The Galaxy S21 is an evolution of the Galaxy S20. This seems to be the most obvious phrase in the world, but maybe not if we think about the changes from one year to the next: Samsung’s new top of the line won a more powerful chip and support for 5G, but lost items like curved screen, expansion of memory, Quad HD resolution and, of course, charger. Even the finish changed: the glass back came out to make way for the plastic.
Even with some casualties, the dollar did not help and the Galaxy S21 landed in Brazil in a single version of 128 GB for R $ 5,999, or five hundred reais more than the launch price of its predecessor. It makes sense? What have been the improvements over the past generation? I’ve tested Samsung’s new premium smartphone in the past few weeks and count my impressions in the next few minutes.
Galaxy S21 video review
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The Galaxy S21 was provided by Samsung on loan and will be returned to the company after testing. For more information, visit tecnoblog.net/etica.
Design and canvas
The Galaxy S21 is more beautiful in person than in Samsung’s promotional photos. The violet color, which reminds me of the good times of the Galaxy S9 and would certainly be my choice instead of white or gray, brings an outline around the camera that integrates with the aluminum frame in a bronze tone. The result is an elegant and well-built device, as you would expect from a premium smartphone.
But you can’t ignore the elephant in the middle of the room. Repeating the Galaxy Note 20 strategy, Samsung eliminated the glass on the rear and replaced it with a matte plastic. You can argue that polycarbonate is resistant to falls and that most people put a cap on it anyway, but it is a fact that this is not the expected finish on a R $ 6,000 phone.
I do not believe that a plastic or glass back influences a purchase decision so much. Still, the choice of Samsung is disappointing because: 1) it happened in the premium line, which represents what the brand can deliver best; 2) makes the cell phone look second-class, since rivals have more noble materials; 3) takes me back to the dark times of the Galaxy S5, when Samsung’s design was just not more criticized than the software.
The screen has also been downgraded, but at least it is far from a disappointment. We continue with a 6.2-inch AMOLED panel that surprises with its strong brightness, attractive colors without exaggerating saturation and infinite contrast, which allows excellent viewing in sunlight. The variable refresh rate, from 48 to 120 Hz, guarantees the sensation of fluidity without spending so much energy when displaying static content.
The resolution, which was 3200 × 1440 pixels, dropped to 2400 × 1080 pixels. Since the Galaxy S10 and S20 were already configured at the factory in Full HD mode, most people shouldn’t feel any difference. Even those who made a point of wasting battery using the device at maximum resolution should not notice the reduction, since the definition remains impeccable. In practice, the change only affects those who used virtual reality headsets, which are collecting dust in many drawers around the world.
The Android 11 of the Galaxy S21 runs the One UI 3.1 interface, which I like for its visual uniformity and for being well designed to be used with one hand, which is further facilitated by the compact size of the device. Support for the S Pen is exclusive to the Galaxy S21 Ultra and is not present in the smaller brother, but all other software functionality has been retained.
This means that we have a good integration with Windows, which allows us to answer calls, see notifications and access the latest photos directly from the computer, in addition to features like DeX, which turns the phone into a desktop, with a floating window interface on a desktop. Samsung Pay, even though it was captured in the new generation, losing support for the magnetic stripe, continues with NFC and the main banks and fintechs.
Like other recent smartphones from Samsung, the Galaxy S21 has a promise of three years of Android updates, which should guarantee the arrival of news of Android 13 (and perhaps even Android 14) by the manufacturer, mitigating an old disadvantage of Google’s operating system in relation to iOS. In the first few weeks, Samsung has been releasing updates frequently (one while I was recording this review), and I hope that pace continues.
In the cameras, the Galaxy S21 brings the same specifications as the previous model, but Samsung promises improvements in software and new modes of creation, such as the Director’s Vision, which shoots with the front and rear cameras at the same time, allowing to switch between the normal, ultrawide and telephoto lenses while recording.
The front camera has 10 megapixels, not 40 megapixels like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but it brings good results. The definition is satisfactory, the background blur convinces and the embellishment mode is, by default, less aggressive than in past generations. It is also possible to choose between the Claro mode, which makes the face more white and pink; and Natural, more to Brazilian taste. The differences are subtle, but enough for Samsung’s selfies to appeal to more people.
The trio of rear cameras is equally competent. Competition has evolved and the Galaxy S21 no longer surprises like some earlier Samsung line tops, but the new smartphone does everything right: the definition of the photos is great, the noise is very controlled even in poor lighting conditions and the colors have that gain in saturation that satisfies the eyes, without exaggeration.
Both the ultrawide lens and the main lens are pleasing for their dynamic range and accurate processing, which leaves the shadow areas well exposed without bursting into brighter regions. The scene optimizer can disrupt the results in some cases, such as when photographing foods, as it tends to blur the corners of the image, but the feature can be turned on and off easily.
