The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G hits a perfect balance of size, style, power, and affordability. Samsung has made a number of improvements from last year’s S20, and that includes better speed, software, new features, and major camera upgrades as well. And on top of everything else, the price is right.
I’ve spent the last week using the Galaxy S21, and it’s an excellent, light, versatile phone that is going to make a lot of Android users want to make the switch. It’s a consistently great experience, with a perfect form factor for users who don’t want a huge phone. There are a couple of small concessions with the new Galaxy, but they’re generally not deal breakers in any way.
So what are you getting for $1,129.99? Here’s the full breakdown.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Specs
The Galaxy S21 features a 6.2″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display that adjusts the refresh rate, up to 120Hz, depending on whether you’re gaming, watching videos, or just browsing the web.
There are four cameras on the phone, including the 12 MP ultra wide camera, 12 MP wide-angle camera, 64 MP telephoto camera, and a 10 MP selfie camera.
Powered by the Snapdragon 888 processor, the phone comes with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage space, with the option of 256 GB of storage for a little more.
And the phone lasts well all day long, on a single charge, with the 4,000 mAh battery.
Galaxy S21 Design
Samsung has made a bolder design choice with the S21 lineup. Following the Galaxy Note 20 last year, the S21 takes that style a step further, pushing the cameras right into the upper corner of the rear side of the phone, while protecting the array with a metal cover, rather than the usual all-glass design.
The phone comes in four colour options: Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, and Phantom White, and I love the two-tone Violet design that features a bronze accent for the camera array and around the edge in a similar colour to last year’s Mystic Bronze.
Compared to all the recent phones I’ve reviewed, I have to admit that I feel a lot more comfortable with the metal that protects the camera array too. The camera lenses are slightly recessed, so it would be hard to scratch or damage them, and the designs looks and feels safer.
Similar to last year’s Galaxy phones, the S21 also has the simple cutout on the display for the selfie camera, with a gorgeous edge-to-edge display with the slimmest bezels around the edge.
The rear of the phone is gorgeous, but it’s notable that while the design is lighter, it’s plastic. With a good case though, that won’t be an issue for most people, short of a major drop.
Galaxy S21 Cameras
Between the Galaxy S21’s three rear cameras, the performance is excellent. Samsung put the largest sensor behind the telephoto camera, so you can zoom in to really get the details, and I had great results. Improved focus and subject tracking features also make it easier to get sharp photos.
Samsung also launched a new mode with the Galaxy S21, and it’s a great one. Director’s View previews all three rear-facing cameras on the screen, so you can switch between them while you’re filming. No need to pinch the screen–just tap the camera preview and it switches while you’re recording. You can also show the selfie view picture-in-picture style, or split-view, which feels like a feature content creators will love for YouTube, Instagram, and Tik Tok.
My only complaint with Director’s View is that you can’t control the video quality, and you can only record in standard HD, so you can’t use the feature to capture 4K or 8K video. Hopefully some day we’ll see Director’s View and Pro Video modes combined, or at least more control for DV, since it feels like it could be even more powerful and useful.
Looking at selfies and portraits, the S21 captured excellent results in my tests, even on my cat. After you take the shot, you can also adjust and edit portraits, using Samsung’s built-in portrait editor, to apply studio lighting, and change the backdrop. Photo editing in the gallery app also gives you control over colour, brightness, and cropping.
Like the Note 20 Ultra as well, the S21 shoots up to 8K video, and I absolutely love the Pro Video mode. With all the available options in Pro Video, it’s pretty easy to get extremely high quality video (like with my Note 20 Ultra), taking full control over the shutter speed, ISO, microphones, aspect ratio, while monitoring the white balance.
The scene optimizer also does an excellent job getting the right colour balance, brightness, and contrast for photos, or you can shoot in Pro photo mode to get the shot exactly the way you want.
And if you’re shooting 8K video, Samsung also offers 8K Video Snap to capture images from your videos, so you don’t have to pick between video or photos any more.
Galaxy S21 Performance, Battery, and Features
For the size of the phone, the S21 still has lightning fast response times and loads everything quickly thanks to the processor and 8 GB of RAM. Gaming was very quick, and the phone zipped through tasks while switching between apps, and using editing software.
Battery life was also good, and the phone lasted all day for me, even when I was using power-hungry apps and watching videos.
The one change with the S21, over recent Galaxy phones, is that Samsung didn’t include expandable memory, and the box doesn’t come with a wall plug.
For me, this makes it important to decide if you can afford getting the 256 GB model of the phone, since most people will have a much harder time filling up that much space, making expandable memory unnecessary.
In terms of charging, the phone does come with a USB-C cable, and I found charging over that, connected to my laptop, very quick. For those of us who have had Samsung phones before, you can also use those USB-C charging cables still, and I frankly don’t need any more plugs in my house anyway.
The 5G phone also offers the fastest download speeds, where 5G is available, while offering improved Wi-Fi speeds for when you’re home. Plus the S21 is IP68 rated, for water resistance against splashes.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is a great phone, it’s affordable versus other phones with similar features, and there are a lot of benefits to switching, especially compared to older phones.
The S21 design is fresh it looks amazing, with colours that pop, especially the two-tone Phantom Violet with bronze accents. If I had to pick between the phones, the S21 is the perfect affordable options, and while the S21 + has some interesting perks for a little more money, if you can spend a bit more, I’d say the S21 Ultra seems like the best buy for a phone that will last you longer.
The Galaxy S21, as well as the S21 + and S21 Ultra, are available for pre-order now, starting at $1,129.99 for the S21, and $1,199.99 for the S21 with 256 GB of memory. The phones arrive in stores and for delivery on January 29, 2021.
Watch my unboxing video below, scroll down to see Director’s View in action, and for sample images with the phone.
Galaxy S21 Sample Photos
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