back to article Samsung Galaxy S21: Lots of little downgrades, but this phone is more than the sum of its parts

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is not a particularly ambitious phone. There’s nothing novel or provocative about it. It’s a flagship, yes. But it’s also a fairly conservative one, faithfully sticking to the paths trodden by its predecessors. That sounds like a complaint, but believe me, it isn’t. Although Samsung repressed its playful …

  1. Julian 8

    "and delivers everything you’d want from a flagship."

    I want a MicroSD card too......

    1. Alumoi Silver badge

      And removable battery. And root access.

      1. spireite Bronze badge

        ... Questions....

        Do you need really need a memory card slot?

        Do you really need root?

        I work in software development, and being tech - I rooted. But did it really give me anything? No.... In fact it gave me problems.... primarily... Can't do mobile banking - important for me.

        The ONLY reason I've rooted since is on my older handsets (like my S3) for no other reason than I could. If I can't, I won't miss it....

        Memory? Again, haven't really found the need.

        Removable battery? Again, not really as important as it was.

        So, apart from the edge cases (probably yourselves), Mr and Mrs Average won't need, won't care....

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          When phones shipped with 8 or 16 GB, one could see the use for a microSD card slot. However, now phones have 128 or 256 GB of very fast and encrypted storage, the need is less obvious.

          The clamouring for SD card slots in phones is beginning to look like mere dogma. I may be wrong, and if so I'd like to hear a reasoned argument in favour of them.

          (The only vaguely sensible use case is for for prerecorded media (I wouldn't trust an SD card to maintain write data rates for all video types) but how many movies do you want to take to the Gobi desert - or anywhere else with no data wireless data access? SD cards *can* be encrypted, but then you can't swap it into a camera or music player. Personal and professional documents on an unencrypted card are a no no. )

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I can tolerate the loss of expandable storage and the 3.5mm jack; cloud services and stable bluetooth have rendered both somewhat moot to me now.

            I'm still not sold on losing removable batteries; I don't relish the idea of having to ditch perfectly usable handsets just because the battery is packing in. However the lifetime of batteries has moved on a lot in the last two decades, so hopefully time and technology will make that objection moot as well.

            1. Global_S

              I think even the removable battery is less of an issue. Just because you can't change it out yourself quickly, doesn't mean it still can't be done quite inexpensively, either by yourself if you have the skills or a third party.

              Modern phones also seem seem to do more charge cycles then they once did. My P30 is coming up two years old and I really don't feel the need to have it swapped out yet.

          2. Dave 126 Silver badge

            I don't mind the downvote, but I should point out that it really doesn't count as a 'reasoned argument' in favour of SD card slots - it doesn't help express your thinking.

          3. druck Silver badge

            The most important reason for an SD card is so that if the phone dies your photos and videos are salvageable on the removable card. Yes I know everyone and his dog wants you to instantly upload them to their cloud, but I don't want them ending up gawd knows where.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Storing your photos on an SD card only renders them salvageable in the event if your phone breaking - it does nothing to protect them against loss or theft. Are you asking us to believe that you've chosen to ascribe an arbitrary value of importance to your photos? They're either worth backing up properly or not at all, no?

              'Ending up gawd knows where' is what can happen if your phone is lost or stolen and your photos are on an unencrypted SD card. Again, it seems arbitrary to care about bad actors getting your sensitive personal data via one vector but not another. In any case, its a moot point - you can wirelessly back up your phone's folders to a server of your choice, including your own.

              Whatever. Samsung make a phone with SD card, swappable battery, 3.5mm socket and extra user-mappable hardware button called the XActive Pro, if you like that sort of thing. Still, it wouldn't hurt to re-examine your back-up strategy for holes.

          4. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            One reason to have an SD card slot is to transfer data to & from the phone quickly & easily. I might, for example, have taken a photo or video using a camera or camcorder, and want to send it to someone immediately. Or maybe I want to print a hardcopy of a photo taken by my phone using a supermarket photo-print facillity or a multi-function printer that needs the image on an SD card or USB memory stick. Or maybe I want to transfer a video, photo or music file to someone else's phone or tablet a bit faster than is possible at bluetooth speeds. Or use my address book in a phone that I have borrowed temporarily.