The telephoto camera deserves a little more attention. It is the same as last year, and is made up of a 64 megapixel sensor and a lens with an f / 2 aperture. According to Samsung, the camera has a 3x hybrid zoom, but this hides less exciting technical information: the main lens is 26 mm equivalent, while the telephoto lens is 28 mm, which in practice results in less than 1.1x of optical zoom. Everything else results from a 64-megapixel photo cropping.
This is not necessarily a problem, but it does have its limitations. The main one is in night mode: as it is necessary to do a digital zoom in a situation where there is little information, the result is not usually different from a photo with impaired definition and “oil painting” aspect, as if the lens were dirty.
In good condition, however, the telephoto lens can capture great details, as if it even had a 3x optical zoom. You can also play with taking macro photos and even risk reaching 10x zoom, which offers enough definition for anyone to notice anything wrong on your Instagram. In addition, the 64 megapixel sensor allows you to shoot at 8K at 24 fps and capture very high resolution images in a standard frame.
Hardware and battery
Inside, the Galaxy S21 brings a new Samsung Exynos 2100 processor, accompanied by 8 GB of RAM and 5G modem. As expected, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon version was restricted to some countries, such as the United States. Except for rare exceptions, such as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which brought an outdated chip, this is a topic that I consider overvalued by some technology bubbles. It is not the end of the world and, in practice, it makes much less difference than it looks.
Also as expected, the Galaxy S21 offers excellent performance, with games running at maximum graphics and a constant frame rate. The only thing is that, if the Galaxy S21 Ultra was hot, the Galaxy S21 manages to go a little further. Even with the weather in São Paulo, the most compact model was often hot-headed, especially in the upper left corner. Fortunately, this was not enough to cause a noticeable loss of performance.
The removal of the entry for microSD happened in the entire Galaxy S21 line, but it mainly affects the smaller model, which is only sold in the 128 GB version in Brazil. It is a sufficient capacity for most people, but anyone who records many videos or, for some reason, still accumulates movies and music in the device’s memory, should pay attention to this detail if they do not want to have to delete files.
The battery, which remains at 4,000 mAh, falls into the “satisfactory” category. In the quarantine pattern, with three hours of streaming on Netflix, one hour of browsing and half an hour of Asphalt 9, always with maximum brightness, 120 Hz and connected to Wi-Fi, the charge went from 100% to 41%, a result inferior to the iPhone 12 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. On a day-to-day basis, he doesn’t get to impress like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and asks for a shot with more intense use, but he didn’t let me down.
It is worth it?
It is difficult to recommend the Galaxy S21 as a good top-of-the-line option, but the phone is not bad – far from it. The cameras remain excellent, the screen is still one of the best on the market and the performance will not disappoint anyone. The well-resolved interface and the promise of Android updates, one of Samsung’s great recent assets, also count in favor.
The melancholic feeling that permeated the entire review happened because the Galaxy S21 is one of those products with fame, origin and price in which I look forward to significant technical improvements that raise the level of the entire market. Samsung, even for manufacturing technology, specializes in this: many of the advances in screens, cameras and design first appeared in a Galaxy S. This time, however, the company took the shine off one of its flagships.
Several changes (or non-changes) make the Galaxy S21 look like a second-class premium phone. Incidentally, if it weren’t for the processor update and the inclusion of the 5G, the Galaxy S21 would be practically a downgrade of the S20. So much so that the price distortion at launch, which makes the new model R $ 2 thousand more expensive than the old one, leaves no doubt that it is better to buy a Galaxy S20 than an S21 at the time this review is published (and as long as that situation continues).
Considering only the product and ignoring any market context, yes, the Galaxy S21 is an excellent smartphone. Knowing the whole story and comparing it with what Samsung has delivered in the past in one of the most successful cell phone lines in history, this is my first technological disappointment of 2021.
Samsung Galaxy S21
- Rear cameras deliver what they promise
- Consistent performance
- Well-maintained and updated software
- Screen is still one of the best you’ll find
- Only has 128 GB option and no microSD
- Screen was downgraded from one generation to another
- Plastic back is not expected in R $ 6 thousand cell phone
- Screen: 6.2 inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Full HD + (2400 x 1080 pixels), HDR10 +, 20: 9, 120 Hz, Gorilla Glass Victus, maximum brightness of 1,300 nits
- Processor: Samsung Exynos 2100 octa-core
- RAM memory: 8 GB
- Storage: 128 GB
- Back camera:
- Main: 12 MP, f / 1.8, 79º, 26 mm, OIS
- Ultrawide: 12 MP, f / 2.2, 120º, 13 mm
- Telephoto: 64 MP, f / 2.0, 76º, 28 mm, OIS
- Frontal camera: 10 megapixels, f / 2.2, 80º, 25 mm
- Drums: 4,000 mAh, fast charging, wireless charging and reverse charging (Wireless PowerShare)
- Operational system: Android 11, One UI 3.1
- Connectivity: USB-C, 4G, 5G, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 6, GPS and NFC port
- More features: fingerprint reader under the screen and IP68 certified
- Dimensions: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm
- Weight: 169 grams
- Colors: white, gray, pink and violet