I have always found the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra “too much”. I can’t deny it is a wonderful smartphone and has a set of great cameras stuck to its giant rear, but for most regular users, it is too much. Moreover, with the Galaxy Z foldables flexing the limits in smartphone innovation, the Ultra seems like a weird middle choice. Of course, you might like the Ultra’s proposition but if you wanted something saner from Samsung, the Galaxy S21 Plus makes sense.

Starting at Rs 81,999, the Galaxy S21 Plus is relatively affordable to its “Ultra” sibling. Coincidentally, it has a starting price that is almost as much as the base iPhone 12. One look at the specifications sheet raises eyebrows. Another look at the design and it makes the average premium smartphone buyer take notice. Samsung seems to have got it all right this time compared to the previous generation.

So, who is the Galaxy S21 Plus for? Should a potential iPhone 12 buyer consider the S21 Plus this year? Would buyers lose out a lot over the more expensive Ultra?

Design

Galaxy S3, Galaxy S6 Edge, and Galaxy S8 – these are some of the most beautiful phones Samsung has sold over the last decade. Unlike Apple, Samsung has always taken the design bit seriously and proven itself as a trendsetter. The Galaxy S21 Plus is no alien to that concept and this year, it does an incredible job of embracing the camera hump (or bump).

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

From whichever angle you look at it, the Galaxy S21 Plus’ rear looks well-appointed and proportionate. The Phantom Silver variant looks elegant with a clever mix of all the chrome and matte surfaces. Next to the comparatively awkward rear of the iPhone 12, this Samsung phone defines handsome.

The chrome-finished curved frame imparts confidence while you pick it up from the table, or carry it around – something where the iPhone 12 doesn’t succeed with its flat rails. The display doesn’t curve towards the edges anymore but Samsung has managed to push the bezels to the extreme corners of the display as much as possible. Both the front and rear on the S21 Plus are made of Gorilla Glass Victus but Samsung chooses to apply a screen protector on the front.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

As much as the S21 Plus is pretty, it holds up well with its durability. 10 days of using it without any case and my unit of Galaxy S21 Plus did not pick up scratches or scuffs. It does attract smudges a lot but you don’t need to necessarily put a case on this, unless you have a habit of dropping yours frequently. The Gorilla Glass Victus should ensure better shatter resistance than before.

All in all, the Galaxy S21 Plus is a nicely crafted smartphone, with commendable attention to detail across all the surfaces. It feels every worth of its Rs 81,999 starting price.

Display

Unlike its polarizing smartphone designs, Samsung consistently offers the best viewing experience on its smartphones every year. This year, it has worried some loyalists and nerds with its decision to drop the Quad HD+ resolution and stick to a rather standard 1080p resolution. While I was worried too initially, the differences between a Quad HD+ and Full HD+ display have never bothered my eyes.

On the Galaxy S21 Plus, this 1080p display feels just as good to look at as it looked last year. What kept me interested was the 6.7-inch of Dynamic AMOLED magic – everything looks exceptional on this display. The traditional “inky blacks” and “eye-popping hues” of all the colors is genuinely a luxury, at least to my eyes. You can tone down the color profile from the Settings but I stuck to the default mode and never worried to check the Settings once. Whether it’s a binging on YouTube or simply swiping around the colorful One UI interface, it is a pleasure doing it on this display

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Samsung is using an adaptive refresh rate system that alters it automatically between 120Hz and 60Hz, based on what the content demands. This makes everything look and feel smoother, as well as more fluid to interact with. The tiny cutout on the top for the front camera does distract at times but next to the iPhone 12’s “bathtub notch”, I am willing to embrace it without complaints.

I also like the in-display fingerprint scanner system. Samsung says this new ultrasonic scanner is faster and has a bigger scanning surface area. Most of the times, I just had to tap on it and it unlocked the phone easily, even with wet fingers. It does struggle with my thumb imprints though, something which optical sensor-based systems have no issues with. That said, it is certainly better than the older system from the Galaxy S20.

