As Ferris Bueller famously said; “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.“
The same can easily be said of today’s smartphone market. Every other day it seems there is the launch of something latest and greatest, or the prototype of the next folding, sliding, flipping, self-charging, 5G device.
In the past few months, we’ve been testing a wide range of Google Android-based devices that have on more than one occasion raised eyebrows and genuinely showed that Apple no longer has the smartphone market in the palm of its hand as it did for many years as the likes of Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, Vivo and Google played catch-up.
This is not a review to find a winner. That’s pointless. This is a round-up of five devices that span feature-sets and price-points for almost every budget.
Let’s get some stats on the table as an overview:
|Samsung S21 5G
|12 MP Wide
12 MP Ultra wide
64 MP Telephoto
|Google Pixel 5
|6.0″ FHD+ Flexible OLED
|12 MP dual-pixel and 16 MP ultrawide
|Motorola moto g9 plus
|6.8″ Max Vision HD+
|64 MP standard
8 MP 118° ultra-wide angle
2 MP macro
2 MP depth
|Huawei Nova 7i
|48 MP Wide Angle Lens + 8 MP Ultra Wide Angle Lens + 2 MP Macro lens + 2 MP Bokeh lens
|13MP Main Camera
2MP Bokeh 2MP Super Macro
Launched in January 2021, the S21 5G is as the name suggests the latest in a very long and distinguished line of Samsung smartphones.
The S21 also brings the convenience and connectivity of 5G to life with astonishing speeds and responsiveness.
We’re testing the smallest of the S21 range which also extends to the S21+ and S21 Ultra. The S21+ having a 6.7″ screen and the S21 Ultra a stunning 6.8″ Edge Quality HD+ screen.
The S21 also debuts a number of new colours with Violet, Red, and Brown available as exclusive colours across the higher-end models.
What really impresses me about the S21 5G is the quality of the camera and the almost edge to edge screen that is the clearest and brightest I have ever used which also integrates the fingerprint scanner.
This is the camera in Full View mode where the field of view is the entire screen and the image that is captured is also elongated. In reality, its a nice panorama view that I think would be used quite often in outdoor settings.
As you would expect the Camera on the S21 5G has an array of modes including Hyperlapse, Portrait, and even a mode for shooting Food!
The AR Zone opens a whole emoji world where characters can be generated for your head as well as your entire digital character.
The tri-lens camera array ensures all your images shot at Wide, Ultra Wide and Telephoto are super sharp.
The video is also super crisp and impressively steady. The 8K feature is lost on most TV screens, but in the right lighting conditions is properly impressive on the Flat FHD+ screen thankfully protected by Gorilla Glass.
Some examples of the Samsung S21 5G in action in the real world:
The smallest of the S21 range is super impressive. Somewhat let down by the Samsung bloat-ware, the S21 lives up to the eye-watering price-tag with beautiful build quality and luxury feel. Screen and camera are class-leading as is the battery performance thanks to Exynos 2100 (5 nm) chip. The addition of 5G finally brings all these technologies to life with connectivity to match the grunt.
At the top-end of the market, the Samsung S21 5G is the king of the castle right now.
We’ve had the Google Pixel 5 for a few months now and with the wider rollout of 5G taking place, we have finally been able to see what’s what with this impressive smartphone.
By far the smallest of the five devices, the Google Pixel 5 is also the most pleasant to hold thanks to the 100% recycled aluminium back with a matte texture.
The other standout features of the Google Pixel 5 include Battery Sharing, an IPX8 water resistance rating, and the innovative fingerprint sensor on the back of the device. Furthermore, the Google Android OS is I think, miles and miles ahead of Apple’s iOS right now. On the Google Pixel 5 there’s no bloat-ware, so it is the purest example of Android that you will ever use. That being said, Google does need to look at the colour range and design of their in-house apps. As you can see, they do all look alike.
The FHD+ Flexible OLED screen has impressive clarity in almost any light.
As with all Google products, there is very little management required to see all the apps available on the Google Pixel 5.
However, it’s the 12.2 MP dual-pixel camera with Auto-focus with dual-pixel phase detection that has the Google Pixel 5 flexing its muscles.
The second most expensive device in this line-up and for mine the Google Pixel 5 reaps the rewards of the best all-round device. Not preposterously oversized, nor overly delicate – this is the everyday smartphone for those looking for the convenience of water resistance, 5G speed (when you can get it), and a very, very good camera array. The pure-play Google Android OS is also a highly attractive feature.
Ultimately this will still be a very good device in 2-3 years time which – as we approach peak-smartphone – may well be it’s most appealing feature.
Interestingly as the prices descend in this review, the devices increase in size and from what I’ve seen this is very positive for the consumer on a tighter budget but still seeking bang-for-buck.
Furthermore, I think the Motorola moto g9 plus is the best looking of the five. It’s hard to capture the brilliance of the blue casing on the g9 plus in a photo. It lacks the peacock effect of the Motorola edge that we have previously reviewed, but the blue is very striking from any angle. The inclusion of a clear plastic protector is very welcome when unboxing the moto g9 plus.
