It is like an anime title: “Galaxy S: Redemption.” The Samsung Galaxy S21 Extremely is, by and huge, what the Galaxy S20 Extremely ought to have been. It is a strong and premium-feeling cellphone with a novel (for the US) superzoom digital camera, a stunning display, future-forward community chops, and at $1,199.99, it retails for $300 lower than the S20 Extremely. Proper now it is nearly too far forward of its time, as a few of the networks it helps aren’t broadly out there, however you probably have money to spare, it is value contemplating as an funding sooner or later.
The Prime of the Galaxy S Line
Samsung has three fashions in its 2021 flagship Galaxy S sequence: the small S21 ($799.99), the medium S21 Plus ($999.99), and the massive S21 Extremely ($1,199.99). All of them have the identical primary processor and modem. The S21 and S21 Plus are related, apart from their display and battery sizes. The S21 Extremely pours on options the opposite two lack: a 108-megapixel most important digital camera, a 40-megapixel selfie digital camera, a 10x optical zoom digital camera, S Pen help, Wi-Fi 6E, and UWB directional positioning.
Massive, medium, or small: Select your Galaxy S21.
All good options and all of them work. The tough bit is to know whether or not they’re extreme, and that is going to be a person alternative. I’ve grown skeptical of telephones over $1,000 simply on precept, on this coronavirus-crushed time when individuals are begging for presidency checks to allow them to pay for lease and meals. The S21 Extremely’s worth does not have an effect on our star ranking, but it surely does imply we aren’t bestowing our Editors’ Selection award on it.
At $1,199.99, the S21 Extremely prices $100 lower than the Galaxy Observe 20 Extremely, and $300 lower than the Galaxy S20 Extremely did at launch. However, it prices $100 greater than the iPhone 12 Professional Max. I will be treating this as a $1,200 cellphone, however you may not need to pay full worth; there are loads of trade-in and promo provides going round that may scale back your out-of-pocket price for any of the S21 fashions.
A Glossy Design With Built-in Cameras
The S21 Extremely begins with a physique that feels much less cobbled-together than the S20 Extremely did. My overview unit is a strong block of anodized, matte black metallic that resists fingerprints significantly better than final yr’s glass-backed fashions. At 6.50 by 2.98 by 0.35 inches (HWD), the S21 Extremely is barely shorter than the S20 Extremely (6.57 by 2.99 by 0.35 inches), however taller and narrower than the iPhone 12 Professional Max (6.33 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches). The cellphone is brick-heavy, although, at 8.08 ounces—heavier than the Galaxy S20 Extremely (7.76 ounces), the iPhone 12 Professional Max (8.03 ounces), or the Observe 20 Extremely (7.34 ounces).
The S21 Extremely’s matte again is much less slippery and extra enticing than the S20’s glass again.
The most important and finest design distinction from the S20 is the better-integrated digital camera module. Relatively than a discrete, hard-edged bump on the again, it is now merged into the nook of the cellphone. There’s nonetheless a lip the place it drops off, but it surely’s rather a lot much less annoying and fewer prone to catch in your pants pocket.
The cellphone is rated IP68 for water resistance and is available in a spread of very low-key colours (some solely out there in the event you purchase the cellphone immediately from Samsung): black, brown, grey, navy, and silver. If you happen to’re on the lookout for poppy-red, rose gold, or violet, you are going to need to go together with one of many smaller models.
The S21 Extremely fashions are available in very businesslike colours.
You possibly can go for 128GB or 256GB of storage with 12GB of RAM, or 512GB of storage with 16GB of RAM. There isn’t a microSD card slot. Slots and ports generally are, alas, going the best way of the dodo; not sufficient individuals use them, and built-in reminiscence has quicker efficiency. If you happen to completely want expandable reminiscence, follow the Observe 20 or the Observe 20 Extremely.
The brand new, second-generation Qualcomm ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is noticeably quicker and extra correct than the sensor on the S10 and S20. However, face recognition repeatedly failed to acknowledge my face (with or and not using a masks).
The 6.8-inch, 3,200-by-1,440-pixel display is roofed within the new Gorilla Glass Victus. It hasn’t scratched after a number of days of testing, an enchancment over the Galaxy S20+ display, which scuffed up rapidly.
Samsung says that the display is 25% brighter than the Galaxy S20 Extremely, at 1,500 nits most brightness. Extra importantly, it has a 50% higher distinction ratio, and I can see the distinction. Samsung’s screens have all the time popped, however this one actually stands out. You possibly can set the display decision to 1080p or quad HD to avoid wasting battery and improve sport body charges, however the choice to manually change between 60Hz and 120Hz refresh charges is now gone; as an alternative, the show robotically adjustments from 10Hz as much as 120Hz relying on what you are taking a look at.
