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Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, S21 Extremely arrive Jan. 29 with new design, $200 value lower

Samsung’s new lineup consists of (from left) the $800 Galaxy S21, $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus and $1,200 Galaxy S21 Extremely. 


Drew Evans/CNET

This story is a part of CES, the place our editors will deliver you the newest information and the most popular devices of the fully digital CES 2021.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S21 lineup is right here. And the brand new Galaxy S21, S21 Plus and S21 Extremely have loads to draw would-be consumers, together with new designs and $200 shaved off the beginning value of their predecessors.

The South Korean electronics large on Thursday, throughout its first digital Unpacked occasion of the yr, confirmed off its three new telephones: the $800 Galaxy S21, the $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus and the $1,200 Galaxy S21 Extremely. (Within the UK, the S21 will begin at £769, simply £30 cheaper than the S20.) It additionally unveiled new $200 earbuds, referred to as the Galaxy Buds Professional; $30 Tile-like Galaxy SmartTags that may observe nonelectronic objects like pets; and a $40 S Pen accent. The occasion came about on the final day of this yr’s CES and greater than a month sooner than regular. 

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 lineup is full of refinements to the cameras, shows and 5G capabilities. The brand new telephones characteristic a redesign that accentuates the digital camera lenses on their backs whereas linking them with their metallic frames, one thing Samsung calls “Contour Minimize Digicam” housing. The bottom quantity of storage for all the S21 fashions is 128GB, and Samsung boosted the photograph and video capabilities for vloggers and others. 


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The lower price is a nod to the realities of the world, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down many global economies and eliminating millions of jobs. Smartphones, serving as a lifeline to friends and co-workers, remain one of the few essential gadgets. This is also one of the first phones in a few years that didn’t introduce a brand new technology like 5G, which often justifies a premium. 

“In 2021, our top priority is to bring the benefit of technology to more people,” TM Roh, the head of Samsung’s mobile communication business, said in a statement, calling the Galaxy S21 series “the most powerful and versatile flagship lineup ever.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the S21 Ultra is designed for people who want the “best of the best.” It features a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x display, Samsung’s best camera of the S21 lineup with four back lenses, and Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back. The S21 and S21 Plus have 6.2- and 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x displays, respectively, and Gorilla Glass Victus on the front. The S21 Plus also has the glass on the back, while the regular S21 features a plastic polycarbonate backing. Both have three camera lenses on the back.

This year, Samsung has brought support for its S Pen, a hallmark of the Galaxy Note lineup, to its Galaxy S family for the first time. Of the three new phones, only the S21 Ultra works with the S Pen, and it comes as a separate accessory that costs $40 for just the pen or $70 when bundled with a specially designed case that stores the stylus. Users can’t stow the S Pen away inside the S21 Ultra like they can with Note, but they can use their old Note styluses with the S21 Ultra. The new accessory doesn’t work with gestures or many of the other features found in the Note’s S Pen, which likely means the Note line isn’t dead quite yet.

Samsung will introduce an S Pen Pro later this year, though, that has some of the Bluetooth-enabled features found in the Note’s stylus, like gestures. Samsung didn’t give a price or release date for the S Pen Pro. 

The new phones come as Samsung faces a tougher market for 5G phones. When the Galaxy S20 lineup hit the market a year ago, there still were relatively few 5G phones available, and they weren’t cheap. Now competition is fierce. Prices for 5G phones go as low as $300 in the US, and virtually all companies sell 5G models. Every phone in Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup from late 2020 came with 5G by default, something that was expected to help the technology go mainstream. At the same time, the world continues to grapple with a pandemic that’s limiting budgets for new gadgets. 

Samsung made the decision to drop the starting price of its new phones by $200 because of a few factors. Components like 5G processors, displays and camera modules now cost less because Samsung has such a high volume of those parts in devices across its portfolio. The company also made some minor trade-offs in its S21 and S21 Plus devices, like lowering the base level of RAM to 8GB from 12GB. 

