(Pocket-lint) – Samsung has announced its 2021 family of devices, with the Galaxy S21 series. At launch it comprises the regular Galaxy S21, the slightly larger S21+ and finally the Galaxy S21 Ultra at the top of the tree.
The new phones launch on One UI 3.1, sitting on Android 11 and bring a wealth of features for Samsung users – some you’ll have seen before, some you’ll be encountering for the first time. Here’s an in-depth guide to get you familiar with the new phones.
Samsung Galaxy S21 top tip: If you’re struggling to find things, swipe down the quick settings and you’ll find a search option at the top. Just start typing your search query and this universally searches your phone returning settings, apps, contacts, calendar appointments. It’s really powerful. You can also launch it by bringing up the apps tray, and tapping the finder bar at the top.
How to power off or restart the Samsung Galaxy S21: Samsung has reconfigured the side key on the S21 – as it did on the S20 – so a long press will launch Bixby by default, rather than power off the device like (almost) every other phone on the planet. To power off the phone, slide down the quick settings pane and tap the power icon there. Then you can turn off the phone. On that screen is also a shortcut to the side key settings so you can change the function if you need to.
Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+, S21 Ultra home screen tips
The home screen is part of the launcher. It’s where you unlock your phone to, the place for app shortcuts or widgets, and where you return when you’re finished doing something in an app.
Turn on Android 11 gesture navigation: By default the S21 will offer Samsung’s three icons for navigation. If you want to switch to Android 11’s gestures open settings > display > navigation bar. Here you have the option for buttons or swipe gestures. You can tap on “more options” to customise, but with swipe gestures your phone will then let you swipe in from the side to go back, up from the bottom to go home, just like other Android devices.
Customise the navigation bar: If you’re sticking with on-screen navigation controls, you can customise the order. Head into settings > display > navigation bar and you can change the the order of buttons.
Edit your home screen: A long press on the wallpaper on any home screen lets you edit the wallpaper, themes, widgets, pages or further settings. This area will also let you add or delete complete screens, so if you want a widgets page, this is where you go to add it.
Get more on your home screen: You can change the size of the screen grid on which your shortcuts and widgets sit, depending on how dense you want the home screen to be. Long press on the wallpaper and select “home screen settings”. Select 4×5 to keep things fairly clear, 4×6, 5×5 or 5×6 to cram more in. We tend to use 5×6, otherwise things look too big, but this comes down to personal preference.
How to access Google Discover: One of the new features that arrives with One UI 3.1 is access to Google Discover, which you can access to the left of the home screen. If it’s not there, long press on the home screen then swipe right to access the left-hand page. Here you’ll see the option to have Google Discover, Samsung Free or to turn off this page completely. (Naming might be different in different regions, we’ve seen Upday, Samsung News, Bixby Home and other items in this position before.)
Resize widgets: Many widgets are resizable. A long press selects them. When you lift your finger, you can drag the blue box that appears and resize your widget. You can even resize or reposition the Google search box.
Customise the status bar: This is the information that sits at the top of the screen. Head into settings > notifications > advanced settings > status bar and you have some options. You can limit to three notification icons, or you can have all. You can also turn on or off the battery percentage.
Allow your home page to work in landscape: This option will allow the home screen and apps tray, settings, etc, to display in landscape. It’s off by default, but you can turn it on in settings > home screen settings > rotate to landscape mode. Switch this on to get rotation to landscape, so if you’re switching from gaming to movie watching you don’t have to keep returning to portrait.
Create a folder: Simply drag one app on top of another on the home screen and a folder is created. To remove an app from a folder, open the folder and long press an app and you’ll get a pop-up menu which lets you remove that app. To add apps, either drag them into a folder, or hit the “+” button within the folder to add apps.
Change a folder colour or name: Open a folder and enter the name you want at the top. If you don’t want a name, leave it blank. To change the folder background colour, tap the dot in the right-hand corner and select a new colour – including completely custom colours.
Delete a folder: If you no longer want a folder, press and hold and then hit Remove. The folder and the app shortcuts will vanish.
Show app suggestions in recent apps: When you tap the recent apps button, or slowly swipe up if you’re using Android 10 gestures, you’ll get thumbnails of your recent app pages, but also a line of suggested apps across the bottom. These are based on what the Galaxy S21 thinks you might want based on recently used apps. If you don’t want want this, then open the menu top right in the search bar and turn off “recommended apps”.
