The Samsung Galaxy S21 series rumors are starting to pick up steam, and based on Samsung's previous launch schedule we can expect the new range of phones to launch in early 2021. And it could be even sooner than February, based on some leaks
Of course, it's early in the Galaxy S21 rumor cycle, given that Samsung only just launched the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. But we've already seen some leaks for Samsung's Galaxy S21 phone. And we also have our own wishlist for the Galaxy S21 series.
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Based on the rumors, it looks like Samsung should deliver a flatter design, faster performance and a more sophisticated camera system. But there are plenty of other areas for improvement, judging from our Galaxy S20 review, Galaxy S20 Plus review and Galaxy S20 Ultra review.
Here's what we've heard so far about the Galaxy S21 and what we would like to see from Samsung for its early 2021 flagships.
Samsung Galaxy S21 news (Updated Oct. 29)
- OnLeaks has released an updated render of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, revealing that it will have five rear camera lenses, not four as previously seen
- Rumors are mounting that Samsung will elect to ditch chargers and headphones in box with the Galaxy S21.
- The Galaxy S21 Ultra could pack an even faster refresh rate and a slightly smaller display than its predecessor, according to leaker Ishan Agarwal and 91mobiles.
Samsung Galaxy S21 release date
According to leaker OnLeaks, the Samsung Galaxy S21 launch date will be January 2021. This would be a month earlier than the usual February event for Samsung. Another rumor tips a possible Galaxy S21 reveal date for December, but we're skeptical about that.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 series was launched this year at a Samsung Unpacked event February 11 and the phones went on sale March 6. Pre-orders started Feb 21. If Samsung followed a similar schedule for its next phones, the Galaxy S21 release date would be March 5, which would be the first Friday in the month.
Samsung Galaxy S21 price
Samsung made a gamble with the Galaxy S20 line by not offering a cheaper Galaxy S20e variant in the $700 to $750 range. Instead, the cheapest Galaxy S20 was $999. The Galaxy S21 price will presumably be in the same ballpark, with the prices starting at $999 / £899 / AU$1,499 for the regular Galaxy S21.
The Galaxy S21 Plus would likely cost $200 more and the and Galaxy S21 Ultra $200 more than that.
Some reports have suggested that the Galaxy S21 could cost more than what Samsung charged for this year's phones because of the Snapdragon 875, the system-on-chip expected to power the new phones. However, some people dispute the report of pricier Snapdragon chipsets.
Samsung Galaxy S21 design
The Galaxy S21 may look pretty similar to the Galaxy S20 based on the renders we've seen. According to Ice Universe on social media site Voice, The S21 has a vertical camera stack that looks similar to the Galaxy Note 20 series, and the front display is flat instead of curved. The trade-off is that the bezels look a bit thicker for the Galaxy S21.
Ice Universe has also leaked the rough dimensions of the Samsung Galaxy S21. 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm (9.0mm with the camera bump included). That's a pretty big camera bump. By comparison, the Galaxy S20 is 151.7 x 69.1x 7.9 mm, so the S21 could wind up being wider than its predecessor.
IceUniverse has also revealed that the S21 and S21 Plus will both come with the same 2.5D screens included with their S20 counterparts, while the S21 Ultra will come with a more traditional curved display.
There's also speculation about whether the S21 will get Samsung's newly patented 'blade bezel' design, which aims to almost completely eliminate the bezel. If implemented we could see very thin and flat edges along the S21, and coupled with the curves of the 2.5D display they could end up being very hard to stop.
That said it seems unlikely Samsung would have it ready so soon after receiving the patent. So we don't expect to see blade bezels on the S21 range.
Samsung has been working on a "perfect full-screen phone" design for well over year, and there were hopes that the Samsung Galaxy S21 could make this vision a reality. Samsung Display started talking about the possibility of eliminating the punch holes on the front of its phones in March 2019.
The idea is that the camera hole would be invisible, "while not affecting the camera's function in any way." However, based on early leaks appears that an under-display camera isn't coming to the Galaxy S21.
Samsung Galaxy S21 cameras
The Galaxy S21 is rumored the up the ante even more when it comes to camera resolution and possibly zooming.
Korean tech publication The Elec says that the Galaxy S21 may feature a 180MP sensor, which would be even higher than the 108MP sensor in the Galaxy S20 Ultra. In addition, the Galaxy S21 may drop the time-of-flight sensor in order to support two optical zoom lenses. One would be a 3x lens and the other a 10x periscope lens.
