Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra

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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra

The S23 Ultra is no longer the latest, but it's better than the S21 Ultra

Jennifer Allen Jennifer Allen
  • Swansea University, Staffordshire University
Jennifer Allen has been writing about technology since 2010. Her work has been published in Mashable, TechRadar, and many other publications. lifewire's Editorial Guidelines published on April 22, 2024

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At first glance, the Galaxy S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra look very similar. However, the S23 Ultra feels classier to the touch thanks to improvements like Gorilla Glass Victus 2 and Armor Aluminum, which means it's sturdier but also feels more expensive.

Both phones have 6.8-inch displays, but the S23 Ultra has a wider aspect ratio, so it feels larger than the narrower S21 Ultra. The changes also mean the S23 Ultra's weight increases from 8 ounces to 8.25 ounces. Still, you're already opting for a bulky phone, so this isn't a major change.

The S23 Ultra also has an S-Pen slot built in; the S21 Ultra lacks this unless you add a case. What's more, the S23 Ultra is equipped with an S-Pen. If you choose the S21 Ultra, you'll need to purchase the stylus separately.

Galaxy S23 Ultra Galaxy S21 Ultra
6.8-inch display 6.8-inch display
6.43 x 3.07 x 0.35 inches, 8.25 ounces 6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches, 8 ounces
Snapdragon 8 second generation Snapdragon 888
Android 13, One UI 6 (shipped) Android 11 (shipped)
4 years of operating system and security updates 4 years of operating system and security updates
8GB or 12GB memory 12GB or 16GB memory
256GB, 512GB, 1TB storage options 128GB, 256GB or 512GB storage options
Prices will start at $1,200 at launch Prices will start at $1,200 at launch
Released in February 2023 Published January 2021

The differences between the Samsung S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra are much bigger than you might think. The S23 Ultra doesn't achieve something dramatically different, but more about refinement. It's much faster and has a better display thanks to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor.

  • Adaptive refresh rate : Instead of a strict 120Hz refresh rate all the time, the S23 Ultra has an adaptive refresh rate (up to 120Hz) that adjusts based on the situation.
  • More software updates : As a newer phone, the S23 Ultra will continue to be supported until 2028, while support for the S21 will end in 2026.
  • The base model has double the storage : the cheapest model of the S23 Ultra has 256GB of storage, while the S21 Ultra has 128GB of storage.
  • Better battery life : Both phones have the same battery, but since the S23 Ultra has a more efficient processor, it lasts longer between charges.
  • Dedicated S-Pen Slot : The S23 Ultra works right out of the box, so you don't need to buy a separate S-Pen or case to install it.

The S23 Ultra's camera is the first to offer a 200MP wide-angle lens, compared to the S21 Ultra's 108MP wide-angle lens. It also offers brighter colors than the S21 Ultra, which is known for its relatively muted output. Night photography is also better on the S23 Ultra, with sharper zoom and richer detail.

The ultra-wide-angle lens is fairly similar in range, but the S23 Ultra continues to deliver more vivid pictures. Color is one of the weak points of the S21 Ultra's camera setup. For those occasional 8K video shoots, the S23 Ultra is also much improved. But unusually, the S23 Ultra has a weaker selfie camera: 12MP compared to the S21 Ultra's 40MP.

Galaxy S23 Ultra camera Galaxy S21 Ultra camera
200MP wide angle 108MP widescreen
12MP ultra wide angle 12MP ultra wide angle
10MP telephoto, 3x zoom 10MP telephoto, 3x zoom
10MP telephoto, 10x zoom 10MP telephoto, 10x zoom
12MP front camera 40MP front camera

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has a better camera than the S21 Ultra, delivering brighter, more vivid images and sharper details. However, if you like taking selfies, you'll miss out on the S21 Ultra's excellent 40MP front-facing camera and have to opt for the S23 Ultra's 12MP front-facing lens.

Beyond the camera, the S23 Ultra is faster and has better battery life. It also has great extras like a dedicated S-Pen slot and a smarter, more expensive build. Perhaps most importantly, it will also receive longer support for security updates than the S21, which is already starting to show its age in this regard. Both phones are good, but if you can, spend a little more and get the S23 Ultra.