That the Samsung Galaxy S21+ is the middle child in the S21 series is a given. But, is it an awkward middle child? Or, is it a confident one? Should you buy it over the S21 Ultra or the iPhone 12? Well, I hope you find answers to those questions and more in my full review.
Do you like ‘em flat or curvy?
The most distinctive difference coming from the slightly curved display on the S21 Ultra is the flat panel on the Galaxy S21+. Now, whether you like ’em flat or curvy is a personal preference at the end of the day. While I mostly like flat panels, the S21 Ultra’s curvature is not too pronounced. Also, the flat panel causes the phone to dig into your palms slightly, compared to the curved panel on the S21 Ultra.
But, these are definitely nitpicks. If you never hold an S21 Ultra for comparison, you won’t really care. Also, the S21+ feels a lot lighter, and therefore pretty comfortable to hold and use. I also like the fact that you get the same great Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protection on the front and the rear. Plus, there’s IP68 dust and water resistance certification as well. There are a couple of other design flourishes:
- You get the S21 and the S21+ in a few different funky hues apart from the standard Phantom Black and Phantom Silver. The one we have is the Phantom Violet and it looks good, especially thanks to its matte finish. However, I am firmly in the Matte Black or nothing clan, so I’d go for the Phantom Black variant any day.
- While the rear glass gets the Phantom Violet finish, the accent colour is Rose Gold-ish on the metal frame that breaks into the seemingly seamless camera module. I say “seemingly” because there is definitely a line break that you can see and the module is actually a separate piece. Regardless, I dig this design. But yes, it does wobble on flat surface
Coming to the display on the front, the panel is slightly smaller at 6.7-inches compared to the 6.8-inch screen on the S21 Ultra. I mean, it feels like both the phones are of the same size. Anyway, Samsung has removed the QHD+ resolution setting on the S21+ and the peak brightness is lower at 1300 nits compared to 1500 nits on the S21 Ultra. Does this make a huge difference in regular usage? Nah. It looks equally good for the most part and you get the same great 120Hz adaptive refresh rate smoothness. But yes, the display nerds will definitely notice that the S21 Ultra does look slightly more premium and crisp with QHD+ resolution.
As for the iPhone 12’s display compared to the S21+, the S21+ is unequivocally better thanks to the higher brightness levels and a higher refresh rate of 120Hz.
Cameras that can deliver results
The S21+ obviously doesn’t have the same 108MP primary camera on the S21 Ultra. It has a 12MP unit instead. And, the specs are exactly the same as the S20+, minus the 3D ToF camera. Good riddance, I suppose. Now, what remains to be seen is how much do you lose coming from the S21 Ultra. So, I did a camera comparison. What better way to check the camera quality of a phone, eh?
- I was shocked at how much Samsung has managed to match the sharpness on the S21+ and the S21 Ultra. Thanks to the large 1.8-micron pixel size of the S21+, it actually matches the pixel-binned 12MP shots from the 108MP sensor of the S21 Ultra. In fact, if you look at the bookshelf, you will find that the S21+ shot has better focus because the focal plane is narrower on the f/1.8 lens connected to the 108MP camera.
HDR1 of 4
- As for the HDR performance, I noticed in our first sample that the S21 Ultra manages to capture slightly better details in the shadows. But, in the second sample, you can’t really tell the difference. For the most part, the HDR performance is very similar. But, I did notice that the S21 Ultra was faster to focus thanks to the laser autofocus.
Colours1 of 2
- And, when it comes to colours captured by the two phones – tell me if you can tell any difference. If I didn’t tell you, you’d actually believe both the pictures were shot by the same phone.
Telephoto1 of 8
- The S21 Ultra takes a massive leap ahead when it comes to telephoto. And, here’s where I need to highlight the lens attached to the 64MP camera is only a 29mm one. Which means, it does 1.1x optical zoom. Laughable really. But, the hybrid zoom takes it to 3x. However, despite all of Samsung’s valiant efforts, hybrid zoom can never match up to optical zoom. Just take a look at the sharpness and the quality of the S21 Ultra’s shot. In fact, when you look at the 10x zoom shot, you will clearly see how the S21+ cannot match up to the natural sharpness of the S21 Ultra. The same is true for 30x optical zoom.
Ultrawide1 of 4
- As for the ultrawide, you get the same camera practically. You won’t see any difference, whatsoever.
- In portraits, I noticed the facial tones captured by the S21+ were more accurate. But, whether it was the edge detection or the portrait blur or the details, the S21+ and the S21 Ultra were on par. Nothing to tell the two apart.
