Samsung Galaxy S21 review | Tom's Guide

Samsung Galaxy S21: Specs

OS: Android Eleven with One UI 3
Screen measurement: 6.2 inches (2400 x 1080)
Refresh price: 48-120Hz
Processor: Snapdragon 888
Storage: 128GB, 256GB
microSD: none
Rear cameras: 12MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2), 64MP telephoto (f/2.0) with 3x hybrid zoom/30x virtual
Video: Up to 8K at 24 fps
Front cameras: 10MP
Battery: 4,000 mAh
Battery existence: Nine hours and 53 mins (60hz), 6 hours and 31 minutes (adaptive)
Charging: 25W (charger not included)
Colors: Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom White, Phantom Gray
Size: 5.Ninety seven x 2.8 x 0.31 inches
Weight: 5.95 oz

For years, the Galaxy S sequence were do-everything, have-everything flagship telephones. But with the Galaxy S21, Samsung has determined to remove almost as much as it’s upgraded. What could be a recipe for failure has if truth be told yielded a very good Android smartphone that’s $200 less expensive than the Galaxy S20

With its 6.2-inch demonstrate, trio of rear cameras, and the similar 4,000 mAh battery, the Galaxy S21 isn’t a lot of an improve over its predecessor. Sure, it comes with a brand new digital camera module and color schemes, as well as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888. But the Galaxy S21 seems to be very much an iterative improve; the large adjustments come within the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra this time around. 

Yet there's a lot more to this take-away story. Keep studying our Samsung Galaxy S21 review to determine why eliminating stuff has labored out slightly well for Samsung’s new flagship phone.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Release date and price

You should purchase the Samsung Galaxy S21 at the moment, either by itself or by way of a service contract. 

In the U.S., for a starting worth of $799 you can get the Galaxy S21 with 128GB of garage, however fork out an extra $50 and you'll get the 256GB style for $849. That’s $2 hundred less expensive than the Galaxy S20 cost a yr in the past — quite the saving. 

In the U.K. the Samsung Galaxy S21 starts at £769 for the 128GB type, with double the storage surroundings you again £819. The 5G Galaxy S20 came in at £899, so the S21 is £One hundred thirty inexpensive.   

Just be mindful, there’s only a USB-C cable within the box, so you’ll need to pay out for a charger for those who don’t have one already. And the S21 handiest comes with 8GB of RAM, and not using a approach to get the 12GB of the Galaxy S20, except you go for the significantly dearer Galaxy S21 Ultra. 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 undercuts its most obvious rival the iPhone 12, which costs $879 for a handset with 128GB. (The $799 iPhone 12 simplest provides 64GB of storage.) But the S21 is dearer than the $699 Google Pixel 5, which is just a little missing in raw specifications but provides a fantastic digicam. Ironically, Samsung Galaxy S20 FE can be a risk to the Galaxy S21 because it provides a 120Hz display, a still powerful Snapdragon 865, and a trio of cast rear cameras for $699. The S20 FE isn’t as complicated because the S21, but it surely still has plenty a sub flagship price.

And do take into accout that the Samsung Galaxy S22 is at the horizon, tipped for a February expose this a long way. So if you are not in a hurry to get a new Samsung telephone, it can be worth waiting for the Galaxy S22 given we are have excessive hopes for its rumored upgrades. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Design

From the entrance, the Galaxy S21 seems to be alot just like the Galaxy S20, with its 6.2-inch exhibit complete with a neat punch-hole selfie digital camera within the most sensible heart of the display screen. Look closer and you’ll see the S21 has dropped its predecessor's curved demonstrate and opted for flat edges.

This would possibly sound like a downgrade, given the new telephone does not look quiet as sleek, however I’m nice with it. I believe curved screens on Android telephones with presentations below 6.Five inches have a tendency to be a little slippery to carry, especially as you can most commonly use them one-handed; huge handsets generally tend to really feel a little bit more comfortable with curved edges while you’re acting finger gymnastics to achieve apps on the demonstrate’s far aspect.

The flat edges on the Samsung Galaxy S21 lead to the steel edges flowing to the new “Contour Cut” camera design, the place the rear camera module turns out to mix into the S21’s left-hand edge, as well as the again.

Speaking of which, the steel provides technique to what’s arguably the Samsung Galaxy S21’s largest change: a plastic again. Samsung calls it polycarbonate however it's basically fancy plastic, whereas the S20 uses glass.

