Shortly after the start of the Samsung Galaxy S21, the only question I was asked was whether, as the existing owner of the existing Galaxy S20, I should treat myself to an upgrade. Or shouldn’t I because the S21’s so-called new features aren’t significant enough to warrant an upgrade? The purpose of this comparative article is to get to the bottom of this dilemma!
When smartphone manufacturers release successors to a popular smartphone model (usually annually), this is not always a good thing. And I think this is also the case with the Samsung Galaxy S21. Most of the changes to the phone appear to be minor improvements over its predecessor.
In this article, we’ll do a specification-specific comparison of these two phones. We follow this with five 5 arguments for and against an upgrade.
Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20: technical data comparison
Let’s start with the spec sheet of these two phones and look at the facts.
Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S20: Hardware Specifications
|model||Galaxy S21 5G||Galaxy S20|
|processor||Samsung Exynos 2100:|
5nm 64-bit octa-core processor
|Memory (RAM / internal)||8 GB / 128 GB|
8 GB / 256 GB
8 GB / 128 GB
|Expandable storage?||No||Yes, microSD|
|Dual SIM||Yes (SIM1 + SIM2 or SIM1 + eSIM)||Yes|
|display||Dynamic 6.2-inch AMOLED display with punch-hole notch / FHD + (2,400 x 1,080 pixels) at a maximum of 120 Hertz / 1,300 nits / 421 ppi / no curved display||Dynamic 6.2-inch AMOLED display with perforated notch / QHD (3,200 x 1,440 pixels) / 120 Hz for FHD + – 60 Hz for QHD|
|size||151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 millimeters||151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm|
|Weight||approx. 169 grams||163 grams|
|Connectivity||5G, LTE, WLAN 802.11 a / b / g, WLAN 6, Bluetooth 5.0, USB Type C, NFC, GPS||LTE, WLAN, 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac /, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, USB Type C, NFC, GPS|
|Main camera||12MP 1 / 1.76 “sensor and 1: 2.2 lens||12MP 1 / 1.76 “sensor and 1: 2.2 lens|
|Ultra wide angle||12MP – 1 / 2.55 “sensor and 1: 2.2 lens||12MP 1 / 2.55 “sensor and f / 2.2 lens|
|Telephoto||64MP – 1 / 1.72 “sensor and 1: 2.0 lens||12MP 1 / 2.55 “sensor and f / 2.2 lens|
|Telephoto (2)||– –||– –|
|Front camera||10 MP at 1 / 3.24 “at 1: 2.2||10 MP at 1 / 3.24 “at 1: 2.2|
|Video||max. 8K video at 24 fps||max. 4K video at 60 fps|
|Battery capacity||4,000 mAh||4,000 mAh|
|Charging technologies||Fast charging with 25 watts, wireless charging with 15 watts||Fast charging with 25 watts, wireless charging with 15 watts|
|Authentication||Improved finger sensor under the display, face recognition||Fingerprint sensor under the display|
|Audio||Stereo speakers||Stereo speakers|
|materials||Gorilla Glass Victus on the front, polycarbonate on the back||Gorilla Glass 6 on the front, Gorilla Glass 6 on the back|
|operating system||Android 11 with Samsung UI 3.1||Android 11 with Samsung UI 3.1|
|Compatibility with S Pen||No||No|
|price||€ 849 / € 899||from € 899|
|release||January 29, 2021||March 6, 2020|
|review||Galaxy S21 review||Galaxy S20 review|
I haven’t gone into that in depth about the technical specifications of the Plus and Ultra models in this article. However, I will mention the devices if there are significant differences.
A case for an upgrade: the new design
In my opinion, Samsung has managed to get one thing right, especially with all three Galaxy models: to introduce a fresh and, above all, unique design language. This is mainly due to the camera bump that merges into the case on both sides of the S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra. This makes the hump appear much more discreet.
I have a feeling that the camera’s bumps are a little less protruding compared to the Galaxy S20 anyway. Yes, the S21 Ultra’s camera module still takes up a lot of space, but that’s just inevitable (at the moment) when using periscope lenses. On the other hand, the transition into the body makes it easier to grip the phone.
Thanks to its new colors, the S21 series was also able to stand out from other smartphones. For me, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus deserves the victory as the most beautiful Android flagship of the year at the beginning of January, as the purple-gold color scheme has proven to be very cohesive. The standard model is also available in the colors Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom White and Phantom Pink. With the Galaxy S20, with the exception of the FE version, you could only choose between a pink, blue, and black finish.
Here is a short word on the plastic back that still rubs certain quarters. The standard version of the Samsung Galaxy S21 comes with a back made of polycarbonate (glorified plastic). However, since the build quality is pretty good, that fact didn’t bother me too much.