Not much is known about this sensor, but apparently it has a footprint of 1 inch and it uses the same Nanocell technology that the S20 Ultra does with its ISOCELL Bright HM1 sensor. The new 150MP sensor will likely show up in phones for the first time in Q4 2020, possibly a Xiaomi handset.
Other phone makers could also beat the Galaxy S21 to the punch in employing this camera, including Oppo and Vivo, but Samsung would likely make the most noise.
One interesting bit of news reported by prominent Samsung leaker IceUniverse indicates that the company views high-megapixel sensors — like the 108MP one in the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra — as the way forward for the industry, and will remain committed to their development. In fact, a Samsung executive who heads up the firm's sensor business theorized that one day, the company could introduce a 600MP sensor that would technically "exceed the limits of the human eye."
That's not the only crazy camera idea Samsung is considering for future phones. A patent for a six-camera array with lenses and sensors that can move, pivot and zoom in and out has made the rounds, courtesy of LetsGoDigital. This idea seems as though it may be too radical to debut in a phone as soon as the Galaxy S21, though the increase in lens quantity and the idea to allow those lenses to move sounds like a worthwhile long-term goal for Samsung.
Based on OnLeaks' renders and the above image from Slashleaks, we can expect that the standard Galaxy S21 will come with a triple-lens camera system. We can't glean much from the images on their own, but it seems Samsung is tweaking the design for more aesthetic value.
For that reason the camera housing is mixing a mix of curves and corners, while OnLeaks' renders show off a glass cover that wraps around the edge of the phone and better merges the camera bump into the design of the phone. Or at least it does on the top-left corner.
Samsung Galaxy S21: Processor and performance
If Samsung follows past practices, it will use two different chipsets to power the Galaxy S21 — the latest Snapdragon 8 Series system-on-chip for phones released in the U.S. and one of its one Exynos processors for models that ship in the rest of the world. But that may not be the case this time around.
On the Snapdragon front, the new chipset is expected to be the Snapdragon 875, if Qualcomm sticks to its numbering conventions for new versions. An early report from 91Mobiles claims that this will be a 5-nanometer chip, as opposed to the 7-nanometer Snapdragon 865. There will also be a 5G modem included with the chipset.
A report from BusinessKorea says that Samsung will actually be manufacturing Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765 chip in a deal that could be worth $1 billion. So it remains to be seen whether Samsung will go ahead with its next-gen Exynos chip.
A separate Galaxy S21 Plus leak reveals that the phone could feature a Snapdragon 875 chip, up to 16GB of RAM, 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage and a 4,600 mAh battery. The previous Galaxy S20 has up to 12GB of RAM and a 4,500 mAh battery.
Samsung's next processor is expected to be named either the Exynos 1000 or Exynos 992, and it'll be another 5-nanometer chip. Leaked benchmarks promise big performance gains, with the new Exynos chipset delivering a 3x improvement over the Snapdragon 865. The silicon was rumored to begin production by partner TSMC this summer according to ZDNet.
Samsung Galaxy S21: Included charger and headphones?
Apple drew the ire of many when it announced it would ditch packed-in headphones and charging adapters with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. However, recent reports from Korean media suggest the same will hold true for the Galaxy S21 — or at least that Samsung is entertaining the idea.
The latest news on this front comes courtesy of SamMobile, which cites "Korean media" in its report, but doesn't name specifics. That said, it's a predictable step; ditching packed-in accessories allows Samsung to increase margins on its handsets, which is becoming all the more imperative as phones get more and more expensive, thanks to developments like 5G.
That said, it's possible Samsung could let customers down easy by employing a program similar to what it implemented for the Galaxy Note 20, where interested buyers could request a complimentary pair of AKG headphones from customer service with their purchase, though they weren't included by default in box. Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see how Samsung approaches this decision.
Samsung Galaxy S21: S Pen support
Based on reporting from South Korean publication The Elec, the Galaxy S21 Ultra may feature an S Pen. However, it's more likely that the phone will offer S Pen support but not feature a holster for the stylus. It would be optional.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The major difference between the S21 and the S21 Ultra is the size. While the standard S21 is set to come rocking a 6.2-inch display and measuring 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm (9.0mm with the camera bump). According to OnLeaks, who published the first renders of the phone, the S21 Ultra will have a larger display, between 6.7- and 6.9-inches in size, while leaker Ishan Agarwal says it will come with a 6.8-inch display -- which is slightly less than the 6.9-inch display on the S20 Ultra. It might even feature a peak refresh rate of 144Hz, though it appears the jury is still out on the legitimacy of that rumor.
