In a turbulent year filled with component shortages and delayed product launches, Samsung once again stood at the top of the smartphone world. Remarkable development started with the introduction of the Galaxy S21 series in January, while the Galaxy Z Fold3, Z Flip3 and Tab S7 series arrived in August.
We also saw plenty of new Galaxy A and M series phones during the year as well as two new Galaxy Buds earphones and the excellent Watch4 series that marked the Korean manufacturer’s return to the WearOS family. We discovered some wrong twists among the many successful moves, so let’s summarize what Samsung did well in the last 12 months and what could have been better.
Galaxy Z Fold3 and Z Flip3 are simply the best attempts to fold phones to date. The improved construction, increased durability and IPX8 water resistance combined with their lower starting prices make them the standard foldable phones one can get. Plus they are the only ones available globally.
With its launch price of $ 1,000 / € 1,050 (down to $ 850 / € 810 on Black Friday), the Galaxy Z Flip 3 was also the most affordable folding phone to date, prompting consumers to reconsider whether to go for a standard bar-shaped flagship or choose a bleeding edge can be folded instead.
Two areas where Samsung’s two foldable needs need to be improved for next year are the cameras and battery life. Samsung has reused its dated 12 MP sensor on the Fold and even older and smaller imager on the Flip, and neither of the two devices got the much-desired periscope module. The duo may be its own tripod when folded in half, just making you wonder what if it had a more modern camera setup like the S21 Ultra on board.
The visible folds on both foldable screens are also areas where we would like to see improvements next year. Still, Samsung has maintained its lead over competitors in the foldable range, and we’m excited to see how the 2022 versions will update the experience.
Losers: Galaxy S21 and S21 +
The trend of purposefully paralyzing the vanilla and plus phones to make the Ultra model shine has been going on for years now, and we’ve had enough of it. Of course, Samsung is not the only smartphone brand to do this, but we would like to see more parity between the upcoming S22 series.
Using plastic backsides on your smaller phones instead of glass, choosing non-LTPO panels and still omitting a periscope camera just so you go for Ultra does not fit well in our book. The Galaxy S21 and S21 + were good phones in themselves, but left a lot to be desired when stacked up to competitors that are catching up and even offering more in terms of features.
It is also worth noting that as compact as the S21 looks compared to the S21 Ultra, it is still not a small phone and we would like to see a real small flagship from Samsung that we have not encountered on the Galaxy S10e page days.
Winners: Galaxy A and M Series
The Galaxy A and M series continued to be the main drivers of sales for Samsung’s smartphone division. Samsung is still one of the most recognizable brands in the world and produces phones for pretty much any use and budget.
There seems to be something for everyone ranging from barebones models like the Galaxy A03 Core to upper middle ranges like the Galaxy A52s 5G and battery endurance champions like the Galaxy M62.
Samsung’s portfolio includes both proprietary models as well as ODM-produced ones, and it looks like the A- and M-Series will continue to drive Samsung phone sales up over the next 12 months.
Loser: Galaxy Note series
2021 will go down as the year we lost the announced Galaxy Note series. You could argue that the Note legacy lives on with the S21 Ultra and Z Fold3, but neither of these two devices can store their S-pens in the body of the device. Foldable devices try to stand up to a large screen without compromising on stylus-swinging phone, but the aforementioned camera limitations and lack of S Pen holster mean it is not quite the same.
Samsung decided to skip renewing its Galaxy Note trademark rights, further implying that there is no plan for successors in the line that started the big phone trend and invented the “phablet” term. Hopefully Samsung manages to squeeze an S Pen inside the Z Fold4.
Winner: Galaxy Tab S7 +
A 12.4-inch AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, thin frames and powerful AKG quad speakers. Flagship Qualcomm chipset, Samsung DeX wireless functionality, S Pen support and a solid battery. What more could you want from a tablet?
Galaxy Tab S7 + was without a doubt the best tablet in 2021, which experienced a revival in the market for Android slates with people working and studying from home. Samsung was one of the few companies that previously stuck to making Android tablets, and the Tab S7 + is the culmination of these efforts.
Loser: Charging speeds
Would you like a top-class Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra? You will have to settle for 25W charging speeds. How about a Galaxy Z Fold3? 25W wired charging here too. Samsung has made no tangible effort in the “charging speed wars”, while competitors like Xiaomi, Huawei, vivo and ZTE have phones that come with 100-120W chargers.
In our opinion, 25W is not to be considered as fast charging in 2021. Even budget phones like Redmi Note 11 Pro + offer 120W charging and it is time for Samsung to jump on board and hover over the 25W charging barrier.
Winner: Galaxy Watch4 Series
This year’s Galaxy Watch4 series were some of the first smartwatches to come out of the box with Google’s Wear OS 3, giving us a taste of Google’s revitalized smartwatch operating system and comprehensive app ecosystem. They still offered first-class build quality, excellent sports tracking including a BMI sensor, ECG monitor, blood pressure, SpO2 and VO2 Max readings.
The Watch4 Classic model brought back the rotating dial, which is still one of the best ways to control a smartwatch, retaining the built-in LTE support and a speakerphone for calls. In our own review of the Galaxy Watch4, we noted that the Watch4 series are the best smartwatches for the Android crowd and can only compete with Apple and its Watch and iPhone ecosystem.