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Samsung Galaxy S21+ Review: Top-Notch Performer For An Exorbitant Price
Samsung's 2021 flagships include the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and the mighty Galaxy S21 Ultra. For most users, the Galaxy S21+ seems to be the go-to Galaxy smartphone this year as it tries to strike a balance between the vanilla Galaxy S21 and the mighty Galaxy S21 Ultra. It draws power from the same top-of-the-line Exynos 2100 SoC and brings an identical striking design.
- Striking Design
- Swift Performance
- Good Daylight Camera Performance
- Immersive Audio Delivery
- Decent Battery Life
- Unwanted Ads In UI On A Flagship Phone
- No Charger, No Case & No Earphones
- No Quad HD+ Display
- Slight Heating Issues
However, it skips the 108MP camera sensor and the QHD+ panel, two features exclusive to the Ultra version. Do these omissions matter or have some effect on the day-to-day performance of the heftily priced Galaxy S21+? Let's find out.
Galaxy S21+ Design- Distinctive And Durable
Samsung made smart and bold decisions for its 2021 Galaxy smartphones line-up. Similar to the Ultra variant, the Galaxy S21+ also get a frosted glass back panel with the latest Corning Victus layer over it, whereas the vanilla Galaxy S21 comes with a plain plastic back. How does the plastic back panel look and feel? This is a topic for another day as we haven't got our hands on the vanilla Galaxy S21 yet. So let's just focus on the middle child- the Galaxy S21+.
The Galaxy S21+ looks and feels premium from every nook and corner. The new contour-cut camera module looks discrete on the matte finish frosted glass back panel. It's a three-lens elongated camera setup that starts from the aluminum frame and beautifully wraps around the top left-hand edge of the device. It's one of my favorite camera module designs lately.
Color Variants And Ergonomics
Samsung has come up with some unique and head-turning dual-tone color finishes for the 2021 Galaxy devices. You might have a tough time zeroing down on one as the entire range looks striking. We are testing the 'Phantom Violet' color variant of the Galaxy S21+ but you can also buy the handset in silver and black color options. We also loved the all-black look of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
As for ergonomics, the Galaxy S21+ feels sturdy and offers a very assuring feel in hands but it is also very slippery and should be used with extreme caution. You must buy a good case for the handset as Samsung is not offering one in the box. The Galaxy S21+ can be used with one hand, but mostly for basic phone tasks (Phone dialer, scrolling, swiping images in the gallery, etc.) and not more than that.
Corning Victus And IP68 Rated
Both the front and the back panel of the Galaxy S21+ are protected by Corning's latest product- Victus which should offer best-in-segment protection from unwanted damages. The smartphone also gets an IP68 water-dust resistance rating and can survive for 30 minutes in up to 1.5m water depth. For connectivity, the Galaxy S21+ has a Type-C charging port at the bottom and a dual nano-SIM card slot. Sadly, there's no microSD card slot or a 3.5mm audio jack. These two basic features are long gone now.
Galaxy S21+ Display- Big, Vibrant, And Fluid
I switched to the Galaxy S21+ after using the Galaxy S21 Ultra for over a month and the differences in the display were instantly noticeable. For starters, the Galaxy S21+ has a slightly smaller 6.7-inch panel that lacks curves. Its flat nature offers better ergonomics but at the same time the Galaxy S21+ feels very ordinary, or you can say slightly less flagship as compared to the Galaxy S21 Ultra and other devices with curved panels including the OnePlus 8 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 10 5G, and the Vivo X50 Pro. Also, the lack of curves means the display is a tad wider making the overall device feel ever so slightly wider in hands.
As for the display quality is concerned, it's top-notch despite lacking those extra pixels offered by the QHD+ panel of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The 1080p Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel (395ppi pixel density) is an excellent screen for gaming and media playback. It supports HDR10+ content playback and gets extremely bright (1300 nits peak brightness) when the right content kicks in. Even for day-to-day use, both indoors and outdoors, the vivid screen works wonderfully, and display the content.
The Galaxy S21+ has a 120Hz refresh rate that makes the panel buttery smooth. The adaptive display can go as low as 48Hz according to the content being displayed. Overall, the Galaxy S21+ has an excellent panel for everything you tend to do on your smartphone; however, it's just not exceptional. I think you should wait for OnePlus to launch the flagship OnePlus 9-series smartphone that will flaunt a QHD+ 120Hz panel at substantially lower price-point. I am guessing OnePlus will also equip the device's panel with MEMC technology for motion smoothening, a feature even the top-end Galaxy S21 Ultra lacks.
Galaxy S21+ Camera Hardware
The Galaxy S21+ skips on the fancy 100MP primary sensor and its gimmicky space zoom feature for good. The fairly standard triple-lens camera setup reminds me of the Galaxy S20+ as it features a familiar 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm wide-angle lens with OIS and Dual Pixel PDAF. It is supported by a 12 MP fixed-focus, f/2.2, 13mm ultra-wide-angle lens with 120-degree field-of-view. The third lens in the configuration is a 64MP fixed-focus telephoto sensor with 3x lossless optical zoom and up to 30x digital zoom. For selfies, the Galaxy S21+ comes equipped with a 10MP f/2.2 (26mm) lens of 1/3.24" sensor size. The camera can record 8K@24fps videos, 4K@30/60fps videos, 1080p@30/60/240fps videos, and 720p@960fps videos.
Galaxy S21+ Camera Performance
- The 1/1.76" primary sensor captures crisp and vivid pictures and videos in daylight. The images/videos show vibrant colors but the saturation is one or two-tone down than the previous Samsung devices. Resultant, the color output is now slightly more natural than the predecessors.
