Being the latest addition to their flagship model, the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is better than ever. Alongside the announcement of the trio for the infamous S-Series, the S21 is perhaps the smallest amongst the 3. If you are looking for a phone that suits a modernised concept, this is the phone to go.
List of Specifications
Body: 151.7×71.2×7.9mm, 169g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), plastic back, aluminum frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).
Display: 6.20″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1300 nits (peak), 1080x2400px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 421ppi; Always-on display.
Chipset: International – Exynos 2100 (5 nm): Octa-core CPU (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55), Mali-G78 MP14 GPU. USA/China – Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 (5 nm): Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680; Adreno 660 GPU.
Memory: 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM; UFS 3.1.
OS/Software: Android 11, One UI 3.1.
Rear camera: Wide (main): 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120˚, 1/2.55″ 1.4µm, Super Steady video; Telephoto: 64 MP, f/2.0, 29mm, 1/1.72″, 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS, 1.1x optical zoom, 3x hybrid zoom.
Front camera: 10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm, 1/3.24″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF.
Video capture: Rear camera: [email protected], [email protected]/60fps, [email protected]/60/240fps, [email protected], HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS; Front camera: [email protected]/60fps, [email protected]
Battery: 4000mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging 4.5W.
Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, ultrasonic); NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent); Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified), ANT+, Bixby natural language commands and dictation.
- Nice color options, standout design, IP68 rating.
- A fairly compact high-end device, not too many of those out there.
- Bright AMOLED display with adaptive refresh rate handling.
- Very good battery life.
- Versatile triple camera setup (though essentially the same as last year’s).
- Improved selfie camera performance.
- Scant retail package – no charger or headphones.
- Plastic back is at odds with the upmarket position.
- Flat screen and thicker bezels lack a premium vibe, though some of you may find ergonomic benefits in them.
- Benchmark numbers from the new chipset leave us wondering, we’ll need a 2021 Snapdragon for context.
- No generational advancements in the camera department – lack of AF on the ultra wide stands out in particular, since the S21 Ultra has that.
Design and Layout
In this year’s model, Samsung has made significant changes to the design compared to last years’ S20 models. The S21 5G possesses a 6.2-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display, so it shouldn’t be a trouble for those with smaller hands. Incorporating a full glass design on the S20 last year, they decided to switch things up a bit. The S21 5G features a ‘Glasstic’ rear that comes with a matte finish while housing a new camera block design. The matte finish plays an important part in terms of aesthetics, as it’s less shiny than a glass rear, which means that it is harder to leave fingerprints on it.
The device also comes with metal edges that surround the outer area of the device, adding a touch of premium look to it. As for colour choices, the S21 5G has 4 to choose from, namely Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Pink, and Phantom Violet. The Phantom Violet is the one that stands out the most, and is also the main selling point for Samsung.
As for the rear camera, Samsung decided to go with something different than the ones available on the market. They named it the Contour Cut Camera, which is a bold design to say the least. It clearly differentiates the phone model from all others, which gives a unique look to it and increases brand recognition. Especially on the Phantom Violet variant, the gold camera array stands out the most, giving it an attractive look. The camera is also designed to be slimmer than the S20, so there’s no feeling of the camera being exceptionally looking like it sticks out.
Moving on to the sleek edges of the phone itself, there isn’t a lot to talk about as there are not many features there. On the bottom edge, the S21 5G comes with a SIM tray, a USB-C charging port and also a speaker grille for the sound. The right edge features both the power and volume buttons, but the Bixby button isn’t available anywhere like on other Samsung handsets. Instead you can launch Samsung’s assistant by long pressing the power button.
The Galaxy S21 has returned to a completely flat screen design, instead of the normally used curved edges for a large number of generations. This might be a downside for some if they have been using curved-edge phones, but it redefines their phone models to something that is different.
On this year’s Galaxy S21 5G, it is surprising that Samsung downgraded it to a lower-res Full HD+ screen instead of the Quad HD display on the previous S20 model. The reason they are doing this is to cut down the costs of their phone models so that more people are able to afford them, and honestly it isn’t that big of a difference. Even on the S21, the videos are still played in higher-quality on the Full HD+ panel.
The Galaxy S21 display features a 120Hz maximum refresh rate, and remains as its default system setting while adapting to different situations. The refresh rate sticks with 120Hz when playing mobile games, while it automatically reduces the rate to save battery when doing something else.
The phone still has improved displays, as Samsung already made significant improvements to the fingerprint scanner on the S21 phones over previous handsets. The sensor itself is 70% larger, so it won’t cause too much of a nuisance to unlock the phone. The unlocking process is also faster than the S20, but since it is still an in-screen scanner, it cannot be compared to the speed of physical fingerprint scanners.
The battery life on the Samsung Galaxy S21 is yet another breakthrough for the model. Although it’s not a game-changing improvement over the S20, the new Exynos 2100 chipset is just enough to hold its ground and sustain the model a little longer.