        2. quxinot Silver badge

          Yes, root is still important, if you'd like to remove certain apps that the backroom deals require to be on the phone. Or if you would like to add something like AdAway, which is quite good.

          So yes, root still matters.

          1. big_D Silver badge

            On my S20, I just removed most of the apps I didn't want, like Facebook and Instagram. The rest (Google & Samsung services), I just deactivated, like Google Maps, Google Chrome, Bixby etc. and installed the apps I wanted.

            1. quxinot Silver badge

              And periodically we get the story that reminds us that apparently 'deactivated' apps are still funnelling your information to sources that you didn't outright agree to, right? Nevermind that it's still not unheard of to have Facebook, Twitter, Ebay, whatever apps that are non-removable.

              Maybe your information isn't important to you.

              Mine is important to me.

        3. MrMerrymaker Silver badge

          Root lets you block the massive bombardment of ads. I mean, Blokada is good but Adaway even solves in-app ads

          If you can't see a benefit to root I don't think you're looking hard enough. Don't be an advertising sap all your life!

        4. Dave K Silver badge

          Yes, I need a memory card slot. I regularly travel (well, I did regularly travel when it was permitted), and when you're onboard a flight, on the tube, or somewhere where data costs extortionate amounts of money, having a decent on-board supply of music, films and TV shows is essential for me. I also like how easily I can sync those up by simply plugging the SD card into my PC and accessing it far more natively than when my phone is plugged into my PC and operating as a "media transfer device".

          Being able to transfer 120GB of data from my old phone to my new one in a matter of seconds is also pretty handy!

          For batteries, I used to think this wasn't a big deal, until a combination of having an older phone with a dying battery (cost me peanuts to replace the battery - no third parties required), and again some long travel where a flat phone battery could simply be swapped out mid-flight to bring my device back to life. And a spare battery is much smaller and lighter to carry than a power bank.

          I'm less bothered about root access, but there's my reasoning for SD cards and batteries anyway...

        5. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          "

          Removable battery? Again, not really as important as it was.

          "

          I disagree. When people were replacing their phones every year or so, it was not a big deal. But these days phones tend to get replaced less frequently, and it's not unusual to keep a phone long enough that its battery capacity falls below that which is usable.

          Battery life is the main reason that a phone "wears out". The other life-ending component IME (bar accidents) being the charging/USB socket, though USB C sockets are hopefully more robust, and of course wireless charging eliminates that issue altogether.

          Sure, both non-removeable batteries and USB sockets can be replaced, but not cheaply or by the average user.

          Besides which, if you are a person who sometimes takes a weekend break in places away from any source of power, it's nice to have the option of taking a spare battery or two - although admittedly a charged power bank would achieve the same thing.

  2. Berny Stapleton

    New chargers required

    For those of us who've been using Samsung devices for a while, we've gone out and bought all the QuickCharge 2.0 / 3.0 chargers and cables etc.

    The S21 is a departure from the proprietary charging standard, and a move to USB PD (Power Delivery), which requires a whole new set of cables, wall warts and portable charging bricks. Something to note if you thought that Samsung might have stayed the course on this one.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Quick charge devices DO charge quickly over USB PD

      Sorry mate, you've got your (charging) wires crossed here:

      I have a Galaxy S8 (with Quick Charge). I was at a friend's once and used the Apple USB C power brick that was supplied with their MacBook (not the Air, not the Pro) and my phone charged quickly whilst displaying 'Fast Charging' on the lock screen.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Quick charge devices DO charge quickly over USB PD

        It's possible that Bernie's misunderstand has been caused by his using poor quality USB C cables (or a dodgy connection, or failing USB port on his phone). Not his fault - the market was awash with poor cables some time back.

        Cables do fail. It's very possible for a USB cable to fail in such a way that the lines required for power delivery negotiation are broken, but the power lines are still good. In this circumstance the wall plug will still charge a phone, but only to the maximum of the older USB standard - 2.1A at 5v.

