People love cheap phones with large screens, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last several years.
With the Galaxy S21, Samsung is finally embracing this trend in its most well-known smartphone series. Samsung’s latest big smartphone will be $200 cheaper than last year’s Galaxy S20, which is an unusual move for the tech giant.
The Galaxy S21, which costs $800, includes a speedier CPU, a redesigned design, and a triple-lens camera with wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses, similar to the Galaxy S20. Its camera software has also been updated, bringing new shooting modes and other useful features. However, there is nothing that truly advances the smartphone experience.
That is, in fact, a good thing. We’ve passed the point when each annual smartphone introduction will bring significant changes to how we use our phones. This year, Samsung has focused on creating a beautiful, well-built phone that solves my main criticism of the Galaxy S20: its high price.
The Galaxy S21 is available in three different models: the normal $800 Galaxy S21, which I’ve been using for this review, the $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus, and the $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The Samsung Galaxy S21, which went on sale on January 29, gets a closer look.
Samsung Galaxy S21 specs
|Samsung Galaxy S21||Specs|
|Display screen (decision, refresh charge)||6.2 inches (1080p, 120Hz)|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|Working system||Android 11 with Samsung One UI 3.0|
|Rear cameras||12MP broad, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP 3x telephoto as much as 30x|
|5G||Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6/mmWave|
|UWB (for digital keys)||No|
The Galaxy S21‘s largest and most visible change may be the how it looks and feels. The device’s back now has a matte surface, which makes it easier to grasp and less likely to smudge, which is a significant improvement. Another change that makes the Galaxy S21 more comfortable to handle is that the sides are flat rather than curved like those of Samsung’s prior Galaxy S smartphones.
The camera module in the S21 is significantly more prominent, and whether this is an improvement depends on your preferences. The module is matte, same like the rest of the back panel, and instead of blending the lenses in, Samsung made them stand out even more. Personally, I think it’s an improvement, but it’s a distinct design that may not appeal to everyone.
The Galaxy S21, like other Samsung smartphones, includes a tiny notch for the front-facing camera that looks like a hole punch. In comparison to the iPhone 12, which has a wider notch at the top of the screen for the selfie camera and Face ID sensors, this offers the phone a streamlined aesthetic that makes it feel more like a uniform slab of glass.
Samsung was also able to pack a little larger display into a phone that’s just about as tiny as the iPhone 12 thanks to the Galaxy S21‘s thinner bezel and nearly invisible “notch” for the front camera. The Galaxy S21 features a 6.2-inch display versus the iPhone 12’s 6.1-inch display, making Samsung’s handset somewhat bigger, thicker, and heavier than Apple’s. The iPhone 12 is 7.4 mm thick and weighs 135 grams, whereas the Samsung phone is 7.9 mm thick and weighs 169 grams.
In addition to facial recognition, Samsung and many other Android phone makers offer a feature that iPhone owners are losing out on: an in-display fingerprint sensor for unlocking your smartphone. That’s a fantastic bonus to have at a time like this, when many of us are wearing protective face masks that make facial recognition difficult or impossible.
Samsung is known for including vibrant AMOLED panels in its phones, and the Galaxy S21 is no exception. Although the resolution is technically lower than that of the Galaxy S20, it is still sharp and colorful enough for comfortable viewing. The Galaxy S21’s 2,400 x 1,080 resolution screen is bright and sharp, whether I’m reading news articles or watching YouTube videos.
With a resolution of 2,532 x 1,170 pixels per inch (ppi), the iPhone 12 has a significantly sharper screen than the Galaxy S21, which has a 421 ppi screen. On a screen this big, though, the difference is barely evident, if at all. The way Samsung’s phone shows colors is the biggest difference in display quality between the Galaxy S21 and the iPhone 12. Colors on the Galaxy S21 appear punchier and more vivid than on the iPhone when watching a 4K drone footage of various landscapes on YouTube.
Whether you favor Samsung’s display or not is mostly a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer the Galaxy S21‘s brighter colors, while others prefer the iPhone’s more natural-looking images.
In 2021, you can count on a high-quality camera if you buy a phone from Samsung, Apple, or Google. Smartphones have made significant advances in photography over the last few years, mainly to advances in processing technology and the inclusion of additional lenses.
So, the question isn’t whether or not the Galaxy S21 has a good camera; the answer is yes. Instead, the more pressing question is where the Galaxy S21 excels and where it falters in comparison to its rivals. Although most major smartphones have decent cameras, some outperform others in specific shooting modes.
For example, the Galaxy S21 has three lenses: a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with a 120-degree field-of-view, a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera, and a 64-megapixel telephoto camera. Apple and Google’s smartphones don’t have a telephoto camera and instead only have broad and ultra-wide cameras, therefore Samsung has a better zoom.
Take a look at the differences in the image below. The camera on the Galaxy S21 isn’t even zoomed in all the way, yet it’s still a lot closer than the iPhone 12 and Google Pixel 5. Both of those phones have been zoomed in as much as they can go.