Opting for a plastic back is most probably the largest explanation why Samsung can offer the Galaxy S21 at its inexpensive value. And whilst the loss of a pitcher again may appear odd for a flagship telephone, I was pleasantly shocked to search out that it didn’t really feel cheap. Not simplest do I think it feels a little bit nicer than the polycarbonate at the S20 FE’s rear, it additionally has a extra tactile end than the glass-backed Galaxy S series, making it really feel much less likely to escape your grip or suck up fingerprints. Personally, I’m glad to pocket the financial savings if this is helping stay prices down.

And the Phantom Violet S21 I had to review seems fantastic, despite the fact that the name sounds slightly daft. The violet panel has a pleasantly comfortable hue, while the faint copper colour of the camera bump and edges give the S21 a pseudo unfashionable sci-fi glance; think Star Trek meets Art Deco.

Three different color options — Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, Phantom White — are to be had but I've but to look them in the metal and plastic.

Measuring 6 x 2.Eight x 0.31 inches and weighing 6.07 ounces, the Galaxy S21 is a little bit smaller yet somewhat heavier than the Galaxy S20 (5.9 x Three x 0.31, 5.7 ounces). But I feel it is the very best size and weight for one-hand use; sufficiently small for my thumb to achieve two-thirds of the reveal, but large enough to sit down and watch hours of videos on. 

The Galaxy S21’s in-display ultrasonic fingerprint reader could also be extra responsive thanks to the use of Qualcomm’s new scanner, which is 1.7x larger and 50% faster than the previous technology. I found the S21 rarely rejected a hasty faucet from my thumb, which does wonders for my quick-temper.

What’s no longer ideally suited is the Galaxy S21 dropped the microSD card slot its predecessors have sported for some time. I’m no longer positive why Samsung did this, as there’s no obvious limitations of area inside the Galaxy S21, nor would I be expecting its elimination to modify production prices by way of a lot. Perhaps it's a technique for Samsung to inspire folks to shop for the 265GB model, though with such a lot of loose cloud storage services and products, I’m ultimately not too fussed in regards to the loss of expandable garage.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Display

Samsung has each downgraded and upgraded the Galaxy S21’s 6.2-inch AMOLED reveal from what the S20 up to now featured. You not have to make a choice from a full HD+ resolution operating at 120Hz or a QHD working at 60Hz, like you did with the Galaxy S20, but that’s for the reason that S21 tops out at 1080p solution.

While that’s extra restrictive, I believe it removes complexity. You can pass and set the demonstrate to stick to 60Hz, if you wish to eek out as much battery life as possible, otherwise you just love a bit of of judder when scrolling via internet pages. But then you’d be given up a dynamic refresh fee, which allows the S21 to drop its refresh fee from 120Hz to 48Hz depending at the job at hand. It’s now not an improve you’ll essentially realize when you’re no longer scrolling, however it is a smart one that quietly makes the S21 extra relaxing to make use of. 

Testing its “natural” display screen surroundings, the Galaxy S21 exhibit delivers 109.2% sRGB and 77.4% DCI-P3 color gamut protection, and a Delta-E of 0.29. Those are just right rankings, though the iPhone 12 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra beat the S21 with regards to protection and color accuracy. 

However, in sensible use the Galaxy S21’s exhibit is implausible. Stick it in “Vivid” mode and also you’ll see tons of contrast and colour, despite the fact that the latter errs on the side of oversaturation. The exhibit is superb for looking at videos and movies, ogling Instagram pics, and taking part in games on. Samsung has lengthy had very good presentations on its Galaxy S phones, and the S21 isn't any exception.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Cameras

Hardware-wise, the Galaxy S21 cameras are exactly the similar because the Galaxy S20. The triple digicam array accommodates a prime 12MP wide-angle lens, a 12MP ultra-wide lens and a 64MP telephoto lens with 3x hybrid optic zoom and 30x space zoom.

But Samsung is pulling a Google and leaning hard on software and computational photography upgrades to enhance the trio of rear cameras. And for essentially the most part, the Galaxy S21 achieves this. 

Let’s start with the standard picture mode. Take a have a look at the photograph under; with multiple colors and sun shades to take care of, plus the sunshine coming in from the left, it items a smartphone digital camera workout. 

The Galaxy S21’s photo is flush with colour and element, despite the fact that like Galaxy telephones up to now, the colors are in all probability a bit of extra saturated than the ones of the Google Pixel Five I used for comparability. The Pixel Five delivers a warmer tone and extra true-to-life colors, with higher dynamic vary.

However zooming in, the S21 selections out some finer details, most probably due to its telephoto camera, with the grill on the fashion Aston Martin DB5 and the numbers at the Vox headphone amp clearer than within the Pixel 5’s picture. 

