Samsung's Galaxy S21 line has plenty going for it. The displays have been improved, the processor has gotten faster and the cameras have been upgraded to take sharper photos and videos. And at a $200 cheaper starting price than the Galaxy S20, they are once again an enticing alternative to Apple's latest iPhones. The Galaxy S21 line hits shelves today, and here's how you can buy one.
Read more: Check out CNET's Galaxy S21 review and Galaxy S21 Ultra review
But in seemingly taking a page out of Apple's playbook, Samsung is scaling back on a few things. There is once again no headphone jack, the microSD card slot is gone and a fast charger is no longer included in the box. For some, it's like Samsung is copying Apple in all the wrong ways.
Sure, some of these changes should no longer be a surprise. Last year's Galaxy S20 line didn't have a headphone jack, and most pricier phones have said goodbye to the port as companies push Bluetooth earbuds and headphones. (Samsung unsurprisingly unveiled its latest $200 Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds at the same event as the S21.) This year Samsung, like Apple with the iPhone 12, went a step further and also removed the included wired headphones, which makes sense as it clearly wants people to buy its wireless buds.
It is, however, giving up to $200 in Samsung Credit for those who are preordering its new phones directly from Samsung.com. The credit can be used toward buying a pair of Buds Pro or other accessories, softening the blow for at least early adopters.
The microSD card slot was also seemingly on borrowed time. Samsung already has dropped the expandable storage option on its foldable phones, and a number of other manufacturers have turned away or long ignored the capability. Apple and Google never supported microSD storage expansion for their phones, while OnePlus only has the option available for its more affordable Nord series.
"Over time, SD card usage has markedly decreased on smartphones because we've expanded the options of storage available to consumers," the South Korean electronics giant said in a statement. The company notes that its phones come with at least 128GB of storage while also supporting 5G and Wi-Fi 6E for faster wireless transfers to and from cloud storage platforms like Microsoft's OneDrive and Google Drive.
While I can understand why this is frustrating for some power users, the idea of losing the microSD card slot never really bothered me. I also do appreciate that the base storage option is 128GB across the board, not 64GB like on Apple's iPhone 12 and 12 Mini.
So long, included fast charger
What I'll really miss, however, is the power adapter.
Apple kicked this "trend" off last year when it announced that it would no longer be including a charging brick with its latest iPhones. Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said at the time that removing the products from the box will be better for the environment because it cuts down on waste (though, as some analysts pointed out, there may have been a nice financial benefit on the side to cash in on accessory sales).
Apple's 5-watt USB chargers that have been included with most iPhones for years are largely wasteful in 2021, ending up in a drawer or staying in the box. It would've been great for Apple to include a faster USB-C charger as it did with the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, but in ditching the slow charger the company could pretty easily claim it is helping the environment because so many people have the same charger from various other Apple products they've purchased over the years.
Read more: Samsung's Galaxy S21 upgrades likely won't spell an end to Galaxy FE or Note lines. Yet
Samsung, like Apple, says it is dropping the included power brick to help the environment. Federico Casalegno, Samsung's senior vice president of experience planning and its design innovation center, explained during Thursday's virtual press conference that "many of our users prefer to reuse their current chargers and earphones and to leave the new ones in the box, unused." Just like Apple, Samsung is shrinking its packaging for the S21 line in a bid to reduce its footprint.
Unlike Apple's chargers, however, Samsung's chargers have been getting more useful to me over time as the company's included power bricks can fast-charge devices over USB-C. For the Galaxy S20, Samsung included a 25-watt fast charger which, well, is actually pretty great.
The company says on its website for the S21 Ultra 5G that using that same type of power adapter can recharge the Ultra's 5,000-mAh battery in "about an hour."
Any effort to help the environment and solve the growing e-waste problem should be commended, but instead of dropping features, it would've been great to see Samsung take the lead and embrace new technologies such as gallium nitride for its chargers. This technology not only offers a fast way to charge but also is more energy-efficient, wasting less heat compared to traditional silicon chargers.
If it coupled offering newer, faster chargers with the S21 with an incentive of an extra few bucks for people to trade in their older chargers with their phones, it could've flipped the conversation. By recycling plenty of older chargers and giving users a more energy-efficient way to power their fancy new phones, Samsung would still be helping the environment while not taking away a useful feature from consumers.
And it's not like these new gallium nitride chargers are overly expensive. A new 30-watt USB-C GaN charger from AmazonBasics is available for less than $20, roughly the same price Samsung charges for a new 25-watt power adapter on its website.CNET Mobile
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