Samsung held its first Unpacked event of 2021 on the morning of January 14, during which it announced its new lineup of phones and earbuds.
The Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra — the successors to the Galaxy S20 family — arrive with a new design highlighted, faster processor, continued 5G support and camera updates. The Galaxy Buds Pro, the long-rumored high-end true wireless earbuds, boast ANC support and a Voice Detect mode. Most surprising, though, is the Galaxy SmartTag, a Bluetooth tracker designed from the ground up to work with Galaxy smartphones.
And if you want to add any of these into your world, you won’t have to wait long. Preorders for the Galaxy S21 family open at 11 a.m. EST on January 14.
How to preorder the Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra
If you preorder a Galaxy S21, S21+ or S21 Ultra by January 28, you’ll score a Galaxy SmartTag, plus a $100 credit with the Galaxy S21, a $150 credit with the S21+ or a $200 credit with S21 Ultra. We’d recommend using that toward a wall charger, as one doesn’t come in the box.
You can even trade in an eligible device to get up to $700 toward your new device. Third-party services like Gazelle or Decluttr are also taking trade-ins. With the latter, you can use code CNNJAN10 to get a bonus through January.
- Galaxy S21 with 128GB in Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink or Phantom White ($799.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy S21 with 256GB in Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink or Phantom White ($849.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy S21+ with 128GB in Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver or Phantom Black ($999.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy S21+ with 256GB in Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver or Phantom Black ($1,049.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy S21 Ultra with 128GB in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy or Phantom Brown ($1,199.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy S21 Ultra with 256GB in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy or Phantom Brown ($1,249.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy S21 Ultra with 512GB in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy or Phantom Brown ($1,399.99; samsung.com)
How to order Galaxy Buds Pro
Galaxy Buds Pro launch tomorrow, January 15, for $199.99. If you’re preordering a Galaxy S21, you can even use your preorder credit toward them.
- Galaxy Buds Pro in Phantom Black, Phantom White or Phantom Violet ($199.99; samsung.com)
How to preorder Galaxy SmartTag
The biggest surprise from this Unpacked would have to be the Galaxy SmartTag. It’s Samsung’s new Bluetooth tracker that works with SmartThings. It will start shipping on January 29, but it’s up for preorder now. If you’re preordering a Galaxy S21, S21+ or S21 Ultra, you’ll get one of these trackers for free.
- Galaxy SmartTag ($29.99; samsung.com)
Galaxy S21 and Galaxy 21+
The S21 and S21+ didn’t get a significant redesign or feature change. Rather, it’s a modest upgrade that starts with an updated design and improvements to imaging, and it keeps the features that work.
The design update is pretty modern, sticking with a mostly glossy back that’s highlighted by an updated camera housing. The frame is still metal and color-matched to the device. That metal frame material now extends to the camera housing. It provides a pop of color and a shimmer of shine on the rear. The Galaxy S21 comes in more colors: Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink and Phantom White. The S21+ color choices are a bit slimmer, with Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver and Phantom Black.
The S21 is a bit more compact, with a 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display, compared to the 6.7-inch screen on the S21+. These promise to produce displays with vibrant colors and deep black points, specifically delivering a 2400 x 1080 resolution. That’s an HD picture set in a taller aspect ratio. It’s on par with other leading smartphones and should deliver a robust picture. The best news is that Samsung is keeping a variable refresh rate — how many times in a second the screen can refresh itself — that can range from 48 Hz to 120 Hz. This way it doesn’t kill the battery life by constantly running at 120 Hz when the screen is staying the same. When it is on 120 Hz, though, we expect it to be a nearly instant experience that should make watching videos, playing games and even scrolling through web pages feel smoother.
The “O” in Infinity-O alludes to the pinhole at the top of the display. It’s in the same spot as it was on preview devices and houses the front-facing 10-megapixel camera. That’s the same lens as on the S20 and S20+, so we expect it will take sharp selfies, with the 80-degree field of view allowing for better group selfies. It’s also in the same spot.
