Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra Launched with 5G, Updated Style, and Advanced Cameras

Samsung held its latest Unpacked event this morning, signaling the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The latest Galaxy S21 phones have 5G, updated designs, hardware, and software, but the cameras are the star of the show.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G and Galaxy S21+ 5G

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21+ debuted with a newly designed Countour Cut Camera housing that extends the device’s metal frame to extend over the side and cover the camera array seamlessly; they’ve combined the camera shell with the frame of the phone. This makes the camera housing stronger and more durable than before when it was covered in glass, and the camera array is seamlessly joined with the back of the device. There’s still a bit of a bump, but it does look more polished.

Both phones have edge-to-edge AMOLED screens; the Galaxy S21 has a 6.2″ display, while the Galaxy S21+ has a 6.7″ display. Samsung introduced 120Hz displays last year with the Galaxy S20 series. This year, they are introducing an intelligent adaptive refresh rate that goes between 48Hz and 120Hz so that you always get an optimized viewing experience whether you are scrolling through social media, watching a movie, or gaming.

Blue light from a phone display can hurt your eyes and make it harder to sleep, so Samsung’s new Eye Comfort Shield will analyze your usage pattern to automatically adjust the blue light emitted from the S21 series displays based on the time of day or the content you are viewing. Samsung says that it is the most advanced and intelligent display that they have ever put on a smartphone with its vivid colors, adaptive refresh rate, Eye Comfort Shield.

Because the display is “your window to all of the epic experiences that the S21 series makes possible,”  Samsung has built these phones with their toughest front glass ever, Gorilla Glass Victus, for peace of mind.

Recognizing that the camera is often the most important selling point for a flagship model, the Galaxy S21 series will have pro-grade cameras with AI that do “all the thinking for you” The cameras know how to adjust their settings to give the brightest, most natural photos “with three lenses that render your memories crisp and clear.” The lenses include a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 12-megapixel wide camera, and a 64-megapixel telephoto camera with a 3X hybrid zoom.

As expected, both phones will feature the latest top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 8885G Mobile Platform; Samsung says that with the combination of this new chipset and their enhanced AI capabilities, the S21 and S21+ will capture every detail to “provide you with more natural and vivid portraits than ever before.” The Galaxy S21 and S21+ will automatically separate photo subjects from the background to bring depth and focus to your photos.

The intelligent cameras on the S21 and S21+ enhance the natural bokeh effect, whether in broad daylight or the dark. The S21 series has various portrait settings that accentuate the subjects and make them pop — the new devices “even detect the direction of light to help you capture studio-quality portraits.”

With Studio Mode, AI adjusts the lighting to create crisp and natural portraits; high-key and low-key mono modes are available, and you can opt to have AI select matching colors to create a “stunning backdrop automatically.”

Selfies haven’t been neglected, of course. The 10-megapixel front-facing camera uses AI-based face enhancement to provide high-quality in any light. Enhanced auto white balance ensures that your natural skin tone will be reflected in any lighting condition. And because a lot of the time, it’s easier to use the camera built into your favorite social app to capture your selfies, Samsung has been working with their partners to make sure that you get the same stunning photos when using the cameras built-into apps like Instagram or Snapchat.

The S21 and S21+ can film videos in 8K; because the videos are so sharp, Samsung says you no longer have to choose between taking photos or video. With 8K Video Snap, you can pull photos from your videos at 33-megapixels. Single Take is a video shooting option that takes up to 15 second long videos that are then broken down by AI into photos, videos, and boomerangs that you can choose from, rather than trying to get the perfect shot and then missing it. Single Take also gives you filter options so that your captures can be shared directly.

Director’s View is a new camera experience on the S21 line that gives you preview thumbnails from all your camera lenses while you shoot videos. That way, you can change angles, zoom in, go wide, close-up — all while filming. With the new Snapdragon 888 chipset, Samsung says they deliver 20% faster CPU speeds, 25% faster GPU speeds, and 2X faster AI, which means the S21 series can process graphics and AI faster than ever before.