This is a downgrade: no support for micro SD cards
One omission that many flagships have this year: Compared to the S20, Samsung has omitted support for micro SD cards and thus the possibility of memory expansion in the S21 models. In a model of the S21 series you will find a maximum of 512 GB of storage space – and that only in the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Given how large the media files have gotten over the years, missing out on a micro SD memory card slot is a huge mistake.
The Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21 Plus, however, have “only” 256 GB of internal storage. While it sounds like a lot on paper, it can run out quickly, especially when recording 8K video footage. All three predecessors offered the option of expanding the memory via a micro SD memory card slot. If this feature is important to you, upgrading to the S21 series may be less advisable.
It’s worth the upgrade: Exynos 2100 offers better power management
Surprisingly, Samsung presented its new SoC about a very special event before the start of the Galaxy S21 series. The new “power pack” is known as Exynos 2100 and has proven itself in benchmarks that stand out in one area in particular: superior energy management compared to its predecessor, the Exynos 990. Like Qualcomm with its Snapdragon 888, Samsung uses a tri-cluster Multi-core architecture on the Exynos 2100.
This has resulted in longer battery life, especially on the S21 Ultra and S21 Plus. However, the Galaxy S20 still has the smallest battery in the comparison, and I tend to hit the critical battery level around 9 p.m. more often, even with heavy use at the end of the day. While the battery life isn’t great when compared to the Galaxy S20, which also comes with a 4,000 mAh battery of similar capacity, you should certainly benefit from it for two days with power-saving modes and a decrease in the refresh rate.
The Exynos 2100 is also a much better performer, which means the S21 series doesn’t lag quite as far behind the Snapdragon variant sold in the US, after all.
Not worth the upgrade: if you’re looking for a better camera
It’s not new for Samsung to save the best camera technology for its Ultra models. The same was true for the Galaxy S20 Ultra and also for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. As Antoine explained in detail in his test, the S21 Ultra will be the smartphone with the best zoom optics from March 2021. This is because there is not only a 3x optical telephoto zoom inside, but also a second telephoto lens with 10x zoom. Samsung is now also using a 108-megapixel sensor in the S21 Ultra.
It’s a fallacy to argue that the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus should be worth the upgrade even if there isn’t a 10x zoom. Since the same 3x telephoto camera does not see any action here, but relies on an approximate 1.1x zoom followed by a digital zoom. Samsung has achieved this with its S20 models.
Compared to its predecessors, the S21 + and S21 Ultra also lack the ToF sensor found in the S20 +. While its usefulness is undoubtedly controversial, the lack of a sensor is still a minus point when purchasing the two more expensive S21 variants, and so it needs to be mentioned.
With the Galaxy S21, we can categorically state that no changes are to be expected in terms of camera quality. This does not mean that the smartphone’s camera takes bad pictures: Above all, the Samsung software and the software-based camera functions of the S21 series are a plus point of the current product range.
The upgrade is worth it: Slight price reduction due to the lack of a charger
From a purely economic point of view, upgrading to one of the S21 models could also be worth your time and money because the smartphones themselves have seen a drop in prices. For one, there is no longer any difference between 4G models and 5G models as Exynos 2100 has native 5G support. Therefore, there is no longer a surcharge if you want to use the latest cellular standard.
In addition, Samsung was able to reduce the cost of all three devices by eliminating the chargers. The RRP of the Galaxy S21 is exactly 150 euros below that of the S20 5G, while the price difference between the Plus model and the 5G version of its predecessor is 200 euros and the Ultra model is 100 euros. However, you need to take into account that you may need to pick up a charger with a USB-C port to save money.
This fact is also worth considering: the Samsung Galaxy S series has built a reputation for being the undisputed king of price cuts! Of course, it all works out in the end: If you had waited to buy it, you would have saved money on the S21 model. At the same time, selling the S20 series is less worthwhile, as the price continues to drop here too.
Conclusion: The S21 upgrade is more suitable for enthusiasts or S10 owners
Overall, I wouldn’t say upgrading from the Galaxy S20 to the Galaxy S21 is worth the money. The technical innovations are too small to take notice of, and the latest SoC may still be the best argument against an upgrade. Flagships always come with more power, and I think for the average user they would hardly have scratched the surface when it came to maximizing the 2020 SoC with their daily smartphone usage
This makes the design a potentially good reason to switch to one of the Galaxy S21 models. But that’s a matter of preference, and functionally you won’t make big leaps in terms of functionality despite the great looking camera bump.
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I see the Galaxy S21 as being more interesting for older phone owners looking to upgrade – whether or not you’re a Samsung fan. If you are looking for a sleek and above all high quality Android phone in 2021, you have to consider the S21 series. Here I end this comparison and bring all interested parties to our reviews!