Samsung has decided to focus on Super AMOLED display and 6000 mAh battery for the low-cost Galaxy M21 smartphone. Will it have worked?
Not long ago we published on these pages the review of the Samsung Galaxy M31, a smartphone sold for 279 euros exclusively by Amazon. However, in the last period the South Korean company also brought Samsung Galaxy M21 to Italy, a model of the same series that renounces some features, bringing the price down to 229 euros on Amazon Italy (or 50 euros less).
Given the obvious similarities between the two models, we decided to carry out this review in a slightly different way than usual, that is by making a direct comparison with the more expensive smartphone and making the differences between the two explicit. As always, this is a complete analysis: we will simply deal with some aspects more quickly, since they are identical to the Galaxy M31 and we have already covered the latter in depth.
Design and unboxing
The similarities with Galaxy M31 can already be seen from the sales package, since the latter has a design very similar to that of the aforementioned model and opens vertically. Inside the box we find essentially the same objects: manuals, pin for extracting the SIM compartment, USB Type-C cable and 15W charger. However, unexpectedly, in this case also some discrete stereo headphones with jack and answer button along the cable.
It is the classic accessory that is in the package and that is always a pleasure, especially in this price range. Interestingly, Samsung has decided to ship it with Galaxy M21 and not Galaxy M31. For the rest, the absence of a cover always makes the nose turn up a little, given that other brands have now accustomed users in a different way even in this market segment.
The design is almost identical to the more expensive model: on the front there is a panel with a teardrop “notch”, while at the bottom we find the USB Type-C port (no video output, but there is the OTG), the audio jack 3.5mm for headphones, speaker and a microphone. The latter is accompanied by another microphone that is located at the top (moved more to the right than the Galaxy M31). On the left side we find, instead, the trolley for the SIM, which is a triple slot and can therefore host two nanoSIMs and one microSD at the same time. The volume rocker and power button peek out to the right. In short, essentially everything is identical to Galaxy M31.
The first real difference can be seen on the back, as there are three rear cameras here and not four. However, leaving out this difference, the color we tried is always Black (Blue and Green are also on sale), the protrusion of the module remains minimal, the grip is not bad, the construction solidity is normal, the main material it is the plastic and there is also the “oval” fingerprint sensor, which has an average speed and joins the inevitable facial recognition.
Even the dimensions, which guarantee a handling similar to many other products in this price range, are almost identical to those of the Galaxy M31: 159.0 x 75.1 x 8.9 mm, for a weight of 188 grams. In general, leaving out the number of cameras on the back and some other differences, such as the positioning of the upper microphone, we can assure you that, taking the two devices in hand, it is difficult to distinguish one model from the other. In conclusion, Samsung has adopted a “classic” look also for this Galaxy M21.
The data sheet shows the same processor as the Galaxy M31, the Exynos 9611. The latter operates at a maximum frequency of 2.3 GHz (4 x 2.3 GHz + 4 x 1.7 GHz). It clearly remains flanked by a Mali-G72 MP3 GPU and the 64GB of internal memory remains (always expandable via microSD up to 512GB), but here to vary is the RAM, which goes from 6GB to 4GB. In short, we are faced with a configuration very similar to that of the more expensive model.
Of course, the smaller amount of RAM is felt in certain contexts, but in general the performance jump is not so clear.
If you are thinking that Samsung has saved on the screen, you are wrong: Galaxy M21 is equipped with a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED panel with Full HD + resolution (2340 x 1080 pixels) and a standard refresh rate of 60 Hz. We are talking about a great display, hard to find in this price range.
In general it does not differ from what we have seen on Galaxy M31, given that the colors are well balanced, the maximum brightness is practically unrivaled in this market segment and it is possible to watch Full HD content on the various streaming platforms, thanks to presence of Widevine L1 DRMs.
Occasionally you may need to manually adjust the brightness, for example outdoors, but in reality these are trifles. The always-on is not missing.
The importance of AIOn paper, the Samsung Galaxy M21 cameras are certainly not at the top and in fact this is seen above all in night photos, in which digital noise is particularly present and even the special mode cannot always raise the situation.
Despite this, in contexts with good light, especially outdoor ones, Galaxy M21 manages to satisfy the average user. This is mainly due to the AI, which is able to make colors more vivid. Of course, the chromatic accuracy is not the best, but it is clear that, in an increasingly social world, this “spectacularization of reality” will certainly please you.
