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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Should you upgrade?

The Galaxy S21 Ultra isn't as far behind as you'd think.
By
February 28, 2024
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra front
Ryan Whitwam / Android Authority

The Galaxy S23 Ultra took the crown as one of the best phones released in 2023, Samsung or otherwise. It was admittedly an iterative upgrade over its predecessor, with a new primary camera and a faster processor being the noteworthy changes. However, with people holding on to their smartphones — flagships in particular — for longer, it’s not the most recent Ultra we look at. Instead, we compare Samsung’s latest with the S21 Ultra and see if it’s time to upgrade from the older phone. Here’s our take on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra battle!

Editor’s note: The S23 Ultra has since been replaced by the Galaxy S24 Ultra as Samsung’s premier flagship smartphone.

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: At a glance

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is now three years old. That said, flagship phones tend to age well and newer doesn't always mean better. Here's a quick look at the key differences between the two Samsung powerhouses.

  • The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with a more powerful and efficient processor, especially if you live outside the US.
  • Samsung won't release any Exynos variants with the S23 series. An Exynos processor powered the S21 Ultra in select markets.
  • The Galaxy S23 Ultra gets the first significant camera upgrade in three years with a new primary shooter.
  • Samsung has doubled the storage available with the base model of the S23 Ultra (256GB) compared to the S21 Ultra (128GB).
  • The base and highest-end variants of the S21 Ultra have more RAM than the S23 Ultra.
  • Samsung has managed to keep the S23 Ultra's starting price the same as the S21 Ultra's launch price. However, the former comes with less RAM and more storage.

Keep reading to learn more about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra and whether you should upgrade to the new flagship.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Specs

Galaxy S23 UltraGalaxy S21 Ultra
Display(s)
Galaxy S23 Ultra
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Edge display (curved)
19.3:9 aspect ratio
QHD+ resolution (3,088 x 1,440)
120Hz adaptive refresh rate (1Hz to 120Hz)
Galaxy S21 Ultra
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Edge display (curved)
20:9 aspect ratio
QHD+ resolution (3,200 x 1,440)
120Hz refresh rate
Processor
Galaxy S23 Ultra
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Galaxy S21 Ultra
Snapdragon 888
Exynos 2100
RAM
Galaxy S23 Ultra
8GB or 12GB
Galaxy S21 Ultra
12GB or 16GB
Storage
Galaxy S23 Ultra
256GB, 512GB, or 1TB
No microSD card support
Galaxy S21 Ultra
128GB, 256GB, or 512GB
No microSD card support
Power
Galaxy S23 Ultra
5,000mAh battery
45W wired charging
15W wireless charging
No charger in box
Galaxy S21 Ultra
5,000mAh battery
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
No charger in box
Cameras
Galaxy S23 Ultra
REAR:
- 200MP wide
- 12MP ultrawide
- 10MP 3x telephoto
- 10MP 10x telephoto

FRONT:
- 12MP wide
Galaxy S21 Ultra
REAR:
- 108MP wide
- 12MP ultrawide
- 10MP 3x telephoto
- 10MP 10x telephoto

FRONT:
- 40MP wide
Security
Galaxy S23 Ultra
Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
Galaxy S21 Ultra
Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
Software
Galaxy S23 Ultra
Android 13
One UI 5.1
Galaxy S21 Ultra
Android 11
Upgradable to Android 13
S Pen support
Galaxy S23 Ultra
Yes, embedded with storage slot
Galaxy S21 Ultra
Yes
No storage slot
IP rating
Galaxy S23 Ultra
IP68 certified
Galaxy S21 Ultra
IP68 certified
Dimensions
Galaxy S23 Ultra
163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9mm
Galaxy S21 Ultra
165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm
Weight
Galaxy S23 Ultra
229g
Galaxy S21 Ultra
227g
Colors
Galaxy S23 Ultra
Phantom Black
Cream
Lavender
Green
Galaxy S21 Ultra
Phantom Black
Phantom Silver
Phantom Titanium
Phantom Navy
Phantom Brown
Navy

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor. The “for Galaxy” isn’t just branding either. It’s essentially an overclocked version of the standard processing package with a better GPU and improved connectivity chops. The S23 Ultra easily outscores the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100-toting S21 Ultra in benchmark tests, but there won’t be a huge difference in everyday performance. Unless you push things to a point where only the latest processor can handle things, the S21 Ultra remains very capable.

samsung galaxy s23 ultra geekbench 6
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Helping the S21 Ultra’s performance is 12GB or 16GB of RAM, which is surprisingly more than the 8GB or 12GB options you get with the S23 Ultra. Samsung toned it down with the S22 Ultra and kept the same RAM configuration with its 2023 flagship. You get more storage with the newer phone, though. The S23 Ultra doubles the storage to 256GB with the base model and goes up to 1TB, compared to the older phone’s 128GB to 512GB storage range.