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    2. Berny Stapleton

      Re: New chargers required

      Sorry to explain here, I went looking for QC3.0 compliance, as I thought the S10 (Current device) was QC3.0 compliant (Turns out, it's not) so, not seeing QC3.0 compliance for the S21, I assumed that Samsung had walked away from QC and joined everyone else with USB-PD due to QC being a Qualcomm proprietary product, and Samsung probably not wanting to pay Qualcomm if they don't have to (Move to PD).

      Turns out they do USB PD 2.0 as well as QC 2.0, and not QC 3.0:

      https://www.androidpolice.com/2020/05/07/qualcomm-quick-charge-2-and-3-devices/

      https://www.samsung.com/au/support/mobile-devices/how-to-use-and-charge-galaxy-s21-series/

      USB-PD, will do 25W and QC2.0 / 3.0 will do 18W, but you don't have to swap everything immediately as you can still use QC 2.0.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Downgrade?

    I'll just stick with the S20 5G Ultra instead then.

  4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Continuous improvement

    Still, I don’t feel like the S21 is really intended for power users, or those desperate to hang on the bleeding edge.

    This has been Samsung's strategy with the S range for several years: occasionally something new but mainly improving on last year's model. This is also basically what Apple does and is good for customer loyalty: when you want a new phone, you generally want something like the old one, but better: more storage, waterproof, wireless charging, better optics, etc.

    For those that want the bleeding edge it has the foldable range and will presumably continue to try new form factors and features.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Continuous improvement

      To clarify, the S range has started to become diverse, with the plain Sx and then the Sx Ultra, with the latter having the bleeding edge features.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Continuous improvement

        Maybe, though the Ultra really just subsumes the Note as being the biggest one with the most storage.

        More importantly, Samsung really does seem to have a handle on pushing out software updates and the One UI really is not bad, even if I do run Nova Launcher on top.

  5. spireite Bronze badge

    Already switched away....

    When my trusty S8 started to fail middle of last year, I desperately looked for an alternative as the S20 wasn't doing it for me.

    In the end, I blew 400 on a Xiaomi 10 (256) including fit band and headphones....

    At that point I'd realised that blowing 700+ on a flagship Samsung or similar was a false economy.

    No issues with the X 10 , other than the lack of a optical zoom, but then I can count on one hand the number of times that I ever used the Samsung optical zooms...

    It is different though, if you are happy to commit to a contract, because then that kind of offsets the pricing of the handsets to some extent.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Already switched away....

      blowing 700+ on a flagship Samsung or similar was a false economy.

      Since you wouldn't be economising, it's a waste of money.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Already switched away....

      Well there's a reason that people don't use 'digital zoom' often - one gets the same results afterwards by cropping.

    3. tonkei

      Re: Already switched away....

      I opted for an even cheaper xiaomi model, the poco x3 nfc.

      I paid £200 and a 10000mAh battery bank free, plus used the offer & got a band for £10 more.

      The Poco is an amazing phone for the price, which makes me wish the s21 reviewer would have a look at the poco x3. It’d be an education to see how the value phone is compared to this well worth it £700+ Samsung phone.

  6. 0laf Silver badge

    And software

    Is it still full of Samsung cruft, spyware and tracking?

    Does it try to inject advertising into my browsing or use of apps like Samsung tellies do.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: And software

      Is it still full of Samsung cruft, spyware and tracking?

      There is some cruft but it's easy to disable most of it.

      Does it try to inject advertising into my browsing or use of apps like Samsung tellies do.

      No. Unlike a telly you're free to install whichever browser you want, along with tracker blockers like Blockada.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: And software

        Interesting to note that Blockada is now officially available on the Samsung app store, so no need even to sideload it.

  7. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "And priced at £769.99, it’s well worth it."

    No phone is worth this, surely? Unless they're fair trade ones which Samsung is definitely not.

    I mean, a Motorola G9 Play is 150 quid.

    1. Clydesdale
      Coat

      Re: "And priced at £769.99, it’s well worth it."

