Should you buy the Galaxy S21 series or the Galaxy S20 series?

Should you buy the Galaxy S21 series or the Galaxy S20 series?

Samsung’s latest flagship series has finally arrived and it comes with many improvements over the previous generations of flagships. From brighter dynamic AMOLED displays to the performance increment that the new processors bring, the new Galaxy S21 series is destined to lure anyone who wants the latest and the best that Samsung has to offer. But for the average consumer who prefers experiencing a Samsung Galaxy flagship without the compulsion to try the latest ones, the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra from last year are still pretty lucrative devices.

To help you make an informed decision, we are comparing Samsung’s latest Galaxy S21 series with the Galaxy S20 from 2020. We have broken down this comparison between the three Galaxy S20 variants and their corresponding Galaxy S21 models. Let’s start by comparing the standard variants.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20

SpecificationsSamsung Galaxy S21Samsung Galaxy S20
Build
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Plastic back
  • Gorilla Glass Victus front
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Gorilla Glass 6 back
  • Gorilla Glass 6 front
Dimensions & Weight
  • 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm
  • 171 grams
  • 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm
  • 163g
Display
  • 6.2″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display
  • 2400 x 1080 pixels
  • 421 PPI
  • 120Hz variable refresh rate
    • 48-120Hz
  • 20:9 aspect ratio
  • HDR10+
  • 1300nits peak brightness
  • Always-On display
  • Infinity-O display
  • 6.2″ Dynamic AMOLED
  • 3200 x 1440 pixels
  • HDR10+
  • 120Hz @ FHD+
  • 20:9 Aspect Ratio
SoC
  • International: Exynos 2100:
    • 1x ARM Cortex X1 @ 2.9GHz +
    • 3x ARM Cortex A78 Cores @ 2.8GHz +
    • 4x ARM Cortex A55 Cores @ 2.2GHz
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888:
    • 1x Kryo 680 Prime Core @ 2.84GHz
    • 3x Kryo 680 Performance Cores @ 2.4GHz
    • 4x Kryo 680 Efficiency Cores @ 1.8GHz
  • International: Exynos 990:
    • 2x Exynos M5 custom cores @ 2.73GHz +
    • 2x ARM Cortex A76 Cores @ 2.5GHz +
    • 4x ARM Cortex A55 Cores @ 2.0GHz
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
    • 1x Kryo 585 Prime Core @ 2.84GHz
    • 3x Kryo 585 Performance Cores @ 2.4GHz
    • 4x Kryo 385 Efficiency Cores @ 1.8GHz
RAM & Storage
  • 8GB LPDDR5 + 128GB
  • 8GB + 256GB
  • 8GB LPDDR5 + 128GB UFS 3.0
  • 12GB + 128GB
Battery & Charging
  • 4,000mAh
  • 25W USB Power Delivery 3.0 fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5 reverse wireless charging
  • No charger in box in most regions
  • 4,000mAh
  • 25W USB Power Delivery 3.0 fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5W reverse wireless charging
  • No charger in box in most regions
Security2nd Gen Ultrasonic In-Display Fingerprint ScannerUltrasonic In-Display Fingerprint Scanner
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 12MP, wide-angle lens, f/1.8, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Secondary: 12MP, ultra-wide-angle lens, f/2.2, 120° FoV, 1/2.55″, 1.4µm
  • Tertiary: 64MP, telephoto lens, f/2.0, 1/1.76″, 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS
  • Primary: 12MP, wide-angle lens, f/1.8, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Secondary: 12MP, ultra-wide-angle lens, f/2.2, 120° FoV, 1/2.55″, 1.4µm
  • Tertiary: 64MP, telephoto lens, f/2.0, 1/1.76″, 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS
Front Camera(s)10MP, f/2.2, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF10MP, f/2.2, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF
Port(s)USB 3.2 Type-CUSB 3.2 Type-C
Audio
  • Stereo speakers by AKG
  • Dolby Atmos
  • Stereo speakers by AKG
  • Dolby Atmos
Connectivity
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 5G
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 5G
SoftwareSamsung One UI 3.1 based on Android 11Updated to Samsung One UI 3.0 based on Android 11
Other Features
  • IP68 water resistance
  • ANT+
  • Samsung DeX
  • Knox
  • Bixby Voice Assistant
  • Google Discover pane
  • IP68 water resistance
  • ANT+
  • Samsung DeX
  • Knox
  • Bixby Voice Assistant
Colors
  • Phantom Violet
  • Phantom Gray
  • Phantom White
  • Phantom Pink
  • Cosmic Grey
  • Cloud Blue
  • Cloud Pink
  • Cloud White
  • Aura Red