Closeup1 of 2
- In closeups, the S21 Ultra makes use of the Focus Enhancer mode to switch to the ultrawide shot for close ups. This means you can go very close to the subject for crisp shots. You will notice how shooting a close up with the 108MP camera causes blurring around the edges of the doll. The S21+ is pretty good too.https://youtu.be/IEXyQ80NIic
- It feels like I am playing the same tape over and over again. But, even 4K 60fps videos look similar both from the rear and the front camera. Except for the fact that I like the facial tones of the S21+ in the video.
Selfies1 of 6
- When it comes to selfies, the 10MP pixel binned selfies from the 40MP selfie camera on the S21 Ultra are almost of similar quality as the 10MP capture on the S21+. Whether it is with the light on your face or against your face. Even the portraits look similar. Even the low light selfies look similar. Samsung has really done a lot to maintain the picture performance.
Lowlight1 of 8
- I expected the S21 Ultra to completely obliterate the S21+ in low light but that didn’t happen. I mean, you do get slightly sharper pictures and it is faster to shoot and process, but the end results, if you don’t pixel peep, look very similar on the S21+ and the S21 Ultra. And, in Night mode, the Ultra tends to have slightly more accurate colour science too. Honestly though, I am genuinely surprised at the end results.
From my time with the cameras, the only real advantage that the S21 Ultra has compared to the S21+ — and the smaller S21 as a logical extension of that discussion — are the telephotos. Else, the S21+ does match up in terms of picture quality across cameras. I actually expected the 108MP main camera and the 40MP selfie one to offer some advantage. But, no. In that sense, Samsung maintains the same picture quality across price ranges. And, that to me is slightly odd. Would someone care about telephoto so much to buy the S21 Ultra over the much cheaper and more compact S21? Because, cameras – after the processor – are the biggest differentiating factor.
Same great performance thanks to Exynos 2100
Inside the S21+ you have the same Exynos 2100 that we found in the S21 Ultra. I’ve done a proper performance test against the Snapdragon 888, do watch it. I got the same great performance, albeit with slightly lower numbers because the S21 Ultra we have is the 12/256GB variant, whereas the S21+ is the 8/128GB variant. Regardless, daily performance and gaming was just excellent on the S21+. There were no heating issues either. Yes, but it does throttle a bit after more than 30 minutes of continuous gaming.
As for the battery, you get a 4800mAh unit instead of the 5000mAh inside the S21 Ultra. The difference in battery capacity is not much but my battery life experience was not as good on the S21+ in comparison to the S21 Ultra. On the S21 Ultra, at the FHD+, 120Hz setting I always got over 6 hours and 30 minutes of SoT but on the S21+, I couldn’t go past 5 hours.
One of the reasons could be the S21 Ultra uses Samsung’s new power efficient OLED panels with LTPO tech. These displays can flit between 10Hz to 120Hz refresh rate based on the content displayed on the screen. The S21+ has an LTPO panel that goes from 48Hz to 120Hz. The new panel on the S21 Ultra offers 16% more battery efficiency. However, that still doesn’t explain such huge loss in battery efficiency on the S21+. Your guess is as good as mine.
Moving on, the speaker and earpiece are great on the S21+ as it was on the S21 Ultra. Call performance is great too with no call drops and crystal clear sound as well. The only thing missing when you take network performance into account is the support for Wi-Fi 6E. Otherwise, it is all good.
Should you buy the Galaxy S21+?
Honestly, I feel like the Samsung Galaxy S21+ is an awkward middle child. Because it is just a stripped down S21 Ultra and it doesn’t offer anything better than the S21. At least, the S21 has its tiny size going for it, which lends it some distinctive character. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the phone is not bad. You could argue that it is cheaper than the S21 Ultra and doesn’t lose out on much, at least on the performance front. But, I am not convinced enough.
Having said that, I am still surprised that the primary 12MP sensor actually holds up really well to the massive 108MP unit inside the S21 Ultra. But, then again, you can get similar results from the smaller S21.
Now, compared to the iPhone 12, which is in the same ballpark price, the S21+ does have some redeemable factors. For example, the display is way better and there’s telephoto as well. If you don’t care about these two things, then the iPhone 12 will win you over with its performance, photography chops, and comfortable size. But, with iOS and Android it is never an Apples to Apples comparison, notwithstanding the fact that the iPhone is made by a company called Apple. So, it will eventually depend on what you prefer.
Samsung Galaxy S21 PlusRs 81,999
Design and Build9.3/10
What Is Good?
- Sleek, attractive design
- Good performance
- Cameras go toe-to-toe with S21 Ultra
- Flat display
What Is Bad?
- Lower battery life compared to S21 Ultra