Over on the rear side, it’s a triple-camera system, consisting of:
- A 12-megapixel ultrawide lens: With this 120-degree lens, you’ll be able to capture larger group shots and cityscapes with ease. The real appeal is packing more into a shot without having to physically move back.
- A 12-megapixel wide-angle lens: This will be the default lens on the S21 and S21+, capable of capturing images packed with details and vibrant colors. This year, Samsung is working on the software side, with new photo modes and processing techniques to improve shots.
- A 64-megapixel telephoto lens: Unlike the S21 Ultra with 100x Space Zoom, both the S21 and S21+ get 30x Space Zoom and 3x hybrid optical zoom. The 30x zoom will be handy for some far shots but may not deliver the clearest of details.
With the S21 and S21+, Samsung is promising improved processing times, better AI processing and better image quality compared to the previous generation of Galaxy devices.
The Galaxy S21 and S21+ are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor with 8GB of RAM. That will likely best the performance of the Snapdragon 865 in the S20 family and the 865+ in the Note 20 Ultra. It’s the latest processor available for flagship Android devices, and it’s on par with the processor inside the iPhone 12 mini, 12, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.
Out of the box, these phones are running Android 11 with a Samsung One UX. Depending on the model you choose, you’ll get either 128GB or 256GB of internal storage. Interestingly enough, Samsung is removing the microSD card, which means you can’t expand the storage. The S21 gets a smaller 4,000mAh battery, while the S21+ features a 4,800mAh battery, both of which Samsung says should give users a full day of power. And all Galaxy S21 models support mmWave and Sub-6 5G networks — so both low band and Ultra Wideband in the United States will work.
All in all, these are the expected flagship smartphones from Samsung. At $799.99 for the S21 and $999.99 for the S21+, you’re getting a lot of value in terms of feature set and hardware for the price.
Another note: Samsung is following Apple by removing the wall charger from the box. You’ll only get a cable in the box, which Samsung says is for sustainability reasons.
Galaxy S21 Ultra
The $1,199.99 Galaxy S21 Ultra kicks things into high gear. It’s a bigger device than both the S21 and S21+, sporting a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display. It’s still an AMOLED display with deep blacks and vibrant colors, but it’s a higher resolution. The Ultra features a resolution of 3200 x 1440, which measures out to 515 pixels per inch. It should showcase details and finite points better, especially on the larger display.
The refresh rate can also get lower, ranging from 10 Hz to 120 Hz. This way, it speeds up only when it makes sense. It’s running Android 11 with a Samsung user interface and is powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor found in the S21 and S21+. The Ultra upgrades the RAM from 8GB to 12GB for a huge runway for intense tasks. You’ll likely never need to close out apps on this phone. But for most users, there won’t be a noticeable difference in speed with everyday tasks between the Ultra and the other S21s.
The S21 Ultra has the biggest battery out of all the models — a 5,000mAh battery that should have no issues lasting all day.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra features a refreshed design with a camera housing that matches the frame of the smartphone. It’s set to be available in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown.
On the front, the S21 Ultra features a 40-megapixel camera, which we expect to outpace other Android smartphones. But on the back is where things get really interesting with four cameras:
- A 12-megapixel ultrawide lens: A go-to lens for shooting cityscapes or group shots without having to physically move back.
- A 108-megapixel wide-angle lens: This high-megapixel lens will deliver shots at 12 megapixels after binning pixels together to retain clarity and color accuracy. This is a process for combining pixels to deliver a sharper and more color-filled image. This will pack more data into an image that takes up less space.
- Dual 10-megapixel telephoto lenses: Space Zoom is powered by two separate telephoto lenses for the first time. These will work together, along with a laser autofocus sensor, to deliver a clear image even with intense zooms. Space Zoom still works by zooming in on the max optical zoom. The first telephoto lens features 3x optical, while the second features 10x optical. The S21 Ultra will dynamically choose when to use each lens or combine both lenses together. The sensor should help to increase stability, like what we saw on the Note 20 Ultra.
