Samsung unveils Galaxy S21 Series and new Galaxy Buds Pro
When do they go on sale in Australia and what do they cost?
As expected, Samsung used its Galaxy Unpacked event to reveal this year's crop of Galaxy S flagship phones as well as new Galaxy Buds Pro headphones. Here's what you need to know.
There are three new Galaxy S21 handsets to pick from at a variety of price points, and to further sweeten the deal, Samsung's also making some models cheaper than their 2020 counterparts.
Leaks around mobile phones are common, and for Samsung there wasn't all that much about the physical design of its new Galaxy S21 handsets to surprise the rumour-watchers, although maybe that's the point in a market where you want to build up plenty of hype around your new expensive phones.
Meet the new flagship: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung's kept with its Ultra suffix branding for its flagships into 2021, although the Galaxy S21 Ultra is an unusual hybrid of last year's Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra phones in many ways.
It features a 6.8 inch WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display with support for up to 120Hz screen refresh rates, automatically handled by the handset itself. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra runs on what Samsung's calling a "5nm processor" with 20% faster CPU speeds and 35% faster GPU performance than last year's Galaxy S phones.
That's almost certainly going to be Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 processor for international models, and likely Samsung's own Exynos 2100 locally if past trends are any indication. We've reached out to Samsung Australia for clarification on what's happening locally.
In colour terms, the Galaxy S21 Ultra will ship to wider retail in "Phantom Black" or "Phantom Silver". Samsung is keeping a few hues to itself with alternate options of Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown available only if you buy directly from Samsung itself.
The new design story here is all around a considerably flattened camera bump compared to last year's Ultra phones.
That's a very welcome design step, because while we loved those phones during our review process, there's no denying that they were chunky out the back.
The big change that's exclusive to the Galaxy S21 Ultra is that it's the first phone in Samsung's lineup that is compatible with the S-Pen stylus best known as being a key part of the Galaxy Note lineup, with one big key difference.
Buy a Galaxy Note device, like last year's excellent Galaxy Note 20, and the S-Pen comes included and the phone has a ready space in its body for storage.
That's not the way the Galaxy S21 Ultra works, however, because while it supports the S-Pen, it's not an included accessory, and the only way you'll be able to easily store it with the phone is by purchasing Samsung's optional S-Pen compatible case for the phone itself.
Cameras are the other area where the Galaxy S21 Ultra steps above its competition, with a quad-camera array, based around a wide angle 108MP lens, alongside an ultra-wide 12MP lens and two zoom lenses. There's a 10MP 3x Optical Zoom lens for mid-range shooting as well as a 10MP 10x optical zoom lens for expanded zoom ranges.
Samsung's contentious "Space Zoom" that debuted in the Galaxy S20 Ultra gets an upgrade, with Samsung stating that new AI stabilisation means that shots taken at extreme zoom levels won't look terrible. That's engaged by simply leaving the camera at a high zoom level and steady for a second or two. We've had a quick bout of hands-on time with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but we'll have to wait until we can more formally test the phone to see how good it really is.
One trick that Samsung's picked up from Apple via the iPhone 12 is that it can drop the inclusion of chargers and headphones in flagship phones. Yep, that's right – buy any of the Galaxy S21 phones, and you'll have to work out another charger and headphone options. Samsung's position on this is much like Apple's, in that it expects users already have chargers and wants to sell the green benefits of not adding unwanted gear. At the same time, no charger means the phones are cheaper to ship.
What does the Galaxy S21 Ultra cost in Australia
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will go on pre-order from today, with Australian availability from 29 January 2021.
Pricing starts at $1,849 for a 12GB RAM/128GB model, stepping up to $1949 for a 12GB RAM/256GB variant, with the top tier model shipping with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage for $2149.
Samsung Galaxy S21+: The middle child
The mid-range of the Samsung Galaxy S21 range is the 6.7 inch FHD+ Galaxy S21 with support for 48Hz-120Hz display refresh rates, also built on a 5nm processor that Samsung's being typically coy about.
