Samsung Galaxy S21 review: the right concessions in the right places

Introduction

The Samsung Galaxy S21 wants to be an “affordable” flagship (understand: less than 1000 euros), but does it manage to find its place between the ultra premium and cheap flagships? The answer in our full test.

Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21 // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

The “first prize” of the Galaxy S21 range has arrived at the editorial office and we were able to test the little brother of the S21 Ultra already noted in our columns. Offered from 860 euros anyway, this model makes a few compromises to stay below the 1000 euros mark while focusing on experience and quality.

This test of the Samsung Galaxy S21 was carried out with a smartphone (8/128 GB) loaned by the brand.

Samsung Galaxy S21 datasheet

Model Samsung Galaxy S21
OS version Android 11
Manufacturer interface One UI
Screen size 6.2 inches
Definition 2400 x 1080 pixels
Pixel density 421 dpi
Technology Super AMOLED
SoC Exynos 2100
Graphics Chip (GPU) Mali-G78 MP14
Random access memory (RAM) 8 GB
Internal memory (flash) 128 GB, 256 GB
Camera (back) Sensor 1: 64 Mpx
Sensor 2: 12 Mpx
Sensor 3: 12 Mpx
Camera (front) 10 Mpx
Video recording 8K @ 30 fps
Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 6E
Bluetooth 5.2
Supported bands 2100 MHz (B1), 800 MHz (B20), 1800 MHz (B3), 2600 MHz (B7), 700 MHz (B28)
5G Yes
NFC Yes
Fingerprint sensor Under the screen
Ports (inputs / outputs) USB Type-C
Battery 4000 mAh
Dimensions 71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9mm
Weight 171 grams
Colors White, Purple, Pink, Gray
Price 859 €
Product sheet

Our video test

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Plastic, so what?

Let’s get rid of the annoying subject right away: yes, the back of the Samsung Galaxy S21 is made of plastic. Some see it as an unacceptable saving of candles for the high-end or a drop in the quality of the finishes compared to the S21 + and S21 Ultra which for their part are made of glass. Arguments that can possibly be heard when the finishes are sloppy, which is clearly not the case here.

This plastic shell has clearly been given special care and does not exhibit some of the inherent flaws in the material. It won’t crack or sag when pressed and it is perfectly adjusted to follow the contours of the photo pad or aluminum frame. On the other hand, we can cite some obvious qualities: the featherweight (the Galaxy S21 weighs only 169 grams), and a warmer touch.

Le plastique ne se courbe pas à la moindre pression

The plastic of the Galaxy S21 does not bend at the slightest pressure // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

So yes, it is plastic and it does not hide it, but before casting anathema on this Galaxy S21 for this simple reason under the pretext that at this price a smartphone should absolutely have a back in glass, let’s look at its other characteristics.

As mentioned earlier, the Galaxy S21 is light, which makes it comfortable in the hand, even during long use. In addition, if we can not say that it is compact, its dimensions of 71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9 mm make it a phone with a size in the low average of current flagships while retaining a comfortable 6.2-inch screen diagonal.

Samsung Galaxy S21 et S21+

Compared to the S21 +, the Galaxy S21 seems almost compact // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

My first reaction when I saw that all the buttons are grouped together on the right edge was to pester, because it is generally synonymous with tendentious ergonomics, but this relatively small format allows you to access without the slightest problem all these keys. And once the S21 is shot in landscape mode, the volume controls fall perfectly below the index finger. Judicious!

Apart from that, the Galaxy S21 takes again the distinctive design of its adelphité with a vertical photo unit very well integrated in the upper left corner of the back cover, pretending at first glance to overflow on its edges . Everyone is free to form their own opinion on the question, but this design seems to be unanimous in the drafting of Frandroid in addition to having the merit of being original and well thought out. However, this photo unit is a little protruding and generates instability when the phone is laid flat. This will not bother everyone (especially those who put a cover on their smartphone), but it should still be emphasized.

