If you've seen the Galaxy S21, you've seen the Galaxy S21+. We have them here in this year's hero colorway called Phantom Violet and they look like they're the same thing, albeit at a slightly different scale.
Samsung's design accent for 2021 is the camera surround which appears to flow out of the frame, with a color to match it too. Several two-tone color combos, ours included, make that frame-camera link more prominent thanks to contrasting hues to the rear panel. Stealthier options are available too, the black-on-black (Phantom Black) approaching the S21 Ultra's vibe.Family shot: regular, Plus, and Ultra
Speaking of the Ultra, the S21+ has the same type of back as its all-out stablemate. The Plus has its internals covered by a sheet of Gorilla Glass Victus, treated to a frosted matte finish. It's cold to the touch in a way that the S21 isn't and that difference is what sets the small phone apart from the other two - arguably, in a bad way.Galaxy S21+ next to Galaxy S21
There's a lot of subjectivity in what passes for premium materials on smartphones. We defended the S21's use of plastic - it helps make it lighter and cheaper, so it suits that model perfectly. Meanwhile, a couple of extra grams in the cover of the S21+ we have here can be attributed to the larger battery and go unnoticed in the 200g total. And, well, it's more expensive, so it better not cut corners and use inexpensive materials, right?
We could probably go on rationalizing Samsung's choices, but the fact is that the Plus does feel smoother and more refined than the vanilla. The flipside to this is that it's also more slippery - whether it's the extra weight and bulk or the fact that we had to be particularly careful with this unit, there was a constant feeling of precariousness when handling the S21+. Universal equalizers of the case type will certainly help with both grip and peace of mind, but the bare phone is just slippery and that's that.
Over on the front there's some more Victus. Drop tests, or rather real life will show how durable it is, but it's good to know that the S21+ has the best Corning has come up with thus far. Victus or not, there's a pre-applied plastic screen protector on the display. The opinions of just us dozen people at the office when it comes to screen protection cover the entire spectrum but we could probably agree to unite behind 'it's there already, keep it until it's too scratched, worry about it then'. For what it's worth, the flat display should open up more options for screen protection than on previous generations.
That's another somewhat polarizing topic, curved displays. It's a commonly reported problem that curved displays are prone to misinterpreting touch input and that shouldn't be an issue with the flat-screened Galaxy S21+. On the other hand, curved displays have become synonymous with high-end phones and the Plus looks a little plain and ordinary.
A side effect of the return to flat screens is the increased width. The same sized display last year curved ever so slightly to the sides, but just enough to make a more compact feeling handset. It may not sound like much, but the extra two millimeters the S21+ has compared to the S20+ can be easily felt. It's not all that simple to show in a side-by-side photo, but here's one anyway.The older Galaxy S20+ (left) has a slightly curved display, the S21+ is flat
Of course, the S21+ has an Infinity-O display, or one with a punch hole cutout for the selfie camera. It's the tiniest of circles, no complaints about that.
What's gotten larger but isn't so easy to see is the fingerprint reader. Now an 8mm square replacing the 9x4mm rectangle, this second-gen under-display sensor is quick and reliable, more so than the previous iteration of Qualcomm's ultrasonic tech.
The physical control layout is similar to most recent Samsungs with both the power button and the volume rocker on the right side of the handset. Getting at the volume rocker would require some minor finger gymnastics as it's a bit high up, but that's really a non-issue.
More of an inconvenience is the absence of a microSD slot. Last time there wasn't one on an S-series Galaxy was the S6 but it then marked a return with the S7. We're somehow not hopeful that'll be the case next year. Our dual SIM unit takes two nano SIMs back to back in the tray that goes right next to the USB charging port on the bottom. Among the usual suspects here are the main loudspeaker and the primary mic.
Up top there's another mic, but also a second pinhole which serves as an air duct for the secondary speaker - that one also an earpiece sounding through the thinnest of slits above the display.