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My week with the Samsung Galaxy S21+

Samsung Galaxy S21+

The FedEx guy just dropped off the Samsung Galaxy S21+ I’m checking out. Masked-up. We each reached comically across the doorstep, him stretching as far as he could, me doing the same. Neither wanting to get too close. I shuffle-step until I can reach the package. 

In classic style, I dropped it.

It’s fine. Nothing broken.

Day 1: First impressions

I expected this phone to feel way bigger. It’s got a massive 6.7-inch AMOLED 2x screen after all. Body-wise, it’s only really a little bigger than the Pixel 3 I’ve been using for a year and a half or so. Totally pocketable.

Feels great in my hand. The screen is gorgeous. There’s practically no bezel. If you loved the curved screens of Samsung Galaxy S phones of the past, you may not be thrilled to say goodbye. I love curved screens in theory but not in practice. The bezel-less S21+ screen fits me better.

While we’re talking about the screen (and it’s definitely a talking point), we can dig into the 120 Hz number that you may have seen. What 120 Hz speaks to the “speed” of the screen, how quickly it refreshes. In this case up to 120 times per second. What that translates to in the real world is a buttery smooth experience with a screen that feels almost hyper-real. In short, it feels fancy. 

Day 2: Data transfer

Every time I test a new phone (which happens much less often these days), I’m impressed with the improvements to the migration process. Switching phones used to be a huge hassle. Now, at least on the Galaxy S21+, it’s super simple. 

With the first power-on, a migration wizard offered some help. I plugged one end of the USB-C cable into the Galaxy S21+, the other into my Pixel 3, installed the Samsung Smart Switch app (easy) and all my stuff made the move. There was a tiny hitch; I had to switch USB mode on the Pixel from charge-only to data transfer mode. I just opened settings, searched for USB, got “USB Preferences” and the rest took care of itself. 

It took 36 minutes to move 20+ GB of stuff over. Not a long time but it feels like a long time when you’re excited to check out a new phone. All my apps, pictures, messages, accounts, Wi-Fi and other settings came over to the S21+ in the process. The only thing left to do was to recreate my go-to home screen folder structure.

Day 3: Snap-happy

The camera setup in the S21+ is a selling point. With good reason. The three-lens array is the best implementation of a “camera bump” that I’ve held. It’s worked into the materials of the phone, growing organically out of the band that runs the perimeter of the phone and feels like a feature, not a bug.

The three rear cameras are, from top to bottom, a 12 MP ultrawide, a 12 MP wide and a 64 MP telephoto. In addition, there’s a front-facing 10 MP camera that appears hole-punch style in the edge-to-edge display.

I love the fact that I can switch between the cameras just by zooming in or out. No need to think about what I’m trying to accomplish and then choosing the appropriate lens before hitting the shutter button. The wide-angle is super wide, the telephoto goes up to 40x with many stops in between. If there’s a shot I want, I can get it. 

Day 4: Going deeper

The pics that the Samsung Galaxy S21+ three-camera array grabs are incredible. By default, just opening the camera and hitting the shutter, you’ll get amazing shots and videos. There’s a whole bunch of control you can exert too in order to tell the story you’re trying to tell.

Single Take: If there’s a moment happening, just open the camera, hit Single take and boom, you’re catching video and stills at a bunch of different zoom levels and camera settings, with and without filters. Shoot it all and figure it out later. That seems to be Single take’s motto. If you’ve ever missed a moment because you had to decide exactly how to capture it, perhaps it’ll be yours too.

If you want to just point and shoot, you’ll be impressed with the amazing pics. There are a ton of camera settings and options to dig into.

Pro: Gives control over f-stop, shutter speed, exposure value and ISO.

Night: Lets you take pics in near darkness without flash. There’s some graininess, of course, but it’s the best night vision mode I’ve personally experienced.

Food: If you want to share what you’re having for dinner without actually sharing what you’re having for dinner, this is the mode for you.

The option to start a video or snap a shot with hand gestures or voice commands like “smile” or “cheese” has come along from past Galaxy models too.

Day 4: Video, say hello

The next-level camera is a clear feature. Stills are just the beginning. 

The Samsung Galaxy S21+ also records video at up to a truly incredible 8K at 24 fps. You can switch between the three rear cameras with a tap while recording. If you really want to give your viewers a running commentary, you can even choose to cut over to the front-facing camera in real time. 

Director’s View mode lets you capture both the scene in front and your own reaction. Pro Video lets you influence all kinds of settings; everything in the Pro photo mode mentioned above, along with mic direction. That’s unique and if you’re a TikTok creator, or if you just like making cool video stuff, it’s something that’s fun to dig into.

Day 5: The ghost in the shell

I’ve been waiting for the day my phone could also be my computer. DeX, which lets you interact with your phone on the big(ger) screen, was a feature introduced in the Samsung Galaxy S8 in 2017. With the Samsung Galaxy S21+, it’s the closest we’ve yet come to having our phones replace our laptops. I, for one, hope development continues in the future.

Today, you can connect the S21+ to a monitor, keyboard and mouse/trackpad and you get an entirely different way to interact. I have a monitor that does pass-through for display, charging and connecting peripherals. It was a big deal when I got it but today, they’re not at all uncommon. In this case, a single USB-C connection is all it takes to unlock a full desktop experience. My keyboard and mouse, plugged into the aforementioned monitor, just worked out of the box. While it’s not quite ready to replace my laptop, it’s definitely the closest we’ve come and could quite capably replace a Chromebook.

DeX provides a whole new view beyond the phone’s screen. It can also be used wirelessly, on a laptop or desktop or via HDMI with an adaptor (not included).

Day 6: Settling in

Samsung has been quietly perfecting a lot of stuff, it seems. Sitting in my dark home office, face unlock lets me in before I can even hit the on-screen fingerprint unlock.

I love how much customization Android allows but this Galaxy S21+ is next-level. I’m able to choose a grid pattern, from 4×4 to 6×6 for my home screens. I spent about 10 minutes deleting the aforementioned apps I no longer use and the app tray is now a much nicer place to be.

I can see myself getting pretty comfortable with this phone, given the opportunity. And that’s coming from a staunch stock Android guy.

Day 7: OK, give it back

Really? My time with the S21+ is done? That doesn’t seem fair. Well, OK. I’ll try not to bobble the exchange with the courier this time. 

Verdict on the Galaxy S21+ 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G is an impressive Android flagship. I especially loved the fact that you get such a large screen without the bulky feel. If it’s just too large for your skinny jeans, the Galaxy S21 5G gives you the same performance in a smaller package. If the S21+ is the one for you, though, you can get it for $999 in the Ting shop.