If we set aside Samsung’s refreshed design language, the standard Galaxy S21 appears fairly similar to the Galaxy S20 in terms of internal specifications. The one and perhaps the only significant improvement on the Galaxy S21 is the newer and significantly more powerful chipset. This especially holds for the variants sold outside of the US as the new Exynos 2100 is finally ready to give tough competition to the Snapdragon 888. The much faster and efficient 2nd Gen Qualcomm Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner comes standard across all three devices.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 comes with a Full HD+ Super AMOLED Display that may be seen as inferior as compared to the WQHD+ display on the Galaxy S20. However, it must be noted that the WQHD+ display had to be downscaled to Full HD+ resolution to utilize the 120Hz refresh rate. Not just that, the Galaxy S21’s display — although lower in terms of resolution — can also support dynamic refresh rate switching such that the refresh rate automatically changes in sync with the frame rate at which an app usually renders data.

Notably, one area that the Galaxy S21 is certainly inferior is the new plastic back despite its premium price tag. This might put off several users vying for a device that is premium in all regards. Additionally, the Galaxy S21 also misses out on a 12GB variant.

In addition to these points, one must note the launch price of the Galaxy S21 is $200 less than that of the Galaxy S20. So, unless there is a major price drop, the Galaxy S20 would make little sense over the Galaxy S21.


Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus vs Galaxy S20 Plus

SpecificationsSamsung Galaxy S21 PlusSamsung Galaxy S20 Plus
Build
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Gorilla Glass Victus back
  • Gorilla Glass Victus front
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Gorilla Glass 6 back
  • Gorilla Glass 6 front
Dimensions & Weight
  • 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm
  • 202 grams
  • 161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8mm
  • 186g
Display
  • 6.7″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display
  • 2400 x 1080 pixels
  • 394 PPI
  • 120Hz variable refresh rate
    • 48-120Hz
  • 20:9 aspect ratio
  • 1300nits peak brightness
  • HDR10+
  • Always-On display
  • Infinity-O display
  • 6.7″ Dynamic AMOLED
  • 3200 x 1440 pixels
  • HDR10+
  • 120Hz @ FHD+
  • 20:9 Aspect Ratio
  • Always-On display
  • Infinity-O display
SoC
  • International: Exynos 2100:
    • 1x ARM Cortex X1 @ 2.9GHz +
    • 3x ARM Cortex A78 Cores @ 2.8GHz +
    • 4x ARM Cortex A55 Cores @ 2.2GHz
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888:
    • 1x Kryo 680 Prime Core @ 2.84GHz
    • 3x Kryo 680 Performance Cores @ 2.4GHz
    • 4x Kryo 680 Efficiency Cores @ 1.8GHz
  • International: Exynos 990:
    • 2x Exynos M5 custom cores @ 2.73GHz +
    • 2x ARM Cortex A76 Cores @ 2.5GHz +
    • 4x ARM Cortex A55 Cores @ 2.0GHz
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
    • 1x Kryo 585 Prime Core @ 2.84GHz
    • 3x Kryo 585 Performance Cores @ 2.4GHz
    • 4x Kryo 385 Efficiency Cores @ 1.8GHz
RAM & Storage
  • 8GB LPDDR5 + 128GB
  • 8GB + 256GB
  • 8GB LPDDR5 + 128GB
  • 12GB + 128GB
  • 12GB + 256GB
  • 12GB + 512GB
Battery & Charging
  • 4,800mAh
  • 25W USB Power Delivery 3.0 fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5 reverse wireless charging
  • No charger in box in most regions
  • 4,500mAh
  • 25W USB Power Delivery 3.0 fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5 reverse wireless charging
  • No charger in box in most regions
Security2nd Gen Ultrasonic In-Display Fingerprint ScannerUltrasonic In-Display Fingerprint Scanner
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 12MP, wide-angle lens, f/1.8, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Secondary: 12MP, ultra-wide-angle lens, f/2.2, 120° FoV, 1/2.55″, 1.4µm
  • Tertiary: 64MP, telephoto lens, f/2.0, 1/1.76″, 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS
  • Primary: 12MP, wide-angle lens, f/1.8, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Secondary: 12MP, ultra-wide-angle lens, f/2.2, 120° FoV, 1/2.55″, 1.4µm
  • Tertiary: 64MP, telephoto lens, f/2.0, 1/1.76″, 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS
Front Camera(s)10MP, f/2.2, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF10MP, f/2.2, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF
Port(s)USB 3.2 Type-CUSB 3.2 Type-C
Audio
  • Stereo speakers by AKG
  • Dolby Atmos
  • Stereo speakers by AKG
  • Dolby Atmos
Connectivity
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 5G
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 5G
SoftwareSamsung One UI 3.1 based on Android 11Updated to Samsung One UI 3.0 based on Android 11
Other Features
  • IP68 water resistance
  • ANT+
  • Samsung DeX
  • Knox
  • Bixby Voice Assistant
  • Google Discover pane
  • IP68 water resistance
  • ANT+
  • Samsung DeX
  • Knox
  • Bixby Voice Assistant
Colors
  • Phantom Violet
  • Phantom Gray
  • Phantom White
  • Phantom Pink
  • Cosmic Grey
  • Cloud Blue
  • Cloud Pink
  • Cloud White
  • Aura Red