- The daylight images show an excellent dynamic range and no visible noise; however, the camera sensor tends to add some artificial sharpness to images. The camera has a very fast and accurate focus mechanism which allows you to capture fast-moving objects with an ease, provided that there's good amount of light.
- I noticed some much-needed improvements in the wide-angle camera samples. The images show a wide dynamic range and better overall details, which could be due to additional sharpness.
- I liked the fact that Samsung allows for Pro mode features on the wide-angle lens. You can tweak the important parameters to frame the desired shot.
- The 12MP shots capture more information in darker areas of the frame as compared to the 64MP high-resolution pictures. However, the 64MP images capture a tad wider dynamic range. I also noticed differences in contrast levels.
Impressive 3X Zoom Images
- The 3x zoom is very useful and captures fairly usable pictures. The images are a bit noisy with some lack of detailing but the overall results are pretty good.
- The 10x shots can be used in some instances but beyond that, it's just noise and loss of details.
- The Galaxy S21+ is a decent low-light shooter. It captures images with lots of details; however, some visible noise also kicks in the darker areas. I like how the camera preserves vivid colors and dynamic range even in low-light.
- Night mode helps to a good extent while shooting in challenging lighting. It addresses noise issues in shadow areas and also makes images lively.
- The ultra-wide-angle fails to impress in the low-light.
- Similar to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S21+ also impresses with its portrait mode. You are given two zoom perspectives and both deliver excellent bokeh shots. Images show good edge detection and very pleasant bokeh effects. The edge-detection only messes up when some hair on your head sticks out from the lot.
- The Galaxy S21+ captures vibrant selfies with good skin textures and no or almost negligible skin smoothening. Selfies preserve a wide dynamic range and good details.
- I noticed some weird pauses in slow-motion videos. It's almost like the camera processing engine is unable to stitch a slow-motion video properly which affects the overall flow and smoothness of the footage. I did not experience this issue on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Galaxy S21+ Hardware Performance
The Galaxy S21+ uses the same innards as the Galaxy S21 Ultra with some differences in the RAM. It is also powered by Samsung's latest in-house Exynos 2100 SoC. The 5G-integrated chipset is built on the 5-nanometer (nm) process node and delivers smooth processing performance. It makes the Galaxy S21+ fast and snappy enough to handle everything without any performance issues. I am testing the 8GB/128GB variant of the handset and it works like a breeze. The smartphone smoothly handles the most demanding tasks and can also run the most graphics-intensive games without breaking up a sweat.
I did notice some heating issues on the device which shouldn't happen if you are playing light games and just shooting videos or taking portraits. Video recording also heats the device right under the camera module. Samsung really should do something about these Exynos-related heating issues which seem persistent over the Galaxy-lineup generations. The new generation in-screen fingerprint scanner is blazingly fast and very accurate. The face unlock is also pretty snappy but its accuracy is questionable, especially in low-light.
Android 11 (Samsung OneUI 3.1) Out-Of-The-Box
As far as software is concerned, the Galaxy S21+ is one of the few smartphones to run Android 11 out-of-the-box. The phone comes running Samsung's OneUI 3.1 which is visually appealing and offers all the required useful features. Gestures work like a charm on the S21+ and the overall software experience is blazing fast, fluid, and free of app crashes. But why am I seeing ads (mostly Galaxy Store ads) on the Galaxy S21+ and even on the Galaxy S21 Ultra? Because advertisements are very smartly integrated into the phone's software and you can't do much about it. This needs to stop, at least on the premium Galaxy smartphones.
Galaxy S21+ Battery Life, Audio And Connectivity
The Galaxy S21+ draws power from a fairly sized 4,800 mAh battery cell which has to power a 1080p panel. It easily lasts one full day with moderate usage with refresh rate set to adaptive. There's no QHD+ resolution support that could take a toll on the battery's lasting life. Overall, the battery life on this year's Galaxy phones is slightly better as compared to their predecessors.
Samsung decided to skip offering the new Galaxy phones with daily need accessories this year. The phone's box lacks a charging adaptor and only offers a Type-C to Type-C cable. The Galaxy S21+ supports 25W wired charging speed which is much lower than the 2021 standards. Chinese manufacturers are offering up to 65W fast-charging speeds and that too with bundled charging adaptors. If you don't have a Quick Charge 4.0 enabled brick handy, be ready to spend some extra thousands on an official and genuine charger for the new Galaxy smartphones. The Galaxy S21+ supports up to 10W+ wireless charging.
Similar to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S21+ nails the audio performance. The phone's stereo speaker setup produces a loud and clear sound that will suffice to let you watch movies and play games even if you don't have earphones handy. Another shocker- there are no AKG-tuned earphones in the box.
As far as connectivity is concerned, I did not face any phone-related call connectivity issues on the Galaxy S21+. But Airtel in Delhi/NCR needs to do something about its pathetic services as no matter what phone you are using, the network operator is playing a crucial role in a smooth calling facility.
The Galaxy S21+ is a well-rounded flagship that delivers on most fronts without any performance issues. It looks good, runs without a glitch, and captures good pictures. The 1080p 120Hz AMOLED display is excellent for day-to-day use but the phone's high price wants us to ask for a QHD+ panel. It's something you deserve at this price and it should have been there. Also, the lack of basic accessories in the box might come as a big disappointment as it's an additional expense if you are not already invested in Samsung's ecosystem.
Should you spend Rs. 81,999 on the Galaxy S21+? Wait for OnePlus to launch the OnePlus 9 Pro/OnePlus 9. It will give you more clarity for the big investment you want to make on a flagship Android handset in 2021.