Samsung Galaxy S21 Overview: Acceptable However Not Distinctive

2021 is shaping as much as be a busy yr for Samsung, full of extra launches than ordinary and the rumoured debut of all-new form-factors (within the likes of the Z Fold Scroll), to not point out a extra strong line of recent foldables ready within the wings.

It is the corporate’s brimming launch calendar that is regarded as one of many causes behind this yr’s Galaxy S sequence’ early-than-usual arrival; with the telephones happening sale virtually two months sooner than final yr’s S20 trio did.

The Samsung Galaxy S20

The Galaxy S21 nonetheless serves as essentially the most modest and reasonably priced member of this yr’s Galaxy S lineup, toting essentially the most compact and light-weight design of the three telephones, centred round a 6.2in show (dwarfed by the S21+ and S21 Extremely’s respective 6.7in and 6.8in footprints).

It additionally prices lower than its 2020 equal, whereas bringing 5G and the most recent 5nm SoC into the fold as customary, begging the query, “how”?

Quite than merely slicing into its revenue margins, Samsung has made a variety of selections that, on the floor, imply the S21 gives the look of ‘extra for much less’ however in reality compromises in sure areas that will not be to everybody’s tastes.

Design and construct

Simply, the obvious replace to this yr’s Galaxy S line is its design. Whereas the S20 might have been pleasingly skinny and well-engineered, visually it was additionally uneventful and lacked character. Samsung has tried to deal with this in a variety of methods with this yr’s telephones; specifically by a brand new “Contour Lower” digital camera association and a richer collection of colourways.

The bottom S21 is available in 4 colors at launch: Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink. Simply as Mystic Bronze was the Be aware 20 line’s signature color final yr, so too is Phantom Violet (as pictured) for each the S21 and S21+, this yr.

Within the flesh, the distinction of the cellphone’s pearlescent purple again and polished gold body evokes a way of playful modern luxurious. If this explicit end is just too garish to your liking, nonetheless, the remainder of the color choices function extra sedate alternate options that each one nonetheless supply extra curiosity and a extra premium look in comparison with the S21’s 2020 predecessor.

The rear triple digital camera setup dominates the cellphone’s in any other case near-featureless flat again and implies that the sensors sat inside it boast highly effective optics, whereas rounded edges operating down the again and flowing into the cellphone’s metallic body make sure the S21 is snug to carry; one thing its compact measurement additionally lends itself to as effectively.

Whereas not instantly obvious, the “Contour Lower” digital camera association has a seam the separates the module from the body

Maybe extra so than aesthetics, one of many greatest departures from earlier entries within the sequence is the transfer to a strengthened polycarbonate (learn: plastic) again. Not since 2014’s S5 has a Galaxy S flagship sported plastic bodywork to this extent and its presence right here is most blatant when dealt with; the place it stands out in distinction to the chilly contact of the metallic border that surrounds it.

On the one hand, a plastic again on a flagship cellphone just like the S21 may very well be seen as corner-cutting and cost-saving, to the detriment of the end-user – to not point out it is an plain fingerprint magnet. On the opposite, it presents higher influence resistance than typical glass (for these inclined to make use of their telephones case-free) and makes for a lighter total design (or at the least it will if the S21 weren’t fractionally taller than the S20).

The near-£1000 Galaxy Be aware 20 was berated for its use of a plastic again over glass final yr, on the S21 – thanks partly to its decreased price ticket – the presence of such materials appears extra readily justified, though it’s going to probably fall to private choice whether or not you assume Samsung is legitimate in its determination to make use of plastic on a flagship on the S21’s worth level.

Past supplies, the S21’s bodywork lacks a headphone jack (nothing new), contains a energy key and quantity rocker on its proper facet (the latter of which could have been positioned just a little too excessive), and retains strong IP68 mud and water resistance.

Show and audio

Whereas the S21 is the one member of this new sequence of Galaxy S telephones to sport a polycarbonate again, it shares in Corning’s newest and biggest (which is to say, extra scratch and drop-resistant than ever) Gorilla Glass Victus on the entrance, defending a 6.2in HDR10+ ‘Dynamic AMOLED 2X’ panel that boasts a better (1300nit) peak brightness than final yr’s S20, promising larger out of doors legibility because of this.

