Review: Should you get the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+ or S21 Ultra?

Samsung has launched its latest flagship smartphones with the Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra.

In terms of design, the three smartphones look more or less the same – especially the front and the sides. Not to mention, the S21 and S21+ are basically identical apart from the size of their displays.

Left to right: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, S21+ and S21 (Photo: Samsung)

The S21 has a 6.2-inch FHD+ AMOLED display, while the S21+ has a larger 6.7-inch FHD+ AMOLED display. On the other hand, the S21 Ultra has a 6.8-inch QHD+ AMOLED display.

However, all the displays have adaptive refresh rates that can go up to 120Hz. This means you get smooth scrolling when browsing web pages and less ghosting when playing games.

Galaxy S21Galaxy S21+Galaxy S21 Ultra
Price$1,248$1,498$1,798 (256GB)/$1,998 (512GB)
ProcessorExynos 2100Exynos 2100Exynos 2100
Display6.2 inches (2,400 x 1,080 pixels), 120Hz refresh rate6.7 inches (2,400 x 1,080 pixels), 120Hz refresh rate6.8 inches (3,200 x 1,440 pixels), 120Hz refresh rate
OSAndroid 11, One UI 3.1Android 11, One UI 3.1Android 11, One UI 3.1
CameraFront camera – 10MP
Rear cameras – 12MP
Ultra-wide-angle, 12MP
Wide-angle, 64MP Telephoto (3x hybrid zoom)
Front camera – 10MP
Rear cameras – 12MP
Ultra-wide-angle, 12MP
Wide-angle, 64MP Telephoto (3x hybrid zoom)
Front camera – 40MP
Rear cameras – 12MP
Ultra-wide-angle, 108MP
Wide-angle, 10MP Telephoto (3x optical zoom), 10MP Telephoto (10x optical zoom)
Memory256GB; 8GB RAM256GB; 8GB RAM256GB; 12GB RAM/ 512GB; 16GB RAM
S Pen SupportNoNoYes
The specifications of the Samsung Galaxy S21 series at a glance

When it comes to the cameras, the S21 and S21+ have the same camera configuration – a 10-megapixel (MP) front-facing camera, and at the back – a triple-camera system consisting of a 12MP ultra-wide, 12MP wide and 64MP telephoto camera with 3x hybrid zoom.

The S21 Ultra is the one with the big guns. It has a 40MP front-facing camera and a rear quad-camera system consisting of a 12MP ultra-wide, a 108MP wide, a 10MP telephoto 3x optical and a 10MP periscope telephoto with 10x optical zoom. It also has a laser autofocus sensor.

As a result, the back of the S21 Ultra looks different from the other two models with the camera module having a significantly bigger bulge. Guess, you cannot fight the laws of physics?

Still, this bulge is unlike the glaringly protruding camera module of Samsung’s Note20 Ultra.

In any case, I like the rear camera modules of all the S21 models being seamlessly flushed from one side of the body. It looks so much sleeker than its predecessors.

In terms of one-hand handling, the smallest S21 is always going to be better than rest. This is especially so for those with small palms. Plus, it is available in four colours of grey, pink, violet (or purple) and white.

The S21+ comes in three colours of black, silver and violet, while the S21 Ultra is only available in black and silver. I heard a lot of wow from my colleagues when they saw the violet model. It is indeed beautiful.

The silver S21+ review unit looks equally cool to me, as it seems to be a rainbow-like luminous lighting effect depending on the angle you look at it.

But personally, I absolutely love the all-black S21 Ultra model we have here. It looks stealthy, cool and awesome. Its smooth matte finish helps to reduce fingerprint smudges.

Plus, I think the S21 Ultra is quite slim for its size and specifications. I can hold it with one hand without any issues.

Left to right: The black S21 Ultra, the silver S21+ and violet S21. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The displays of the S21 models are generally flat except the S21 Ultra’s being slightly curved on its sides. But it is not significant enough to have accidental touches from the base of my thumb.

Before I forget, the S21 Ultra is the only model in the series that supports the S Pen stylus (optional, not included in box). So, you can draw, jot down notes or sign documents. However, as the S21 Ultra lacks Bluetooth support for the S Pen. Thus, the S Pen does not have the air gestures, such as swinging the S Pen like a wand to move slides, found in the Note20 series.

All three S21 smartphones use the same Samsung Exynos 2100 chip, unlike the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 with better GPU found in US and China sets.

Still, whether you are playing games or using any app or multi-tasking, performance is top-notch regardless of S21 model.

In addition, unlocking the S21 series’ display using the fingerprint sensor feels much faster than last year’s S20 and Note20 series. It feels almost instantaneous.

If camera is the most important factor for you, get the S21 Ultra.

The 108MP high-resolution mode continues to be superb. You have to activate this high-res mode though. Comparing shots of a same scene using the high-resolution and normal mode, the 108MP picture looks visibly sharper with much greater details.

In addition, the S21 Ultra’s 10x optical zoom camera is just a convenient tool to have. For instance, I can go from an ultra-wide-angle shot of the parliament house to a zoom-in shot of the Singapore flag.

On the other hand, I am disappointed that S21 and S21+ only have a 3x hybrid zoom. It is not even optical zoom.

That said, all the S21 series have the new camera features like Single Take and Director’s View.

For the Enhanced Single Take, it lets you automatically capture stills and videos in different angles and with different effects, such as smart cropping a still image or reversing a video. It will choose the best still or video from the lot taken. Good if you are the lazy kind.

On the other hand, Director’s View or Vlogger mode allows you to take videos using the front-facing and rear cameras at the same time. This is great for vloggers who can video their own reactions as well as the product or scenes in front of them.

How the Vlogger mode works. (Video: Trevor Tan)

In normal usage, any of the S21 smartphones should easily last you through the day without the need to charge. But if you are playing Pokemon Go all the time, you might have to use a power bank to charge the smartphone in around four to five hours.

On the downside, Samsung does not include the power adapter or earphones in the box. But if you pre-order the phones now with Samsung official stores, you can get Samsung’s true wireless earbuds for free.

However, the bigger issue is the lack of microSD card slot. In other words, there is no expandable storage. This is especially when the S21 and S21+ have only 256GB of storage. Only the S21 Ultra has a 512GB storage option.

If you are looking for a new smartphone to replace your old one, any of the Galaxy S21 series will serve you really well.

But if you are looking for the best Android smartphone in the market, I highly recommend the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It might not have the most innovative-sounding features, but its sleek design, fast performance, great image quality and convenient 10x optical zoom camera means it is the most rounded smartphone in the market right now.

As such, I give the S21 Ultra the SGEEK Editor’s Choice. And I highly recommend you to go for the 512GB model. You will definitely need the extra storage.

Samsung Galaxy S21/S21+

+ Sleek design
+ Fabulous display
+ Fast performance
+ Great image quality
+ Good one-hand handling

– No microSD card slot
– No earphones and power adapter
– Only 3x hybrid zoom

DESIGN: 9.5/10
OVERALL: 8.5/10

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

+ Sleek design
+ Fabulous display
+ Fast performance
+ Convenient 10x optical zoom camera
+ Superb image quality
+ S Pen support

– No microSD card slot
– No earphones and power adapter

DESIGN: 9.5/10

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.
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