24 hours with the Samsung Galaxy S21: what we’ve learned on day one

Samsung Galaxy S21
(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra were unveiled a little over two days ago, and we’ve had one of those days with that first handset in our pockets and our palms.

We’ve yet to have enough experience of the phone to give you a detailed verdict on the Samsung Galaxy S21, but if you're hankering to the know what the handset is like we've put together some of our first impressions.

You’ll have to wait for our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 for our final opinion on Samsung’s next-gen phone, but for now here are the five top things we’ve learned about the handset in our first 24 hours.

1. The fingerprint scanner is noticeably bigger

Under screen fingerprint sensors are improving with every new generation of the tech, but they can still prove less reliable than their physical alternatives that we’ve grown used to over the last decade.

Samsung has increased the fingerprint scanner's size on the Galaxy S21 series by 77% when compared to last year's model, and if you’ve used a Samsung Galaxy S20 before we believe you’ll notice this new upgrade on day one.

The tech is also meant to be 50% faster compared to Samsung, but we've yet to truly test the speed of the sensor so we can't yet tell you if that's a noticeable change.

If you’ve been frustrated with the tech in the past, you may find this increase in size makes it easier to use and you'll have to read our upcoming review for a verdict on the speed.

2.  There’s very little in the box… obviously 

Samsung Galaxy S21

The Samsung Galaxy S21 packaging (Image credit: Samsung)

You’ve likely heard that Samsung has dropped the in-box charger that usually comes as standard with its smartphones, and it’s noticeable how little now comes in the box. Unboxing our phone, we found the handset itself, a quick start guide, a USB-C to USB-C cable and the SIM pin.

You won’t get a charger or a pair of in-box headphones alongside your phone, and that's sure to frustrate some.

That hasn’t mattered to us so far, and we’re using the charger that came alongside the Samsung Galaxy S20 without any issues. If you've got a charger from a previous Samsung handset, or any other Android phone that uses USB-C, you'll be able to use that here. 

Plus, wireless charging is always an option for anyone who has invested in a pad to charge up their phone.

This all makes the box for the Samsung Galaxy S21 range noticeably smaller than on previous handsets. For anyone who enjoys watching tech being unboxed on YouTube, you'll also find those videos are far shorter in 2021.

3. Phantom Violet is a bold color choice

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 series is available in a variety of colors from bold and bombastic options like Phantom Red to that black shade that the company spent around three minutes talking about during the Unpacked event.

We're testing the Phantom Violet Samsung Galaxy S21 - that’s the company’s next big flagship color - and it’s a great looking color combination when you see it in real life. We think it may look even better than in the press images that Samsung has been showing off.

Some modern smartphone designs can be dull rectangles and while this doesn't do anything about that shape, Samsung has tried to brighten up the design with a purple rear and a bright gold camera. This isn't the only colorful smartphone on the market either, but this shade of the Galaxy S21 successfully walks the line between flashy and striking.

4. A new way to disguise the camera bump

For some, camera bumps are a bane of modern smartphones and it means that pretty much every handset in our best smartphones list won’t sit flush to a desk or bedside table because of its camera tech jutting out from the rear.

That’s often a necessity with the prowess of modern smartphone cameras, but the bump of the Galaxy S21 is noticeably thinner than the one on the Galaxy S20. While it doesn’t sit flush with the device, it doesn't stand out as much as on previous generations.

Don't get us wrong - there is still a camera bump, but this time the new look makes it feel like a better part of the handset's design. Whether we feel like it's a strong element of the design after a long term use of this phone is yet to be seen, but at the moment it feels Samsung may be close to getting the right mix between camera prowess and a sleek design.

5.  You no longer have to manually turn on 120Hz 

With the Samsung Galaxy S20 range, one of its biggest upgrades - its 120Hz screen wasn’t turned on by default, meaning you’d boot up the device with it using a 60Hz refresh rate. 

What does that really mean? Your phone's refresh rate is the speed that the images on the screen appear, so a higher number means a smoother image. That higher number can be useful when playing games, or scrolling through social media feeds at a high pace.

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 featured the technology, but you had to head to the settings to be able to turn it on. When we booted up the Galaxy S21, the adaptive display (that's the setting that allows for 120Hz) was turned on by default.

That said, there isn’t an option for just 120Hz. Instead, the company is using an adaptive technology that means certain apps and will be able to use the 120Hz refresh rate, while others will drop down to 60Hz and below. 

Why is this? A lower refresh rate should help improve the battery life of your phone and if you’re, for example, reading an eBook on the Google Books app it’s unlikely you’ll need a super high refresh rate. We’ve yet to see how this adaptive refresh rate feature works in any detail, so stay tuned for our full review where we'll dive into its merits further.

James Peckham

James is the Editor-in-Chief at Android Police. Previously, he was Senior Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones and the mobile space for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones and other portable gadgets. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He once fell over.