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Review: Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21: is it worth your purchase?

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Pros

  • Good design
  • Longer battery life
  • Excellent performance
  • Improved software

Cons

  • Little change in cameras
  • Cutbacks vs. S20
  • Not including charger

Beyond showing a rejuvenated design and increasing specs, a must have, the Galaxy S21 does little to improve or surpass its predecessor (taking a step back in some areas).

Either way, the S21 has everything you are likely to want and need in a high-end smartphone from 2021.

Retail price (RRP)

$ 799.99

Samsung Galaxy S21 Review

The year 2021 is shaping up to be a busy year for Samsung, filled with more launches than usual and with the rumored debut of all-new form factor models, such as the Z Fold Scroll with a roll-up screen that would accompany the folding ones. 

Such could be the company’s bulky product launch schedule, which is believed to have been one of the key reasons why this year’s new Galaxy S21 series saw the light of day earlier than usual, when we had barely left behind. Christmas. 

The Galaxy S21 is again the most modest and affordable member of the Galaxy S line this year, with the most compact and lightweight design of the three new models presented, focused on offering a 6.2-inch screen that is dwarfed by the 6 , 7 and 6.8 of the S21 + and S21 Ultra models. 

It also costs less money than its 2020 equivalent, while bringing 5G connectivity and the latest 5nm SoC processor as standard, making us wonder how Samsung manages to fit all the pieces together. 

It seems that instead of simply cutting its profit margins, Samsung has made a series of decisions that, on paper, imply that the S21 gives the impression of offering ‘more for less’ but compromising certain areas that will not be to everyone’s taste. . 

Design and quality

At first glance, the most obvious update to this year’s Galaxy S line is its design. While the S20 has already shown itself to be very slim and well-designed, visually it may also have lacked character. 

 

Galaxy S20 design

Samsung has tried to address this in a number of ways with this year’s phones, so we find that the S21 series now has a greater personality, perhaps in part due to the new “Contour Cut” camera layout and richer selection. of color combinations.

You will find the basic S21 analyzed here in four colors: Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink. Just as Mystic Bronze was the signature color of the Note 20 line last year, it is also now with the Phantom Violet on the S21 and S21 +. 

Galaxy S21 back design

In essence, the contrast of the phone’s pearly violet back and the polished gold frame evoke a sense of contemporary luxury. If this particular finish is too garish for you, the rest of the color options serve as softer alternatives without leaving the premium look.

The triple rear camera setup dominates the flat rear, but now with large sensors clustered in one of its corners that suggest that they have frankly powerful optics inside. 

For its part, the rounded edges that run along the back and flow towards the metal frame of the phone, ensure that the S21 is comfortable to hold; something to which its compact size also lends itself in this more collected model. 

Another change from previous generations is the change to a reinforced polycarbonate-based rear. Since 2014 and coinciding with the S5, the brand did not have a flagship with plastic finishes, something that stands out when coinciding with the cold touch of the metallic edge that surrounds it. 

This could be seen as a cut in components and cost savings, to the detriment of the end user, not to mention that it is an undeniable magnet for the presence of fingerprints. 

Galaxy S21 profile

In the long run, we see that it offers better impact resistance than the use of conventional glass, thinking of users who like to handle the phone without a protective case, and offers a lighter and lighter design. 

Last year we saw how the Galaxy Note 20 whose price is € 1,100 was criticized by some sector for having a plastic back on glass, so that in the S21, the use of these finishes seems more justifiable, although it will depend 

Beyond the materials used in the finishes, the body of the S21 lacks a headphone jack (again), has a power key and a volume control on the right side (which could be located a little high). It does retain the IP68 certification. 

Display and audio

Although the S21 is the only member with a polycarbonate back, it shares with the rest Corning’s improved Gorilla Glass Victus specification (that is, more resistant to scratches and falls than ever) in what is its front.

In this way, protection is provided to a spectacular 6.2-inch HDR10 + ‘Dynamic AMOLED 2X’ panel that boasts a maximum brightness of 1,300 nits, higher than last year’s S20, which promises a higher definition if you use your mobile outdoors.

Galaxy S21 screen

In practice, colors, contrast, and clarity are characteristically top-notch, and while the return of a 120Hz refresh rate is welcome, the S20’s drop from the WQHD + resolution to an extended Full HD panel is somewhat disappointing. . 

Fortunately, the smaller screen size of the S21 means that the drop in resolution is approximately 25% in pixel density, compared to the S20, making it less noticeable, something that will be more noticeable in the S21 + top screen. 

Beyond the pixels, Samsung has also implemented what it describes as a new smart Eye Comfort Shield; an extension of the blue light filter that all modern mobiles have, and which here automatically adjusts its intensity according to usage patterns. 

Although the S21 is easier to operate with one hand compared to its larger siblings, the integrated mode is very well resolved by Samsung, being able to make use of left and right justification, the activation of buttons or gestures, and the change of scale. 

