With its Galaxy S line, Samsung has established itself as an authority in the smartphone world. New flagships are launched every year, but each new model comes with raised prices. Is the extra premium worth it, or are you better off with an older version? This head-to-head between the Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra might help you decide.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra||Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra|
|Display||Dynamic AMOLED 2X||Dynamic AMOLED 2X|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|RAM||8GB, 12GB||12GB, 16GB|
|Storage||256GB, 512GB, 1TB||128GB, 256GB, 512GB|
|Primary camera setup||200MP, 12MP, 10MP, 10MP||108MP, 12MP, 10MP, 10MP|
|Operating system||Android 13||Android 11|
|Overall dimensions||3.07” x 6.43” x 0.35”||2.97” x 6.5” x 0.35”|
|Weight||8.25 ounces||8 ounces|
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: What’s the Difference?
Launched on February 17, 2023, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is Samsung’s newest flagship smartphone. The much-anticipated handset boasts a 200MP camera and the best CPU to date. It is optimized for gaming and remote working, bringing the benefits of an S and Note phone in one.
Two years older, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra was released in January 2021. This handset marked Samsung’s true transition from the older S line to advanced technologies. Upon its launch, this device had the most powerful camera seen on a smartphone, while system updates to Android 13 made it a worthy player.
Although discontinued, new Galaxy S21 Ultra phones are still available from selected sellers, or you could opt for a refurbished handset. The real question, however, is whether you should still consider the older variant, or get the new one. Differences in features and price might make you prefer one over the other.
At first glance, the first thing you notice when comparing the Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the difference in design. Galaxy S21 Ultra is the last in line that maintains the smooth curves that Samsung’s S smartphones were famous for.
The device has a curved edge display that enhances the aesthetics. However, together with the round corners, the edge reduces the viewable area from 6.8 to 6.6 inches.
The S23 Ultra continues the Note-inspired line introduced by the Galaxy S22 Ultra and features a rectangular design. Its sharp edges may or may not inspire you, but the slimmer profile brings style into the game. Overall, the handset exudes a no-fuss elegance that suits content creators, gamers, and business people alike.
The lack of round edges also increases the viewable area, which remains closer to the screen’s 6.8 inches. On the downside, the display’s edge is so minimal that it’s barely there. Sure, it gives the phone a premium touch and comes with some functions, but a flat screen might have been more practical; a cover would have offered increased protection to a flat screen.
Beyond form, there are also differences in colors. Galaxy S21 Ultra comes in two standard hues: Phantom Black and Phantom Silver — an option that offers an iridescent finish. The S23 Ultra is available in Phantom Black, Green, Lavender, and Cream, which is more of an off-white.
Samsung offers custom colors for both handsets, with the major difference being that the S21 Ultra is sold out. Hence, you’ll have to settle for whatever color you can still find on the market; unless you want to get a used or refurbished device. Exclusive S23 Ultra colors include Graphite, Lime, Red, and Sky Blue.
CPU and Performance
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra are as different as it gets from a visual standpoint, but things change slightly in terms of performance. While there is no doubt that the S23 Ultra is currently the most powerful handset from Samsung (and, possibly, on the market), S21 Ultra doesn’t disappoint either.
On the American market, both handsets feature CPUs developed by Qualcomm. The S21 Ultra comes with a Snapdragon 888, which brings excellent speed and minimal lag, even after upgrading the operating system from Android 11 to the latest Android OS version. In the rest of the world, however, you’ll have to settle for an Exynos 2100 that is a bit behind Qualcomm.
S23 Ultra boasts the most powerful CPU to date, a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. The system is ultra-responsive, regardless of the type or number of applications you’re using. This handset is ideal for multitasking, hard-core gaming, content creation, and other demanding activities.
As far as gaming is concerned, both handsets have good capabilities, but you might experience some lag and loss of resolution in games with large files or ones that involve fast movements on the S21. These issues won’t bother you on the S23 Ultra, a smartphone optimized for gaming with an Adreno 740 GPU.
RAM-wise, the S23 Ultra seems to take a step back in time with its 8GB and 12GB options. However, the handset is actually faster and more responsive than the S21 Ultra, which features 16GB of RAM on its 512GB internal storage variant.
In recent years, Samsung ditched external storage on its flagship smartphones. Considering how fast the internal memory can fill up, you might want to get as much of it as you can. There are some crucial differences between the two models, though.
