Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra $249.99 at Samsung
Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra View at Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
One might say that Samsung is not only decking out its new flagship Galaxy S21 Ultra handset with the latest tech available but also releasing it in the winter, more than a month earlier than usual, for a reason. What could that reason be?
Korean analysts are saying that hijacking market share from the down-and-out Huawei is one of the reasons behind an early Galaxy S21 Ultra release, but something tells us that Apple's belated iPhone 12 Pro Max launch had something to do with it as well. This way, Samsung will have a formidable trio of phones - Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra - to go against the iPhone 12/Pro/Max, respectively, right after the 2020 iPhones sales peak rolls over into the first quarter.


What's in store for us with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and how will Samsung improve it in comparison with the S20 Ultra predecessor and its lack of camera focus? Here are the main Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S20 Ultra advantages:

  • Lower launch price
  • Better battery life
  • 10x periscope and 3x telephoto zoom cameras
  • Dynamic 120Hz@1440p LTPO display refresh rate
  • S Pen support
  • 3rd-gen 108MP sensor with 12-bit color capture
  • 5nm Snapdragon 888 chipset with integrated 5G modem

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S20 Ultra colors and display size


  • Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S20 Ultra colors: Black, Silver, Blue, Brown, Titanium (S21U) vs Gray (S20U)
  • 6.8" LTPO with S Pen support vs 6.9" LTPS displays
  • Dynamic 120Hz@1440p vs static 120Hz@1080p refresh rate
  • 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm vs 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm dimensions

The S20 Ultra is a rather huge and heavy phone with a giant camera bump on the back. With the S21 models, however, Samsung is launching a design refinement to what is already one of the best screen-to-body ratio scores in their class.

At the front, Samsung touched its Infinity-O design slightly by reducing the chin at the front, but on the back it blended the camera bump with the phone's sides, thus leaving the impression for one uninterrupted design flow it now calls Contour Cut Camera, and it looks stunning. 


The Galaxy S21 Ultra sports a curved 6.8" QHD+ display, so Samsung doesn't have to make compromises with the phone's width like it does for the S21 and S21+.  We'd rather have the curved display sides than bezel uniformity, as its predecessor S20 Ultra is positively gigantic and hard to handle even without a case tacked on, indeed. 

Speaking of cases, there are a few, like the Clear View and Silicone covers - that have versions with S Pen tucked in, as that's the newfangled S21 Ultra functionality compared to the S20 Ultra. The first S Pen for the S-line will support the features we know and love from the Note line, save for the ones that require taking it out of a silo, of course.

The shaved-off bottom chin is an added bonus that results in a tangible height decrease as, when it comes to overall size, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a tad smaller than the Galaxy S20 Ultra (166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm), at 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Dimensions

6.5 x 2.98 x 0.35 inches

165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm

Weight

8.04 oz (229 g)

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

Dimensions

6.57 x 2.99 x 0.35 inches

166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm

Weight

7.83 oz (222 g)

Samsung Galaxy S21+

Samsung Galaxy S21+

Dimensions

6.35 x 2.98 x 0.31 inches

161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm

Weight

7.13 oz (202 g)

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Dimensions

6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches

160.84 x 78.09 x 7.39 mm

Weight

8.03 oz (228 g)

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Dimensions

6.5 x 2.98 x 0.35 inches

165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm

Weight

8.04 oz (229 g)

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

Dimensions

6.57 x 2.99 x 0.35 inches

166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm

Weight

7.83 oz (222 g)

Samsung Galaxy S21+

Samsung Galaxy S21+

Dimensions

6.35 x 2.98 x 0.31 inches

161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm

Weight

7.13 oz (202 g)

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Dimensions

6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches

160.84 x 78.09 x 7.39 mm

Weight

8.03 oz (228 g)

That blending of the camera island with the frame is a rather unique design decision, and makes the rear look like it's been etched into a piece of marble, with only the camera set remaining elevated, as if to emphasize its significance. In short, Samsung has made the Galaxy S21 series the most beautiful phones it has created so far, refining all the little compromises of the "bezel-less" design with camera island that has been all the rage for the past two years or so.

If you are disappointed that the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes in only two somewhat somber colors, the new silver is a nice touch, Samsung always does silver well, plus the flagship's price is definitely not targeted at the younger crowd who appreciate a palette of colors to choose from and express their individuality. For those still unsatisfied, Samsung.com sells exclusive Galax S21 Ultra colors - blue, brown, and even one with a titanium finish.

Moving on to the most exciting S21 Ultra feature, besides the dual-zoom cameras, its 6.8" 1440p display. The S20 Ultra has static refresh, then the Note 20 Ultra introduced a dynamic one of sorts, but still only in 1080p screen mode, whereas the Galaxy S21 Ultra does what the OnePlus and Oppo collaboration with PixelWorks achieved a year before it - full 120Hz dynamic refresh rate at the display's native QHD+ resolution.


The thing is, however, that while others are just now planning to introduce LTPO OLED displays, Samsung is already at the next LTPO generation on the S21 Ultra. It offers 15% less power draw compared to what's on the Note 20 Ultra or even the S21+, for instance, and consumes close to 30% less energy than the panel on the S20 Ultra. 

