Samsung Galaxy S21: ideal high-end smartphone?


The Samsung Galaxy S21 proves that premium smartphones don’t have to get bigger and more expensive every year. This relatively handy device is not even that badly priced at 849 euros. But does the smartphone offer enough to choose it over the competition? You can read it in this Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Samsung Galaxy S21

MSRP € 849, –
Colors Gray, White, Pink, Purple
OS Android 11 (One UI)
Screen 6.2 inch OLED (2400 x 1800, 120hz)
Processor 2.9 Ghz octacore (Exynos 2100)
RAM 8 GB
Storage 128 or 256 GB
Battery 4,000 mAh
Camera 12, 12 and 64 megapixels (rear), 10 megapixels (front)
Connectivity 5G, 4G (LTE), Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi, GPS, NFC
Format 15.1 x 7.1 x 0.8 cm
Weight 169 grams
Other Fingerprint scanner behind screen, waterproof and dustproof
Website www.samsung.com/uk 8 Score 80 Score: 80

  • Pros
  • Design
  • Performance
  • Screen
  • Update Policy
  • Negatives
  • No charger included
  • Busy software
  • Battery life could have been better

Samsung presented the Galaxy S21 series on January 14. At the time, I was able to test the S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra for a while and my colleague Joris has now published an extensive review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. In this review you can read what I think of the Galaxy S21, the smallest and cheapest model of the three.

Design

What I like about the Samsung Galaxy S21 is that the device has its own identity. Not as unique as an iPhone, but the device can be distinguished from other Android smartphones. For example, the camera island is nicely incorporated into the edge of the smartphone and the back uses a matte finish that prevents fingerprints. Striking at the back is that it is made of plastic. This is to reduce the costs and weight of the smartphone. I think it’s a smart move, because the finish comes across as glass and is pleasant to hold.

The design of the Galaxy S21 knows how to charm me anyway. The smartphone is nice and handy; I can use it just fine with one hand. However, touching the top of the screen is not possible just like that, the S21 is too big for that. However, the device is nice and light (169 grams) and of course dust and waterproof. Charging is via the USB-C port or wireless charger. Unfortunately, a 3.5 mm headphone port is missing, although that applies to much more expensive smartphones.

Changed screen works out well

Just like the S20, the S21 has a 6.2-inch OLED screen with a high refresh rate of 120 Hz. But anyone who thinks that nothing has changed will be disappointed. The screen has been adjusted on several points. For example, the S21 has a ‘flat’ screen, without the curved vertical edges of the S20. That looks a little less high-end, but I can operate the display more comfortably. The screen resolution has also been lowered from QHD to Full HD. Sounds like a decline, but you hardly see the difference in sharpness. The choice is therefore logical, especially since the lower resolution allows a longer battery life.

The battery also benefits from the adaptive refresh rate of the screen. The S21 automatically determines how many times per second the display refreshes, depending on what the screen is showing. The S20 cannot do this and always refreshes its screen 120 times per second. The S21 only does that if it is useful and otherwise refreshes less often, between 48 and 120 times per second.

The screen quality is, as befits Samsung, excellent. The OLED screen from our own factory shows very nice colors, shows black really as black and has a tiny hole for the selfie camera. It takes great photos and videos.

Behind the display is a remarkably good fingerprint scanner. The scanners on expensive Samsung smartphones were invariably slower and less accurate than those of the competition, but the S21 is catching up well. I like this scanner just fine.

Excellent specifications …

The specifications of the Galaxy S21 are as you would expect from an 849 euro smartphone. Very good, future-proof and complete. The S21 runs on a brand new Exynos 2100 processor with 8 GB of RAM. This combination makes the device lightning fast and should deliver smooth performance even after a few years of use. 5G support is of course also available, although 5G will only be able to deliver truly faster mobile internet from the end of 2022.