Connection options on the Galaxy S21
There are lots of connectivity options, some you might not even know about on the Galaxy S21.
How to setup eSIM: If eSIM is enabled on your device, you’ll be invited to set this up when you first setup the device. If want to do it after initial setup, head into settings > connections > SIM card manager > add mobile plan. This will let you setup your eSIM.
How to use Samsung DeX: The desktop experience (DeX) is a standard feature on the Galaxy S21 allowing you use your phone as a deskop computer either via a PC or with a TV or monitor. First you’ll have to turn on DeX on the phone in settings > advanced features > Samsung DeX. Once you’ve toggled it on, you’ll either have to install the Samsung DeX app on your PC or you’ll have to connect the monitor to your phone via the USB-C connection on the bottom. It will also work through USB-C hubs.
Call and text on other devices: Using the Samsung account, you can allow calls and messages to come through on other Samsung devices, like a tablet, meaning you don’t have to change devices all the time when working. Head into settings > advanced features > call and text on other devices and turn it on. That will mean texts and calls to the number on your phone will be synced with your other Samsung devices.
Manage Android Auto on your Samsung device: Samsung phones will let you customise the Android Auto experience. Head into settings > advanced settings > Android Auto. Here you can customise the apps you are shown in Android Auto as well as change some other settings.
Managing your digital assistants on the Galaxy S21
Samsung pushes Bixby as its digital assistant, while as an Android phone you get Google Assistant too. Install Alexa and that becomes an option – although Samsung will also let you access Finder and Samsung Internet too via the same route. Here are all the management options for those virtual assistants.
Access Google Assistant: A long press on virtual the on-screen home button will launch Google Assistant. You can then talk to Google and get the full experience as Mountain View intended. This is synced with your Google account from sign-in, so works with anything you’ve already set-up Google Assistant to do. If you’re using Android 11 gestures, swipe diagonally in from the bottom corner to launch Assistant.
Turn on “Ok Google” hotword: The hotword to get Google to respond with just your voice is part of the Google app, but you’ll have to turn it on to get it to respond. Head into the Google app, tap “more” in the bottom right-hand corner, settings > voice > voice match > hey Google. Toggle on the option and as long as there’s a voice match linked to your account, it will recognise you speaking and give you voice control of your phone.
Disable Google Assistant/all assistants: If you don’t want Google Assistant on that home button shortcut, you can remove the ability to launch it. Head into settings > apps and select default apps at the top of the page. Then head into “Digital assistant app” then “Device assistance app” on the next page. You’ll now see the option to select “none”. Tap that option and nothing will then happen with a long press on the home button or when you swipe from the corners.
Change your digital assistant to Alexa or Bixby Voice: If you’d rather launch Alexa on the home button, install the Alexa app and then, as above, switch the default device assistance app to Alexa – or Bixby Voice if you’d rather. That will then mean you have Alexa or Bixby accessed through the home screen instead of Google. The Alexa hotword will not work.
Launch Bixby Voice: If you want to use Bixby, press and hold the side button and Bixby will launch. You’ll have to be logged-in to a Samsung account use Bixby. You can also enable the “Hi Bixby” hot word. The easiest way to do this is to launch Bixby, swipe up from the bottom and then open the menu top right. This will bring up the Bixby Voice settings – tap “voice wake-up” and you’ll be able to get control with your voice. It’s off by default, so if you’re not going to use it, leave it turned off.
Re-assign the side button: There’s no longer a Bixby button like previous Galaxy S models had, instead there’s just one button. Head into settings > advanced features > side key. Here you get all the options for that side key, so you can remove Bixby, you can set it to power off the phone with a long press, launch the camera with a double press or open an app of your choosing. Basically, you get to choose.
Samsung Galaxy S21 quick settings tips and tricks
The quick settings area is part of Android where you can access the most frequent settings for your device, like power saving modes, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It’s a selection of shortcuts, accessed when you swipe down from the top of the screen on Samsung phone. Samsung also adds a couple of extra elements here.