Galaxy S21 One UI interface

Dual stereo speakers offer remarkable clarity and balance (despite the asymmetrical layout for gaming), with visible separation, even on this smallest member of the S21 lineup. 

This phone won’t fill a room or bedroom with sound, nor will it reproduce devastating bass, but Samsung has done well to get such good sound out of such a slim and compact device as the S21.

Software and features

At the time of writing, the Galaxy S21 range is the only phone on Samsung’s list to feature its latest version of Android: One UI 3.1 (which runs on top of the latest Android 11). 

Compared to One UI 2.X builds and user experience, version 3.1 focuses on richer notifications, clearer and more defined interface elements, better continuity between Galaxy devices, as well as adding new details such as screens. animated. 

For those who come from an older Galaxy model, the style and handling rulebook has not been rewritten, so your interaction and handling is maintained and it will not cost you to locate the functions and settings of the customization layer of Samsung. 

Users who are more aware of Android One models will have to spend a little more time familiarizing themselves with Samsung’s distinctive iconography, its own Galaxy Store, and additional features focused on ensuring a better user experience. 

While One UI is different, Samsung hasn’t completely ruled out the underlying aspects of Android 11, with features like notifications grouped by app type, and carousel media playback controls.

Galaxy S21 interface

Now you also have the option to choose between Samsung Free, Samsung’s news and games service, or Google Home, with a simple swipe to the right from the main home screen.

NFC functions are maintained, mainly to support mobile payments with Google Pay or Samsung Pay, in addition to Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6. Of course, the base model loses some new connectivity options that the superior S21s have. 

We have found that its more powerful siblings feature superior 6E wifi, as featured in the S21 Ultra, as well as UWB (ultra-wideband) connectivity, which the other two models in the S21 series benefit from.

performance

We have already seen that the design is the most obvious update of the new S21 series, however, inside it now reigns a 5nm processor, which again makes things tremendously interesting. 

Whether you have the Galaxy S21 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor version (available for US markets), or the Exynos 2100 version for Europe (model we tested here), you will have a phone with performance surprising. 

The S21 range is the first series of phones to be launched outside of China with the 5nm silicon chipset and, with this phone, the starting gun for the beginning of the commercialization of mobiles with this new generation of chips is given. 

In everyday use, the added power of this new chip will not yet manifest itself significantly; the phone responds tirelessly from widespread use to the most demanding games. 

But as we have also seen in the case of Apple with its A14 Bionic chip present in the iPhone 12 series, those employed here will keep the S21 at the top of the performance table throughout the new year. 

Looking at our internal tests, the S21’s Exynos 2100 (accompanied by 8GB of RAM, the only memory option available) delivered some of the best evaluation results ever achieved by an Android phone, second only to Apple’s A14 Bionic. .

The storage situation pushes the S21 in the other direction, with the option of 128GB or 256GB of internal space but, unlike previous Galaxy S models, there is no room for expandable storage, not in the case of the S21 Ultra either. 

Galaxy S21 icons

This is likely not a disappointment to most users, but it will certainly leave a sour taste in the mouths of some considering that the Galaxy S range has always chosen to keep the expansion card slot in the range of premium phones. 

Another aspect worth mentioning is the in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, which has been improved even though it does not change the location. It seems more responsive out of use and compared to other recent Samsung Galaxy models. 

Battery life

With the same 4000 mAh battery capacity as its predecessor, there are many possibilities that the usage times and autonomy are very similar, but as a result of its adaptive screen of 48 Hz to 120 Hz of lower resolution, the energy efficiency improves as a result of the new processor. 

In this way, this year’s Galaxy S phone surpasses its predecessors in terms of autonomy. 

The combined effect of the S21’s display, and the silicon composition, give it much more competitive longevity, although it still lags behind devices like the OnePlus 8T, in part because its cell is comparatively smaller. 

Galaxy S21 connectors

That said, with the S21 you will have enough energy to be able to overcome the day of use without any problem, even managing to extend its use up to two days. This is something that we were able to verify in our tests with a screen use on between 6.5 and 7.5 hours.

As for recharging, little has changed in the composition of the S21. We have support for fast charging up to 25W (including PD charging), 10W wireless charging, and 4.5W reverse charging (called Wireless PowerShare).

It is valid to power other devices such as smart watches and wireless headphones wherever you are. The speeds are not as fast as those offered by rivals like Oppo, Realme or Xiaomi, but they are enough. 

The problem for many users will be the surprise to find that their new Galaxy S21 comes without a charger included in the box. As with the Apple iPhone and Xiaomi, Samsung has decided to stop including it as standard. 

Galaxy S21 rear design

The S21 comes with a quick start guide, a SIM eject tool, a USB-C to USB-C data cable, and nothing else. If you want the official charger of the company, you will have to pay for the 25 W model whose price is around € 25 on Amazon . 

As a reference, with this charger we managed to achieve S21 charging times of around 55% of its capacity in just over half an hour of charging. The full charge takes us around an hour and 15 minutes to connect to the electricity grid. 