Like the S21 Ultra, you get the same flattened camera bump at the rear, but only 3 cameras, with a primary wide 12MP sensor, ultra-wide 12MP sensor and 64MP telephoto sensor to take your shots with. That caps "Space Zoom" out at just 30x, but you get the same Zoom Lock feature to hopefully give you more stability at those far zoom ranges.
The Galaxy S21+ has a slightly smaller battery at 4,800mAh than the 5,000mAh power pack in the S21 Ultra, but that's actually an upgrade over 2020's S20+, which featured a 4,500mAh battery.
You do get more colour choice at retail with the Galaxy S21+, with Phantom Violet, Phantom Black or Phantom Silvercolours to choose from. Again Samsung's reserving a few colours just for itself, with Phantom Red and Phantom Gold also available in Australia through Samsung's online store only.
There's no S-Pen support for the mid-range or cheapest Galaxy S21 phones, however, but like the S21 Ultra there's a strong pitch towards the camera crowd, with upgraded Single Take that can capture for a configurable amount of time up to 15 seconds, 8K 60fps recording from any lens and a new "Director's View" feature that lets you see what each lens is capturing to effectively record slightly different scenes on the fly.
The Samsung Galaxy S21+ will go on pre-order from today, with Australian availability from 29 January.
Pricing for the Samsung Galaxy S21+ starts at $1,549 for an 8GB/128GB model, or $1649 for an 8GB/256GB variant
Samsung Galaxy S21: The lower-cost option
You don't typically think of the entry level model of a "flagship" phone as being all that exciting, but Samsung showed with the genuinely excellent Galaxy S20 FE late last year that it can bring a lot of value to the lower end of premium phones.
That's what it's going to try to do with the entry level model in the series, the Galaxy S21. It features a 6.2 inch Full HD+ display and oddly enough, the widest range of colour choices at direct retail in Australia. You'll be able to take your pick of Galaxy S21 colours, with the choice of Phantom Grey, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink. Samsung hasn't announced any Samsung online store exclusive colours for the Galaxy S21 yet.
The smaller size of the Galaxy S21 gives Samsung less space to pack in batteries, with a 4,000mAh battery under the hood. It still features the same 48-120Hz Dynamic AMOLED display technology as the S21+, which could be a cause for concern in battery life terms. Like the S21 Ultra and S21+, there's no included charger or headphones in the box.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 will go on pre-order from today, with Australian availability from 29 January.
It's the most affordable of the Galaxy S21 range, and the most affordable Samsung flagship for a while. The entry level 8GB RAM/128GB storage variant costs $1249 outright, while the 8GB RAM/256GB model will set you back $1349.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
Last year's Samsung Galaxy Buds Live impressed with their subtle style and generally pleasing audio, and this year Samsung's going Pro, with the latest in its bean-shaped headphones coming in as the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
The Galaxy Buds Pro will feature IPX7 water resistance – sweat, basically, because Bluetooth is notoriously poor at conducting through water anyway – with integrated 6.5mm tweeters and 11mm woofers in each bud. Samsung big "Pro" claim for these wireless buds is built around how they combine active noise cancellation and ambient noise control to block out – as per the company's claims – up to 99% of outside noise when you don't want it.
As you might expect, they'll pair pretty much automatically with Samsung Galaxy devices and switch between them with ease. Samsung says that they'll also automatically detect voices and turn off the active noise control when you're speaking, with configurable app controls so you can choose how long it is until your music, video or podcast audio starts playing again.
There's a slight downgrade in battery life claim terms, however, with the Galaxy Buds Pro specified as good for up to 18 hours of playback, including recharging from the included battery case. That's not a bad figure, but the Galaxy Buds Live claim up to a combined total of 28 hours.
The Galaxy Buds Pro are on sale from today at a price of $349.
Pictures: Alex Kidman