The Galaxy S21 series is the first major Android innovation in 2021. Can Samsung set new standards for 2021? And how does the normal Galaxy S21 differ from the larger models? The Galaxy S21 runs with the same fast Exynos processor as the top model S21 Ultra, comes up with modern 5G technology and takes amazingly good zoom shots even without optical telephoto, albeit only at lower magnification levels. However, the battery life is disappointingly short. The fact that the back is made of plastic is less of a problem than expected. The matte surface doesn't look cheap!
Samsung Galaxy S21 Review
The S21 series comes in three versions. The top model Galaxy S21 Ultra impressed in the test, among other things with the great zoom camera and a bright screen. But how good are the slightly cheaper models S21 and S21 Plus, the successors to the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus? This is shown by the extensive laboratory test. All information and results here.
The Galaxy S21 series comes in three versions in different sizes:
- Galaxy S21 (6.2 inch screen)
- Galaxy S21 Plus (6.7 inches)
- Galaxy S21 Ultra (6.8 inches)
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is in a league of its own. The smaller models, the normal Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus, are technically very similar. The most important difference is the size: the Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch screen, making it one of the handiest Android smartphones alongside the predecessor S20 and the Google Pixel 4acurrently. At 6.7 inches, the Galaxy S21 Plus is almost as big as the S21 Ultra for anyone who uses their smartphone for videos or mobile office applications or who simply appreciate the larger display, the Plus model is definitely recommended.
From the outside, it is noticeable: The design of both models is quite classic, the displays lack the previously common curvature on the sides. Among other things, this has the practical advantage that you can apply new protective films yourself later. A protective film is already applied at the factory. Important: Only use protective films that are expressly suitable for the S21. Because many protective films block the fingerprint sensor hidden in the display. A design decision, however, will not please all interested parties: Like the slightly slimmed-down Galaxy S20, the Galaxy S21 has FEa back made of plastic, the S21 Plus like the Ultra a case made of Gorilla Glass 7.
The test showed that the matte plastic back was more sensitive to scratches than the glass of the larger models in the test, but it looks good. Because the glass back of the S21 Plus also has a matt surface, the visual difference is hardly noticeable. Another difference is more important: Also because of the plastic housing, the Galaxy S21 is much lighter than the Plus: 169 instead of 200 grams.
120 Hertz display with less sharpness
Thanks to OLED technology, the screens still offer enormous contrasts and bright colors. If you prefer more natural colors, choose "natural" instead of "vivid" under Settings / Display / Screen mode. All S21 models are among the smartphones with the brightest displays. The Galaxy S21 achieves 1,140 candelas per square meter / cdm2 (instead of 1,116 for the S20), the Galaxy S21 Plus 1,187 cd / m2 (instead of 1,072 for the S20 Plus), the S21 Ultra goes a step further with 1,321 candelas. The two "cheaper" models S21 and S21 Plus only offer Full HD+ (2400x1080 pixels) as a resolution instead of QHD+ (3200x1440 pixels).
Whether that's why Samsung uses the Full HD resolution in its new entry-level devices such as the Galaxy A32 5Ghas deleted? To be fair, one has to say: The sharpness is still completely sufficient at 421 ppi (S21) and 394 ppi (S21 Plus). No real blurring can be seen in everyday life. But a look at the history of the Galaxy S series shows that the Galaxy S4 from 2013 had a sharper screen (441 ppi) than the Galaxy S21 Plus at least that's irritating.
So if you want it really crisp, you have to use the Galaxy S20 Ultra (3200x1440 pixels, 515 ppi). The Galaxy S21 series comes with an automatic adaptive control of the screen frequency: The devices only reach the maximum frequency of 120 Hertz when the screen content is moving or when the screen is scrolling quickly. When the image is still, the S21 and S21 Plus control down to 60 Hz, the S21 Ultra even down to 10 Hz.
As with the S20, all models come with the option of an increased refresh rate of 120 Hertz for smooth scrolling. An ingenious trick to curb the power hunger of 120 Hertz technology at least a little: The OLED adjusts the refresh rate adaptively as required. With the S21 and S21 Plus models, the frequency varies between 48 and 120 Hertz, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra it even varies between 10 and 120 Hertz. This is to prevent the 120 Hz display from working as a battery killer. If desired, however, a pure 60-Hertz operation can also be set, which teases out a little more battery life from the phone.
