Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus vs. Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Which Should You Buy?

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus forges a middle path for those who want a bigger version of the Galaxy S21 without having to go all out and buy the more expensive Galaxy S21 Ultra. It takes the core hardware of the S21 but adds a larger screen and larger battery, letting users enjoy more visually-impressive media content for longer. It’s a great Android phone, but while it’s certainly among the newest of Samsung’s many devices, it shouldn’t be the only phone people consider when looking for a big, powerful Samsung.

Another notable entry in this category is last year’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The more premium version of the Note 20, it is possibly the most powerful and feature-packed Android you can purchase right now. It definitely gives the S21 Plus a run for its money, which is why we’ve decided to pit the two against each other in a head-to-head that should help you decide which is the right model for you.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus
Size 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm (6.49 x 3.04 x 0.32 inches) 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8mm (6.36 x 2.98 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 208 grams (7.33 ounces) 202 grams (7.05 ounces)
Screen size 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Screen resolution 3200 x 1440 pixels, 20:9 ratio (511 pixels per inch) 2400 x 1080 pixels, 20:9 ratio (394 ppi)
Operating system Android 11, One UI 3 Android 11, One UI 3
Storage 128GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot Yes No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay, Samsung Pay Google Pay, Samsung Pay
Processor Exynos 990 (global), Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus (USA) Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM 12GB 8GB
Camera 108-megapixel, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide rear, 10MP front 12MP, 64MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide, 10 MP front
Video 8K at 24 frames per second, 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps, HDR10+ 8K at 24 fps, 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps, HDR10+
Bluetooth version 5.0 5.0
Ports USB 3.2, USB-C USB 3.2, USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes, in-display Yes, in-display
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 4,500Ah

Fast charging (25W)

Qi wireless charging (15W)

4,700mAh

Fast charging (25W)

Qi wireless charging (15W)

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support All carriers All carriers
Colors Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom Gold, Phantom Red
Prices $1,299 $1,000
Buy from Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart
Review score 4.5 out of 5 stars First look

Design, display, and durability

Samsung Galaxy S21+
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus and Note 20 Ultra find Samsung taking contrasting approaches to smartphone design. The Note 20 Ultra features the angular, squarish body that has come to characterize the Note series, while the S21 Plus has more of a subtly-curved frame with a flat screen. The S21 Plus distinguishes itself further by the fact that its camera bump slopes nicely into its frame, making it more discreet and less imposing.

However, while the S21 Plus is arguably more attractive, there’s little doubt that the Note 20 Ultra has a sharper and more impressive display. With a resolution of 3200 x 1440 pixels, its 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen provides around 511 pixels per inch, a high ratio by anyone’s book. By contrast, the S21 Plus’ 6.7-inch display offers only 2400 x 1080 pixels, working out at about 394 ppi. The difference in quality is noticeable, with the Note 20 Ultra having a “wow” factor the S21 Plus doesn’t quite possess, even if both benefit considerably from having a smooth 120Hz refresh rate.

The S21 Plus and Note 20 Ultra are both IP68 certified, meaning they can resist immersion in shallow water for up to 30 minutes. This similarity notwithstanding, the Note 20 Ultra’s tangibly superior screen gives it the win in this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Performance, battery life, and charging

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Base
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It’s hard to directly compare the Galaxy S21 Plus and Note 20 Ultra when it comes to performance. The S21 Plus certainly has a more capable processor, with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 outperforming the Snapdragon 865 Plus by a slight yet noticeable margin. The Note 20 Ultra packs 12GB of RAM, while the S21 Plus comes with only 8GB. This difference may not make a big difference, though, as it only really comes into play when swapping between very resource-happy apps.

Both phones deliver 128GB of internal memory as standard, yet there’s a big difference between the two. The Note 20 Ultra houses a microSD card slot, while the S21 Plus does not. This may be very significant for anyone who needs extra space to accommodate all of their photos and data, with the addition of a microSD card letting you boost things up to 1TB in the Note 20 Ultra’s case.

While we haven’t fully tested the Galaxy S21 Plus yet, it’s likely to have slightly better battery life than the Note 20 Ultra. It’s furnished with a generous 4,800mAh battery, while the Note 20 Ultra has to make do with 4,500mAh. This is likely to result in a difference of two or three hours in practice, particularly given that the Note 20 Ultra has to support a slightly larger screen. Both phones support 25W fast charging, although the S21 Plus doesn’t provide you with a new charger out of the box, just so you know.

We’re going to call this round a tie. The S21 Plus may not give you a microSD card slot, but not everyone needs to use this, while the slightly bigger battery redresses the balance back in its favor.

Winner: Tie

Camera

Galaxy S21 Plus

Both phones sport three rear camera lenses, although with varying specs. The Note 20 Ultra features a 108-megapixel wide lens complemented by a 12MP periscope telephoto and a 12MP ultrawide, while the S21 Plus houses a 12MP wide lens, a 64MP telephoto, and a 12MP ultrawide.

Our review of the Note 20 Ultra found that its camera generally outperforms those of the S21 Plus’ predecessors, including the S20 Ultra. Its excellent main sensor takes great photos in most conditions, while its periscope telephoto lens takes better zoomed shots than the S20 phones. Its low-light performance is also very impressive, an area in which the S20 phones occasionally struggled. Given that the S21 Plus’ camera doesn’t actually have different specs from the S20 Plus, we expect the Note 20 Ultra to better it. Of course, a full review may end up contradicting us, particularly if Samsung’s claims about improved software are true.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Software and updates

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus front

The Galaxy S21 Plus and the Note 20 Ultra both run on Samsung’s One UI 3, which is layered over Android 11. It’s a good Android skin, offering a streamlined UX as well as greater customizability, but since both phones use it, you obviously won’t find a difference between the two here.

The two phones will also receive updates at roughly similar times, even if the S21 Plus may now receive slight priority given it’s a newer model. This possibility aside, this round is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen Back
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the Galaxy S21 Plus are both 5G-ready phones, with each supporting all major 5G bands, including the faster mmWave band. This is obviously great news if you have a 5G tower or two near where you live.

While the S21 Ultra now includes support for the S Pen, the S21 Plus sadly doesn’t. Needless to say, the Note 20 Ultra also supports the S Pen, which can be used to take notes by hand, to mark up documents, to draw and sketch, and to perform a number of time/effort-saving gestures. It really is a powerful accessory, and it certainly adds to the premium feel of the device.

On top of that, the Note 20 Ultra is built for streaming Xbox games, a first among smartphones. Combined with the S Pen support, this means that Note 20 Ultra wins this round, too.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus starts at $1,000 and can be pre-ordered from Samsung, with the device on general release from January 29. It will be supported by all major carriers and sold from most major retailers.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra starts at $1,299. It’s also supported by all major carriers and sold by most major online retailers.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen Screen
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is our winner here, beating the Galaxy S21 Plus in most departments. Its screen is visibly sharper and clearer, it offers more internal memory and a better all-round camera, and it comes with S Pen support. The S21 Plus may be more fashionably designed, yet it doesn’t quite offer enough in other areas to best the Note 20 Ultra. That said, if you want to save $300 and you don’t really care about microSD cards or S Pens, the Galaxy S21 Plus certainly won’t let you down.

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