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Buying a Samsung Galaxy S21? Here are five things you should know!

samsung galaxy s21 series all colorsmodels c5tl
© Samsung

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Samsung, on January 14, 2021, introduced its new flagship models from its popular Galaxy S series lineup. For those of you planning an upgrade to any of the Samsung devices, it is important that you know some of the key aspects of the phone before deciding to invest a good chunk of your monthly salary on a phone. Well, fret not! That is precisely what this article is all about where we have summarized five key things that you should consider before you buy either the Galaxy S21, the S21 Plus or the S21 Ultra. 

With the much-awaited launch event finally out of the way, the question of whether the new phones actually offer any improvements over their predecessors is particularly pertinent this year. It is also interesting to note that this time around, Samsung took only 11 months to come up with a successor to last year's Galaxy S20 model. The reason for this has definitely to do with the COVID-19 pandemic due to which this year's MWC has been postponed to June (instead of February). Samsung usually aligns the S-Series launch event alongside the MWC - but that wasn't an option this time around. Which is precisely why they seemed to have aligned their launch with CES 2021instead.

But enough of the pre-show banter, you're probably dying to know the all-important features of the new devices, right? Here we go!

You will need to live with that unmissable camera hump

One of the major changes to the 2021 Galaxy S-series models over its predecessors is the design - especially when it comes to the rear panel. That new camera module is unmissable, isn't it? As seen in the image below, on last year's S20, the camera hump protruded a little from the case on all sides. On the S21, however, the camera module has been 'pushed' onto the upper left corner.

AndroidPIT samsung s20 camera back
The camera hump on the Samsung Galaxy S20. Circa 2020. / © AndroidPIT

While personal tastes may differ, I think the new camera arrangement looks somewhat 'functional' and better looking than the mountain of a camera module that protruded from the back of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. In reality, however, the hump doesn't seem to be any smaller than the ones we saw on the S20 so that could still be a problem.

Your 'flagship' smartphone is made of plastic

Remember the outcry when Samsung announced the $1000 Galaxy Note 20 with a polycarbonate (a fancy name for plastic) body? Why go far? Our own editor Antoine saw this as a complete rip-off since manufacturing plastic cases actually costs the company less money. You know why most self-respecting flagship feature glass backs? Because they are premium and for good reason! Making gorgeous glass panels is a far more technical and nuanced job than creating a plastic case out of a mould.  

Others, on the other hand, welcome plastic backs, as they are shatterproof and also provide better grip than ridiculously slippery glass panels. Regardless of what you prefer in a phone, the new plastic trend is also making its way into the Galaxy S series.

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The camera bumps on the Galaxy devices have moved to the top left corner! / © Samsung

Thankfully, only the Samsung Galaxy S21 will be getting the 'cheaper' plastic rear panel. The Galaxy S21 Plus and the Ultra models will continue to feature glass rear panels. On these phones, Samsung uses the new and extremely shatterproof Gorilla Glass Victus. However, in our preliminary conversation with Samsung, the company reassures us that polycarbonate used on the Galaxy S21 is of very high quality. Well, we believe them and hopefully, it turns out to be true because we will find that for you once we get hold of our own review unit

Look ma, No charger! 

We all knew this was coming, didn't we? As expected, Samsung - just like its archrival Apple - has decided to ship the Galaxy S21 series without a bundled charger. And unlike Xiaomi, which bundles the optional fast charger with their Mi 11 for no additional cost, Samsung and Apple aren't so benevolent. After spending nearly EUR 1000 on a smartphone, imagine if you are told to spend additional money so you can have the convenience of charging your phone! Well, that's Samsung and Apple for you in a nutshell.

Samsung claims that their decision to ship their EUR 1000 phone without chargers is based on their environmental concerns. The company estimates that shipping phones without chargers will save them from creating 29,000 tons of electronic waste a year. Samsung also implies that most customers already have fully functional chargers in their homes. Samsung also justifies these cuts by adding that the S Series are also marginally cheaper than their predecessors from 2020. 

Memory expansion isn't an option anymore

While this is not the first time Samsung has done this, chances are high the Galaxy S20 series might have been the last Galaxy S series device to feature a microSD card slot. All three phones launched today lack the ability to use microSD cards for additional storage. On the Galaxy S21 and the S21 Plus, you only get up to 256GB of storage. With both the phones capable of recoding 8K videos, you might hit that 256GB limit faster than you think. Only the top-end Galaxy S21 Ultra offers you 512GB of storage.

Support for high video resolutions and no expandable storage. Duh. / © Wikipedia / Libron / Copyright: CC0

While it's not just the resolution of the videos that determine the size of a video file, the more pixels there are, the higher is the memory it needs. Additionally, the S21 series capture videos at high bitrates. Anyway, all that I wanted to say here is that only offering a maximum of 256 gigabytes in two devices while also denying them the option to buy additional storage is definitely not cool on part of Samsung. No two words about it.

The S Pen is here, or is it? 

Not to be left unmentioned,  the new Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S Series model to be compatible with the Samsung S Pen. It is also pertinent to note that only the Ultra model is S Pen compatible thanks to an additional display layer from Wacom. While S Pen support is good to have, just like in case of the charger fiasco, customers will need to buy it separately. If that wasn't all, if you just buy the S Pen, there is no place to keep it because the Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn't get a dedicated slot for it like the Note 20. So you are left with no other option but to give Samsung even more of your money to buy a case that has space to slot in both – the phone and the S Pen. What's more? with a price tag of EUR 1249, the Galaxy S21 is more expensive than the Note 20 and the latter will do most of these Note-centric things better. 

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The S Pen is lacking compared to the Note and even the Galaxy Tab S6 and S7 / © Samsung

Another issue with the S Pen on the Galaxy S21 is the lack of support for Bluetooth. This means some features like the remote shutter release for the camera or the useful gestures of the Note series will not make it to the EUR1200 Ultra model. Samsung did, however, announce that there will be a Pro version of the S Pen with Bluetooth capabilities later this year. Exactly when the better stylus will arrive is currently unclear. 

Apart from these things, a lot also depends on how well the new processor on the S Series performs. And more importantly, will the new Exynos variant finally match up to its Qualcomm brethren in terms of performance? We hope to find the answer to these things very soon once we get hold of our review units. 

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Benjamin Lucks

Benjamin Lucks
Head of Editorial DE

Ben has been working in tech journalism since 2018, was a freelancer in the middle of the CoVid-crisis and has been full-time at NextPit since November '20. Since then he has tries to find the right mix between professional competence, humor and fresh perspectives in reviews and texts.

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