The phone will measure 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm (10.8mm with the bump), according to OnLeaks. So it's longer, wider, and ever so slightly thicker than the standard S21 -- especially when you take the camera bump into consideration.
OnLeaks’ renders also showed the S21 Ultra with a curved display, and seemingly more pronounced than the 2.5D glass used on the S20 and S20+ last year. That suggests that, like the S20 Ultra, Samsung is sticking to an Edge-style curved display we’ve had for years rather than the more subtle bends of 2.5D. That information has also been corroborated by IceUniverse.
Those renders also showed the S21 Ultra sporting a fourth camera lens, and a wider camera bump to accommodate both it and the flash. However OnLeaks later released an updated render claiming there was actually a fifth lens included on the back of the S21 Ultra.
So what are all those lenses? There have been rumours from Korean tech site The Elec claiming that the S21 would get two optical zoom lenses -- offering 3x and 10x zoom, respectively. It seems unlikely that the standard S21 would have two lenses, especially now we’ve seen renders of it sporting three cameras, but the S21 Ultra is a perfect candidate.
While the S20 Ultra came with an incredible 100x hybrid zoom, Samsung reduced it to 50x on the Note 20 Ultra. It’s possible that the extended optical zoom could offer an even longer zoom feature, though it seems more likely that it’ll be used to improve the overall quality of long-range zoom.
As for the others, it seems likely the S21 would include the mainstay ultrawide angle lens, while the fifth remains a complete mystery. It could be that Samsung is still including a Time of Flight sensor, as it did on the S20 Ultra, or there's always a possibility it's something else. A LIDAR sensor would be sensible upgrade, like the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, but so far there's no evidence Samsung is even considering that possibility
No doubt the S21 Ultra will also come with a higher resolution main camera than the standard S21, with those same rumours suggesting Samsung may go beyond the 108MP lens of the S20 Ultra. A report from SamMobile did claim that Samsung was developing a 150MP sensor for flagship phones, while The Elec claimed we could get a 180MP sensor instead. Whether we’ll actually get either in the S21 Ultra is another matter.
However Ishan Agarwal says Samsung will be sticking with the 108MP main lens, which makes sense considering how much resolution that actually is. Likewise he says the S21 Ultra will have the same 40MP front-facing camera as the S20 Ultra did last year. Alongside a 5,000 mAh battery which is, again, the same as before.
Samsung Galaxy S21: What we want
The Galaxy S21 will be fighting the iPhone 12 by the time it is released. And it will also face competition from the Google Pixel 5 as well.
Here's how Samsung can improve on the Galaxy S20 while staying one step ahead of the competition.
A lower starting price: The $699 Samsung Galaxy S20 FE proves that Samsung needs a direct answer to the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini out of the gate and not months afterwards. We would expect the standard Galaxy S20 to start at $699, and the Galaxy S20 Plus would be the more premium flagship.
Longer battery life: Despite packing larger batteries across the board in the Galaxy S20 lineup, Samsung's phones did not all last as long as their predecessors on our web surfing battery test. For example, the regular Galaxy S20 lasted 8 hours and 31 minutes, compared to 10:19 for the S10. And the Galaxy S20 Plus lasted 10:31, compared to 10:56 for the Galaxy S10 Plus 5G.
Only the Galaxy S20 Ultra made our best phone battery life list with a max runtime of 12:13. However, that time dropped all the way down to 9:13 with 120Hz mode enabled. Our best guess is that the addition of 5G took a toll on the endurance of these phones, so perhaps it will take a more efficient modem from Qualcomm to deliver more juice for the Galaxy S21.
Less bugs at launch: The good news is that Samsung issued a software update for the Galaxy S20 that addressed some early reviewer and user complaints. The bad news is that the company didn't catch those issues before launching the phones. The biggest problem we had was with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which was slow to focus when shooting video. The Note 20 Ultra thankfully uses the same 108MP sensor to much more reliable effect, but here's hoping Samsung does more internal testing and quality control before releasing the Galaxy S21 lineup.