The S21 has a really beautiful show.
The Extremely is the one member of the S21 household that works with Samsung’s S Pen, the lively, pressure-sensitive stylus beforehand reserved for the Observe sequence. I attempted it with a Observe 20 pen, a Observe 9 pen, and a Observe 4 pen; all of them labored. If you do not have an previous Observe, you should buy an S Pen for $40, or a bundle of pen and pen-holding cellphone case for $70.
The S21 has the identical super-low 9ms latency because the Galaxy Observe 20 Extremely, updating the display with its digital ink at 120Hz. The button on the pen, which “clicks” on the display, works, however Bluetooth capabilities corresponding to making air instructions and utilizing the pen as a distant digital camera shutter do not. Samsung says there might be a particular S Pen out there later this yr that may have these options.
You should use any Observe pen to jot down on the S21 Extremely’s display.
Selecting the Proper Mannequin
As all the time, there are a bunch of various sub-models of the Galaxy S21, famous by a letter on the finish of the product quantity. We examined the unlocked U mannequin, destined for the US. The U mannequin has a single SIM slot, a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, disabled e-SIM performance, and all the suitable bands for US 5G networks, together with millimeter-wave. We do not have full affirmation on the opposite sub-models but, however this is what now we have seen on Geekbench and elsewhere:
W: For Canada. Snapdragon processor, single SIM plus eSIM.
B: Exynos processor, single SIM plus eSIM.
B/DS: Exynos processor, twin SIM.
N: For Korea. Exynos processor, single SIM plus eSIM.
0: For China. Snapdragon processor, twin SIM.
I haven’t got precise frequency-band lists for the assorted fashions but. I will have extra particulars after the telephones hit retailer cabinets on the finish of January. Within the meantime, in the event you use your cellphone out of its supposed area, you possibly can count on it to have all the proper 4G bands, however miss a few of the roaming area’s 5G bands, and also you in all probability will not have the ability to use Wi-Fi calling or related options.
CPU: Fortunate Quantity 888
The Galaxy S21 fashions are the primary telephones to make use of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 processor. The chip allows new options with out actually enhancing benchmarked velocity. Nevertheless, in the long term, the options in all probability matter extra.
The S21 Extremely scored 1,128 on Geekbench single-core and three,500 on Geekbench multi-core, an increase of 15% SC and solely 7% MC over final yr’s Galaxy Observe 20 Extremely. On the GFXBench Automobile Chase benchmark, offscreen frames went from 57fps to 65fps, an increase of 14%. Is it an enchancment? Certain. Will you discover it? Possibly not.
The iPhone 12 Professional’s Apple A14 processor scores noticeably greater on each benchmarks: 1,599 SC/4,006 MC on Geekbench, and 70fps on the offscreen GFXBench Automobile Chase benchmark.
Equally, whereas the Basemark Net web-browsing rating jumped from 322 on the Observe 20 Extremely in WQHD+ decision to 498 on the S21 Extremely, and from 486 in 1080p decision to 605, the iPhone 12 Professional already scores 600.
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There’s some bizarre stuff happening that makes me query the worth of those numbers. The PCMark and AIMark benchmarks seem like damaged on the S21 Extremely, delivering scores which can be clearly far too low. That might be one thing in regards to the 888 itself or about Android 11, however in any case, they do not seem to provide good steering. The S21 Extremely far outperformed the S20 Extremely on AI Benchmark, however as soon as once more, I am unsure whether or not or to not belief it. We’re working with Samsung to determine this out and can replace this overview as soon as we all know extra.
What you are extra prone to care about is that the 888 lets the S21 Extremely do some spectacular new tips. For example, the 888’s picture sign processor lets the S21 Extremely mix its two telephoto cameras for significantly better 10x–30x zoom than final yr, and a brand new Director’s Mode video characteristic helps you to easily change between cameras on the fly. The AI capabilities result in a greater Night time mode. Wi-Fi 6E requires a element within the 888, as do a few of the new 5G options. So even with out dependable benchmark numbers to quantify velocity and energy, it is clear that it is a huge step up from final yr’s fashions.
A Streamlined Android Expertise
The Galaxy S21 Extremely runs Android 11 with Samsung’s OneUI 3.0 extensions. Samsung advised me it is committing to updating the cellphone so far as Android 14.
