Galaxy S21 5G Review – Something Extraordinary About This Device

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review
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For those who have read my previous unboxing and preview article for the new Samsung Galaxy S21 5G, will know that I straight away fell in love with this smaller ergonomic phone. I have a thing with compact phone designs. I prefer it being smaller and more compact but still have a large enough screen to immerse myself in its wonders.

While having a larger than life screen is usually great for watching movies or gaming, I find that the size is simply too overwhelming. So what I’m trying say is, this smaller sibling from the new S21 series is my preferred device at the moment.

Galaxy S21 5G Review - Something Extraordinary About This Device

After close to two weeks of using the Galaxy S21 5G, I have tested the device to as many functions as possible and push the S21 to it’s processing limits. From being a constant daily driver with heavy multi-tasking and photo shooting, to hardcore gaming sessions which I always do almost on daily basis. This little wonder have gone through all that without breaking a sweat.

Having said that, here’s my full review of the new Samsung Galaxy S21 5G.

Galaxy S21 5G Review: Phone Design

I have given my early impressions of the Galaxy S21 5G in my preview article a week plus ago and I have said that I preferred a smaller sized smartphones. The last “compact” phone from the Galaxy family that I’ve used was the Galaxy S10e, which I loved so much. And the new Galaxy S21 5G is not a compact phone, but instead it is made smaller than the Plus and Ultra versions.

And the only few differences between this S21 and the S21+ are the screen size, the battery capacity and the matte plastic back on the S21. Other than that, I believe the performance and camera abilities are somewhat identical. But the Ultra version is probably in its own league.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review

I received the Phantom White colour of the Galaxy S21. I have always preferred black but this Phantom White is gorgeous. The back panel is made of plastic with aluminum frame all around. The matte plastic back made it look and feel premium, given that this S21 is priced lower than its predecessor. That’s a good thing to some people.

Samsung has ditched the infinity display for most of the latest flagship phones in the recent months and I’m very thankful for that. I have always preferred the flat front display for easy handling and swiping. The gorgeous 6.2″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display is superb. It comes with max of 120Hz framerate that is dynamically adjusted ranging from 40Hz to 120Hz depending on the usage. This helps with battery life and improved the overall user experience.

Galaxy S21 5G Review - Something Extraordinary About This Device

There is also an improvement made to the under display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. The coverage area for the sensor/scanner is now made bigger, allowing for faster and more accurate reading. I approved this 100%. It worked beautifully.

The front punch hole camera is located right at the top in the middle. The 10MP front facing camera is able to shoot 4K video at 30/60fps while the 1080p HD is able to shoot only up to 30fps.

Galaxy S21 5G Review - Something Extraordinary About This Device

On the right side, the volume rocker is located at the top while the power button sits below it. Those who are used to using a Galaxy series will find this a familiar layout. On the left side of the device, there are no buttons or whatsoever.

Looking at the top, there are two tiny holes which I believe are the microphones while at the bottom, there’s the SIM card tray, another microphone hole, the USB type-C port and the bottom firing speaker.

Speaking of the speaker, the Galaxy S21 comes with a stereo speaker. One sound coming from the bottom speaker and the other comes from the front right above the front facing camera. That actually comes from inside the screen because there are no speaker holes at the top front. Sound is good but it can be better.

Going around the back, the most obvious thing you will notice is the camera. This time, the camera design blends together with the frame – which looks way better than before. Because of this, the camera section looks like it is really designed and built for the body. This well-crafted design raised the bar for others to compete.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review

As for the camera itself, it comes with three setups – 12MP wide angle, 64MP telephoto and a 12MP ultrawide angle. The LED flash is located outside the camera deck, which I think is a suitable place for it. I will dive deeper on the camera performance and results later in this review.

Also to note that this Galaxy S21 5G is also water and dust proof just like its predecessors. So you can take it for a splash but don’t submerge the phone for more than 30 minutes just because you want to. It is designed to withstand water but it is not made to dive underwater on purpose for long period or depth of more than 1.5 meters.

