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Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Should you upgrade?

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

With the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy S21 family, comparisons to previous generations of Samsung phones are inevitable. And the most natural comparison would seem to be how this year’s models measure up against the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus. After all, if you bought one of those two phones when they came out in 2019, you’re likely considering an update to the new models.

While launch prices have remained remarkably similar across the two-year gap, Samsung has implemented several key upgrades to its latest line of smartphones. Both the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus offer impressive displays, a big boost in speed thanks to the Snapdragon 888 processor, significant camera improvements, and 5G support as standard instead of requiring a separate, more expensive, model.

Two years makes a big difference, so it’s obvious that the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus would have the high ground compared to their S10 cousins. And though the newer devices have lost a couple of features you can find in Samsung’s older phones, our Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10 face-off finds that now’s a great time to update.

We’ll break it all down for you so that you can decide for yourself.

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10 specs

Galaxy S21Galaxy S21 PlusGalaxy S10Galaxy S10+
Launch price$799$999$899$999
Screen size6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED (2400 x 1080; 48Hz - 120Hz)6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED (2400 x 1080; 48Hz - 120Hz)6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3040 x 1440; 60Hz)6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3040 x 1440; 60Hz)
CPUSnapdragon 888Snapdragon 888Snapdragon 855Snapdragon 855
RAM8GB8GB8GB8GB, 12GB
Storage128GB, 256GB128GB, 256GB128GB, 512GB128GB, 512GB, 1TB
MicroSDNoNoYesYes
Rear cameras12MP (f/1.8) wide; 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide; 64MP (f/2.0) telephoto with 3x optical zoom12MP (f/1.8) wide; 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide; 64MP (f/2.0) telephoto with 3x optical zoom12MP (f/1.5, f/2.4) wide; 16MP (f/2.2) ultrawide; 12MP (f/2.4) telephoto with 2x optical zoom12MP (f/1.5, f/2.4) wide; 16MP (f/2.2) ultrawide; 12MP (f/2.4) telephoto with 2x optical zoom
Front cameras10MP (f/2.2)10MP (f/2.2)10MP (f/1.9)10MP (f/1.9); 8MP (f/2.2)
Battery size4,000mAh4,800mAh3,400mAh4,100mAh
Wireless5G, Wi-Fi 6E, UWB5G, Wi-Fi 6E, UWBLTE, Wi-Fi 6LTE, Wi-Fi 6
Size6 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches6.4 x 3 x 0.31 inches5.9 x 2.77 x .31 inches6.2 x 2.92 x .31 inches
Weight6.07 ounces7.13 ounces5.54 ounces6.17 ounces
ColorsPhantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, Phantom WhitePhantom Violet, Phantom Silver, Phantom BlackPrism White, Prism Black, Prism Green, Prism Blue, Canary Yellow, Flamingo Pink, Cardinal Red, Smoke BluePrism White, Prism Black, Prism Green, Prism Blue, Canary Yellow, Flamingo Pink, Ceramic Black, Ceramic White, Cardinal Red, Smoke Blue

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Prices

Samsung opted to introduce the Galaxy S21 family at lower prices this year, dropping from what many considered to be too high with the S20 series. At the bottom of the pack is Galaxy S21 with 128GB of storage, which will cost you $799. Add on another $50 to get the 256GB variant. Meanwhile, the S21 Plus comes in at $999 for the base model and another $50 for the 256GB version.

So for the Plus models, Samsung kept the starting prices the same at $999, but the S21 is $100 cheaper than the S10 was at launch, which is nice to see. Of course, last year, Samsung cut prices on the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus to $749 and $849, respectively, with prices falling further since then.

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Design

Samsung changed its design language with the S20 series, refining it for the S21. The rear cameras are confined to one corner on the back instead of being a bar. The front camera cutout is centered along the top instead of being off to one side. In short, some similarities remain between the two device families, but you really have to look for them.

Samsung Galaxy S10 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The S10 and S10 Plus received plenty of fun and wacky color options, notably the yellow one, whereas the S21 and S21 Plus are more reserved in their Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink (S21), Phantom Black (S21 Plus), and Phantom White (S21) colorways. 

Galaxy S21 Plus (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the S21 and S21 Plus are heavier than the S10 and S10 Plus — the S21 is almost as heavy as the S10 Plus, in fact. All of these phones are the same thickness at 0.31 inches, but the S21 and S21 Plus are larger at 6 x 2.8 inches and 6.4 x 3 inches, respectively. Compare that to the 5.9 x 2.77-inch S10 and 6.2 x 2.92-inch S10 Plus. It’s a moderate difference, especially given that the batteries in the S21 and Plus are bigger than those found in the S10 and S10 Plus.

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Display

Samsung has had some of the best smartphone displays for years, but with the S20 series, it embraced high refresh rates. For the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus, it lowered the resolution to full HD (1080p), but offered a variable refresh rate, going as high as 120Hz. So while the total resolution isn’t as high as the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, the S21 and S21 Plus can be locked to 120Hz all the time or adaptively dropped to save battery.

Samsung Galaxy S10 (Image credit: Future)

Coming out before high refresh rates on smartphones became more mainstream, the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus are QHD and locked at 60Hz. You still have incredible displays on these phones, but once you see Android at 90 frames per second or higher (120fps in the case of the S21/Plus), it’s hard to go back to 60. The difference is very noticeable and it’s for the better.