Cameras 

It is true that the S21 Ultra benefits from a host of camera skins that are new this year, with its mighty Contour Cut modules. Now, the rest of the S21 models (S21 and S21 +) seem to stay on the sidelines and depend on the same optics as the previous generation S20s. 

Galaxy S21 sensors cameras

The configuration is preceded by two 12 MP sensors and another 64 MP (the main one and those that make up the telephoto lens and the wide-angle sensor). 

In fact, all three possess the same focal lengths, apertures, pixel sizes, accompaniments to OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) and PDAF (Phase Detection Autofocus) as before, and blend in with the camera highlights. 

There is nothing to suggest that they are different from last year’s sensors. As such, the improvements seem slight and mainly manifest as software tweaks and new modes. 

Galaxy S21 ultra wide

This is the case with the possibility of shooting with a resolution of up to UHD at 30 fps on the three rear sensors of the phone, along with really useful (although niche) additions such as the director’s view, which allows you to capture from multiple sensors. 

Galaxy S21 3x telephoto

If you put it into practice, you can use the front and rear sensors at the same time, as well as preview all the lenses that are at your disposal and change them as you wish. Everything on the go.

Galaxy S21 48 Mp main camera

8K recording at 24 frames per second still sounds impressive, even though it isn’t something new. 

Samsung claimed a week before the launch of the S21, at the presentation of the Exynos 2100 chip, that its chip is capable of recording in 8K at 60 fps, but it is not clear why the S21 achieves this extra performance, given that the Snapdragon 888 only admits that of 8K at 30fps.

Image quality is excellent across the board, with vivid colors (perhaps too much for some) and lots of detail in panoramic, macro and telephoto shots. 

Galaxy S21 main

There is also a solid consistency of the colors that the different sensors of the phone show, that is, when you switch between them, something that is appreciated if you want to capture images of different types to be part of the same album. 

Low-light processing appears to be faster on the S21 than on the S20, plus it retains color and details quite well, while selfies come with beauty effects enabled by default. 

The ‘selfie color tone’ setting is a good setting for brightening scenes before shooting and achieving that long-awaited gesture, but beyond the initial settings, the feature is hidden in the camera settings menu, making quick access difficult.

Galaxy S21 selfie mode

Price and availability

Samsung announced the Galaxy S21 series in its first Unpacked of the year 2021 , revealing that the three phones are already ready for pre-purchase in the company’s official store . Its sale and final availability is set as of January 29. 

In this way, you can buy the Galaxy S21 5G at a starting price of € 859, with the possibility of acquiring it with monthly installments of € 35.79. This model is only available with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. 

If you opt for the model with the same amount of RAM and 256 GB of storage, the price goes up to € 909. The company offers the Samsung Renove mode if you deliver your previous Galaxy, as well as Galaxy Care + if you want to take out extra insurance. 

On the occasion of the launch, Samsung makes available to users who make the reservation of one of the three new S21 models, the gift of the Galaxy Buds Live headphones recently presented together with the SmartTag label. 

Verdict

In essence, the Galaxy S21 has brought better specs, including 5G as standard and the latest Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100 chip. All for a retail price that is lower than last year’s 4G version, the Galaxy S20. 

In reality, those updates are prioritized to ensure that the S21 appears as relevant and current as possible, without going out of its way to set the bar lower against what may come from its rivals throughout 2021.

This review is littered with comparisons to the S20 because they are unavoidable. The flow of updates large and small between the different Galaxy S generations remains consistent and predictable. 

With this year’s S21, Samsung manages to lower the price but introducing two key aspects compared to the previous one: 5G connectivity and the higher performance chip. 

It seems clear that for all those who do not want an iPhone and are looking for the best in Android, they will find all the best in this Galaxy S21, at least for these first months of the year and while other manufacturers launch their bets. 

Now, if you come from the previous generation of Galaxy, it is unlikely that you will choose to acquire this basic model Galaxy S21 instead of betting on either of the two superior models S21 + and S21 Ultra, with which you will not find absences of any kind. 

specs

  • 6.2-inch Full HD + Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen
  • Refresh rate between 48 Hz and 120 Hz
  • Ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor
  • Gorilla Glass Victus protection (front)
  • Reinforced polycarbonate (rear)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 / Samsung Exynos 2100 5nm SoC chip
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 128GB / 256GB storage (without microSD slot)
  • Cameras: 
    • 12MP main camera
    • 12MP ultra-wide camera
    • 64MP telephoto camera
    • 10MP front camera
  • Stereo speakers
  • Android 11 with a 3.1 UI
  • Samsung DeX support
  • IP68 dust / water resistance
  • 5G connectivity, wifi 6
  • 4000mAh battery
  • 25W fast charge (includes PD charging stand)
  • 10W wireless charging
  • Reverse wireless charging
  • Dimensions 71.2mm x 151.7mm x 7.9mm
  • 172 gram weight

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