The Galaxy S21 is a great phone, but sometimes I miss using a Pixel

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Review
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Review (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

In 2021, I decided to make a change and got a Samsung Galaxy S21 instead of a Pixel 5. I used the Pixel 4 for a year and still think it was one of the best Android phones ever except for one problem — the battery life. No matter how good a phone is, it stops being good when you have to charge it instead of using it, and the Pixel 4 was a dud in the battery department. If that weren't the case, I'd probably still be using it.

The Galaxy S21 is without a doubt one of the best phones I've ever used.

The S21 is an amazing phone. No article about it, opinion or otherwise, can start without saying it right up front. It's really a modern marvel of engineering, and there are so many things it does better than any other phone I've ever used, even my Pixel 4, which is dead in a drawer somewhere.

The display is the absolute best you'll ever find, it's fast as all get out, signal strength is awesome (I've even learned to love 5G since T-Mobile dropped some mid-band in my area), and it feels rock-solid while you're holding it. These are things I want to see when I'm using a phone, and the S21 does them better than anything else out there.

But then there are the little things. No, I'm not going to rail about Samsung's software as a whole because I actually like how it has evolved. You're free to go all-in with Samsung and use a gazillion apps from the Galaxy Store, but for the most part, you can also disable things if you would rather not have Samsung Calendar or Samsung Messages or Samsung Contacts, or, well, you get the idea. Even the clown-puke colors of old have been toned down, so the apps don't look like a 1970's blacklight poster. Well done, Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Series

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

A lot of my "issues" — and let me be clear, these are sort of trivial and might not even matter to a lot of folks — probably stem from using Google Fi, or are simply something I've done that could be fixed. But I've found no way to fix them, and things that work for others simply aren't working as intended here. Know this before you yell at me 😎.

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Anyhoo, let's get down to the nitty-gritty here. After all, that's what you probably want to read. There are some things about the S21 that bug the bejeezus out of me. Little things to be sure, but I'm a stubborn fellow who is set in his ways and likes things to be a certain way. Firstly, Samsung sucks at handling spam calls. Or maybe Google is just really good at it, but either way, I hate them and they somehow find a way to get through.

I've tried everything. I've tried all the settings in Samsung's dialer app. I've tried the Pixel dialer (opens in new tab) from the Play Store and tried its settings. Nothing seems to help and I see my phone light up and ring while it's telling me the caller is spam or suspected spam, then it rings until I touch it or it gets tired of making noise. That's not an issue for everyone, but my number seems like it's recycled from an Anthony and a Sharon, both of which hit hard times and fell behind in their bills. Shady credit collection agencies hit me daily and they're smart enough to rotate numbers so it's tough to block them.

Even worse, spam gets through without being marked and I get robots from Arizona trying to sell me extended warranties or someone claiming to be the IRS or Microsoft attempting to squeeze some money out of me. It's kind of satisfying to tell them where to stick it, but I'd rather they not be able to connect at all. With the same phone number using the same SIM card, I didn't have these problems with my Pixel 4. I could see a buttload of calls still came, but my phone never rang. That's the way I like it.

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Next are notifications for things I don't have set up. My phone isn't my main game machine and I don't spend much time on social media. I use my phone to stay in touch, so notifications are important. I do not want Samsung to constantly remind me to switch data from a service I never used to one I never will, so stop reminding me to move all my shit to Microsoft OneDrive. I've shut you off more than once, just stop.

The same goes for Samsung Weather. I won't use it because it's a vector for Samsung to track my location (no, it doesn't help because Samsung is still tracking my location, but it's a symbolic gesture) and puts ads on a very expensive phone, so stay the hell out of my notification pane. Again, blocking the notifications works for a while, but it's like a friend who wants to borrow money and keeps coming back.

I know how you can shut these off. I have shut them off. They don't stay shut off. I don't think my phone is broken and am guessing that when those apps get updated, the notification settings go back to the default. Whatever. I just like things to be my way. Go on and yell at me and tell me I don't know how to use my phone, but know I will try anything you say I should try.

Stop doing updates the old way (but don't stop sending them!)