Instantly access the quick settings and notifications pane from your home screen: Swipe down anywhere on the home screen and the notifications pane will slide down meaning you don’t have to stretch up to the top of the page, swipe down again and you’ll get quick settings – really useful on the bigger Galaxy S21+ and S21 Ultra phones. This is off by default, to turn it on long press on the wallpaper and select “home screen settings”, then “swipe down for notification panel”.
Edit quick settings: To change the shortcuts you see when you swipe down the notifications, swipe down twice so you see the full grid, open the menu by tapping the three dots and select “edit buttons”. You’ll be shown the full list of options across pages. You can drag to reorder, or remove shortcuts you don’t need. Top tip: only the first six apps are shown in the compact view across the top, so make these your first settings shortcuts.
Instantly access device settings from quick settings: This is a standard Android tip, but great for accessing settings instantly. Press and hold the shortcut (for example Bluetooth) and you’ll instantly jump to the full settings menu. It’s really useful for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and power saving options.
Access connected devices in quick settings pane: By default you’ll find that connected devices and media is shown in the quick settings pane too. This means you can swipe down and tap through to access music you’re playing or speakers that you’re connected to. The devices option covers direct connections as well as SmartThings, so if you’re a smart home user then this is a way to get directly to those devices. You might find you don’t or need that option, so you can turn it off by opening up the quick settings and tapping the menu top right. Then tap on “quick panel layout” and toggle off “show media and devices” to remove it.
Quickly adjust the screen brightness: Samsung lets you access the brightness through the quick settings panel, just swipe it down and you’ll see the slider. If you want to adjust autobrightness, hit the down arrow at the right-hand end of the slider and it will take you straight through to those settings, where you can turn it on or off. If you want the slider above the notifications (so it’s easier to get to), you can enable that in the menu for quick panel layout as mentioned in the tip above.
Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21+ app tips
The apps tray is part of the launcher on your phone and it’s the area that your app shortcuts live.
Show all the apps on the home screen: This is a popular option for some. If you want to remove the apps tray, long press on the home screen and tap settings. Then select “home screen layout” and you’ll see two options, “home screen only” or “home and apps screen”. The former removes the apps tray completely, like the iPhone.
Add or remove an apps tray button: By default there is no apps tray button and you open the apps tray with a swipe. If you want the button back head into the home screen settings as above and select “show apps screen button”. Here you can turn it on or off.
Swipe to show or hide the apps tray: As above, the Galaxy S21 lets you view the apps tray with a swipe up. The apps pages themselves then scroll left and right. If you want to return to the home page, you don’t need to press the home button, you can just swipe up again and the apps tray vanishes.
Change the apps screen grid size: Like the home screen you can change the density of apps in the apps tray/page. As above, go into the home screen settings, and you’ll see the option for “apps screen grid”, with up to 5×6. The latter will pack more apps in.
Alphabetise or custom order your apps: In the apps tray, hit menu in the top right-hand corner, then “sort”. This will give you the option to have alphabetical order. Just tap that option and everything will drop into place. Or hit the menu button in the top right-hand corner, then tap “sort”. This time, select “custom order”. You can now you can drag the apps to the position you want them in.
Create an apps tray folder: You can have a folder for apps whether you’re in custom or alphabetical order. Just press and hold an app icon and drag it over another and a folder will be created. You can then edit the name and colour as you wish.
Search your entire phone with Finder: At the top of the apps screen is a search bar for Finder. This will return search results for apps you have installed, but can also search content in apps, like Netflix, Play Store, messages, reminder, calendar and a whole lot more. Tap the Finder bar in the apps tray, then hit the menu button on the right then you can choose where it searches.
Let Finder give you app suggestions: When you tap on the Finder at the top of the apps tray, you’ll immediately get suggestions based on recent apps you’ve used. If you don’t want this, head into the Finder settings as above, and you can turn it off under “show suggested apps”.
Uninstall apps: You can uninstall directly from an app icon. Just long press on the app and a pop-up menu will give you the option to uninstall an app. If it’s a core app (which you can’t uninstall) the same option will let you disable an app.
Add apps to your home screen: Press and hold on the app shortcut in the apps tray. This will let you place a shortcut on your home screen by dragging it to the top of the page, or you can select “add to home” from the pop-up menu that appears.
