The Samsung Galaxy S21 series is Samsung’s latest and greatest. These phones feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 which is the fastest process currently available on a smartphone. The Galaxy S21 also features a brand new striking design that is different from anything previously released. For this review, we’ll be looking at the smallest in the family, the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is the baby in the family and is the most affordable option available. It currently sits at around $800 which is $200 less than the next tier up, which is the Galaxy S21+5G. The difference here is you’re getting a slightly smaller 6.2″ display rather than the 6.7″, a smaller battery at 4,000mAh instead of 4,800mAh, and the rear is made of polycarbonate instead of glass. For a savings of $200, I’d gladly take the slightly smaller device as all the guts internally are the same as well as the camera. The rear plastic also looks really good and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
So what does the Galaxy S21 5G have that makes it so appealing at this price? For starters, it offers Qualcomm’s latest and greatest, the Snapdragon 888 with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. The display is an FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X unit at 2400×1080 resolution but features a Smooth Motion 120Hz adaptive refresh rate. Lastly, these are some of the best cameras Samsung has had on an S-series, aside from the S21 Ultra. The rear features a 12MP Wide/12MP Ultra-Wide/64MP Tele with 3X optical and a 30X Space Zoom. It also records video at 8K@24fps and 4K@60fps.
That’s not bad at all for the price. I’m actually really glad to see Samsung making a smaller-sized phone without really skimping on the specs that matter. This also helps bring down the price so more people can pick up a powerful phone at more reasonable prices.
In the past, I’ve been quick to label Samsung’s designs as being very “Apple” like. While not a bad thing, no one wants to be compared to their rival in that way. With the Galaxy S21 5G, I believe Samsung has finally created a design that they can call their own. In fact, it’s a design that no other Android phone has either.
The S21 series is by far, one of Samsung’s best designs to date. I have never been a fan of these boxy camera bumps on the back and somehow, Samsung has figured out a visually pleasing way of integrating the camera bump in the design. It no longer looks like something that was just slapped on for the sake of having it. I love how the new camera bump seamlessly blends into one corner of the phone as if the rest of the back was carved from it and then it was all sanded down to a nice matte finish. The matte contrasts really nicely with the shiny aluminum borders. I honestly just like the fact that Samsung did something different here where it doesn’t look like every other Android device on the market.
I also have to mention again the plastic back. It looks very good, especially in some of these colors that the smaller Galaxy S21 5G come in. Most notably, the Phantom Violet looks amazing. The matte finish also keeps fingerprints and greasy smudges away which is a big plus in my book.
Moving to the front, the Galaxy S21 5G is pretty much a flat design. The display doesn’t waterfall over the edges, which I appreciate because I’ve always found that my palms cause accidental presses. The display has very thin bezels and there’s a tiny pinhole camera right up top. The fingerprint reader is built into the display and this year, Samsung has enlarged it. This makes the under-screen fingerprint reader much more responsive and accurate. From my tests so far, the reader has been very quick and has had no issues reading my prints. For those who don’t want to use your fingerprints, you’ll be happy to note that you can also use your face to unlock the device.
On the right side, you’ll find an array of buttons. There is the volume rocker up top and then the power button below that. This also doubles as the “Bixby” button if you choose to use it as such, or you can disable that and make it function like a regular power button. On the bottom edge, you’ll find the USB-C port, a speaker and mic, and the sim tray. Gone however is the expandable storage so this tray doesn’t have to slot for it anymore.
That’s pretty much it for the design which again, I think is Samsung’s best in a long while. It comes in four rather nice matte colors, but Phantom Violet is probably my favorite. That hue with the combination of the gold accents just makes it look so good. While the back is plastic, it doesn’t have the look of cheap plastic and in fact looks very similar to the glass models. This also helps keep the phone incredibly light.
Is there anything I don’t like about the design? The camera bump does make things a bit uneven when laying the p[hone flat, but that’s nothing a good case can’t solve.
The Galaxy S21 5G comes with Android 11 from the factory. That means it already has many advantages over other smartphones that are still on Android 10. While it’s not stock Android, Samsung’s OneUI 3.1 is very good. It seems to be very customizable and whether you like the Samsung services or not, you can easily turn them off. The new launcher seems to be more Google-friendly now and allows you to replace some of the Samsung services with Google ones.
For the most part, the new OneUI 3.1 is just more stock-looking and less intrusive than previous Samsung launchers. That’s doesn’t mean it’s perfect though.
There are still a few quirks here and there. For instance, there are ad notifications from many of Samsung’s built-in apps. While annoying, you can disable notifications for these, but it’s just odd seeing this. Also, Samsung has moved a few things here and there from where they are in stock Android. There’s a Device tab in the pull-down notification menu that’s normally a power button shortcut and part of the power menu. Another missing feature is the ability to hide silent alert notifications from the status bar.
