The state of the world might feel a bit uncertain at times, but if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Samsung continues to bombard us with new smartphones at varying prices. By my count, we’ve reviewed at least one Samsung phone a month this year, and as shops begin to reopen their doors, there’s yet another well-priced Samsung sitting on the shelves.
It’s not the flashiest phone on the market, nor is it the cheapest, but where it counts the new Galaxy A21s is a reliable choice for anyone hoping to upgrade without having to spend much money. At a fraction of the cost of high-priced flagships, the Galaxy A21s is well worth the occasional cutback.
Samsung Galaxy A21s review: What you need to know
In the grand scheme of things, those cutbacks are relatively minor. The Galaxy A21s has a not-so-special PLS display at a low 720p resolution, but it is quite large at 6.5in, and the octa-core Exynos 850 chipset and 3GB of RAM should do the job performance-wise.
Somehow, Samsung has managed to squeeze in a total of five cameras, which is rather remarkable given how little it costs. With four on the back and one on the front, you’ll find wide-angle, macro and depth-sensing cameras among the Galaxy A21s’ arsenal, in addition to a massive 48MP camera. It also runs Android 10 – the most recent version – straight out of the box.
Samsung Galaxy A21s review: Price and competition
The Galaxy A21s sells for £180 SIM-free, with 24-month contracts starting at roughly £15/mth. It’s one of the cheapest of Samsung’s recent phone launches, shining an especially harsh light on how much we’re expected to pay for a Galaxy S20 Ultra. If you were curious, you could buy six Galaxy A21s phones for the price of just one of Samsung’s top-end flagships, and still have some spare pocket money left over.
It goes without saying that the A21s isn’t the only budget phone on the market, and there are plenty of worthy competitors. We recently reviewed the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9, which has a faster processor and Full HD screen for just a little bit more money. The Moto G8 and Realme 6 are also solid picks.
Samsung Galaxy A21s review: Design and key features
In design terms, the Galaxy A21s is just as eye-catching as Samsung’s recent releases. Sure, it’s made of plastic and it isn’t sandwiched between protective layers of glass, but the Galaxy A21s is a sleek-looking phone with minimal screen bezels and an unobtrusive hole-punch notch in the top-left corner.
The back of the phone is slightly curved, with the four cameras and LED flash arranged in a tidy rectangle in the top-left corner. A rear-mounted fingerprint sensor also sits in the centre, which can be used to unlock the phone and authorise contactless payments. The selfie camera also allows for face unlocks.
Our review model came in the black colour scheme, which looks rather nice with its iridescent oil-slick finish. In fact, all three colours – black, white and blue – have this rainbow-like effect, and they each look far better than other phones at this price.
The Galaxy A21s uses a USB-C port for charging, which is found on the bottom edge and is flanked by a 3.5mm audio jack and solitary speaker grille. A volume rocker and power button sit on the right, with a shared nano-SIM and microSD tray on the left, which takes cards up to 512GB in size.
Samsung Galaxy A21s review: Display
In order to save a bit of money, the Galaxy A21s uses a PLS display (which is effectively the same as a regular IPS panel) with a low resolution of 1,600 x 720. This isn’t great by modern standards, especially since the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 and Realme 6 both benefit from pixel-packed Full HD screens.
Unusually for a Samsung phone, there aren’t multiple display profiles to choose from, and sadly what we get isn’t all that special. In technical testing, it covered 73% of the sRGB colour gamut, with a total volume of just 84%. Colour accuracy isn’t up to scratch either, with a measured Delta E of 4.23. Some colours, such as light green and dark red tones, looked particularly dull.
Still, for the price, you can’t grumble too much, and the Galaxy A21s’ screen manages to excel in other areas. The display reached a maximum luminance of 553cd/m² on the adaptive brightness setting, the contrast ratio is rather good at 1,267:1, and viewing angles aren’t too shabby, either.
Samsung Galaxy A21s review: Performance and battery life
The Galaxy A21s is powered by Samsung’s homebrew Exynos 980 chipset, with a maximum clock speed of 2GHz, backed by 3GB of RAM. This is the first time we’ve reviewed a phone with this processor, and from the looks of things, it’s mostly used in a handful of Vivo smartphones that don’t tend to make it to UK shores.
Performance-wise, the Galaxy A21s just about does the job, but you will find faster phones for the price. You can’t expect the same speeds as its Qualcomm and MediaTek-based rivals, but the Galaxy A21s rarely felt unresponsive or sluggish. It can take a while to boot up and sometimes lingers on the lock screen for too long after successfully unlocking, but that’s about it.
It’s a similar story when it comes to graphics processing. The Galaxy A21s manages to close the gap slightly, but it still lags behind the others. The lower-resolution screen does help boost performance, however, and I didn’t notice any glaring issues in less demanding games such as Stardew Valley and Gris.
[Note: The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 failed to run the GFXBench test]
If you care about battery life, which I would argue is a far more important metric, then you’re in for a real treat with the Galaxy A21s. In our standard battery-rundown test, where we set the screen to 170cd/m², switch on flight mode and play a looped video, the Galaxy A21s lasted 22hrs 48mins. That’s more than five hours longer than the next best phone in the graph, the Realme 6.
Samsung Galaxy A21s review: Cameras
As I mentioned earlier, the Galaxy A21s comes with a quadruple-camera array, consisting of a main 48MP (f/2.0) lens, supported by an 8MP (f/2.2) wide-angle unit, 2MP (f/2.4) macro camera and a 2MP (f/2.4) depth sensor. A 13MP (f/2.2) selfie camera sits on the front of the phone.
Aside from the slightly weaker aperture on the main camera, the Galaxy A21s’ composition of cameras is identical to that of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9. Due to current lockdown restrictions, I was unable to directly compare the two phones in the same scene, but the Galaxy A21s managed to take a pretty good picture, regardless.
On a swelteringly hot day in London, the main camera took a suitably bright photo of the canal boats docked in Poplar Marina, as well as the families of geese and swans nesting nearby. It takes 12MP images by default – the 48MP option is located in Pro mode – but both settings managed to produce wonderfully detail-rich images with plenty of vibrancy.
I was particularly impressed with the Galaxy A21s’ Live Focus mode, which allows you to adjust the level of background blur either before, or after, you press the shutter button. The macro mode is also a lot of fun, and I managed to capture some crisp closeups of flowers nearby. For the best results, make sure to hold the camera between three and five centimetres from your subject in this mode.
By comparison, the Galaxy A21s’ video features are slightly lacking. You can record in either Full HD or 720p on both the front and back cameras, but there’s no option to bump up the frame rate to 60fps. You can change the aspect ratio from 16:9 to either 1:1 or full width, but the lack of any form of stabilisation makes for some pretty wobbly-looking footage.
Samsung Galaxy A21s review: Verdict
Video quibbles aside, the rest of the Galaxy A21s is a surefire success. Samsung has carefully picked the right ingredients for budget greatness, and it’s certainly no surprise that the most popular phones coming out of Carphone Warehouse’s virtual doors continue to be lower-priced Samsungs these days. I can’t see that changing any time soon, either.
The Galaxy A21s is yet another fashionable choice for phone buyers that aren’t keen to hand over flagship-sized sums for their latest upgrade. It will continue to compete against the bloated list of phones in Samsung’s fleet, as well as from budget hallmarks such as Xiaomi and Motorola, but the Galaxy A21s manages to exceed expectations.
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