At the beginning of 2020, weeks before the first US cities went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Samsung showed off a batch of new phones. Pricing for the least expensive of the lot, the Galaxy S20, started at an astonishing $1,000. Almost a year later, we’re still battling a fearsome spike in Covid cases, but the global health emergency hasn’t stopped Samsung from barreling along with new hardware. This time, appropriately, there’s less fanfare around the release.
At its second-ever virtual Galaxy Unpacked event on Thursday morning, Samsung took the wraps off of three new smartphones: the Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra. Where predecessors debuted new technologies like 8K video recording and up to 100X zoom with the camera, Samsung’s latest phones merely refine the Galaxy brand without adding much that’s new. More important, these phones cost less than the ones from last year.
The S21 starts at $800, the S21+ is $1,000, and the S21 Ultra is $1,200. All three are available for preorder, and they go out into the world on Friday, January 29.
There isn’t even a bedazzling foldable smartphone joining in on the fun this year. Instead, the two other announcements Samsung made Thursday are fairly utilitarian: an updated pair of wireless earbuds with noise canceling and a Tile-like location tracker to help you find your misplaced belongings.
The three main stars of the event are the phones, and they have a few things in common. They’re powered by this year’s top-of-the-line chip for Android phones, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, which the chipmaker says delivers up to 25 percent better CPU performance and a 35 percent boost in graphics rendering over the previous Snapdragon, all while sipping less power. Aiding that speedy performance is 8 gigabytes of RAM, though the Ultra model phone beefs that up to 12.
Not much has changed with the display. All three phones use Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X panels, with the S21 offering the smallest screen at 6.2 inches. The S21+ soups that up to 6.7 inches, and the S21 Ultra is the behemoth of the bunch at 6.8 inches. Only the Ultra has a curved screen and an incredibly high 3,200 x 1,440 pixel resolution. For the first time, the maximum screen refresh rate of 120 Hz is available at that full resolution on the Ultra. The two cheaper models still have 120-Hz panels, but they only offer that faster refresh rate at 1080p.
That high refresh rate can now shift from 48 Hz to 120 Hz for the S21 and S21+ and from 10 Hz to 120 Hz for the Ultra, depending on the content you watch or how you interact with the screen. Idling on the home screen? There’s no need for all 120 frames, so the Ultra will ratchet it down to 10 Hz or so, eliminating unnecessary drain on the battery. Speaking of batteries, the phones have battery capacities of 4,000 mAh, 4,800 mAh, and 5,000 mAh, respectively.