It should be a formidable shooter, and given the performance of the Note 20 Ultra, we expect the S21 Ultra to be an incredibly swift and zippy phone. Most intriguing are the dual telephoto lenses that deliver a full 10x optical zoom and what is poised to be a sharper 100x Space Zoom. It should remove the blurriness and slow processing we saw with Space Zoom on the S20 Ultra.
Lastly, the S21 Ultra is getting S Pen support, making it the first Galaxy phone besides the Note to support Samsung’s stylus. The S21 Ultra’s display is built with Wacom technology inside so you can write and draw with ease. You can take a previous S Pen from a Galaxy Note or even a Galaxy Tab. Samsung will sell both an S Pen and an S Pen Pro to pair with the S21 Ultra in the coming months. Pricing and availability for these accessories are not yet available.
And like the S21 and S21+, the S21 Ultra will not come with a wall charger in the box. We’d say it’s a good idea to use preorder credit on a fast charger.
Galaxy Buds Pro
The Galaxy Buds Pro are shaping up to be Samsung’s most premium and feature-packed wireless earbuds yet, and could give Apple’s AirPods Pro a run for their money. These $199.99 buds promise advanced features such as active noise cancellation (ANC) and multiple sound modes, all within an attractive and stylish design that comes in three slick colors: Phantom Black, Phantom White and the especially striking Phantom Violet.
The Buds Pro’s noise cancellation could be its most important feature, as Samsung is promising that its new earbuds can reduce background noise by up to 99%. But the Buds Pro should also be just as adept at letting outside noise in when you need it, with an Ambient Sound mode that offers four levels of volume for better hearing nearby traffic when walking around (or your family members when getting work done at home).
These features can even work in tandem, with a Voice Detect mode that can automatically switch from ANC to Ambient Sound when you start speaking. Other key software features include Auto Switch, which lets you seamlessly bounce between multiple Galaxy phones and tablets while using the Buds Pro without having to re-pair them, and 360 Audio with Dolby Head Tracking for enjoying immersive, 360-degree sound on supported movies and shows.
Audio-wise, the Buds Pro feature dual speakers for pumping out high-quality audio and three microphones for letting you be heard clearly on important conference calls. In terms of battery life, Samsung is promising five hours of juice with ANC and Bixby voice wake-up on, eight hours with those features turned off and up to 28 hours with the charging case. We can’t wait to test those claims.
Factor in an IPX7 water resistance rating that allows the Buds Pro to survive rain and sweat and SmartThings Find support for locating the buds via your Android phone when you lose them, and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro could give our picks for the best true wireless earbuds a serious run for their money. Galaxy Buds+ and Galaxy Buds Live remain in the lineup at $149 and $169, respectively.
Samsung’s first surprise of 2021 is a Bluetooth tracker, what’s primed to be a direct competitor against Tile. The $29.99 Galaxy SmartTag is Bluetooth LE only and doesn’t take advantage of UWB, or Ultra Wideband.
That’s a new connectivity for close-range identification — it’s built into the Galaxy S21 family. Samsung does have plans for a SmartTag+ that will feature UWB connectivity, with a planned launch later this year.
Unlike the Tile trackers, which work with Android and iOS alike, the Galaxy SmartTag was designed to work with Galaxy devices from the ground up. We’re working to confirm if the SmartTag will work with other Android phones not made by Samsung or iOS devices.
Galaxy SmartTag can go on a dog’s collar, on a backpack, on your keys and even in bags for easy locating. Via SmartThings Find on your phone, you can ping the item tracker and even get a sense for location.
At $29.99, it is set to deliver a large amount of value. Preorders are open now, and the Galaxy SmartTag will launch on January 29.