Not only that, but it is brighter, and with higher contrast than what Samsung mustered last year, so the all-important display award is definitely going in the Galaxy S21 Ultra corner, especially when it comes to refresh rate management and outdoor visibility. Plus, Samsung discontinued the S20 Ultra, so you don't have much choice anyway.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S20 Ultra specs, battery life and charging speeds


  • Snapdragon 888/Exynos 2100 5nm vs Snapdragon 865/Exynos 990 7nm processors
  • 12GB/16GB DDR5 1z vs 12GB/16GB DDR5 1y process RAM
  • 5000mAh battery, 30W/45W charging

Say what you will about Samsung's ignominious decision to use two different mobile processor lines in its phones, but this trend is here to stay with the S21 series as well. Powered by both the latest Snapdragon 888 and the Exynos 2100 processors of Qualcomm and Samsung, respectively, the S21 Ultra won't leave you much room for complaining, though, as both of these powerful chipsets are built on the freshest 5nm process. 

While they barely differ in performance, as you can see in our benchmark testing below, which one excels in thermal throttling or graphics rendering remains to be determined. As far as synthetic benchmarks are concerned, the Exynos 2100 beats the S20 Ultra's Exynos 990, and Snapdragon 888 beat the 865, as can be expected. 

AnTuTu is a multi-layered, comprehensive mobile benchmark app that assesses various aspects of a device, including CPU, GPU, RAM, I/O, and UX performance. A higher score means an overall faster device.

Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
654223
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
474536
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
524200
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
638098

On top of that, Samsung's new LPDDR5 1z RAM memory packs can transfer at the rate of 6,400 megabits per second (Mb/s), which makes it 16 percent faster than 12GB LPDDR5 memory you find on flagships like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The 16GB package, in particular, can transfer 51.2GB of data in just one second. That's the equivalent of transferring 10 5GB-sized full-HD content.

The 1z packaging process for the LPDDR5 module also made it 30 percent thinner than its predecessor, which means it takes up less space inside smartphones. To make the 16GB package in the S21 Ultra Samsung needed just eight chips, whereas its predecessor based on the 1y process needs 12 chips to offer the same capacity.  

The new processor and RAM production methods bring about less power draw on their own. Coupled with the more frugal LTPO adaptive refresh display technology that Samsung put on the S21 series, the technologies may bring a boost to the Galaxy S21 Ultra battery life, as it ships with the same giant 5000mAh pack as its predecessor. Add to that the fast 45W charging speed for said battery, and the S21 Ultra is knocking it out of the park when it comes to battery life, at least for a phone with this display size and specs list.

hours Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
16h 7 min
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
11h 57 min
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
12h 23 min
Samsung Galaxy S21
9h 6 min
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
14h 6 min
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
12h 28 min
OnePlus 8
12h 15 min

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S20 Ultra zoom, night, and portrait camera samples


  • 108MP ISOCELL 2.0 HM3 vs 108MP ISOCELL HM2
  • 12MP Ultrawide
  • 10MP 10x vs 48MP 5x periscope zoom cameras
  • 10MP 3x telephoto zoom (S21U)
  • Laser AF vs 3D ToF camera

If you thought that the S21 Ultra would simply get the otherwise excellent Note 20 Ultra camera set and call it a day, you don't know Samsung and its determination to kill it on the hardware front. Not only does the S21 Ultra sport the third generation of Samsung's 108MP sensor but it also adds a middle 3x telephoto zoom distance, and a laser autofocusing system.

The 108MP ISOCELL HM3 sensor comes with improved light sensitivity, while Samsung ditches the underutilized 3D ToF sensor used in the Galaxy S20 Ultra to help avoid its focusing troubles replacing it with laser autofocus on the S21 Ultra, perhaps the one borrowed directly from the Note 20 Ultra with the same purpose.

The 12MP ultrawide lens camera is staying put, but we are glad to report the reworkings of the optical magnification range by including two 10MP sensors to take care of the long-range 10x periscope zoom, and the 3x midrange zooming, just like on, cough, Huawei P40 Pro+, cough. The 40MP selfie snapper from the Note 20 Ultra is also an improvement over the Galaxy S20 Ultra's front camera in the portrait mode separation aspect.


The 10X zoom camera is a godsend for certain shots and looks great. Capturing pictures from afar is now much easier and the S21 Ultra truly excels in that. While it was a struggle to maintain the subject in the viewfinder at 30X or more zoom on the Note 20 Ultra and S20 Ultra because the slightest hand shake would move the camera significantly, it's now much easier to get a lock on your subject with the S21 Ultra.

The scene optimizer - which is basically Samsung's auto mode for its camera - is now better at detecting night situations and it will now smartly use a longer exposure more often than earlier Samsung phones where often you had to manually switch to Night Mode. The S21 Ultra consistently got brighter and better looking shots than the Note 20 Ultra and, respectively, S20 Ultra, at night just using the auto mode.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S20 Ultra price


  • $1199 vs $1399 launch price (for the 128GB models)

Apple took the high road and didn't increase the iPhone 12 Pro Max price compared to its predecessor, even though it slapped the best camera sensors in the iPhone 12 range on it. By that criteria, Samsung is also taking the high road with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, meaning that the base will still be expensive at $1199.99 because of all that top-shelf hardware stuffed inside of it, just like its predecessor, yet its launch price is much less. 

Wait, you didn't think that the fastest memory and processors in the Android universe and beyond, the dynamic display refresh at full resolution, the 5000mAh battery pack, and the best camera kit with periscope zoom on a phone would come for less these days now, did you? 

All in all, even if Samsung didn't discontinue the Galaxy S20 Ultra, it would've been a hard sell against the lower S21 Ultra launch price and the way better design, display, camera, and battery life, so if you are wondering whether to jump the gun, better do it while the preorder window lasts. Samsung will ask just $300 more for the upgrade when you trade in the S20 Ultra and get the new Buds Pro for free, and, really, you'll be getting a phone with no current match in specs and performance.

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