In apply, colors, distinction and readability are characteristically top-notch, and whereas the return of a most 120Hz refresh price is certainly welcome – providing up super-smooth visuals – the drop from the S20’s WQHD+ decision to a extra pedestrian prolonged Full HD panel is unavoidably disappointing.

Fortunately, the smaller display screen measurement of the S21 makes the drop in decision (roughly a 25% discount in pixel density, in comparison with the S20) much less noticeable than it is going to undoubtedly seem on the extra expansive show of the S21+ (which additionally drops right down to Full HD+), but it surely nonetheless weakens the Galaxy S line’s status as one of the crucial succesful and reliably top-notch flagship cellphone households to purchase into every year.

Past pixels, Samsung has additionally applied what it describes as a brand new clever Eye Consolation Protect; an extension of most fashionable smartphones’ blue gentle filter that adjusts its depth based mostly in your utilization patterns robotically (though, in response to the cellphone’s personal software program, it merely adjusts the filter’s depth based mostly on the time of day).

Whereas the S21 is simpler to function one-handed in comparison with its bigger launch siblings by nature, the built-in one-handed mode can also be nonetheless invaluable and pleasingly versatile in comparison with implementations from different producers; supporting left and proper justification, button or gesture activation and rescaling on the fly.

The S20 served as the ultimate nail within the coffin for the common-or-garden 3.5mm headphone jack on Galaxy S gadgets, and though the S21 does not stroll that again, it improves audio in one other regard: its loudspeaker setup.

The twin stereo audio system supply spectacular readability and stability (regardless of the asymmetrical association at play), by their total vary, with seen separation, even on this, the smallest member of the S21 lineup. This cellphone is not going to fill a room or dole out earth-shattering bass, however Samsung’s finished effectively to push out such good sound from a tool as skinny and compact because the S21.

Software program and options

On the time of writing, the Galaxy S21 vary are the one telephones in Samsung’s roster boasting its newest skinned taken on Android: One UI 3.1 (operating atop the most recent Android 11).

In comparison with One UI 2.X builds of its consumer expertise, model 3.1 focuses on richer notifications, clearer, extra outlined interface parts, higher continuity throughout Galaxy gadgets and provides in wealthy new particulars like animated name screens.

For these transferring to an S21 from an older Galaxy smartphone, the rulebook hasn’t been rewritten right here however not one of the adjustments or additions seem to maneuver in something apart from the fitting route.

These extra au fait with inventory Android must spend just a little extra time familiarising themselves with Samsung’s distinct iconography, its personal Galaxy Retailer, which sits alongside Google’s Play Retailer and the assorted extra options that the corporate has used to higher differentiate its consumer expertise from a base Android one: options like Edge Display screen and Recreation Launcher, to call however two.

Whereas One UI is distinct, Samsung hasn’t utterly thrown out underlying facets of Android 11, with options like notifications grouped by app sort and carouselled media playback controls all making an look amidst the S21’s consumer expertise. You now even have the choice between Samsung Free – Samsung’s personal information and video games feed – and Google Dwelling, one swipe proper of the primary residence display screen.

NFC options, primarily for cellular fee assist by the use of Google Pay or Samsung Pay, together with Bluetooth 5.zero and WiFi 6, nonetheless, whereas this all carriers throughout from final years Galaxy S line, the bottom S21 does lose out on some new connectivity choices discovered on its extra highly effective siblings; specifically, superior WiFi 6E – as featured within the S21 Extremely – and UWB (ultrawide band) connectivity, which each different S21 fashions profit from.


Whereas design presents itself as the obvious improve to the S21 over final yr’s cellphone, it is the brand new 5nm chipset at its coronary heart that basically strikes issues alongside.

Whether or not you are utilizing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 model (as present in markets just like the US) or the Exynos 2100 construct of the cellphone (which we examined), being offered in markets like Europe, you possibly can anticipate excellent efficiency.

The S21 vary is the primary cellphone sequence to launch outdoors of China to carry such 5nm silicon to customers and with it, ushers within the subsequent era of cellular processor efficiency for Samsung.

In day-to-day use, the extra energy of this new chip will not manifest in any significant means as but; the cellphone is unfalteringly responsive (exemplified by that 120Hz show) in all the things from basic use to demanding gaming, however simply as we have stated in regards to the beneficiant headroom afforded to iPhone 12 customers because of the sequence’ personal A14 Bionic chip, this cellphone’s new chip will stand S21 homeowners in good stead throughout years’ price of use.

