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Almost as big as the Ultra, but not quite as camera-centric. Nearly identical to the vanilla, but with a plus-size screen, extra battery and a more premium touch. Yes, we’re talking about the middle option in the 2021 Samsung S-series roster, the Galaxy S21 Plus.
Plus stands for ‘more of it’, and the S21 Plus has a bigger display – at 6.7 inches in diagonal, it’s a lot closer to the Ultra’s 6.8 inches than it is to the S21 proper’s 6.2. Beyond the size, however, it’s more vanilla than it is Ultra – the resolution is 1080p, and the Adaptive refresh rate handling is the half-there variety, but Adaptive it is nonetheless.
There’s ‘more of it’ when it comes to battery capacity, and here, too, Plus aims for the Ultra – at 4,800mAh, it’s oh-so-close to the 5,000mAh of the top model. More importantly, perhaps, the middle option is the only one that’s gotten a battery upgrade this year.
The third area where the Galaxy S21 Plus differs from the S21 is the build. And here, from the vantage point of the S21 Plus, the choice of plastic for the S21’s back makes sense – this way, the Plus has one more thing going for it. Maybe.
A family of Galaxies: S21, S21 Plus, S21 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus 5G specs at a glance:
- Body: 161.5×75.6×7.8mm, 200g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), aluminum frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).
- Display: 6.70″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1300 nits (peak), 1080x2400px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 394ppi; Always-on display.
- Chipset (International): Exynos 2100: Octa-core (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55); Mali-G78 MP14.
- Chipset (USA/China): Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 (5 nm): Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680; Adreno 660.
- Memory: 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM; UFS 3.1.
- OS/Software: Android 11, One UI 3.1.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120˚, 1/2.55″ 1.4µm, Super Steady video; Telephoto: 64 MP, f/2.0, 29mm, 1/1.72″, 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS, 1.1x optical zoom, 3x hybrid zoom.
- Front camera: 10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm, 1/3.24″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF.
- Video capture: Rear camera: 8K@24fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30fps.
- Battery: 4800mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging 4.5W.
- Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, ultrasonic); NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent); Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified), ANT+, Bixby natural language commands and dictation.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus unboxing
The Galaxy S21 Plus arrives in the same half-height box as the other high-end Galaxies for 2021 and, likely, from here on. When you don’t pack a charger and headphones, there’s no point in wasting cardboard, is there?
We’re not strictly against the disappearing chargers trend. There are charging stations in the office with QuickCharge 3.0 outputs, and those have been serving us well for several years now and will continue to do so. Additionally, between us, we’ve bought an assortment of USB Power Delivery adapters for personal use and the bulk of us likely fall in that group of people who won’t be needing new chargers with their next phone purchase. So there could be actual benefits to this, eventually. Perhaps the way the marketing teams have been sugarcoating the process is what’s been most annoying. Anyway, on to the design.
Samsung‘s early Galaxy release this year means the bulk of Android makers don’t have their 2021 offerings out yet. While the smaller S21 is more uniquely placed, for the Plus, it’s a bit harder to make comparisons in this transitional period since we can’t know how an upcoming Oppo Find X3 will perform, for example, plus its launch will lower the prices on the existing lineup. Same with the OnePlus 9/8 and Xiaomi Mi 11/10.
Still, we’ll try to figure out where the Galaxy S21 Plus stands in this current state of the market – say, you absolutely must buy a flagship smartphone by the end of the week.
At a cool $1000/€1050/£950, the Plus is anything but cheap. Next to it, the OnePlus 8 Pro looks almost like a bargain at $800/€800/£700. Sure, it may have last year’s chipset, but if you’re faced with an Exynos 2100 Galaxy, it’s not a massive leap over the OP’s SD865. Believe it or not, the 8 Pro has a better display in a more premium-looking body. Neither has industry-leading camera performance, but both will take great shots, battery life is a little better on the Galaxy, and charging is quicker on the OP. With Samsung dropping the expandable storage, the two are a tie, too. We wouldn’t get an OP8P today on account of the new generation being just around the corner, but it’s certainly looking a better deal than the S21 Plus right now.
The Zenfone 7 Pro isn’t as close to a replacement, and it’s great value at €700 – not available globally, though. Its unique rotating camera remains a central selling point, bringing main-camera-grade selfies, vlogging capabilities and whatnot. It’s plenty capable outside of the flipping mechanism, too – a large 90Hz OLED, one of the better implementations of the SD865+, solid battery life, and expandable storage. This would be tough to settle if they were the same price, but with the prospect of 30% savings, our money would be on the Zenfone. If you can get one where you reside, that is.
Normally more of an Ultra competitor, the Find X2 Pro’s approaching expiry date makes it a viable alternative to the S21 Plus, price-wise. It’ll get you a periscope for more reach than the Galaxy’s non-telephoto, but also a higher-res ultra-wide with AF – may be a better option for photography this one then. It’s got a better display, too, same as the OnePlus 8 Pro’s (don’t quote us on this one). The Find can’t match the Galaxy’s battery life, but it does charge twice as fast, so there’s that.
Seemingly the most obvious rival, however, and this is as up to date as it’s going to be, is the iPhone 12 Pro. Priced identically in the US and a bit more expensive in Europe $1000/€1150/£1000, the 12 Pro is in a similar position – one down from the best in the lineup. The Galaxy wins for battery life; the iPhone is a bit more compact and is rated to survive deeper water dives. Insert all the usual ecosystem considerations here.
OnePlus 8 Pro • Asus Zenfone 7 Pro ZS671KS • Oppo Find X2 Pro • Apple iPhone 12 Pro
But really, though – the Galaxy S21 Plus has so many rivals within the family that it doesn’t need outside competition. The smaller S21 is 20% cheaper and is essentially the same phone (well, smaller, which can be a good thing), only not quite the marathon runner in terms of battery life.
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G • Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus 5G
The S21 Ultra is bigger and more expensive but comes with a state-of-the-art camera setup and display. And if you’re dead set on the 6.7-inch diagonal, last year’s S20 Plus is in most ways as good as the S21 Plus and better in a bunch of areas (higher-res display, MicroSD slot, cheaper and lighter).
The extremes seem to make more sense than the middle option – S21 Plus between the S21 and the S21 Ultra
So you’ve probably figured out where this is leading us. The Galaxy S21 Plus is a great all-round package and has the smartphone pillars well propped up. Ultimately, however, it lacks a standout selling point. In our opinion, if you want a Galaxy, there are no less than three that each build a stronger case for themselves than the S21 Plus.
- Nice color options, standout design, IP68 rating.
- Bright AMOLED display with adaptive refresh rate handling.
- Class-leading battery life.
- Versatile triple camera setup (though essentially the same as last year’s).
- Improved selfie camera performance.
- Scant retail package – no charger or headphones.
- Flat screen and thicker bezels lack a premium vibe, though some of you may find ergonomically nicer.
- 2021 chipsets aren’t meaningfully more powerful than last year’s.
- No generational advancements in the camera department – lack of AF on the ultra wide stands out in particular, since the S21 Ultra has that.