      Totally agree there. I used to be a Samsung fan. I had the Note 3 and the Note 4. But I also travel and work in remote areas. One less thing to charge is one less thing to forget to charge. I like the 3.5mm jack as my wired headphones just work. No interference, no cutting out in the middle of a long journey only to suckle at the battery I am keeping to keep the phone itself going. I also liked to be able to change the battery (but just about everyone is into planned obsolescence these days). I also like a microSD but with most phones coming out with 128GB its not as important as it used to be.

      No 3.5mm is a veto for me. Given the Xiaomi phones are pretty impressive at about 1/3 the price, I'll keep the rest for beer and sandwich money whilst travelling thanks.

      Mine is the coat with the cheaper phone with all the bells and whistles, and some cash for the next round.

    2. Bogbody

      Re: "And priced at £769.99, it’s well worth it."

      Too expensive for me ...

      I'm down in the "A××" range ... or would be if they suported wireless charging.

      I cant justify £769 on a "phone" ..... £300/£400 (and a 3 to 4 year life)is my absolute max budget and wireless charging Sammy cant be had for that money (new) :-)

  8. Ian Bremner

    MicroSD

    "There’s also no MicroSD slot in the SIM tray. This marks the first Galaxy series to ditch expandable storage"

    The Galaxy S6 would like to have a word with you.

    1. cageordie

      Re: MicroSD

      Oh, right, the one that didn't sell. I went from the S5 to the S7 because of that. The S5 wasn't good enough, but the S6 wasn't acceptable, so we waited for the S7. That was OK until the S10 came out. I don't see a compelling case to upgrade to the 5G phones for my current use. I wonder if S21 will go the same way of the S6 and be a flop because of this one missing feature.

  9. Cuddles Silver badge

    How powerful is enough?

    "we’d happily concede this phone is powerful enough for most users"

    My >4 year old, <£200 phone is powerful enough for most users. It really shouldn't be possible to buy a new phone today that isn't far more than powerful enough for pretty much anyone, especially at that kind of price. The incremental improvements in things like screens and cameras are sort of nice if you happen to be buying anyway, but not enough for normal people to actually go looking for it*; processing power is basically a complete irrelevance.

    * And apparently the people whose entire job is to understand that have finally just about caught up to what the general public realised years ago - https://www.theregister.com/2021/01/25/smartphones_are_becoming_like_white/

    1. spireite Bronze badge

      Re: How powerful is enough?

      Indeed, I'd have still run my Samsung S8 if it hadn't started suffering h/w problems.

      It now masquerades only as a Kodi and Roku remote (very well too), but as a phone I couldn't afford a hardware failure when I need to be contactable....

    2. Triggerfish

      Re: How powerful is enough?

      The latest flagship being conceded that it's powerful enough for most , is a bit like a car reviewer saying I suppose this BMW M5 / porsche whatever would be considered quick enough for the average driver at a pinch.

  10. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Well worth it?

    It’s a mobile for (well-heeled) normal people, who want a phone for normal reasons, and want it to work well. And priced at £769.99, it’s well worth it.

    What are the normal reasons that normal people want a phone? Making calls, using various messaging services, taking pictures, accessing the Internet, running apps, playing media. I'm reasoably well-heeled, I suppose, but I can't imagine this phone doing any of those things so much better that it's worth £769.99.

    1. circusmole

      Re: Well worth it?

      Likewise. I am no Samsung fan-boy but I picked up a Samsung A40 some while back for just under £200 and I cannot see that this S21 is four times better. Nearly £800 for a phone is crazy - to my mind.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Well worth it?

        If we're talking about phones that people will keep for 3 years, then the difference in price is a few quid a week... ...so, the case for the pricier phone depends upon how much the user is doing the above tasks, and how much smoother the pricier phone is at doing them. It also depends the users time and money, and if the user has to sacrifice something else in order to afford it.

        Many people won't have to sacrifice anything to afford a pricier phone.

        1. GioCiampa

          Re: Well worth it?

          " the difference in price is a few quid a week"

          If you like being shackled to a contract, maybe... I gave up on that years ago, so get a new phone when I want one...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Well worth it?

