Samsung Galaxy S21 5G review

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Unpacking 2021 with a bang, we have the Samsung Galaxy S21 for you today. Samsung has rearranged its annual release schedule to pull its high-end S-Series unveiling to January, and could there be a better way to start the year?

We said ‘bang’, but it’s hardly the most thundering of them – out of the trio of Galaxy S21 phones announced, we’ve now present you the smallest, vanilla. We also have Ultra in the office, but you’ll have to wait a little longer for that – no event starts with a headliner anyway.

For the second year in a row, Samsung is unveiling three phones as part of the spring flagship list (though it’s very wintery this time around, at least where we are). And just like last time, there is a very clear distinction between the ultimate uncompromising Ultra and the two more restrained and down-to-earth ‘regular’ S phones. If anything, the gap has even widened.

The examples are many, some of them more significant than others. Take e.g. The screens. Unlike last year, when all three phones had 1440p resolution panels, it is now only Ultra that gets the higher resolution, the ‘mainstream’ S21s stand at 1080p. All three screens were curved in 2020, now it’s just Ultra. All three S20s had the same implementation with high refresh rate, now Ultra gets one more advanced Adaptive mode than the other two.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G review

What about the cameras? The S20 Ultra had a much superior setup than the other two, no matter what problems it may have had in realizing the full potential of all its impressive hardware. Well, the S21 Ultra builds on top of that and comes with further enhanced internals in the imaging department. S21 and S21 + meanwhile recycle last year’s bits. Hmm.

But there is more. In the case of the little Galaxy S21 we have here, one last blow hurts the most – it has a plastic left. It’s hardly the end of the world, and we’ll continue to rationalize how it’s actually a good thing on the next page. But it underscores the further differentiation between the one true flagship and the others that stand beneath it. And then further down under it.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G review

After all, some genes are shared by everyone in the family. The chipset is the same on all three (still different from region to region, but it’s a completely different topic), all have second generation ultrasonic fingerprint reader from Qualcomm as well as stereo speakers and IP68 rating for dust and water resistance. And no, none of them have a microSD slot, one was most surprising.

Overview of Samsung Galaxy S21 5G:

  • Body: 151.7×71.2×7.9mm, 169g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), plastic back, aluminum frame; IP68 dust / water repellent (up to 1.5 m in 30 minutes).
  • Screen: 6.20 “Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10 +, 1300 nit (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 & 4x 0.80 GHz Kryo 680; Adreno 660 GPU.
  • Memory: 128 GB 8 GB RAM, 256 GB 8 GB RAM; UFS 3.1.
  • OS / software: Android 11, a user interface 3.1.
  • Rear camera: Wide (head): 12 MP, f / 1.8, 26 mm, 1 / 1.76 “, 1.8 ,m, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f / 2.2, 13 mm, 120 °, 1 / 2.55 “1.4 ,m, super stable video; Tele: 64 MP, f / 2.0, 29 mm, 1 / 1.72 “, 0.8 ,m, PDAF, OIS, 1.1x optical zoom, 3x hybrid zoom.
  • Front camera: 10 MP, f / 2.2, 26 mm, 1 / 3.24 “, 1.22 µm, Dual Pixel PDAF.
  • Video recording: Rear camera: 8K @ 24fps, 4K @ 30 / 60fps, 1080p @ 30/60 / 240fps, 720p @ 960fps, HDR10 +, stereo sound recording, gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K @ 30/60 fps, 1080p @ 30 fps.
  • Battery: 4000mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, fast Qi / PMA wireless charging 15W, reverse wireless charging 4.5W.
  • Various: Fingerprint reader (during display, ultrasound); NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; depending on market / operator); Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified), ANT +, Bixby natural language commands and dictation.

Samsung Galaxy S21 unboxing

Here it is, high-end Galaxies’ new and improved (read ‘less’) retail box. Following in Apple’s footsteps, Samsung has chosen to remove the charger and headphones from the retail package, resulting in a more compact box.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G review

Yes, yes, you should already have chargers at home, so if you do not include one with every phone, it can help reduce waste, plus the reduced shipping volume will lower the CO2 footprint along the logistics chain. It is a noble concept, although somehow it may not feel like the most important driving factor in saving the environment.

That said, on the S21 keynote, Samsung mentioned that adapters will now be sold at a reduced price and this seems like a step in the right direction.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G review

At least what you is to get in the box is the phone itself and a USB-C-to-C cable. That kind of means you need to have a moderately modern USB PowerDelivery charger lying around or a USB-A-to-C cable if you intend to use an adapter that does not have a Type C output.

As it emerged around the iPhone 12 launch days, local rules in France specifically require that all phones sold in the country come with a headset. So S21s in France actually come with the usual set of AKG brand earphones we are used to from Galaxies in recent years. Still no charger.

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