The Samsung Galaxy S21 was one of the most affordable flagship phones of early 2021, but the Realme GT is here to take things to a new level. To achieve a more affordable price tag, both phones make interesting trade-offs in terms of construction and components.
However, they take strikingly different roads to get there. So which phone from this list of smartphone cruiserweights is best? Let’s have a closer look at each one.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is available for purchase while the Realme GT is not.
Samsung released the Galaxy S21 on January 29, 2021. The device comes with 128GB of storage for $799 / £769 / AU$1,249. There’s also a 256GB model for $849.99 / £819 / AU$1,349.
Samsung hasn’t changed these prices on its website, but there are plenty of discounts available elsewhere due to how far we’ve gotten into the Galaxy S21’s reign.
The Realme GT was introduced in March 2021 at a price of €449 with 128GB of storage. That works out to about $550 / £390 / AU$710.
While the Galaxy S21 is technically available in the UK, you’ll have to buy it through an importer. The Realme GT isn’t due for release in the US or Australia.
Samsung has departed from glass for the rear panel of the Galaxy S21, instead opting for plastic. Although it refers to this new material as ‘Glasstic,’ it is in fact plastic.
The frame is still made of solid aluminum, but the front is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus. This still has a high-end feel to it, although not quite as much as previous Galaxy S phones.
We adore how it looks, particularly the phone’s “Contour Cut” camera module. It bends and swoops into the frame of the phone, making something that is usually an eyesore a feature.
Samsung continues to impress with its color choices: Phantom Gray, White, Pink, and Violet are available.
We referred to the Realme as “a tiny little thing” in our review. However, it is considerably larger than the Samsung Galaxy S21 (151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm), which measures 158.5 x 73.3 x 8.4mm in length, width, and depth.
The Realme GT stands out from the crowd thanks to its unique design. The Samsung’s design isn’t as elegant, but our test model’s yellow faux-leather back and black glass racing strip are very distinctive.
Realme’s choice of materials is plastic rather than aluminum, which means it isn’t as sturdy or premium as the Galaxy S21. The Galaxy S21 is the only one with an IP68 rating, however. Both phones have flat displays and punch-hole selfie cameras positioned near the top. The location of the Galaxy S21 is decent, whereas that of the Realme GT has been moved to the left corner.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ have in-display fingerprint sensors while the Galaxy Note 9 goes with an in-screen version. The Galaxy S21’s is larger by 70 percent than its predecessor, and it uses a unique ultrasonic format rather than the GT’s more conventional optical one. This makes Samsung’s sensor easier to spot and more secure, if not quite as quick as we had hoped.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 features a 6.2-inch AMOLED screen, which is on the smaller side for current smartphone displays. The Realme GT has a 6.43-inch AMOLED display, which is not as big as most smartphones have today. Both displays have 1080 x 2400 FHD+ resolutions, which are lower than the QHD standards set by more expensive devices. However, both appear to be extremely sharp at these sizes.
Aside from size, there are a few key differences between the two. The Galaxy S21’s display brightness is higher than that of the Realme GT (1300 nits vs 1000 nits). When attempting to view the Realme GT’s screen in direct sunlight, our reviewer noticed a small disadvantage.
However, the Realme GT responds with a more responsive 360Hz touch sampling rate as opposed to the Galaxy S21’s 240Hz. Most people will not be able to tell the difference, but committed gamers may notice a difference.
We’d probably point you to the camera if you wanted something more tangible for the additional money you’ll be spending on the Galaxy S21. It could be the same hardware as we saw in the Samsung Galaxy S20, but it’s still a significant step up from the Realme GT’s equivalent.
This starts with a genuine triple-lens setup, led by a 12MP f/1.8 main sensor, which is complemented by a 64MP f/2.0 telephoto and a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens.
The Realme GT, on the other hand, has one of those phony triple-camera arrangements. You get a 64MP f/1.8 wide and an 8MP f/2.3 ultra-wide, but instead of a 2MP f/2.4 macro lens, you’ve got a fairly useless pixel binning to deal with. The Samsung flagship camera captures chunky 1.8µm pixels next to the Realme GT’s 0.8µm pixelsn.
The Galaxy S21’s image quality is superior. While Samsung’s vibrant color palette may be an acquired taste, it outperforms Realme’s good-but-not-great photos.
We observed signs of oversharpening and overexposure in the latter, as well as difficulties focusing on close-up objects. The Samsung captures more megapixels (12 vs 8) and has a wider field of view (120 degrees vs 119 degrees).
There’s no comparison on the telephoto front, with the Samsung Galaxy S21 obtaining clear 3x optical zoom photos and the Realme GT restricting in on that pixel-packed main sensor. The Samsung Galaxy S21 can shoot 8K/24fps or 4K/60fps video, while the Realme GT can only handle 4K/60fps.
Specs and performance
If you haven’t been paying attention to Samsung’s uneven approach to mobile processors over the years, you might be shocked to learn that the Realme GT wins this performance round.
It’s all about consistency. If you’re reading this in the United States or China, then the Galaxy S21 and Realme GT have identical specs: they’re both powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor.
The Exynos 2100 in the ‘Global’ Galaxy S21 (available to buy in your local store) will be running Samsung’s own Exynos 2100, if you’re reading this elsewhere.
The latter isn’t a poor CPU by any means, but it falls short of the Snapdragon 888. On the Geekbench 5 multi-core test, our Galaxy S21 with Exynos 2100 scored 3,367 points, while the Realme GT achieved 3,508 points.
That, however, will have little impact in practice. Both phones play high-end games like Genshin Impact with maximum graphical settings, and both can handle multitasking and other complicated tasks with ease.
Both smartphones are available in 128GB and 256GB capacities, but neither can be expanded, so it’s a tie on storage; nevertheless, the bigger capacity Realme GT features 12GB of RAM as opposed to 8GB in the smaller model. The Samsung Galaxy S21 has 8 GB of RAM regardless of storage capacity chosen.
When it comes to software performance, you’ll have to choose between a fast custom Android UI and a slow one. Samsung’s take on Android 11, on the other hand, is superior.
One UI 3.0 is cleaner and tighter than it used to be, with frequent useful modifications and improvements, and notably quick performance. Realme UI 2.0 is less appealing, more obtrusive, and heavier with bloatware than its predecessor. Expect neither phone to be among the first to upgrade to Android 12.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a 4,000mAh battery, while the Realme GT boasts a larger 4,500mAh cell. That may appear to be a decisive victory for Realme, but in the end it’s really nothing more than a small triumph.
We typically got through the day without issue with both phones. At 10 p.m. on one occasion, when we were utilizing the Galaxy S21’s GPS and other power-hungry functions extensively, it ran out of power.
The Realme GT, on the other hand, held out much longer when we pushed it hard; the battery life went down to single-digit percentages by the end of the day. The Realme GT also wins when it comes to wired recharging.
It includes a fast 65W charger, which will get you from 0 percent to 100 percent in roughly half an hour. Samsung doesn’t even include a power brick with its phones, and the Galaxy S21 only supports charging at up to 25W speeds.
In terms of color options, Samsung has the upper hand. The Galaxy S21 comes in black, blue, and gold, whereas the Realme GT only offers white.
The Realme GT is a bit more expensive than its competitors, but it delivers excellent value for money in just about every way.
It’s the GT that impressed us most with regard to value because it offers almost the same performance while costing hundreds of dollars/pounds less.
The Samsung Galaxy S21, however, is unquestionably the more well-rounded premium flagship phone. Its triple-camera system is less susceptible to compromise, its design is better, and it has more small premium features like IP68 water resistance and wireless charging.
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