Performance

The Galaxy S21 Plus has two crucial aspects to its performance like any other phone: the chipset and the software. Samsung is using the new Exynos 2100 chip here that technically compares with the Snapdragon 888, but falls behind with the benchmark scores. This is paired with the improved and better optimized One UI 3.1 experience, which is based on the latest Android 11 build.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Let’s talk about the chipset bit first. If you have been up-to-date with news, the Exynos 2100 is as usual lagging behind its Snapdragon equivalent on benchmarks. That gap, however, is marginal this year. Hence, going by the maths, you have got a very fast chipset inside. Coupled with Samsung’s well-optimized One UI 3.1, the Galaxy S21 Plus is always on its toes, ready for whatever you ask it to do.

Apps load fast and switching between them during some basic multitasking sessions is no big deal. The phone never dropped frames or struggled with loading some of the most popular social media apps, office productivity apps, and even games. I doubt how many Galaxy S21 Plus owners will game on their phones but in the interest of science, I undertook my daily evening Call of Duty: Mobile sessions on this phone – the phone held itself together well.

I did notice a lack of polish on the graphics quality, especially when compared to the same session on a OnePlus 8T. This could be the Mali GPU’s issue but a later software update certainly improved the experience. The phone warms up around the camera hump after 30 minutes on average but I never found it going uncomfortable.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

On the whole, mobile gamers would find the Galaxy S21 Plus adequate to game on. What got me impressed though is the power management. After an hour’s session of some determined gaming, I never felt the need to plug-in the charger, unlike the OnePlus 8T or the iPhone 12.

Of course, it is One UI 3.1 that’s doing all the clever bits behind the curtains. Samsung’s idea of Android is certainly the most pleasant one I have seen on a phone so far. Not only are the aesthetics pleasing, but every bit of the interface is well-thought-of. The icons are self-explanatory while the countless menus inside the system make it easy to navigate and find something. I can confidently state that One UI 3.1 has the same levels of polish I have seen on Apple’s iOS 14 this year.

There’s a minimal-to-no-learning curve with One UI. This is despite the fact that Samsung has loaded it to the brim with features. Samsung’s ecosystem of apps as well as services is closely integrated as nicely as Apple’s iOS. I am trying out the Galaxy Buds Pro and, on the Galaxy S21 Plus, it’s a joy to use with. You have your basic settings integrated into the Bluetooth menu but the Samsung Wearable app is one tap away to offer more features.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Samsung Pay is still a joy to use despite the lack of the MST chip. All my UPI and wallet-based payments are always a swipe away from the homescreen. I prefer Samsung’s widgets over that of Google’s on the homescreen. Bixby is still not as useful as Google Assistant while the AR Zone app tries hard to ape some of the playful iPhone stuff.

Happily, none of the extra Samsung stuff takes a toll on the overall fluidity of the system. None of the Samsung stuff is in-your-face intrusive. By default, you are given a choice to try the Google or Microsoft services. Samsung’s email and other alternatives to basic Google apps from before are now a download away from the Galaxy Store – not pre-loaded anymore. It feels as if Samsung does not thrive on Google services anymore – there is an ecosystem of its own services to rely on.

I also couldn’t help noticing that One UI 3.1 makes the Galaxy S21 Plus a more productivity-oriented device, especially with all the Microsoft and Google services embedded well with Samsung’s ecosystem. This is the most office-friendly phone I have used in a while.

Cameras

Samsung wants you to spend extra for the Galaxy S21 Ultra if you seek the best Samsung camera experience. With the vanilla Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21 Plus, you are getting a set of good cameras, at least on paper. In the real world, however, I did not find the Galaxy S21 Plus cameras any lesser than the cameras on the iPhone 12 or even the S21 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

With the non-Ultra models, you are losing out on the insane levels of optical zoom. The S21 Plus has a 64-megapixel telephoto camera that offers 1.1x optical zoom and uses software trickery to achieve a rated hybrid zoom of 3x. This is flanked by a regular 12-megapixel main camera with a 1/1.76-inch sensor, and a standard affair 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera with a 120-degree field of view.

The lack of a laser autofocus system is visible in challenging conditions but once you learn to live with this setup, you can consistently get a good photography experience. The Samsung way of mobile still photography makes the iPhone 12-way of photography seem inferior. All three cameras are paired to a great post-processing system that gave out some of the best-looking photos I have seen from a smartphone camera.