So far as our inside testing goes, the Exynos 2100 inside our S21 (accompanied by 8GB RAM – the one reminiscence possibility obtainable) provided up a few of the finest benchmarking outcomes ever achieved by an Android cellphone; solely actually trumped by Apple’s aforementioned A14 Bionic.

The storage scenario pulls the S21 within the different route, with the choice of 128GB or 256GB of inside area however, in contrast to earlier Galaxy S entries, no room for expandable storage; even for those who transfer all the best way as much as the Galaxy S21 Extremely. This probably will not be an enormous blow to most customers however will undoubtedly go away a bitter style within the mouths of long-time Galaxy S homeowners who’ve relied on Samsung as one of many few to retain this function inside its flagship telephones.

One different small performant side of the S21 price mentioning is the improved ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor, which though not game-changing, appears extra dependable and responsive, in contrast different latest Samsung Galaxy fashions that depend on the identical (or related) expertise.

Battery life

With the identical 4000mAh capability battery as its predecessor, there’s each probability that you just’d anticipate related longevity from the S21, however because of its lower-resolution, adaptive 48Hz to 120Hz show and the improved energy effectivity of the brand new 5nm processor at work, this yr’s Galaxy S cellphone handily outpaces the earlier.

The mixed impact of the S21’s display screen and silicon make-up offers it much more aggressive longevity this time round, though it nonetheless lags behind gadgets just like the OnePlus 8T – partly as a result of its cell is relatively on the small facet. That each one stated, it is greater than outfitted to get the typical consumer by a day of use with out fear and we gathered as much as two days of use in testing, with between 6.5 and seven.5 hours of screen-on time per cost – all wholly respectable.

As for recharging, little has modified within the S21’s make-up on this regard; with assist for as much as 25W quick charging (together with PD charging), 10W wi-fi charging and 4.5 reverse wi-fi charging (dubbed Wi-fi PowerShare) – for powering up issues like smartwatches and true-wireless earbuds on-the-go. Such speeds are edging their option to extra pedestrian, in comparison with the ever-increasing wattages spouted by rival gadgets from the likes of Oppo and Xiaomi, however for many, it is probably nonetheless quick sufficient.

The massive asterisk with the S21’s charging setup is that, like Apple’s and Xiaomi’s most up-to-date smartphone releases, Samsung has determined to now not ship its telephones with an in-box charger (or headphones) as customary. The S21 comes accompanied by a Fast Begin information, SIM ejector software, USB-C to USB-C information cable and that is it. If you’d like Samsung’s official 25W charger, you may should pay just a little additional (£17 on the time of writing).

For reference, in testing each an official 25W Samsung charger which we needed to hand, in addition to a 27W Motorola PD charger, crammed the S21’s battery to round 55% (about sufficient for a day’s basic use) after 30 minutes charging, with a full cost taking slightly below an hour and 15 minutes.


Whereas the S21 Extremely advantages from a wealth of recent and improved digital camera {hardware} this yr, regardless of their imposing Contour Lower modules, the remaining S21 fashions look as if they’re counting on the identical underlying optics as final yr’s S20 and S20+.

The S21 sports activities a 12Mp + 12Mp + 64Mp sensor configuration (serving up a large, ultrawide and telephoto [sort of] perspective, in that order). All three sensors possess the identical focal lengths, apertures, pixel sizes, accompaniments of OIS (optical picture stabilisation) and PDAF (phase-detection autofocus) as earlier than, and twinned with the digital camera highlights put ahead throughout Samsung’s preliminary unveiling of the S21 sequence, there’s nothing to counsel these aren’t the identical snappers as on final yr’s telephones.

As such, the enhancements appear slight, primarily manifesting as software program tweaks and new modes; with the flexibility to shoot in as much as UHD decision at 30 frames per second throughout all three of the cellphone’s rear sensors, together with genuinely helpful (albeit area of interest) additions like Director’s View – which helps you to seize from a number of sensors (i.e. entrance and rear) on the similar time, in addition to previewing the entire lenses at your disposal and switching to them as desired, on the fly.

8K recording at 24 frames per second nonetheless sounds spectacular, even when it is not new, however with Samsung claiming solely per week earlier than the S21’s launch – on the unveiling of the Exynos 2100 – that its new flagship chip is definitely able to 8K recording at as much as 60fps, it is unclear why the S21 does not capitalise on this additional headroom (though the truth that the Snapdragon 888 can solely assist 8K recording at as much as 30fps may need one thing to do with it).

