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Should you buy the Galaxy S21 series or the Galaxy S20 series?

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Samsung Galaxy S21 series is now out in the market. The latest Samsung flagship trio – Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra – come rocking a new design, a beastly 5nm processor(s), upgraded imaging hardware with a host of new camera tricks, and polished software. And oh, did I mention that the entry point into Samsung’s Galaxy S family for 2021 is now $200 lower? But the arrival of a new generation of flagships also means the now-cheaper-but-still-perfectly-fine last-gen flagships demand a reconsideration. Well, if you’re with me on this one, let me break it down for you – Should you buy the Galaxy S21 series or the Galaxy S20 series in 2021?

The real fight is between the vanilla and ultra flagships

If you are torn between the 2021 and 2020 Galaxy S flagships, let me put it in clear words – the ‘Plus’ models (Galaxy S20+ and Galaxy S21+) are really not much worth talking about here. Unless, you simply want a Galaxy S21 that is bigger, or you don’t want to spend the cash that the Galaxy S21 Ultra demands. Either way, you can save some benjamins by getting the vanilla Galaxy S21 which has the same innards (save for a larger display and bigger battery ) as the Galaxy S21+, or just fork out a couple of hundred dollars extra and jump the Ultra bandwagon.

Whichever path you choose, the Galaxy S21+ is a device that I would only recommend if you desire a Galaxy S21 that is slightly bigger. That’s the only scenario where I can suggest getting it. With the ‘Plus’ conundrum out of the way, let’s do the real talk.

To Ultra, or not… That’s the thousand dollar question!

Now, if you have been smitten by all those gorgeous product shots of the Galaxy S21 series posted on Twitter by my fellow journalists or seen in their videos, you should ask yourself the real question – Do you want the pure Galaxy S flagship experience without breaking your bank, or you simply want the best that Samsung has to offer without any budget constraints?

If you agree with the first part of the question, just get the Galaxy S21. No questions asked. But if you prefer the finer things in life and choose only what’s best on the table for you, the matte black Galaxy S21 Ultra should be your next flagship smartphone in 2021.

Oh, I could say the same thing about the Galaxy S20 and its Ultra sibling too. If you’ve made up your mind regarding the experience you want – the good old standard flagship vs the overpowered Ultra deal – let’s dissect whether the Galaxy S21 is a better deal for you over the Galaxy S20 and if you should pick the Galaxy S21 Ultra over the Ultra from Galaxy S20 family!

Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20

samsung galaxy s21 colors

Some questionable decisions regarding the build

Right off the bat, the biggest difference between Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S20 is their design, as Samsung has made more than few changes here. Samsung has changed the design of the camera island and it now appears to meet with the surrounding frame. And oh, there is some sweet dual-tone aesthetic upgrade as well.

The Galaxy S21 is made out of plastic, while the Galaxy S21 employs a glass-and-metal build.

However, Samsung has made some cost-cutting too. The Galaxy S21 is made out of plastic, while the Galaxy S21 employs a glass-and-metal build. Both the phones come with an IP68 dust and water resistance though. Another difference here is that the Galaxy S21 has a flat panel, while the Galaxy S20 has a curved one.

Flat panel, lower resolution

Talking about the display, Galaxy S21 has a lower-resolution 6.2-inch FHD+ 120Hz panel, while the Galaxy S20 offers a higher resolution QuadHD+ display of the same size and refresh rate. However, the panel on the Galaxy S21 automatically adjusts the refresh value between 48Hz and 120Hz based on the on-screen content. Now FHD+ is still adequately sharp for a 6.2-inch panel, but the downgrade is still worth pointing out here.

No dearth of raw firepower

2 Samsung Galaxy S20s side by side

Inside, the Galaxy S21 relies on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (Exynos 2100 in some regions) paired with 8 gigs of RAM and up to 256GB of onboard storage. The Galaxy S21 relies on the Snapdragon 865 SoC (Exynos 990 in some regions) ticking alongside up to 12 gigs of RAM and 128GB storage in tow. Notably, the Galaxy S21 doesn’t allow storage expansion, while its predecessor offered this neat convenience.

Old camera hardware, new tricks

Not much has changed in the camera department though, as both the Galaxy S21 and its last-gen sibling offer an optically stabilized 12MP primary camera, a 12MP ultra-wide angle snapper, and a 64MP telephoto camera that goes up to 3x optical zoom and 30x space zoom output. On the front, you’ll find a 10MP selfie snapper.