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Cameras

Samsung stuck with a triple camera setup on the S21 and S21 Plus — which is basically the same as the Galaxy Note 20’s — though there have been improvements to the telephoto lens. It now sports 3x optical zoom versus the 2x on the S10 and S10 Plus, while Samsung’s Space Zoom feature can result in 30x photos on the newer phones. It’s rather impressive.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

All of these phones feature ultrawide lenses to get those dramatic shots, especially for nature scenes. The big differences will likely come down to software-powered camera features, like the crazy Space Zoom feature that can net you 30x zoom photos, or the Super Steady mode that uses AI to keep your video steady. Samsung might port some of these backward to the S10 series sometime down the road. For now, if smartphone photography is important to you and you’re loyal to Samsung, this is an upgrade to get.

For the front cameras, all four phones have a 10MP sensor, though the Galaxy S10 Plus adds an additional 8MP one alongside. If the selfie game is important to you, you won’t be disappointed with the S21 and S21 Plus, though the differences in photo quality versus the S10 and S10 Plus may not be readily apparent to most people, especially after being posted to social media.

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Performance

It may seem obvious, but performance metrics will be much different between the S21 and the S10 families. The new Snapdragon 888 in the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus is a beast and is the best performing CPU in Android land. Conversely, the S10 and S10 Plus rock the Snapdragon 855, which is still more than fine for the vast majority of people out there but two years older than the Snapdragon 888. Basically, unless you’re a spec junky, there’s no need to jump to the S21 just to get the bump in performance.

Samsung Galaxy S21 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus are the fastest Android phones we’ve tested. We have a full breakdown of the Galaxy S21 benchmarks if you’re interested in checking that out. Paired with the 8GB of RAM, you won’t find anything that the S21 and S21 Plus can’t do as far as smartphones go. The higher-end version of the S10 Plus came with 12GB of RAM as an option, which could be helpful with keeping more apps in memory. That being said, we’re confident that most of you will be just fine with the S21/Plus’ 8GB.

Storage on all of these phones starts at 128GB. The S21 and S21 Plus go up to 256GB, while the S10 topped out at 512GB. That doesn’t even come close to what the top-tier S10 Plus saw: a whopping 1TB. All of that was on top of a microSD card slot, which the S21 series lacks. So if you store all the things on your phone and you opted for the 512GB or 1TB options on your S10 or S10 Plus, you may want to find a backup solution elsewhere if you’re upgrading to an S21 or S21 Plus.

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Battery and charging

Both the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus pack larger batteries than their S10 counterparts. The smaller S21 has a 4,000 mAh battery compared to the S10’s 3,400mAh; the S21 Plus houses a 4,800 mAh battery versus the S10+’s 4,100mAh.

Not only are the batteries physically bigger in the S21 series, but they’re paired with the more power-efficient Snapdragon 888. Samsung has also talked about the new AI features on the S21 and S21 Plus, claiming that it will learn your usage patterns and adjust the power consumption accordingly.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The S21 family features 25W fast charging, meaning you can top off your phone pretty quickly, assuming you buy the charger separately since it’s not included with the phones. The S10 and S10 Plus saw 15W charging out of the box (the S10 5G had 25W fast charging).

It’s worth noting that none of the Galaxy S21 phones come with a charger, so in order to get the full fast charging experience, you’ll need to pay separately for a charging brick. Some make arguments for this, in terms of reducing electronic waste and packaging, but we understand why some might find this decision annoying.

Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S10: Bottom line

If you’re still using a Galaxy S10 or S10 Plus, the S21 and S21 Plus are great options if you’re looking to, or are ready for, an upgrade. You’ll get even better displays, 5G, improvements to the cameras, faster charging, and bigger batteries. Not only that, but you get the latest that Qualcomm has to offer with the Snapdragon 888 processor. 

Coming from the S20 series is a much smaller jump, so unless you really want Samsung’s latest, there’s not a whole lot you’re missing out on. It is amazing, however, what a difference two years can make in smartphone technology. 

It’s a bummer that the S21 and S21 Plus don’t include a charger, but the truly egregious thing is the removal of the microSD card slot. Why Samsung did this remains a mystery, but that’s not going to be to the liking of some of you out there. If you must have expandable storage, it’s probably best to stick with your S10 or S10 Plus, or grab one of the S20 phones now that their prices have gone down.

Even so, it’s no surprise that the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus are superior to their S10 cousins. If you’re ready to upgrade, these might be the Samsung models that finally push you to trade in your phone.

  • John468
    The Samsung S21 does not have a 3.5 mm headphone jack. That is a deal breaker for me.
    Reply
  • COLGeek
    John468 said:
    The Samsung S21 does not have a 3.5 mm headphone jack. That is a deal breaker for me.
    Using an adapter like this solves that problem. I use daily with a Bose headset to great success.

    https://store.google.com/us/product/usb_c_headphone_adapter
    Reply
  • Harry Devlin
    The loss of MST is a deal-breaker that the article fails to mention. The loss of the MicroSD card slot, the loss of the headphone jack, and the poorer resolution screen (except in the S21 Ultra) are other reasons to avoid the S21.

    It'll be interesting to see if there is a Note 21 that doesn't lose the MicroSD card slot and that doesn't lost MST, though the return of a headphone jack is hopeless.
    Reply