Other standout inclusions are the 5,000 mAh battery with the TurboPower 30 feature which can provide up to 12 hours of battery life in a single 10-minute charge. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor keeps every interaction super snappy – even with a multitude of apps on the go and the quad-lens camera system is very impressive for a $399 device.
The side-mounted fingerprint sensor is a master-stroke. The moto g9 plus is ready for action well before you are.
Additionally, the Motorola moto g9 plus also brings back the joy of music with a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as dual-SIM and MicroSD card provisions. However, it’s the 64 MP multi-lens camera system where the moto g9 plus starts to make a very strong case for itself. Incredible low-light (and no-light) capabilities as well as a 118° ultra-wide-angle POV and super close-up macro features are very impressive.
With a $600+ price-drop on the first two devices in this round-up, there is quite the opposite effect on the value-for-money equation. A bigger, more powerful battery, excellent camera and the latest incarnation of Google Android (with a little bit of Motorola bloat-ware) make the moto g9 plus the bang-for-your-buck winner by a country mile.
Additionally, the 6.8″ HD+ display with a 20:9 aspect ratio means you have a higher screen-to-body proportion for the most immersive view of your world.
And now we’re in a parallel universe. For the same money as the Motorola moto g9 plus you can have the Huawei Nova 7i. However, all is not as it seems. Welcome to the Huawei EMUI interface where the best of Android and iOS have been brought together with mixed success.
The Huawei App Gallery is just like the Google Play and Apple App Stores except in every single way. Instead of native apps for everything, there are Quick Apps – which are just links to the mobile web versions of platforms such as Twitter. Heavy hitters such as Tik Tok and Snapchat have developed native apps for the Huawei eco-system, but many have not. Instagram is nowhere to be found and its siblings – Boomerang and Layout – are listed as “Not available yet” and you can add them to a wishlist to “…get it sooner” – whatever that means.
Thankfully apps such as Huawei’s Petal Maps are available, extremely well made, and are highly efficient.
It’s easy to forget how busy Google and Apple Maps have become over the years.
Putting software to one side, the hardware in the Nova 7i is much more intuitive. The AI-driven quad-lens camera array for example is outstanding. The bright back-light feature boggles the mind. Using the Night setting, any bright background light is reduced so the foreground and background are perfectly balanced.
The Nova 7i also goes for the side-mounted super-responsive fingerprint sensor that I think is such a good way to manage device security – especially when facial recognition is so easily challenged by a face-mask. The high-gloss casing gives the Nova 7i a very luxurious feel that belies its price-point as does the Huawei Comfort Mode which is certified by TÜV Rheinland and allows you to enjoy longer periods of gameplay or video play experience – especially at night.
The 4,200 mAh battery is another gem of the Nova 7i with 40W SuperCharge Technology that can get you from a dead battery to 70% in around 30mins.
The Huawei Nova 7i is an impressive device for a very modest price. That being said, I’m not sure that the stand-alone OS and app store (Gallery) is going to cut it compared to the competition. The trade-off may well be worth it for some if you take into account the 8GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage that is maximised via the Kirin 810 chip. In addition, the AI that powers the quad-lens camera system is very impressive in varying light and we have another device with a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Compared to the Motorola and the Vivo, this might just be the device to choose if your photo and video game are strong.
Yet another new-comer to 2021, the Y20 slots into the middle of the Vivo range – between the Y17 and the Y30. At $299 this 6.51 inch HD+ screen also comes with Eye Protection and what seems to be an evolving trend for 2021 – the side-mounted fingerprint scanner.
4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the Y20s packs a punch with the Qualcomm Snapdragon Processor that is powered by a 5,000 mAh battery.
However, it’s the little additions that really endear the Vivo Y20s to you. A built-in FM radio as well as some useful bloat-ware providing device diagnostics and security highlight the effort Vivo has gone to in order to put real points of difference on the table.
Why don’t more devices have built-in diagnostics and security systems? Vivo calls it the Mobile Butler.
Given how much like a PC the smartphone is today, it seems logical to me.
Available in two distinctive colours – Obsidian Black and Nebula Blue, the Y20s also packs a dual-SIM capability, a 3.5mm headphone jack (that doubles as the antenna for the FM radio), and a tri-lens camera system that to my eye wins the Macro race in this review. See what you think.
In a surprising conclusion, the Vivo Y20s takes second-place for me in this review behind the Google Pixel 5. At one-third of the price of the Pixel and one-quarter the price of the Samsung, I don’t see a massive drop-off in quality of the device, the OS, or the camera system. Yes, 4GB of RAM is a bit soft, but if you’re just after a solid performer that won’t break the bank (or the kid’s hearts of they break it), then this is the smartphone for you in 2021.
Overall, five very different smartphones with potentially five different customers in mind. These devices are well worth a look – especially if you favour style and substance.
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