Now here are the full specification of the new Samsung Galaxy S21 5G:

  • SoC: Exynos 2100 (5 nm), Octa-core (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55)
  • GPU: Mali-G78 MP14
  • OS: Android 11, One UI 3.1
  • Memory: 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM
  • Display:
    Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1300 nits
    6.2 inches, 94.1 cm2 (~87.2% screen-to-body ratio)
    1080 x 2400 pixels, 20:9 ratio (~421 ppi density)
  • Battery:
    Li-Ion 4000 mAh, non-removable
    Fast charging 25W
    USB Power Delivery 3.0
    Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W
    Reverse wireless charging 4.5W
  • Camera:
    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
  • Selfie Camera:
    10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.24″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF
    [email protected]/60fps, [email protected]
  • Sensors: 
    Fingerprint (under display, ultrasonic), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer.
    Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support)
  • Colours: Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink

Galaxy S21 5G Review: User Experience & Performance Test

The Galaxy S21 5G is pre-installed with Android 11, OneUI 3.1 out-of-the-box. The OneUI 3.1 has a few nifty upgrades from the 3.0 version. There are some changes that I find useful. But not much on the overall UI design, but upgraded for user experience.

In my experience of using Android phones all these years, I have experienced some sluggish phones, mediocre design, half-baked OS upgrades and many others. I have also encounter smooth scrolling, super responsive and great phones previously. And for this Galaxy S21 5G, it is among the best that I have tested so far.

My previously reviewed S20 FE/Ultra and Note20 series are in my top favourite list, to which I now include the new Galaxy S21 5G in that list as well. My overall user experience with the S21 is divine. From the first boot up until my nightly gaming sessions has been a great experience. As for the battery life, I can easily vouch that this S21 lasted about 30 hours from full 100% charge on normal daily use.

The S21 5G is powered by Samsung’s new SoC, the 5nm Exynos 2100 working along with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal space. Sadly, the max amount of RAM you can get for the Galaxy S21 5G is only 8GB as opposed to 12GB in the previous S20 series. But you can opt to get the S21 Ultra instead if you’re looking for more RAM (up to 16GB) at a higher cost.

Galaxy S21 5G Review - Something Extraordinary About This Device

All the new S21 series does not come with an expandable storage via MicroSD card. Samsung has removed this option for all the new S21 series. But with a starting storage of 128GB, I don’t see why we need an additional storage anyway. So I’m okay with that.

Multi-tasking is a breeze like taking a stroll in the park. You can have many app windows open and running in the background but the S21 simply process the workload like it is nothing. If you’re out and about with your busy schedule and need to keep in touch with your colleagues on various messaging apps and start a Zoom meeting while you’re at it, the Galaxy S21 5G is your perfect partner to handle all that tasks with its fast 5G Internet connection (if available) and help you get your work done by the end of the day.

The 4000mAh battery will help you get there as well. The power management on the Galaxy S21 5G is better than some of the flagships before this, in my opinion. I have read some reviews that also mentioned about the S21+ and Ultra, both having great battery consumption and management as well. So that is a great update by Samsung.

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Galaxy S21 5G Review - Something Extraordinary About This Device

I was a little worried when it comes to power management lately because a friend of mine bought a brand new Note20 Ultra few months back and the battery depleted from 100% to 80% in less than 30 minutes. So with the battery improvements in Galaxy S21 5G, it lifted my worry a whole lot.

Now, pushing the limit of the Galaxy S21 5G is my favourite task. To do this, I will test it with a few (and many more) rounds of PUBG Mobile at its highest graphic settings and framerate. After done with all the configurations, it’s time to test the game.

Loading took a few seconds faster than my other phone (Oppo A92, SD665). My first impression on the graphic rendering and fluidity is wonderful. I get to experience high FPS settings at the highest quality graphics without any hiccups. Sure, the initial loading was a little slow but once everything loads up, it is buttery smooth like it is made for the game.

I had countless games and even more countless hours playing PUBGM on the S21 5G. It has been my nightly routine since season 1. But I don’t play competitive gaming, mostly just for fun and also to push the limit of every phone that I review. So if it runs well for PUBGM, it’s good for anything else.

On the flipside, I also have to check on the gaming battery consumption and heat. As for battery consumption, the Galaxy S21 5G manage the power quite well – down to 30% from 100% after 6-7 round of games. That’s at least 20 minutes for each game. At high graphic settings, I do expect the S21 to heat up a little bit. But the heat is just a minor one. And I wouldn’t even call that as hot. It also cools down quickly after I exit the game.

Galaxy S21 5G Review: Photography

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review

The Galaxy S21 5G comes with a triple camera setup. Let’s recap on the camera specifications and then I shall elaborate my experience while using each of the camera setup:

  • Camera:
    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
  • Selfie Camera:
    10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.24″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF

Shooting with 12MP wide angle camera

This is the camera setup that I use a lot. I simply fire up the camera app and this is the default camera. Since this is the standard camera setup, I will usually use this as my quick point-and-shoot camera mode. Never miss out on that candid shots anymore. The camera app can be loaded up quickly by pressing the power button twice while the screen is off. And this mode will automatically be loaded. Very easy to use and the scene optimizer will also help you with the overall setting to best suit the subject.

