Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ hands-on: A perfect balance
The day that Samsung fans had been waiting for is finally here. Samsung has unveiled its latest flagship smartphone lineup. Just like it did last year, it has launched three models of the Galaxy S21.
The world has changed a lot since we last went to a Samsung launch event in person. So our initial impressions of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ are based on the little time that we were able to spend with them. However, we couldn’t help but be impressed by what Samsung has created.
There’s only so much you can change as far as the design of modern smartphones is concerned. The display dominates the front, and unless you’re experimenting with under-display cameras or any other unproven element, there’s not much you can do there.
These are still quintessentially Galaxy S flagships. The metal frame and the subtle curves all but reinforce that impression. The back is where the party’s at, though. Samsung has introduced a new Contour Cut housing for the camera that looks absolutely amazing.
It seamlessly blends into the handset’s metal frame for a very striking and sleek look. The camera housing itself is made from metal with polished edges that significantly elevate the look of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+.
Some design changes that Samsung made in the previous generation have carried over. All of they physical keys are positioned on the right side of the frame. There’s no dedicated Bixby key and no 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom.
What you may need to prepare yourself for is the fact that one of these devices doesn’t have a glass back. Much like the Galaxy Note 20, the Galaxy S21 has a plastic back, but don’t dock points for it just yet. We loved the Galaxy Note 20’s plastic back and it’s a similar feeling with this handset.
The Galaxy S21+ gets glass on the back. Not just any glass, but the latest and greatest Gorilla Glass Victus. For all intents and purposes, these look and feel like the premium devices that they are.
The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ feature a 6.2-inch and 6.7-inch FHD+ Infinity-O display respectively. These Dynamic AMOLED 2x panels have an adaptive refresh rate that can intelligently switch in the 48-120Hz range depending on the content being viewed. Both are protected by Gorilla Glass Victus.
The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ maxed out at Quad HD+ resolution but the latest handsets don’t go beyond FHD+. They also had subtly curved panels while the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ both have completely flat displays. Again, it’s not something to be terribly worried about. Using flat displays is surprisingly refreshing.
As you’d expect, the display on both devices is exceptional. It gets nice and bright, the colors and viewing angles are excellent. The adaptive refresh rate is a joy, too. You might feel that the FHD+ resolution is a step down compared to the previous generation.
Remember, the Galaxy S20 lineup locked the resolution at FHD+ for the 120Hz refresh rate. If you wanted Quad HD+ resolution you had to stick with the standard 60Hz refresh rate. Samsung has merely taken away that choice with this lineup.
There’s also an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor embedded in the display. It’s the latest ultrasonic solution from Qualcomm with a larger surface area that can capture 1.7x more biometric data. We’ll put its efficiency to the test in our detailed review.
Android 11 comes out of the box on the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+. The latest version of Samsung’s custom skin, One UI 3.1, is also present. It brings a couple of new software features and some general UI improvements.
Single Take, the software feature that lets you capture photos and videos of a moment simultaneously, has been improved. There’s 5x more AI processing and new pro-style video features like Dynamic Slow-Mo to provide even better pictures and clips.
With SmartThings Find, you can track and locate your Galaxy devices even when they’re offline. Some great new privacy features are offered as well. You can remove all location metadata from a photo before sharing it. The new Private Share feature lets you set how long a shared file will be available for on the recipients’ end.
The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ have the same triple camera system at the back. It consists of a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultrawide with 120-degree field-of-view, 12-megapixel f/1.8 wide with OIS and 64-megapixel telephoto f/2.0 camera with Phase Detection, 3x zoom and OIS. There’s also a 10-megapixel front camera for selfies and video calls.
The devices support Super Resolution Zoom or Space Zoom as Samsung calls it, up to 30x. To eliminate shakiness at high zoom levels, Samsung has added an AI-powered Zoom Lock image stabilizer that seems to do the job.
As always, there are several new camera features that take advantage of this hardware. The new Director’s View mode lets you adjust the angle and switch focus without interrupting the shot. There’s a Vlogger View as well which lets you record from both the front and back cameras at the same time.
With Improved Super Steady, you can capture super smooth 60fps video in FHD resolution. Both handsets are capable of recording 8K video at 24fps. The CInematic 8K Snap feature lets you save an ultra-high res photo from an 8K video recording. Portrait mode has been improved for the front camera to apply what Samsung calls “studio-level effects” to portraits and selfies. There’s a range of lighting options to choose from for that perfect selfie.
We had limited opportunity to test these claims due to the little time we had with the devices. Rest assured, we’ll put them through the paces in our detailed review.
Battery and charging
The little time that we spent with the devices wasn’t enough to form an opinion about the battery life. However, with the new chipset that the series boasts under the hood, we can be cautiously optimistic about good battery life.
The Galaxy S21 gets a 4,000mAh battery while the Galaxy S21+ gets 4,800mAh, slightly larger than the Galaxy S20+’s 4,500mAh battery. The devices support wireless charging as well as Wireless PowerShare. There’s 25W wired fast charging, however, they don’t come with a charger in the box. Speaking of things missing from the box, you won’t get any earphones with the Galaxy S21 lineup either.
The Galaxy S21 series is trying to find its place in a world that’s still reeling from the pandemic. Naturally, even spending $799 on a base Galaxy S21 might be impossible now for some people who just a year ago may have dropped $999 on a new flagship just because they liked the way it looked.
So Samsung has tried to strike a balance. It has tried to be mindful of where the world finds itself at this point in time and the need to move forward regardless. While one can argue whether there have been more cuts than necessary (we firmly believe that the microSD card slot shouldn’t have been removed), the fact remains that the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ have all the makings of a great flagship smartphone.
We’ll have a full review of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ up soon so stay tuned for that. A detailed review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra will be up as well. What are your first impressions about this duo? Share with us in the comments below.