Le bloc photo du Samsung Galaxy S21

The Samsung Galaxy S21 photo block stands out a bit // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

Let’s finish this tour of the owner with the front face, with almost uniform borders (the chin remains a little thicker as always) and the discreet centered bubble. No originality here that does not deserve to be dwelled on, except perhaps the absence of curved screen borders: it is perhaps a little less aesthetic, but avoids involuntary contacts with the screen.

Of course, don’t expect a 3.5mm jack in 2021, the only port available is a USB-C.

Lively or natural, you have to choose

Is it necessary to remember that Samsung manufactures its own panels and has established itself in recent years as the unmissable benchmark in this market? At first glance, it’s hard to say anything bad about this 6.2-inch Amoled screen in Full HD + (2400 x 1080 pixels, or 421 PPP), very bright and contrasting. As you would expect from this lineup in 2021, it’s also HDR10 + compatible for a wider and fuller dynamic range. Note also that it is protected by a coating Gorilla Glass 7 Victus to reduce the risk of breakage and scratches.

Une petite bulle perce l'écran du Galaxy S21

A small bubble pierces the screen of the Galaxy S21 // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

Under our probe, with the software Calman Ultimate , we measured a brightness ranging from 1.58 to 800 cd / m². Figures that prove the ability of this screen to descend very low so as not to burn your retinas when consulting your phone in the middle of the night, but also to show very high to remain readable in direct sunlight. Its coating, without being mat, is also less shiny than some of its competitors, which reduces the amount of reflections, further improving its readability. Strictly software point: automatic brightness management could be a little more responsive.

Regarding colorimetry, on the other hand, we will note all the same results that are a little different depending on the modes. Basically, the Galaxy S21 is set to “Vivid” mode, with wide coverage of the sRGB and DCI-P3 spectra (approximately 200% and 150% respectively), but with a precision that leaves much to be desired. We notice this quite quickly by taking a look at the temperature of its white point: 7400 K, far from the 6500 K reference.

Sur Fortnite, on profite bien de l'écran vif du Galaxy S21

In Fortnite, you can enjoy the vivid screen of the Galaxy S21 // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

In the phone options, however, it is to switch the screen to “Natural” mode and the difference is immediately visible. The colors are much softer, bordering on dull, with less variety. Thus, if with 6800 K and a delta E of 4.21 we are therefore closer to a calibration that will be of interest to photographers and videographers, we also end up with a smaller color range, although it still covers 100%. of the DCI-P3 spectrum.

This will obviously depend on your use, but it may be interesting to stay in Vivid, more pleasing to the eye, but to refine the colorimetry manually using the color settings available in the parameters to reduce this. cold feeling of the screen.

One UI, Android at its best

Like the other Galaxy S21s, the “small” model in the range is marketed directly under Android 11 with Samsung’s home interface: One UI 3.1. As of the writing of this test, it also embeds the security patch of January 1, 2021, once again proving Samsung’s status as a good student in this area. By the way, we can expect 3 years of major updates .

Samsung Galaxy S21 et S21+

Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 + // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

Omar has already outlined the main strengths of this interface, which is among the best on the market today in his test of the Galaxy S21 Ultra . It contains the strengths of Android, namely efficient multitasking, the dark theme, accessibility of all menus with one hand as well as a very large customization offered to the user. You can also choose your preferred biometric unlocking method, whether it’s the highly responsive underscreen fingerprint reader, or 2D facial recognition, which could be slightly faster.

On a daily basis, it is a very pleasant interface to use, particularly fluid and with polished animations. The latter have also been accelerated to no longer give the impression of latency that there could be on the S10 generation, for example. Coupled with the screen’s refresh rate of 120Hz, it’s a treat for the retina.

More used to Oxygen OS (OnePlus) or the Google Pixel interface, I would nevertheless note a few areas for improvement, starting with the A / B partitions of the system. Available since Android 7 Nougat, this feature allows you to update your smartphone almost invisibly, with a simple restart. Samsung unfortunately does not use it, which means that an update blocks the use of the phone for several minutes. Without being a barrier to buying, it’s an improvement we’d like to see adopted by the world’s leading smartphone maker.

