Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20 series: Should you upgrade?

The Samsung Galaxy S20 series had an impressive lineup when it first launched more than a year ago, and the upcoming Galaxy S21 series looks to be a worthy successor. Building on what made last year’s models great, comparing the Galaxy S21 vs S20 lineups is essentially going down a list of ticked boxes on a flagship wishlist.

Much like last year, the S21 lineup consists of three phones: the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra. Each of these delivers the flagship performance fans expect.

But is it worth the upgrade if you already have the Galaxy S20? Or is the S21 a better buy than last year’s model, even with a hefty discount? Here’s our in-depth comparison of the Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20 series.

Our first impressions: Samsung Galaxy S21 series: Cheaper, but are they better?


Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20


Specs

  Samsung Galaxy S20 Samsung Galaxy S21 Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus
Display 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED
3,200 x 1,440
20:9 ratio
120Hz refresh rate at 1080p
60Hz refresh rate at 1440p
HDR10+ certified
6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Flat FHD+
2,400 x 1,080 at 421ppi
Adaptive 120Hz refresh rate
HDR10+ certified
6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED
3,200 x 1,440
20:9 ratio
120Hz refresh rate at 1080p
60Hz refresh rate at 1440p
HDR10+ certified
6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Flat FHD+
2,400 x 1,080 at 394ppi
Adaptive 120Hz refresh rate
HDR10+ certified
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 or Samsung Exynos 990 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or Samsung Exynos 2100 Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 or Samsung Exynos 990 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or Samsung Exynos 2100
RAM 12GB 8GB 12GB 8GB
Storage 128GB 128 or 256GB 128 or 512GB 128 or 256GB
MicroSD Yes, up to 1TB No Yes, up to 1TB No
Battery 4,000mAh
Fast wired and wireless charging
4,000mAh
Fast wired and wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
4,500mAh
Fast wired and wireless charging
4,800mAh
Fast wired and wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
Cameras Rear:
– Wide-angle: 12MP, 1/1.76″, ƒ/1.8, 1.8µm
– Telephoto: 64MP, ƒ/2.0, .8µm
– Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm

3x hybrid optical/digital zoom, Super Resolution Zoom up to 30x

Front:
– 10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22µm, AF

Rear:
– Wide-angle: 12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8µm with OIS and dual-pixel AF
– Telephoto: 64MP, ƒ/2.0, 0.8µm with OIS and phase-detection AF
– Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm with 120-degree FoV

3x hybrid optical/digital zoom
30x “Space Zoom”

Front:
– 10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22µm, with dual-pixel AF

Rear:
– Wide-angle: 12MP, 1/1.76″, ƒ/1.8, 1.8µm
– Telephoto: 64MP, ƒ/2.0, .8µm
– Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm
– VGA time-of-flight sensor

3x hybrid optical/digital zoom, Super Resolution Zoom up to 30x

Front:
– 10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22µm, AF

Rear:
– Wide-angle: 12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8µm with OIS and dual-pixel AF
– Telephoto: 64MP, ƒ/2.0, 0.8µm with OIS and phase-detection AF
– Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm with 120-degree FoV

3x hybrid optical/digital zoom
30x “Space Zoom”

Front:
– 10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22µm, with dual-pixel AF

Connectivity 4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, DSS, TDD/FDD, SA and NSA, no mmWave)
4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, SA and NSA, mmWave)
Wi-Fi 6E support
4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, DSS, TDD/FDD, SA and NSA, mmWave)
4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, SA and NSA, mmWave)
Wi-Fi 6E support
S Pen support No No No No
Operating System One UI 3.0
Android 11
One UI 3.1
Android 11
One UI 3.0
Android 11
One UI 3.1
Android 11
Water resistance IP68 IP68 IP68 IP68
Security Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock
Color Cosmic Grey, Cloud Blue, Cloud Pink 128GB in Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, and Phantom White

256GB only in Phantom Gray

Future colors: Phantom Gold and Phantom Red

Cosmic Grey, Cosmic Black, Cloud Blue, Aura Blue. 128GB in Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver, and Phantom Black