After tests, the phone itself can last a full day with the battery life it’s given, but only when it is used normally. If battery draining functions such as the GPS or mobile data are allowed to run, the phone would last a few hours shorter, which is in expectations because they consume battery power quite fast.
The S21 is also easily rechargeable as Samsung came up with a 25W fast-charging tech in the phone’s USB-C port. Like some previous models, the phone also supports Qi wireless charging, which means that an alternative is provided if the phone ever runs out of juice, but wireless charging appears to be slower compared to using the port.
The phone is also compatible with reverse wireless charging, in which the phone can be used to charge Qi-compatible wireless headphones through its rear. This feature, however, is fairly slow and it drains battery life as well, meaning that it isn’t really effective for fast charging.
Following in Apple’s footsteps, the Galaxy S21 does not come with a charger in the box, but they do provide wireless charging adapters during pre orders. Samsung also seeks to cut down on e-waste, so you would have to buy the charger separately.
Software and Performance
The Galaxy S21 phones are the first devices to use the latest generation of chipsets: the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 for US regions, or Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 all around the world.
Although the Exynos chips were said to work slower on the S20 models, the everyday tasks on the S21 phones are significantly faster than previous models. The phone can now handle gaming, multi-tasking and having multiple apps open in split-screen view without experiencing delays.
Generally, this new chip of Exynos 2100 shows what Samsung can do and how they are improving on providing the best experience for performance on an Android phone in this generation.
The S21 5G comes with 8GB of RAM, similar to the previous S20 models. This is the standard release and there are no other variants of increasing it except for the S21 Ultra. You can also choose from 128GB or 256GB of storage for the phone, but it comes without microSD support, meaning that expanding external storage options are unavailable. This act to enforce their internal storage is part of Samsung’s plan to cut costs on the phone itself, but it is a blow to those who require a lot of storage use on their phones.
The S21 currently runs Android 11 with Samsung’s One UI 3.0 skin, which is among one of the most interesting software interfaces. The software available on this phone works well, and you’ve got access to a whole host of extra Samsung services on top of the normal Android apps you expect from a modern smartphone.
As mentioned in the name itself, Samsung has fully embraced 5G in 2021 too, and all variants of the Galaxy S21 are 5G-compatible. Even if you’re not in a 5G-ready area, it essentially means you’re futureproofed ready for when 5G connectivity is more widely available.
For the camera itself, the S21 did not get an upgrade from last years’ S20, so there aren’t any differences. Samsung’s main grip on the S21 5G is the software itself, and also slimming down the camera module for that sleek look.
The camera remains with the same specs: 12MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide, and 64MP telephoto capable of a 3x hybrid optical zoom. These specs are already sufficient to take excellent photos, while the Galaxy S21 gets some software upgrades to improve things further.
The telephoto camera offers 3x optical zoom and up to 30x digital zoom, in which you can take clearer photos while zooming and get satisfactory results. Using this feature, photos of far away objects with a zoom in of 10x and below turned out to be rich in quality. However, anything taken on higher zooms becomes very grainy, and does not quite match up to other phones offering the same zoomings.
The phone also comes with a 10MP selfie camera, but it isn’t spectacular because most phones come with similar or higher MPs. It still generates great results as users are becoming reliant on video calls ever since the pandemic. The selfies taken with the front camera were not too shabby, and is sufficient if you aren’t obsessed with perfect selfies.
There is a new function added for the Galaxy S21, which is a Director’s View mode. With this feature, you can shoot videos using the front and rear cameras at the same time. This enables vloggers or other content creators to capture reaction shots of themselves, while showing their surroundings on camera, mashing both together.
For video quality, the S21 gives you the option of 8K at 24 frames per second, which offers maximum quality and detail, but which we found to be a touch too cropped for our liking. More usefully there’s also 4K at 30 and 60 frames per second, as well as Full HD at 30, 60 and 240fps.
When it comes to competitors, Galaxies like to compete with iPhones and each year their flagships compete over which is the better phone in general. For S21, its main counterpart should be the iPhone 12 mini. It could prove as an even better phone, being a full 2cm shorter and 30+ grams lighter, not to mention a cheaper price point.
Besides, with the money for Galaxy S21, you can buy you a OnePlus 8 Pro,which is looking like a solid deal. The OnePlus comes with an even bigger display, and also a superior ultra-wide camera and blazing fast charging, not to mention that it comes with charging adapters, so you shouldn’t really be losing anything.
The Bottom Line
The Samsung Galaxy S21 isn’t the smallest premium phone on the market, but it’s a good choice for anyone who doesn’t want a fantastically large smartphone in their pocket. It’s 6.2-inch screen that may look large on paper, but the phone itself is notably smaller than a lot of its Android competition.
The Galaxy S21 offers some phenomenally good performance, and if you need a smartphone that can handle multiple tasks at once in split-screen view or when gaming this will likely be it.