Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is harder (to break), faster, and stronger than last year’s S20 model. So, why do some aspects still feel like a step backwards? Overall, it’s a decent phone with upgraded processor, performance and design. If you want the latest phone model for a cheap price – and don’t mind sacrificing a few premium features to get there – then this could be the phone for you.
4 out of 5 stars
- Sleek, updated design
- Good camera and video software
- Faster, improved processor performance
- No MicroSD support
- Charger not included
- Cheap price means sacrificing premium features
Samsung Galaxy S21 Full Review
Released early this year in January 2021, the Samsung Galaxy S21 flagship phone is the successor to the very popular S20 model. As you’d expect, it features a range of upgraded specs and premium features that you didn’t find on the S20. It might not have been the next-level smartphone that some fans thought it would be, but it’s still a great phone and is reasonably priced.
In this review, we’ve covered the main features, Samsung’s key features with the S21, and taken a closer look at the battery life, capacity/processor and all-important camera specs.
We’ve reviewed some of Samsung’s best smartphones and to help you compare them all, we list the same main features for each phone we review. Here is how the Galaxy S21 stacks up.
- Released: January 2021
- Weight: 169g
- Dimensions: 15.17 x 7.12 x 0.79cm
- Display: 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
- System: Exynos 2100 processor with Android 11
- Cameras: Dual rear 12MP cameras, rear 64MP telephoto camera, front 10MP camera
- Storage: 128GB or 256GB, 8GB RAM
The Galaxy S21 main specs immediately bring up some pros and cons. The updated processor, smaller size and camera features are all brilliant. But where has the MicroSD support gone? Don’t get disheartened yet. While Samsung have dropped some features to make the phone more affordable overall, there are still three new key features to get excited about.
Key Feature – Upgraded Design
Glasstic was one of the main things we didn’t like about the S20 model, but Galaxy have managed to improve it a little with the matte effect on the back of the phone. And that’s really the only issue we have with this phone aesthetically.
The cameras are aligned neatly, rather than grouped together, which creates a sleeker feel. The two-toned Phantom colour schemes, violet, white, grey, and pink, seemingly make you decide between a dull business colour or a feminine shade. But actually, the two-toned effect and vividness of the display make this a non-issue. There’s no lack of colour here.
But more on the display later.
The physical construction of this phone feels sturdier than the S20 model. The slightly more compact size is strong, with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus over the display and an IP68 waterproof rating, which means it will survive a quick dunk underwater.
Key Feature – Video Specs
The camera is a huge draw on this phone for taking stills alone. Keep scrolling down to read about how the cameras work, including night mode, zoom and portrait. But one of the key features that’s hyped more on the S21 than other smartphones have in the past, is the 8K video feature.
If you’re a vlogger, you will instantly fall in love with the Samsung Galaxy S21.
You can film 8K at 24 frames per second or drop to 4K at 60 frames per second which gives you a little more scope. The ‘snap’ feature allows you to pull 33MP photos out of your footage afterwards too.
Finally, a feature that we thought was super fun (although perhaps not useful for the majority of people) is filming with both the front and rear cameras simultaneously, allowing you to film your reaction in real time.
Key Feature – HyperFast 5G
5G is no longer the add on that you need to pay extra for. From the S21 series onwards, there are no 4G-only options. All Galaxy phone models will be future-ready with super-fast 5G connectivity on every device… whether you need it or not.
Since smartphone companies first began releasing models with 5G compatibility, the 5G has been listed as a key feature. On every single one. But with Samsung making 5G the norm across their new S21 release, we hope to see 5G become less of a flashy new feature and more of a standard spec you can expect.
We also hope that with 5G becoming the norm, phones will be equipped with more powerful batteries. Just like the S20 and nearly every other 5G-enabled phone currently on the market, the 5G drains the battery like you wouldn’t believe. Perhaps by S22 we will see further improvement in this area.
Display and Screen Size
- Display: Dynamic AMOLED 2X
- Screen Size: 6.2 inches
- Resolution: 2400 x 1080
- Refresh Rate: 120Hz
The specs here are closer to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Fan Edition) rather than the standard S20. The FHD+ resolution and screen size are both downgrades, being a little smaller and a little lower in resolution.
But it’s bright and fresh. The 120Hz refresh rate makes it super sharp and even when you’re using the phone for simple day-to-day tasks, the display quality just feels better. It’s without-doubt one of the best features on this phone…. But of course, if you want to pay more, the S21+ has a slightly larger display and the S21 Ultra offers QHD+ resolution.
- Energy: 4000mAh
- Performance: unknown playback times
The battery specs are not the highest, but you can still get a day’s worth of use out of this phone before it needs charging. For most people, that’s fine. Just pop it on charge when you go to bed… if you have a charger.
Don’t expect to find one in the box.
Samsung have done away with chargers for the S21 series, in an attempt to reduce waste. So, if you don’t have a compatible charger, you will need to buy one. Either use the 25W fast-charging USB cable or the wireless charging – which also works in reverse, so you can charge your wireless headphones from your phone too.
Memory & Performance
- Processor: Exynos 2100 (or Snapdragon 888 in the US)
- Operating System: Android 11
- Storage: 128GB or 256GB
- RAM: 8GB
Performance is fast and snappy, even with 5G on and the Director’s View mode firing all cameras at once. We tested the Exynos 2100 processor but if you’re buying this phone in the United States, you’ll likely have the equally impressive Snapdragon 888 processor.
Combined with the 120Hz refresh rate, gaming on this phone is spectacular.
The only problem here is the storage. You’re limited to 256GB with no option to expand it with a MicroSD card. This is unlikely to affect everyday users, but the photography fanatic and full-time vlogger might find it a little too restrictive. The Galaxy S21 Ultra goes up to 512GB.Cameras
- Rear Camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8)
- Rear Camera: 12MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.2)
- Rear Camera: 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0)
- Front Camera: 10MP selfie camera (ƒ/2.2)
The biggest difference here between the S20 and the S21 is the telephoto camera, which is massively improved, and the 10MP front camera which is reduced from 12MP. All in all, they work brilliantly and if you want to harness your photography/videography skills, the Samsung Galaxy S21 (just like the S20) definitely won’t hold you back.
The bigger improvements (besides the 8K video feature discussed above) are to do with the software and photography modes. Night mode, portrait and panorama are all excellent, with the right zoom and scope to capture everything you need. Slow motion and single take features make photography much easier for fast moving objects – whether it’s the kids at sports day or just your cat going crazy in the kitchen.
How does it compare to the Galaxy S20 range?
There are some notable downgrades. The lack of expandable storage, standard FHD+ display resolution, and the return of glasstic on the back of the phone. But in terms of performance and style, the S21 is sprinting ahead. It’s actually quite impressive that they’ve managed to keep the price at an affordable level.
Conclusion – Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S21?
If you simply must have the latest, most stylish phone but don’t have a bottomless budget, this is a great option. It’s an all-round pleasing phone with a nice design and it is completely capable of doing anything an average every-day phone user needs. The only people who should think twice about buying this phone are those that already have the S20, who want to get more from the upgrade to the S21. For those people, we recommend reading our review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Jumping from the S20 to the S21 won’t feel like much of a leap otherwise.Click here to find and compare Samsung Galaxy S21 prices