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Samsung Galaxy S21: price, release date, specs

What Hi-Fi? 1/14/2021 What Hi-Fi?
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The Samsung Galaxy S21 – the tech titan's next big flagship smartphone – is finally here. Samsung unveiled the new phone range at its swish Samsung Unpacked event, alongside a couple of other new products.

It seems like only yesterday that the five-star Samsung Galaxy S20 hit stores, but Samsung isn't one to rest on its laurels. The company launches a new Galaxy S series flagship phone every year like clockwork and nothing – not even a global pandemic, it seems – has been able to blow the Galaxy S21 off course. In fact, it actually arrived earlier than the S20 did last year.

The three handsets in the range boast next-gen processors, new cameras and a big boost in battery life. They're cheaper than last year's models, too – which is pretty much unheard of from a major new phone line. 

Temped? We don't blame you. Here we'll run down what each model offers so you can weigh up whether to upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy S21: release date

The Galaxy S21 launched on 14th January 2021 and will start shipping on the 29th January. You can pre-order all three phones in the range right now on Samsung's website.

Samsung fans have had 14th January circled in their diaries for many months. There have been many leaks surrounding the release of the hotly-anticipated smartphone, including this 3rd November tweet from tipster Jon Prosser, who advised tech fans to keep the 14th January free. Looks like he was right.

Samsung Galaxy S21: price

While Samsung usually raises prices for a new phone, this year is a little different. Like other tech firms, Samsung is dealing with the economic fallout of Covid-19. So instead of charging more, it's actually selling the S21 range for less than the S20.

The standard S21 starts at £769 ($799, AU$1249), the S21+ £949 ($999, AU$1549) and the S21 Ultra £1149 ($1199, AU$1849). That's significantly cheaper than the S20 range (the S20 started at £899 ($999, AU$1499)).

Those prices aren't quite cheaper than Apple's iPhone 12 range. But the gap isn't as big as many had feared.

Samsung Galaxy S21: display

Samsung's phones are renowned for their superb displays – this was the firm that pioneered the 'Edge' screens that appeared to cascade over the sides of the phone, after all – and the S21 is no different. 

The new range's 'Dynamic AMOLED 2x' screens support the 120Hz refresh rate – great for gaming and sports. The S21 has a 6.2in FHD+ panel, the S21+ a 6.7in FHD+ screen and the S21 Ultra a 6.8in WQHD+ jobby. There's also a new Eye Comfort Shield that automatically adjusts blue levels.

The Ultra boasts the "best display Samsung has ever created", offering that maximum refresh rate even in maximum resolution quality. Samsung is promising 25 per cent more brightness (the peak is an eye-dazzling 1500 nits) and double the contrast of the S20 Ultra's screen. Bold.

Of course, that display is at the mercy of your fingertips – or the S-Pen, as it hits the S Series for the first time. Previously, the S Pen was exclusive to Samsung's Galaxy Note range. 

When asked where this leaves the Note line, TM Roh, Samsung's president and head of mobile communications business, said: “We’ve made the bold decision to expand the S Pen experience to Galaxy S21 Ultra, and plan to expand the S Pen experience across additional device categories in the future.” Read into that what you will.

Samsung Galaxy S21: design

Samsung is rumoured to have been working on the "perfect phone design" for over a year. And it shows. 

The camera lens bump marks the biggest design tweak for the S21 family. The contoured cut-out blends into the device’s metal frame on the top left corner. It certainly gives the body's rear a sleeker, more streamlined look.

The phone comes in some snazzy new colour options too, some of which are exclusive to certain models. All shades are called 'Phantom', which, as you can see, basically means a pastel shade. It gives the phones a more muted, understated look.

The Galaxy S21 will be available in Phantom Violet, Phantom Grey, Phantom Pink and Phantom White finishes, while the Galaxy S21+ comes in Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver and Phantom Black. Lastly, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is available in Phantom Black and Phantom Silver, coated in a 'frosted haze' matte finish. Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown are additional finishes available exclusively on Samsung.com. 