Despite a two-year difference between the two, plenty remains the same. Both phones have 6.8-inch AMOLED displays with a Quad HD+ resolution and 120Hz refresh rate. The S23 Ultra gets brighter, though, with a peak brightness of 1750 nits, compared to 1500 nits with the S21 Ultra. Will you notice that difference in the real world? Likely not, as our perception of brightness doesn’t scale linearly. That said, the newer Ultra phone does benefit from a more efficient display, helping it post impressive battery life figures. More on that in a bit.

The S23 Ultra is better in almost every way, but the S21 Ultra isn't as far behind as you'd think.

Both are protected from the elements with an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance. You’ll get better drop protection and scratch resistance with the newer phone and its Gorilla Glass Victus 2 panels on the front and back, while the S21 Ultra relies on Gorilla Glass Victus panels to keep it pristine. Will you notice that in the real world? Most likely not.

Twitter S21 Ultra
Adam Birney / Android Authority

The software experience is identical on both smartphones, too. The S23 Ultra comes with Samsung’s One UI software skin based on Android 13 out of the box, but the update is already rolling out to the S21 Ultra in some countries. Both get Samsung’s commitment of four major OS upgrades and five years of security updates. But the S23 Ultra has the advantage simply by being newer. The S21 Ultra has only a couple of OS updates to go still, which means it will reach end-of-life pretty soon. Moreover, the update speed of the 2021 series has become less of a priority, even if Samsung has done a better job than most other brands. Still, by the time the S21 Ultra stops getting software updates, you might be looking for a phone upgrade anyway.

A final difference between the two quite similar phones is the S Pen. While the stylus can be used with the S21 Ultra, it doesn’t have a built-in slot to store it like on the S23 Ultra. In fact, it was an add-on accessory you had to buy while also needing one of Samsung’s cases with a slot to store the stylus.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Size comparison

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in hand cream colorway
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Galaxy S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra come with 6.8-inch displays. Both have the same 8.9mm thickness and weigh practically the same. But the slight difference in the aspect ratio — 19.3:9 (S23 Ultra) vs 20:9 (S21 Ultra) — makes the latter a couple of millimeters taller and less wide. Differences like a less curved screen and more rectangular corners on the S23 Ultra aren’t noticeable unless you’re looking for it.

You’ll have to turn to the back to see any major design changes. There are still four cameras and a flash. But the contour cut design for the camera bump on the S21 Ultra has now been replaced with the individual islands for every camera element on the S23 Ultra. It’s a design change Samsung introduced with the S22 Ultra and decided to not only stick with it for the highest-end smartphone, but bring it to the standard S23 and S23 Plus as well.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Android Authority Readers Choice badge
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

I prefer the S21 Ultra’s look for the splash of color it brings, particularly with the dual-tone colorways. It wasn’t a standout design, but the S23 Ultra seems even duller in comparison. The fact that Samsung’s new entry-level phones, like the Galaxy A14, have a similar design isn’t great, even if the cheap phone has a less sophisticated plastic look.

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Camera

The one exciting upgrade we’re looking forward to is the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s new 200MP camera. It’s the first change in three years, with previous generations, including the S21 Ultra, featuring a 108MP primary shooter. It’s not just the megapixel count that changes. Improved hardware capabilities and updated software features make for a compelling smartphone camera setup.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra can record video at 8K/30fps, 4K/60fps, and 1080p/120fps. Samsung also says there are significant improvements to low-light photography and better stabilization to make the 30x and 100x zoom photos look great. In our S23 Ultra review, we found that the new sensor offered more detail, thanks to the increased resolution, and excellent low-light performance.

The S23 Ultra brings the first major camera upgrade in years.

The other three cameras remain the same, though. Both phones have a 12MP ultra-wide shooter, a 10MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, and another 10MP telephoto camera with 10x optical zoom. The S23 Ultra’s hardware and software refinements make for better photos when using these modes. That said, you can also approach this from a “why fix what isn’t broken” because the Galaxy S21 Ultra still takes excellent photos with all cameras.

