This story is part of Samsung Event, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Samsung's most popular products.
Update, Jan. 21: Here are CNET's reviews of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Today is Samsung day and the Galaxy S21 will be unveiled soon. The Unpacked event is happening at 7 a.m. PT (10 a.m. ET), following months of rumors and speculation. Here's how to watch the Galaxy Unpacked event live on the last day of CES 2021. The latest leaks show detailed product specs and information on how the three S21 phones compare to each other and what will come in the box, as well as what appears to be a preorder offer for the Galaxy Buds Pro or Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy SmartTag. You can actually register to preorder the S21 right now.
The company released a whole slew of phones in 2020 to match almost every budget, from the $100 Galaxy A01 all the way through to the $1,999 Galaxy Z Fold 2. But the Galaxy S phones are seen as the company's flagship handsets, with 2020 seeing the launch of the Galaxy S20 line and the more affordable Galaxy S20 FE. Leaks point to the S21 sporting a new design with improved camera features, including a 10x optical zoom. Other rumors say the S21 Ultra might even replace the Galaxy Note phones altogether, with leaks showing a case for the phone that has room for the S Pen.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 specs: Battery, price, size and more, according to rumors
Here's everything we know right now about the Galaxy S21 phones.
3 Galaxy S21 phones with the same processor
It should come as no surprise that Samsung is expected to launch three different models of the S21: the 6.2-inch S21, 6.7-inch S21 Plus and 6.8-inch S21 Ultra. But an extensive leak from Max Weinbach of Android Police apparently documents almost the entire spec sheet, which reveals even more about these three phones than just the model names and sizes. The latest Evan Blass leak also includes a detailed spec sheet showing three phones with these same model names and display sizes.
The screens will likely all support 120Hz like the earlier S20 series, with the S21 Ultra sporting the highest resolution WQHD Plus display. But the other key reveal is that these phones will likely use the latest Snapdragon processor in the US. Previously thought to be called the Snapdragon 875, it's actually been branded as the Snapdragon 888, which was announced at a Qualcomm virtual event in December. Some of the key claims of the new chip are faster 5G performance and extended battery life.
Read more: Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S20: Rumored price, features and more compared
The other main differences between the S21 phones look to be the design of the camera modules, color options and of course the battery capacity. The base S21 will have a 4,000-mAh battery, the S21 Plus battery will be 4,800 mAh and the high-end S21 Ultra will get a mammoth 5,000-mAh battery, according to the leaked spec sheets.
Renders show a sleek new camera and frame design
Earlier renders published by Steve Hemmerstoffer (@OnLeaks) indicate that the Galaxy S21 won't look radically different from the earlier S20 phones, but it will have a redesigned camera module. It appears there will be an in-screen fingerprint reader and a hole-punch selfie camera like before on all three phones, with the screens on the S21 and S21 Plus sitting flat and the S21 Ultra's screen curving at the edges. More teasers for the Galaxy S21 leaked online in early December showing a Phantom Violet color with a hole-punch camera and small bezel on the front of the device and a three-camera rear setup.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 colors: Get ready for pastel pink, if rumors are true
The three-camera array on the S21 and S21 Plus has been moved to the top left corner and it's safe to assume there will be a regular wide-angle, ultrawide angle and telephoto camera. This render matches the leaked spec sheet from Android Police and Evan Blass, which says these will be a 12-megapixel ultrawide and wide camera, plus a 64-megapixel telephoto camera. The LED flash has been moved just to the right of the camera housing.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a little different, with a much bigger camera module with four rear cameras: a 12-megapixel wide and ultrawide, plus two 10-megapixel telephoto cameras at 3x and 10x optical zoom. It also appears as if the 100x space zoom seen on the S20 Ultra will also feature on the S21 Ultra. Space zoom is Samsung's term for the hybrid digital and optical zoom used to reach 100x.
The S21 Ultra's main camera looks to have a 108-megapixel sensor dubbed "gen 2 sensor" on the spec sheet. We assume it will use a similar pixel binning method to output 12-megapixel shots, like the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra do with their 108-megapixel sensors. The S21 Ultra also looks to keep the laser autofocus system found on the Note 20 Ultra, opposed to the phase-detect autofocus system on the S20 Ultra.
