ICYMI: We test out the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones

by Jeremy

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Now that CES is over, we can get the new year underway. Here at Engadget, that means reviewing all of the latest techs as it becomes available, from smartphones to smart scales. At last week’s Unpacked event, Samsung announced two smartphones, the Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra, and a new set of earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Pro. We spent the past week putting them all through their paces, and for the most part, we’ve been impressed. We also tested and reviewed some more niche products: the Hatch Grow smart scale for infants, a moddable arcade stick from 8BitDo, and a tracker from Polyend.

Samsung Galaxy S21
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

According to Cherlynn Low, the smallest — and cheapest — of Samsung’s latest flagships, the Galaxy S21, offers a compelling set of features for its reasonable $800 price. With a hand-friendly, appealing design, a 6.2-inch screen, and high-end specs, the S21 ditches the extra stuff while retaining what users want most. Cherlynn was pleased to see that the phone still has a high-end Snapdragon 888 processor, a 120Hz screen, a long-lasting battery life.

Helpful software and versatile cameras.  Missing from the S21’s features is a high-res screen (its 2,400 x 1,800 resolution is lower than that of the more expensive S21 Ultra), S Pen support, and the “Space Zoom” found on the S21 Ultra. However, Cherlynn didn’t miss those features in light of everything else the S21

had going for it: a sturdy, premium feel and a slew of camera and software additions like the Qualcomm 3D sonic sensor, which recognizes two fingers at once on display. Photos and videos looked vibrant, and she enjoyed the abilities of the triple camera set up during testing. In Cherlynn’s opinion, the speedy processor and advanced photo features help the S21 edge out the Pixel 5 when it comes to Android handsets that offer the best bang for your buck.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Chris Velazco/Engadget

The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers excellent performance, valuable software, and polished cameras — all things we would expect from a premium Samsung smartphone. But none of these features make it a particularly dramatic departure from its predecessor, the S20 Ultra. The large 6.8-inch size, and the accompanying $1,200 starting price, will keep some from choosing this phone, but Chris Velazco still felt that the S21.

Ultra was a polished powerhouse of a smartphone that showed competence in multiple areas.  The handset’s display is a big selling point. Chris said the S21 Ultra has one of the best-looking screens he’s ever seen on a smartphone and that the performance didn’t lag a bit thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chipset. Combine that with solid battery life and 5G support, and you have a capable smartphone that’s worth recommending.

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