Some sample photos taken with the 12MP wide angle camera:

I even took a little time to shoot using the night mode on the main shooter. Results are quite good. The photo below was taken at my back lane at night. The back lane is usually pitch black with very little light illuminating the area. Take a look at the shot.

Galaxy S21 5G Review - Something Extraordinary About This Device

Quite impressive I must say.

Shooting with 64MP telephoto camera

Previously the mode for telephoto is known as Live Focus. After the OneUI 3.1 update, the scene/mode is known as Portrait. On a dSLR cameras. a telephoto prime lens (50mm/90mm) is used for portrait shots because of its low aperture and great image quality. A telephoto camera on the Galaxy S21 5G tries to achieve the same result as a dSLR. All I can say is that, it 95% succeed in getting that similar result.

Portrait shots on the new Galaxy S21 5G is great. Samsung is often being compared to Apple when it comes to flagship camera qualities. And this time, I honestly think that Samsung got it right with the S21 series. The colours are accurate and the “bokeh” effects are seamless. Foreground exposures are well balanced with the background, telling me that the HDR mode worked brilliantly for this.

The telephoto camera mode also doubled up as a macro lens. In this mode, you can get up close and personal with a tiny object or insect. Try it, you’d be surprise with the results.

So here are some samples from the telephoto camera:

Shooting with 12MP ultrawide angle camera

This is the camera to use when you’re trying to squeeze as many subjects (people) in a single photo with having to take a few steps back. Great for small spaces. I don’t often shoot with this camera setup but when I do, it’s mostly for landscape and outdoor shots of buildings or sceneries.

Be mindful when you shoot in this mode. For sceneries and open spaces, the results will look great. But when it comes to people, you will get some warped images of a person around the corners because of the lens distortion. Place the subject/person nearer to the center of the image for best results. But most of all, enjoy the scenery.

Galaxy S21 5G Review - Something Extraordinary About This Device

Shooting with the 10MP wide angle selfie camera

The selfie camera also comes with the portrait mode. Although it works similarly as the back camera portrait mode, it doesn’t achieve the same result. Having said that, it still managed to produce good looking portrait shots and selfies.

Colours are well balanced and the clarity is good. On the front camera, it can also capture a wider angle shots using the software based ultrawide angle emulation. You won’t be able to squeeze as many people in a photo like the one on the rear camera, but at least you can easily get more in a wefie.

Now here are the samples for the front camera.

Shooting some videos

The Galaxy S21 5G is able to shoot 4K video at 24fps. I have taken some videos with this setting and I find it a little too sharp with the post processing. It looks good, but the it can be a little gentle with the auto-sharpening. As for 60fps on UHD and FHD, it worked great while 30fps on UHD, FHD and HD worked as it should. The overall video quality is above average on all resolutions and to me, this little device can be used to create awesome videos, movies and for vlogging as well.

Have a look at the samples below for all the resolutions and framerates.

Conclusion

I had a wonderful time with the new Samsung Galaxy S21 5G. Multi-tasking is simply great and my usual tasks like messaging, emails, team management apps and office stuffs works like a charm.

I am a little sad that the RAM is only up to 8GB for the non-ultra versions. Slightly more RAM would be much help in making it perform a little better. But at 8GB of RAM, it is still able to do wonders.

Pushing the phone’s limit was joyful. Gaming on the Galaxy S21 5G is simply awesome. Camera works great. Android 11 on OneUI 3.1 is very intuitive. What more can you ask for?

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review

Would I recommend the new Galaxy S21 5G to anyone? Yes I would. But my only advice is to stay within your budget and what you’re using it for. If you have the budget for the upgrade and to use it for years to come – yes, why not. But if you’re a little on the low budget, just think properly and the reasons for getting one. Don’t get me wrong, the Galaxy S21 5G is an excellent phone and it is definitely future proof thanks to the new 5nm process SoC and 5G network ready. These are the key points that you have to consider when purchasing a flagship phone especially at this price point.

The new Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is now available for purchase for the Malaysian market in the official Galaxy Store starting from RM3,699.00

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G

RM3,699.00
9.2

Design

9.5/10

Performance

9.5/10

Price

8.5/10

Photos & Videos

9.5/10

UI/UX

9.0/10

Pros

  • Waterproof IP68
  • New 5nm SoC
  • Good battery management
  • Excellent camera
  • Great design

Cons

  • No expandable storage
  • Plastic back
  • RAM can be more

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