Galaxy S21 camera: the crux with the zoom
The camera equipment (main camera, ultra-wide angle camera, telephoto) of the S21 and S21 Plus is similar to that of the S20 series. In contrast to the S21 Ultra with its two optical zoom lenses, the telephoto camera of the two cheaper models comes without optical magnification, but thanks to the high sharpness reserve of the 64 megapixel sensor, it enables a stepless zoom by selecting smaller sections on the sensor.
The test showed: With this technology, the two smaller models also succeed in surprisingly good zoom shots. The zoom quality of the smallest S21 model in the test was better than that of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which at least has Apple's best camera and a 2.5x optical zoom. The photos are very good when taking daylight photos with normal and ultra-wide-angle lenses. Sobering, however: The previous year's models performed better in the camera test! The S20 and S20 Plus received better grades, especially in low light.
The S21 Ultra, on the other hand, is superior to the predecessor S20 Ultra with its four camera lenses on the back. When it comes to zoom shots, it can show its advantages over the smaller S21 versions even at triple zoom and the camera of the simpler Galaxy S21 / S21 Plus models is unsuitable for higher zoom levels. With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, on the other hand, Samsung goes to great lengths and installs two telephoto lenses: one with three times magnification, which is often helpful in everyday life, and a second variant with ten times optical zoom for extreme telephoto shots. Huawei has already done a similar thing with success with the Huawei P40 Pro Plus.
Galaxy S21 finally gets top processor
In recent years, Samsung has almost always delivered the S models in Europe with the in-house Exynos processor. Not only were they slower, but they also used more power than the Snapdragon CPUs installed in the US versions. This was recently confirmed by the test of the Galaxy S20 FE (LTE variant with Exynos 990, 5G variant with Snapdragon 865). With the S21, Samsung is installing its new Exynos 2100 processor for the first time in the European models of the Galaxy S21 series, which should be as good or even better than the Snapdragon 888 from the US version.
The laboratory has not yet had a US model. But the test always confirmed: The European S21 series is clearly faster than the S20 series (Exynos 990), achieved around 1,080 (single-core) and 3,500 (multi-core) points in the Geekbench 5 test and the S20 came to 950 and 2,870 Geekbench points. But there is one thing that the Galaxy S21 does not manage either: The speed crown remains with Apple. TheThe iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, for example, have almost 1,600 (single-core) and around 4,000 (multi-core) Geekbench 5 points. The US series with Snapdragon 888 could also be a touch faster. In addition, the speed values collapsed every now and then in multiple benchmark tests; the performance may drop here if the processor overheats.
Battery life: why is the S21 so bad?
With a "typical" (slightly idealized) battery capacity of 4,000 mAh, the Galaxy S21 is as powerful as the Galaxy S20. The S21 Ultra also has the same powerful battery as its predecessor (5,000 mAh), only the S21 Plus battery increases from 4,500 to 4,800 mAh. At least with the normal S21, the hope for a significantly better battery life was not fulfilled: In the COMPUTER BILD mix, it only achieved a battery life of six hours and 58 minutes (S20 in 7:24 h). That's not a good value. The Galaxy S21 Plus did better with eight hours and 15 minutes (S20 Plus: 7:35 minutes). The S21's battery may just be too small (4,000 mAh instead of 4,800 mAh in the S21 Plus). However, the comparison with Apple shows that you can tickle long runtimes even from small batteries.
5G: faster mobile communications as standard
With the S20, 5G was only available at an additional cost. But in 2021, the high-speed network will be built into all variants of the Galaxy S21 as standard for the first time. That saves electricity and space. In addition, the corresponding module has been technically improved. It supports all 5G frequencies that are used in Europe, for example, when expanding 5G in rural areasare important.
So far, many smartphones have had problems when LTE and 5G frequencies are very close together, for example at 1,800 MHz for LTE and 2,100 MHz for 5G (Telekom) or 800 MHz for LTE and 700 MHz for 5G (Vodafone). Because currently every 5G smartphone has to connect to an LTE "anchor frequency" for the first time before the cellular network forwards the devices to the 5G network. The S21 series supports the parallel operation of 1,800 and 2,100 MHz for 5G and LTE anchor frequency. The combination of 800 MHz and 700 MHz also used in the Vodafone network is still not possible.
