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⚡ Welcome back to The Weekly Authority, the Android Authority series that recaps the top tech news, views and reviews from the week.
☕ Tristan Rayner with you again as we saw a big week in tech play out across CES 2021, and the Samsung Unpacked event to get 2021 well underway with new innovations, ideas, and devices.
- We’ll dive more into the just launched Galaxy S21 series below, which dominated the news, as it has for some weeks with leaks and detailed information dropping early. Maybe, just maybe, that was by design?
- Samsung also announced the new Galaxy Buds Pro, which are now on sale, and Samsung also launched SmartTags for tracking items if they’re lost, with a promise of UWB-powered SmartTags Pro later in the year for more precise in-app tracking.
- More below!
A couple of ways to check out what you need to know from CES 2021:
- One is via our CES 2021 Top Picks Awards, which focus on just the best new products and announcements.
- Another is to read our huge CES hub, which carries all the important announcements by brand, tracking LG, Samsung, TCL, Sony, Intel, Razer, and then audio, wearables, laptops, and more.
And non-CES/Samsung news:
- The WhatsApp exodus taking place even saw the world’s current richest man Elon Musk tweeting “Use Signal,” which eventually led to Signal servers to crash this week. (And, amazingly, drove the stock in a small medical device firm, Signal Advance, massively upward, purely by error. That company’s share rose by 11,708 per cent in three days, as Signal tried to explain it’s a privately-held company.) One of our most popular new articles: How to delete a WhatsApp account. Also, I think Gizmodo did a great job in explaining what really happened (it’s about the WhatsApp Business offering), why Facebook has announced it will delay the changes, and why concerns are overblown. But, it’s one of the great bungled set of announcements, and I expect taught as a masterclass of what not to do. Meanwhile, Signal and Telegram are the new homes for many.
- Asus teased a new all-screen ROG phone: safe to say it’s the next ROG, but the name is the question: ROG Phone 4 or ROG Phone 5? Asus may decide to skip the number four because of its unlucky connotations in Chinese culture.
- The Trump Administration added Xiaomi to a secondary blacklist for its alleged Chinese military connections. This does not impact the likes of Google and Qualcomm from offering services such as Android, Google Mobile Services, or chipsets. But it may force Qualcomm Ventures to divest its investment stake in Xiaomi (Reuters). No word yet on how the Biden Administration assesses the situation.
- Qualcomm snapped up Apple’s A-series former chief architect and his CPU startup. Lots of implications around boosting Qualcomm’s chipsets here, the truly techy people are very excited (Android Authority).
- Apple’s announced new projects related to its $100 million pledge for racial equity and justice (TechCrunch).
We all await S21 and Galaxy Buds Pro reviews, but for now, just one review you might want to catch:
- OnePlus Band review: 2.5/5 is a terrible look. The hardware on this wearable is ok at least, but the performance and software are not even close. Reviewer Dhruv Bhutani says: just stick with the Xiaomi Mi Band 5, and try not to think too much about what happened to the clean, simple OnePlus we used to know.
Features & opinion
The team were hard at work on figuring out what mattered at CES for our features this week, and there’s plenty more on offer too:
- The best new smartphones from CES 2021 is unmissable, including those rollable designs we’re seeing shift from concepts to promised products.
- And it’s worth checking the best new TVs, best new audio products, 7 best new smart home gadgets, and best tech innovations from CES 2021 — those innovations range from interesting to PR opportunity to …poop tech. Yup.
- We’re not yet at autonomous driving, and to get there we may have seen the next-generation of tech at CES: beyond lidar, more of the light spectrum being used, and more (TechCrunch).
- Here’s why CES 2021 was filled with business laptops and Chromebooks (CNET).
- Also something short and fun, a brief preview of CES 2121 (CNET).
By now you know the Galaxy S21 headline details, so I’ll keep the specs short and sharp:
- SoC: It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in the US, and the Exynos 2100 in most other places, both now on a 5nm process, with the Arm Cortex X-1 CPU as the new performance CPU, meaning the S21 series should see great performance well into its lifespan.
- Display: All S21 devices come with a 120Hz refresh rate screen, with dynamic refresh rate. The Ultra drops as low as 10Hz. The non-Ultra phones are 1080p displays, and only drop to as low as 48Hz
- Cameras: On the camera front, the S21 and the S21 Plus have the same camera system (12MP+64Mp+12MP) meaning no change in camera specs between the two, a change from the S20 series.
