The Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G has been in my hands for a month now and I love it. Sure, there are things I wish the company changed and some things I just can’t wrap my head around. I do like the new design but at the same time, it is a gimmicky selling point to claim the camera module is part of the edge. The display is a downgrade compared to last year’s models and the lack of Micro SD port and no charger in the box seems very ‘Apple’ of them. Even though everyone poked fun at the company for doing it first.
In the end, Samsung has a flashy new phone that provides a premium feel, a decent camera array and performance to boot. Sure, there’s nothing standout about it this year but most phone makers are now hitting the ceiling when it comes to phones. You can only put so much screen and power into a device. Instead, they focus on the camera and all the fancy post-processing things that come with it.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G Tech Specs
- Display: 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 1080×2400 pixels
- 20:9 ratio
- 394 ppi
- Dynamic 120Hz
- 1300 Nits of peak brightness
- 88.3% screen-to-body-ratio
- Body: Gorilla Glass back and front
- Aluminium frame
- 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8mm
- OS: Android 11, One UI 3.1
- CPU: Exynos 2100 5nm
- GPU: Octa-core (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55)
- Storage: 128GB, 256GB both with 8GB RAM
- Camera: Triple-Array Module / LED flash Auto HDR
- 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
- 64 MP, f/2.0, 29mm (telephoto), 1/1.72″, 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS, 1.1x optical zoom, 3x hybrid zoom
- 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120˚ (ultrawide), 1/2.55″ 1.4µm, Super Steady video
- Front Camera: 10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.24″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF
- Video: Up to 8K
- Back Cameras [email protected], [email protected]/60fps, [email protected]/60/240fps, [email protected], HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS
- Front Camera [email protected]/60fps, [email protected]
- Battery: 4800mAh
- Fast Charging 25W
- Reverse Charing 4.5W
- Wireless Charging 15W
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, GPS
- GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE / 5G
What’s In The Box?
The Samsung Galaxy S21+ has followed Apple’s footsteps and no longer includes a power adapter or earphones in the box. So what you get is the following:
Here’s the unboxing experience for the Samsung Galaxy S21+ (including the satisfying peel) #SamsungUnpacked @SamsungMobileSA pic.twitter.com/NBl9825nPE
— GLITCHED (@_GLITCHED_) January 15, 2021
Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G Design
Compared to last year, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G has seen a few tweaks here and there which make it look and feel like a brand-new smartphone. Samsung has now opted for a full glass back shell and a premium aluminium band that wraps around the device. This is not a painted plastic edge. This year it is heavy and feels fantastic in my hand. The materials used on this year’s phone finally meet the device’s price tag.
The major change to the phone’s design this year is definitely the camera bump. Instead of this ugly black block jutting out of the back of your phone, Samsung has pushed the camera into the corner and aligned the lenses underneath one another. Yes, it still sticks out of the phone ever so slightly but we are headed in the right direction here.
Samsung is also trying to give users the illusion that the camera bump is part of the edge band. However, that is not the case. From afar, the camera bump seems to merge into the side of the phone, something the company calls contour cut design, but there is actually a clear line separating the two units. Once you see the line, it is hard to unsee. Regardless, this is finally something Samsung can call their own and the back of the Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G looks gorgeous.
When it comes to the front of the device, Samsung has finally gotten rid of the curved display. I cannot be happier about this. The Samsung Galaxy S21+ now includes a 6.7-inch AMOLED display that stretches to the edges of the device. The bezels are there and a tiny bit thicker at the bottom of the display but the overall screen-to-body ratio makes the Samsung Galaxy S21+ a gorgeous phone for consuming content.
Other smaller details on the phone include the USB C charging port, Dual SIM tray and speakers. These are all located at the bottom of the phone. Even the SIM tray. No, you cannot upgrade the storage on the phone at all. The storage you get is the storage you gotta keep. As an iPhone user all my life, I can tell you, “you’ll learn to live with it.”
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ design is rather pleasant. It feels great in my hands and the glass back provides enough grip to hold it and not worry about it sliding around. It also hides fingerprints away quite nicely.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ Display
In one way, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ has seen a downgrade to its display. Instead of a QHD display which can change to 1080p depending on the refresh rate you use, Samsung has dropped the QHD for a strict 1080p panel. On the Samsung Galaxy S21+, users can only change the refresh rate which does not alter the resolution. It would have been nice to have seen the QHD panel stay behind, to be honest.
Samsung now has quite a low-resolution display in the S21 range. Even the PPI is 394, a far cry from Apple’s standard iPhone 12 display at 2,532 x 1,170 and 460 PPI. Thankfully, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ display does have an increased frame rate which is something Apple has yet to include in any of their smartphones. This allows the device to jump between 48 and 120Hz depending on the content you are busy with.
The adaptive refresh rate works pretty well. It increased the Hz when watching content, playing games and doing everything else that looks better at a higher refresh rate. When I was simply navigating through the phone’s menus, the refresh rate dropped in order to save battery. When I was playing games, it bumped it up. This delivered a clear improvement in visual fidelity and will make all mobile gamers happy.
