Forget the Galaxy S22 and get an S21: Main differences between S21, Plus and Ultra
Samsung may have a new flagship lineup coming in a few months, but right now's a good time to buy from the Galaxy S21 line.
Karisa LangloSenior Editor
Karisa Langlo has been writing and editing professionally for over 12 years, joining CNET with two writing degrees and bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, Louisville Magazine and The Masters Review. She started on CNET's mobile team before expanding to all tech and now works across categories to optimize the performance of all CNET advice and storytelling, from Wellness to Money, News and Culture. Karisa also manages strategy for CNET's Tips franchise.
Samsung's current flagship lineup, the Galaxy S21, has been out for more than six months now. Since the unveiling of the Galaxy S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, Samsung has also released two new foldable devices, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3, and rumor has it the phone giant is also gearing up for the Galaxy S22 and the Galaxy S21 FE, a sequel to last year's popular lower-priced handset, the Galaxy S20 FE. Phew. With all these buzzy new phones being released, your best bet might actually be to buy one of Samsung's older models, especially if there are deals to be had. (The Galaxy S20 is also still worthy of consideration.) And if you're interested in the Galaxy S21, chances are you're very confused about the main differences between the three versions.
As the names suggest, each model in the Galaxy S21 lineup is slightly upgraded (and slightly pricier) than the one before it, resulting in a spectrum of specs to meet just about any Android user's needs. But how do you decide whether you're a baseline kind of person or if you should go directly to the top of the line? Sure, your budget can make the decision for you, but price doesn't tell the whole story and, depending on your needs, a higher-priced phone might also be the best value.
The most obvious differences among Samsung's Galaxy S21 line, besides the price, are screen size, battery capacity and camera capabilities. Going up the line, each phone increases in size. If you're small-handed, you might hate the heft of the Ultra. But if you're going to be watching a lot of videos, bigger is probably better.
Galaxy S21: 6.2 inches
Galaxy S21 Plus: 6.7 inches
Galaxy S21 Ultra: 6.8 inches
Battery capacity also increases as you move up the line, though we don't think you'll have any trouble getting through the day on a charge even with the baseline S21 phone.
Camera geeks are probably going to want to upgrade to the S21 Ultra. You can tell just by looking at the three phones that the S21 Ultra has some extra camera tricks up its sleeve, evidenced by its extra-large quadruple camera module, which also houses its flash. The S21 Ultra gets Space Zoom, an extra telephoto camera and a 108-megapixel wide-angle lens -- we're particularly impressed with S21 Ultra's zoom.
The phone has a clean look thanks to the two-tone approach, and it has Full HD resolution, which CNET's Patrick Holland describes as "a step down from the Quad HD quality on the S20" in his review. The adjustable screen refresh rate, which is good for games and good for your battery life when it's not in use, is also a plus.
The S21 Ultra is a significant hardware and software upgrade over the S20 Ultra. That's why the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra received the Editors' Choice Award from CNET. The addition of S-Pen support (it's the first Galaxy S phone to do so) will also get be of some use for Galaxy Note owners searching for a new phone.