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Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21+ vs S21 Ultra: What's the difference?

, Deputy editor · ·
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data; projecting how events might unfold based on past events or how products and services compare against each other.
Evan Blass / Pocket-lint

(Pocket-lint) - Samsung announced the Galaxy S21 series in January 2021 during its Unpacked event, with three devices in the line up to choose from.

The Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra all feature a similar design but different price points, specs and features. Here is how the three devices compare to help you decide which might be the right one for you, if you're looking to choose between them.

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All three Galaxy S21 models share the same design principles, though their physical sizes materials differ between the models. The Galaxy S21 is the smallest and lightest, followed by the S21+ and the Ultra is the largest and heaviest.

The S21 and S21+ have flat displays and they use plastic for the back like the Galaxy S21 FE, while the Ultra sticks to a glass rear and offers curved display edges, so looks a little more premium. The finish of the Ultra feels a little better than the regular S21 and S21+ models too.

The rear camera housing is similar across the three models, with the frame extending up to meet with the camera housing, though the Ultra has a wider housing in order to accommodate the extra lenses and sensors.

All three devices are IP68 water and dust resistant and all three sport a centralised punch hole front camera at the top of their display. 

The Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch display and the S21+ has a 6.7-inch display. Both the S21 and S21+ have Full HD+ resolutions, 2400 x 1080 pixels, while offering an adaptive refresh rate, ranging from 48-120Hz. They support HDR10+ and are vibrant and punchy, with impressive brightness. 

They are also both flat, which really stands them apart from the previous versions of these phones and the S21 Ultra, which is curved.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a Quad HD+ resolution, with 3200 x 1440 pixels available, with an adaptive refresh rate that covers 10-120Hz. It also supports the S Pen, which was a first for the Galaxy S family at launch and introduces a whole new range of interactions for this device. The Galaxy S22 Ultra - the 2022 model - now incorporates the S Pen, basically replacing the Galaxy Note.

The S21 Ultra also the brightest display that Samsung offers, meaning it can cut through reflections to keep up the impressive visuals.

All three Galaxy S21 devices run on either the Snapdragon 888, or the Exynos 2100, depending on the region where you buy it. This has been the arrangement for a number of years, but the big difference for the latest generation of Exynos chips is that they are much closer in design to the Qualcomm, so there's less of a performance gap between the different hardware. They are all 5G devices

The Galaxy S21 and S21+ come in 128GB and 256GB storage options with 8GB of RAM. The Galaxy S21 Ultra meanwhile, comes in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB storage options. RAM is 12GB or 16GB depending on the model. Samsung has removed the microSD card slot - so that's no longer an option for these devices.

In terms of battery, the Galaxy S21 has a 4000mAh cell under its hood, the S21+ a 4800mAh battery and the Galaxy S21 Ultra a 5000mAh battery. The devices don't come with a charger in the box, but do support fast wired and wireless charging - you'll just have to supply that charger yourself.

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The camera is the main point of differentiation between the Galaxy S21 and S21+ models, and the S21 Ultra.

The S21 and S21+ both have a triple rear camera, made up of a 12-megapixel main sensor with 1.8µm pixel size, f/1.8 aperture and optical stabilisation (OIS), a 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor with 1.4µm and f/2.2, and a 64-megapixel telephoto sensor with 0.8µm, f/2.0 and OIS. There's a 10-megapixel, 1.22µm, f/2.2 front camera.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra meanwhile, has a quad rear camera made up of a 108-megapixel main sensor with 0.8µm pixels, f/1.8 aperture, OIS and laser autofocus, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor (1.4µm, f/2.2) and two 10-megapixel telephoto lenses, one with 1.22µm, f/2.4 (3x optical) and the other with 1.22µm, f/4.9 (10x optical). It also has a 40-megapixel selfie camera.

There's a world of difference in the performance between these cameras, with the S21 Ultra putting in a much more convincing showing, offering sharper images in just about all conditions. The S21 Ultra has a strength in zoom images, with shots up to 10x being really good. The S21 and S21+ offer zoom functions too, but lack the dedicated hardware to deliver the results you get from the S21 Ultra. 

All offer 4K 60fps video capture from all the cameras, with 8K 24fps offered on the rear too.

You can find a detailed comparison on the S21 and S21 Ultra cameras right here.

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The Samsung Galaxy S21 is the entry model to the range, followed by the Galaxy S21+, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra sits at the top of the range.

The Galaxy S21 starts at £769 in the UK, and €849 in Europe. The Galaxy S21+ starts at £949 in the Uk and €1049 in Europe.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at £1149 in the UK and €1249 in Europe. All three handsets will be available from 29 January.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21+ are very similar in terms of their offerings, with the main difference being their physical size and therefore display size, as well as a larger battery capacity in the Plus model.

While they are capable flagship devices, with a nice design, great display and plenty of power, they can't compete with the camera performance of the S21 Ultra. They are quite a bit cheaper than the Ultra, but at the same time, they aren't hugely improved over the S20 FE, which is cheaper than both for much the same offering.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra meanwhile, offers a more substantial camera, which is a much better performer, a larger and sharper display with support for the S Pen, and a more premium build quality and appearance. It's easily the most attractive device of the trio, standing apart from the other S21 models more clearly than the previous version. If it's the best you are after, it's the Galaxy S21 Ultra that you want.

Or, do you need to embrace the Galaxy S22 models?

Writing by Britta O'Boyle. Editing by Chris Hall.