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Samsung Galaxy S21: The world in your pocket

Felicia Tan
Felicia Tan • 7 min read
Samsung Galaxy S21: The world in your pocket
Samsung's latest offering packs a punch with its nifty features. But is it enough to convert this iPhone user?
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Photos: Samsung

Samsung’s latest offering, the Samsung Galaxy S21, packs a punch with its nifty features. But is it enough to convert this iPhone user?

Should one be getting an iPhone or a Samsung? That is the question, when it comes to shopping for your next phone.

As a user of the iPhone — since the iPhone 4 to be exact — I have always been curious to see whether a Samsung phone is indeed the better choice in a world where most smartphone users are split into two camps — Apple and Samsung. After all, in the world of smartphones, these two brands have been at the forefront of users’ minds, along with Google Pixel and more recently, some offerings from Huawei and Xiaomi.

So when I was offered the chance to take a closer look at Samsung’s latest flagship Galaxy range, the Galaxy S21 5G, S21+ 5G and the S21 Ultra 5G, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. For review, we were sent the Galaxy S21 5G to try out for about a week.

Photo: The Galaxy S21 series: (from left) the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, the Galaxy S21+ 5G and the Galaxy S21 5G

The Galaxy S21 5G is the smallest, and lowest end, of the range, with a 6.2-inch Dynamic Amoled 2x display screen and weighing 171g. The phone’s recommended retail price of $1,248 for 256GB of built-in memory is slightly lower compared to the recommended retail price of $1,298 for the Galaxy S20’s 128GB of built-in memory.

At first glance, the phone’s full glass screen, with its sharp edges, lends a sleek, professional vibe. This may have been due to my over 10 years of using the iPhone, which has curved edges.

The Galaxy S21 is very sleek, and easy to hold even if you have small hands, thanks to its plastic back cover that is designed to resemble a glass finish without the slippery, fragile glass back that adorned the S20.

A good start

Coming from the perspective of an iPhone user, the Galaxy S21 was fairly easy to get used to, despite some minor hiccups like app placements.

Getting it set up felt intuitive. If you already have a Gmail account, it is even easier, as the phone automatically syncs your calendar events and contacts. Other-
wise, opening an account is not difficult either.

The phone also offers you a whopping five ways to protect your phone — face recognition, fingerprints, pattern, PIN and password. That is about three more than what the iPhone offers.

For previous Samsung phone users, the Galaxy S21 models no longer come with microSD card expansion, which means you would have to spend some time shifting your files from microSD to the SIM card if you had saved your files on the former previously.

The user experience

Once inside, the phone’s key apps and functions were easy to navigate. However, when it came to downloading new apps, it took me a while to learn that downloaded apps were not automatically added to the homescreen.

That said, the phone offers a ton of customisable options — including the addition of edge panels for easier navigation — which makes you feel as if you are using a palm-held laptop. This may not be new to existing Samsung users, but it makes a world of difference to someone who is used to the iOS system.

The phone’s battery and battery life are impressive. It took me about two hours to have the phone charged to 100% from 9%. Once fully charged, the phone’s 4,000-mAh battery easily saw me through the day with light-to-moderate use. I spent most of the day largely using the phone for texts, calls, Facebook, Instagram, Samsung Notes, and of course, its camera.

If you are caught outdoors without a portable mobile charger, and with not much battery left to power on, the phone’s Wireless PowerShare, which lets you charge your devices with another phone, watch or Galaxy Bud, is mind-blowing. Do note that the feature is limited to compatible devices, which include the Galaxy S21 range, the Galaxy S20 range, Galaxy Fold and Z Fold 2.

The phone’s Eye Comfort Shield, which automatically reduces blue light, is also a nifty feature, when it comes to protecting your eyes.

Say cheese!

The camera is one of the highlights of any new phone nowadays. The rear-facing camera’s 100x zoom was impressive. A quick test from our apartment to the facing unit in the next block across the road showed that we were able to peek inside the next unit, albeit with some blurring. The 100x zoom function may be great for capturing photos taken from a distance, especially for nature lovers. But when put in an urban setting, I have my reservations, especially when it comes to privacy.

While the 100x zoom function is not something we need to use often, the camera’s ability to take crisp shots at 10x optical zoom is more than enough for me personally.

Zoom aside, the true test of a phone camera, to me, is the ability to capture colours true to reality. The Galaxy S21 camera passed with, well, flying colours.

I snapped a picture of the sunset from my window, and the camera managed to capture the sky’s vivid hues of pink, blue and orange — a marked improvement from the camera on my iPhone 11.

That said, the display can also be tweaked to reflect cool or warm colour tones, according to your preference.

The Galaxy S21’s selfie camera also lets you put your best face forward with the phone’s AI-powered technology.

New processor

Performance-wise, the phone’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor is said to be one of the highlights. However, as my phone usage is mainly limited to social media apps, the camera and notes, like I said earlier, the processor does not make that much difference to me. The phone is suitably fast though, and manages to keep up even with multiple apps open.

The flip side
Now, the cons.

Like the iPhone, the Galaxy S21 does not come with a 3.5mm headphone jack, and it seems that the only way to listen to audio on the Galaxy S21, without blasting your music or YouTube videos on speaker, is to purchase a pair of bluetooth earphones, or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds.

The phone also does not come with the charging brick. Patrick Chomet, Samsung’s executive vice president and head of customer experience office, mobile communications business, explains that the omission of the brick is to “support [Samsung’s] Galaxy community” in making more sustainable choices by reusing accessories from their previous sets. While the move is laudable, it left me confused at first. As a non-Samsung user, I had to resort to borrowing one from a Samsung user.

The question
Back to the original question: Is the Galaxy S21 good enough to convert someone who has been using the iPhone for years?

In a nutshell, yes, although in the first few days, it took me a while to navigate through the phone’s basic features.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is available in phantom gray, phantom pink, phantom violet and phantom white, and retails at local telecommunication operators, major consumer electronics and IT stores, selected authorised mobile retailers, Samsung Online Store, Samsung Experience Stores, Samsung’s official store on Lazada and Shopee, and more.

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