I also hate how Samsung does updates. I love that the company gets them to me fast and they aren't the kinds of updates that break things. I just hate that the actual update installation takes so long and you can't do anything during the process. I'm usually not wanting to do anything special during the few minutes it takes to update my S21, but updates no longer have to be this way. Why won't Samsung get with the program and do things a little more seamlessly?

Last, but not least, is the camera. Samsung's camera on the S21 is pretty great and has a ton of features that I have actually used and played with. On that front, it puts anything built by Google to shame. But most times I want to whip out my phone and snap a photo before whatever cool thing I see is gone and have that picture be excellent. Only Google can do that consistently.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera App

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

I know why — Samsung uses better camera hardware and gives you the picture you take (mostly) while Google uses software magic to give you the picture you wanted to take. Google is stingy and doesn't share that magic, and Samsung hasn't caught up in the computation department yet. This one is Google's fault for not sharing core photography tech as part of the operating system and instead leaving each manufacturer to fend for itself. We shouldn't have to know or care about any of that and just get great pictures almost every time.

None of these small issues are worth returning to the Pixel 4's crappy battery life.

None of these issues are worth going back to the Pixel 4's battery of crap or should give anyone some sort of buyer's remorse. In fact, if these are the only sort of problems a person like me who is picky as hell when it comes to a phone can find, it's a testament to how good the Galaxy S21 is. If you are some sort of "never Samsung" zealot, you really should give it a try the next time you buy a phone. We can compare lists.

I nitpick because it's my job to nitpick. If you asked me "Is the Galaxy S21 a great phone?" I would tell you yes, it's one of the best phones you can buy. And in the end, the display makes up for all my issues except the spam calls. I can ignore Samsung Weather and OneDrive in exchange for the best display I've ever used.

Am I going to switch back? Maybe when Android 12 is finally out, but not any time soon. I just decided to share my tiny list of inconsequential grievances because I thought it was an interesting comparison. No matter if you grabbed an S21 or a Pixel 4a or Pixel 5, you got a great phone. Use it and have fun!

