Usually in January, we’re still trading leaks and rumours about the incoming crop of smartphones — but Samsung launched early this time around, and the Galaxy S21 has already been announced.
At a glance, both the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ look to be modest enhancements over last year’s excellent Galaxy S20, but there are changes. Some aspects of the phone are improved, as you’d expect, but there are concessions made to get to a lower starting price.
Is it really a significant upgrade? And if you already have a Galaxy S20 or S20+, should you feel compelled to bump up to the next big thing? Here’s how it looks at this point.
Design: Flat and a fresh flourish
From the front, the Galaxy S21 doesn’t look very different from its predecessor, although the slight curve to the display has been flattened out. This is arguably a win for usability, as curved screens can sometimes register unintentional taps and touches along the edges, although it may make the phone look a little less svelte.
On the back is where there’s a more significant difference in design, thanks to the new camera module aesthetic. It’s linked into the frame to give it more emphasis, standing out as a design element rather than just a functional necessity. It’s more eye-catching than the pill-shaped module from the S20, for sure.
There’s one big notable difference here for the standard Galaxy S21, too: Samsung has opted for a plastic back on the base S21 model, which is undoubtedly part of the justification for the price drop. However, the larger S21+ still has a glass backing, as does the super-luxe Galaxy S21 Ultra model.
Screen: A resolution dip
Here’s another area of significant change for Samsung flagships. After several years of super-crisp QHD screens, the Galaxy S21 and S21+ both feature a Full HD panel. The change comes after the S20 and S20+ forced users to choose between a QHD+ setting at a standard 60Hz refresh rate or FHD+ at a smoother 120Hz refresh rate.
This time around, the QHD option is gone entirely. Most GS20 users would probably tell you that FHD+ at 120Hz looked and felt better than QHD+ at 60Hz, but we were hoping to see the S21 and S21+ do both: QHD+ at 120Hz. Sadly, that’s not the case. Only the Galaxy S21 Ultra keeps the QHD+ panel and can hit 120Hz thanks to its dynamic refresh rate.
The S21 (6.2in) and S21+ (6.7in) also have a dynamic refresh rate that can conserve battery life when you don’t need the higher rate, but will max out at 120Hz when you need the smoothness.