The bloatware state of affairs on the unlocked models is not dangerous in any respect, however you need to count on the same old dozens of undesirable apps on carrier-locked fashions, particularly on AT&T. Samsung does preload Fb, but it surely’s deletable.
Samsung’s voice assistant, Bixby, continues to be on this cellphone, however the Bixby Residence display to the left of the principle dwelling display is gone; as an alternative, you now see Google’s information feed. If you wish to disable the Bixby button presses and switch the ability key into an actual energy key, you are able to do that in settings.
Samsung removes its unloved Bixby Residence display and places Google’s browser entrance and middle.
It is value mentioning that Samsung does its finest to hyperlink to different Galaxy gadgets and Home windows laptops, just like how iPhones hook as much as Macs. OneUI 3 helps you to name and textual content from Galaxy tablets or audio system. On Home windows laptops, you possibly can reply texts, test notifications, or mirror your cellphone display. You may as well put the S21 in multi-windowed Dex mode for displays on an enormous display or use a further keyboard and mouse.
Samsung’s dwelling display design nonetheless will not be mistaken for Google’s, with its personal colours, icons, and dialer. However OneUI 3.0 works arduous to combine all of Android 11’s options whereas protecting Samsung’s identification sturdy, and it does not push customized browsers or e mail apps on you when it is aware of Google’s apps are what you really need. Apart from, Samsung’s general market success speaks to how accessible customers discover its UI.
The S21 Extremely has a 5,000mAh battery. In our normal take a look at, the place we run a YouTube video with full display brightness over Wi-Fi, we managed 11 hours and 20 minutes; that is on par with different main massive telephones. Altering the display decision and refresh fee does not matter right here, as a result of the refresh fee adapts to the content material: If you happen to’re exhibiting a 60fps video, the refresh fee is not going to be greater than 60fps, even you probably have it set to 120fps. The Extremely confirmed about an hour extra playback time than the smaller S21.
5G does hit the battery fairly arduous. On AT&T’s community, streaming over 5G slightly than Wi-Fi incurred a three-hour battery penalty in testing. You possibly can’t flip off 5G natively on AT&T or Verizon, although you possibly can on T-Cellular. There is a third-party app referred to as Samsung Band Selector that may allow you to drive your cellphone to make use of 4G, but it surely’s unsupported and might be disabled at any time.
The telephones help each 25W wired and 15W wi-fi charging. Samsung now not ships a charger with them, claiming it is as a result of most individuals have already got USB chargers they will use. Nevertheless, many of the USB chargers you’ve got accrued over the previous a number of years have USB-A ports and micro USB cables, that are ineffective for the USB-C-to-USB-C cable that is included within the S21 field. Even in the event you do have a USB-C charger useful, its classic and energy will make a distinction. Plugged right into a 22W Galaxy Observe 20 Extremely charger, the S21 Extremely received to 37% in 20 minutes and reached a full cost in 70 minutes. However plugged right into a Galaxy S20 FE charger, it solely reached 22% at 20 minutes, and it took a complete of 110 minutes to totally cost the cellphone.
Networking That is Prepared for 2022
The Galaxy S21 sequence is prepared for the networks of 2022, however they do not convey any actual benefits in early 2021.
The S21 telephones are the primary US fashions with Qualcomm’s new X60 modem. The X60 lets telephones mix non-contiguous channels of 5G, which earlier gadgets could not do. In idea, that improves 5G efficiency. In follow, the networks aren’t fairly prepared for it but.
There’s additionally help for C-band, the quick new frequencies that carriers simply spent greater than $80 billion for. As a result of the satellite tv for pc firms presently utilizing C-band have to maneuver out of it first, we cannot see C-band networks till late 2021 or early 2022. However once they occur, they’re prone to greater than triple AT&T and Verizon 5G speeds in lots of cities.
I examined the S21 on AT&T and T-Cellular. (Our Verizon SIMs are fried proper now.) 4G and 5G efficiency on AT&T was similar to final yr’s flagship gadgets. AT&T will, sooner or later, use the X60 to boost nationwide 5G efficiency by including new channels of 5G. Within the meantime, there’s not a lot new to see right here. Over 11 areas, the S21 Extremely averaged 113Mbps down and 20Mbps up on AT&T’s “nationwide 5G” community, whereas an iPhone 12 received 111Mbps down and 20Mbps up.
On T-Cellular, issues received fascinating. T-Cellular’s community compelled my S21 into “standalone 5G” mode. Most 5G connections within the US proper now are at the least half 4G. Standalone 5G, which eschews 4G, provides you decrease latency and fewer likelihood of overloaded networks in crowded situations, however you find yourself with slower general speeds since you’re shedding the add-on 4G elements.
