Back in January, Samsung launched its new S21 flagship lineup, headlined by the top-of-the-line S21 Ultra. While the Ultra model packs all the bells and whistles, the base Galaxy S21 is no slouch either. Sure, it may lack the Ultra’s four rear cameras (as it has only three), but it does still have the same Exynos 2100 processor, as well as a proper dynamic refresh rate AMOLED panel.
Another thing that makes the S21 stand out, funnily enough, is its size. Compared to most of today’s phones, be it flagship or even entry-level, the S21 is on the smaller side. Because of this, the S21 is looking like a good option for users who want a flagship that’s a bit more pocketable.
It is still a flagship though, especially with its price tag that’s a bit under PHP 50k. So does the base S21 prove to be a worthy top-end contender? Find out here in our Samsung S21 Review!
Let’s start off with its design. The S21 has a sleek matte back that’s a bit understated, especially when compared with other flagships that have glossy backs. While it may not be as eye-catching, I’m personally a big fan of the S21’s more low-profile look. Plus, it still definitely feels premium in the hand, not to mention that the matte finish means it isn’t a fingerprint magnet.
What does stand out a bit in the S21 is its camera module. For its latest top-of-the-line series, Samsung went a different camera module design that makes it look quite distinct and unmistakably an S21. While there is a noticeable camera bump for the module, it’s not too much to detract from the in-hand (and in-pocket) feel.
At the front meanwhile, we have the phone’s 6.2-inch display with a dynamic 48-120Hz refresh rate. Looks-wise, the display looks almost all-screen thanks to the slim bezels. Though the front camera cutout, while small, can be slightly distracting when watching videos. I would’ve preferred it if Samsung moved the notch to the upper left side instead of placing in right on the middle. Admittedly, this is a bit of a nitpick as most users should be fine with the display’s look.
The 6.2-inch display on the S21 has a FHD+ (1080p) resolution; not the highest for a flagship. But don’t worry, even if it’s “only” 1080p, the S21’s screen is excellent for binge-watching thanks to its sharp output with vibrant colors. If you want a small and portable device to watch movies/shows on, the S21 should be a great match.
It also helps that the S21 has pretty good onboard stereo speakers. While I’d still recommend wireless external speakers or headphones (as the phone lacks a headphone jack), watching videos while using the built-in speakers should still deliver a good experience.
The S21 is powered by an Exynos 2100, the latest flagship processor built by Samsung. Given that the Exynos 990-powered S20 FE from last year ran a bit hot when gaming, we hoped that the Exynos 2100 delivers a better gaming experience. Thankfully, it did!
When playing less-demanding games, the S21 has no problems running these titles, even at max graphics settings. For instance, League of Legends: Wild Rift ran smoothly at the highest graphics setting.
The phone’s adaptive refresh rate display is also great for gaming as it can support games that can run at up to 120FPS. So if you like playing these high refresh rate mobile games, the S21 should be up to the task.
Though in our gaming test, we found that the S21 isn’t exactly the most powerful gaming flagship you can get. Take Genshin Impact for example; the game ran fairly well at the Medium settings, but it was stuttering a lot when pushed to the max. Of course, this might be because of optimization issues within the game, though some dedicated gaming flagships can run the game at max.
Finally, here are the synthetic benchmark scores for the base S21.
Geek Photoshoot Capabilities
Now we move on to cameras–usually the most exciting part of flagship phones. For the S21, Samsung used a 12MP wide + 12MP ultra-wide + 64MP telephoto with 3x hybrid zoom rear camera setup, as well as a 10MP selfie shooter. This setup is similar to last year’s base S20, and while it may not have the Ultra’s 10x optical zoom camera plus 108MP main shooter, the base S21’s triple cam still takes excellent images.
At daytime, the S21’s main 12MP shooter takes high quality images that have vibrant colors and lots of detail. The main camera of the S21 definitely trades blows with the best Android phone cameras out right now.
Low light performance of the main shooter is also impressive, especially when the Night Mode is used. While you can manually select Night Mode, it usually gets activated on its own when taking low light photos while Scene Optimizer is on.
The phone’s 12MP ultra-wide camera also proved to be a capable shooter. At daytime, shots are of high quality, and at night, there’s only a minor dip in quality. While it didn’t activate automatically in my review time, Night Mode on the S21’s ultra-wide camera works, and it results in bright and detailed night shots. I’d even say that this is one of the best (if not the best) ultra-wide cameras I’ve used in a smartphone.
The phone’s telephoto shooter also takes sharp and detailed photos. Though bumping the zoom to 10x does see a slight loss in quality. And while you can zoom up to 30x, it’s not exactly the cleanest photo (it is pretty much digital zoom at that point after all).
While the ultra-wide camera impressed with its low light performance, the telephoto shooter proved to be just “okay.” While you can also use Night Mode on it, you better have steady hands as slight movements can make a shot blurry. This means that, while possible, it’s tougher to take good night photos with the telephoto camera on the S21.
Finally, the phone’s 10MP selfie camera may not seem impressive on paper, but it is a good front camera for selfie lovers. Selfies by the said shooter are detailed and have natural colors.
In our Samsung S21 Review period, we found it to be a reliable phone for day-to-day use thanks to its fast and snappy performance. Whether working on documents or browsing social media, the phone did not slow down at all. What makes it even better is that it comes with OneUI 3.1 based on Android 11, a user interface that is one of the best thanks to its clean look and ease of navigation.
As for battery life, the S21 isn’t exactly the longest-lasting among phones we reviewed as we were able to drain after a day of use. Though that was with heavy usage, so for most users, the S21 should last for a day or even more.
Other features that make the S21 a reliable daily driver include a responsive ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, as well as IP68 water and dust resistance. Though if there’s one thing missing, it’s the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Samsung S21 Review – Final Geek Lifestyle Verdict
While it may not have all the bells and whistles of the highest-end Ultra variant, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is still a good flagship option. In spite of its smaller size compared to other flagships, it still has pretty good gaming performance, quality cameras, and an impressive AMOLED display.
If you’re a user who wants a smaller phone but still want to have a flagship Android experience, the S21 is highly recommended. That is, if you have a big budget to work with.
Samsung Galaxy S21 specs:
- 6.2-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (48-120Hz refresh rate)
- Exynos 2100 processor (5nm process)
- 8GB RAM
- 128GB/256GB storage
- Rear cameras: 12MP wide + 12MP ultra-wide + 64MP telephoto (3x hybrid zoom)
- Front camera: 10MP
- 5G, LTE
- Ultrasonic Fingerprint scanner, IP68 certification, USB Type-C port
- 4,000mAh battery with Super Fast charging + Fast Wireless charging + wireless PowerShare
- Android 11 (One UI 3.1)
- Price: PHP 47,990