First to the hard facts. As with the Galaxy S10 and S20, there are also three models of Samsung’s latest smartphone generation. The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 + are largely identical except for size and battery capacity. The largest model of the series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, stands out with better camera equipment, S-Pen support and rounded display edges. Depending on the model, the costs are between 849 and 1429 euros (as RRP) and are therefore almost 50 euros cheaper than the previous generation.
The most noticeable innovation is the design. A stable aluminum frame encloses the smartphones, the camera lenses and sensors are embedded in a solid piece of metal. Only the smallest model in the series has a plastic back, the other two are made of matt glass. This makes the devices look valuable and stable. Fingerprints or streaks are barely visible, and the devices are easy to clean. In addition, all three are protected against water and dust according to IP68.
For the displays, Samsung uses the Dynamic AMOLED technology known from the Galaxy Note 20. They now deliver a refresh rate of up to 120 Hertz for an even smoother display with fast movements. Because you don’t always need such a smooth scrolling, the screens turn up and down when necessary, which is particularly energy-saving.
The Galaxy S21 convinced in the test with its 6.2 inch display, which only has HD + resolution, i.e. 2400 x 1080 pixels. Here, however, the display was okay due to the smaller format. The sharpness and contrast were convincing. Unlike the Galaxy S21 +, which has the same resolution, but whose display is significantly larger at 6.7 inches. Only the Ultra has a resolution of 3200 x 1440 pixels and thus at least achieves a WQHD + resolution that does justice to a flagship. At 1500 nits, it is also a bit brighter than the already radiant screens (1300 nits) of the other two models. The fingerprint scanner in the display is now larger and scans much faster.
Samsung’s latest Exynos 2100 chip powers all three smartphones. It ensures a fast and smooth performance that even gamers with higher demands get their money’s worth. The new chip also consumes less power than previous SoCs (System on Chip). The processor i Galaxy S21 and S21 + is accompanied by 128 or 256 gigabytes (GB) of energy-saving UFS 3.1 memory, a maximum of 512 GB is possible with the S21 Ultra. The test of the Galaxy S21 showed, however, that there are no more slots for memory cards. So you have to get by with the selected memory size.
Version 3.1 of the One UI user interface based on Android 11 is clear, even if some functions are not where you would expect them to be. It’s good that Samsung knows this and makes suggestions like “Are you looking for this?” In the menus. We also liked the new functions in the Galaxy S21 test, such as the choice between Google Discover and Samsung Free as a news aggregator. Samsung has also equipped the blue light filter with new functions for more relaxed display reading, and data synchronization between Samsung devices has also become easier.
The economical memory, display tricks and clever software kept the Galaxy S21 in operation for a long time in the test. The day is easy in all versions. However, the Galaxy S21 + with its 4800 mAh battery and the Galaxy S21 Ultra with 5000 mAh ran a little longer than the smaller model, which has a battery with 4000 mAh
The triple cameras of the Galaxy S21 and S21 + have hardly changed compared to their predecessors with two 12 megapixels and one 64 megapixels. For this, the software has apparently been improved. Photos under normal conditions are good, sharp and attractive. Sometimes the colors appear a bit too clear. The S21 Ultra, on the other hand, has a main sensor with 108 megapixels. It combines several pixels into one and thus creates a better light output in the dark. There are also two telephoto lenses with 3x and 10x magnification – so if you need a lot of zoom, you will find it here.
30x space zoom on the Galaxy S21 and S21 + and even 100x space zoom on the S21 Ultra – that’s what Samsung calls the combination of optical zoom and digital detail enlargement. In practice the result is mixed. Yes, you can see something on the zoom images. No, it’s not good for the family album. In addition, colors and details have to run a lot, especially with the S21 and S21 +.
All S21 models film videos in up to 8K resolution (7680 x 4280 pixels). The image stabilization is quite successful and can also handle very dynamic scenes and wobbles. Thanks to the high resolution and the image stabilization, sharp still images from videos are also possible.
If you dig your way into the camera app of the Samsung devices, you will be rewarded with a number of setting options for which you first have to go to the app store from other manufacturers.
In addition to an expanded Pro mode, we also found the further development of Samsung’s “Single Shot” in the test of the Galaxy S21. A scene can be recorded with all cameras at the same time. Then you get a still image, video and slightly different perspectives – great for capturing a moment in depth. The “Director’s View” allows a simultaneous view through all cameras, the desired lens can be selected with a fingertip. If you like, you can also fade in yourself.
Bulky and stable, yet elegant: In terms of construction and design, the Galaxy S21 models are a good further development of their predecessors. The polished aluminum frame and the camera lenses in a traffic light arrangement are really chic. And some weaknesses of the Galaxy S20 were ironed out in the S21.
So which one should it be? S21 and S21 + only differ in size. The S21 Ultra is interesting for everyone who values a good camera with a lot of zoom. With the S21 and S21 +, hardly anything has changed compared to its predecessor. Unlike users of older devices, S20 owners do not necessarily need to upgrade.