It’s value noting I switched off the Scene Optimizer function, which uses AI to identify what’s in-frame and regulate the digital camera accordingly to get the best shot. In apply, I believe this may end up in some over-processing. 

Outdoors in herbal mild and the S21‘s primary digital camera does a tremendous activity. While it used to be infrequently a great images situation, within the shot below, the Galaxy S21 alternatives out extra element than the Pixel 5 in the tower structures at the proper and London's Canary Wharf in the background. However, the Pixel Five offers more dynamic vary and hues which might be more true to life. 

Speaking of which, things get somewhat complicated in lower-light scenarios or environments lit by means of synthetic mild. I found the Pixel Five used to be higher at edge detection and resolving detail in low gentle areas, while the S21 on occasion throws up smudged and over-smoothed results. 

You really have to head on the lookout for this although, and I believe it is right down to the Galaxy S21 ramping up the ISO and introducing more noise into darker sections of a shot as a result. I suspect this might be some teething problems with the AI processing being applied to low-light areas, something which Samsung could repair with a software update. 

Poor gentle does not assist the portrait mode either. Thanks to social distancing laws in the U.Okay. I needed to snap a pic of my good friend Claire on her doorstep as the sun went down; this supposed there was the challenge of coping with low gentle on one aspect and a porch light on the other. 

The Pixel Five copes admirably, handing over more natural pores and skin tones and choosing out main points in the highlights and the shadows. But S21 struggles slightly, washing out and over-smoothing Claire’s face. And it fails to pick out a lot detail in her hair especially on the left-hand facet. 

Non-portrait S21 footage fare higher, so I think the portrait mode’s algorithm is suffering to pick out what’s within the foreground and what will have to be blurred out; one thing the Pixel Five is particularly good at. 

In better gentle prerequisites, the portrait mode is far better for both the rear and 10MP front-facing digital camera; check out the photo underneath of Tom’s Guide's Mark Spoonauer for instance.

And capturing items slightly than faces sees the Galaxy S21 deliver a pleasing portrait picture.

The Galaxy S21 doesn't deliver the sharpest of portrait mode cutouts like the Pixel 5, as Samsung opts for a more sluggish blur impact. I choose the readability of Google’s handset but the S21 still gets some nice effects. 

Switch over to the S21 night mode, and the low-light problems are swept away. In the shot underneath, the S21 delivers a bright symbol that is more detailed (notably in side road lighting) than the Pixel 5. With more cameras to make use of for shooting mild and element, the S21 shows up the limitations of the Pixel 5’s dual rear cameras. 

I prefer the colours the Pixel Five gives, although. And the S21 turns out to apply a excellent amount of sprucing to its night time shots. Night mode may also be used across all 3 of the Galaxy S21’s cameras. 

Ultra-wide angle pictures are expensive on the Galaxy S21, but once you zoom in  issues come aside. While it captures a wider view than the Pixel 5, punching into a shot unearths hazy main points, whereas Google’s phone is far clearer. You’ll must weigh up whether or not a loss of wonderful detail is worth a more expensive photo. 

It’s with the telephoto digicam’s 20x and 30x “Space Zoom” where the S21’s real digicam upgrades come into play. Notably, the brand new Zoom Lock characteristic, which makes use of AI to identify the topic and stable the shot.

This works relatively smartly and you'll get pictures which might be surprisingly transparent for such extreme zooms, although you've somewhat shaky fingers. Then the processing afterward cleans up the picture and leads to a zoomed shot that’s no longer a muddy mess. 

Using Space Zoom I may get a quite transparent pic of a small mint tin on my window nonetheless from the opposite side of the room. I’m no longer sure how practical it's for every-day smartphone photography, but it’s an outstanding showcase for AI tech. 

On the video entrance, the Galaxy S21 covers a large number of bases. Like the Galaxy S20 it offers as much as 8K seize at 24 fps, which its overkill for most, nevertheless it lets you snap high quality pictures whilst recording very high answer movies. Other high-end options include 1080p video recording at 120 fps, which makes them super-smooth. Speaking of delicate, the Super Steady mode, which uses AI to catch up on shaky recording, will works on 1080p 60 fps video capture. 

Another spotlight is the new Director's View when you find yourself capturing video. You can shoot the use of the entrance and rear cameras at the same time, in addition to view reside thumbnails from the multiple cameras. This makes it easier to modify to the most efficient shot for your video. It works quite well and is much less of a gimmick than I first idea. 

The portrait video, which is basically a renaming of reside center of attention video, could also be somewhat slick, handing over pictures where the themes are in center of attention whilst the background is blurred. If you move around so much you'll be able to see the S21 running its algorithms, which leads to every so often over smoothing details on faces. 