Evan Blass on Twitter shared the following infographic that details the resolutions and specs of the cameras on the S21 series that appears to corroborate the earlier leaks.
While the @OnLeaks renders also show the S21 series in both a gray and black finish, other colors are expected. The S21 looks to come in a Phantom White, Phantom Grey, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink; the S21 Plus in Phantom Silver, Phantom Black and Phantom Violet; and the S21 Ultra in Phantom Black and Phantom Silver. The render in the video below from Italian site Pigtou shows what the silver finish may look like.
Twitter user Ice universe posted an image showing concept renders of the other S21 colors, then followed up with an image posted to Instagram that they claim is the front of the S21 Ultra.
YouTube user Sakitech posted the video below, which claims to show a photo of both the S21 Ultra and S21 Plus. It details the camera specs and gives an overview of what preproduction sample might look like. Dutch site LetsGoDigital also posted detailed 3D renders of the Galaxy S21 series that show the SIM tray relocated to the base of the phone.
Will the Galaxy S21 have accessories in the box?
Samsung will almost certainly follow Apple's lead in removing both the charger and corded headphones from the box of the Galaxy S21, according to an earlier report, now corroborated by the Blass leaks. This wouldn't be the first time that Samsung has removed the headphones from the retail box, as the $1,999 Galaxy Z Fold 2 shipped without headphones in the US (although you could request a pair of AKG headphones from Samsung after purchase).
Read more: Will Samsung Galaxy S21 have a headphone jack? Here's why we don't think so
Goodbye Galaxy Note, hello stylus for the S21?
A report from Reuters says that Samsung may discontinue the Galaxy Note line and the S21 Ultra will take its place as the Samsung phone with a stylus. While the renders don't show a visible location for a stylus, the phone could still support the S Pen with a software update. This would mean that the stylus would have to be housed separately from the phone when not in use. Images from WinFuture show a case for the S21 Ultra that has a specific slot for the S Pen when it's not in use, seeming to confirm the rumors that there will be no place to store the S Pen in the phone itself, like you can on the Galaxy Note line. The latest spec leak also shows S Pen support in the S21 Ultra only, though the stylus will be sold separately.
In Samsung's blog post, TM Roh also confirms there will be a synergy between the Note and other Samsung phones. "We've also been paying attention to people's favorite aspects of the Galaxy Note experience and are excited to add some of its most well-loved features to other devices in our lineup."
Older wearables might not be compatible with the S21
Samsung has released lots of different fitness trackers and smartwatches over the past few years, but a notification in the Samsung Members app spotted by GalaxyClub suggests the Galaxy S21 won't support older wearables like the Galaxy Gear. The full list of affected devices includes the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, Gear S and Gear Fit. This news isn't particularly surprising, given that some of these trackers were released over five years ago.
One UI 3.1 may debut on the S21
Another video surfaced by Droid Life shows the new Samsung One UI 3.1 that will supposedly launch along with the S21. As an update to the current One UI 3.0 that's on many new Samsung phones at the moment running Android 11, the new update looks to bring features like call background videos, the Google discover feed on the home screen, plus tweaks to the camera interface.
The S21 might be less expensive than the S20
There is also the possibility that Samsung will drop the base price of the Galaxy S21, perhaps in response to the drop in sales of mobile phones across the board because of the coronavirus pandemic. South Korean leaker Landsk claims that the S21 will start at $899, the S21 Plus at $1,099 and the S21 Ultra $1,250. This would mark a $100 price drop compared to the launch price of the regular S20 in March 2020.
More Samsung Galaxy S21 rumors:
- Will Samsung Galaxy S21 have a headphone jack? Here's why we don't think so
- Galaxy S21's cameras: What we know and think we know so far
- Samsung Galaxy S21 colors: Get ready for pastel pink, if rumors are true
- Samsung Galaxy S21 specs: Battery, price, size and more, according to rumors
- Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S20: Rumored price, features and more compared
- Galaxy S21 price: Samsung's next phone could cost $100 less than the S20
- Galaxy S21 pre-preorders are open, but what about a release date? Here's what we know
- Samsung Galaxy S21 battery: What the rumors say the phone will have