- While the cameras have been improved with more capabilities such as now being able to use the three image signal processors in the Snapdragon 888, the Ultra has the major upgrades from the S20, which include a second-gen 108MP sensor, and two 10MP telephoto lenses at 3x zoom and 10x zoom, faster night modes, and more. Autofocus features should now be improved in the Ultra with a new laser autofocus like the Galaxy Note 20. The two telephotos can “offer” as far as 100x zoom, not that you’d expect amazing results without more glass.
- Samsung also just published insight into its second-gen 108MP imaging sensor in the S21 Ultra, including 12-bit color support (offering 64 times more colors than 10-bit sensors) and its new Smart ISO Pro tech, which
- S Pen: Yes, the S21 Ultra supports the S Pen, too, though it doesn’t come with one, it’s $40 by itself.
- Durability: Instead of a glass camera bump, the cameras are integrated into the metal frame — meaning the metal frame extends over to protect the cameras. Add in flat displays on the S21 and S21 Plus, and things are a little more sturdy, that is, if you’re crazy enough to go without a case these days.
- Charger: No charger in the box to save on costs, and “save the environment,” in theory.
- Slower charging: What we have is 25W fast charging on the S21 Ultra, down from Samsung’s 45w charging in the S20 Ultra, only if you bought the extra 45W charger. As it was only around 10 minutes faster for a complete charge, is it a loss? Maybe for those that actually bought the 45W fast charger plug?
- MicroSD: No MicroSD slot in any device. Samsung has tried this before: it removed the slot in the Galaxy S6, but brought it back on the Galaxy S7.
Points of note:
- Only the S21 Ultra has Wi-Fi 6E, laser autofocus, and only the Ultra goes down to 10Hz with its variable refresh rate.
- The S21 series is cheaper than ever despite the added tech and performance: they’re $200 cheaper than previous versions. Yes, the starting price is $800 for the S21, but these are flagships. The S21 Plus at $1,000, and the S21 Ultra at $1,200 are not bargains, but prices coming down from eye-bleed to a milder form of pain is a good thing.
- 5G: all now come with mmWave access in the US, the new phones support the C-band spectrum in the US, like the iPhone 12. The C-Band spectrum is currently being auctioned off by the FCC and is super valuable for networks hoping to offer useful wideband 5G at fast speeds. It’ll hopefully start appearing in-network coverage by early 2022, so it’s nice the hardware is already supporting these 4-8 GHz ranges.
- The S21 range is using the just-announced second-generation Qualcomm fingerprint sensor, the 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2.
- Bixby still exists, but there’s no Bixby button anymore.
- No headphone jack but did you really expect one?
Early, early thoughts:
It’s too early for Galaxy S21 reviews but I did ask questions of my colleagues who have the devices on hand already.
Here’s what Adam Molina, who jumped across from SoundGuys to help out, had to say from some hands-on time with the series:
- “From my short time with the S21 phones I can say that my immediate first impression was, “Wow, that Ultra is freaking pretty.” After handling both for a while I think that’s exactly the sentiment that Samsung wants people to come away. That’s not to say the standard Galaxy S21 isn’t, and won’t be a great option for many people, especially at the cheaper price point.
- “But the S21 Ultra has some “wow” factor that you don’t get with the standard model. The Ultra has a better feeling body, a better screen, and an impressive array of cameras that immediately set it apart just by looking at it. Seeing the two side by side gave me the impression that Samsung is less worried about outselling its rivals, and more concerned with upselling its customers to the Ultra series.
- “I don’t mean that as a knock, either. S21 loyalists will still get an impressively designed phone, it’s just the S21 Ultra gets closer to being more of a desirable status symbol than I think the company has had in a long time. Of course, that’s assuming the phone actually holds up in the full review process.
And Dhruv Bhutani has the S21 Ultra in his hand right now, and I asked for all of you beloved readers if this is the big jump we’ve been hoping for. (Remember, these are early comments):
- “Honestly, I can see why this is the S21 and not the S30. There’s a LOT of refinement, but it’s not a crazy leap ahead. It’s more about the S20 being perfected and I’m okay with that. It’s big but the design works. The camera, especially the primary is just fantastic and there’s not much that I can see to complain about here. It’s early days still, so keep an eye out for our full review as we tackle everything in full.”
By the way, the S20 is now a steal: $400?!
Jonathan Feist from around these parts and DroneRush, though, had another take, which he put his wallet into:
- “The Galaxy S21 looks nice, but, I just bought the Galaxy S20. Honestly, just ordered it for $399 from Google Fi. That price is great for a still-relevant flagship!”
🔥 Upgrade to the Galaxy S21 from as little as $100, or at the least, a very big discount.
This January, we’re giving away three prize packs. Enter the first heavily Samsung-themed giveaway of 2021 for your chance to win.