Samsung earlier this year, the new flagship for 2021 presented . The Samsung Galaxy S21 is the successor to the Galaxy S20, which was released last year . We will work with the new device and tell you everything about this relatively affordable flagship. And for dessert, we also take the new Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with us.
With a suggested retail price of 849, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is about 150 euros cheaper than last year’s 5g version of the Galaxy S20. For this you have to make some concessions compared to the previous flagship. For example, the back is made of plastic, the resolution is slightly lower and you even have slightly less RAM than the previous model. Despite the fact that the device is slightly less richly equipped, this is not so bad in practice and you will hardly notice it. And you get a lot of novelties in return. The new flagship has a retail price of 849 euros and with that you seem to get a very decent device in return.
Samsung Galaxy S21 – specifications
We immediately look at the specifications of the entire series, so that you can immediately compare. Do you want more information about the differences between the three new smartphones in the Galaxy S21 series? Then read this article .
|Specifications||Galaxy S21||Galaxy S21+||Galaxy S21 Ultra|
|Display||6.2 inch, amoled||6.7 inches, amoled||6.8 inch, amoled|
|Resolution||2,400 x 1,080||2,400 x 1,080,||3,200 x 1,440|
|Processor||5nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor||5nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor||5nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor|
|Random access memory||8GB||8GB||12GB/16GB|
|Storage memory expandable||No||No||No|
|Battery||4,000mAh||4,800 mAh||5,000 mAh|
|Fingerprint sensor||In the screen||In the screen||In the screen|
|OS||Android 11||Android 11||Android 11|
|Main camera||12 megapixels (f/1.8)||12 megapixels (f/1.8)||108 megapixels (f/1.8)|
|Ultra wide angle lens||12 megapixels (f/2.2)||12 megapixels (f/2.2)||12 megapixels (f/2.2)|
|Zoom lens 1||64 megapixels (hybrid optical 3x, f/2.0)||64 megapixels (hybrid optical 3x, f/2.0)||10 megapixels (optical 3x, f/2.4)|
|Zoom lens 2||N/A||N/A||10 megapixels (optical 10x, f/4.9)|
|Front camera||10 megapixels||10 megapixels||40 megapixels|
|Other||30x Space Zoom, ip-68||30x Space Zoom, ip-68||100x Space Zoom, Laser AF, ip-68|
|Dimensions||71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9mm||75.6 x 161.5 x 7.8mm||75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm|
|Weight||171 grams||202 grams||229 grams|
|From price||849 euros||1,049 euros||1,249 euros|
The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch AMOLED screen in a resolution of 2,400 by 1,080 pixels. The screen refresh rate is 120Hz. On board we find the new Exynos processor, 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB or 256 GB of storage memory. The battery has a capacity of 4,000 mAh and surprisingly, no charger is included. So you have to take care of that yourself.
The fingerprint sensor is integrated into the screen. In terms of cameras, you have a main camera of twelve megapixels (f/1.8), an ultra-wide-angle lens of twelve megapixels (f/2.2) and a zoom lens of 64 megapixels with hybrid optical zoom of 3x (f/2.0) and 30x Space Zoom. At the front we find a selfie camera of ten megapixels. The device has an IP68 certificate and can therefore withstand a splash of water. You are also ready for the future, because this device supports 5g. Samsung promises no less than four years of updates for the new series.
Samsung Galaxy S21 – design
The first thing you notice when you hold the Galaxy S21 is the flat screen. No curved display this time, but just a flat screen without curves. Second, the camera module. This merges into the metal housing of the smartphone and looks high-quality. Samsung calls this the Contour Cut camera design. However, the back itself is plastic. You can’t see it immediately, but you can feel it. We started working with the purple version of the device. The purple device with copper accents also looks premium. At the bottom we find a USB-C connection. The on and off button can be found on the right side with the volume buttons above it. On the back we find the three cameras in the top left corner.
The 6.2-inch flat screen has a resolution of 2,400 by 1,080 pixels. The refresh rate is 120 Hz. That is, animations and scrolling are smoother than on a traditional 60 Hz screen. You can also choose which refresh rate you want to use here. The screen is quite dark with the automatic brightness and that is a minus. You can manually brighten the screen.
When it comes to the colors, we again see a typical screen from Samsung with full colors and a considerable saturation. The resolution is slightly lower than with the previous model, but you will notice little or nothing of that on a 6.2-inch display. Samsung uses a fine AMOLED screen in this device, which is not much to complain about.
A fingerprint sensor is also incorporated in the display. This works quickly and smoothly and it is good to see that significant steps have been made in this respect compared to the first generation of fingerprint sensors in the screen. It works as fast as a traditional fingerprint sensor on the outside of the case.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 directly supports 5G, so you are ready for the network of the future. You can place one SIM card and the storage memory is not expandable. However, all modern connectivity options are available such as Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi, NFC, GPS and USB-C and various sensors. There is no headphone jack. Ultra Wide Band of the other S21 devices is missing on this regular model.
