And of course there’s the new S Pen, which for the first time works on a non-Note smartphone. Now you can use the existing S pens with the S21 Ultra, but it cannot perform any of the gesture controls or remote camera controls, as these S pens cannot connect to the Ultra via Bluetooth. (For that, you’ll have to wait for Samsung to release an improved, standalone S Pen Pro later this year.) That said, you still get the big parts of the Note experience here: S Pen latency, or the delay between putting stylus on-screen and seeing your stroke, seems roughly on par with the Note 20. And more importantly, the S21 Ultra’s Wacom digitizer still recognizes when you press the button mounted on the S Pen’s barrel, you So you can access your app and take shortcut notes as fast as possible on a Galaxy Note.
If you really want to write about the S21, you should probably splurge on Samsung’s $ 40 standalone S Pen. Of course, you can use a spare S Pen from an older Galaxy Note without a problem, but the advantage of having an S Pen that doesn’t fit inside the phone is that the S Pen can be much larger. . The one I tried looks a lot like a slightly shortened pencil, and writing with it is so much better than using the small stick that came with a Galaxy Note. If you don’t want to worry about losing that big stylus, Samsung’s $ 70 / S Pen case combo is probably the way to go – just know that the case makes the S21 Ultra feel absolutely huge.
While Samsung has gone for slightly different approaches for each S21 model, the experiences built into each one are largely the same. Whichever version you like, you’ll be able to make use of new camera features like the ability to shoot stills from 8K video recording – something I’ve definitely grown to enjoy now that I sometimes cover. events alone. The director’s view is also useful, as it allows you to see through each of the cameras as you shoot video and switch between them if necessary. After playing around with it for a while, I wouldn’t call it a game changer, but it’s certainly nice to be able to know exactly what kind of photo you’ll get before switching between cameras.
Also new this year is Google’s Discovery feed, which sits to the left of your home screen, where all of the Bixby junk was. I’ve always preferred Google’s news picks and personalized reminders over anything companies try to replace it with, so it’s nice to be able to access it without having to switch to a third-party launcher. But like so many other choices Samsung has made this year, this one raises serious questions. Samsung once insisted that Bixby could “fundamentally change” the way people use their technology – are those days over?
Unfortunately, my limited time with the S21s meant I couldn’t test out all of the features I was looking forward to. Since I don’t have a car to try to unlock with the S21 + and S21 Ultra’s ultra-broadband witchcraft, the top of my ‘things to try’ list is Samsung’s new PrivateShare tool. Think of it as a sort of Snapchat for file sharing: not only can you make sure that your documents or images are seen by the right people, but you can revoke access to sensitive information, control how long it is accessible, and even remove metadata. If the litany of security breaches over the past few years isn’t enough to make you at least a little paranoid, well – take advantage, I guess?
With the exception of a few early problems, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 series were excellent smartphones. After testing their successors, it finally makes sense that Samsung hasn’t given these things more dramatic names like Galaxy S30, whatever. Like I said, we’re mostly looking at iterative changes, although they’re quite nice.
The only exception here may be the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which isn’t just cheaper than its predecessor – it’s more polished and feature-rich as well. But should you actually buy this thing? Or one of the other S21 models? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for our full review to find out.