I’ve said this about previous smartphone cameras over the years, but the quality of photos has been really good lately, and honestly, any modern-day smartphone camera will give you fantastic photos. The new Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is no different. This is the exact same setup you’ll find in the larger Galaxy S21+ so you don’t have to worry about the fact that you’re purchasing the cheaper phone.
The specs are again as follows: the rear features a 12MP Wide/12MP Ultra-Wide/64MP Tele with 3X optical and a 30X Space Zoom. It also records video at 8K@24fps and 4K@60fps.
For the most part, photos look really good out of the box. There’s a ton of detail and mostly everything is crisp. The images do seem a bit bright however and nighttime shots see a slight decrease in detail and the colors are a bit more muddy and blended. The 30x Space Zoom is a pretty neat feature but I wouldn’t rely on it for great shots. This is basically a cropped shot and you can see a massive decrease in detail, but it works and is a pretty cool way of getting up close when you really can’t. The Space Zoom is better than most digital zooms I’ve seen, however.
Overall, you’re not going to be disappointed with the cameras on the Galaxy S21 5G. The three cameras are exactly what you need in your arsenal, wide, normal, and telephoto, so you’ll be sure to grab the best shots when needed.
When it comes to gaming, the Galaxy S21 5G is no slouch, even with just 8GB RAM. Many of the games I play such as Brave Frontier, Brawl Stars, Call of Duty Mobile, and Genshin Impact run with no issues. Games also look pretty good on the FHD+ display mainly because it’s running at 120Hz. Everything looks so smooth and buttery.
Samsung also includes some interesting game enhancements you’ll want to take note of. There’s an included Game Launcher app that is like a central hub for all your gaming needs. You can launch all your games from here as well as keeping track of playtime what type of games you play the most. From here you can also discover new games to play including Instant Play games that require no download. Here you can also see if Samsung has any special offers for the games you play.
On top of that, there are also game tools to help optimize your gaming experience. This includes items a Game Booster that can prioritize gaming over everything else. It also monitors phone temperature and memory and lets you know how much actual game time you have left with the current amount of battery power you have. You can also lock the navigation bar, lock the touch screen and take a screenshot. There are also Game Plugins you can download for further game enhancements such as a Game Booster Plus, Gif Creator, and Gaming Limits.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
While the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is a great phone, there are some trade-offs Samsung had to make in order to bring the price down and to make it more affordable. One of the biggest items here is the plastic back. This is the only phone in the lineup with while the others have Gorilla Glass. Though you may not even notice because it looks like its more expensive counterparts. It also feels lighter which to me is a plus.
Another item is the lack of expandable memory which to me was always an advantage Android had over the Apple iPhone. Samsung has finally done away with that here so that’s something to seriously consider if you rely on additional storage. You’ll either need to purchase a version with higher capacity or rely on cloud storage.
You’ll also have to provide your own charger. One doesn’t come in the box this time around. I can understand what Samsung is trying to do here, trying to be environmentally friendly. Those who have already had Samsung phones before will probably not really care, but those who will be brand new to the Samsung ecosystem will lament the fact that they’ll have to purchase a 25W charger separately.
On this subject, you may also not like the fact that it only super fast charges at 25W and not 45W (Super Fast Charging 2.0) like the old Galaxy S20 Ultra. This is considered a downgrade to many out there. Another off quirk I’ve noticed is that if you use something like a 65W charger, it won’t super fast charge like it would on a 25W charger and only charges like an 18W one. I think it all depends on how your charger can regulate the output because I have a 100W charger that can put the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G into Super Fast Charge mode. So just take note of this when looking for a charger.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G may not be the most powerful Galaxy S21 out there, but for most people, it’ll be enough. What I really like about this phone is the size and that it is totally one-hand friendly. There’s still a market for small phones and the Galaxy S21 5G is one of the best. I don’t even mind the fact that it has a plastic back because it just makes the phone lighter and more comfortable to hold.
Not only that, what Samsung removed to make the phone less expensive also seems to make sense. a drop to an FHD+ screen over a QHD one, most people probably wouldn’t even notice, not when you’re still getting 120Hz refresh rate.
The lack of expandable memory is a bit concerning to me, but I’m willing to bet there are quite a few people out there who probably never even used this feature. If removing this allowed for a more cost-effective solution, then so be it. At least we’re able to get a flagship-level phone for less.
Also, I’d choose this over the $200 more Galaxy S21+ 5G mainly because I don’t think the updates there warrant the extra money. The specs are near identical except for a larger screen, a slightly larger battery to compensate for the size, and a Gorilla Glass back. Everything else is the same. Same processor, same cameras, and even the same resolution. The smaller Galaxy S21 5G has better dpi though, which means it probably has a much crisper display.
That makes the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G the perfect phone for those looking for a powerful phone at a reasonable price. If you shop around, you can even get this now for even less than the suggested $800 price.
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