The S21 Ultra comes in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB variants. Prices vary accordingly and haven’t dropped too much in the two years since the handset was launched. You can expect to pay over a grand for the lowest internal storage capacity and almost $1,250 for the 256GB option.
Comparatively, the S23 is affordable. This handset comes in 256GB and 512GB options, with the former costing only slightly more than the 128GB S21 Ultra. Selected sellers also apply discounts (especially when you exchange your old handset), meaning that you might actually be able to spend less to get the newest flagship with increased storage capacity. The same is true for the 512GB.
If you don’t mind waiting, Samsung also offers an exclusive online deal that is only available via the brand’s website. Shopping directly from them, you can opt for 1TB of internal storage — something that is hard to find from other brands.
Image and Video Quality
In terms of camera setup, the S23 Ultra seems to have taken one step forward and one back. The primary camera setup is outstanding, with a 200MP wide-angle cam. However, the selfie camera seems to have turned back in time, as it’s only 12MP.
Sure, AI integrations make it easy to snap spectacular selfies that miss nothing compared to those made by the S21 Ultra. Nevertheless, the S21’s 40MP selfie camera is hard to beat. The rear camera setup can also compete with the S23.
You’ll get quality pictures regardless of the handset you’re using, but the 108MP wide-angle camera tends to lose some details compared to the S23 — something that’s expected, considering the differences.
If you’d rather record videos than snap pictures, know that both phones can record in 4K and 8K resolution. The main difference between the two is the Astrophotography mode that’s only available on the S23 Ultra. In this mode, the camera uses AI to identify constellations and help you snap stunning pictures of the Moon, planets, and stars.
Released in 2021, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is originally based on Android 11. However, Samsung provides system updates for this handset, bringing it to Android 13. This is the same system found on the S23 Ultra, so the user experience is similar.
Both devices come with the same pre-installed apps, including Samsung Health and Samsung Wallet. Samsung DeX, a software that extends your smartphone into a desktop computer experience, is also available on both handsets.
The main difference is the built-in S Pen on the S23 Ultra. This feature makes the new flagship a better choice for designers and visual content creators. However, the S21 Ultra is also compatible with the S Pen, even if it doesn’t come with one.
Another difference between the two handsets is the brightness. While both smartphones have the same display, the S23 Ultra is brighter, with a peak of over 1,700 nits. Meanwhile, the S21 Ultra’s brightness peaks at around 1,500 nits.
What marks a huge difference between the S21 Ultra and the S23 Ultra is the battery life. The performing CPU increases the battery life of the S23, which offers around nine hours of video streaming and almost 19 hours of web browsing.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s battery also lasts for about nine hours in video streaming mode, but the battery life drops considerably when browsing the internet — you’ll only get about 14 hours and 40 minutes. Likewise, the S21 Ultra gives you around five hours of battery life in gaming mode. You’ll get about two hours more from the S23 Ultra.
Charging the battery is also faster on the S23. The 45W charger replenishes the battery in about an hour. The S21 needs about an hour and 20 minutes to charge. Surprisingly, though, the S21 is faster when charged wirelessly.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: 5 Must-Known Facts
- Galaxy S23 Ultra is Samsung’s new flagship smartphone. It features a Note-inspired design and comes with a built-in S Pen.
- The S21 Ultra was released in 2021 and maintained the original design of Samsung’s S line. It doesn’t come with an S Pen, but it is compatible with it.
- S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra both run on Android 13. Both smartphones will receive new One UI and Android OS updates for four and two generations, respectively.
- Galaxy S23 Ultra features a more powerful primary camera setup, but it regresses as far as the selfie camera is concerned.
- With a more efficient CPU, the S23 Ultra delivers longer battery life and enhanced performance compared to the S21 Ultra.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
The differences, however, become visible if you want to use the handset for heavy-duty tasks. Whether it’s gaming, astrophotography, or content creation on a mobile device, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is superior to the S21 Ultra in every way.
Getting the S23 Ultra is also worth it if you don’t have the S21 and want to buy a Samsung handset. Deals from various providers and Samsung cashback offers often result in a more attractive price tag compared to the S21 Ultra. Not to mention that the S21 has been discontinued, and finding a new model is challenging.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Gabo_Arts/Shutterstock.com.