been wondering if this year would be an easy skip year or if this line is a must-cop.
To be clear, when our pre-orders show up in a few hours, these will be the units we review. We buy the phones that Samsung releases for review purposes because the company has for years ignored our requests for media review units. By doing so, we then get to take cash straight from our pockets a couple of times per year, sometimes at amounts closing in on $2,000, and do what we do. As an example, for 2020 we did it for the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and the Galaxy S20 line.
I don’t necessarily have an issue paying for a phone to review. I am a human, though. And because I’m human, I’ve got to say, I don’t know that I would have really considered forking out cash for the regular Galaxy S21 (or S21+) if in another situation. But as someone who is always down to play with the newest and best available, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has plenty of positives.
Skip the Galaxy S21 and S21+
The first thing you have to consider when shopping for the regular Galaxy S21 or Galaxy S21+ is that Samsung no longer views these phones as the best of the best. They priced them lower than last year’s matching Galaxy S20 phones, but that only happens because they made several cuts.
In case you missed that post, you should be aware that they dropped the screen resolution down to 1080p on both phones, took out the microSD card slot for expandable storage, reduced the RAM from 12GB to 8GB, tossed a plastic back on the regular S21, removed the 4th depth sensor camera from the S21+, killed off MST (Samsung Pay’s neatest feature), and isn’t giving you a charger or headphones. They also kept the same camera setup from the S20 and are hoping that Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 can do the heavy improvement lifting.
What I’m getting at is the fact that the Galaxy S20 line, outside of having last year’s best Qualcomm processor, is probably a better phone from a hardware standpoint. If you own one of those already, this won’t be an upgrade if you switch to a Galaxy S21.
With that said, coming form a Galaxy S10 or S9 or Note 10 or any Google Pixel phone, this is still going to be a decent upgrade. However, looking through that list of cuts again makes me wonder if finding a deal on the Galaxy S20 isn’t a decision worth considering instead.
That S21 Ultra, though
For 2021, Samsung has basically told us that the Galaxy S line is separated into two categories now. On one side you get the regular experience (S21, S21+) that’s semi-affordable and lacking in all of the top features you’re used to. On the other side you get to have it all – you get the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
While I just ran through all of the cuts that Samsung made in the two phones above, not all of that applies to the S21 Ultra. For example, Samsung didn’t cut storage or RAM and they kept the full QHD display and let you run it at 120Hz. They also took the camera setup from the Galaxy S20 Ultra and tried to dramatically improve it after seeing the lackluster response last year.
Samsung painted this year’s S21 Ultra in matte black, improved the look of the massive camera module, and lowered the price by $200. In many ways, they improved the Galaxy S21 Ultra and yet still managed to price it under the S20 Ultra.
So yeah, if I were looking for my next phone and Samsung was the company I decided to pick from, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the phone I’d go with.