But what of the actual handset itself? As expected, the bezels are ridiculously slim, meaning that – in keeping with most premium handsets nowadays – the phone's face is almost 100 per cent display.

But it's not all screen. The central punch hole remains – this houses the front-facing camera. Sadly, Samsung hasn't quite perfected under-display camera tech just yet. We're expecting to see it on one of the firm's folding phones later in the year.

While the S21 Ultra works with the S Pen stylus, there's nowhere on the phone to actually hold the stylus (that's because it's an optional accessory, not bundled with the phone). Instead, you'll need a special case.

Samsung Galaxy S21: cameras

We found the camera on last year's Galaxy S20 to be a real highlight, so the fact that Samsung has improved its excellent software for the S21 series is promising. Single Take, which creates a portfolio of all the best moments you capture in one shot (useful when scrolling through options to upload to Instagram), enters a 2.0 version, now using five times more AI processing for the promise of even better results. There's Dynamic Slo-Mo, as well as a Highlights Reel, the idea being that you don't need to edit shots yourself.

Portrait Mode has been improved (you can now alter the lighting or your backdrop), as has Space Zoom, which now has a lock to neutralise shaky hands at 30x zoom. The new Director’s View mode lets you simultaneously view both the front and rear cameras in your viewfinder, with all of the lenses available to easily switch between. Vlogger view, meanwhile, lets you simultaneously capture from both the front and back lenses, so you can shoot something while, say, documenting your own reaction.

8K at 24fps video recording is onboard, with 8K Video Snap allowing you to capture high-res photos when playing your videos back. And this is the first time 4K filming at 60fps is achievable through all lenses.

While the Galaxy S21 and S21+ have triple-lens snappers (a 12MP ultra-wide, 12MP wide and 48MP telephoto) and a 10MP front shooter, the Ultra takes things further once again. We're looking at Samsung's "most advance Pro-grade cameras yet" here. There's still a quad rear configuration here, but the main 108MP wide lens is new and promises 64x richer colours and three times wider dynamic range. That's complemented by 12MP ultra-wide and two 10MP telephotos. 

That dual-telephoto system (one 3x optical, one 10x optical) powers the Ultra's 100x Space Zoom, with the lenses automatically switching according to the distance from your subject. And with a new Bright Night sensor, improved Night Mode, noise reduction and 12MP Nona-binning technology, Samsung is promising its "biggest leap yet in low-light photography". We look forward to trying all that out for ourselves.

Samsung Galaxy S21: features and specs

Now, the meat of the matter. What kind of grunt is there under the hood?

We're promised a 20 per cent faster CPU, 35 per cent faster GPU, and double-the-speed AI processors. The 'Ultrasonic' in-screen fingerprint scanner is now 1.7x larger for improved accuracy, too.

Battery-wise, the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra sport 4000mAh, 4800mAh and 5000mAh juice packs respectively – the only change over the S20 series being the middle device gaining an extra 300mAh.

There's 8GB RAM, plus either 128GB or 256GB storage options for the S21 and S21+. The S21 Ultra gets either 8GB or 16GB RAM, plus an additional 512GB storage option.

All three models support Samsung's Smart Things Find (which helps you locate Galaxy devices using Bluetooth LE – even when they’re offline) and £29/$30 Galaxy Smart Tag (which helps you locate non-connected devices or belongings that are tagged – pets, keys etc).

5G is, as expected, on the menu across the line-up, while Ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless communication technology support in the S21+ and S21 Ultra means we could see those premium devices able to, say, unlock a car (i.e. replace a car key fob) in the near-future, too.

Samsung Galaxy S20 vs Samsung Galaxy S21

Overall, the Galaxy S21 looks like a solid improvement on the Galaxy S20.

The range has improved cameras and screens, sleek (and tweaked) designs, and an expanded feature set for the Ultra handset. We, for one, cannot wait to get our hands on them very shortly. Watch this space.

MORE:

Everything you need to know about the new iPhone 12 (2020)

Our guide to the best Android smartphones

Best smartphones 2021: best phones for music and movies on the move

Rumours already: iPhone 13: release date, price, leaks and all of the news

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