Samsung Galaxy S21+ Smartphone Review

We review the Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone's design, display, cameras, and user experience to help you decide if it's right for you.
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Samsung’s Galaxy S21+ smartphone is the middle phone of the three devices Samsung recently launched at their Unpacked event, and it’s $200 cheaper than the launch price of the previous S20+.

So what did you lose in the 2021 model so that Samsung could bring you this phone with pandemic pricing? Well, we’ll talk about all that you are getting and answer that question as well. Let’s go.

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Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone design

A sleeker design with reduced camera bump

I’m reviewing the Phantom Black colorway of the Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone, which is also available in Phantom Violet and Phantom Silver.

This Phantom Black version has a beautiful matte finish that resists fingerprints quite well. During the Unpacked presentation, Samsung went into quite a bit of detail about the painstaking measures they went through to create this colorway, and it shows in person.

Reduced camera bump

What doesn’t show as much in person is that large camera bump from last year’s S20+. Not that I was one of those complaining about that—because I wasn’t—but this year’s Galaxy devices all received a redesign, so now the camera module is integrated into the band of the phone. It just flows better, minimizing the perceived size of the camera module.

And let’s be real here. Most of you are going to put a case on the phone anyway, which is going to make the camera bump a non-issue.

Form factor

In my hand, the phone feels weighty in a good way. It feels substantial and well-built. Looking around the phone cosmetically, you’re going to get all the buttons on the right side of the phone. There, you’ll find the power button and above that, the volume rocker.

The bottom of the phone is where you’ll find one half of the stereo speakers, the USB-C port, and the SIM tray, which is for a SIM card only and does not offer expandable memory.

Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone display

The display is actually a downgrade from last year

The front of the phone is where you’ll find a bright, vibrant 6.7-inch AMOLED display with a dynamic refresh rate, which goes from 48 to 120 Hz depending on what you’re doing with the phone.

The phone’s display resolution on the S21+ this year is actually lower than last year’s S20+, coming in at 2,400 x 1,080, or what is generally called Full HD+. At the top of the display, you’ll find a hole-punch camera and the other half of the stereo speakers.

At the bottom of the screen (or close to it) is the in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. It’s larger this year than last, but I still ended up registering two fingers that I use to log in with twice for faster, more consistent unlocks.

Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone battery and charging

A true all-day battery

Inside the Galaxy S21+, there is a larger battery than the S20+’s. This year’s model includes a 4,800 mAh battery, which got me almost 8 hours screen-on time and 14 hours of viewing in my artificial battery testing.

In my real-world testing—which includes streaming title or listening to stream podcast during my commute, heavy social media and email use, and minimal calling—I was easily getting all-day use from the time I’d get up ahead of the sun to the time I go to bed. That’s not just a full workday’s worth of charge, but an actual “all day and through the night” charge.

The S21+’s battery charges up pretty fast, thanks to 25-watt wired charging or 15-watt wireless charging. But you’ll have to figure that part out on your own as there is no charger in the box. We have a video about charger alternatives, if you need some ideas.

Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone processor and memory

A powerful processor that is ready for 5G

While we’re talking about what’s inside the phone, you’re going to get 8 GB of RAM and options for either 128 GB or 256 GB of storage on this model.

This year, powering this 5G phone is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor with support for US 5G bands, including millimeter wave.

Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone cameras and video

One wide, one ultra-wide, and one telephoto lens

On the back of the Samsung Galaxy S21+, you’re going to get three cameras: a 12-megapixel wide, 12-megapixel ultra-wide, and 64-megapixel telephoto lens.

As expected, the cameras do take solid photos. You aren’t going to be disappointed. The $200 difference in last year’s pricing definitely won’t be felt by most people in terms of the camera.

As you can see in these flower captures, the wide and telephoto lenses handle harsh colors with the plum. The colors don’t cause blurring and still have solid separation between the different flowers, except in the harshest conditions.

In this photo of bougainvilleas in harsh sunlight, there’s still really good detail, and the flowers could be much more washed out.

The phone also handles low light well, as you can see here. These buildings are sharp when you blow them up, as are the lights, around which the camera didn’t present a great deal of flaring.

Front-facing camera

I was thoroughly impressed with the artificial intelligence in this front-facer.

In this photo with the sun beating in my face, the highlights were handled well, but the edge detection was magnificent.

The only other phone I’ve used recently that produced front-facing images this sharp with as beautiful a bouquet is Google’s Pixel.

Video

I can use the Samsung Galaxy S21+ to shoot in the same aspect ratio and frame rate that I use to produce my review videos—4K and 24 frames per second. The telephoto and wide angle lenses both utilize optical image stabilization. So the videos do come out pretty solid in terms of their ability to mitigate shake.

New video modes

With the Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone, you get some new modes, which makes shooting creative videos easier.

  • Director’s View allows you to see and cut between the multiple angles.
  • Vlogger’s View allows you to record your back and front cameras simultaneously.

These are actually useful features in practice, more than just gimmicks like Space Zoom.

Space Zoom

I actually really like the Space Zoom feature, even though it’s only a 30X-magnification hybrid, unlike the 100X hybrid of the 21 Ultra.

Even with 30X though, here’s what I was able to capture. Here’s a crane with the standard wide lens, then 10X, 20X, and finally 30X.

This year, the Space Zoom is improved with AI, which actually makes capturing those details at 30X much, much easier by lessening handshake when you use the crosshairs and reducing camera shake at that level of magnification.

How does the Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone compare to the S20+?

Don’t disregard the S21+ just because it’s $200 less than last year’s model

But I’m guessing that what you really want to know is how does the Samsung Galaxy S21+ compare to last year’s S20+? Is that $200 difference magnified? For most people, I don’t think so.

The S21+ has a bigger battery

The battery is bigger in the S21+, so that’s a good start.

The S21+ has a faster processor

You get a faster processor with the S21+, even though you get less RAM than you would with the S20+. So I think ultimately, that’s going to be a wash.

The S21+ has lower display resolution

The screen on the S20+ from last year had a higher resolution and the same refresh rate as this year’s S21+. And though I don’t have the S20+ in hand right now, it had a higher pixel density to go along with that high refresh rate, which generally makes for a sharper display. I’m sure if I had them side by side, the difference would be noticeable to me.

But what I’ve also noticed is that most of the average buying public isn’t generally too keen on noticing display differences unless there are stark differences, which is why many phone manufacturers are actually going with Full HD+ on their displays today anyway.

The S21+ does not have expandable memory

This year’s S21+ does not come with removable storage, whereas the S20+ had memory expandable up to 1000 GB. That SIM tray I mentioned earlier in the review is just that, a SIM tray. So as I always advise, if you’re going to buy the S21+, buy the version with the most storage you can afford. So that’s a choice between 128 GB or 256 GB.

Recap: Is the Samsung Galaxy S21+ the right smartphone for you?

Despite the compromise in screen quality, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone does tick all the right boxes for those looking for an upgrade. If costs are going to come down, the question must be asked, what do you really need in a phone?

In addition, affordable but powerful smartphones like the S21+ give people with smaller disposable income or for whom having bleeding-edge tech really isn’t a priority a great option for a phone that they could keep for years. At the same time, it allows Samsung to differentiate their product lines as they work to bring something to market for everyone at every price range, something that will appeal to both Luddites and tech enthusiasts alike.

Ultimately, I think the Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphone is the choice for most people out of the three phones that Samsung announced at Unpacked.

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