Samsung Galaxy S21 series: 12 things you need to know before buying

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The Samsung Galaxy S21 series has just been launched at the Galaxy Unpacked 2021 event, along with the Galaxy Buds Pro and the Galaxy SmartTag (no connection to our local Smart Tag, of course). Three models were announced as part of the series: the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and the range-topping Galaxy S21 Ultra.

So, what do you need to know about Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone? Quite a bit, actually. We’ve covered the pricing and launch details in our announcement post, but if you’re thinking of picking one up on day one (or two, or three, or… you get the point)—here are 11 things you need to know before you make the (expensive) purchase.

1. Adaptive refresh rate of 120Hz across the board

Just like the Galaxy S20, Samsung has equipped every model in the Galaxy S21 series with a high refresh rate display at 120hz. However, this doesn’t mean that all three displays are identical. Instead, the Galaxy S21 and S21+ are pushing Full HD+ resolutions on a flat AMOLED panel, while the range-topping Galaxy S21 Ultra features a Quad HD+ resolution on an edge display.

Something else that you should take note off is the adaptive refresh rates of all three models in the series. First introduced on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 series will automatically adjust the refresh rate of your display to optimise battery usage, depending on what’s being displayed. For example, a higher rate when running apps like games, and a slower refresh rate while looking at images, or static web pages.

This should help with battery life, although you can always set the display to push a standard 60Hz to extend usage on a single charge. Do note that the Galaxy S21 and S21+ have refresh rate ranges of 48Hz–120Hz, while the S21 Ultra has a wider range of 10Hz–120Hz.

2. Gorilla Glass Victus: the toughest Gorilla Glass yet

Corning Gorilla Glass Victus is the toughest Gorilla Glass yet, according to the company—which is good news for butter-fingered users everywhere. According to Corning, Victus glass survives drops onto “hard, rough surfaces” from heights of up to 2m—compared to aluminosilicate glasses from that typically fail when dropped from 0.8m.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra uses Gorilla Glass Victus for its front screen, just like the Note 20 Ultra back in 2020. On a side note, it’s worth noting that only the Galaxy S21+ and S21 Ultra come with glass backs; the base model Galaxy S21 uses a plastic back, which… is rather disappointing. And yes, they’re still calling it glastic.

3. Exynos… again.

Every year, this is one of the main talking points when it comes to flagship phones from Samsung. And yes, the Galaxy S21 series is powered by an Exynos chipset (probably the Exynos 2100), although certain markets (such as the U.S.) will be getting the Snapdragon 888. In Malaysia, meanwhile, we’ll be seeing the Exynos variant of the Galaxy S21 series—much to the (inevitable) chagrin of many.

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Still Samsung earlier said that the Exynos 2100—its latest chipset—is its most advanced chip yet. Based on a 5nm EUV process, Samsung promises a 10 percent boost in power and a 20 percent reduction in power consumption over a 7nm EUV; this is also Samsung’s first 5nm SoC with an integrated 5G modem.

For some context, both the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 are based on 5nm processes, and they also feature a ARM Cortex-X1 core on the CPU. On the Exynos, the high-performance core is clocked slightly higher at 2.9GHz versus Snapdragon 888’s 2.84GHz.

In any case, the jury is still out on this one.

4. S Pen (Pro) support for the first time ever

In the build up to the launch, this was one of the worst-kept secrets—but S Pen support has finally been extended beyond Samsung’s Galaxy Note series! There’s actually two S Pen variants for the first time: a regular S Pen, and an S Pen Pro.

On the range-topping Galaxy S21 Ultra, the S Pen is now supported, and with the S Pen Pro, you’ll be able to use Samsung’s iconic stylus to do stuff like take notes, create sketches, and even to control your camera remotely.

There is a drawback, however. Unlike the Galaxy Note series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra does not have a dedicated slot for the stylus. This means that you’ll have to separately buy a special case with an S Pen slot—which would add to the heft of the phone, and certainly anger those of you who prefer your phones naked.

5. No charger in the box

Wait, hold up. Wasn’t this an issue that Samsung mocked Apple about recently? Yes, the very same one. Samsung has announced that the Galaxy S21 series will ship without a charger in the box, although the company assures everyone: yes, you can buy a Samsung charger separately.

