Last Updated on January 23, 2023 by Filip Poutintsev
The Samsung Galaxy S21 was released in January of 2021 and is a moderately priced flagship phone with a lot more features than other smartphones in its price range. Its new and upgraded features do come with the caveat of losing some basic features you would expect from a smartphone. The Galaxy S21 is a compromise between price and features, as its $500 price tag is worth the speedy Snapdragon 888 chipset, especially in such a small phone, but its lackluster storage space can hardly manage its powerful cameras.
If you already own an S20, then this phone is not worth the upgrade cost. But If you are looking to buy a small, but powerful phone, and you don’t mind the fact that the is no microSD slot, then the Galaxy S21 is a good purchase. Take a look at the explosive processing power of this beast of a phone.
- Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888
- 5GB RAM
- 6.2” AMOLED display, 120Hz
- Android 11, One UI 3.1 Operating System
- 128GB or 256GB memory
- Dual nano-SIM card slot
- 4000mAh battery
- 25W Fast charging
- 4.5W Wireless charging
- USB Type-C
- IP68 Dust/Water resistant up to 1.5m for 30 mins
- Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner
- No headphone jack
- 12MP rear facing wide camera
- 64MP rear facing Telephoto camera
- 12MP rear facing Ultrawide camera
- 10MP front facing camera
- Rear video: 8K 24fps, 4K 30/60fps
- Selfie video: 4K 30/60fps
Pros and cons of Samsung Galaxy S21 at a glance
- Flagship on a budget
- Good battery life
- Very good camera
- Powerful software
- No expandable memory
- Charger not included
- The physical design
Pros of Samsung Galaxy S21
Budget flagship phone
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is a very well priced phone for what you get in its small packaging. The average price is around $499 USD at time of writing, which is a much larger drop in price than what the S20 had at this stage in its life.
If you aren’t planning on springing for the S21 Ultra, the larger and more heavily kitted version of the S21, you should probably add around $50 to the price tag. The Galaxy S21 was released in two different versions that differ in memory size. You can buy a 128GB or a 256GB version. We recommend you go with the stronger version, as you can see, the first con on our list is its non-existent memory slots.
But, if you were to compare the Galaxy S21 to other phones in its price range, you won’t find a phone quite as strong as this one.
Good battery life
The Samsung S21 comes with a 4000mAh battery which should last for around 10 hours of continuous web surfing if you keep the brightness at a medium to low setting. Its 60Hz refresh rate and its improved chip efficiency is what keeps it on for longer than the S20. Not by much, mind you. The S20 only lasts half an hour shorter than the S21.
You have the option to bump up the refresh rate to 120Hz, but at the cost of around two and a half hours of battery life. It’s up to you whether you want to sacrifice battery life for high quality video and gameplay. Either way, the phone can handle it without any lag.
The S21 supposedly has the ability to and optimize its battery consumption. Apparently the phone learns your usage over time and adapts to suit your needs and consumption accordingly. It is not something you will likely notice though..
Very good camera
If you took a look at the specs above and weren’t impressed, you are fully right to, since these specs are the same as the Samsung Galaxy S20’s triple camera array. So what makes the S21 so great? The answer is software.
Samsung has gone and applied some of the software upgrades from the S22 to the S21. The night time portraits mode for the telephoto lens is one such example. What this means is that the S21 picks up a lot more color than other phones in the same price category. These software upgrades also make the most of the Telephoto lens’ ability to pick up fine details. Match these two aspects together and you can take incredibly detailed photos and videos at as much as 10x zoom.
When the Galaxy S21 dropped, it was the first phone in the US that made use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888. While it was the top of the line in 2021, the new Snapdragon 888 Plus rolled out in 2022. But you probably wouldn’t be looking up the S21 if you were planning on going for the newest phone anyway.
The Snapdragon triple 8 certainly works better than other android phones from its time.
In fact, the iPhone 12 seems to be the only phone from back then that consistently outclasses the S21 when it comes to benchmark tests.
The S21’s processors run their Android 11 OS well. The phone was made with multitasking in mind and seamlessly switches between apps with minimal lag. Alternatively, you can run some pretty intensive phone games on the S21 with a few texture issues, but relatively low lag. Samsung’s One UI 3.0 fits well with the OS as well.
Cons of Samsung Galaxy S21
No expandable memory
This is a particularly big concern nowadays. The missing microSD slots make having such a powerful set of cameras a little obsolete if you have no place to store it. If you take a lot of videos or pictures it would be a good idea to sign up for a cloud storage service, or to regularly backup your files on a computer.
Samsung claims the main reason for this missing feature is to help cut back on their electronic waste. That and costs, of course.
Charger not included
The Samsung Galaxy S21 only has a USB Type-C cable in the box. It does not include the necessary 25W fast charger outlet adapter. At this point, most people tend to have a drawer full of charging bricks at home, so this is not a very big drawback. But it is something you should know before you buy. Samsung offers chargers separately nowadays, so if you need to buy one new, then it will net you an additional $10 to $20.
The fast charger is pretty useful. You can take the phone to around 50% in half an hour. The S21 has Qi wireless charging capabilities, but a wireless charger is also not included. The wireless charger is also far slower than the fast charger since it’s only around 4.5W.
If you owned an S20 before, you might have raised an eyebrow when we mentioned the S21 uses a 25W charger. That’s because Samsung dropped support for the 45W charger in favor of optimizing the S21’s charging capabilities.
The physical design
These issues aren’t exactly game breaking. In fact, you’ll likely get used to them in a few weeks. But most of these changes used to be pretty fundamental to Samsung’s look. For example, the Galaxy S21 dropped its classic curved screen in favor of a plain flat screen. Although the phone doesn’t fit as comfortably in the palm of the hand anymore, the small dimensions of the phone makes having the extra reach of a curved screen kinda redundant.
The camera bezel stands out. Literally. And it is pretty noticeable when you put the phone down and when you look at it from the back. The bezel is a solid piece of metal that seamlessly joins the frame. It all stands out against the plastic back panel. It’s rare to see flagship phones that still use plastic in their materials and you can certainly feel it.
Is the Samsung Galaxy S21 a good buy?
Compared to the S22 and the S20, this flagship is a decent mix of both generations. While it still sports most of the hardware from the previous model, it has the processing power to run some of the software features form the newer version.
Is the S21 better than the S10?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is marginally better than the S10 besides for the factors we mentioned earlier in the cons section. The biggest thing is still the microSD slot, so if that is a deal breaker then, it’s better to compare the S10 with the S20.
Does the S21 have a headphone jack?
Sadly, the S21 did with its headphone jack what it did with its expandable memory. You will need a USB Type-C dongle to connect your wired headphones.
How do you take screenshots on the S21?
This one is a bit weird: Press the side key and press and hold the lower part of the volume key at the same time. Hold them both down to take a screenshot.
What is game boost?
Samsung added a function that automatically adjusts your phone settings to manage the requirements of the games you play. It also disables Bixby and hides your notifications.
What is ‘Director’s View’?
This is a special feature for your S21 that allows you to record videos with both the rear-facing and the selfie camera at the same time. The feature is excellent for vlogging or to just capture someone’s priceless reaction to breathtaking events. All in 4K!