“For people who want the highest-end, Ultra experience, we still have that, and we’re not sacrificing [the features] primarily based on value level,” Drew Blackard, Samsung Electronics America’s vice chairman of product administration, stated in an interview forward of Unpacked. “For individuals who need worth and a tremendous flagship expertise on the similar time, we nonetheless have an important providing for them with the S21. After which we have got one thing form of in between for individuals who need somewhat little bit of each.”

The existence of the Extremely is a reminder that not everybody feels the affect of the pandemic equally.

“The folks which might be shopping for an S21 Extremely will not be feeling the stress of the pandemic,” Artistic Methods analyst Carolina Milanesi stated. Samsung “may have determined that possibly [its] entry product was going to be cheaper however depart the 2 flagships costlier. But it surely’s not doing that.” 

Preorders for the telephones start Thursday at eight a.m. PT, and the telephones hit shops on Jan. 29. The Galaxy Buds Professional can be found Thursday on Samsung.com and will probably be at different retailers on Friday. Individuals who preorder the telephones stand up to $200 in Samsung credit score and likewise get a free Galaxy SmartTag. As well as, carriers are providing promotions, like AT&T’s supply for as much as $800 off when buying and selling in an eligible gadget and buying the brand new cellphone on a 30-month installment plan.


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Say cheese

One of the biggest differentiators for the Galaxy S21 Ultra over the S21 and S21 Plus is the camera. The pricier device comes with four cameras on the back — ultra-wide, wide and dual tele-lenses — and an upgraded 108-megapixel sensor. That allows users to capture 12-bit HDR photos with 64 times richer color data and more than three times wider dynamic range. In other words, sharper, better photos. 

“When designing the Galaxy S21, we thought about how people use their cameras today,” Stephen Hawke, director of product management for Samsung Electronics America, said during a briefing with reporters ahead of Unpacked. “For instance, there are those fleeting moments when you just don’t have time to think about the perfect mode or setting to capture a shot, let alone switch to recording video. We need our phones to do all this for us. With a Galaxy S21, you get photos and videos with the simplicity of point and shoot.”

When it comes to video, the Ultra enables users to shoot in 4K at 60fps across all lenses, including those on the front, meaning they can shift to different perspectives with the same quality. A new feature called Director’s View lets you see a scene from multiple perspectives simultaneously, while Vlogger View lets you shoot with the front and rear cameras at the same time. Pro Mode lets users capture images in a 12-bit raw file format to make it easier to edit the images later. 

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The Galaxy S21 Ultra has four camera and laser autofocus on the back.


Drew Evans/CNET

The S20 Ultra features 100x Space Zoom, like its predecessor, but in this year’s phone is a new feature called Zoom Lock that keeps the camera focused on an object for a clearer picture. Samsung said it provides “tripod-like stability with an AI-powered stabilizer.” Space Zoom on the S21 Ultra is powered by Samsung’s first dual-tele-lens system, which is one optical 3X zoom for midrange and one optical 10x zoom for long-range. Both have dual pixel autofocus to capture ultra clear shots. 

Low-light photography also gets a boost in the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung improved its Bright Night sensor and Night Mode to reduce noise and capture challenging shots like dimly lit rooms or landscapes at night. 

The Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus both have three rear cameras in ultra-wide, wide and tele-lens. They feature 30X Space Zoom with Zoom Lock, as well as Director’s View and Vlogger View. Portrait Mode gets a boost from AI, which provides options for virtual studio light and effects to make the subject pop from the frame — with both the rear cameras and the front-facing selfie lens. 

Samsung has improved its 8K Snap feature to let users grab clear images from 8K video footage, and its Super Steady Video records at an “improved” 60fps. The new Galaxy S21 phones also feature Multi-Mic Recording when paired with the new Galaxy Buds Pro, letting users record with their camera mic and earbuds mic at the same time. 

What’s inside

All phones in the Galaxy S21 lineup in the US come with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 processor and integrated 5G modem. The new Snapdragon chip is more effective at connecting to all flavors of 5G, from the slower, more reliable nationwide variant offered by all the US carriers, or the speedier but more finicky millimeter wave version touted by Verizon, and boasts peak download speeds of 7.5 Gbps and upload speeds of 3Gbps.