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Samsung uses the USB Power-Delivery standard, so you can simply pick up a third party USB-C charging brick with multiple ports for less than RM100. Still, it’s funny how people are made to eat their words, isn’t it? You get a compatible USB-C cable in the box… if that’s any consolation.

6. 5G and WiFi 6 to be offered as standard

5G is supported across the board, as expected. Meanwhile, WiFi 6 is also offered on all three models, although you should note that you need a WiFi 6-compatible router to take full advantage of the standard’s theoretical maximum speeds of 9.6Gbps. And of course, 5G connectivity is only expected to be fully deployed in Malaysia towards the tail-end of 2022, or even during early 2023.

Still, manufacturers have already begun introducing mid-range 5G phones in recent months. If you’re paying this much for a phone, 5G is certainly expected.

7. 108MP on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, again

On the range-topping Galaxy S21 Ultra, you’ll be getting the now-familiar 108MP “pro sensor”, as Samsung calls it. Meanwhile, the rest of the quad-camera rear setup is made up of a 12MP ultra-wide shooter with Dual Pixel AF, a 10MP telephoto lens that offers 3x optical zoom, and a second 10MP telephoto lens with 10x optical zoom.

And yes, you’ll be able to zoom at up to 100x with the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s Space Zoom.

8. No Ultra Wideband support on the Galaxy S21

Ultra Wideband is only supported on the Galaxy S21+ and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Like Bluetooth and WiFi, UWB is a short-range, wireless communication protocol that works via radio waves. It operates at very high frequencies, and the standard can be used to capture spatial and directional data.

Samsung’s Nearby Share app, that allows for easy file transfers between compatible devices, is enhanced by UWB, according to the company. Meanwhile, UWB is also integrated into the SmartThings Find application, which—as its name suggests—helps you to precisely locate other UWB-equipped devices.

But you won’t have this improved functionality on the standard Galaxy S21, sadly.

9. Improved Night Mode

Samsung says that the Bright Night sensor is their “biggest leap yet in low-light photography”. Night Mode has been improved, and with noise-reduction and 12MP nona-binning technology, the company promises fast shots and “excellent quality” with the Galaxy S21 series—even in dimly-lit rooms or night landscapes.

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10. Multiple mic recording

If you pick up a pair of Galaxy Buds Pro alongside the Galaxy S21 series, you can also use them in tandem for the new multiple mic recording feature. Basically, when you use the Galaxy S21’s Pro Video Mode, you can step away and use the Buds Pro as a remote microphone—in crisp quality, according to Samsung.

Plus, if you’re quick, you might get a Galaxy Buds Pro thrown in for free… read onto the next point.

11. No expandable storage… not even on the Galaxy S21 Ultra

Within the Galaxy Note 20 series, the Note 20 Ultra was the only model to come with expandable storage. Meanwhile, Samsung equipped the Galaxy S20 series with a microSD slot across the board. But sadly, we can confirm that the Samsung Galaxy S21 series does not have expandable storage on any models—which means that you’ll have to live with a maximum capacity of 256GB for the Galaxy S21 and S21+, and 512GB on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

12. Pre-order customers in Malaysia get free Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy SmartTag

Full pricing information for Malaysia has just been released, and the good news is that Samsung is bundling in a free Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy SmartTag for pre-orders for the Galaxy S21 Ultra! Meanwhile, pre-orders for the Galaxy S21 and S21+ will net you a free pair of Galaxy Buds Live and a Galaxy SmartTag.

The Galaxy Buds Pro, in particular, has been designed to work in tandem with the Galaxy S21 series (see bullet point 10), and with features like “intelligent ANC”, it’s certainly an interesting device.

Meanwhile, if you pre-order the Galaxy S21 series in Malaysia, don’t forget to use this referral code for a free pair of USB-C ANC headphones from Samsung! Details:

[ PROMO: Get free Samsung USB-C ANC headphones worth RM299 when you pre-order the Galaxy S21 on Samsung E-store with the promo code SCS21VIP ]

Official pricing for the Samsung Galaxy S21 series in Malaysia is as follows:

Samsung Galaxy S21 – 8GB RAM, 256GB storage – RM3,699
Samsung Galaxy S21+ – 8GB RAM, 256GB storage – RM4,299
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – 12GB RAM, 256GB storage – RM5,299
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – 16GB RAM, 512GB storage – RM5,899

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to include information on expandable storage.

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