Other digicam upgrades come with an advanced Single Take characteristic that takes a host of stills and pictures with a unmarried tap. Single Take now delivers Highlight Video and Dynamic Slow-Mo clips.

All the above taken into account, the Galaxy S21 delivers an upgrade over the Galaxy S20. I don’t think it has what it takes to knock the iPhone 12 Pro Max off our best phone cameras listing and the iPhone 12 may just still have it beat, But the S21 trades blows with the Pixel 5, and beats Google's phone in a lot of spaces. Potential for additional refinement on the AI and computational photography facet via Samsung leaves a variety of scope for the S21s digital camera to recuperate over time.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Performance

In the U.S, the Galaxy S21 comes with the newest Snapdragon 888 chip, which promises 20% higher CPU performance, 35% extra GPU pace, as well as boosted AI performance. Even even though there is not any 12GB of RAM possibility, the S21 does lots with its 8GB, and I did not stumble upon any slowdown in my checking out. 

Speaking of which, hanging the Snapdragon 888-equipped S21 thru a chain of benchmarks, noticed the chip deliver a multi-core ranking of three,302 in Geekbench 5. That’s slower than the iPhone 12, which raked in a ranking of 3,859. But the S21, unsurprisingly, outpaces numerous different Android telephones with the older Snapdragon 865.

As for the graphics efficiency, the S21 crowned out at 33 frames in keeping with second in 3-DMark’s Wild Life graphics benchmark. It’s crushed by means of the iPhone 12’s 39 fps, however is forward of different flagship Android phones. In practical use, though, the S21 chews through games. 

Both Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9 Legends ran smoothly at max settings, with the 120Hz refresh fee additional including to the smoothness. It’s value noting that whilst we tested the Snapdragon 888 Galaxy S21, I used to be the usage of a handset with the Exynos 2100. 

Built on a 5-nanometre process node like the Snapdragon 888, the Exynos 2100 is meant to deliver 20% improvement in power potency and a ten% development in performance over the last-gen 7nm Exynos 990. Throwing the S2100 at Geekbench 5, it got a ranking of three,391 so is on par with the Snapdragon chip, which is pleasing as Exynos chips have previously lagged at the back of. 

With those games open and a load of different apps working at the similar time, I didn’t notice any slowdown or loss of responsiveness from the S21, though its back got a little bit warm.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Battery existence and charging

Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S21 comes with a 4,000 mAh battery. That’s nice for a telephone of its dimension, regardless that it is a pity Samsung did not up the capability a little. Still the adaptive refresh fee and improved chip efficiency should deliver better battery lifestyles. 

Set at the 60hz refresh rate, the Galaxy S21 controlled 9 hours and 53 mins in Tom's Guide battery check, which involves continuous web surfing at one hundred fifty nits of display screen brightness over 5G.

That’s not long enough to make our best phone battery life listing, but it surely beats the Eight hours and 25 minutes of the iPhone 12. And it almost about outlasts the Galaxy S20 with its Nine hours and 31 minutes, so the brand new silicon seems to be enjoying its section. 

Left in its default "Adaptive" mode, which dynamically adjusts the show's refresh fee, the Galaxy S21 lasted 6 hours and 31 mins. That's not superb, but it is some distance from dangerous when you get a vibrant demonstrate with a 120Hz refresh rate. 

Furthermore, the AI smarts in the S21 must learn about my phone use through the years and better optimize battery consumption, however that’s not going to be one thing that occurs over evening. 

Charging is where issues get a bit messy. Fast charging is on be offering over the USB-C PD standard, juicing up the battery to 55% in half-hour in our checking out. The problem is, you wish to have to be sure to have a charging brick to hand, as Samsung only puts the USB-C cable in the field. If you don’t have a charger then Samsung will promote you a 25W charger. 

Samsung made a giant track and dance about this resolution being environmentally pleasant; after all, it saves Samsung money too. Ultimately, I think this is the proper transfer, regardless of the motivation. Helping minimize down on electronic waste is price the additional expense and minor inconvenience it would purpose some S21 consumers who aren’t flush with phone chargers.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: One UI Three and device

While I’ve used Samsung telephones for years, I’m not the largest fan of the person interface it drops on Android. But with the creation of One UI in 2018, I’ve been slowly warming to Galaxy sequence take on Google’s cellular working gadget. One UI 3 featured on the Galaxy S21 (and now older Samsung models that experience upgraded to Android 11) builds upon this goodwill.

