Samsung Galaxy S21 Review

8.6
Expert Score

Polycarbonate back on a premium phone?

The Good
  • High performing chipset
  • Good battery life
The Bad
  • Doesn't ship with a charging brick
  • Non-expandable storage
  • Polycarbonate back

Is the vanilla Galaxy S21 from Samsung’s 2021 flagship line-up the next-gen smartphone we’ve all been waiting for? We don’t think so as the Galaxy S21 is a tad bit cheaper and very similar to last years Galaxy S20.  Samsung made a few tradeoffs to hit that lower price point which means it’s kind of a mixed bag.

Although the regular Galaxy S21 is a flagship phone with flagship features, the gap between the vanilla & the Ultra model is even wider than before. The Galaxy S21 is a substantial downgrade from the Galaxy S21 Ultra. 

Despite all this is the vanilla Galaxy S21 worth buying? Let’s find out. 

Design & Display:

Samsung went for an overall compact design with the Galaxy S21. The first thing we noticed was the distinct new look, the S21 lineup features an elegant two-tone design. This time the camera bump isn’t just bigger but it curves right into the aluminium frame, which is the signature look Samsung went with for the Galaxy S21 series. 

Unlike last year’s S20 lineup, the vanilla S21 comes without curved edges & instead of a Gorilla Glass back you get one made of polycarbonate, which is a bummer to have on a premium phone! However, the back doesn’t feel cheap and has a frosted matte finish to it which is great for warding off fingerprints. 

Weighing 169g, the phone’s small size & lightweight makes it the perfect compact high-end smartphone. 

The Galaxy S21 like the S20 features Samsung’s Infinity-O display, resulting in a full-screen display without any notches with a smaller overall size. It has a 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display protected by the Gorilla Glass Victus. Unlike the Galaxy S20 lineup which came with 1440p resolution, this year the display has the same size as last year but with a lower 1080p resolution.

The Galaxy S21 comes with an adaptive 120 Hz refresh rate that can go as low as 48 Hz to save energy according to what you have on display. Unlike last year’s Galaxy S20, the S21 doesn’t come with a QHD resolution but still, the display looks pretty sharp and has vibrant colours.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is available in four beautiful shades of Phantom Violet, Phantom Grey, Phantom White & Phantom Pink.

Performance & Hardware:

The Galaxy S21 comes with a cutting edge flagship chipset, either an Exynos 2100 or a Snapdragon 888 depending on the market. Both are built on a 5nm process and are better in terms of both performance & graphics wise compared to last year’s Galaxy S20. In real-world tasks, we had no problems using the S21 and the gameplay was smooth especially with games that support a higher frame rate. 

The Galaxy S21 comes with newer and faster UFS 3.1 storage. The device packs 8 GB RAM and gives two storage options. A 128 GB option & a 256 GB option. Keep in mind that expandable storage isn’t available.

The S21  runs Samsung’s One UI 3.1 based on Android 11. One UI 3 integrates plenty of features to tweak your Galaxy experience. The interface is more elegant, with a redesigned Quick Panel and a notifications screen that feels less cluttered. 

It also comes with a lot of powerful tools such as a Samsung DeX, which allows for the Galaxy S21, and other compatible Galaxy devices, to be connected to an external monitor to turn the phone into a pseudo-computer, letting you connect a mouse and keyboard to improve productivity.

It also supports 5g network connectivity.  

Battery:

Like the Galaxy S20, the vanilla Samsung Galaxy S21 houses a 4000 mAh battery that lasts an entire day. Due to the adaptive refresh rate & the improved chip efficiency, the battery lasts longer than the S20.

We would’ve liked to see a bigger battery in the Galaxy S21 given that it’s a 2021 flagship smartphone, but Samsung has compensated for that in the S21 Ultra.

The battery also comes with a 25W fast-charging system paired with a 10W wireless charging feature. 

Following Apple’s footsteps, Samsung has stopped shipping its flagship lineup with a charger in the box. Meaning, that you’ll have to buy the charging adapter separately if you don’t already have one.

Cameras:

Hardware-wise, the Galaxy S21 cameras are exactly the same as the Galaxy S20. The triple camera setup includes a 12 MP main camera, a 12 MP ultra-wide camera with fixed focus & a 64 MP telephoto camera with 3x hybrid optic zoom and 30x space zoom. The Galaxy S21 model also packs a 10 MP selfie camera with better processing as compared to last year & sharper facial details than the S20 or S20+.

One UI 3.1 brings some changes to the camera interfaces as well e.g, the live focus mode is now called the Portrait mode, and we have the Pro mode for the ultra-wide cameras. 

In good light the 12 MP shots from the main camera are quite appealing, they have nicely saturated colours, well-controlled noise and an adequate level of detail. Comparing the output to last year’s Galaxy S20+ you’ll notice a difference in processing, the Galaxy S20 models had warmer more saturated colours across the board. 

In low light, the S21’s main camera performs well, the exposure isn’t too dark and you have a wide dynamic range and good colour saturation, the level of detail is pretty good too. Turning on night mode results in better-contained highlights and improved detail in shadows. Without night mode the performance of the ultra-wide camera at night is nothing impressive.

The camera experience is solid but we won’t call it very innovative.

Final Verdict:

If you’re looking for a compact high-end phone this might just be the right choice for you. While the phone does include a high performing chipset with great battery life, it’s very similar to last years S20 FE but comes with a hefty price tag. The phone holds more cons than pros for a Samsung flagship, especially when compared to the S20 series. We wouldn’t recommend switching your phone if you have a Galaxy S20+ or S20 Ultra.

 

 

 

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