The comparison between the Galaxy S21 Plus and the Galaxy S20 Plus is almost the same in all regards as the previous set of devices. The only factor that stands out is that the Galaxy S21 Plus still uses a glass back. Just like the Galaxy S21, the S21 Plus gets a brighter display traded at the cost of a lower resolution, 120Hz refresh rate and dynamic switching, better performance than previous generations, and a bigger and more efficient fingerprint scanner.

This year’s Plus model is priced $200 lower than the last year’s model and that is incentive enough for users to buy the Galaxy S21 Plus over the Galaxy S20 Plus. You again miss out on the 12GB RAM or 512GB storage variants; so if that’s your priority, the last generation makes more sense.

But if a significantly improved camera is your top priority, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is definitely worth looking at.


Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S20 Ultra

SpecificationsSamsung Galaxy S21 UltraSamsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Build
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Gorilla Glass Victus back
  • Gorilla Glass Victus front
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Gorilla Glass 6 back
  • Gorilla Glass 6 front
Dimensions & Weight
  • 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
  • 229 grams
  • 166.9 x 76.0 x 8.8mm
  • 220 grams
Display
  • 6.8″ QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X curved display
  • 3200 x 1440 pixels
  • 515ppi
  • 120Hz variable refresh rate
    • 120Hz at QHD+ supported
    • 10-120Hz
  • 20:9 aspect ratio
  • 1500nits peak brightness
  • HDR10+
  • Always-On display
  • Infinity-O display
  • 6.9″ Dynamic AMOLED
  • 3200 x 1440 pixels
  • 120Hz @ FHD+
  • 20:9 Aspect Ratio
  • HDR10+
  • Always-On display
  • Infinity-O display
SoC
  • International: Exynos 2100:
    • 1x ARM Cortex X1 @ 2.9GHz +
    • 3x ARM Cortex A78 Cores @ 2.8GHz +
    • 4x ARM Cortex A55 Cores @ 2.2GHz
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888:
    • 1x Kryo 680 Prime Core @ 2.84GHz
    • 3x Kryo 680 Performance Cores @ 2.4GHz
    • 4x Kryo 680 Efficiency Cores @ 1.8GHz
  • International: Exynos 990:
    • 2x Exynos M5 custom cores @ 2.73GHz +
    • 2x ARM Cortex A76 Cores @ 2.5GHz +
    • 4x ARM Cortex A55 Cores @ 2.0GHz
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
    • 1x Kryo 585 Prime Core @ 2.84GHz
    • 3x Kryo 585 Performance Cores @ 2.4GHz
    • 4x Kryo 385 Efficiency Cores @ 1.8GHz
RAM & Storage
  • 12GB LPDDR5 + 128GB UFS 3.1
  • 12GB + 256GB
  • 16GB + 512GB
  • 12GB LPDDR5 + 128GB UFS 3.0
  • 12GB + 256GB
  • 16GB + 512GB
Battery & Charging
  • 5,000mAh
  • 25W USB Power Delivery 3.0 fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5 reverse wireless charging
  • No charger in box in most regions
  • 5,000mAh
  • 25W USB Power Delivery 3.0 fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5 reverse wireless charging
  • No charger in box in most regions
Security2nd Gen Ultrasonic In-Display Fingerprint ScannerUltrasonic In-Display Fingerprint Scanner
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 108MP ISOCELL HM1, wide-angle lens, f/1.8, 79°, 24mm, 1/1.33″, 0.8µm (pre-nona-binning), OIS, PDAF, Laser AF
  • Secondary: 12MP, ultra-wide-angle lens, f/2.2, 120° FoV, 13mm, 1/2.55″, 1.4 µm, AF
  • Tertiary: 10MP, telephoto lens, f/2.4, 35°, 72mm, 1/3.24″, 1.22µm, OIS, 3x optical zoom
  • Quarternary: 10MP, periscope camera, f/4.9, 10°, 240mm, 1/3.24″, 1.22µm, OIS, 10x optical zoom
  • Primary: 108MP ISOCELL HM3, wide-angle lens, f/1.8, 79°, 24mm, 1/1.33″, 0.8µm (pre-nona-binning), OIS, PDAF, Laser AF
  • Secondary: 12MP, ultra-wide-angle lens, f/2.2, 120° FoV, 13mm, 1/2.55″, 1.4 µm, AF
  • Tertiary: 48MP, telephoto lens, f/3.4, 24°, 103mm, 1/2.0″, 0.8µm, OIS, 4x optical zoom
Front Camera(s)40MP, f/2.2, 0.7µm, PDAF40MP, f/2.2, 0.7µm, PDAF
Port(s)USB 3.2 Type-CUSB 3.2 Type-C
Audio
  • Stereo speakers by AKG
  • Dolby Atmos
  • Stereo speakers by AKG
  • Dolby Atmos
Connectivity
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 5G
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 5G
SoftwareSamsung One UI 3.1 based on Android 11Updated to Samsung One UI 3.0 based on Android 11
Other Features
  • IP68 water resistance
  • ANT+
  • Samsung DeX
  • Knox
  • UWB
  • Bixby Voice Assistant
  • Google Discover pane
  • Wacom Stylus and S Pen support (sold separately and stored externally)
  • IP68 water resistance
  • ANT+
  • Samsung DeX
  • Knox
  • Bixby Voice Assistant
  • Google Discover pane
Colors
  • Phantom Gray
  • Phantom White
  • Samsung.com Exclusive:
    • Phantom Titanium
    • Phantom Navy
    • Phantom Brown
  • Cosmic Grey
  • Cosmic Black
  • Cloud White