I also note that some traditional menus lack clarity. In the Battery tab for example, to know the energy usage of each application, click on the box “ Use since the last full charge “, which at first glance does not appear not be clickable.

On peut cliquer sur ce bloc pour plus d’informations

You can click on this block for more information

It is also a pity that the power menu of Android 11, allowing you to manage your home automation and contactless payment cards, is not directly available by pressing the ON / OFF button, forcing you to navigate through the menus to find these features.

Finally, I like to personalize my interface by choosing my icons on a case-by-case basis for each application while Samsung only offers full packs. Again, nothing serious.

Still, despite these few shortcomings, One UI remains an example of a successful Android interface and this version 3.1 corrects some of the points that bothered me previously while also providing an ecosystem with Windows that no other manufacturer does currently offers. This alone largely fills its few gaps.

Also note that there is a very large number of applications signed by Samsung or Microsoft at first start, as well as Facebook and Spotify . We would be fine without it.

The Returning Exynos … except for Fortnite

The Exynos versions of the Galaxy S have been lagging behind the Snapdragon variants for several years. 2021 is however the year of renewal with an Exynos 2100 very promising on paper … and in fact.

Engraved in 5 nm, this octo-core SoC has something to compete with the Snapdragon 888 and it does very well on a daily basis with its 8 GB of RAM. Jumping from one application to another is done very quickly, and even if we sometimes note a global reload of the app (with the fleeting appearance of its splashscreen ), its status remains in memory and you will therefore resume your activity where you left off. In many ways, it is reminiscent of the Quick Resume of the Xbox Series X keeping in its memory the state of running applications to restart them more quickly without keeping them in RAM. As Samsung uses UFS 3.1 (the fastest storage currently available on our smartphones), it would not be surprising if a similar principle was put in place.

Le multitâche s’affiche aussi à l’horizontale… plus ou moins

Multitasking also displays horizontally … more or less

In the benchmarks, the Galaxy S21 is also doing very well against its current competition and even more so compared to the previous generation, indicating a notable improvement. We note, however, that the Snapdragon 865 (from OnePlus 8T ) is not so far behind, suggesting that the Snapdragon 888 could surpass it. This is already the case with the A14 of the iPhone 12 , but the comparison with another system is always less easy to make.

Model Samsung Galaxy S21 Samsung Galaxy S20 OnePlus 8T Apple iPhone 12
AnTuTu 8 647131 510024 588439 637502
AnTuTu CPU 178483 N / C 174259 183071
AnTuTu GPU 268720 N / C 217498 247168
AnTuTu MEM 115695 N / C 103104 110734
AnTuTu UX 84233 N / C 93578 96529
PC Mark 2.0 12466 10114 9929 N / C
3DMark Slingshot Extreme 8216 6616 7186 N / C
3DMark Slingshot Extreme Graphics 11129 8378 8241 N / C
3DMark Slingshot Extreme Physics 4288 3811 4963 N / C
3DMark Wild Life 5843 N / C N / C 6893
3DMark Wild Life medium framerate 35 FPS N / C N / C 40 FPS
GFXBench Aztec Vulkan / Metal high (onscreen / offscreen) 38/31 FPS 16/20 FPS 31/21 FPS 60/95 FPS
GFXBench Car Chase (onscreen / offscreen) 54/66 FPS 45/41 FPS 46/53 FPS 52/70 FPS
GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 (onscreen / offscreen) N / C 60/111 FPS 60/125 FPS 60/186 FPS
Sequential read / write 1868/1300 Mb / s 1512/679 Mb / s 1656/754 Mb / s N / C
Random read / write 78431/72742 IOPS 51000/57000 IOPS 61100/59778 IOPS N / C

See more benchmarks

For the graphics part, the Exynos 2100 relies on the Mali-G78, a 14-core GPU. Although efficient, it is in practice a bit disappointing compared to the expected gain on paper. All in all, you shouldn’t have too much trouble running any game from the Play Store , but in 2020 we have seen smartphones equipped with an S865 do quite a bit. better.

