Samsung Galaxy S21 first impressions

Samsung Galaxy S21 first impressions

Sleeker than their predecessors and more reasonably priced, the Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra are Samsung’s new high-end smartphones. These devices innovate while making numerous technological concessions.


Last year, few manufacturers managed to organize a real physical event. In fact, if we forget about the CES in Las Vegas, Samsung is the only one to have succeeded in inviting the press from all over the world to its big Unpacked event to present its Galaxy S20. You know the rest, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and forced high-tech brands to forego traditional press conferences. In the process, it stole the spotlight from the Galaxy S20 which, unfortunately for Samsung, quickly fell into oblivion.

Galaxy S21 Ultra and others

Like last year, Samsung has decided to release three versions of its new high-end smartphone. Like last year, the “Ultra” model is extremely privileged.

To make the reading of this article clearer, we decided to talk only about the Galaxy S21 Ultra at the beginning. We will talk about the Galaxy S21 and S21+ in a few paragraphs.

 Galaxy S21 The best screen on the market?

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the only smartphone with a curved screen in Samsung’s new range. Fans of this feature should not be too quick to rejoice, the curvature is really reduced to a minimum. It’s almost impossible to see it in our pictures. Not being big fans of the curved screen, we’re not really going to complain about it. A giant screen like the S21 Ultra (6.8 inches) is easier to handle with a nearly flat screen. 

This year, Samsung’s marketing teams decided to coin the term “Dynamic AMOLED 2X”. It is basically the same OLED display as the previous generations, with one exception. Indeed, the refresh rate of the smartphone can reach 120 Hz (2x 60 Hz = 120 Hz, hence the name 2X). You may think that the Galaxy S20 Ultra was capable of this, but not “dynamic”. The S21 Ultra has an adaptive refresh rate, the S20 Ultra forced you to choose between a constant 60 or 120 Hz.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s display nevertheless benefits from a major innovation: it uses an LTPO panel (a technology that is particularly well suited to variations in refresh rate since it preserves battery life). Thanks to the latter, the screen will oscillate between 120 Hz and … 11 Hz, which will allow it to drastically reduce its power consumption in some cases (especially in always-on-display mode).

This LTPO technology is already present on some connected watches, such as those of Samsung and Apple. Another feature that will delight fans of new technologies is the ability to combine Quad HD+ definition and 120 Hz refresh rate. In short, the S21 Ultra is well on its way to breaking records. 

The S-Pen lands on Galaxy S


Bonus point, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first (and only) Samsung smartphone from the Galaxy S family compatible with the S-Pen of the Galaxy Note. There is however a hitch, the accessory is not provided with the phone and does not recharge inside. It’s up to you to reuse the accessory from one of your other devices or to buy one separately and store it in a suitable case.

Another exclusive feature of the S21 Ultra is that it is the world’s first smartphone with Wi-Fi 6E connectivity. In the future, it will therefore be possible to connect to the 6 GHz band.

An ultra-versatile camera

Finally, the Galaxy S21 Ultra stands out especially thanks to its incredible camera module arranged in a block of rare elegance for a smartphone. Inside, there are four cameras in addition to a laser auto-focus that replaces the ToF sensor introduced with the Galaxy S20 last year.

After the Isocell Bright HMX, Samsung adopts the Isocell HM3. Don’t you get it? It’s normal, this is the name of the 108 Mpix sensors used by the Korean in his smartphones. After a somewhat disappointing first attempt with the S20 Ultra, Samsung hopes to do better with its second-generation sensor. Still, with a resolution of 108 Mpix, the main sensor of the S21 Ultra uses a process called “nona-binning”, which means that nine pixels are merged into one rather obtain 12 Mpix images with the least amount of noise possible. In a new pro mode, this new sensor is notably capable of taking 12-bit RAW pictures, which was not previously possible on a smartphone. We will have to try it to really judge it.

