Recap: Samsung’s virtual Galaxy S21 Unpacked event highlights new phones, accessories

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Samsung's recent Unpacked event unveiled its new Galaxy S21 lineup.
Image: Samsung

CES 2021 has brought us countless new gadgets to get excited about. Samsung’s virtual Galaxy S21 Unpacked event adds a few more to the list. The tech giant has unveiled several models of its upcoming Galaxy S21 flagship smartphone alongside two new accessories.

While it remains to be seen how consumers will react to the Galaxy S21 lineup, it’s clear that Samsung has made some bold choices. Unfortunately, they aren’t necessarily good ones. For instance, the Galaxy S21 will ship without a charging adapter in the box and the new smartphones will feature some aging hardware.

That being said, there is a lot to recap from Samsung’s recent Unpacked showcase. Here are some of the many highlights.

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The Good: Galaxy S21 and S21+

A new flagship smartphone always comes with noteworthy features. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Samsung’s Galaxy S21 lineup, however, is a $200 price drop compared to the previous generation. The reduction is due to several factors.

For one, components to support things like 5G are getting cheaper since the technology has been around for a few years. Samsung also wanted to stay competitive with Apple’s iPhone 12 and 12 Pro models—the main competitors to its Galaxy handsets. To achieve that goal, it did have to cut some corners, which we’ll touch on momentarily.

Even so, there is a lot to like about the new Galaxy S21 lineup. Each model features a refreshed design that’s highlighted by a new rear camera layout. In a way, the new devices don’t look like what consumers have come to expect from a Galaxy phone. That isn’t to say the design is unattractive. It is simply a change.

Meanwhile, the new phones boast faster 5G capabilities thanks to updated Qualcomm silicon. The devices are powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset, which is designed to deliver flagship performance. In addition, the Galaxy S21 lineup supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G, making them an attractive option regardless of what carrier a consumer has.

Another upgrade for the phones is their fingerprint sensor. It has been upgraded to Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2 to facilitate faster unlocking.

One final note is that both the S21 and S21+ feature sizeable batteries that should last all day and then some. The standard version still has a 4,000mAh pack while the S21+ now boasts a larger 4,800mAh battery.

The Bad: Galaxy S21 and S21+

While Samsung’s new Galaxy S21 phones do offer many attractive features, it’s clear that the company made some serious concessions along the way. Several of the biggest changes relate to the screen.

Samsung ditched the curved screen design that it has popularized over the past few years. That isn’t a huge disappointment since many consumers didn’t like the curved edges to begin with. They simply didn’t add enough value to warrant making the phone more fragile.

The bigger issue is that the S21 lineup features a display that’s actually a downgrade from last year’s model. Both the S21 and S21+ have a 2400 x 1080 resolution. That’s less sharp than the S20’s 3200 x 1400 panel. Fortunately, the new phones still offer 120Hz refresh rates.

Samsung also cut corners with memory. The base models now feature just 8GB of RAM compared to the S20 lineup’s 12GB. It will be interesting to see how that affects the performance of the new devices.

Although most consumers can probably overlook these changes without much ire, Samsung did make a move that is sure to anger its fans. Following the lead of Apple, it has chosen not to include a charging brick in the box with the Galaxy S21 lineup. The company cited similar environmental reasons for the change, but it almost certainly has more to do with saving money and increasing profits.

This is a disappointing moment for the technology industry in general since it likely means the end of smartphones that come with a charging adapter. Smaller manufacturers will almost certainly follow suit behind Apple and Samsung.

While protecting the environment is certainly a necessity, there are better ways of doing so than depriving consumers of an essential accessory for their new device.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

The rumors regarding Samsung’s top-tier smartphone were true. The Galaxy S21 Ultra will come with support for the company’s S Pen stylus. That’s arguably the most exciting update to the high-end phone.

However, consumers also seem to be enjoying the device’s brand-new black colorway. Samsung spent an incredible amount of time discussing the feature during its presentation and, admittedly, it does look sharp. The S21 Ultra also boasts a dual telephoto lens system for clearer pictures.

Galaxy Buds Pro

Stepping away from Samsung’s new phones, the company also announced an updated pair of true wireless earbuds. Dubbed the Galaxy Buds Pro, the earbuds feature a new design that builds on the successes of previous generations.

No one can forget the bean-like shape of the Galaxy Buds Live. Although it was a good idea in theory, many users disliked how the buds fit during everyday wear.

Samsung has remedied that with a new design for the Galaxy Buds Pro. They have a more traditional shape that the company claims is more comfortable to wear. Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen.

In terms of performance, the new earbuds have support for active noise cancellation as well as 360 Audio. It’s worth noting that they now have an IPX7 rating, which means they are waterproof. The new Galaxy Buds Pro are available now and cost $200.

Galaxy SmartTag

Once again, Samsung has beat Apple to market with a new device. The iPhone maker has reportedly been working on a Tile-like tracker for some time and is getting ready to launch the product. Samsung stayed ahead by announcing its new Galaxy SmartTag during the recent Unpacked event.

The small accessory allows users to find devices if they are lost with its Bluetooth technology. It’s worth noting that the standard SmartTag is fairly unimpressive and doesn’t differ much from similar trackers on the market.

However, Samsung plans to release a new Tag+ model later this year. That version will bring ultra-wideband (UWB) to the table, allowing it to take advantage of a feature found in the new Galaxy S21 phones. It gives consumers advanced tracking capabilities that make the SmartTag+ worth a look.

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