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Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus review roundup: An exercise in give and take

And maybe a trap …?

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series gave us an earlier reveal than we needed this year, and came with some surprises that were both welcome and unwelcome. We’ve actually already talked about the ultra-premium S21 Ultra, agreeing that perhaps there’s a bright future for Samsung’s Ultra phones after all. However the base Galaxy S21 and S21+ are more well, complicated than that. Despite being cheaper, prettier and at least on paper faster than their predecessors, these phones might not be worth the investment, and definitely require a little thinking before you think of buying any one of them.
So let’s start with what’s good about these phones. The obvious point everyone will note is that they are both $200 cheaper than their S20 predecessors. The S21 starts at $800 instead of $1000 , and the S21+ is the $1000 phone instead of the $1200 phone. Both phones also look a lot better than the S20’s as well. Phone aesthetics are not the biggest reason you buy a phone, after all you stare at the screen most of the time, not the back or anything else, but I would be a liar if I didn’t say the gold and purple finish Samsung wants you to notice most, along with the new camera bump design, didn’t catch my eye.  Samsung’s long been making some of the most beautiful phones on this planet since the S8, and the S21 is the best the S line has looked in years. Add in the faster Snapdragon 888 processor, a base storage of 128 GB, and the usual Samsung benefits including wireless and reverse wireless charging, water resistance and a bunch of interesting new software features (including free internet TV) and you have yourself a typical Samsung flagship…right? Well, no.

The S21 and S21+ are also determined by the features removed from their predecessors, and hence, time we start talking about what’s bad about these phones. If the Digital Trends video above didn’t highlight it for your, Samsung saved some money this year and didn’t spring for the best of everything with these devices. That’s why they’re cheaper but the first thing they outright skimped on is the SD Card Reader. That’s right, Samsung’s $800+ flagships don’t take a memory card anymore, and while I don’t want people going ape crazy and tearing down buildings for it, it’s still an annoying removal. Yes, these phones start with 128GB but just ask anyone who takes a lot of pictures on their iPhone how quickly that can run out, especially on a high-end smartphone camera like the S21’s. Unfortunately that’s not the only removal either, chances are this phone won’t come with a charger. This is outright stated in the US and Europe, and apparently Samsung is already offering discounted bundles that include the charger for other markets, but seriously just how does this company expect to take them seriously when last year they bashed Apple for it then decided to do the same this year? Especially considering how costly (and hard to find sometimes) original, fast chargers for high end phones can be this side, Samsung just shot us in the foot here. There’s also the screen on these devices which is well…technically inferior to last year’s due to a lower resolution. Now that part is a nitpick to be fair, After all Samsung makes really good screens even in their newest low end phones now. However the plastic back on the base S21 is not a nitpick. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t completely hate plastic. The Pixel 4A and 4A 5G have plastic backs, but those phones are less than $600 combined. In fact put them together and they’re $800 , the same price the base S21 is. For that price Samsung is just disrespecting us. In fact for any price above $700 any company selling you a phone made of plastic and not glass or metal or some other exotic material I haven’t heard of, I can’t tolerate it. I understand that this approach worked for Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE last year, but they’re taking it overboard bringing it to proper flagships this year.
And in fact, that brings things to a head in a pretty specific way about these phones . They’re both step downs from last year’s devices , with features staying exactly the same or being step-downs and only the looks, software and processor being significant upgrades. But it goes a little further than that too. If you watched the Android Authority video above, you’ll see that it’s pretty obvious that Samsung actually pulled a big of a bait and switch with these devices. The Galaxy S21 itself isn’t a successor to the S20, but instead it’s more of the successor to the more recent, lower cost S20 FE, with some more expensive S20 features like the camera and screen size. The S21+ is more comparable to the base S20, and in fact if you would upgrade from the S20 to that phone, you would likely be slightly more pleased. Now to be fair, we get why Samsung is doing this. In the current pandemic as well as the maturing tech market, cheaper phones that are almost as good as the flagships have been all the rage, and even some flagships like Google’s Pixel 5 have skimped on a few things to focus on their best features and lower the cost. However for Samsung, the base S21 especially feels more like a swindle than a bargain, one that’s ending in Samsung’s favor not the customer’s too. Even if you count for it’s lower starting price, the quickly decreasing prices of Samsung phones means you can probably buy the S20 for a cheaper price, the same goes for the S20+ too. In fact, I’m personally still of the notion that if you have an S10+, you could probably wait one more year before upgrading and see what the S22 offers.
Hence, Samsung’s S21 and S21+ aren’t really that great. And ironically, it’s not completely Samsung’s fault. Pricing for the smartphone market has been pretty bad once you go above $700 if you ask me, and Samsung seemingly decided to play along and make phones that seem great considering the current market, but fall short once you really start to scrutinize them. So if you really need a new flagship Android phone( the three of you that do in these conditions), maybe wait on it a bit. Chances are you may find something better as the year progresses. And if you don’t well last year’s phones are will be even cheaper.

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