Stop adding new app icons to home screen: Head into the home screen settings (long press on the wallpaper) and you’ll find the option to “add apps to home screen”. Turn this off, otherwise every app you install will be added to your home screen. Or turn it on, if that’s what you want.
Change the default app: Android lets you decide which is the default app if you have more than one that will do the same thing. Under settings > apps, then “choose default apps”. Here you can see what has been selected as the default browser, calling app, messaging app and home screen. Other defaults are selected by the first app you open for a particular task.
Control app permissions: Android lets you manage all the permissions for each app on an individual basis. Go to settings > apps and select the app you want, then hit Permissions. This will let you toggle permissions on and off, so you can disable location or contacts access, for example.
Samsung Galaxy S21 lock screen and always-on display
The lock screen is what you see when your phone is locked. It’s really divided into two parts, one when the screen is off – where “always-on display” can give you some information – or the proper lock screen where the screen is fully on, but you can’t access the the device.
Turn on always on display: To have the screen show you “always on” information, head into lock screen > always on display and switch it on – it’s off by default. This shows when the phone display is in standby, i.e. when the display is otherwise off. You can opt to have it appear on a schedule – perhaps only show when you’re at your desk – or show at all times or when you tap your phone. Remember, it consumes battery.
Change the always-on clock style: There are a range of different clock types for the S21 always-on display. Head into settings > lock screen > clock style. Here you can change the clock both for always-on display and the lock screen. You can also change the colours, so if you don’t want mono, you can select something else.
Add widgets to your lock screen or always-on display: Samsung will let you have widgets on your lock screen or always-on display. You’ll probably have a music controller there by default, but if you don’t, head into settings > lock screen > FaceWidgets. Here you find all the options to turn on and off, including Bixby Routines, weather, alarms and schedules.
Change the brightness of the always-on display: This is linked to auto brightness on your phone, however you can manually over-ride this to set the brightness yourself. Head into settings > lock screen > always-on display. Within this menu you’ll see “auto brightness”. Turn this off and you can set the brightness yourself. You can also change the brightness manually by tapping on the always-on display once it is showing.
Change lock screen shortcuts: You can have two shortcuts on the lock screen for quick access (only the lock screen, not the always-on display). These are phone and camera by default, but can be anything you like. Head into settings > lock screen > shortcuts. Here you can select the left and right shortcuts, or turn them off completely.
Disable/enable lock screen notifications: If you don’t want notifications on your lock screen, head to settings > lock screen > notifications. This lets you hide content, only show app icons or disable notifications completely. Conversely, if you want notifications with content, don’t select hide.
Show a roaming clock on the lock screen: One of the nicest features on phones is that it automatically switches to the local time, but a roaming clock can show you your home timezone. Head into settings > lock screen > roaming clock. You can also choose where your home timezone is.
Samsung Galaxy S21 series security and unlocking
Samsung offers a range of unlocking options.
Top security tip: Biometrics aren’t foolproof, because when they fail your device reverts to PIN or password to unlock. Therefore, your device is only as secure as the password or PIN you use, as anyone trying to break into your phone can always opt to head straight to these unlock methods. Biometrics are there for convenience, not security.
Enable fingerprint or face security: To use your fingerprint or face to unlock, head into settings > biometrics and security. Here you can register your face or fingerprints. You’ll have to set a back-up PIN or password at the same time to provide additional security. Top tip: if using fingerprints, then register fingers on each hand so you can unlock however you are holding your phone.
Tap the screen to show the fingerprint scanner location: You can have the fingerprint icon illuminate by tapping the phone, so you know where to unlock it. Head into settings > biometrics and security > fingerprints. Tap in your PIN or password, then head to “show icon when screen is off”. You can then opt to tap the screen and the fingerprint icon will appear showing you were to press.
Instant lock: When you press the standby button, you want your phone to lock instantly. Head into settings > lock screen > secure lock settings. There’s the option to lock the device as soon as the screen goes to sleep or when you press the standby button. If you do want a delay, there are plenty of time options.
Smart Lock/Bluetooth unlock: Again in settings > lock screen > there’s the Smart Lock section. This is a standard Android feature and you have the option to nominate trusted devices, so your Android will unlock when connected to something else. You can nominate Bluetooth devices (like your smartwatch or car), location, trusted voice and so on.
