Samsung Galaxy S21 series: First look and hands-on!

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Today, Samsung announced the sequel to last year’s Galaxy S20 lineup. With the Galaxy S21 series, the South Korean giant wants to focus on design and camera technology. While these are the biggest changes with the devices, there is more to it with the new Exynos 2100 processor, software tweaks and exclusive S-Pen support.

Contour cut camera design

One of the most striking features about the Galaxy S21 series is its camera design. Different from last year, the housing is a continuation of the metal frame of the smartphone. Especially with the contrast it creates, it is a design that will grow on you. Moreover, it makes the camera bump seem slightly smaller than it is, which is a good thing.

Samsung’s new design language has grown on us

While all three Samsung flagships share this design, only the Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra come with glass backs. For the Galaxy S21, Samsung has gone for a glass and plastic hybrid material which Samsung likes to call ‘glasstic’. If we were to compare it to any other phone currently on the market, it feels similar to the Galaxy S20 FE. That being said, the change in material does not jeopardise the overall look of the devices. Neither of the smartphones pick up too many fingerprints and they are relatively easy to maintain clean.

Only the smallest Galaxy S21 comes with a plastic finish

The host of other feature you typically associate with a flagship smartphone are all here too. You find IP68 water and dust resistance, wireless charging as well as your usual power and volume buttons. Not much on the edges of the device is changed and the overall distribution each Galaxy S21 feels fairly good in the hand.

Quad HD+ display with 120Hz

Given the size differences between each Galaxy S21 smartphone, the biggest distinguishing factor is display size. On the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+, you find a 6.2-inch and 6.7-inch Full HD+ resolution panel respecitively with a variable refresh rate of up to 120Hz. The O-dot panel with a 10MP selfie camera itself is a Dynamic AMOLED 2X one, allowing for an adjustable refresh rate between 48-120Hz depending on the content you are watching.

All three Galaxy S21 devices support a 120Hz refresh rate

With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, things are a bit different. Not only is the panel slightly curved compared to the flat panel on its younger siblings but it is also bigger and of a higher resolution. You find a 6.8-inch Quad HD+ resolution panel here which shares the O-dot design with a 40MP selfie camera and variable refresh rate up to 120Hz. But the Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel on the Galaxy S21 Ultra has an adjustable refresh rate between 10-120Hz for even better optimisation of content. Users will also be happy to know that with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you can use both 120Hz and Quad HD+ resolution simultaneously, something that was not possible on last year’s Galaxy lineup.

Exclusive to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you will be able to use an S-Pen with the device

During our initial look, we thought the displays on each smartphone looked great. They were vibrant and responsive, pairing well with the smartphone’s stereo speakers. Exclusive to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, there is also now support for the S-Pen. It is a bigger device, more like a traditional pen and does not feature Bluetooth. However, it is still able to bring the familiar suite of Note features to the S-series lineup.

Exynos 2100 processor

According to Samsung, the new Exynos 2100 processor is a significant upgrade from its previous Exynos 990. The octa-core processor sports 5G and brings improvements on all fronts. As far as real world testing is concerned, we could not do much given the limited time. However, the smartphones did feel snappier and did not heat up after extended camera use which is a good sign. Of course, as we get more time with the Galaxy S21 series, we will be able to build on our judgement.

We are excited to test the Exynos 2100 processor in-depth

With the processor, the Galaxy S21 series packs sizeable RAM and memory configurations. On the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+, you find 8GB of RAM with either 128GB or 256GB of on-board storage. But unfortunately, there is no micro-SD card expansion here. On the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you can either get 12GB or 16GB of RAM with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of storage.

OneUI 3.1 and Android 11 run the show when it comes to software

Given Samsung’s power efficient 5nm processor, battery life on the Galaxy S21 is said to be improved too. While the Galaxy S21 retains a 4,000mAh cell, the Galaxy S21+ sees a bump up to 4,800mAh whereas the Galaxy S21 Ultra has the biggest 5,000mAh battery. All three of these, in addition to supporting wireless charging support fast charging and reverse wireless charging. But with the Galaxy S21 series, you do not find a charging brick included inside the box. The omission, according to Samsung is for environmental reasons but we will have to see how consumers respond to this.

Camera performance

The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ share the same camera unit. It is a triple-camera configuration with a 12MP wide, 64MP telephoto with Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) and a 12MP ultra-wide angle setup. The telephoto lens in question here is capable of 3x optical zoom and 30x digital zoom. In comparison, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 108MP wide, dual-10MP telephoto lenses of varying focal lengths, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor and a Laser AF unit. The AF unit is said to improve the focus performance of the smartphone in comparison to the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Using the Director’s View feature on the Galaxy S21 series

But the dual-telephoto lens solution is more interesting. Here, you get a lens for dedicated 3x optical zoom and 10x optical zoom, which should bump up the quality of images taken overall. On the Galaxy S20 Ultra, you can zoom all the way up to 100x, and both the wide and dual-telephoto lenses all sport OIS. Hardware differences aside, the core software suite of the Galaxy S21 series camera remains identical. You find 8K video recording at 24fps and a new feature called Director’s Cut, allowing you to film with all the lenses on the smartphones simultaneously. However, we think being able to film 4K 60fps video with each camera lens is a big upgrade. In the past, this was not possible on Samsung flagships and we are glad to see support for it this year.

Pricing and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S21 series is currently up for pre-order in the UAE. With the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+, each pre-order comes with a free pair of Galaxy Buds Live and a Galaxy SmartTag. With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you get a pair of Galaxy Buds Pro and a Galaxy SmartTag. The Galaxy S21 is priced starting at Dh3,199, the Galaxy S21+ starts at Dh3,999 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra is priced at Dh4,899.

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