Samsung’s January 2021 Unpacking was all good news with the launch of the S21 series smartphones, improved and smarter Galaxy Buds, and new services and widgets that make life easier during these challenging times. Samsung’s S21 series devices are also up to several hundred bucks cheaper than the previous S20 and Note 20 series.
Let’s get to it:
Galaxy S21 5G and S21+ 5G
Like its sibling S21 Ultra, both phones have a new bold design with a distinctive slight raised three lens bump – a design blending the camera assembly with the phone body metal and glass seamlessly. It features edge-to-edge Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display with adaptive 120Hz automatically set refresh rate for smoother scrolling according to what you are doing. Much AI goes on in making better snap picture in challenging scenes for the entire S21 series. Armed with steady 8K video it also let’s you easily capture 8K 7,680 x 4,320 still frames – 33 Megapixel photos at a faster rate than professional digital cameras. Never miss a moment during fast paced family events.
Director’s view lets you see, switch, and select the best camera angles to capture video with both the front and rear cameras at once. Or real-time reactions with Vlogger’s View, and preview or change the angle, zoom, or go wide without losing any action with Live Thumbnails. Insane. Single take is back but will have to see if it’s improved.
There is a small price to pay (or save) for the reduced price of these two cameras. The S21 5G phones now have flat panel screens and feature a step down in resolution from the 3,200 x 1,440 to a more modest 2,400 x 1,080 resolution on a 6.2″ screen at 421 ppi for the S21. It’s something hardly anyone will notice, unless maximum screen captures are important to you. The S21 back panel is made of polycarbonate plastic. You wouldn’t know unless I told you. Frankly, one less item to break on a phone. While the S21 still offers an acceptable 4,000 mAh battery, the S21+ has been upgraded to a larger 4,800 mAh battery and a 6.7″ screen. Both the S21 and S21 Plus offer a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera, a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, and a 64-megapixel telephoto lens, along with a 10-megapixel selfie camera.
30x Space Zoom is back, improved according the Samsung with the new Zoom Lock (featured in the series) for minimizing shaky hands and keeping the far away subject centered. Dynamic range like more face details in shadows is improved, too. Samsung Knox Vault adds new tamper-resistant secure memory to the secure processor, a new layer of protection in all the series models too.
The S21 is available in Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink and Phantom White in 128GB and 256GB models with 8GB RAM. Pricing is $1,130 (regular price) for the 128GB model, and $1,200 (Phantom Gray only; regular price) for the 256GB model.
The S21+ is available in Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver and Phantom Black in 128GB and 256GB models with 8GB RAM. Pricing is $1,400 (regular price) for the 128GB model, and $1,470 (Phantom Black only; regular price) for the 256GB model.
Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
The S21 Ultra 5G, “the best of the best” according to Samsung, is poised to surpass the current top Huawei P40+ Pro camera phone, with similar features including Photoshop-like removal of passersby and then some. Its Wacom screen accepts the optional S Pen essentially making it the new Note, too. Pens will come in a range of sizes and include third party models. Gone, however, is the secure built-in safe storage of Samsung’s acclaimed Note series. “Given how indispensable technology has been to our lives during these times, we wanted push the boundaries of what a smartphone can do,” said TM Roh, President and Head of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics. That includes Adaptive 120Hz Display which automatically adjusts viewing from 10Hz to 120Hz in the Ultra model. That’s an impressive battery saving feature. It features a 25 per cent brighter picture than its siblings at a 1,500 nits peak brightness. That’s TV territory. The 50% improved contrast ratio makes the already good S21 series pictures look even better.
A 6.8-inch 3,200 x 1,440 OLED 515 ppi full display dazzles and 12GB RAM is still there. The huge 5,000 mAh battery will be handy for those big-shoot full day sessions. The S21 Ultra has few compromises, the biggest being the optional S Pen. Look for combination offers of chargers and S Pen.
The four cameras: ultra-wide, wide, and dual tele-lenses housed in a similar but higher bump feature improved periscope technology, a long telephoto lens nestled sideways in the phone with a prism deflecting light on the photo sensor. The included editor handles videos with a toolbox of new AI-powered features. The Ultra keeps the 108MP high resolution photo size, while an upgraded sensor offers more colour and less noise in low light for capturing 12 bit HDR photos with 64 times richer colour data. This is the first Galaxy phone to shoot in 4K at 60fps across all lenses, including front and rear lenses, perfect for shifting to a different perspective with the same quality. Nice! The 12-bit RAW file option is the icing on the cake for getting the most picture quality like professional photographers do. Even after you have taken the photo. A bride’s white detail lace in bright sun and the groom’s black tux with fabric detail is a typical case for shooting RAW images. The 15mm super-wide lens is slightly wider but it remains to be seen if there is an improvement over the last two Galaxy models super wide lack of sharpness (also in the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12) all much inferior to Huawei’s super wide angle edge-to-edge sharpness. The new laser autofocus system, similar to the Note 20 Ultra, should improve focusing issues from last year’s model.
The Ultra features a Samsung first Dual Lens 100x Zoom combining impressive 3x and 10x optical (using the periscope trick mentioned above) zoom in one tap. You can also go the extra distance with 100x Space Zoom, which looked AI improved over the S20 series during the Unpacked virtual event. That remains to be seen.
Samsung is promising a better Night Mode noise reduction and 12MP Nona-binning technology that combines those 108MP pixels for a smaller but much cleaner night-time photo. Astrophotography professional-like multiple exposures at the blink of an eye is here, too.
Other goodies like Wi-Fi 6E, a perfect mate to 5G speeds and Ultra-wideband capabilities (UWB) embedded in Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G and Galaxy S21+ 5G for unlocking your car as you approach it, are welcome. That Phantom Matt Black haze colour version is hard to say no to.
The Ultra is available in two deluxe haze finishes, Phantom Black and Phantom Silver, in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB models with 12GB or 16GB RAM. Pricing is $1,650 (regular price) for the 128GB model with 12GB RAM, $1,720 (Phantom Black only; regular price) for the 256GB model with 12GB RAM, and $1,890 (regular price) for the 512GB model with 16GB RAM (Phantom Black only; regular price).
Following a new trend, the S21 5G series will not include a charger citing eco-friendliness and the fact Samsung owners likely have suitable fast chargers from previous models. Chargers will be sold separately at discounted prices.
Galaxy Buds Pro
The Galaxy Buds Pro manages to squeeze so much more tech in the uniquely pea-shaped in-ear design with improved up to 99% ANC (active noise reduction) and up to 20 decibels ambient sound. Voice Detect automatically switches between cancelling nearby sounds and amplifying them and will also turn down your music when you want to talk. They can also automatically toggle between a Samsung tablet and an incoming phone call on your phone. And switch back when the call is over.
They squeezed in an 11 mm woofer for deeper bass and a 6.5 mm tweeter for a flatter response performance curve. A full charge yields eight hours of playback, with an additional 20 hours of reserve power in the wireless charging case. Even with ANC on, you get five hours of playback with 13 more hours in the case. A five-minute charge gives you about one hour use. Samsung claims more comfort but we will have to try them to decide. IPX7 water resistance translates to enjoying music in even more challenging weather.
Available in three colours to match your Galaxy S21 5G: Phantom Violet, timeless Phantom Black and Phantom Silver, the Galaxy Buds Pro are available online now on Samsung.com/ca, at Samsung Experience Stores, as well as across major retails partners in Canada for $265.
Samsung’s SmartTags help you find misplaced keys, clothes, briefcases, luggage, even wayward pets. It works in your home using Nearby Find or beyond with the Galaxy Find Network. No price available in Canada yet.