256GB only in Phantom Black

Future colors: Phantom Gold and Phantom Red

Dimensions and weight 69.1×151.7×7.9mm
163g
71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9mm
171g
73.8×161.9×7.8mm
186g
75.6 x 161.5 x 7.8mm
202g
  Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Display 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED
3,200 x 1,440
20:9 ratio
120Hz refresh rate at 1080p
60Hz refresh rate at 1440p
HDR10+ certified
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Curved WQHD+
3,200 x 1,440 at 515ppi
Adaptive 120Hz refresh rate
HDR10+ certified
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 or Samsung Exynos 990 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or Samsung Exynos 2100
RAM 12 or 16GB 12 or 16GB
Storage 128 or 512GB 128, 256, or 512GB
MicroSD Yes, up to 1TB No
Battery 5,000mAh
Fast wired and wireless charging
5,000mAh
Fast wired and wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
Cameras Rear:
– Wide-angle: 108MP, 1/1.33″, ƒ/1.8, .8µm
– Telephoto: 48MP, ƒ/3.5, .8µm
– Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm
– VGA time-of-flight sensor

Hybrid optical/digital zoom at 10x
Super Resolution at 100x

Front
– 40MP sensor, ƒ/2.2, .7µm, AF

Rear:
– Wide-angle: 108MP, ƒ/1.8, 0.8µm with OIS and phase-detection AF
– Telephoto: 10MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.22µm with OIS, dual-pixel AF, and 3x optical zoom
– Telephoto: 10MP, ƒ/4.9, 1.22µm with OIS, dual-pixel AF, and 10x optical zoom
– Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm with dual-pixel AF and a 120-degree FoV
– Laser AF sensor

10x optical zoom
100x “Space Zoom”

Front:
– 40MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.7µm, with phase-detection AF

Connectivity 4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, DSS, TDD/FDD, SA and NSA, mmWave)
4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, SA and NSA, mmWave)
Wi-Fi 6E support
S Pen support No Yes
Operating System One UI 3.0
Android 11
One UI 3.1
Android 11
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Security Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock
Color Cosmic Grey and Cosmic Black 128 GB in Phantom Silver and Phantom Black

256 and 512GB in Phantom Black

Future colors: Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, and Phantom Brown

Dimensions and weight 76×166.9x8mm
220g
75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm
229g

Design and display

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Plus vs S21 Ultra 2

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

The Galaxy S21 lineup has a fresh, new design that’s likely to be a trendsetter for 2021 flagships. Instead of an unsightly camera bump, it has a curved bump that’s integrated into the back panel of the phone. Samsung is calling this “Contour Cut Camera housing” and it integrates directly into the metal frame of the phone. This makes for an attractive appearance that’s sure to turn heads.

Compared to the Galaxy S20, this should also make the S21 much more comfortable to hold. Then again, if you use a phone case you might not notice too much of a difference. One big change is the back of the regular Galaxy S21 model which is now made of “glasstic” instead of real glass.

Related: The best Samsung phones

As for the display, the new devices once again have 120Hz adaptive displays, although the resolution on the two cheaper devices is actually lower than the previous models. Hopefully this means it can sustain 120Hz without lowering the resolution or taking a major hit to battery life, something the S20 models struggle to achieve. The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus also now have flat displays and lower resolutions, clocking in at 1080p instead of 1440p.

The physical size of each device is roughly the same across generations. However, the S21 series devices are slightly heavier overall than the S20 phones.

Hardware and camera

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra back camera macro

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

When comparing the hardware of the Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20 lineups, you’re essentially comparing the top-of-the-line specs from each respective year.

The S20 lineup is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (or Samsung Exynos 990), which offers flagship power and built-in 5G capabilities. It’s since been superseded (twice), and its successor the Snapdragon 888 powers the Samsung Galaxy S21 phones in the US. Internationally, the phones ship with Samsung’s own Exynos 2100.

Read also: 2021 SoC showdown: Snapdragon 888 vs Exynos 2100 vs Kirin 9000 vs Apple A14

While historically the Exynos versions of each phone were woefully underpowered compared to their Snapdragon counterparts, 2021 should bring the two closer than ever. At the very least this is true when it comes to energy consumption. Exynos graphics may still lag behind, but performance-wise it should be a big step up from the S20 Exynos variants.

Apart from that, the RAM has actually been reduced on the two standard models between generations, from 12GB to 8GB. The S21 Ultra, however, maintains the 12 and 16GB variants. That said, 8GB is more than enough for everyday use.