Picture high quality is characteristically nice throughout the board, with wealthy colors (maybe too wealthy for some) and loads of element in huge, macro and telephoto pictures. There’s additionally a rock-solid consistency within the color science at work throughout the cellphone’s sensors, so whether or not you are assembling an album that makes use of all three or filming video that jumps between them throughout the similar timeline, past perspective, footage ought to stay congruous regardless.

Low gentle processing appears sooner this time round and retains color and element pretty effectively too, whereas selfies include magnificence results enabled by default and a proclivity for hotter, darker pores and skin tones than in reality. The ‘selfie color tone’ tuning is a pleasant tweak to brighten up scenes earlier than seize to deal with this bias, however past preliminary setup, the function is tucked away within the digital camera’s settings menu, making it laborious to succeed in rapidly.

Worth and availability

Samsung introduced the Galaxy S21 sequence at its first Samsung Unpacked of 2021 (which we broke down in our podcast, Quick Cost – the related episode of which you’ll watch under) on 14 January, with all three telephones obtainable to pre-order from the outset and gadgets then set to go on sale from 29 January.

Within the UK, the Galaxy S21 could be picked up straight from Samsung.com in each its base 128GB SKU and the bigger 256GB SKU (each with 8GB RAM), in all 4 colors talked about earlier; beginning at £769 and leaping to £819 for the upper capability construct.

Regardless of the cellphone’s official title being the ‘Samsung Galaxy S21 5G’ we’re but to see a 4G-only model of the cellphone in any markets, globally. There are indicators that such a tool would possibly nonetheless be on the playing cards and if Samsung does launch one, it’s going to probably price a good bit lower than this debut 5G iteration, however till then, £769 is as little as it goes.

It is tough to check the S21’s pricing towards similarly-specced Android rivals, as as of proper now, there are no – save for the Xiaomi Mi 11, which stays a China-exclusive in the meanwhile.

What the S21’s pricing does counsel is that it is meant to be seen as the perfect foil to Apple’s base iPhone 12, which begins at £799 within the UK for the 64GB SKU.

You’ll find extra particulars relating to trade-in offers and provider pricing in our ‘The place to purchase the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Extremely’ function.


On the floor, Samsung has introduced higher specs – together with 5G as customary and the most recent Snapdragon 888/Exynos 2100 chip – to the desk for lower than the asking worth of the 4G-only construct of final yr’s Galaxy S20.

In truth, it is prioritised these upgrades to make sure the S21 seems as related and present as attainable, with out going out of its option to actually set the bar for forthcoming 2021 rivals.

This evaluation is plagued by comparisons to the S20 as a result of they’re unavoidable. The ebb and circulation of huge and small updates between the Galaxy S generations stays (comparatively) constant and predictable; with this yr’s S21 undoubtedly serving as a small spruce-up that customers on something newer than a Galaxy S9 should not fear about contemplating.

Whereas it is nice that this yr’s Galaxy S sequence is extra reasonably priced than the final, you possibly can see the options Samsung shaved off to get there; with the bottom S21 receiving the brunt of this yr’s cull.

The Galaxy S line’s unofficial place because the ‘default various’ to those that don’t need an iPhone is not prone to change with all the things the Galaxy S21 has to supply, and for many customers, that is nonetheless as a lot of a well-rounded, succesful and dependable gadget because the S20, S10 and past have been.

When you’re in search of Samsung to push the flagship cellphone envelope, nonetheless, this Galaxy S21 is not the cellphone to do it.

Associated tales for additional studying
Samsung Galaxy S21: Specs

6.2in Full HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X 48Hz-120Hz show
Ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor
Gorilla Glass Victus (entrance)
Strengthened polycarbonate (again)
Metallic body
5nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 888/Samsung Exynos 2100 SoC (market dependant)
128GB/256GB non-expandable storage
12Mp important digital camera
12Mp ultrawide digital camera
64Mp telephoto digital camera
10Mp front-facing digital camera
Stereo audio system
Android 11 w/ One UI 3.1
Samsung DeX assist
IP68 mud/water resistance
WiFi 6
4000mAh battery
25W quick charging (contains PD charging assist)
10W wi-fi charging
Reverse wi-fi charging
71.2mm x 151.7mm x 7.9mm
172 grams
Launch colors: Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink

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