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Samsung Galaxy S21 range reviewed: should you upgrade?

Samsung's flashy new S series have been through the Which? test labs to find out if cheaper prices come at a cost

Samsung Galaxy S21 range reviewed: should you upgrade?

Samsung’s latest launch in its Galaxy S series brings three new models: the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra.

It’s a slimmed down line-up from 2020’s S20 launch, which offered a slightly cheaper 4G handset. This year, Samsung has solely committed to 5G – and it has dropped its prices. Equivalent models are cheaper across the board – for example the base model S21 is £130 less than the equivalent S20 at launch.

What’s been sacrificed for the saving? The results are back from our tough tests, so read on to find out, or browse all Samsung smartphone reviews to see if the new models are the best it has to offer.

Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra compared

Unsure which phone to pick? See the table below for how the specs compare.

Galaxy S21 Galaxy S21+ Galaxy S21 Ultra
Display 6.2-inch AMOLED 6.7-inch AMOLED 6.8-inch AMOLED
Ram 8GB 8GB 12GB or 16GB
Internal storage 128GB or 256GB 128GB or 256GB 128GB, 256GB or 512GB
Battery 4,000mAh 4,800mAh 5,000mAh
Rear cameras 12Mp wide, 12Mp ultra-wide, 64Mp telephoto 12Mp wide, 12Mp ultra-wide, 64Mp telephoto 108Mp wide, 12Mp ultra-wide, 10Mp telephoto, 10Mp telephoto
Front camera 10Mp wide 10Mp wide 40Mp wide
Price £769 or £819 £949 or £999 £1,149, £1,199, £1,329

All phones are compatible with wireless charging, and Samsung has kept last year’s IP68 rating, which means they can survive a drop in water up to 1.5 metres deep for up to 30 minutes.

It’s not all good news on the feature front though. Like last year’s iPhone 12 range, Samsung hasn’t provided a charger in the box, just a USB cable. Plus they’re all missing the micro-SD card slot found on the S20 range, so you’ll need to choose your storage options carefully.

All of the new range have an evolved design, particularly noticeable with the camera array on the back. In our opinion it’s tidier and flows better – a contrast to the more ‘plonked on’ feel of the S20. The S21 also has a plastic back, though the two other phones in this range stick with glass.

Samsung Galaxy S21 – £769

Samsung Galaxy S21
The cheapest and smallest of the bunch, the Galaxy S21 costs less at launch than last year’s S20 5G.

The 6.2-inch screen size is the same as the S20, and makes it by far the most compact of the new models.

How does it compare to the Galaxy S20?

Most of the updates to the S21 range are incremental. It’s been kitted out with a slightly more powerful processor (the Exynos 2100). This should improve its running performance and ability to multitask. You also get a bigger fingerprint sensor under the screen.

Disappointingly, the display resolution has dropped from 1,440 x 3,200 to 1,080 x 2,400 pixels. It does have an adjustable refresh rate though, changing from 48Hz to 120Hz in a move to save battery life.

There are modest improvements to the camera, though these are more functional – it uses the same triple-camera array as its predecessor.

See how we rate 2021’s S series flagship by reading our Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Samsung Galaxy S21+ – £949

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Not much separates the S21+ from the S21, but most notably you get a glass back and an extra 0.5-inches of screen.

A bigger handset can also fit a bigger battery – this model has a 4,800mAh unit.

How does it compare to the Galaxy S20+?

It’s very similar, with the same 6.7-inch AMOLED display and triple rear-camera set-up.

It has the same updated processor as the S21 though, and the battery is bigger from last year’s 4,500mAh.

See if this phone is worth a spot on your shortlist by reading our Samsung Galaxy S21+ review.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – £1,149

The S21 Ultra is a clear step up, and not just on price. It has the largest screen, biggest battery and most cameras (four rear and one front) of the range.

It has the brightest display of any Galaxy phone yet, reaching 1,500 nits, and is the only phone in this year’s line-up to offer 12GB of Ram processing power (or 16GB if you choose the 512GB version).

It’s compatible with the S Pen, for those who like to use a stylus with a larger phone.

How does it compare with the S20 Ultra?

Its screen is a bit smaller (6.8 inches to 6.9 inches), but the S21 Ultra is the only phone of this year’s line-up to retain the 1,440 x 3,200-pixel resolution of the 2020 range’s displays.

Like the other two 2021 launches, it’s powered by the Exynos 2100 processor – a step up from last year’s phones.

Samsung has reserved its major updates to the cameras for its most expensive model. Like the S20 Ultra it has four rear cameras, but it’s upped the ante with two telephoto lenses offering 3x and 10x zoom, a 108Mp ‘bright night’ wide lens, and each camera has the ability to record in 4K.

We put this phone through our tough lab tests to see if it’s worth the considerable investment. Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review for our expert verdict.

The best phones on test

Our testing proves that you don’t always have to look to the year’s premium launches to find the best phone. We’ve found Best Buy handsets from as little as £200, so if you’re on a tighter budget, go to the best cheap phones for 2021 to bag a bargain.

If you’re just after the very best money can buy, head to the best phones we’ve tested to find a handset with a long battery life, stunning display and excellent camera quality.

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