A compliment goes out to the dual speakers of the device. Both at the top and at the bottom, the device is equipped with speakers that sound quite loud. The sound is clear, even at high volumes. Thanks to the high-quality dual speakers, you will be drawn into your favorite entertainment even more, whether that be movies and series or the latest games.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 4,000 mAh battery on board. Charging is possible with a maximum of 25 Watts, but you will have to arrange a charger yourself. According to the South Korean manufacturer, everyone has a charger at home and this way you save the environment. You will certainly get through the day with the battery in this device, that’s no problem. The promise of an ‘All Day Battery’ is certainly being made. It’s not a real outlier though. The two days will not save you with normal use. Still, you have nothing to complain about the battery, which is fine otherwise. Wireless charging is also possible.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 has three cameras in the metal housing on the back and a front camera in a small hole at the top of the display. The main camera has 12 megapixels with an f/1.8 aperture. The ultra-wide-angle lens also has twelve megapixels, but with an aperture of f/2.2. This is therefore slightly less bright than the main camera. The rear zoom lens has 64 megapixels with hybrid optical 3x, f/2.0 and Space Zoom. The Space Zoom is 30x digital zoom.
We are very enthusiastic about the cameras of the Galaxy S21, but there are still some teething problems. And since Samsung has already come up with updates several times during the test period to improve the camera performance, it is difficult to write about this and give an opinion. It is a ‘work in progress’. The problems should of course have been solved before the release and we can blame Samsung for that, but we know how complex a camera system and the associated software are. Every manufacturer has the same.
In general, the cameras perform excellently. The photos are displayed in a typical Samsung manner and properly edited by software. For example, the brightness always seems to increase slightly and colors are displayed much more saturated than reality. You must love this. A photo on a Samsung device never really corresponds to reality, but is made ‘better’. Photos are colorful, full of detail and generally very sharp. And you can effortlessly switch between the different cameras. Under the right circumstances, Samsung puts in a top performance in terms of the quality of the photos.
View the photos we took with the device below. The photos have been made smaller in size, but have not been edited.
Photos Samsung Galaxy S21
We are a little less satisfied with the autofocus at the moment. This is regularly wrong and you notice this especially with portraits with a background. If you take a portrait photo in front of a wall, the system has trouble distinguishing between the subject and the background. The camera system also has quite a bit of effort to better suppress the noise in low-light environments.
Where there is really a lot of room for improvement is the option for HDR and scene optimization. You can turn this on and off in the settings using a slider. We took several photos, but especially in cloudy weather you hardly see any difference between all settings. Even without HDR and scene optimization, it seems as if you are looking at a large Photoshop with very threatening clouds. This needs to be tackled with software.
The three cameras on the back make the Galaxy S21 a versatile camera system. You can take regular photos, wide-angle photos and zoom in on your subject. It must be said that 30x Space Zoom does not produce good photos. Up to 10x you still get pretty nice pictures. The Directors View is nice by the way. This allows you to see the images from all four cameras at the same time, so you can select which camera produces the best photo. This is also possible with video. You can film in full HD, 4k with 30 fps or 60 fps or even 8k, but with a maximum of 24 frames per second. The image stabilization has improved considerably in our opinion and the quality of the videos is therefore excellent.
Samsung Galaxy S21 – software
The device runs on Android 11 with the Samsung One UI shell. Samsung used to be known for the very busy and cluttered shell over the Android operating system. That is no longer the case today. In fact, One UI is one of the finest software shells at the moment. It is quiet and clear without having to compromise on anything. You’ll instantly find the function you’re looking for and the menus aren’t overly long with options you’ll never use anyway. The app drawer is activated by default and that just works the best.
With previous devices, Samsung always pushed its own software strongly forward. Then you couldn’t escape Bixby as a smart assistant. This time, the choice has been more for a general Android experience. If you swipe to the left on the home screen, you are no longer in the cluttered Bixby screen, but you just get the Google Discover Feed. And that’s very nice.
During the two-week test period, I got updates several times, so the current update policy is fine. The manufacturer also promises updates for the S21 series for four years . So you no longer have to buy a new smartphone every two years because there is no longer any support from the manufacturer.
Samsung Galaxy S21 – in use
The Samsung Galaxy S21 fits comfortably in the hand, especially due to the not super large 6.2, screen. The weight is also quite low at 171 grams. In combination with the plastic back, it may therefore feel somewhat cheap. The advantage of the plastic back is that your fingerprints are hardly visible. It’s different with glass. Under the housing, we are dealing here with a real top device and then you quickly forget the somewhat cheaper housing. The device is fast and all tasks run smoothly. Unlocking with the fingerprint sensor is also very good. Samsung One UI has also matured and is much less cluttered. The South Korean manufacturer’s own interpretation of Android 11 is therefore a pleasure to work with and the camera options make this model a versatile device. Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is the first new flagship of 2021 that we got our hands on, but sets a high standard that the rest has yet to match. The price of 849 euros for this device is very justifiable.