However, as you can see in the images below, the iPhone is superior when it comes to taking shots in the dark. The iPhone’s photo shows the most detail, despite the fact that all of the photos are clear and well-lit.
When it comes to overall picture quality, Samsung occasionally outperforms its competitors in some areas while falling short in others. For example, Samsung’s photo of snow-covered shrubs appears a touch too blown-out, whereas the shade of green in photos taken on Apple and Google smartphones is more natural. However, while photographing a snowman, Samsung’s image has far more detail and is brighter than the iPhone’s.
Overall, Samsung’s camera stands out due to its clearer zoom, sharper clarity, and diverse shooting settings. One of the few things that distinguishes the Galaxy S21 from its predecessor is a new Director Mode that allows you to shoot simultaneously with all three camera lenses and the front-facing camera.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 also has a Single Take photography option, which was previously accessible on the S20 but now has better effects over its predecessor. With a single push of the shutter button, this mode records a variety of images and movies, resulting in a plethora of lovely cat photos over the previous several days.
Efficiency and battery life
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is the company’s first phone to include a 5-nanometer (nm) processor, which replaces the 7nm chip found in the Galaxy S20 range from last year. It’s either Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 CPU or Samsung’s Exynos 2100 chip, depending on the area (the US version has Qualcomm’s chips).
Because Samsung and Qualcomm were able to fit even more transistors (5nm versus 7nm) into their circuits that are even better at power management, that processing jargon truly means more powerful performance and higher efficiency. Apple’s most recent iPhones are also powered by a 5nm chip.
Whether I’m playing games, launching apps, or shooting photos, the Galaxy S21‘s performance feels fluid and fast. This isn’t unexpected, given that most smartphones, regardless of budget, are built to accomplish simple tasks like this with ease.
The Galaxy S21 can also handle more demanding tasks, such as exporting 4K videos, albeit it isn’t nearly as quick as the iPhone 12. In Adobe Rush, Samsung’s smartphone required little under 30 seconds to convert a 25-second 4K video to 1080p, while the iPhone took 10-12 seconds.
The results of benchmark tests are comparable. In a series of benchmarks meant to replicate real-world app usage and graphics performance, the iPhone 12 outperformed the Samsung Galaxy S21. The Galaxy S21 achieved an average of 1,098 on the single-core test and 3,259 on the multicore test in Geekbench 5, a performance benchmark designed to assess everyday performance. In comparison, the iPhone 12 received an average score of 1,591 on the single core test and 3,952 on the multicore version.
When running Geekbench 5’s compute test, which evaluates graphics performance, the situation is same. The average score for the Galaxy S21 was 4,622, whereas the average score for the iPhone 12 was 9,018.
The Galaxy S21 scored 4,848 and averaged 29 frames per second (fps) in 3DMark’s Wild Life test, which is meant to evaluate how devices perform in games that are based on brief bursts of intense activity. The iPhone 12, on the other hand, scored an average of 8,324 points and had a frame rate of 49 frames per second.
However, in terms of battery life, Samsung’s smartphone comes out on top. The Galaxy S21 lasted approximately 13 hours and 46 minutes, compared to 11 hours and 54 minutes for the iPhone. I constantly streamed a 10-hour YouTube video on loop at 1080p resolution with the screen brightness set to the highest level on both phones to test the battery life of these devices. Given that most people don’t watch video at full brightness for hours at a time, you can generally expect longer battery life in real-world use.
Should you purchase it?
Yes, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is a great option for Android enthusiasts who want a decent-sized screen in a small package, a long battery life, and a good camera. It’s not a significant upgrade over other recent models, so unless you have a Galaxy S9 or older, I wouldn’t recommend it.
What are your alternate options?
For Android enthusiasts looking for a similar experience at a lower price, Google’s $500 Pixel 4a 5G is a wonderful option. It boasts a 6.2-inch screen and a dual-lens camera like the Galaxy S21, but it lacks more premium capabilities like facial recognition and a third camera lens available on more expensive phones like Samsung’s.
If you don’t mind spending a little more, Samsung also offers two more Galaxy S21 models. If you need a bigger phone, the $999.99 Galaxy S21 Plus with a 6.7-inch screen would be a better choice. The greatest difference between the S21 and S21 Plus is the screen size, but the S21 Plus also incorporates ultra wideband technology, which allows it to serve as a digital car key.
If you don’t want to use Android, the iPhone 12 is the best option. It’s similarly priced, starting at $800, and has a 6.1-inch display that’s nearly identical to the Galaxy S21’s. Despite the fact that it only has two lenses instead of three like the Galaxy S21, the iPhone 12 delivers rapid performance and superb photo quality.
The underside line
Samsung is bringing its flagship smartphone back under $1,000 with the Galaxy S21, which is a pleasant shift that feels appropriate for a new smartphone in 2021. It doesn’t feel like a significant upgrade over the Galaxy S20 in any way, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing.
The Galaxy S21 isn’t perfect — the iPhone 12 is speedier and has a better low-light camera — but it feels like it offers the appropriate mix of features, design quality, and performance for the money.
Samsung Galaxy S21
❌Cons: Photos taken in low light may be better.
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