That wasn’t the only cut, either. None of the S21 phones feature microSD card support, so if you want expanded memory you’ll want to stick with the Galaxy S20 lineup. They also no longer ship with a charger, so be prepared to shell out extra money if you don’t have one handy.

The S21 lineup is more powerful, but loses SD card support and an in-box charger.

However, the premium Galaxy S21 Ultra has a new trick up its sleeve: S Pen support. This is the first time the popular feature makes the jump from the Galaxy Note line, and it should help you make better use of the larger screen.

As for the cameras, we performed extensive testing on the S20 camera systems and the results were fairly impressive. In our opinion, they aren’t quite up to the high standards set by Google’s Pixel lineup or Huawei’s flagships, but they continue a long history of great camera performance from Samsung.

The S21 lineup features largely the same camera set, with a 12MP wide-angle, 64MP telephoto, and 12MP ultra-wide on the S21 and S21 Plus. The S21 Ultra, much like last year, turns things up a notch with a 108MP wide-angle, two 10MP telephoto (3x and 10x), and a 12MP ultra-wide camera. Stay tuned for more in-depth camera testing from Android Authority after the phones hit the market.

Software

One UI 3.0 Features Widgets Shortcut

Credit: C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

While the Galaxy S20 series was recently upgraded to One UI 3.0 in December of 2020, the new S21 lineup with launch with One UI 3.1. Like the previous version, it’s based on Android 11, with a hefty helping of Samsung’s own flavoring thrown on top.

That said, we don’t yet know much about what new features One UI 3.1 will bring just yet. If the jump from One UI 2.5 to 3.0 is any indication, you shouldn’t expect a major overhaul. Those familiar with the existing software will find a seamless transition, and the update itself should land on Galaxy S20 devices shortly after launch.

Price and colors

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Credit: Adam Molina / Android Authority

  • Galaxy S20: $999/€999/£899
  • S20 Plus: $1,199/€1,099/£999
  • S20 Ultra: $1,399/€1,349/£1,199
  • Galaxy S21: $799/€849/£769
  • S21 Plus: $999/€1,049/£949
  • S21 Ultra: $1,199/€1,249/£1,149

Perhaps the most notable difference between the Galaxy S20 and S21 lineups is the pricing. At launch, the starting price for each variant is a full $200 cheaper than its predecessor. Obviously, now that the phones are over a year old, you can get S20 phones at a steep discount, but the price drop is hugely significant.

Read also: Samsung Galaxy deals: Save big on S10, S20, and Note smartphones

This is the first time since the Galaxy S9 that Samsung has lowered the starting price of its flagship phones year-over-year. At $799, the Galaxy S21 is competing more directly with phones from the likes of OnePlus and LG. It seems that the backlash over price hikes has finally had an effect.

As for colorways, the S20 lineup comes in Cosmic Grey, Cosmic Black, Cloud Blue, Cloud Pink, and Aura Blue depending on the model.

The S21 lineup switches to a new all-matte “phantom” color scheme. At launch, these include Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, Phantom Silver, Phantom Black, and Phantom White. The S21 and S21 Plus will later be offered in Phantom Gold and Phantom Red, and the S21 Ultra in Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, and Phantom Brown.


Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20: Should you really upgrade?

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 3

Credit: Adam Molina / Android Authority

If you already have a phone from the S20 series, you have a very powerful device on your hands. It’s still one of the best phones you can buy, even if the S21 series is a slight bump up (despite some downgrades here and there). Ultimately, they will offer almost the exact same experience in daily use.

There are, however, a few exceptions. The Exynos variants in particular are looking to be vastly improved. The extra battery life and performance may be worth an upgrade if you’re outside of the US.

For those interested in the highest-end model, the S21 Ultra’s inclusion of S Pen support is a gamechanger. No longer do you need to buy a Note to use a stylus on your Samsung phone. Unfortunately, you will have to buy the S Pen separately.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the S21 series is launching significantly cheaper. Coming in $200 less, they offer great value for just about anyone shopping for a new flagship in 2021.


Will you be picking up the latest Galaxy phones? Let us know in the comments.

https://www.androidauthority.com/samsung-galaxy-s21-vs-s20-1192401/

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