3 major changes Samsung made to the Galaxy S21 to get that $200 price cut

After underwhelming sales of the S20 lineup, Samsung has had a serious rethink of its US pricing strategy as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
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Sareena Dayaram
2 min read
Samsung Galaxy S21
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Samsung's much-awaited Galaxy S21 lineup arrived in January -- and the standout feature isn't found on its software or hardware. It's its price tag. The next-gen flagship lineup starts at $800 (£769, AU$1,249) for the baseline Galaxy S21, rises to $1,000 (£949, AU$1,549) for the Galaxy S21 Plus, and maxes out at $1,200 (£1,149, AU$1,849) for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, representing a $200 price cut for the trio of models from last year's S20 family.

Samsung promises its new S21 lineup works better than its predecessors, despite its cheaper price tag. But Samsung is a publicly listed business after all, and it needed to make a bunch of calculated compromises to allow the S21 to hit that lowered price, even if component costs are trending lower. Here are a few ways Samsung did exactly that.

Read more: The best phone to buy for 2021

1. Removed bundled charger and earphones

One of the most controversial omissions is the in-box wall adapter and earphones. Samsung is pushing its customers to reuse older accessories in the name of the environment, just like Apple did with the iPhone 12 family. Samsung has been using standardized USB-C type charging ports since 2017, so older chargers will still be compatible with the S21 phones.

Watch this: We review the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G and its bonkers cameras

2. Memory, storage and resolution reduced or eliminated

The S21 line also lost expandable local storage, joining last year's Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Z Flip foldables in ditching the microSD card slot because "usage has markedly decreased," according to the company. One of the other trade-offs getting less attention is: a reduction in RAM on the base S21 (it has 4GB less RAM than the S20); the reduction of the screen resolution (by half) on the S21 and S21 Plus.

3. S21 phone loses glass backing

For its base S21, Samsung replaced the Gorilla Glass from the back with a high-end plastic called polycarbonate, going in the direction of its more pro Note 20 line. The S20 Plus and Ultra however, each have Victus glass on both the front and back.  

If you need more details, read CNET's Galaxy S21 review for more or take a look at our specs chart below.

Samsung Galaxy S21 lineup vs. S20 lineup

Galaxy S21Galaxy S20Galaxy S21 PlusGalaxy S20 PlusGalaxy S21 UltraGalaxy S20 Ultra
Display size, resolution 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x, (2,400x1,080 pixels)6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X; (3,200x1440 pixels)6.7-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x, (2,400x1,080 pixels)6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3,200x1,440 pixels)6.8-inch Edge WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, (3,200x1,440 pixels)6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3,200x1,440 pixels)
Pixel density 421 ppi563 ppi394 ppi525 ppi515 ppi511 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 2.80x5.97x0.31 inches2.72x5.97x0.31 inches2.97x6.35x0.3 inches2.9x6.37x0.30 inches2.97x6.5x0.35 inches2.99x6.57x0.35 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 71.2x151.7x7.9mm69.1x151.7x7.9 mm75.6x161.5x7.8 mm73.7x161.9x7.8 mm75.6x165.1x8.9 mm76.0x166.9x8.8 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.03 oz; 171g5.75 oz; 163g7.12 oz; 202g6.56 oz; 186g8.07 oz; 229g7.76 oz; 220g
Mobile software Android 11Android 10Android 11Android 10Android 11Android 10
Camera 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight camera108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 10-megapixel (3x telephoto), 10-megapixel (10x telephoto)108-megapixel (wide-angle), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight camera
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel10megapixel10-megapixel10-megapixel40-megapixel40-megapixel
Video capture 8K8K8K8K8K8K
Processor Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz + 1.8GHz)64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz+1.8GHz)64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz + 1.8GHz)64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)
Storage 128GB/256GB128GB128GB/256GB128GB/512GB128GB/256GB/512GB128GB/512GB
RAM 8GB12GB (5G), 8GB (LTE) 8GB12GB (5G), 8GB (LTE) 12GB, 16GB12GB, 16GB
Expandable storage NoneUp to 1TBNoneUp to 1TBNoneUp to 1TB
Battery 4,000 mAh4,000 mAh4,800 mAh4,500 mAh5,000 mAh5,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screenIn-screenIn-screenIn-screenIn-screenIn-screen
Headphone jack NoNoNoNoNoNo
Special features IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; water resistant (IP68)IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; water resistant (IP68)IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 100x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, 10x optical zoom5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; 100X zoom; water resistant (IP68)
Price off-contract (USD) $800 (128GB)$999$1,000 (128GB)$1,199, $1,349$1,200 (128GB)$1,399 (128GB), $1,599 (512GB)
Price (GBP) £769£799, £899 (5G)£949£999 (5G)£1,329£1,199 (128GB), £1,399 (512GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,249AU$1349 (4G), AU$1,499 (5G), AU$1,549AU$1,499 (4G), AU$1,649 (128GB), AU$1,899 (512GB)AU$1,849AU$1,999 (128GB), AU$2,249 (512GB)