The new processor with its integrated modem is “really important,” Technalysis Research analyst Bob O’Donnell said. By being able to combine different types of 5G airwaves together, there’s a “huge potential increase in performance in 5G,” he said. 

The Galaxy S21 Plus gets a bigger battery — 4,800 mAh versus 4,500 in the S20 Plus — while the S21 stays steady with 4,000 mAh and the S21 Ultra retains its 5,000 mAH battery. 

Also under the hood, or rather the display, is an improved fingerprint sensor from Qualcomm. The chip giant on Monday unveiled the second generation of its 3D Sonic Sensor that’s 50% faster and 77% bigger than the previous generation, making it easier for people to to unlock their devices using their fingerprints. Along with making it simpler to know where to place a finger, the larger size also allows the technology to collect 1.7 times more biometric data, speeding up the unlock time. 

Samsung also included ultra wideband, or UWB, technology in the Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra. The technology lets a user pinpoint the exact location of phones, key fobs and tracking tags, helping them find lost dogs or automatically unlock their car. UWB calculates precise locations by measuring how long it takes super-short radio pulses to travel between devices. (Note: It’s different from the Ultra Wideband terminology Verizon uses for its mmWave 5G network.)

Samsung will eventually have UWB in its Galaxy SmartTags, but the first version available will use Bluetooth Low Energy. The company didn’t yet say when the UWB version will be available or how much it will cost, but it sees big opportunities for UWB in the future, especially as it tries to control the smart home

“We recently launched SmartThings Find to help you quickly and easily locate your Galaxy devices, even when offline,” KJ Kim, chief technology officer and head of mobile R&D for Samsung, said in a statement. “We took this a step further with Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, which use expanded UWB capabilities to utilize the AR finder so you can send virtual messages to other Galaxy users during your search.”

He added that Samsung has formed partnerships with “major car companies” to provide “a next-generation car experience starting this summer.”

And out

The phones in the Galaxy S21 lineup all feature a matte finish that helps minimize fingerprints. In the US, the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes in phantom black and phantom silver, and it has four possible configurations. The silver only comes with 128GB of storage and 12GB RAM, while the black has 128GB or 256GB of storage with 12GB RAM, and a monster 512GB model with 16GB RAM. 

The S21 Plus and S21 have some brighter color options, including phantom violet and phantom pink, the latter of which is only in the S21. There are two storage options for those phones, either 128GB or 256GB, both with 8GB RAM.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S21 (left), Galaxy S21 Plus (center) and Galaxy S21 Ultra hit stores Jan. 29.


Drew Evans/CNET

Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant again makes an appearance in the S21 lineup, but its button can be remapped to other tasks. It’s also integrated into SmartThings, Samsung’s smart home control app.

The S21 Ultra has some advantages when it comes to the screen. All three use Samsung’s Infinity-O Displays, are HDR10+ certified and have an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate that automatically adjusts based on what the users is doing, but the Ultra has a resolution of 3,200×1,440, while the other two are 2,400×1,080. 

The Ultra also has a Quad HD+ display — versus flat, full HD+ in the S21 and S21 Plus — and “the best, brightest display ever,” Samsung’s Hawke said. He noted the picture is 25% brighter than in the S21 and S21 Plus. The Ultra also has a 50% improved contrast ratio to deliver clear, immersive images, even when outdoors, and a brighter screen

“This is going to make content really pop, especially high dynamic range content,” said Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart. “People will be able to use it outdoors without [the screen] getting washed out.”

For Samsung, the hope is that its lineup has one thing for everybody. 

“In the case of searching for new smartphones, firstly, folks need alternative,” Samsung’s Blackard stated. “That’s each when it comes to options and when it comes to value factors. So we’re actually dedicated to driving a spread of various units that provide what we expect is that range of wants that is available in the market as we speak.”

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