As much as a Arena of Valor has no trouble running at maximum capacity while keeping the 60 fps constant, as much Fortnite (in Epic quality) painfully oscillates between 40 and 60 FPS with a general average around 50. This will not prevent you from doing TOP 1, but when a OnePlus 8 Pro easily holds the 60 FPS constant, we say to ourselves that it’s a shame for the Samsung flagship.

If you are not a player of the famous Battle Royale and you do not care about having the best of the best, this detail should not shock you, far from it, the S21 having enough power under the hood to all your needs. We would have appreciated, however, if it reacted at least as well, if not better than a 2020 smartphone on such a popular game, which is also available on the Samsung store (Galaxy Apps).

Good speakers that don’t like extremes

Like many smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S21 offers two speakers for stereo sound: the first on the lower edge, next to the USB port, and the second discreetly housed above the screen, serving also for calls. Inevitably, we end up with the main flaw of this configuration: the secondary speaker is less good and less powerful than the main one, creating a lack of balance in the stereo sound when you position the phone well in front of you.

Despite this, the sound of the Samsung Galaxy S21 is quite good and powerful with good clarity around 80-90% volume. Above, we begin to feel saturation and loss of sound precision in the extremes. Note also that, format requires, the speaker remains very small and therefore struggles to reproduce deep bass. Headphone use will still be preferable for music, but you will have no trouble enjoying formats like YouTube videos or podcasts, with voices being well transcribed, even at full volume.

La tranche inférieure du Samsung Galaxy S21

The lower edge of the Samsung Galaxy S21 with its speaker // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

For fans of wireless headphones or earphones, the Galaxy S21 is compatible with SBC, AAC, aptX and LDAC codecs. Note that unlike the S21 Ultra which is Bluetooth 5.2 compatible, the S21 is content with Bluetooth 5.0. This is not a particularly embarrassing point, however, even in the long run.

It also offers Dolby Atmos compatibility and an equalizer directly integrated into its software, as well as adaptive sound to adjust the different frequencies automatically according to your age (with a hearing test).

An efficient camera

Less well equipped than the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 and S21 + still have three real useful photo sensors:

  • A 12 Mpx Dual Pixel main sensor with optical stabilization (f / 1.8 lens, 79 °);
  • A 12 Mpx ultra wide-angle (f / 2.2 lens, 120 °);
  • A 64 Mpx x3 hybrid zoom (f / 2.0 lens, 76 °).

Before talking about the intrinsic quality of the device itself, let’s first mention the Samsung photo application which is particularly complete with many options, such as scanning QR codes, framing, the creation of a GIF, the support of RAW and HEIF formats, voice triggering… the possibilities are very numerous.

Samsung Galaxy S21 et S21+

The Galaxy S21 and S21 + have the same photo block // Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

The whole thing should perhaps be a little tidier and more accessible. For example, the application offers 3 modes by default: Photo, Video and … “ Single Take ” which I only understood the interest after trying it. You have to go to the “ Plus ” menu to find modes that are widely used today such as portrait mode or night mode, and again understand that they can be dragged into the main menu to rearrange the shortcuts to our guide. The idea is great and allows for a high level of customization, but the execution could be more intuitive.

L’interface est entièrement personnalisable

The interface is fully customizable

A good balance between wide-angle and zoom

As for the shots themselves, the main 12 Mpx sensor does its job with good sharpness, competing with some 48 Mpx sensors, and this over a large part of the image, proof of the good quality of the optics used (or the enormous work done on the AI). The colorimetry is also balanced, as is the management of the brightness.

Note that this colorimetric balance also applies to the zoom, overall very close to the main sensor. Very practical for making a distant subject sharper, it does not of course have the versatility of the S21 Ultra’s 10x zoom, but provides real utility without going overboard.