However, what appears to be a surprising downgrade on the newer flagship, at least on paper, is the selfie camera. The S23 Ultra’s 12MP front-facing shooter loses the specs battle to the S21 Ultra’s 40MP front camera. But once again, the megapixel count isn’t everything. And the 12MP camera, backed by yearly software enhancements and improved computational photography, comfortably matches and even exceeds the one you’ll find on the older S21 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Battery and charging

samsung galaxy s23 ultra hero
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

The similarities continue in the battery department. Keeping both phones running is a 5,000mAh battery, and the battery life experience should be similar. In our Galaxy S21 Ultra review, we said that the phone comfortably lasted a couple of days with mild usage and a little over a day with heavier use. We saw similar results with the S22 Ultra, which also has the same battery. However, the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers even better performance, almost topping the two-day mark. This is likely because of the more power-efficient nature of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 along with the newer AMOLED display technology from Samsung display.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a few years old at this point. So you won’t get the same battery life as you did at launch because of battery degradation. In fact, you should replace your smartphone’s battery if you plan to hold on to the phone for a few more years.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra green background
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The new phone gets the leg up with wired charging speeds, though. The S23 Ultra supports Samsung’s Super Fast Charging 2.0 or 45W fast charging that takes less than an hour to charge fully. It’s not the quickest charging we’ve seen in a world where some phones take less than half an hour to charge fully. But it’s certainly faster than the S21 Ultra’s 25W charging. Both phones support 15W wireless charging and 4.5W reverse wireless charging to top up accessories like wireless earbuds and smartwatches.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Price

Galaxy S23 Ultra price:

  • 8GB RAM/256GB storage: $1,199
  • 12GB RAM/512GB storage: $1,299
  • 12GB RAM/1TB storage: $1,399

Galaxy S21 Ultra price:

  • 12GB RAM/128GB storage: $1,199
  • 12GB RAM/256GB storage: $1,249
  • 16GB RAM/512GB storage: $1,399

The Galaxy S23 Ultra didn’t see a price increase, meaning it cost the same as the S21 Ultra did at launch, albeit with different configurations of RAM and storage. That means that if you go for the base version of the S23 Ultra you get double the storage compared to the base variant of the S21 Ultra at 256GB, but also less RAM (8GB vs 12GB).

The Galaxy S23 Ultra has now turned one year old, meaning you can find it for well below $1,000 on sale. Moreover, you can find second-hand sales on Amazon and other third-party resellers at significant discounts. For that price, you might be tempted to upgrade your ageing S21 Ultra. So should you?

See price at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
64%off
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Big, bright, 120Hz display
Great battery life
Versatile camera system
Excellent performance
See price at Samsung
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
New 200MP main camera
Beautiful display
S Pen functionality

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Should you upgrade?

To the surprise of very few, the newer Galaxy S23 Ultra is the better phone among the two we’ve compared today. But that’s the least you’d expect when the disparity is this wide. It is more of the same, but better. Yes, the new 200MP primary camera is excellent, but the other three remain the same. You get faster charging with the latest phone, but the battery upgrade alone isn’t worth shelling out hundreds of dollars for. Both phones have S Pen support, but the S21 Ultra doesn’t have a built-in storage slot. The S23 has a faster processor and more storage, but the S21 Ultra has more RAM. The display is essentially the same, but the S23 Ultra’s screen gets brighter.

Of course, these are all excellent changes and a testament to how refined the S23 Ultra is compared to previous generations. It is an impressive step up. After all, every generational update can’t be significantly different, and the S23 Ultra ticks all the right boxes when it comes to expected upgrades.

Are you thinking of upgrading from the Galaxy S21 Ultra to the S23 Ultra?

3126 votes

All of this is to say that if you have the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you don’t necessarily need to upgrade right now. Especially with Samsung’s excellent software commitment, you can easily hold on to the older phone until 2025 or 2026, barring any major battery issues. And by then, we might get a larger smartphone overhaul that won’t make every update feel so iterative. That said, if you’re an owner of the Exynos Galaxy S21 Ultra, you’ll find that moving up to the new Samsung flagship offers a decent step-up in terms of performance. Moreover, the battery life is a tangible upgrade that you will notice in day-to-day usage. For those two reasons alone, you might want to upgrade to the S23 Ultra if you can find on sale.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra represents a big upgrade over the S21 Ultra, offering a built-in stylus, better battery life, and .