The S21 has 128 GB of storage memory as standard. You can buy the version with 256 GB of memory for fifty euros more. While I think the entry-level model is enough for most people, it is advisable to think about how much memory you will need in the coming years. The smartphone lacks a micro SD slot, a function that was invariably in Samsung devices.

… with compromises

What is also missing from the S21 is a charger. The box only contains a USB-C cable. Samsung is omitting the charger for environmental reasons. I understand that. You must have a USB-C charger somewhere to charge the S21. Only: how powerful is that charger? The S21 supports fast charging with a maximum of 25 Watt. The chance that you have such a charger is not that great. And then you charge the smartphone more slowly. Awkward if you want to recharge because you are almost leaving the house. Still buy Samsung’s 25 Watt charger? It will cost you 25 euros. A lower selling price – exclusive to S21 customers – would have seemed more sympathetic to me.

The battery life of the S21 is fine, but not above average. With normal use, I can use the device for a long day and put it on the charger when I go to bed. On a busy day with more phone calls and playing games, the battery will run out after dinner. This is understandable because the battery with a capacity of 4000 mAh is not very large. Lowering the refresh rate of the screen from 120 to 60 Hz benefits the battery life, but then you cut back on the screen quality.

Great cameras

Three camera lenses are placed on the back of the Samsung Galaxy S21. It is a 12 megapixel main camera, a 12 megapixel wide-angle camera and a 64 megapixel telephoto lens to get the image closer. You may know this combination from the Galaxy S20. The S21 takes better photos and videos thanks to other sensors and smarter software, but the difference in quality with its predecessor is limited. The cameras feel like an evolution, not a revolution. That’s not bad, because the photos and videos look very nice. The S21 also takes sharp pictures in the dark, especially if you use night mode.

The zoom functionality is particularly useful if you choose the 3x zoom function. It keeps a good balance between zooming in and preserving the image quality. The S21 can zoom up to thirty times. That is a lot, but does not produce a nice photo. The wide-angle lens is excellent because it magnifies the image and takes beautiful snapshots. Below you can see the different camera modes aimed at a whiteboard.

Normal photo
Wide angle
3x zoom
30x zoom

Busy software gets updates for years

Galaxy S21 has Android 11 installed, the latest version of the operating system. Samsung puts its renewed OneUI shell over Android. That shell is user-friendly, especially if you are used to a Samsung smartphone. OneUI is also packed with useful features, including a one-handed mode and a bar for quickly calling up your favorite apps. That is why I can handle OneUI well, but I prefer a less present software shell.

OneUI is full of apps from Samsung and partners, which I find busy. The software also regularly shows advertisements, especially via the Galaxy Store app. You can turn off those ads in the app, but who knows? Also sad is Samsung’s obsession with its Bixby voice assistant, which comes on screen by default when you hold down the on and off button. You do this because you want to switch off the S21, not to be disturbed by an app that does not even understand Dutch. You have to dive into the settings to actually get the off button on the screen when the device is switched off. These kinds of decisions make Samsung’s software feel illogical, as if proprietary services are more important than the user experience.

However, the update policy shows again that the manufacturer does consider a good user experience important. Samsung guarantees three (year) version updates, so for the S21 to Android 12, 13 and 14. Google also gives its Pixel phones three updates, other brands a maximum of two. Samsung is therefore the leader, also in terms of security updates. The S21 will receive four years of updates, which is a year longer than the competition. An exception is Apple, which always updates its iPhones for four to five years.

Conclusion: buy Samsung Galaxy S21?

The Samsung Galaxy S21 shows that a high-end smartphone does not have to cost a thousand euros or more. It is true that at 849 euros it is still quite expensive, you do get a lot in return. The S21 has a beautiful design, a fantastic screen, good specifications and will receive updates until 2025. The device is a reliable choice and extra interesting if you are looking for a handy smartphone. For those who want a bigger and even better phone, Samsung offers the Galaxy S21 Ultra. At 1249 euros, it is a lot more expensive and therefore intended for a niche. Due to its value for money, the S21 is the right choice for the general public.

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