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Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review: a great all-rounder for a great price

T3 logo T3 25/02/2021 Yasmine Crossland
a close up of electronics: Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review © Provided by T3 Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review

Welcome to T3’s review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus. Samsung led the way in 2020 as the biggest global smartphone manufacturer, making the January 2021 launch of the Galaxy S21 series one of the most anticipated of the year. The Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus were expected to be great phones and certainly among the best Samsung phones on offer right now. 

To give a brief summary of the series, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the best phones of 2021 but it comes at an eye-watering price. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus have somewhat scaled back specifications and are only a slight improvement on the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus. Though what that has meant, is a range of more affordable flagship handsets from the Korean giant. If you are wondering what the difference is between the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the S21 Plus, it really comes down to the size of the display and the battery, both of which are bigger in the Samsung S21 Plus. 

In this review, we will answer all the questions you may have about the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, and go through everything from the design and camera to the hardware. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review: price and availability

 The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is available to buy now. A SIM-free 8GB RAM, 128GB storage handset direct from Samsung will set you back $999 in the US, £949 in the UK, or AU$1,549 in Australia. 

If that won’t be enough storage for you, there’s also the 256GB version which you can buy from Samsung starting from $1,049 (£999 / AU$1,649). That’s cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus at launch, which started at $1,199 in the US, £999 in the UK, and AU$1,449. 

On contract, you can get the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus from various retailers including Vodafone from £48 a month, EE from £55 a month, and O2 from £58 a month. Prices will vary depending on upfront cost, length of the contract, the amount of data and minutes you need, and so on. 

See the widget below for the latest deals on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review: design and display

 

Design-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus lives up to the company’s reputation for sleek and stylish handsets. It’s available in violet, black, and silver from most retailers, as well as gold and red exclusively from Samsung. We tested the Phantom Black, the deep matte black glass covering the back looks seriously smart. This could give it an edge over the Samsung Galaxy S21 which has a ‘glasstic’ back (a combination of glass and plastic). The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus feels more like what you would expect from a flagship smartphone and frankly, looks better too. 

The rear camera module is tucked into the top right and seamlessly curves around the edge of the phone, while the hole-punch front camera takes up very little space on the top of the display.

As a whole, the large 6.7-inch AMOLED display is a joy to use and will be perfect for those looking for a larger screen than on the Samsung Galaxy S21. Following the trend set by the iPhone 12, it feels very flat in comparison to other smartphones, most of which opt for a curvier design. Not only does that make it look sharp and refined, but it helps to prevent accidental touches too. The 1,300 nits peak brightness improves the visibility of the display, which alongside the HDR10+ support makes for colourful and immersive video viewing. If the colours pop too much for your liking, you can change them to a more natural hue on the Screen Mode settings, where you can manually adjust the white balance too. 

Like other flagships hitting the market this year, the dynamic refresh rate of up to 120Hz makes playing games or flicking through web pages and social media feel silky smooth. What’s really great about this is that the phone will automatically adjust it between 48 and 120Hz according to what you’re doing which is great for conserving battery life.

When it comes to the screen, it’s worth mentioning that Samsung has lowered the display resolution on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus to Full HD+ down from QHD+ on the Samsung Galaxy S20. This is one of the areas that helped to bring the price down this year. Luckily, you can’t see a massive difference from the naked eye and the lower resolution will be another factor that improves the battery life.


Gallery: Upcoming phones: The future smartphones of 2021 (Pocket-lint)

The in-screen fingerprint sensor is 70% larger than on the Samsung Galaxy S20, making it faster and easier to use. It was reliable and successfully unlocked pretty much first time, every time.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review: cameras

 

The camera system on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus isn’t really any different from last year’s S20 Plus. You get the same 12MP, 64MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide rear cameras with a 10MP front camera. 

Just like its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus produces great photos, with bright colours and a level of detail you can only truly appreciate by zooming right into your snaps or displaying them on a big screen. We would say that sometimes the colours are so vibrant that it’s a little unrealistic but that’s really nit-picking. The wide-angle lens does a great job at fitting more into the scene without losing any detail too. 

If you are a big selfie taker, you might want to consider the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra instead. It has a 40MP front camera, in comparison to the mere 10MP on this. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus does a good enough job, but it’s not anything special. 

With plenty of different shooting modes to choose from, you’ll always get the shot you’re after. Be it using the Food mode, Pro mode, or the Single Take mode which when you press the shutter button and move around, uses all the lenses to capture a variety of different shots to choose from. The Night Mode is another brilliant aspect of the camera. It illuminates the scene enough to look vibrant and detailed, and unlike other smartphone cameras, it takes only a matter of seconds to take the shot.

 

It has a 30x Space Zoom which does a good job up until a point. You can see from the image gallery how it fared as we zoomed in. You won't get photos that you would want to use on social media past about 10x zoom, but it’s a great feature to have. 

You can film videos in resolutions up to 8k, admittedly useless for most but ensures the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is future-proof. One feature we loved was the Director’s View, which simultaneously shoots video on the front and rear cameras- perfect for anyone keen on filming videos for social media. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review: hardware and battery

 

You can buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus with 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of storage. A significant disappointment in the S21 series is that you can no longer expand the memory using a microSD card. 

For US (and Korean) consumers, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus has the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, while for everyone else it’s the Exynos 2100. The model we tested had the Exynos 2100. It didn’t struggle at all with any lag, even with the most demanding of mobile games. The speed was proved by the Geekbench 5 scores of 1046 (single-core), 3471 (multi-core) and 7380 (OpenCL). One note we did have on this was that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus did get quite warm when it was working hard to download big files or playing more complex games. 

As expected the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus has 5G support on board. Though most will only be able to access 4G in their areas, it future-proofs the phone in preparation for when 5G is more widely available.

Running on Android 11 with Samsung’s One UI 3.1, it has a quality of user experience matched by few other manufacturers. Menus and navigation are intuitive and good-looking, you can’t help but enjoy using Samsung’s devices.

The 4,8000 mAh battery will definitely last you the whole day. Over two hours of video on full brightness, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus only dropped 12 percent battery. This equates to just under 17 hours from one full charge. It supports up to 25W fast charging, but it only comes with the cable in the box so you’ll need to use what you already have or purchase a charger separately. It also supports wireless charging.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review: verdict

 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is stiff competition for smartphones like the iPhone 12 or the Oppo Find X2 Pro. The beautiful design, advanced features like wireless charging, countless camera modes, and strong performance are all factors that make this a great all-rounder. But if you currently own the Samsung Galaxy S20 or S20 Plus and are wondering if it’s worth the upgrade, it’s not. You won’t get much more in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus than what you already have, especially when it comes to the camera. 

For anyone looking for a top-of-the-line Android phone with the most sophisticated features, we would recommend the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Having said that, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is still an impressive handset that will satisfy the needs of most people, and at less than £950, it feels like pretty good value for money.

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