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I splurged this year and got the Ultra. Absolutely love this phone.
  • Just curious how's the One UI software? Can it be removed or disabled so you can just use the stock OS?
  • If you put a custom ROM on it. The stock OS IS One UI.
  • I see, Thank you. I honestly thought it was just another skin running on top of Android.
  • I use Nova Launcher.
  • OneUI is the name of Samsung's version of Android. Of course you can't remove it, any more than you can remove IOS from iphones. You can if you don't mind voiding warranty, the likes of XDA will detail the technical instructions to install a Custom ROM. I did it back in the day on my Galaxy S4 and LG G Pad 8.3. Its no means simple. Removing OneUI is like removing IOS from iPhones. It's part of the Samsung experience. If you dislike it, OnePlus offer compelling alternatives.
  • If I got those kind of ads it would've broken the deal. Maybe being in the UK protects me... But I don't get them even away from my pi-hole. I agree on updates. I was actually a little bit furious when I learned Samsung had been let off the hook regarding A-B partitioning.
  • Great Read! I got rid of my Pixel 4 a few weeks ago for an S21 and agree with a lot of your points. I may return to the Pixel someday that is only IF the 6 ticks all of the boxes and does not mess something up such as sound etc and it is priced right. I am very happy with my S21 and in most ways love it more then I did my Pixels that I owned. It is superior in a lot of ways and even after only owning it for a short time. The next Pixel is going to have to be beyond impressive to get me to switch back. Otherwise it is Samsung for me from now on
  • I feel like this was written for me. I also moved from the Pixel 3 to the S21 a couple months ago because my Pixel 3 had deteriorating battery life. I, too, had refused Samsung phones out of principle because of slow updates and bloated UI. I'm pleased to report that the UI issues are long gone. I think the UI is beautiful and in some ways looks better than the Pixel UI. But I'm missing some of the Google smarts like phone screen, Pixel launcher's ambient calendar, and flip to Shh. I'm also frustrated by the in display fingerprint scanner and face unlock. The Pixel 3 placement was the best. Overall though I'm pretty pleased and will probably keep this phone until Android 12 and see what Google has to offer again.
  • Just curious what is the problem you are having with the S21 FP scanner? Mine works flawlessly and far better than the one on my Note 20 so the improvements they made paid off in my opinion. I am however typing this on my 4a 5g that seems to be getting more use than the S21.
  • Way too many times I max out the attempts and have to put in my pin. I have enabled the face unlock now so I can use either. That's still but perfect but it works in the conditions that I expect. I wish hate that the screen has to amp up the brightness for the fingerprint to work well. Blinding at night.
  • Some of things you list here are the exact same reasons I am not interested in a Samsung phone. I really do not like the way they do things, and force their vision on you! They may be different than Apple in many ways...but this is the same reason I will not buy an iPhone...they too want to determine what you want, or like! Sorry but no way! I have my reservations about Pixel phones...but I am interested to see what they come out with in the near future. Right now I am waiting to see the differences between the Sony Xperia 1 mark 3 and the Pixel 5A, or 6???
  • Samsung isn't like Apple, they allow you to do what you want although I don't like that I can't uninstall Samsung app I don't want but other than that, I like the was Samsung does things, One UI is the best Android experience on any phone.
  • Modern tech reviews seem to me to be an excuse to allow men to have a good moan. All of this is nitpicking. Google wants you to use its services, Apple wants you to use its.
  • Men need an excuse to have a good moan? And there I was thinking it was natural... /s
  • I agree with the writer. I upgraded from an S8 to a Pixel 5, and am still comfortable in my choice not to get a Samsung S20. I'm even using it without a case, which I never did with any of my previous phones (since the S3). Very solid and comfortable feel in the hand, and plenty quick. Very good battery life. It's usually at 80% when I go to bed at night. I no longer charge during the day. Spam call filter, automatic hold, they just work. My only complaints about the Pixel 5:
    I don't like both buttons on the same side,
    I wish it supported an audio jack so I don't have to use a dongle, and
    I wish it supported an SD card. Note that the last two would be problems with recent Samsung phones too.
  • I have used Google-provided phones since the Nexus 6P, and they will always be my first choice for one primary reason, and that is the clean UI. Android by default is going to have Google apps, and that applies to all phones. If I want a third-party app in place of a Google app, I want to be the one to make that choice. I don't want a bushel of duplicate apps, most of which I'm not going to use, nor do I want to sign up for a user account on top of my Google account. My wife has a Samsung S20 FE and I could disable but not delete all the duplicate Samsung apps, and I had to create a Samsung account for her to get the most out of her phone. I always thought the perfect phone would be one with Samsung's hardware and the Pixel's software, but I haven't seen anything that comes close to that just yet.
  • US model Samsung phones just straight up suck. Filled with bloatware and ads and you can't even unlock the bootloader to root the phone or flash a custom ROM.
  • For the 1/100th of 1% of the people that root their phones. I'm not knocking it, I did it years ago, but lost interest.
  • Not suffering any of these issues on my S20 Note Ultra... I actually prefer the Samsung apps and have disabled the Google apps as I use Microsoft 365 and my phone works so well with my Windows PC... Build quality and screen are second to none and four years of support is unrivalled...