Regarding the ultra wide-angle, on the other hand, we feel that the color balance is more difficult to maintain, especially at night (see below). We also lose nose-down, but it’s not surprising with this kind of lens. On the other hand, it is surprising to see the very good work done by Samsung to avoid the excessive distortions inherent in this kind of lens, even in the angles.

In low light

Indoors, even at night, the Galaxy S21 can achieve good image sharpness at close range, even on targets that are usually not easy to capture. At long distance that’s of course another matter, but it doesn’t fare too badly, at least in the center of the image. As soon as the gaze moves too far from the main subject, you quickly notice that the colors tend to bleed, but this is a market-specific technical limitation that can be found in all competitors.

Il n’y avait clairement pas autant de lumière dans la pièce…

There was clearly not as much light in the room …

So it’s doing pretty well overall, at least with its main sensor. The telephoto lens, on the other hand, immediately becomes much less relevant in low light and it quickly becomes more interesting to digitally zoom / crop in the wide-angle photo rather than using the telephoto lens.

The ultra wide-angle, as was to be expected, is for its part rather mediocre in these conditions and quickly shows its limits: certain areas are blocked, focusing is difficult even in the center of the image. … This is not a focal point designed for night work.

Mode portrait et mode nuit

Si le mode nuit est caché dans un sous-menu, ce n’est pas pour rien. Il s’active en effet par défaut lorsque la lumière vient à manquer et donne tout de suite beaucoup plus de clarté à la scène, peut-être même un peu trop, donnant l’impression qu’un projecteur de 500 W éclaire le tout.

Le mode portrait en revanche a été très bien peaufiné depuis l’année dernière et propose désormais un détourage vraiment très propre du sujet.

Des selfies, seul ou à plusieurs

À l’avant, c’est une caméra selfie de 10 Mpx qui fait son office, avec un mode permettant de détecter automatiquement la présence d’une deuxième personne dans le cadre pour passer en mode ultra grand-angle. Une bonne idée pour ceux qui aiment faire des photos de groupe. Ou tout du moins qui aimeraient un jour avoir l’occasion d’en refaire.

Les selfies sont nets lorsque la lumière est au rendez-vous, mais on sent rapidement que le capteur n’est pas très grand lorsque les conditions deviennent un peu plus difficiles. C’est bien sûr loin d’être affreux, mais on note une précision moins grande dès lors que l’on se trouve en intérieur loin d’une fenêtre. Il arrive également que l’intelligence artificielle ait du mal à gérer les hautes lumières. Si la différence entre la capture et le cliché fini est impressionnante, il arrive que certains gardent une zone bien cramée.

Un manque flagrant de stabilisation en vidéo

Pour la vidéo, le Galaxy S21 peut filmer en 8K à 24 images par seconde, en 4K à 30 ou 60 ips et en Full HD à 30 ou 60 ips également. Jusqu’en 4K, c’est le capteur principal qui fait son office alors qu’en 8K, le capteur de 64 Mpx, moins lumineux et moins bien stabilisé, prend le relais.

Quoi qu’il en soit, que ce soit en 1080p, en 4K ou en 8K, il faut avouer que le résultat est décevant. La plage dynamique et la colorimétrie sont bonnes, mais le piqué et surtout la stabilisation sont loin d’être au niveau de ce que l’on attend d’un smartphone à ce prix. L’image n’est pas aussi nette que l’on pourrait espérer et la stabilisation ne gère qu’une toute petite amplitude de mouvement. Au-delà, c’est comme si elle était inexistante, même en Full HD.

Il existe bien un mode « Super stabilité » pour tenter d’améliorer les choses, mais il est limité au Full HD à 30 ips et le résultat donne une impression de flottement bizarre et semble générer de la latence lors de l’enregistrement.