The S21 series will feature an enhanced security system with a secure processor at its heart that has been engineered to make sure that your data stays protected, “even against advanced hardware attacks.” Samsung Knox Vault is a new physical, tamper-resistant module that includes a secure processor, secure memory, and integrated software to store your device’s PIN, password, biometric, blockchain, and Samsung service authentication keys.

Upgraded privacy features even extend to the pictures that you share. You can remove location metadata from photos to keep your location private before sharing them with social media. If you have photos, videos, or text files that you want to share with friends, “but you don’t really want them to keep,” Samsung’s Private Share allows you to share the content and remove access whenever you please, or you can let it naturally expire after two days.

Of course, that’s not going to stop someone from using another camera to capture images of the sexts you just sent, so please try to be careful.

The Galaxy 21 will have a 4,000mAh battery, and the Galaxy S21+ will have a 4,800mAh battery; Samsung says that they will last all day, even on a 5G network.

With 5G, Samsung’s collaboration with Xbox will continue to bring mobile gaming to your phone via the cloud, 5G will enable you to bring your favorite games with you while keeping them “fast, smooth, and stunning right on your phone.” Samsung’s continued partnership with Unity “to build the ultimate mobile gaming experience.”

With Unity, Samsung has developed Adaptive Performace to enabled them to “give you the games you love without the battery drain or overheating you might find on other devices.” Adaptive Performance has been applied to over 100 game titles, and more will be coming.

Samsung has also updated its UI to One UI3. This newer version offers a more refined experience with enhanced visual effects and more user customization. There are more widgets for the lock screen, so you can see more information without unlocking your phone. There are many other personalization and refinements associated with One UI3 that will be fun for Galaxy S21 owners to explore.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G and Galaxy S21+ 5G

The 128GB Samsung Galaxy S21 is available in phantom gray, phantom white, phantom pink, and phantom purple; the 256GB S21 is available in phantom gray. Not all colors will be available in all countries or from all carriers. Prices start at 799.99 for the 128GB model; a 256GB S21 is available for $899.99.

The 128GB Galaxy S21+ is available in phantom black, phantom silver, phantom violet, phantom gold, and phantom red; the 256GB S21+ is available in phantom black, phantom gold, and phantom red. Prices start at $999.99 for the 128GB model, and a 256GB S21+ is available for $1099.99

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra builds on the S21 with the same Snapdragon 888 5G chipset, but it offers more. Built for those who want a pro-grade camera in their smartphone, the S21 Ultra has four rear-facing cameras built into it’s back, including a 108-megapixel wide lens, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-lens, a 10-megapixel 10X telephoto lens, and a 10-megapixel 3X telephoto lens; there is also a laser autofocus sensor.

The upgraded 108-megapixel wide camera is optimized to take quality photos in various shooting environments. If you take photos in an environment with ample lighting, remosaic technology maximizes resolution to produce stunning photos by “rearranging and optimizing all of the cameras 108 million pixels according to RGB Bayer patterns.”

The 2121 Ultras “new re-mosaic algorithm uses 2X more pixels than before to create images with more clarity, detail, and sense of texture.” Since low-light situations make a more challenging environment to get pictures free of noise or irregular grainy spots that distort the image. The S21 Ultra uses nona-binning technology at the senor stage to bind nine pixels together into one larger pixel to increase each pixel’s surface area for capturing light.

The idea here is that it will ensure that each sensor gets enough light to create detailed photos, even in darker environments. In extreme darkness, the S21 Ultra’s sensor uses AI; one press of the shutter takes multiple frames, and the frames are then quickly processed to eliminate noise and blur; an AI ISP algorithm then works to identify and preserve the subject’s true shape and color tone for stunning results. 12-bit HDR eliminates motion blur and delivers a clear, vibrant picture.

