Samsung Galaxy S21 Review: Not the best but very put together
For years, the Galaxy S series have been flagship phones that do it all, have it all, but with the Galaxy S21, Samsung has decided to take almost as much as an upgrade. What could be a recipe for failure has resulted in an excellent Android smartphone that is $ 200 cheaper than the Galaxy S20.
With its 6.2-inch screen, a trio of rear cameras, and the same 4,000 mAh battery, the Galaxy S21 isn’t a vast improvement over its predecessor. Sure, it comes with a new camera module and colour schemes, as well as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888. But the Galaxy S21 turns out to be an iterative update; the significant changes are coming to the Galaxy S21 Ultra this time.
Excellent dynamic 120Hz display
Powerful camera zoom
Cheaper than the Galaxy S20
No charger in the box
No microSD support
Some camera inconsistencies
The screen is not the best
For people who have the Galaxy S10 or an older phone, the new Dynamic AMOLED display, improved cameras, and better software combine to make the Galaxy S21 quite an attractive flagship phone at an attractive price and size. Read on for our Samsung Galaxy S21 review to find out why taking things off has worked quite well for Samsung’s new flagship phone.
Release date and price
You can buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 right now, either alone or through a carrier contract.
In the US, for a starting price of $ 799, you can get the Galaxy S21 with 128GB of storage but shell out an additional $ 50, and you can get the 256GB model for $ 849. That’s $ 200 cheaper than what the Galaxy S20 cost a year ago, huge savings.
The Galaxy S21 beats its most obvious rival, the iPhone 12, which costs $ 879 for a 128GB. (The $ 799 iPhone 12 only offers 64GB of storage.) But the S21 is more expensive than the $ 699 Google Pixel 5, which lacks a few raw specs but offers a fantastic camera.
Ironically, the reasonably recent Samsung Galaxy S20 FE could pose a threat to the Galaxy S21, offering a 120Hz display, a still-powerful Snapdragon 865, and a trio of solid rear cameras for $ 699. The S20 FE isn’t quite as advanced as the S21, but it still has a lot to offer for a sub-flagship price.
From the front, the Galaxy S21 looks a lot like the Galaxy S20, with its 6.2-inch screen complete with a stylish punch-hole selfie camera at the top center of the screen. Take a closer look, and you’ll see that the S21 has dropped the curved screen of its predecessor and opted for flat edges.
This may sound like a downgrade, given that the new phone doesn’t seem as quiet as it is sleek, but I agree. I think curved screens on Android phones with screens smaller than 6.5 inches tend to be a bit slippery to hold, mainly since they can be used primarily with one hand; Large phones tend to feel a bit more comfortable with curved edges when doing finger gymnastics to reach apps on the far side of the screen.
The flat edges of the Galaxy S21 lead to metal edges that flow into the new ‘Contour Cut’ camera design, where the rear camera module appears to blend in with the left edge of the S21 and the rear.
Speaking of which, the metal gives way to what is arguably the Galaxy S21’s most significant change: a plastic back. Samsung calls it polycarbonate, but it’s fancy plastic, while the S20 uses glass.
Opting for a plastic back is probably why Samsung can offer the Galaxy S21 at a lower price. And while the lack of a glass back may seem odd for a flagship phone, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t feel cheap. Not only do I think it feels a bit better than the polycarbonate on the back of the S20 FE, but it also has a more tactile finish than the glass-backed Galaxy S series, making it seem less likely to slip out of your grip or absorb fingerprints. I am happy to save the savings if it helps keep costs down.
And the Phantom Violet S21 that I had to review looks fantastic, even if the name sounds a bit silly. The violet panel has a pleasantly soft hue, while the subdued copper colour of the bump and camera edges give the S21 a pseudo-retro sci-fi look; I think Star Trek meets Art Deco.
There are three other colour options available: Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, Phantom White, but I haven’t seen them on metal and plastic.
Measuring 6 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches and weighing 6.07 ounces, the Galaxy S21 is slightly smaller but heavier than the Galaxy S20 (5.9 x 3 x 0.31, 5.7 ounces). But I think it’s the ideal size and weight for one-handed use; small enough for my thumb to reach two-thirds of the screen, but big enough to sit back and watch hours of video.
The Galaxy S21’s in-display ultrasonic fingerprint reader also responds better thanks to Qualcomm’s new scanner, which is 1.7 times larger and 50% faster than the previous generation. I found that the S21 rarely rejected a quick hit from my thumb, which does wonders for my temper.
What’s not ideal is that the Galaxy S21 dropped the microSD card slot that its predecessors had sported for a while. I’m not sure why Samsung did this, as there are no obvious space limitations inside the Galaxy S21, nor would I expect its removal to change manufacturing costs much. Maybe it’s a way for Samsung to encourage people to buy the 265GB version, although, with so many free cloud storage services, I’m ultimately not too concerned about the lack of expandable storage.
Samsung has downgraded and upgraded the Galaxy S21’s 6.2-inch AMOLED display from what the S20 previously featured. You no longer have to choose between a Full HD + resolution that runs at 120Hz or a QHD that runs at 60Hz, as you did with the Galaxy S20, but that’s because of the S21 maxes out at 1080p resolution.
However, in practical use, the screen of the Galaxy S21 is fantastic. Put it in the ‘Vivid’ mode, and you’ll see lots of contrast and colour, even if the latter is wrong on the oversaturation side. The screen is ideal for watching videos and movies, eyeing Instagram photos, and gaming. Samsung has long had great displays on its Galaxy S phones, and the S21 is no exception.
Hardware-wise, the cameras on the Galaxy S21 are precisely the same as those on the Galaxy S20. The triple camera set comprises a 12MP primary wide-angle lens, a 12MP ultra-wide-angle lens, and a 64MP telephoto lens with 3x hybrid optical zoom and 30x spatial zoom.