  • Same here, I don't have the S21 but I have the S20 FE 5G and I find that I'm using more of the Samsung apps including Samsung Internet which is fantastic and is much smoother than Chrome along with being easier to use and it has an adbkocker which I use so I can finally block the annoying ads that I couldn't on Chrome, I'll never use anything but Samsung Internet, its absolutely the best browser I've ever used.
  • You should try "Brave" browser! Great experience
  • Gotta agree, Samsung browser is excellent
  • The S21 is absolute garbage, by far the worst S line Samsung ever released.
    Hardware-wise lacks BASIC features that only sh*t phones (like the iPhone and Google's pathetic attempt at a copy of it) lack: headphone jack and expandable storage. Software-wise: OneUI 3.1 is the worst version of OneUI ever. It not only looks horrible with the transparent notification tray, Samsung made it so that not even GoodLock can fix it. The notification shade on OneUI is unusable as it's unreadable.
    They also retardedly removed the option to hide the disgusting screen holes. I don't care what dumb "bezelless dream" you're chasing. I don't want my phone screen interrupted by a stupid pimple just like I don't want an eyebrow over it. Unfortunately, under TM Roh, Samsung is clearly on its old path of just following whatever dumb anti-consumer decision Apple makes. They no longer are an option for anyone who wants a good Android phone.
    And with LG out of the picture, that means Sony is the last Android OEM delivering actually great phones. Even if Sony's current software is stockish garbage unlike their old ROMs from the KitKat Era.
  • What do you like? What phone on the market today appeals to you?
  • Agree i want a rollback to oneui 3.0
  • You say all of this as though you actually owned an S21...
  • I like Samsung and One UI and agree with you on some of the things you said, I still think Samsung is the only option if you truly want options, features and customisation along with innovation and I also agree that the S21 is a huge downgrade for anyone who wants expandable storage and with only 1080p resolution and 8GB RAM it's disappointing but its clear that Samsung is pushing people towards the S21 Ultra. But I say don't be too hard on Samsung though but like you I don't like them following Apple in removing the charger from the box.
  • I mean mistake on you buying the S21 instead of Pixel 5 which had one of the best battery life. It’s not like you didn’t know that. Also why not have both Pixel 5 and S21? You can best of both worlds
  • I use two dailys, the S21+ and the 4xl. Luv both, but I must admit the pixel is tough to put down, why, the user experience. After all the updates 6to7hrs SOT, not too shabby? Both are very good, considered 🤔the five, but nah, to me it wasn't an upgrade!
  • One ui 3.1 is super buggy it drives me crazy. Reviewing my nest home camera footage doesnt work and nobody wants to fix it. Samsung says its a google issue however the issue only exists on oneui 3.1. Horrible support from samsung for a phone i paid 2200$ CAD
  • I have the S20 FE 5G, and absolutely love One UI and the features and customisations it brings, I am converted from an iSheep, I will never buy an iPhone or even a Pixel again, iPhones are too limited and restrictive for what you're paying and no longer care about iMessage either. I'm sticking with Samsung from here on out. If you want the best Android experience, there's simply nothing else out there that can touch One UI and haven't had the issues that Jerry has had with spam calls but I agree on updates, Samsung needs to improve on the update installation process but that's my only nitpick because everything else about Mt S20 FE 5G is fantastic.
  • I agree with everything, regarding spam calls, I use trucaller lately, and I love it, it's simply the best spam blocker app, they have the most users, which means the largest database. And beside spam blocking, it's just a real good app with so many fantastic features.
  • The Google phone dialer app does not work on my S21. I used to use it and love it when I owned my Pixel. For now I am using the Samsung phone app, but really did prefer the Google over the Samsung. It does not show calls and everything goes straight to voicemail. I can hear it ring but cant do anything
  • I have had the S21 Ultra and the 4xl. Pixel is better with the spam calling and point and shoot photography, and the S21 FP reader is crap. The S21 is worlds ahead of the 4xl in every other way. The screen is a revelation, the battery, speed, the storage (512), 5G, etc. I use all the Google apps; dialer, calenders, messages, etc. not the Samsung ones. I don't get any ads: the trick is Notifications ... Advanced Settings ... Notification Reminders - disable.
  • Moved from OnePlus 3 to Pixel 3 to S10e to S21. I like the extra features on the Samsung phones. Yes theres app duplication and some bloat but I learned to disable them or just not use them! I never opted in to Samsung's customization/personalization service, which come with extra ads. The Pixel camera output is what I miss the most. There are some minor things the Pixel can do that Samsung phones don't. But there is a lot that Samsung phones do that Pixel phones do not. But I'd still go back to the Pixel for a better camera.
  • Not even the camera would make me return to a Pixel, Samsung's One UI is just too good and the best Android experience out there.
  • If Google has a 6xl with all the features 🤔I may consider it. But they have a long road ahead to top the S21 series? Their cameras are still great but need improvement. Samsung & 🍎 have caught up with their own versions of computational photography, which has surpassed the Google effect? The time has come!
  • Google will never top any Samsung galaxy device, they're just too good now and the massive improvement in their software won me over along with their consistency in updates, they're the joint best with Google in updates now and their software is the absolute best Android experience and destroys the boring, featureless iPixel software.