It is at the zoom level that the S21 Ultra reinvents itself the most. There is not one telephoto lens on the back of this smartphone, but two. Indeed, Samsung has decided to offer you the choice between the classic x3 (10 Mpix sensor, module opening at f/2.4) and … an impressive x10 zoom (10 Mpix sensor, periscopic module opening at f/4.9). Last year, the Korean brand offered only one periscopic zoom x5. Here, the user is a winner. He can see further without losing quality at a shorter distance. The Galaxy S21 Ultra fully rivals the Huawei P40 Pro+, also equipped with a 10x periscopic zoom.

Finally, the last camera of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is, unsurprisingly, an ultra-wide-angle camera connected to a 12 Mpix sensor. We do not know yet if there will be nice improvements compared to the previous generations.

On the video side, the S21 Ultra can still shoot in 8K and, as a novelty, can record in 4K 60 fps with all its sensors. A new director mode, shared by all Galaxy S21, also allows you to see through all its cameras simultaneously when filming (to change more easily, you can only record one stream at a time). A mode dedicated to vlogs also allows you to add your head in a corner of the video.

S21 and S21+: plastic or glass, you have to choose

Now let’s talk about the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+, the two most affordable smartphones in Samsung’s new smartphone line-up. Everything that will be said from now on (processor, fingerprint sensor, etc.) is also valid for the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Aesthetically, the Galaxy S21 and S21+ start the year in style. Their two-tone back is probably the prettiest we’ve seen on a smartphone in ages, especially since their camera module only protrudes a little. It’s a pleasure for the eyes.

Unfortunately, Samsung has still found a way not to achieve perfection. Only the S21+ and S21 Ultra have a Gorilla Glass 7 glass back since the classic S21 only has a plastic back. If the feeling is almost identical to glass, we have no doubt that this feature for a high-end smartphone will make people talk. Fortunately, the S21 is light (172 grams, compared to 202 and 228 grams for its big brothers). That doesn’t excuse everything, but it’s a good consolation.

Displays only Full HD+

Another point that may disappoint, Samsung has this year reserved Quad HD+ definition for its Galaxy S21 Ultra. Both the S21 and S21+ are content with Full HD+ definition displays. The difference is of course not visible to the naked eye (unless you’re still a mobile virtual reality adaptor) but Samsung fans are among the most meticulous on the market. We imagine that this regression will vex them. The curved screen is also completely abandoned, the 6.1 and 6.7 inch tiles used by Samsung are completely flat, like those of an iPhone. The three Galaxy S21 is covered with Gorilla Glass 7, making them the strongest Android smartphones on the market.

Fortunately, the “2X” adaptive refresh rate is also available on both devices. In the absence of an LTPO display, however, you will have to make do with a variation between 48 and 120 Hz, as opposed to 11 and 120 Hz on the Ultra model. Let’s also hope that the autonomy doesn’t suffer too much, which was the case last year (but the 120 Hz was permanently active).

A triple camera module without evolution

Take the triple camera module of the Galaxy S20, change its design to make it less “hotplate”, you will get the camera module of the Galaxy S21 and S21+. Quite sincerely, we are disappointed by Samsung’s conservatism which, criticized last year for abandoning the physical telephoto lens, decided to keep the same formula in 2021. Thus, the S21 and S21+ still have a 12 Mpixel dual-pixel main sensor (attached to an f/1.8 opening module), an ultra-wide-angle attached to a 12 Mpix (f/2.2) sensor, and a 64 Mpix (f/2.0) sensor dedicated to the rest (digital zoom, 8K video, ultra-high-definition photo). Knowing Samsung, the quality will once again be there. Nevertheless, we would have appreciated a little more than recycling from one year to the next.   

Exynos 2100, Samsung’s return to the top level?

In Europe, Samsung has still not listened to the numerous user requests to abandon Exynos chips and use Qualcomm Snapdragon chips, as in the United States. Once again, it is a processor designed by the Korean that will be found in the S21s sold in France. This is the Exynos 2100, a 5nm SoC announced only two days before the S21s.