In Europe we again have to make do with Samsung’s own Exynos processor instead of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in the rest of the world. Samsung claims that this is the fastest Exynos processor ever. We don’t have the Snapdragon variant here in Europe and we can’t make the comparison. On paper, both chipsets seem to be very similar, but there are users who claim that the Snapdragon has the advantage when it comes to battery efficiency and photo quality. That is something to keep in mind, although the normal user will probably not notice it.
The Galaxy S21 can handle anything you want to do. Playing the latest games is no problem. Entertainment such as films and series come into its own on the AMOLED screen in combination with the double speakers. In terms of performance, the smartphone is fine.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Now that we have extensively reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S21, it is time for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. You can get this device for 400 euros more. Is that worth it?
We can be brief about that. For the ordinary user, the Ultra is not worth the extra 400 euros. The 6.8-inch curved amoled display has a higher resolution of 3,200 by 1,440 pixels. It really is a top screen, don’t let that cause any confusion. The working memory is also slightly larger with 12 GB or 16 GB, just like the maximum storage memory of 512 GB in the most expensive variant. The battery has a capacity of 5,000 mAh. The housing is also just a bit more premium with glass made of the strong Corning Gorilla Glass Victus.
Where the Ultra really sets itself apart is in the field of the cameras, but perhaps not as much as you might think. We took both devices along for a camera test and although the S21 Ultra has more sharpness thanks to the higher resolution of the main camera when you zoom in, details seem to be lost compared to the regular S21. If we look purely at the main camera and the wide-angle lens, there is little difference to be discovered. Only in extreme light conditions does the Ultra manage to deal with that just a little better.
However, the Ultra wins by far when it comes to zooms and at night. The Ultra is much better able to take better photos at a greater distance with both zoom lenses. Note that this is up to a maximum. If you compare at 30x zoom, then the Ultra wins by a street-length lead. The device even has 100x Space Zoom, but that is more of a gimmick. It does not provide usable images. The night mode also provides brighter colors and more detail with the Ultra.
We have to say that the Ultra beats the regular model on paper, but it is still far from perfect. During testing, we kept getting updates with improvements to the camera software. And that is also necessary. The portrait function is very often wrong and does not know how to filter the subject from the background. HDR on or off? You hardly see any difference because of the software that always manages to make a surreal image of it, especially in cloudy weather. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is potentially the best camera smartphone at the moment, but that is not yet the case. However, Samsung keeps coming with updates, making us pretty sure that all minor issues will be fixed.
Do you really want the most versatile camera smartphone of the moment and are you satisfied that the smartphone still needs further improvements? Then the Ultra is the device for you, especially due to the double zoom lenses and the better night mode. For the rest, there is little difference in practice in the field of photography. The slightly better display is a plus, but will not make a difference either. For the ordinary user, the regular model is therefore sufficient and it is not worth the 400 euros extra.
When purchasing one of the devices in the Galaxy S21 series, you have undoubtedly received a welcome gift via the Samsung website . For example, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra you received a Samsung Galaxy SmartTag and the Galaxy Buds Pro as a gift. These products are part of the Galaxy ecosystem and work best with your new Galaxy smartphone. We already know the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, but new products have also been launched.
The Galaxy Buds Pro (183 euros) are wireless earbuds with Active Noise Canceling that you can switch on or off with the push of a button. Ideal for your Zoom meetings today, but also for music or other forms of entertainment thanks to 360 Audio where you are the center of the action. In our opinion, the Galaxy Buds Pro are one of the best wireless ‘buds’ at the moment.
The Samsung Galaxy SmartTag (29.95 euros) can be used in different ways. You can use it as a ‘Tag’ for your house keys or your suitcase. Via Bluetooth and via the Galaxy Find Network you can find something both at short and long distances. You can also use the button to control devices in your smart home. It’s just a shame that the SmartTag only works within the Galaxy ecosystem and your Galaxy smartphone, because we also want to use this handy device elsewhere.
Samsung Galaxy S21 – conclusion
Although Samsung has taken a small step back on paper with less RAM, a lower resolution and a plastic back, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is really the device of the moment. For a price of 849 euros you will not easily find a better device. The performance is good, photo quality is top and the device is very pleasant to use. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the better device of the two, but is not worth the price difference of more than 400 euros. The cameras of the more expensive device are potentially better, but they are not yet fully utilized.
- Affordable Flagship
- Good cameras
- Fresh design
- Display and sound fine
- Handing in something compared to the S20
- Cameras still a bit inconsistent
- Ultra is not worth the price difference (yet)