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Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S20 vs new Galaxy S21: What’s the difference?

How Samsung's latest smartphone compares to its year-old predecessor

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Just 10 months after the Galaxy S20 landed in stores, Samsung has announced its predecessor, predictably called the Galaxy S21.

As has become a recent tradition, Samsung is taking a three-pronged approach with the Galaxy S21. There is the regular model, a phone called the S21 Plus that has a larger screen but is otherwise identical, and the range-topping S21 Ultra, which is both larger and more capable than its stablemates.

In this article we will compare the design, dimensions and specifications of the S20 series with the new S21 family.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20: Design and dimensions

The Samsung Galaxy S21 The Samsung Galaxy S21Samsung

The Galaxy S20 from last year measured 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm and weighed in at 163g. The S21 is almost exactly the same, with the only difference being a slight increase in width to 71.2mm, and the weight has gone up to 172, likely due to the new metal camera surround.

It is a similar story for the larger phones, too. The Galaxy S20 Plus is 161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8mm and weighs 186g, while the new Galaxy S21 Plus measures 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.76mm. The new phone weighs a fair bit more than its predecessor, however, at 202g.

Pre-order Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Here

Lastly, the year-old Galaxy S20 Ultra measures 166.9 x 76 x 8.8mm and weighs 222g. The S21 Ultra is, unsurprisingly, almost exactly the same, at 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm and with a weight of 227g (or 229g for the mmWave model).

Both generations of phone look very similar, with the only major difference being the rear camera module of the new S21 family. Thanks to its large lenses, metal surround and highlight colors, Samsung is clearly making the camera a focal point (if you'll excuse the pun) of the new phones. Cameras aside, the S20 and S21 are visually almost identical.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20: Display

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra The S21 Ultra has S Pen stylus support for the first timeSamsung

Like Apple and the iPhone 12, Samsung has shifted from a screen that curves slightly at the edges to one that is completely flat – at least for the S21 and S21 Plus, as the Ultra retains the curved design.

The S21 and S21 Plus have the same screen sizes as their predecessors, at 6.2 and 6.7 inches respectively. The phones actually have a lower resolution compared to last year, at 2400 x 1080 compared to 3200 x 1440, although this is unlikely to make much of a difference. Both phones retain the same 120Hz refresh rate as before, but it is now adaptive, meaning it changes based on what you are doing with the phone – a move that should improve battery life.

As for the S21 Ultra, this phone has a 6.8-inch OLED display with a resolution of 3200 x 1440 and a 120Hz refresh rate (which the S20 Ultra couldn't manage at full resolution). The screen is a fraction smaller (to the tune of 0.1 inches) than the S20 Ultra, but has the same resolution.

The Ultra also benefits from a slightly higher maximum brightness than before, up from 1400 to 1500 nits from its Dynamic AMOLED X2 panel.

Pre-order Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Here

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20: Cameras

Although the rear camera of the new phones looks different to last year, not much has changed inside. Both the S21 and S1 Plus have the following:

  • 12 megapixel sensor with ultra wide lens and f/2.2 aperture
  • 12 megapixel sensor with wide lens and f/1.8 aperture
  • 64 megapixel sensor with telephoto lens and f/2.0 aperture

The only difference between these phones and the S20 family is how the S21 Plus no longer has a depth sensor, as the S20 Plus did. Samsung has made changes to the software of the camera for the S21 generation, but as far as the specification sheet goes, not much has changed.

Then there is the Galaxy S21 Ultra, where Samsung is making a big deal about the camera system. As with last year's S20 Ultra, the phone has a huge 108-megapixel main sensor and 100x zooming capability, but Samsung has added the same 'laser focus' system as the Galaxy Note 20, and there is now a pair of telephoto lenses, with 3x and 10x optical zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra The Galaxy S21 Ultra has four rear cameras and S Pen stylus supportSamsung

Here is a closer look at the four lenses of the S21 Ultra:

  • 12 megapixel sensor with ultra wide lens and f/2.2 aperture
  • 108 megapixel sensor with wide lens and f/1.8 aperture
  • 10 megapixel sensor with 3x telephoto lens and f/2.4 aperture
  • 10 megapixel sensor with 10x periscope telephoto lens and f/4.9 aperture

We are particularly keen to see what Samsung does with the pair of telephoto lenses, and what software tweaks have been added to overcome some of the zooming issues experienced with the S20 Ultra.

The S21 family can shoot 8K video and grab still images from that footage, which Samsung claims are as good as regular photos.

Pre-order Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Here

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20: Processor, RAM and storage

All members of the S21 family are powered by the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 processor, depending on market (with the former coming to the US). Both are upgrades in the Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 of the S20 family.

As before, storage and RAM vary across the range. The S21 and S21 Plus have 8GB of RAM, down from 12GB on the S20 and S20 Plus, and storage options are 128 and 256GB, up from the sole 128GB option on the S20.

The S21 Ultra has 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage as standard, but there is also a model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. This is the same as the year-old S20 Ultra.

Summary

Deciding whether the S21 is worth an upgrade over the S20 or not will likely boil down to what software changes Samsung has made to the camera, and whether those upgrades come to the older phones or not. While the new design will please some buyers, we can see it putting others off, especially those who prefer a simple, more subtle phone design.

As is increasingly the case across the smartphone industry, it is often best to hole onto your handset for two or three years before upgrading. We suspect this rule rings true with the S20 and S21, with the latter likely appearing more to owners of the older S9 or S10 handsets, instead of the 10-month-old S20.

Pre-order Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Here

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