But the overall usability of the higher refresh rate makes a huge difference when handling the phone. Everything is smoother from the menus to the web and even reading an email. The overall quality of the display is also superb which adds to this. Blacks are deep, colours pop and the overall brightness of the display is great in direct sunlight and most viewing conditions.
It goes without saying that the Samsung Galaxy S21+ includes the in-screen fingerprint scanner which has seen a massive improvement from the original introduction of this tech. It feels easier to use thanks to the sensor being 70% bigger than last year’s model. However, it still has its issues. Often it would fail to unlock the phone and I would have to enter my pin anyway. Samsung should just bite the bullet and put the sensor on the unlock button.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ Camera
The camera setup on the Samsung Galaxy S21+ is pretty much the same thing as last year’s S20. There isn’t anything new here such as a scanner, liDAR array or laser autofocus. Once again users are getting a 12MP main, 12MP ultra-wide and a 64MP telephoto lens with 3x hybrid zoom. This means instead of the 100x zoom which is still a gimmick on the S21 Ultra, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ can only do a 30x digital zoom at max.
It goes without saying that users will most likely never use this amount of zoom apart from the first time they test it out. The overall image quality is mediocre and the results are just too noisy and unpolished to gawk over. Anything over 10x digital zoom is just ugly and unprofessional. Even then, you can clearly see the loss in image quality. I would say keep it at a 5x zoom to be safe.
When putting the camera to the test, it performed fairly well. Luckily I had an iPhone 12 Pro Max to compare the lenses to which helped during this review. For starters, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ performs a lot of post-processing on every image you take. Some people may like this while others not. One thing I dislike is the amount of saturation the device adds to the final image. It is unrealistic to a certain degree.
The telephoto lens shows how drastically the Samsung Galaxy S21+ lightens the shadows by pushing up the exposure levels. The iPhone 12 Pro darkens these to make them look more life-like. The truth is, a shadow should be dark and the outdoors results on the S21+ always had this lighter film to it.
The same overbright capture is seen indoors too. The device automatically bumps up the exposure and saturation. This creates a washed-out image. Of course, you can tweak this later on but the raw photo is quite different to what you see in real-life. This seems to be Samsung’s signature processing method. Again, some may like it. I think it is too washed out for me.
The same thing happens on the front camera. There is this blue tint to the image which degrades details and sort of “cleans” the lighting. The iPhone, on the other hand, bumps up sharpness, saturation and exposure. There’s no clear winner here, they both look weird.
When it comes to night or dark shots, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ takes a decent photo. While darker than the iPhone 12 Pro, the details and textures on objects seem a lot sharper. It is still quite dark but the image quality is great.
Video on the Samsung Galaxy S21+ was quite a focus this year. Samsung included the usual 8K video recording even though you probably don’t own an 8K display and the phone’s panel is HD. If you are aiming for a format you will actually use then the 4K 60FPS is great and there’s also a 1080p 120Hz. The phone also uses all sorts of AI to help keep the video steady and eliminate hand shake. The iPhone 12 Pro Max includes sensor-shift optical image stabilisation which is far better due to it being hardware-based.
Samsung also included a Director Mode this year which lets users activate both the rear and front cameras at the same time and record from both too. There are also some great photo modes include Single Take that lets you choose from a selection of the best images in a scene while the phone takes multiple shots for you to choose from. This acts similar to Apple’s Live Photo which allows users to choose the best moment in a sequence of photos even though they only took one.
Overall, the camera system in the Samsung Galaxy S21+ is decent. Anyone who uses them on a daily basis will enjoy the quality they can output. Sure, the post-processing can sometimes look strange but it is nothing you can’t fix by tweaking a few dials.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G Performance and Battery Life
General use of the Samsung Galaxy S21+ was great. The phone is snappy, multitasking is quick and I never had any slowdowns of any sort. Geekbench 5 measured 1,120 on a single core and 3,287 on multi-core. You can’t compare the scores to Apple’s iPhone 12 range which scored 3,854 single and 3,886 multi-core. Apple’s chipsets simply rule the market when it comes to performance.
With that being said, you won’t see the difference when using the phone at all. Gaming was flawless no matter if I was playing Call of Duty mobile or the graphical-intensive Pascal’s Wager. I had the usual heat from the back but that is expected.
The battery life can last between a whole day and a couple of hours depending on what you are doing. With the adaptive refresh rate, I got over 10 hours. Of course, heavy gaming at 120Hz will eat it down faster.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ Review Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S21+ is a great phone but at the same time, there’s nothing major that sets it apart from its cheaper baby brother. There’s quite a substantial price difference between the two. (S21 R17,999 / S21+ R21,999). The camera is the same, the CPU is the same and the overall experience is the same. It would have been nice to have something cool here besides a bigger display and battery. With that being said, Samsung has quite a cool-looking, powerful device here with a great camera array.
The Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G is now available starting at R22,999.