With standalone 5G, I received a mean of 87Mbps down and 31Mbps up with 12ms latency, which was a lot slower than my Galaxy S20+ and iPhone 12. By forcing the cellphone into non-standalone mode utilizing a discipline take a look at display, speeds rose to 258Mbps down and 69Mbps up on common, with 26ms latency. That was similar to each the S20+ and the iPhone 12. T-Cellular advised me, primarily, that its engineers had been experimenting in my neighborhood and would repair it.
On T-Cellular, the S21 ought to have the ability to mix the provider’s two present most important types of 5G—bands n41 and n71—in a approach that no cellphone up to now has been in a position to do, however I did not see that taking place; the cellphone was all the time on n41 or n71. That is not right down to the cellphone, although. The community simply wasn’t prepared.
On the Wi-Fi facet, the S21 Extremely is the primary cellphone with Wi-Fi 6E, the brand new type of Wi-Fi that permits extraordinarily excessive speeds on the brand new 6GHz band (which is not the identical as 6G). I could not take a look at it; the primary Wi-Fi 6E routers are simply popping out now, and so they’re $500 or extra. Wi-Fi 6E seems to be like a a lot larger soar by way of efficiency than Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6 was; my Wi-Fi 6 gadgets nonetheless are likely to max out round 600Mbps in real-world speeds, however Wi-Fi 6E guarantees greater than a gigabit per system. This may turn out to be particularly related if you’re hooking your cellphone as much as multi-gigabit dwelling web service, when and if that seems within the subsequent few years. It additionally helps with hotspot mode if you’re linked to millimeter-wave 5G, as these connections can already go over 2Gbps.
With UWB, sensible tags can let you know not solely whether or not you are close to them, however which route they’re in.
The Extremely additionally helps UWB, a brand new wi-fi know-how that I am unable to discover a use for but. UWB provides a directional factor to short-range wi-fi, so you possibly can ultimately get, say, a digital automobile key app that opens your automobile door if you’re pointing on the automobile, or a Sensible Tag that tells you not solely whether or not you are close to it, however which route it is in. For now, its solely use is in a “close by share” operate that shares recordsdata between two telephones, and truthfully, that works simply nice utilizing Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Bluetooth 5.2 lets the cellphone stream to 2 gadgets concurrently; how this works in follow will depend upon the Bluetooth gadgets in query. With the Galaxy Buds Professional earphones, it means the cellphone streams to every earbud independently slightly than going to at least one most important earbud, which relays to the opposite. That makes for extra secure connections.
In the meantime, we lose one key wi-fi know-how: MST. Samsung’s telephones used to work with older bank card swipe machines that did not have the Apple/Samsung Pay specs. That was one thing Samsung had over Apple. The S21s haven’t got that.
So that you get the purpose right here: The S21 telephones are geared up for future networks, but it surely’s arduous to argue that they are higher on current ones. Relatively, Samsung is assuming you may have this cellphone for 3 years or so, and is setting you up for achievement in 2022.
With all this discuss of information, we did not neglect about utilizing your cellphone to, you understand, make cellphone calls. Name high quality hasn’t been a priority on high-end Samsung telephones for a number of years now. The corporate has speaker and Bluetooth name high quality nailed. If you wish to use a wired headset, it needs to be USB-C; there is no headphone jack. I used to be very glad to see that Wi-Fi calling was lastly out there on my unlocked mannequin on all three main US wi-fi carriers. Samsung repeatedly promised AT&T Wi-Fi calling on the unlocked S20 however by no means delivered.
The unlocked US mannequin we examined has a single SIM slot. The cellphone technically helps eSIM, but it surely’s been disabled on this mannequin, and Samsung says it is nonetheless deciding when and learn how to allow that within the US, so deal with this as a single-physical-SIM cellphone.
The Digital camera on the Cellphone Goes Zoom Zoom Zoom
The Galaxy S21 Extremely’s cameras are what the S20 Extremely’s had been presupposed to be. It has a 108MP most important sensor that usually takes 12MP pictures, together with a 12MP, 120-degree ultrawide digital camera, two 10MP telephotos (3x and 10x), and a devoted focus sensor. That focus sensor is essential. The 108MP most important sensor makes use of section detection slightly than dual-pixel autofocus, and on the S20 Extremely, that meant sluggish and infrequently inaccurate autofocus. We do not have that drawback any longer. At 1x, photographs have higher distinction than the pictures taken by the S20 Extremely, and are a lot sharper on the edges of the body.
