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Samsung Galaxy S21 vs older Galaxy S phones: Should you upgrade?

The Galaxy S21 series packs in Samsung's latest and greatest tech, but is it time for you to upgrade?

Published onMay 16, 2022

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus 1
Adam Molina / Android Authority

The highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy S21 arrived early in 2021, bringing Samsung’s latest and greatest mobile technology. This time at a price point that’s more palatable than the Galaxy S20 series. With a strong value proposition this generation, it feels like there’s never been a better time to upgrade. But is that a good idea?

As usual, Samsung’s lineup consists of three models — the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21 Ultra. So, should you splash the cash on the latest model if you’re already a happy Samsung customer? Here’s a rundown of how Samsung’s latest premium-tier models stack up against their predecessors to see if they’re worth the upgrade.

Samsung has now introduced its Galaxy S22 series, complete with all of the bells and whistles. As such, we’ve written a new article to compare that series against some of Samsung’s previous devices. Check out the Samsung Galaxy S22 vs older Samsung Galaxy S devices to learn more.

Our thoughts: Samsung Galaxy S21 review

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S8 and older

We’ll start our list with 2017’s Samsung Galaxy S8 range. If you’re still holding onto a five-year-old Galaxy S7 or older, it’s almost certainly time to upgrade. If for no other reason than recent Android upgrades and security updates. You don’t really want to be stuck on Android Oreo or older these days.

The same can be said for the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, which saw their last update to Android 9.0 Pie back in 2019. We’re now on Android 11, with Android 12 set to appear later in 2021. The importance of keeping your phone secure and up to date can’t be understated.

Blast from the past: Samsung Galaxy S series — the complete history of the biggest name in Android

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus still pack in some reasonable hardware, but it’s starting to feel a little dated. The phones’ Exynos 8895/Snapdragon 835 processors still run better than many of today’s mid-range phones, but it is far from today’s bleeding-edge gaming performance on flagship devices. The handsets still appear competitive in terms of features, boasting 4K video recording, an IP68 rating, and a headphone jack. Fans of the phone can probably justify holding out a little longer if they really want.

Even so, performance, cameras, fast charging, and other bits and pieces are all much improved these days. You’ll definitely notice an upgrade moving to any phone in the more modern Samsung Galaxy S21 series.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S9

Galaxy S9 Plus Rear panel in nature

2018’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus don’t feel quite so long in the tooth. While they’ve likely had their last update to Android 10, this included Samsung’s One UI 2.1 update, which doesn’t feel too out of date yet. Of course, the Galaxy S21 range runs Android 11 and One UI 3.1, which we would recommend from a security standpoint. However, being just one major update behind isn’t necessarily a compelling reason to upgrade immediately.

The Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 in the Galaxy S21 are faster than the Snapdragon 845 and Exynos 9810 in the S9, but not noticeably so on the day-to-day. Instead, it’s gamers who will feel the most significant performance upgrade from Samsung’s latest phones — especially running on the newer 120Hz display while the S9 remains capped at 60Hz.

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus still offer 4K 60fps video recording, IP68 ratings, solid QHD+ AMOLED displays, headphone jacks, Dex support, and wireless charging. That’s a very compelling list of features. However, the Galaxy S21 is definitely worth considering if you plan to move to a 5G tariff. It’s also a great proposition if you require bigger batteries for more screen-on time, are sick of the rear fingerprint scanner placement, or want to move to fancier in-display tech.

Our updated verdict: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus Redux

Finally, photography enthusiasts will undoubtedly get a lot out of an upgrade to any Galaxy S21 handset. Even the base Galaxy S21 model features a triple camera setup with main, wide, and telephoto lenses that offer greater flexibility than the single camera on the Galaxy S9 and dual setup on the S9 Plus. That’s without mentioning newer sensors and lenses that improve the look of low light photography and enhanced software features like Director’s Mode to view three cameras at once.

In many regards, the Galaxy S9 still holds its own. However, there are compelling reasons to upgrade to the Galaxy S21 series. Especially for power users and mobile photographers, who will still benefit from even the $799 standard Galaxy S21.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S10

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus 2
Adam Molina / Android Authority

We’re getting into trickier territory with the Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10, and Galaxy S10 Plus. These phones are just two years old, running Samsung’s One UI 3.0 interface and Android 11. They also provide performance that’s still snappy enough for most users, and all but the S10e have pretty competitive triple-camera setups.

So in what circumstances is an upgrade to the Galaxy S21 series worthwhile?