Space Zoom, on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, offers clarity between 1 and 100X zoom. Fitting 10X optical zoom into the S21 Ultra’s body means that two precise folds had to be incorporated into the lens’s design to minimize thickness and light. Mirrors across sharp angles and pathways direct light to produce pro-level magnification without the need for more lens equipment. “The result is a compact yet powerful double-folded lens that fits perfectly within a small space.”

Even at the highest magnification levels, image quality is boosted by powerful resolution AI. “at one push of the shutter, up to 20 frames are captured and processed at instantaneous speeds.” Super Resolution AI produces detailed images, even at high magnification levels. When shooting at high magnifications, Intelligent Zoom Lock allows you to set the image in place so you can shoot with minimal shake.

The Laser AF sensor allows the S21 Ultra to measure the distance between the lens and subject in real-time; if an object within 30cm is detected, the camera will automatically switch to the new 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angel lens, applying optimized macro settings for extreme close-ups up to 5cm away.

With the S21 Ultra, you can shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second with every lens on the phone, including the 40-megapixel front-facing camera, to make mobile film making accessible to everyone. They give artists the agility to shoot what they want and push boundaries for what they can create.

Until next year, at least, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has the most powerful cameras Samsung has ever put in a smartphone.

With it’s 6.8″ edge-to-edge QUAD HD+ AMOLED 2X display, sleek frame, and matte finish, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is beautiful and brawny. As you shift between photos and gaming, the phone will automatically shift between a 10Hz and 120Hz refresh rate to give you the smoothest viewing experience while conserving the life of the 5,000mAh battery.

If you want to use an S-pen or the newly announced S-Pen Pro with your Galaxy S21 Ultra, you will be able to; although, unlike the Note series, it does not have a dock for the pen.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

A few things worth noting — none of the new Samsung Galaxy S21 models have a microSD memory slot, and they will not include a wall charger in the box.

The 128GB Galaxy S21 Ultra is available in phantom black, phantom silver, phantom titanium, phantom navy, and phantom brown; the 256GB and 512GB S21 Ultras are available in phantom black, phantom navy, phantom titanium, and phantom brown. Not all colors will be available in all countries or from all carriers. Prices start at $1199.99 for the 128GB model; the 256GB S21 Ultra is available for $1299.99, and the 512GB version is available for $1379.

The entire Samsung Galaxy S21 series is available now for preorder with shipping by January 27th for the S21, S21+, and some models of the S21 Ultra. The higher capacity versions of the S21 Ultra and a few of the offered colors will ship shortly after.

if you’re already an AT&T customer (or you’d like to be), they’re offering some fantastic deals on these devices:

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Series

  • AT&T Deal: New and existing AT&T customers can get up to $800 off any device in the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G series when they trade-in an eligible device and buy on a 30-month installment plan with an AT&T unlimited plan. That means they can get the Galaxy S21 for FREE, the Galaxy S21+ for $199.99, or the Galaxy S21 Ultra for $399.99.
  • Availability: Pre-orders start Jan. 14; available in-store and online Jan. 29. Customers can pre-order at
  • Fast, Reliable, Secure 5G: Every model in the Galaxy S21 series can access AT&T 5G, the Fastest Nationwide 5G Network according to Ookla Speedtest, as well as 5G+. All of our current consumer unlimited plans include 5G access at no additional charge.
  • Key Features: Film 8K video, switch camera angles in real-time, and record from the front and back simultaneously. The adaptive 120Hz display is Samsung’s best smartphone display yet. And Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is the first S series smartphone to include S Pen compatibility. 

Galaxy Buds Pro

  • AT&T Deal: For a limited time, AT&T customers can get Samsung’s sleek new earbuds for 50% off with a device purchase when you order at
  • Availability: Pre-orders start Jan. 14; available in-store and online Jan. 29.
  • Key Features: Amplify sound, cancel out background noise, and enjoy more responsive conversation with the helpful virtual assistant, Bixby. Plus, they’re Samsung’s most water-resistant earbuds yet.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.