Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus preview: Should you spend more?

A couple of weeks into the new year and we’ve already been offered our first glimpse of what to expect from this year’s flagship smartphones. Samsung, announcing the Galaxy S21 series earlier than planned, has three new handsets on the horizon, and sitting in the middle of the pack is the new Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus.

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As you can expect, the S21 Plus has a bigger battery and a larger screen than its regular S21 counterpart, but it lacks the massive 108MP camera and WQHD+ display of the four-figured S21 Ultra. For those that can’t afford Samsung’s latest wallet-decimating flagship, however, the S20 Plus could be the ideal middle ground between high-end features and affordability.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus preview: Key specifications, price and release date

  • 6.7in, 120Hz FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen
  • Samsung Exynos 2100 processor
  • 8GB of RAM
  • 128GB or 256GB of storage
  • Triple rear camera: 12MP (f/1.8), 12MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide, 64MP (f/2.0) 3x telephoto
  • Selfie camera: 10MP (f/2.2)
  • 4,800mAh battery
  • IP68-rated waterproofing
  • 76 x 162 x 7.8mm
  • 202g
  • UK release date: Preorder from 14 January, available from 29 January
  • UK price: £949

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus preview: Design and key features

The good news is that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is cheaper than last year’s phone. Costing £949 at launch, rather than £999, that’s still quite a lot of money for most people, but a saving is still a saving, no matter how little is knocked off the price.

In other news, the Galaxy S21 Plus is mostly just the bigger sibling of the regular Galaxy S21, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. It shares much of the same characteristics, aside from the size of the battery and screen, but what’s new this year?

To begin with, the Galaxy S21 Plus has a brand-new design, as well as a new matte finish on the rear. The camera housing on the back of the phone has received a facelift and is now squeezed into the left edge and lacks the sharp corners of last year’s Galaxy S20 Plus. Like the Galaxy S21, it also comes with a new colour choice, “Phantom Violet”, which is close in appearance to a metallic purple and looks lovely in contrast with the gold camera unit.

Preorder Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

As for the screen, the Galaxy S21 Plus’ Dynamic AMOLED 2x display is roughly 5% larger than the basic Galaxy S21. Measuring 6.7in across the diagonal, it shares the same FHD+ resolution, though, as well as a smooth refresh rate of 120Hz. Just like last year, a tiny hole-punch notch sits at the top, which houses the 10MP (f/2.2) selfie camera, although according to Samsung the in-display fingerprint reader is now 1.7x larger.

Depending on where you live, the Galaxy S20 Plus is either powered by an Exynos 2100 (UK) or Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (US). Historically speaking, at least, this is usually bad news for UK consumers, since Samsung’s equivalent usually falls flat in the stamina and processing stakes, but Samsung has promised something a bit different this year.

In a teaser video posted on Samsung’s social media channels ahead of the Galaxy S21’s launch, the company acknowledged the shortcomings of its homebrew processors in the past and seems to suggest that things should be back on track when it comes to the Exynos 2100. That remains to be seen until I’m able to properly benchmark a review handset, of course, so watch this space.

Whichever processor you’re bundled with, however, you can expect a dollop of 8GB of RAM, as well as a choice of 128GB or 512GB of storage, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. Samsung didn’t confirm whether this was expandable via microSD or not, but the good news is that all Galaxy S21 models come with 5G support as standard.

At 4,800mAh, the Galaxy S21 Plus’ battery is 20% larger than the cell found inside the regular Galaxy S21. Due to the increase in screen size, however, it’s possible that battery life won’t be improved drastically, although we will have to wait and see until a review unit arrives on my desk.

Weirdly, the Galaxy S21 Plus has ditched the depth-sensing camera this year, and instead uses the same combination of rear-facing camera units as the cheaper model. For the uninitiated, this consists of a primary 12MP (f/1.8) camera as well as a 64MP (f/2.0) 3x zoom lens and a 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide sensor.

Most of the camera changes come from the software side of things, including the ability to grab a still image from 8K video footage, as well as being able to display a live view of all three cameras simultaneously, switching between them during a recording. Portrait mode has also been updated with improved depth estimation and virtual lighting options.

Preorder Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus preview: Early verdict

That’s about all there is to say about the Galaxy S21 Plus. Aside from two key differences, the Galaxy S21 Plus is identical to the Galaxy S21 but costs £180 more. Come release day, I can’t imagine many would be willing to part with more cash for a simple screen increase and a larger battery, but I could be proven wrong.

Only time will tell, of course, but at this early stage, I’m betting all my chips on the normal Galaxy S21. One thing’s for sure, though, with a release date scheduled for 29 January, I won’t have long to wait before I deliver my final verdict.

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