No camera hardware upgrades, only software enhancements

There a few new camera tricks such as an improved Single Take, 8K video snap, enhanced portrait mode, Director’s View, Vlogger View, and multi-mic recording to name a few. While some of the new camera features on the Galaxy S21 are meaningful, a few will eventually trickle down to the Galaxy S20 as well via software updates.

Both the phones come equipped with a 4,000mAh battery support, and offer support for wireless charging as well as reverse wireless charging. You get 5G support on both the Galaxy S-series smartphones as well.

Galaxy S21 Galaxy S20
Display 6.2″ flat FHD+
2400 x 1080 pixels
Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Infinity-O Display
421 ppi
HDR10+ certified
120Hz refresh rate
6.2” Quad HD+
3200 x 1440 pixels
Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Infinity-O Display
563 ppi
HDR10+ certified
120Hz refresh rate support
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Exynos 2100
Snapdragon 879
RAM 8GB LPDDR5 8GB LPDDR5 on 4G variant
12GB LPDDR5 on 5G variant
Storage 128GB
256GB
*Non-expandable
128GB
*Expandable up to 1TB via a
microSD card
Rear Cameras 12MP Ultra Wide Camera
Pixel size: 1.4μm
FOV: 120˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
12MP Wide-angle Camera
Super Speed Dual Pixel AF, OIS
Pixel size: 1.8μm
FOV: 79˚
F.No (aperture): F1.8
1/1.76″ image sensor size
64MP Telephoto Camera
Pixel size: 0.8μm
FOV: 76˚
F.No (aperture): F2.0
12MP Ultra Wide Camera
Pixel size: 1.4μm
FOV: 120˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
12MP Wide-angle Camera
Super Speed Dual Pixel AF, OIS
Pixel size: 1.8μm
FOV: 79˚
F.No (aperture): F1.8
1/1.76″ image sensor size
64MP Telephoto Camera
Pixel size: 0.8μm
FOV: 76˚
F.No (aperture): F2.0
Front Camera 10MP Selfie Camera
Dual Pixel AF
Pixel size: 1.22μm
FOV: 80˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
10MP Selfie Camera
Dual Pixel AF
Pixel size: 1.22μm
FOV: 80˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
Battery 4000mAh
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
4000mAh
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
Colors Phantom Violet
Phantom Gray
Phantom White
Phantom Pink
Cosmic Gray
Cloud Blue
Cloud Pink
Cloud White
Dimensions 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm
Weight 169g 163g
(Note: This table is best viewed in landscape mode on mobile)
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So, which one to buy – Galaxy S21 vs S20?

Samsung Galaxy S21 family

Now, coming to the pricing part, the Galaxy S21 starts at $800, while the Galaxy S20 went for a base price of $1000 upon its launch. Interestingly, the stock of Galaxy S20 has mysteriously vanished from major retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy in the US, where it was going for around $750 until a few weeks ago.

Assuming you can find the Galaxy S20 at a retail outlet for somewhere around $750, it is not a bad device for that kind of money. But I would suggest spending the extra $50 to $100 and getting the Galaxy S21. However, if your budget can’t exceed the $700 threshold and you can snag a Galaxy S20 for that amount (or lower), don’t hesitate.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S20 Ultra

Galaxy S21 ultra with dice

Better design this year

Yes, the redesign extends to the Ultra siblings too. But frankly, the ginormous camera bump on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is way easier on the eyes, especially in that matte black colorway, compared to the massive bump on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Both the phones offer an IP68-certified glass and metal build, complete with support for wireless charging and Wireless PowerShare. But the color options on the table for Galaxy S21 are much better.

Am improved display with many perks

Coming to the display, both the phones appear to be neck-and-neck going by on-paper specs. You get a 120Hz WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X curved display on both phones. The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a smaller 6.8-inch screen real estate, while the Galaxy S20 Ultra has a 6.9-inch panel. But the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a few remarkable add-ons too.


To start things, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s panel offers stylus support, which drastically boosts the productivity aspect of this phone. Additionally, its display can automatically adjust the refresh rate value between 10Hz and 120Hz, helping save battery life and offering the best viewing experience. And if you fancy, you can operate the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s screen at 120Hz with the resolution set to its peak WQHD+ preset.

