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Galaxy S21: Samsung didn't bring back the headphone jack and here's why

People were holding out hope for a return to the headphone jack on the Galaxy S21, but Samsung didn't deliver.

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This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Samsung's Galaxy S21, the follow-up to last year's Galaxy S20, has arrived earlier than the company's flagship phones usually do. (Here are CNET's Galaxy S21 review and Galaxy S21 Ultra review.) Samsung hosted a virtual Unpacked event earlier this month in which the latest Galaxy S smartphone was unveiled, about a month earlier than last year's announcement. And today the Galaxy S21 line officially hits shelves. Here's how to buy one.

Rumors had been circulating for months about the new device, fueled by leaks galore. Would the Galaxy S21 come with a stylus? Would it sport a sleek new design? Would it replace the Galaxy Note line

And the perennial question: Would it include a headphone jack? We now know the answer: No, the Galaxy S21 does not have a headphone jack.

Now playing: Watch this: Our first look at the new Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus
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We guessed as much ahead of the Unpacked event, based on leaks. But if we learned anything in the time since Samsung released its last Galaxy S flagship (the very same day the coronavirus disease was officially christened COVID-19), it's that anything is possible. 

Leaked teasers for the Galaxy S21 showed a similar design to the S20 lineup, with an in-screen fingerprint reader and a centered hole-punch front camera. But one thing we didn't see in the leaked images is a headphone jack, which told us it was probably not in the cards for the S21. More recent leaks showing Samsung's specs for all three models of the S21 also did not include mention of a headphone jack. 

There had been some unsubstantiated conjecture about Samsung reintroducing the headphone jack as a sort of experiment in 2021. The thinking here is that a headphone jack could be enough to differentiate the Galaxy flagship from other premium phones from the likes of Apple and Google, which have also forced users to convert to either the wireless earbud or dongle lifestyle in recent years.

It was an interesting theory, especially if you remember Samsung's initial reaction to Apple's original removal of the headphone jack from its 2016 handset, the iPhone 7. Apple's move became a punchline at Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 launch event that same year. And ads for the Galaxy Note 8 went a step further, mocking the iPhone's unwieldy dongle setup. But the tide changed and, when Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Note 10 in 2019, it, too, left the headphone jack on the cutting room floor. Last year's Galaxy S20 also lacked a headphone jack, the first of the Galaxy S line to nix it.

Read more: iPhone 12's Lightning port may be the next thing Apple kills

History repeated itself with the Galaxy S21. When Apple decided not to include a charger or earphones in the box with its iPhone 12, Samsung mocked that decision as well. But now Samsung followed suit and also nixed them. A leak from tipster Evan Blass the day before Galaxy Unpacked also showed a "what's in the box" page from Samsung that only listed a USB-C cable (sans charging brick), ejection pin and Quick Start Guide, citing environmental reasons. And not including headphones in the box was yet another piece of evidence against the inclusion of a corresponding headphone jack.

Read more: With no charger or expandable storage, the Galaxy S21 is more like the iPhone 12 in some of the worst ways

One reason phone makers love to lose the jack: thinner bezels. Thin is in, and a smaller bezel footprint allows for a larger screen without adding to the phone's overall size. 

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Samsung

Another, perhaps more cynical reason: The company's own wireless earbuds ought to sell better when its phones lack a wired headphone jack. Apple's AirPods have sold like gangbusters, likely thanks in no small part to the iPhone's excised jack. And Samsung's got its own line of wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds, Galaxy Buds Plus and Galaxy Buds Live, and now, there are the Galaxy Buds Pro, too. So it makes a lot of sense for Samsung to stick to its decision to bid the headphone jack adieu.