            >the difference in price is a few quid a week"

            >>If you like being shackled to a contract, maybe..

            Eh? The difference in price equates to the same amount per week, regardless of whether you buy it upfront or through finance.

            I only used the timescale of a week because it was easier to visualise. Like 'how many times a week does your phone do that annoying thing, and what would pay to make it better?' sort of a question.

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Well worth it?

          "If we're talking about phones that people will keep for 3 years, then the difference in price is a few quid a week..."

          Doesn't matter. Unless one phone is expected to die a lot faster than the other one, the price difference is still ~4x, whether you choose to view it as per week, per year, or up front cost. So the question is whether one phone is really four times better. Which it might be, although I don't know why. Dividing prices by large denominators so they look small is a frequent tactic, but it doesn't change anything about the total cost of the device.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Well worth it?

            > Dividing prices by large denominators so they look small is a frequent tactic

            It wasn't meant as a disingenuous tactic, since I meant for the other side of the equation to be divided too. I'm sorry I didn't make that clear, because my whole point was to state my terms and process. Since I didn't come to any conclusion - just outlined an open process - it's odd that you should accuse me of using a 'tactic'.

            Anyway, it just seems easier to estimate a phone's 'annoyingness' to an individual user over a week rather than over several years. It doesn't matter though. What does matter is the huge variability between people in potential values for the 'cost' and ' 'benefit' columns.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Well worth it?

              I don't mean to accuse you of doing it deliberately, but there are those who do it a lot to distract from the actual point, and it still doesn't matter. The difference per week is £3.65 (£4.93 vs £1.76) or, in other words, a factor of 3.86. That difference, over the life of the product, is £570. Either you are willing to pay £570 more for the improvements or you are not. Whether you describe that as a single £570 payment, £3.65 per week, £0.02 per hour, or any other version doesn't change what the number is.

              With that in mind, the most honest way to describe the difference in my opinion is how the cost will be paid. If the person actually pays a bill each week, that might make sense since the person could consider the weekly payments in their budget. I've never seen that. I've only seen per-month contracts, usually with subsidized prices or sometimes with overinflated prices when the open market has discounted the device. I think most purchasers considering this debate are going to purchase outright. In that case, the difference is £570, clear and simple. Dividing the price per week only helps if the consumer has the choice to pay it for a few weeks, decide against it, and pay a lower amount for a different product. They can't, so in my view, the division holds no value.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    That is one fugly backside.

  12. Blackjack Silver badge

    My recommendation is...

    Get the S20 fan edition instead unless you really need MORE POWER! Plus that one does include a charger.

    Not much point on getting a 5G phone when you are stuck inside using WiFi 90% of the time anyway. Plus you know 5G is nowhere near full coverage yet.

    If you are lucky and live on a place that got 5G... I would say to wait until this thing gets a tad cheaper unless you really really really need it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know it's 2020s,

    when your phone piece on a 770 squid (sub-flagship, presumably?) attracts 30 (thirty) comments. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, oh, were are the flagships of yesteryear, etc.

  14. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    600MB per minute of filming

    That's an excellent case for needing a microSd card. 600MB/min is 10 MB/sec, and that's well below the 90 MB/sec of an inexpensive 1 TB card.

    256GB is fine if you want a $$$$ dumb terminal. My phone is more of a pocket computer and hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy Earth.

  15. Fursty Ferret

    Fortunately, wireless charging is present here, which makes up for the BYOB (bring your own brick) approach.

    No it doesn't.

  16. Jim-234

    I was very pleased to find you can finally delete FaceBook

    I got the higher end of the 3 batch the Ultra model and first thing went to go look for apps to remove.

    Facebook was there, but surprisingly there was a handy option to uninstall which it happily did and nothing Facebook related appeared.

    That alone makes we glad to upgrade from my Note 8 which had 3 Facebook spyware groups installed and their "Facebook App Manager" kept re-enabling itself after every reboot and using a fair bit of data without my consent.

    I guess Samsung eventually got the point, at least for now.

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