Once is not customary, we think that the Exynos processor could be a good surprise this year. Indeed, the Korean decided to use “pure” ARM cores rather than trying to develop his own, which were known to consume too much energy. We’re really keeping our fingers crossed that performance is there, Samsung smartphones deserve a processor that pulls them up. By the way, the Exynos 2100 integrates a 5G modem. It is therefore no longer optional with this generation but present on all devices. In dual SIM mode, on the other hand, one must always make do with 5G+4G connectivity.

A larger fingerprint sensor

With its Galaxy S10, Samsung was the first manufacturer to launch a smartphone with an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. Two years later, nobody followed him. The other manufacturers preferred a more home-made technology called “optical” which consists, globally, in hiding a camera under the screen and strongly illuminating the OLED to see through. This technology has improved a lot lately and can now recognize your fingerprint over a larger area at lightning speed.

Two years after the Galaxy S10, Samsung is finally improving its ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. Able to read your fingerprint over an area 1.7 times larger than before (8 mm x 8 mm), this new component is also faster. Of course, it retains the watertightness that made the first-generation successful. We’ll have to adopt a Galaxy S21 for several days to tell you what we think of it, but we can’t wait to try it out. We’re big fans of Samsung’s ultrasonic sensor, especially in masked periods.

Ultra-fast recharging and Micro SD port abandoned

The S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra are equipped with 4000, 4800, and 5000 mAh batteries respectively. To our great surprise, none of these three smartphones is compatible with the 45W ultra-fast recharge used by Samsung for several generations. We will have to be satisfied with 25W wired and 15W wireless on these mobiles, proof that only Chinese manufacturers believe today in the potential of flash recharging (we should see 120W chargers this year).

Another disappearance that is likely to make a lot of people talk, none of the Galaxy S21 can improve its storage by Micro SD card. This emblematic feature of Samsung mobiles, briefly removed with the Galaxy S6 but reintroduced due to the anger of fans, seems to disappear for good this time. The Korean manufacturer explains to us that few users really use it and that, above all, the storage capacities offered today have become largely sufficient for the vast majority of users. The S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra all offer 128GB or 256GB (+50 euros). The S21 Ultra is also available in a 512GB version.

More anecdotally, the Galaxy S21+ and S21 Ultra support Ultra-Wideband technology which, for the moment, is useless (later, it will allow you to unlock your car door, for example). Once again, Samsung is complicating its life by depriving the small S21 of this technology. It’s hard to understand why the Korean creates so many differences in the same range.

The charger sold in option

Samsung has heard Apple’s message. In his video announcing the removal of the charger from the box of his iPhone, the Californian invited other brands to follow him. His historical rival, therefore, decided to do the same to reduce the size of the box and “save the planet”. In France, in addition to a USB-C to USB-C cable, you will find wired AKG earphones in the box of a Galaxy S21 (it’s normal, it’s the law). Elsewhere, there will only be one USB-C cable. For those who do not have an AC adapter, Samsung will sell an official 25W one for 29 euros.

Galaxy S21: prices down

By making all these concessions (plastic, Full HD +, Micro SD, ultra-fast recharge, charger …), Samsung has at least found a way to lower prices. Marketed from 859 euros, the Galaxy S21 5G cost less than their predecessors in their 4G versions. In fact, Samsung has decided to completely stop marketing the Galaxy S20 and to keep only the S20 FE, S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra in its S range. If you needed proof that the S20s have not been as successful as expected, here it is.

Galaxy S21 (grey, white, pink, purple) :

– 859 euros (128 GB)

– 909 euros (256 GB)

Galaxy S21+ (black, silver, purple) :

– 1059 euros (128 GB)

– 1109 euros (256 GB)

Galaxy S21 Ultra (black, silver) :

– 1259 euros (128 GB)

– 1309 euros (256 GB)

– 1439 euros (512 GB)

Galaxy S21s is already available for pre-order and will be delivered from January 29th. If you order them before this date, you will in any case receive a Bluetooth SmartTag tracker. Purchasers of the S21 or S21+ will also receive Galaxy Buds Live Earphones, while the lucky S21 Ultra customers will receive the new Galaxy Buds Pro Earphones.

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