The same Qualcomm-Exynos story this year too

Internally, you’ll find the Snapdragon 888 (Exynos 2100 – also based on the 5nm process – in some markets) inside the Galaxy S21 Ultra, while Snapdragon 865 (or Exynos 990) powers the Galaxy S20 Ultra. You’ll find up to 16GB of RAM inside both the devices and up to 512GB of storage. But unlike the Galaxy S20 ultra, there is no scope for storage expansion on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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Massive camera upgrades – both hardware and software

samsung Galaxy S20 ultra close up

Now, let’s talk cameras – one area where the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a big leap over the Galaxy S20 Ultra, both in terms of hardware as well as camera capabilities. On the Galaxy S20 Ultra, you’ll find a 108MP primary camera, 12MP wide-angle lens, and a 48MP telephoto shooter. The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes armed with the new and updated 108MP camera sensor, sitting alongside a 12MP wide-angle snapper.

You get two zoom cameras on the latest Samsung offering though – a 10MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom output, and another 10MP periscope-style telephoto camera with a 10x hybrid optical zoom range and 100x Space Zoom output. And this time, Samsung has really worked to turn it into something actually worth using, and not just a gimmick.

Plus, the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with its own share of pro-grade photography tricks such as 4K video capture across all cameras, multi-mic recording, no limit on the length of videos you can capture, 12-bit HDR photography and 12-bit RAW capture, 8K video snap, and Zoom Lock among others. Some of them might eventually arrive on the Galaxy S20 Ultra down the road, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra will still be far ahead, and a great deal of that performance gap can be attributed to the new 108MP ISOCELL HM3 sensor and the dual telephoto lens system.


Some connectivity upgrades too

Both the devices pack a 5,000mAh battery with support for Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 and Wireless PowerShare. However, the Galaxy S21 Ultra also upgrades the connectivity suite as well by introducing support for Bluetooth v5.2, WiFi 6E, and Ultra-Wideband technology.

Galaxy S21 Ultra Galaxy S20 Ultra
Display 6.8″ edge Quad HD+
Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Infinity-O
3200 x 1440 pixels
515 ppi
HDR10+ certified
120Hz refresh rate
6.9″ Quad HD+
Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Infinity-O Display
3200 x 1440 pixels
511 ppi
HDR10+ certified
120Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Exynos 2100
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Exynos 990
RAM 12GB LPDDR5
16GB LPDDR5
12GB LPDDR5
16GB LPDDR5
Storage 128GB
256GB
512GB
*Non-expandable
128GB
256GB
512GB
*Expandable up to 1TB via a
microSD card
Rear Cameras 12MP Ultra Wide Camera
Super Speed Dual Pixel AF
Pixel size: 1.4μm
FOV: 120˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
108MP Wide-angle Camera
PDAF, OIS
Pixel size: 0.8μm (12MP 2.4μm)
FOV: 83˚
F.No (aperture): F1.8
1/1.33″ image sensor size
10MP Telephoto Camera
Dual Pixel AF
Pixel size: 1.22μm
FOV: 35˚
F.No (aperture): F2.4
10MP Telephoto Camera
Dual Pixel AF
Pixel size: 1.22μm
FOV: 10˚
F.No (aperture): F4.9
Laser AF
12MP Ultra Wide Camera
Pixel size: 1.4μm
FOV: 120˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
108MP Wide-angle Camera
PDAF, OIS
Pixel size: 0.8μm (12MP 2.4μm)
FOV: 79˚
F.No (aperture): F1.8
1/1.33″ image sensor size
48MP Telephoto Camera
Pixel size: 0.8μm (12MP 1.6μm)
FOV: 24˚
F.No (aperture): F3.5
DepthVision Camera
Front Camera 40MP Selfie Camera
PDAF
Pixel size: 0.7μm (10MP 1.4μm)
FOV: 80˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
40MP Selfie Camera
PDAF
Pixel size: 0.7μm (10MP 1.4μm)
FOV: 80˚
F.No (aperture): F2.2
Battery 5000mAh
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
5000mAh
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
Colors Phantom Black
Phantom Silver
Phantom Titanium
Phantom Navy
Phantom Brown
Cosmic Black
Cosmic Gray
Dimensions 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm 166.9 x 76.0 x 8.8mm
Weight 227g 220g
(Note: This table is best viewed in landscape mode on mobile)

No contest here – Get the Galaxy S21 Ultra!

Galaxy S21 ultra on a stand

The Galaxy S20 Ultra made its debut at $1,399, and since then, its price hasn’t depreciated much. On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 UItra starts at a much lower $1200 and offers a lot more. A LOT MORE. Even if you can find a Galaxy S20 Ultra going for around $1100, I would suggest going the extra mile for the Galaxy S21 Ultra instead.

View Galaxy S21 at Samsung
View Galaxy S21+ at Samsung
View Galaxy S21 Ultra at SamsungOriginal Article

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