In my close-up shot take a look at, I discovered the S21 Extremely mounted one other one of many S20 Extremely’s flaws: a very painfully slender focus airplane that meant most objects within the shot could be out of focus. The S21 did significantly better at protecting completely different components of a setup in focus, although its pictures weren’t fairly as sharp as these from the iPhone 12.
Left: iPhone 12. Proper: S21 Extremely.
Photographs taken within the S21’s Night time mode are leaps and bounds forward of the dimmer, muddier pictures from the S20 sequence, however the iPhone 12 continues to be the king of the night time. Its Night time mode turns night time to day with a sharpness the S21 cannot fairly match.
Left: iPhone 12. Proper: S21 Extremely.
What you do not see within the photographs right here is that the digital camera is noticeably quicker and simpler to make use of than the S20 sequence cameras are. It takes the identical night time pictures, however with a few second much less ready. Excessive-level zoom, which is actually shaky on the S20 sequence, is now stabilized so it is a lot simpler to lock onto the a part of the picture you want.
The S21 has a 40-megapixel front-facing digital camera that usually shoots 10MP photographs. The large distinction between this and the S20 era is Night time mode; the S21 has one, so you possibly can lastly take respectable selfies at the hours of darkness. Are they mushy? Sure. However the truth that they arrive out in any respect is a constructive.
Left: S21 Extremely. Proper: S20 Extremely.
With good gentle, that front-facing digital camera is definitely nice, with extra element than the S20 Extremely, and higher distinction than the iPhone 12.
Left: iPhone 12. Proper: S21 Extremely.
The S21 Extremely’s zoom cameras are an enormous a part of what makes it value its worth. The cellphone has 3x and 10x zoom cameras for, Samsung claims, as much as 100x zoom. Issues look good at as much as 10x. It is protected to say that if you wish to stay at 10x, that is the cellphone for you. Past 10x, it is all digital zoom on the 10x zoom lens. However because it’s digital zooming from a local 10x, the pictures do not look so dangerous as much as about 30x.
The S21 Extremely shines in daylight at 10x and 30x zoom. Photographs at 10x are literally distinct, and whereas the 30x pictures are undoubtedly mushy and digitally zoomed, they are not the mushy haze you get with the S20 sequence or the small S21.
The Galaxy S21 Extremely at 1x, 10x, 30x, and 100x zoom.
At 100x zoom, issues are undoubtedly impressionistic. However the 100x zoom is not ineffective the best way the S20 Extremely’s was. The viewfinder stabilizes so it is not wobbling in every single place, and handheld pictures are higher. Not nice, however higher.
Prime: S21 Extremely at 30x and 100x. Backside: S20 Extremely at 30x and 100x.
It is value noting that the S21 Extremely can do 4K60 video recording at as much as 10x zoom, and might do 8K video at 24fps utilizing its most important lens. Whereas recording 8K video, you possibly can pull out 33MP snapshots.
Is the Value Justifiable?
The Galaxy S21 Extremely is a formidable, high-quality superzoom digital camera cellphone, and I can advocate it in ways in which I completely could not advocate the S20 Extremely. It is nonetheless huge, heavy, and costly, and a few of its options depend on networks that do not exist but. It does loads of superior issues, however the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, at $500 (!) much less, will serve 90% of your wants. (Did I point out it is $500 much less?)
Samsung has some equipment to promote you, too: a watch, earbuds, and a sensible tag locator.
The S21 Extremely’s high opponents, as huge telephones, are Samsung’s personal $1,299.99 Observe 20 Extremely and Apple’s $1,099.99 iPhone 12 Professional Max. The Observe 20 comes with an S Pen and a microSD reminiscence card slot, however the S21 Extremely is extra future-facing as a long-term funding. The iPhone has nothing just like the S21 Extremely’s superzoom, but it surely has considerably higher night time efficiency and, for severe photographers, a significantly better ecosystem of third-party digital camera apps and integration with Mac computer systems.
If you do not have the cash to burn and do not want superzoom, there are some terrific alternate options. The $799 Galaxy S21 does not have the superzoom however has the long run community help; ditto the $799 iPhone 12. The $749 OnePlus 8T has speedy software program and super-fast charging. The $699 Galaxy S20 FE lacks the superzoom and future community help, however has the whole lot you in all probability want proper now. That stated, the S21 Extremely generally is a good funding in the event you want Android and Home windows, take pleasure in images as a pastime, and need a high-end cellphone that may serve you nicely for years.