If you're dead set on owning the middle child of the collection, there's an excellent display, fantastic performance and wonderful camera available here. It's also just one of the prettiest phones Samsung has ever made, we just wish it had a slightly better battery and came with a cover to protect that valuable camera bump.
It feels fair to say that Samsung set the bar high with last year’s Galaxy S20 devices. They’re some of our favourite smartphones from 2020 and easily the best thing Samsung has done for years. With such a high standard already set, it’s not difficult to see the kind of pressure riding on the S21 range. Yet somehow, Samsung has managed to improve on excellence even further, even if said improvements aren’t all that substantial.
Thus, while we fawned over the S21 Ultra 5G, we also wanted to pay some dues to the S21+ 5G. It’s not as flashy and boisterous as the Ultra but it’s also not as comfortably compact as the base S21. It sits somewhere in the middle, offering a better version of the S21 rather than a diluted take on the Ultra. For the most part, it works at doing just that. Yet it doesn’t really offer much more than the S21, so does it justify spending an extra wad of cash on?
Let’s start with the good stuff, arguably the best stuff — the display for the S21+ is gorgeous. It’s true that Samsung has some of the best screens in the business and after using their latest range of smartphones, we can attest to that. The 6.7in 1080 x 2400 Dynamic AMOLED display runs at a consistent 120Hz and looks beautiful no matter what you’re looking it.
It’s difficult to put into words how the smooth transitions between screens really improve the user experience; it’s a small thing but the fluidity is second to none. Colours are vibrant and pop with detail and while thee resolution is a little higher than just a standard HD, it never looks bad. Quite the opposite in fact.
Build quality, features and design
While the actual build quality of S21+ 5G is solid, many folks might take issue with the matte plastic back. Let us reassure that while it is indeed plastic, it’s good plastic (ie polycarbonate). It feels good to touch, striking us as being a high-quality material that most plastic-backed phones use. It’s grippy and looks great on the eye too. While we’re not usually ones to focus on colours, the phantom violet device we were sent looks amazing with a unique combination of colours to set it apart from competitors.
It’s got all the parts you’d expect minus a few features we would have liked to see. The USB-C charger sits along the bottom alongside the sim-card try and a rather impressive speaker for when you’re showering but don’t want to miss out on your podcast. The lack of an SD card slot is disappointing but when the phone comes with at least 128GB of internal storage, it’s not a necessity.
We’d also like to mention that massive camera bump on the back. We get it, Samsung is going all-in on the cameras and thus needs the extra space to fit in those massive sensors (more on that in a second). Yet the bump is very pronounced and since the device doesn’t ship with a cover, it’s difficult to feel comfortable leaving the phone… anywhere. Given the price you’re paying for the S21+, one would have thought some kind of cover would be included, especially when the risk of a scratched camera is so much bigger.
Honestly, there’s not all that much to say here other than the S21+ feels great to use. Powered by the Exynos 2100 and 8GB of RAM, even under duress the phone performs beautifully. Games like PUBG Mobile ran slick as an oiled porpoise and that was with a tonne of apps still running in the background. For folks who don’t put an excessive amount of strain on their phones, this runs like a dream. Of course, this improved performance has had a severe impact on the battery.
We suppose it’s not new for Samsung as historically the company has battled to balance battery life with performance. It just feels rather pronounced with the S21+. While the 4800mAh battery should last for the day, you’ll certainly need to plug it in before bed. With light use for a day (in this case that means WhatsApp, Spotify and the occasional checking of Twitter), the battery of would go from 100% an 06:00 charge to 30% by 20:00 of that same day. It makes sense but if you’re looking for a phone with some longevity, you might want to look elsewhere.
Rather than go all out on improving the camera that was so heavily flouted for the S20, Samsung has wisely decided to refine what it did so well. The S21+ comes with three main cameras on the back: A 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), a 64 MP, f/2.0, 29mm (telephoto) and a 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120˚ (ultrawide). They’re all great cameras but the real question is about the zoom function, right?
We’re pleased to say that the S21+ zooms real nice. While it doesn’t sport the needlessly excessive 100x of the Ultra (which is still not all it’s hyped up to be), the 10x and 30x zoom are fantastic. Zooming 30x will obviously make for a grainier image but it’s better than you’d expect while 10x looks superb as ever.
Of course, Samsung continues its trend of producing one of the best selfie cameras out there. Again, this was mentioned in the Ultra review but the front-facing 40MP sensor is spectacular. It was so good I could actually stand looking at my face for a few seconds longer than usual.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ Verdict
This is an excellent phone, but one has to question its purpose exactly. The improvements over the base S21 don’t really warrant paying extra for it, but it’s also close enough to the S21 Ultra that if you want that kind of power, you might as well just splurge and go that route.
Yet if you’re dead set on owning the middle child of the collection, there’s an excellent display, fantastic performance and wonderful camera available here. It’s also just one of the prettiest phones Samsung has ever made, we just wish it had a slightly better battery and came with a cover to protect that valuable camera bump.