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is clearly the most beguiling device among the three and we see the most improvement on it. Apart from the improvements in terms of processing power, which is the same across all models, the Galaxy S21 Ultra gets a much brighter and crisper screen. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is also the first Samsung smartphone with a display that is calibrated to support a 120Hz refresh rate on WQHD+ resolution. Furthermore, you get S Pen support on the Galaxy S21 Ultra and that just makes the smartphone a whole lot more exciting.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra also gets major improvements in terms of cameras. It is the first smartphone to feature Samsung’s ISOCELL HM3 108MP sensor that supports 12-bit color capture. It also comes with two telephoto cameras — a 3x standard telephoto and a 10x periscope camera with up to 100x hybrid zoom. The Galaxy S21 Ultra also uses AI-backed Zoom Lock to guarantee that images at 100x are not spoiled because of shaking.

Besides the hardware improvements, the Galaxy S21 Ultra gets many software features to enhance photos and videos. Some of these features are:

  • Director’s View for changing camera mid-recording
  • Vlogger View for recording videos using the front and one of the rear cameras simultaneously
  • Multi-mic recording to record audio for a video from multiple sources
  • 4K video recording across all cameras

To read about the camera improvements in detail, you can find out everything’s that new in the Galaxy S21 cameras. Do note, that if you are planning to buy the Galaxy S20 series, the newer software features may not be available instantly — or worse, might not be available at all. That’s one area where the Galaxy S21 series definitely does better.

Lastly, unlike the other models, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is not priced below the Galaxy S20 Ultra. But all the hardware and software improvements that it is jammed with make it absolutely worth the price.


Samsung Galaxy S21 series or Galaxy S20 series: Which should you buy?

The Galaxy S21 and the S21 Plus are minimal yet meaningful upgrades over the last generations. But what makes them really lucrative is the much lower price this time around. At the same time, you lose out on features like the WQHD+ display, up to 12GB RAM or 512GB storage. In all, if you want better performance, improved security, and longer software support, the Galaxy S21 series makes way more sense. On the other hand, you should go for the Galaxy S20 if you absolutely want a higher resolution display or higher RAM/storage.

However, when it comes to the hero device of each range, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a much clearer upgrade over the Galaxy S20 Ultra, thanks mainly to the camera setup. There is no plausible reason why you would buy the Galaxy S20 Ultra over the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

    Samsung Galaxy S21
    The Samsung Galaxy S21 is the starting point of the new 2021 flagship series, packing in a flagship SoC, along with a decent display and camera setup.
    Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus
    The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is the middle child in the new 2021 flagship series, packing in a flagship SoC and a premium build, along with a decent display and camera setup.
    Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
    The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate overkill in the new 2021 flagship series, packing in a flagship SoC, a premium build, a great display, and an amazing camera setup, as well as all the extras expected on a premium flagship.

About author

Tushar Mehta
Tushar Mehta

I am a Senior Editor at XDA. I have been reviewing gadgets for over five years and gained experience by working for prominent tech publications in India before joining XDA. I enjoy fiddling with all smart objects and my love for software customization dates back to the Symbian S60 days. I like to devote my spare time idealizing the romantic union of technology and philosophy or spacing out on Pink Floyd. You may email me at [email protected]