We’re expecting several devices and a few surprises when the Samsung Galaxy S21 phones launch on January 14 during CES 2021. We’ve heard plenty of rumors about the phones, so we have a good idea of what we could see from them – but there’s always the chance that Samsung completely surprises us with new products.
Wait, new flagship Samsung phones at CES? Yes, Samsung is announcing its phones over a month earlier than it usually does in late February to coincide with the smartphone-focused Mobile World Congress show.
While the company hasn’t explicitly explained why it’s moved up its timetable, we can guess that the online-only nature of these events motivated Samsung to just introduce its first big devices of the year without waiting for whatever MWC 2021 brings.
So what are we expecting from the January 14 launch event? Rumors point to three phones, and given the event is dedicated to revealing them, most of our early knowledge is about their specs and features.
But we can also look to past launch events and see what Samsung might introduce alongside the phones, and even tease for later in the year. These could be wireless earbuds, smartwatches, foldable phones, or something else entirely.
Without further ado, here’s what we’re expecting, in order from most likely to entirely speculative surprises.
All the rumors we’ve seen point to three phones in the S21 range: the standard Samsung Galaxy S21, the S21 Plus, and the S21 Ultra. It looks like they’re keeping the same lineup from the Samsung S20 line of phones and iterating on them.
Though early specs leaks disagree on some things, they’re pretty settled on the S21 line all having the newly-announced Snapdragon 888 chipset (or Exynos 2100 outside the US). We’re also expecting them to launch with the latest Android 11.
Early leaks included renders revealing potential designs for this year’s phones: instead of a block containing all the rear cameras, they’ve been vertically aligned in the top-left corner of the phone’s back cover – three cameras for the S21 and S21 Plus, and some renders and alleged marketing materials showing up to five cameras on the back of the S21 Ultra. Samsung’s own teasers seemingly confirm these designs.
Otherwise, the design looks very similar to last year’s models, though the punch-hole has been moved to the top-center of the front screen. As for specs, we’ve heard the S21 will have a 6.2-inch display, the S21 Plus get a 6.7-inch screen, and the S21 Ultra a 6.8-inch display. The former two could top out at Full HD Plus resolution, though, supposedly to lower retail prices below last year’s levels – and leave all the top specs, including WQHD Plus resolution, for the S21 Ultra. Speaking of…
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra followed the top-specced Samsung S10 5G, and in that proud tradition, the S21 Ultra is expected to be the most powerful smartphone Samsung has ever released. But rumors are pointing to even more extra features and perks that distinguish the S21 Ultra from its cheaper siblings, which could help justify its expectedly higher cost (last year’s S20 Ultra cost $1,399 / £1,199 / AU$1,999 at launch, though a recent rumor suggests the new phone could be cheaper).
The S21 Ultra is rumored to be the only one in the line to have WQHD Plus resolution (near the 3200 x 1440 pixels of its predecessor), but may also be able to raise its refresh rate to 120Hz simultaneously, which the S20 line couldn’t do and required users to choose 120Hz and Full HD Plus or 60Hz and WQHD Plus.
Even the earliest leaks point to more rear cameras on the S21 Ultra than its more affordable siblings, inheriting its predecessor’s 108MP main shooter and 12MP ultra-wide but supplementing its 10MP telephoto with a second 10MP telephoto lens, with rumors pointing to 3x, 5x, and even 10x optical zoom.
Several rumors have supported that the S21 Ultra will support the S Pen, though they disagree on whether the phone will have a dedicated slot for it like with the Note 20. Instead, it could be bought separately and stored in a special folio case, allegedly revealed in another leak. In any case, adding stylus support would give the S21 Ultra another feature feather in its cap, though it also adds uncertainty for the Note line, which some rumors say has been cancelled and replaced with the Z-series foldables.
Like the bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live, The Galaxy Buds Pro are set to come with Active Noise Cancelling, but are rumored to come with longer battery life and better IPX7 water- and dust-resistance to make them better for wet weather and sweaty workouts. They’re allegedly coming with AKG-tuned audio, 6.5mm tweeters and 11mm bass drivers with coaxial dual speakers (per XDA Developers), Bluetooth 5.1 support, and may have a 3D spatial audio feature for more immersive experiences (like when watching Dolby Atmos films).
The Buds Pro are rumored to be priced at $199 (around £110 / AU$260), which would intentionally undercut the AirPods Pro’s $249 / £249 / AU$399 pricetag. That’s higher than the cost of the Galaxy Buds Plus ($149.99 / £159 / AU$299) and Galaxy Buds Live ($169.99 / £179 / AU£319), but you’re paying for premium.
Another device rumored to launch alongside the S21 phones is the Samsung SmartTag, which are supposed Tile-like trackers you can clip to anything and monitor using your smartphone or other device.
According to rumors, Samsung SmartTags will be small enough to clip to your keys or slide into a pocket of your purse or bag to keep track of them via Bluetooth. We’ve seen potential photos showing a small rounded fob with a hole for a keyring or lanyard, and may have a physical button that will cause your linked smartphone to chime (in case you have the SmartTag but misplaced the phone, say).
We also have a potential price of 15 euros (roughly £14 / $18 / AU$24) thanks to leaker Ishan Agarwal and 91Mobiles, making these potentially a bit cheaper than Tiles – and, if they’re released on January 14, the SmartTag will come out before the Apple AirTags, which have been rumored to be coming for years.
While we haven’t heard any rumors about Samsung unveiling a foldable phone at the January 14 event, we’d expect to see at least a tease of one that might launch later in the year. Why? Because Samsung has done that as a ‘One More Thing’ to cap off past launches of S-series and Note-series phones.
Which foldable would be likely? We could see a tease of the rumored Galaxy Z Fold 3, or a refined clamshell Galaxy Z Fold 2, though we haven’t heard hints of either being ready for reveals. We have heard Samsung is working on a more affordable foldable, which would probably be a lot more appealing than its current lineup of folding devices, which cost half again or even twice as much as the brand’s pricey flagships.
It could also be a phone that doesn’t roll – we’ve heard of a Samsung rollable concept, which would conceivably roll out from the side like the rumored LG Rollable does. These are slight possibilities, but exciting ones nonetheless.