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Galaxy S21+ review: the big-screen Samsung phone for slightly less | Samsung

Galaxy S21+ review: the big-screen Samsung phone for slightly less | Samsung

The Galaxy S21+ is Samsung’s cheaper flagship handset that tries to be a more mainstream big-screen option than its more expensive stablemate, the S21 Ultra.

The new Android phone has an RRP of £949 – making it £200 cheaper than the top-of-the-line S21 Ultra – but shop around and you’ll find it for less than £750, which makes it much more palatable.

It has the same metal and glass sandwich design as the majority of smartphones on the market and, unusually for Samsung phones, the 6.7in screen is flat, not curved at the sides. The screen is nevertheless bright, colourful and fast, with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz to keep everything super smooth when scrolling.

Samsung Galaxy s21+
The display has a slightly lower FHD+ resolution than Samsung’s top phone and some competitors with QHD+ screens but it was only noticeable when comparing them up close. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The S21+ is 27g lighter than the S21 Ultra but its 200g weight and lack of an edge to grip on its sides makes it harder to hold than similar rivals such as the OnePlus 9 Pro – meaning some form of phone grip is a good idea.

Specifications

  • Main screen: 6.7in FHD+ Dynamic Amoled 2X (394ppi) 120Hz

  • Processor: Samsung Exynos 2100 (EU) or Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (US)

  • RAM: 8GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB

  • Operating system: One UI 3.1 based on Android 11

  • Camera: Triple rear camera: 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP 3x “hybrid” telephoto; 10MP front-facing camera

  • Connectivity: 5G, dual nano sim, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5, UWB and location

  • Water resistance: IP68 (1.5m for 30 mins)

  • Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 7.8mm

  • Weight: 200g

36 hours of battery life

Samsung Galaxy s21+
The phone fully charges in 74 minutes, hitting 50% in 26 minutes using a 25W USB-C fast charger (power adaptor not included). Fast wireless charging and reverse wireless charging are available. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The S21+ ships with Samsung’s Exynos 2100 processor in Europe or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 in the US with 8GB of RAM.

Performance matched the S21 Ultra, feeling noticeably snappier than last year’s S20 series. From unlocking the phone to launching apps, every action happens just a little bit quicker.

The phone easily outlasts a full day of heavy usage on battery. I got in excess of 36 hours between charges – 7am on day one until 7pm on day two – including more than 5.5 hours of screen-on time split between chat apps, Chrome, Gmail, Evernote, the Guardian, Spotify and many others, shooting about 15 photos and spending about two hours on 5G, the rest on wifi.

Sustainability

Samsung Galaxy s21+
The silver version of the phone shows blue hues in bright sun and more purple indoors. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Samsung does not provide an estimate of the number of full-charge cycles the battery should last. Batteries in similar devices can typically last for 500 cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity.

The phone is generally repairable and comes with a 24-month warranty. Screen repairs cost no more than £219, while the battery is replaceable by authorised service centres at a cost of no more than £59.

Samsung offers trade-in and recycling schemes for old devices but the smartphone does not include any recycled materials. The company publishes annual sustainability reports but not impact assessments for individual products. The S21+ does not ship with a charger or earphones.

One UI 3.1

Samsung Galaxy s21+
Samsung’s One UI interface now integrates most of Google’s services, including its ‘Discover’ news aggregator. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The S21+ ships with Samsung’s latest version of Android 11 called One UI 3.1, which is the same as that running on the S21 Ultra and other Samsung devices.

It inherits most of the new features from Android 11, including the separation of conversation, media and other alerts in the notifications shade, conversation bubbles, additional privacy controls and other permissions.

Overall One UI 3.1 continues to be one of the most refined and best heavily customised versions of Android, while Samsung has significantly sped up updates. The company has also pledged to support four years of major Android updates and monthly security patches, which is very good for Android devices, but behind Apple’s five-plus years of support for its phones.

Camera

Samsung Galaxy s21+
The camera app is simple to use and Samsung’s single-take feature, which captures videos, photos and produces animations all at once, is great fun but there is no dedicated macro mode. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The S21+ has a triple camera system on its rear featuring a 12MP ultrawide, 12MP wide and 64MP 2x “hybrid” telephoto camera, plus a 10MP selfie camera on the front of the device.

The main wide camera captures really good images in a variety of different lighting conditions with improved low-light performance over previous iterations. The ultra-wide camera is also solid but struggles a bit in middling light levels, often losing detail and sharpness. The 3x telephoto camera is good for what it is but pales in comparison to extended optical zooms on rivals and the S21 Ultra – anything beyond the 3x “hybrid zoom” starts to look like an oil painting.

By default, the camera shoots at 12MP across all three lenses but can capture photos at 64MP in good light using the telephoto camera but at 1x magnification. Video capture is equally good across all three lenses, with up to 4K at 60 frames a second possible on two of them. The 10-megapixel selfie camera is good but can be a little soft on detail in lower light levels.

Overall, the S21+ camera is good enough to keep up with most rivals but falls some way short of the class-leading camera on the S21 Ultra.

Observations

samsung galaxy s21+ review
Samsung’s significantly faster and more accurate second-generation ultrasonic fingerprint sensor sits under the screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price

The Samsung Galaxy S21+ has an RRP of £949 with 128GB of storage or £999 with 256GB, although is frequently available at a significant discount.

For comparison, the Galaxy S21 costs £769, the Galaxy S21 Ultra costs £1,149, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra costs £1,179, the Galaxy Z Flip costs £1,300, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 costs £1,799; the Oppo Find X3 Pro costs £1,099, OnePlus 8 Pro costs £799 and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max costs £1,099.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S21+ is a good phone but one totally overshadowed by a far better model that is very similar in dimensions – the S21 Ultra.

The S21+ has a good 120Hz screen covered by the latest in hardened glass, excellent performance, premium build, solid battery life and good software support for at least four years from release. It is a big phone, however, and not as easy to handle as narrower rivals. While good, its camera is quite some way behind Samsung’s best.

At its RRP of £949, it is a hard sell but discounted to more like £750 the S21+ offers a lot of great phone for the money.

Pros: 120Hz screen, 5G, good camera, dual sim, One UI 3.1/Android 11, wireless charging and powershare, good performance, long battery, fast fingerprint scanner, four years of software support.

Cons: big, no headphone socket, only 2x optical zoom, a little unwieldy, screen lower resolution than some rivals.

Samsung Galaxy s21+
The S21+ looks, works and feels great but may be a little too big for some. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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