The Samsung Galaxy S21, Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra are all among the very best phones of 2021, so if you're after a top handset then you shouldn't go wrong with any of them.
That's true even as we head into the tail end of 2021, with newer rivals like the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Oppo Find X3 Pro providing some competition, but failing to topple the Galaxy S21 Ultra from the top of our smartphone chart.
Of course, even if you’ve settled on one of the Galaxy S21 range, deciding which can be tricky, as they have many similarities and just as many differences. With that in mind, we’ve taken a closer look at all three Samsung Galaxy S21 models, so you can see how they compare.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Plus vs Galaxy S21 price and availability
The Samsung Galaxy S21 officially starts at $799 / £769 / AU$1,249, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus starts at $999 / £949 / AU$1,549, and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at $1,199 / £1,149 / AU$1,849.
In all cases that’s for 128GB of storage, with prices rising if you want more. So for each step up in model the starting price rises by around $200 / £200 / AU$300.
You can now (as of July 2021) find the phones for cheaper in many stores, but they're all still very expensive, and the difference in price between the three remains broadly the same.
In terms of availability, all three models are available now in the US, the UK, Australia, and more other regions.
All three Samsung Galaxy S21 models have an all-screen front with a single-lens punch-hole camera in the top center of the screen, so front-on they look similar, though the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a curved display, while the other two are flat.
Flip them over and the similarities continue, at least at first glance. The three phones have what looks like a glass back, but while the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Plus actually use glass, the standard Galaxy S21 uses 'glasstic', meaning plastic that’s designed to look like glass.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also has a much bigger camera block than the other two, though all three have it positioned in the top left corner.
As for dimensions and weight, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm and 228g, the Galaxy S21 Plus is 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8mm and 202g, and the standard Samsung Galaxy S21 is 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm and 172g.
The upshot of all this being that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus basically just looks like a bigger version of the Galaxy S21, albeit one with a slightly more premium build. On the other hand, thanks to its curved screen and larger camera block the Galaxy S21 Ultra looks and feels substantially different, as well as being the largest of the three.
The three models also come in different colors, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra being available in Phantom Black and Phantom Silver, the S21 Plus in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, and Phantom Violet, and the Samsung Galaxy S21 being sold in Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, and Phantom Pink – though note that available shades might vary by region.
So the cheaper the phone the more color options you get, though there are a few additional shades available for the pricier models if you buy them direct from Samsung.
One aspect that is the same on all three models is the dust and water resistance, as they all have IP68 certification.
If you want the biggest screen possible then you’ll want the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, as this has a 6.8-inch curved 1440 x 3200 (WQHD+) screen, while the other two models are both smaller and lower resolution – the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus has a 6.7-inch flat screen, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch flat display, and both have a 1080 x 2400 (Full HD+) resolution.
All three phones have a refresh rate of up to 120Hz though, and in a first for Samsung, the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports that refresh rate while running at a QHD+ resolution, so you don’t have to choose between a high resolution and a high refresh rate.
All three phones also use ‘Dynamic AMOLED 2X’ displays and have an in-screen fingerprint scanner.
So if you're choosing between the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21 Plus it's mostly a question of size, while for the best Samsung screen possible you'll need to go for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. That said, we noted in our reviews that in most cases it's hard to tell the difference in resolution between the Ultra and the rest of the range.
As with the design, the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S21 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus are very similar to each other. In fact, they’re identical, with both phones sporting a triple-lens setup consisting of a 12MP f/1.8 main camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, and a 64MP f/2.0 telephoto.
That telephoto snapper is capable of 3x optical zoom, and both it and the main lens have optical image stabilization (OIS).
The setup on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is quite different though, as this has a quad-lens camera with a 108MP f/1.8 main snapper, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one, and a pair of 10MP telephoto cameras, one of which is f/2.4 and allows for 3x optical zoom, and the other of which is f/4.9 and extends the optical zoom distance to 10x. The main camera and both telephoto ones also have OIS here.
The differences between the S21 Ultra and the rest of the range don’t stop when you come to the front camera either, as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 40MP one, while the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus each have a 10MP one.
However, all three phones can record video in up to 4K quality at up to 60fps, and they all have the same assortment of camera modes, such as pro mode, night mode, Single Take, Live Focus, slow motion, and more.
In our reviews we praised the cameras on all three of these phones, but as with so many things about the Ultra, that's the best one for photography overall, and especially for optical zoom. We described its snappers as being "phenomenally powerful" and offering "the best camera zoom."
You can probably somewhat guess what the battery situation is here, with capacities getting larger as you move up in smartphone size and price.
Specifically, the Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 4,000mAh battery, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus has a 4,800mAh one, and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 5,000mAh battery.
So there’s a big jump in size from the S21 to the S21 Plus, but that reflects the big jump in screen size, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra only has a slightly larger screen (and also therefore battery) than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus.
In our reviews, we found that all three phones could comfortably last a day in most use cases, though using a 120Hz refresh rate, and - in the case of the S21 Ultra - a QHD+ resolution, had a noticeable impact. Of the three, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus appeared to perform best, stretching to two days with moderate use.
All three phones additionally support 25W fast charging, 15W wireless charging, and Wireless Power Share, the latter of which lets you use them to charge up other devices wirelessly (though only with 4.5W of power). Note however that there's no charger in the box with any of them.
Specs and features
All three Samsung Galaxy S21 models have the same chipset, but exactly what chipset you’ll get depends on what country you’re in. US models use the Snapdragon 888, while the UK and most other regions use the Exynos 2100, but both of those are very powerful.
In our reviews all three phones performed as well as you'd expect, ranking among the very beefiest of handsets.
The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus also both have 8GB of RAM, coupled with 128GB or 256GB of storage, but the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra ups both types of memory, with 12GB or 16GB of RAM and a choice of 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage (the last of those sizes being the only one that comes with 16GB of RAM). None of the phones have a microSD card slot.
All three phones support 5G and run Android 11, with the main difference in features (beyond what’s covered above) being that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra supports Samsung’s S Pen stylus, letting you use the phone like a Galaxy Note.
However, unlike with the Note range you have to buy the S Pen separately here, and there’s no slot for it in the phone (though there is in some covers).
The Samsung Galaxy S21 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus are very similar phones – they have the same screen resolution, camera configuration, and RAM amount. The only major differences – other than the higher price for the Plus – is that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus has a significantly bigger screen and a bigger battery to go with it. It also has a glass back, while the standard S21 makes do with glasstic.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra though is a very different beast. Beyond being the biggest and most expensive of the three, it also has a very different camera setup, a higher resolution screen, a bigger battery, a more premium build than at least the basic model, more RAM, and support for the S Pen stylus.
Perhaps even more than normal then this year's top Galaxy S model towers above the rest of the range.
And that gulf was reflected in our experiences of using the phones - while we gave the Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus four-star reviews, we gave the S21 Ultra 4.5 stars, and at the time of writing it's the best phone you can buy in our opinion.
But that doesn't mean it's for everyone - it's expensive at any level, and at the base level is a little lacking in storage, with only 128GB and no microSD card slot. The other two phones, and the standard S21 in particular, carry less of a sting for your wallet.
- What we know about the Samsung Galaxy S22
You might also want to check out the Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 comparison.