The sector in which some “sacrifices” have been made is the photographic one. In fact, Galaxy M21 features a 20MP (f / 2.0) front camera and a triple rear camera with 48MP (f / 2.0, main), 8MP (f / 2.2, ultra-wide) and 5MP (f / 2.2, for depth of field) sensors. In short, the sensor for macros is missing and there are various compromises. For example, the maximum digital zoom is 4x and the night photos highlight all the limitations of the cameras. However, the shots taken in good lighting conditions are not bad for this price range. The merit is also of the artificial intelligence, which perhaps goes to distort the original colors a little too much, but is able to significantly improve the final result and make it more enjoyable, especially on social media. As for the videos, at the rear we arrive at 4K / 30fps, while at the front we do not go beyond 1080p / 30fps. Better to focus on this last resolution to get a good stabilization.
Functionally, everything is as you expect, from Fire Live to Bixby Vision. Obviously there are some shortcomings, such as the macro mode. Selfies and wide-angle photos are not bad, they come out well in most contexts. In short, we are faced with a good photographic sector, which does not look bad in this price range, but neither does it stand out in all respects. If you want to learn more, you can find uncompressed shots in our Drive folder dedicated to Samsung Galaxy M21.
Coming to what is the peculiar feature, both of Galaxy M21 and of the more expensive model, we find a 6000 mAh battery. As you can imagine, the results are essentially the same as the Galaxy M31: you arrive in the evening with 30/40% depending on the day. In some cases it is possible to bring home the fateful two days. Charging is not the fastest, but it can fit in the Galaxy M21 price range.
No change in terms of connectivity, since the latter includes 4G, Wi-Fi 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac, Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC. Unfortunately, even in this case Samsung Pay cannot be used, a limit to be taken into account. The audio sector is mono and has a maximum volume in line with that recorded by the Galaxy M31 (in our tests it reached 77.3 dBA).
There is very little to say in terms of software, as we find Android 10 with One UI 2.0 customization. The security patches, at the time of writing, are those of July 2020. The customization carried out by the South Korean company is practically the same as we have seen on Galaxy M31.
The features that should be mentioned are the classic ones, from gestures to the possibility of configuring a double account for applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram.
In any case, the system fluidity is not bad at all, if we consider the price range, even if some slight “slowdown” compared to Galaxy M31 is noticeable in certain contexts.
Performance and benchmarks
Samsung Galaxy M21 is a smartphone that aims to meet the basic needs of the average user. This means that we are not talking about a device that aims to have the best performance on the market, but a model that guarantees to perform all the daily operations as it should.
At the benchmark level, this model did register 177339 points on AnTuTu, while on Geekbench it reaches 349 points in single-core and 1303 points in multi-core. Numbers very similar to those recorded by the more expensive Galaxy M31 model, which during our test reached 188266 points on AnTuTu.
We are also on results in line with those recorded by OPPO A52, which arrived 177526 points. There are certainly more performing devices, but Galaxy M21 still manages to defend itself well.
Given what was stated in the previous paragraph, it is almost superfluous to say that Galaxy M21 behaves almost identical to Galaxy M31 at the gaming level. To give you concrete examples, we have examined the same titles used with the aforementioned model, namely Call of Duty Mobile, ARK: Survival Evolved and Pascal’s Wager.
Everything is exactly as we expected: Call of Duty Mobile can also be played at “Alto”, but better go down to “Medium” for a better gaming experience. ARK: Survival Evolved, on the other hand, runs discreetly only at “Low”.
Finally, the soulslike Pascal’s Wager is enjoyable at “Medio” and the classic Game Space is not missing. In short, at the end of the fair Galaxy M21 can satisfy the average user in terms of playful performance. However, we have observed that from time to time, while gaming, the Wi-Fi signal can have some limitations. This is due to the way the smartphone is handled on these occasions. An aspect to consider if you usually play online games often.
Samsung Galaxy M21 is exactly the smartphone we expected: a Galaxy M31 with a lower price of 50 euros, here we get to 229 euros, and some waivers that for many may seem insignificant. In particular, something is lost in terms of the photographic sector and drops to 4 GB of RAM, compared to 6 GB of the more expensive model. For the rest, Galaxy M21 has excellent autonomy, guaranteed by the 6000 mAh battery, a good Super AMOLED display, a complete connectivity department (from the triple slot to the NFC) and a photographic department that all in all does not disappoint in contexts with good brightness. Too bad for night photos, for some problems in terms of Wi-Fi reception during gaming, for the inability to use Samsung Pay, for a too “conservative” look and for performances that do not stand out completely, but which can still meet the needs of the average user. Excellent, however, the presence of headphones inside the sales package, since the latter were not present in that of Galaxy M31. In short, Galaxy M21 is a model that can convince that type of user who does not need who knows what performance in terms of cameras and brute force. If it’s not a big deal for you to spend that extra 50 euros for the Galaxy M31, it’s probably best to bet on the latter. However, if the aforementioned “waivers” do not affect you in the least, even Galaxy M21 is a valid smartphone.