Related: The best Samsung phones you can buy

Galaxy S10e customers will benefit from the newer camera features tucked into the Galaxy S21 series. The added telephoto lens will help out at longer ranges. Galaxy S10 owners eager to get their hands on cutting-edge camera technology will want to look at the Galaxy S21 Ultra specifically. The Ultra variant features an improved 108MP main sensor and two telephoto zoom sensors at 3x and 10x for enhanced quality and mid and longer ranges. That’s all technology you won’t find in the S10 series.

High-end gamers will also benefit from the faster graphics performance in the newer S21 models, and the move to a 120Hz will make everything feel that bit more responsive. The newer phones also charge a little faster, thanks to 25W USB PD 3.0 support, up from 15W USD PD 2.0. Again, 5G is another reason to contemplate the newer models, although this probably isn’t a high priority for most.

This collection of minor improvements do add up, not forgetting the all-new design looks pretty swanky too. However, the Galaxy S21 doesn’t wholly revamp Samsung’s flagship formula. We, therefore, can’t fault happy customers who want to keep their Galaxy S10s for another generation. That’s especially true if you’re a fan of expandable storage. Every single one of the new phones from Samsung ditches the microSD card slot for the first time since the Galaxy S6 series. Ouch.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S10 Redux

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus front
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
One UI 2

There’s seldom a good reason to upgrade your smartphone every year unless you’re compelled to have the very best tech in your pocket at all times. That’s still true this year. The formula really hasn’t changed much from the previous generation from our time spent with the Samsung Galaxy S21 series so far. Except for the faster processors, both ranges offer a 120Hz display, 5G support, and a host of virtually identical extras.

Those unhappy with their Exynos Galaxy S20 may see a much-improved performance and battery life moving to the Galaxy S21. However, we’re waiting on more in-depth research before recommending a move based solely on the chipset.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S20 series — is it worth an upgrade?

Furthermore, Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra owners will incur some downgrades moving to a Galaxy S21 or S21 Plus. These phones don’t share the same quad-camera features, can’t match the S20 Ultra’s 45W fast charging, and don’t come in a 512GB storage option. You’ll also have to decide if you prefer the return to flat glass over Samsung’s previous curved panels.

The exception to the above is the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is definitely the newest feeling phone in the S21 range. The phone boasts an improved five-camera setup, a large 6.8-inch curved WQHD+ display, and S Pen support for the first time in the Galaxy S series. However, you have to buy the S Pen separately.

Power users have a fun new toy in the Galaxy S21 Ultra that may tempt an upgrade. But otherwise, there’s too much overlap between the Galaxy S20 and S21 portfolios to recommend an upgrade quite so soon.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE back 4
David Imel / Android Authority

Unless you have exceedingly deep pockets, upgrading from the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE to a new Galaxy S21 would be unwise in all but a few instances. The phone only came out in September 2020, after all.

You can essentially copy and paste the previous section here, with a few small addendums. The Galaxy S20 FE keeps its price down with a glasstic black, the same chassis used for the regular Galaxy S21. For a full glass back, you’ll need either the Galaxy S21 Plus or S21 Ultra. Additionally, the FE model has Gorilla Glass 3 protection rather than Gorilla Glass Victus. Nevertheless, these are all worthwhile trade-offs for the lower price tag and not worth another purchase to get hold of.

Take a closer look: Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE

There’s also a 4G-only version of the FE, but we’d hardly recommend selling the device so soon to move to 5G either. Likewise, the 8MP rather than 64MP 3x telephoto lens only makes a slight difference in zoom quality. It isn’t worth buying a whole new handset for.

While the low $799 price tag of the Galaxy S21 has already eaten into the Galaxy S20 FE’s $699 value proposition, the Fan Edition is still an excellent handset that owners shouldn’t be in a hurry to replace. It was our 2020 Editor’s Choice award winner for a reason.

Should you upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S21?

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Plus backs
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

It’s not been this affordable to pick up the latest Samsung Galaxy S range for a long time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should jump in right away. While upgrading is a no-brainer if you’re coming from a 2017 flagship model, the picture isn’t so clear for some of Samsung’s not-so-old flagships.

Even 2018’s Samsung Galaxy S9 remains a functional handset, as long as you can overlook the slightly older software. The Galaxy S21 indeed offers faster performance, faster charging, and a swanky new design, but even that might not be enough to tempt content Galaxy S10 customers quite yet. However, for power users, the introduction of S Pen support and the revamped camera capabilities of the Galaxy S21 Ultra are perhaps much more compelling.

Will you upgrade from an older Samsung Galaxy smartphone to an entry in the new Galaxy S21 range? Let us know in the comments!

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