Samsung’s annual fixture involving the launch of the new Galaxy S-series of flagships concluded a few weeks ago, wherein the company announced a trio of phones including the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21+, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (review). Interestingly, unlike previous years, the gap between say, the S21+ and the Ultra model is quite significant this time around. Additionally, the Galaxy S21+ costs much lower too, which begs the question – should you save some bucks and get the S21+ or, splurge and cop the S21 Ultra 5G? I’ll try and answer that in this review. Stay with me.
The Samsung Galaxy S21+ is a feature-rich flagship that invites competition from its own brethren. As a result, it’s one-upped by the Ultra model in terms of specs, and the standard Galaxy S21 in terms of affordability.
Design and Display
Let’s kick things off by talking about the design of the Samsung Galaxy S21+ and here, the company has taken a slightly different approach in styling the phone when compared to the Ultra model. How, you might ask? Firstly, you can pick up the phone in a stunning two-toned finish dubbed Phantom Violet, which is exclusive to the S21 and the S21+ variants only. As you can see by the images I’ve attached in this review, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ looks a class apart in this hue and the smartphone will undoubtedly attract eyeballs whenever you take it out of your pocket.
Secondly, unlike the all-metal S21 Ultra 5G, the S21+ makes use of a mix of glass and plastic for its construction. Consequently, while the S21 Ultra 5G edges out in front by offering a more luxurious in-hand feel, the S21+’ 20g lighter chassis is significantly more comfortable to use and manage on a day-to-day basis.
That’s not to say that the Galaxy S21+ feels cheap, mind you, and the handset still imparts a sense of premiumness you’d expect from a Samsung flagship. What’s more, the phone also ships with IP68 certification, making it impervious to damage from accidental splashes of water. And, you’ll also get Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass Victus on the back and the front of the handset as well, which should limit the scratches on your brand-new S21+ to a certain degree. All good stuff, really. So, if you ask me, the Galaxy S21+ is a gorgeous phone in its own right and can easily stand its ground against the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G in terms of design.
Unfortunately, that’s more than I can say about the phone’s display, but before you get your pitchforks out, allow me to make a case for the same. You see, Samsung phones have always offered the most stunning displays in their respective price ranges and the S21 series is no different. With the S21+, you’ll be able to feast your eyes on a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display that refreshes at 120Hz. So, what’s the catch? Well, unlike the display on the Ultra variant, the one on the Galaxy S21+ is capped at Full HD+ resolution. Now, for all intents and purposes, the display on the handset is more than okay for consuming media or other content on the fly. Heck, it’s even HDR 10+ certified and you can indeed stream shows in HDR from OTT services like Netflix. The panel also gets superbly bright and I didn’t face any issues using the phone outdoors, under the sun either.
But, at the end of the day, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ costs well over Rs 80K – a price tag that should warrant the best possible features. Instead, the company’s decision to omit a 2K screen feels like an unnecessary cop-out, even more so when brands like OnePlus offer a 2K, 120Hz, AMOLED display for much less on their flagships.
There is a silver lining though as the display on the Samsung Galaxy S21+ is flat, and not curvy like the one on the S21 Ultra 5G. Now, I’m sure you are well-versed with the benefits offered by a flat touch-screen display. But, at the expense of sounding like a broken record, the Galaxy S21+’ screen greatly mitigates accidental touches and paves way for more coherent one-handed operations. The only downside of this implementation is that the bezels, while minuscule, are still a tad more prominent on the S21+ as opposed to the S21 Ultra 5G. On the whole though, while the S21+ ships with an excellent panel, the phone is somewhat outclassed by its bigger sibling here.
Before I wrap up this section, let me talk about some other design elements of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus. Firstly, much like the S21 Ultra 5G, the S21+ doesn’t include a microSD card slot either. So, pick and choose your storage variant wisely. Secondly, the S21+ also ships with a speedy in-display fingerprint sensor along with facial recognition tech for seamless biometric authentication. Both of these worked exceptionally well during my testing, so no complaints here whatsoever. The phone offers excellent haptics, so if you’re big on texting, the S21+ will serve you well. And, one more thing – unlike the S21 Ultra 5G, the S21+ doesn’t support the company’s S-pen which has probably been done to set the Ultra variant apart from the lineup.
On to the cameras and here, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ ships with a drastically different camera setup as seen on the S21 Ultra. Towards the back, the handset features a 64MP telephoto lens which by means of some software wizardry, allows the handset to use 3X hybrid optical zoom and 30x digital zoom. You’ll also get a set of 12MP sensors comprising a wide and an ultra-wide angle shooter. As for selfies, the smartphone comes equipped with a 10MP selfie shooter up front.
