Samsung has a few new devices to kick off 2021, and the lineup includes the latest Galaxy S21 smartphones, plus a new pair of earbuds and smart tracker.
In total, we’re looking at a handful of new products when counting the trio of Galaxy S21 models. The Galaxy Buds Pro will be the newest true wireless earbuds, adding features Samsung hasn’t used before. And to top it all off is a smart tracker called Galaxy SmartTag that sets up a new product category for the company.
Samsung unveiled the products at its Unpacked event virtually, though I’ve gotten my hands on the devices in advance, and will have reviews coming up on the blog soon.
Looking at the Galaxy S21 Ultra
This phone is what Samsung is calling an “ultimate premium” handset, rather than a flagship. Semantics aside, this is the model that has features the other two Galaxy S21 models don’t. The Dynamic AMOLED is slightly larger at 6.8-inches, only it’s how it functions that is more newsworthy. For the first time, a Samsung device will do 120Hz refresh rates at Quad HD+ quality. Finally, you get the better resolution and smoothness all at once.
Samsung also says that the blue light filter will also kick in automatically using artificial intelligence (AI), though you will still have the option to do it manually or on a schedule. It’s also brighter than the other S21 models (25% more at 1,500 nits), for better visibility in bright sunlight.
Other new features include Ultra Wideband (UWB) support, which will have an impact down the line. For instance, Samsung plans to make the phone compatible with certain vehicles so that your S21 Ultra becomes your wireless car keys. SmartThings is also getting an Android Auto app, letting you control smart home devices while driving. Connectivity figures into this device in a number of ways, from 5G, Wi-Fi 6E and Dual Bluetooth.
The quad camera array in the rear is led by the 108-megapixel f/1.8 standard wide lens. Its supported by a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide lens, plus two telephoto lenses—a 10-megapixel with 3x zoom, and another 10-megapixel with 10x zoom. If you’re interested, you will be able to zoom in 100x using the Space Zoom feature.
Samsung says it’s improved the camera software in a number of ways, but I’ll have to test that to be sure. You will be able to shoot video in 4K at 60fps, and night shots are supposed to be better than before. I’ll cover this device in detail in my upcoming review.
The S Pen gets a new home
In another first, the Galaxy S21 Ultra will be the first non-Note Samsung handset to be compatible with the S Pen. It won’t come with the phone, though. You will need to get a separate case that comes with the pen, including a holster for safekeeping. You can use an S Pen from a Galaxy Note or Tab device, with the option to also buy it on its own.
Whatever it’s worth, this is a big move, and one that had to happen. There are no differences in screens between the S and Note lines now, so it’s probably long overdue. The S Pen experience shouldn’t be any different than it was on the Note20. Bear in mind, however, that the pen only works with the S21 Ultra, as it’s not compatible with the other two S21 models.
Where the Galaxy S21+ and S21 fit in
These two phones don’t have everything the Ultra does, but are still pretty loaded. The Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED with a lower resolution and adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. The Galaxy S21+ has a 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED with the same specs otherwise.
They actually share a lot of specs and features. They run on the same processor, same storage, same memory, and offer the same camera array. Samsung played up the 30x Space Zoom helped by a feature called Zoom Lock that is supposed to provide “tripod-like stability” through AI-controlled image stabilization. Until I test that, I have no idea if it’s as effective as advertised.
The cameras are getting various software improvements, from Single Take 2.0 to Vlogger’s View and a new-look Portrait Mode. Outside of that, they won’t have all the connectivity functions, like Wi-Fi 6E, for instance, that the Ultra will have. But, for the most part, these three devices have a lot in common.
They’re also getting the more colourful options. The S21 will come in phantom violet, phantom grey, phantom pink and phantom white, while the S21+ will come in phantom violet, phantom silver and phantom black. The Ultra will come in the silver and black variants.
Listening to the Galaxy Buds Pro
Samsung is back with another pair of true wireless earbuds, and the Galaxy Buds Pro are pretty stacked. They have the smallest case of any earbud pair the company currently has. The earbuds themselves are pretty small, yet pack a lot inside. There’s active noise cancellation (ANC) to block out ambient noise, along with an Ambient mode to do the very opposite and pipe in background noise.
The redesigned woofer and tweeter does pack a bigger sound, though it may not be as wide a gap compared to the previous models. With 360 Audio, watching any piece of content coded in surround sound will feel spatial in your ears. I tried it with Netflix and Prime Video and it works well.
The earbuds also do some interesting things, like automatically lower volume when you start talking. And when you do talk, phone call quality is excellent. Look for a review of these unique earbuds to come to the blog shortly.
Samsung was rumoured to get into this category for a while now, and it’s finally happened. The SmartTag is a Bluetooth tracker, not unlike a Tile, making it possible to track a lost or stolen item. It uses Bluetooth, and will have a community element to it for objects that aren’t in your range. It’s the kind of product you attach to keys or a pet. Look for more information on the new SmartTag here on the blog, with a review also to come.
Samsung announced the devices today, buy you can get your hands on them soon. Pre-orders for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy S21+ and S21 are available now, with the phones officially launching on January 29. The Galaxy Buds Pro are also available for pre-order, with the Galaxy SmartTag soon to follow.