Samsung’s various models for the S21 aren’t all the same. If the price and physical size didn’t clue you in, the spec sheets likely did. And nestled among the list of different named standards and numbers is a curious tidbit that escaped detection on launch day: While the lower-end Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra support 960 fps super slow motion video (in bursts up to 0.5s), the ostensibly more premium S21 Ultra, with its upgraded cameras, doesn’t — or least, it doesn’t natively.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because last year’s S20/S20 Ultra had a similar arrangement.
It’s not super straightforward if you aren’t familiar with how it all works, but hidden in a footnote in the video recording section of the spec sheet, Samsung illuminates the difference:
“On Galaxy S21 5G and S21+ 5G, users can record approximately 0.5 seconds of video captured at 960 fps with approximately 16 seconds of playback. On Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, users can record approximately 1 second of video captured at 480 fps and digitally enhance the video to 960 fps with approximately 32 seconds of playback.”
Put simply, that means the smaller S21 models can record 960 fps natively, instead of relying on digital interpolation to create the frames between the 480 fps it can record, as with the S21 Ultra. In some cases, the difference probably won’t be noticeable, but it gives the smaller models a leg up when it comes to recording slow-motion video.
The distinction is curious. As noted by Android Authority, there isn’t a chipset-level difference between phones, and the Snapdragon 888 chipset that these phones share (in the US) should support 960 fps capture at a hardware level. One possible explanation is a lack of cache tied to the S21 Ultra’s camera or a difference in the sensor used to record video.
We’ve reached out to Samsung for more information regarding this difference in slow-motion video recording between S21 models. In the meantime, if you plan on using the feature, it might be a good idea to keep this distinction in mind when choosing a model. Though the “digitally enhanced” 960 fps mode may be enough, slo-mo aficionados may be better served by the cheaper model.