In daylight, all three cameras are exceptional. Samsung’s image processing tends to go towards cooler tones but the end result is pleasing, full of details, good lighting, and nice contrasts. Personally, I find the Samsung way of image processing superior to the iPhone 12’s processing. While the main and ultra-wide cameras trade blows with that of the iPhone 12’s, it is the telephoto camera where the S21 Plus edges ahead. The hybrid 3x zoom is more useful than the digital crop on the iPhone 12. Moreover, Samsung’s processing keeps it looking good, provided there’s lots of ambient lighting.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

It’s when the light levels start to drop, the telephoto camera starts struggling with details. The post-processing tries to clean up the photos of grains but the resultant images are softer. Also, anything beyond 5x zoom is barely useable in inadequate lighting.

The main camera, however, is a joy to use at night. Night photos turned out impressive, provided you play with your light sources in the right way. The Scene Optimizer makes life easier if you don’t like toggling settings for every shot. The Night Mode is there to help with extremely challenging situations but it’s no Google Pixel when it comes to clarity. The portrait mode photos with the fake bokeh effect look pleasing, although I still saw messed-up hair with busy backgrounds.

Video shooting is where the iPhone 12 still continues to have a commanding lead. Not that the video quality is bad – I was greeted with vibrant looking videos with good clarity and great exposure management. 8K video recording is cool to use but the quality is fine. 4K at both 60 fps and 30 fps is nice, but not processed as well as the iPhone 12’s camera. The iPhone does exposures better in my opinion and has a certain amount of polish to its results. The slow-motion modes are useful if you got your creative juices flowing but reserve them for daylight use only.

The front 10-megapixel camera on the S21 Plus is nice but I have seen better selfie cameras on iPhones as well as other Android flagships. You are still going to get brightly-lit, detailed-enough and vibrant selfies, with decent portrait mode effects as well as studio lighting effects. However, I feel Samsung needs to upgrade the image sensor as the camera starts struggling with details in challenging lighting.

Battery

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

In the past, I have seen all Samsung S and Note series phone struggle with battery life. With the Galaxy S21 Plus, Samsung has resorted to a bigger 4800mAh battery and that in my experience makes the phone last an entire day on a busy workday. As long as you are not playing games, the Galaxy S21 Plus can make it to the end of the day with the regular phone applications. My average workday included frequent texting on WhatsApp, replying to a dozen emails, dealing with phone calls, taking photos, and listening to music via wireless earphones.

Of course, there’s already a lot of drama surrounding the absence of an in-box charging adapter. I luckily had a OnePlus 65W fast charger lying around that filled it up at full speeds, thereby taking close to an hour from 30 percent on an average. There’s support for 15W wireless charging too but I did not have a wireless charger lying around. The reverse wireless charging came in handy while filling up the Galaxy Buds Pro.

Verdict

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Plus is the most complete smartphone I have used in a while and if I had to spend close to Rs 80,000 on a phone, this Samsung phone would make for a solid alternative to the iPhone 12. In fact, we won’t be surprised if those going into the store with no platform preferences might end up picking the Galaxy S21 Plus, given what this package offers in its entirety. It does all the regular smartphone stuff exceptionally well, and then stands out with a distinct personality.

The Galaxy S21 Plus is a fancy phone to behold, a good pocket camera, a productivity-oriented assistant, and a portable media powerhouse with an amazing display. Samsung’s iteration of Android this year trades blows with Apple iOS in terms of polish and fluidity. The only downside comes in the form of video recording performance.

Compared to the base variant of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, this Galaxy S21 Plus is Rs 24,000 cheaper. Living with the S21 Plus makes me question the premium one has to pay for Galaxy S21 Ultra. It does seem a bit unnecessary in comparison (unless you have got the urge to rock the latest and the most expensive Samsung smartphone).

I cannot predict how the flagship smartphone space shapes up over the year but the Galaxy S21 Plus is one of the most well-balanced premium smartphone deals. Subjectively, I find it a better choice over the iPhone 12 on most days. The Galaxy S21 Plus is pretty on the outside, and smart on the inside – what else do you seek from your premium flagship smartphone in 2021?

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