In daylight scenarios, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ proves its mettle by clicking remarkably detailed and vibrant photos. The images exhibit ample dynamic range too and correspondingly, you’ll notice that not only is the sky and other bright sources of light properly exposed in all the photos, but there’s bountiful information in the shadows or the darker parts of the scene too. What’s more, when compared to the S21 Ultra, the images look nearly identical, with the only difference being that the photos from the S21+ offer a tad more saturation. All things considered, you’ll find very little to complain about here.
Unfortunately, that’s more than I could say for the Galaxy S21+’ telephoto sensor. See, as good as the 64MP shooter is, the versatility offered by the S21 Ultra’s dedicated telephoto lenses netted significantly better results. Don’t get me wrong – the S21+’ telephoto lens is solid in its own right and during the day, you’ll seldom find it lacking – images look crisp, and there’s no unnecessary oversharpening around the edges of say, a building. However, there’s noticeable softness when clicking photos at 3X zoom, especially in dimly-lit conditions. Furthermore, unlike the S21 Ultra, the S21+ can only zoom up to 30x, and consequently, buyers opting for the device will miss out on the company’s famed space zoom feature too.
Thankfully, the ultra-wide sensor on the phone clicks beautiful landscapes with minimal fringing around the edges and plenty of corner details too. The same goes for lowlight photos and with the night mode enabled, the S21+ clicked eerily similar photos to the ones I could snap with the S21 Ultra. That said, the S21 Ultra did manage to keep a lid on lens flaring better. As an example, here’s a shot of my society where you can clearly see the difference in quality from the S21+ and the S21 Ultra’s lenses. Again, the difference isn’t night and day, but it’s certainly noticeable.
You’ll find plenty to like about the phone’s 10MP front camera too and with ample light around, the S21+ surprised me with stunning selfies that exhibited natural skin tones and offered oodles of depth in portrait mode. That being said, I much preferred the wider crop offered by the S21 Ultra’s 40MP front camera. Other than that though, the S21+’ selfie camera performance is aces in my books.
Performance, Battery, and Software
The Samsung Galaxy S21+ is a solid performer and the phone is backed by the company’s in-house 5nm, Exynos 2100 SoC. Naturally, the smartphone is capable of handling everything you have to throw at it, and be it holding half a dozen apps in memory, running two apps simultaneously, or playing graphically intensive titles, the S21+ can do it all. That said, Samsung has cut some corners here, which you should know about.
Let’s start with the storage on offer and here, unlike the S21 Ultra 5G’s UFS 3.1 storage, you’ll get UFS 3.0 storage which is still plenty fast, but not as rapid as S21 Ultra’s storage, and I noticed that apps and games opened slightly quicker on the latter than on the S21+. Moreover, irrespective of whichever storage variant you opt for, the S21+ ships with 8-gigs of LPDDR5 memory only. Consequently, unlike its pricier sibling, going up the ladder and opting for more storage will not necessarily net you any multi-tasking gains.
That being said, the S21+ is still, a star performer and I faced no issues with the phone’s computing capabilities. If you’ve read my review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, then you’ll know I’ve been playing a lot of ranked Call of Duty Mobile. To that note, the S21+ rarely ever dropped a frame and consistently offered me 60fps gameplay – and that’s with the graphics settings turned all the way up. I was also quite impressed with how the phone handles thermals and the handset’s chassis never got too warm to the touch either. Furthermore, the phone’s stereo speakers pack a wallop, which immersed me into the game that much more. All things considered, the S21+ is among the best performing Android phones out right now.
That said, the handset does support 15W wireless charging too. In terms of software, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ boots the company’s OneUI v3.0 on top of Android 11. I’ve talked in length about the skin in my review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, so do check it out if you’d like more insights on the custom skin. However, for the purpose of this review, you should know that the S21+ ships with the latest security patch from Google and offers a slew of cool features including a built-in theme store, secure folders, and much more.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus costs Rs 81,999 in India and for the price, economises the flagship experience by quite a bit. As a result, the smartphone draws more parallels to the Galaxy S21, than it does to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. The Galaxy S21+ faces the classic middle child syndrome and faces more rivalry from its own siblings than it does from others. So if you’re looking to save some money, opting for the Galaxy S21 could make more sense, as the handset offers the same core specs as the Plus model, barring its relatively smaller display and less capacious battery. On the flip side, if you have deep pockets, then you’d want to go with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which offers more RAM, a better display, more capable cameras, the works.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Stunning design
- Capable performer
- Good set of cameras
- No 2K display
- No expandable storage
- No S-pen support