The interface is more chic, whole with a redesigned Quick Panel and a notifications screen that feels much less cluttered. I particularly admire the redesigned lock display widgets as well as the power to put widgets at the display and regulate their transparency.

One UI Three still comes with numerous options to tweak your Galaxy revel in, which some will love. But it can get a bit of overwhelming now and then when you simply wish to to find one explicit surroundings. 

And my phrase, do I dislike the principle apps drawer of the One UI. Despite its third iteration, the apps are arranged n a reputedly random approach which if you’re transferring from one app-heavy phone to every other can make finding the apps you wish to have to set up your homescreen a minor nightmare. Compared to the elegance of the app drawer in stock Android, Samsung’s is a multitude. 

I understand Samsung would love me to use its services and products, however such a lot of other Android phones default to Google features, comparable to auto-fill for passwords. But One UI Three tries to power me to use Samsung Pass and my Samsung account, which satirically I often disregard the password for. It’s nice once you get setup, but it may be frustrating to make use of till you adapt to it. There’s nonetheless unquestionably room for Samsung to give a boost to right here. 

Nevertheless, One UI Three is healthier that previous version. And it’s useful to understand that it comes with a lot of tough equipment this type of Samsung DeX, which allows for the Galaxy S21, and other suitable Galaxy devices, to be hooked up to an exterior observe to show the telephone into a pseudo Chrome OS revel in.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: What in regards to the Galaxy S21 FE?

As the 12 months goes on, the next giant query is: what concerning the Galaxy S21 FE? The rumored successor to the S20 FE supposedly goals to supply what the Galaxy S21 offers for less. Considering the already low beginning value of the S21, we're skeptical as to the need for an S21 FE, however Samsung is intent on creating a convoluted, messy portfolio.

The Galaxy S21 FE is not showed but and it could be a couple of extra months earlier than it launches. Its purported lifestyles does not alternate our opinion on the Galaxy S21 as we've got stated here. You can without end wait for the next large factor and we do not expect the Galaxy S21 FE to supply anything else better than what you get with the S21.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Should you purchase now?

If you might have an older telephone such because the Galaxy S10, Google Pixel 4 or OnePlus 7T, then yes an improve to the Galaxy S21 is no doubt value it. If you could have a newer phone like the Galaxy S20 or Google Pixel 5, then you could be waiting. 

That's as a result of we've a number of new telephones that are to be had now, or are coming quickly. Chief among the former is the iPhone 13. But if you're an Android fan, the Google Pixel 6 is right across the corner. Furthermore, it’s having a look most likely we’ll see the debut of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, which is poised to provide a more affordable but very succesful take on the Galaxy S21. This late into the year, although, it might be perfect to attend until the Galaxy S22 early in 2022. With Black Friday coming on, on the other hand, you could possibly score a Galaxy S21 for inexpensive.

Having mentioned all that, when you’re determined to improve then you can't really cross fallacious with the Galaxy S21 as it’s nonetheless an excellent phone that can be discovered for less expensive nowadays, especially if you happen to shop round. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Android 12 update

Samsung launched One UI 4 for the Galaxy S21 in mid-November 2021. This replace brings Android 12, which offers several key improvements to the UI and privacy components. You can now make a selection your gadget accessory color with the Color Palette, or get admission to the privateness dashboard to peer which apps are using your mic, camera, and site.

While Samsung has modified something from what you'll to find on a Pixel phone, you can learn our Android 12 review to be informed more about what you'll be able to expect with the replace.

Samsung Galaxy S21 review: Verdict

With Samsung taking out as much from this telephone because it provides, I used to be ready to be let down via the Galaxy S21. But I needn’t have anxious. 

Sure, a plastic back isn’t excellent on a flagship telephone but I quickly got used to the polycarbonate, and the full design of the Galaxy S21 is beautiful, in addition to simpler than the S20. The lack of any hardware upgrades for the cameras was once just a little disappointing, however then they still produce flagship-grade effects and feature an enormous amount of features and gear to actually dig into. 

I'd have favored to have seen Samsung push the hardware envelope for the Galaxy S21, however that’s the area of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. By making what I feel used to be the right selection when it got here to taking out features, the Galaxy S21 nonetheless provides the newest flagship chips, an incredible show and robust cameras in a sophisticated smartphone at a aggressive price; one that are meant to worry the iPhone 12. 

The most effective fly in the ointment, is the Galaxy S20. If you have already got an S20 then I don’t assume you’ll have the benefit of an upgrade. I think Samsung is aware of this and the S21 is extra for other people with older Galaxy telephones or looking to move to their next phone. If you're in this sort of position, then I in point of fact suggest you consider the Galaxy S21 as you gained’t be upset.

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