Enfin une autonomie à la hauteur

Les « petits » modèles de Galaxy S des générations précédentes n’étaient clairement pas satisfaisant sur le plan de l’autonomie. Avec mon usage plutôt intensif, il m’était impensable de terminer une journée complète avec le Galaxy S10 ou S20 sans passer par la case recharge en cours de route. Une nouvelle fois, le passage au 5 nm de l’Exynos 2100 fait le plus grand bien au Galaxy S21 qui s’offre ici une autonomie beaucoup plus rassurante avec sa batterie de 4000 mAh.

Avec un usage plutôt régulier, comprenant de la lecture vidéo en streaming, de la navigation web, des réseaux sociaux, un peu de photo et même de vidéo et parfois un peu de jeux peu gourmands, vous pourrez compter sur environ 7 à 8 heures d’utilisation d’écran. Ce n’est pas exceptionnel aujourd’hui, mais largement suffisant pour tenir une journée complète sans se demander si l’on aura assez de batterie pour ouvrir son GPS ou appeler un VTC en fin de soirée (lorsque le couvre-feu à 18 heures ne sera plus d’actualité). Il restera peut-être par contre encore un peu juste pour tenir deux jours, à moins de restreindre drastiquement son usage.

Facebook Messenger sur le Galaxy S21

8h à lire les messages d’Omar, ça peut être long… // Source : Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

Autre déception : sa recharge. S’il peut se recharger sans fil jusqu’à 12 W, sa recharge filaire est limitée à 25 W, avec en outre un bloc secteur vendu séparément. Comptez entre 1h30 et 1h45 pour une charge complète avec un adapteur Power Delivery qui fera pas mal chauffer le téléphone. À une époque où certains constructeurs multiplient les prouesses avec du 65, 100, voire 120 W capable de recharger un smartphone en une poignée de minutes, on s’attendait à mieux de la part du leader du marché.

Notez que le Galaxy S21 peut également partager sa batterie avec un autre appareil avec de la recharge sans fil inversée. Il suffit de poser une montre, des écouteurs ou un autre smartphone compatible sur son dos pour recharger l’appareil en question.

Un très bon réseau

Comme tout flagship qui se respecte en 2021, le Samsung Galaxy S21 est compatible avec toutes les bandes de fréquence 4G, mais aussi avec la 5G (NSA et SA) sur les bandes sub-6.

Sans surprise, la connectivité en 4G du Galaxy S21 est, comme ses prédécesseurs, excellente. En intérieur, on monte facilement à 200 Mb/s en débit descendant et 60 Mb/s en débit montant, le tout avec une très bonne stabilité. La ville de Paris n’étant pas encore couverte en 5G et la situation sanitaire limitant nos déplacements, nous n’avons pas pu réaliser de tests de débit en 5G.

Samsung Galaxy S21

Ce serait quand même plus pratique en alignant le téléphone avec l’oreille // Source : Arnaud Gelineau – Frandroid

Le Galaxy S21 est par ailleurs compatibles WiFi 6E pour des débits allant jusqu’à 1,2 Gb/s (contre 2,4 Gb/s pour le S21 Ultra). Il est néanmoins dépourvu de l’Ultra Wide Band (UWB) présent sur les S21+ et S21 Ultra et pensé aux communications rapides entre différents objets connectés (entre deux smartphones, wearables ou IoT).

Les communications sont claires et intelligibles aussi bien en émission qu’en réception, avec une bonne atténuation des bruits ambiants. On reste ici dans la continuité du savoir-faire de Samsung.

Où acheter le Samsung Galaxy S21 ?

Le Samsung Galaxy S21 est disponible depuis le 28 janvier 2021 au prix conseillé de 859 euros dans sa version dotée de 128 Go de stockage, et 909 euros avec 256 Go de stockage. Réfléchissez bien au stockage dont vous aurez besoin, le S21 n’a pas de port microSD.

Si vous n’en avez pas chez vous, pensez également à vous munir d’un chargeur rapide , il n’y en a pas dans la boîte.

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