The Galaxy S21 comes without a power supply
No power supply, no headset: when the iPhone 12 was released, Samsung had made fun of Apple's decision to remove accessories via Twitter. But the corresponding tweets from October 13, 2020 can no longer be found on Samsung's Twitter profile. The reason: All S21 variants are delivered without a power supply unit and without a headset. And: Even with the top model S21 Ultra, Samsung is satisfied with fast charging with 25 watts, while the competition already supplies up to 65 watts in some cases.
The reason given by the manufacturer: The high charging currents could damage the battery if they were only reached for a short time during the charging process. Not for the first time, Samsung is following Apple: Since then, Samsung has dispensed with the headset socket common on earlier smartphones from the South Koreans, which Apple removed from the iPhone 7Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy S20. Attention: There is also no longer a memory card slot in the S21 series.
Galaxy S21: release, colors, memory, start of sales
The Galaxy S21 can be pre-ordered since its presentation on January 14, 2021, the actual S21 release will take place on January 29. When it comes to colors, the base model is particularly impressive: the Galaxy S21 comes in purple, pink, gray and white, the Galaxy S21 Plus in silver, black and purple and the S21 Ultra in black and silver. The basic version of the Galaxy S21 and the S21 Plus appear with either 128 or 256 gigabytes (GB) of storage space. In addition to 128 and 256 GB, the S21 Ultra has a variant with 512 GB. In some european country all variants are only available as a 5G version.
Galaxy S21: prices cheaper
The Galaxy S21 is up to 100 euros cheaper than its predecessor! It should be noted that the basic model for Germany is already equipped with 5G in all storage variants (be careful with imported goods). However, the power supply unit and headset from the previous cell phone must either be used or purchased separately.
- Samsung Galaxy S21 5G: 849 euros with 128 GB (S20 LTE: 899 euros, S20 5G: 999 euros), 899 euros with 256 GB
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus 5G: 1,049 euros with 128 GB (20 Plus 5G: 1,099 euros), 1,099 euros with 256 GB
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G: 1,249 euros with 128 GB (S20 Ultra: 1,349 euros), 1,299 euros with 256 GB, 1,429 euros with 512 GB
Idealo forecast: price drop for the Galaxy S21
Based on the prices of the previous models, idealo has made a forecast for the drop in prices for the Galaxy S21. The development of the courses for the smallest memory size in the first eleven months after publication was analyzed. After just three months, a price drop of 25 percent is to be expected for the basic model. Based on a starting price of 849 euros, the price of the Galaxy S21 could, according to the idealo forecast, be 633 euros after three months 216 euros lower than at the start! After falling deeply in the first three months, the level stabilized for some time. After ten months, a low of 523 euros can even be expected. So if you wait until the beginning of 2022, you may save up to 326 euros when buying the new Galaxy S21.
Galaxy S21: what does the new series bring?
Like the top model Galaxy S21 Ultra, the S21 and S21 Plus also benefit from the new processor, better 5G and lower prices than last year. In the test, both models convinced in almost all points. Compared to the previous generation, however, there were no significant improvements, especially with the battery and camera, on the contrary: the photo quality of the S20 and S20 Plus was even a touch better in the test in low light and the battery life of the small S21 disappointed. Those who value good technology will certainly choose the S21 Ultra.
Is it worth switching to the Galaxy S21?
Currently, the Galaxy S20 , Galaxy S20 Plus and the new Galaxy S20 FEDepending on the equipment (with and without 5G, memory), you can get it for something under or over 600 euros. Anyone who is looking for a good price-performance ratio when buying a smartphone is therefore faced with the question: Is it even worth switching to the Galaxy S21. In a direct comparison it is noticeable: Samsung saves the technical delicacies such as the new adaptive display and the double telephoto for the S21 Ultra.
The normal S21, however, has a faster processor and a more modern 5G modem compared to the S20 series from the previous year, but the S21 is even less high-quality in terms of housing material and display resolution and even worse in terms of the battery (at least with activated 120 Hertz). In this respect, buying the Galaxy S20 or the Galaxy S20 FE makes perfect sense.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Pros:
- Fast processor
- Bright, high-contrast display
- Good camera
Dual SIM (1 x 5G)
Samsung Galaxy S21 Cons:
- Battery runtime moderate
- No memory card slot
- No jack socket