Automatically wipe your device: If you’re worried about your phone falling into the wrong hands and being cracked, you can have it automatically wipe. Head into settings > lock screen > secure lock settings. Here you’ll find the option to auto factory reset if 15 failed unlock attempts are made.
Lock network and security functions: This option will mean that your network settings cannot be changed while your phone is locked. This makes it easier to locate your phone if it’s stolen. However, it also means you have to unlock your phone to engage flight mode. Head into settings > lock screen and security > secure lock settings to find the option to turn it on or off.
Keep your private files and apps in the Secure Folder: If you’re worried about people accessing your phone and finding things they shouldn’t, you can use the Secure Folder. This sets up another layer of security, you can then add files, pictures and apps that you want to keep hidden – that might be anything from personal photos to business documents. You can also add second versions of apps you want secure and private. It’s in settings > biometrics and security > secure folder.
Samsung Galaxy S21 display tips
Samsung is now on its third generation of Infinity-O displays and on the Galaxy S21 series there’s now adaptive refresh rates.
Access 120Hz mode: There are two display modes – adaptive smoothness or standard smoothness. The standand mode sticks to 60Hz, the adaptive smoothness will select the appropriate refresh rate up to 120Hz. For the S20 and S21+, the range is 48-120Hz, for the S21 Ultra the range is 10-120Hz. Faster refresh means smoother fast moving visuals, but can use more battery. The advantage of adaptive is that it will manage that battery demand for you. You can find the options in settings > display > motion smoothness.
Change the display resolution: Only the Galaxy S21 Ultra has the option to change the resolution as the S21 and S21+ are limited to Full HD+ all the time. Head into settings > display > screen resolution and you’ll find the option for HD+, Full HD+ or WQHD+ on the S21 Ultra.
Engage dark mode: This has been on Samsung phones for a while, but it’s much more widespread and is now a native Android feature. Just open the settings menu and head into display. It’s the first thing you’ll see at the top of the page, but you can tap on “dark mode settings” and you can schedule dark mode to come on at sunset.
Change the display colours: Head into settings > screen mode and you’ll get the option to change the way the display looks. The default is vivid with the option to make it natural. Within vivid you can change the white balance and the RGB settings, if you want.
Turn on the video enhancer: There’s a video enhancer hiding on the S21 that aims to boost videos. It works with a range of apps, including Netflix, Play Movies, Prime Video and YouTube. Head into settings > advanced features > video enhancer to toggle it on or off depending on your preferences.
Turn on the eye comfort shield: This changes the colour of the display to reduce blue light, avoid eye strain and help you sleep better, notionally. Head into settings > display > eye comfort shield and you’ll find options for adaptive or custom modes. You can opt to have it on all the time and adjust to the conditions, or come on at a specific time.
One-handed mode: Head into settings > advanced features > one-handed mode and you’ll find the option for a button or gesture to enable one-handed mode. This has to be toggled on, but it will shrink the display to give you easier access to things nearer the top – great for small hands on large phones. Once in one-handed mode, you can switch from left to right by tapping the arrows. To exit one-handed mode, just tap on the black area.
How to use the S Pen with the S21 Ultra: The S21 Ultra now supports the S Pen. While there’s a bespoke S Pen you can buy, it will also support other compatible S Pen devices. You an literally use it like a stylus to interact with the display. For the best results use the Samsung Notes app to create written notes, or use it in the Gallery app for precise video editing.
Samsung Galaxy S21 series notifications tips and tricks
Samsung will often replace all notifications with its own sound and vibration, so there’s a lot of unpicking to be done to get on top of notifications. We’ve covered some notifications in the lock screen section above, but this is how to get a grip on all those beeps and buzzes.
To turn off notifications for an app: Go to settings > notifications and you’ll see a “recently sent” section. Tap “more” and you’ll get easy toggle options for all the apps on your phone. Here you can either shut them off completely, or tap through to control specific notifications.
Show app icon badges: Icon badges are a feature of Android, letting each app show you how many notifications you have. Samsung applies this across the entire device. Head into settings > notifications > advanced settings > app icon badges. You can toggle the options on or off, or tap to change the style (numbers or no numbers). If you tap on an app instead, you can turn off dots for a specific app.
View your app notifications with a long press on an app shortcut: This is quite an advanced extension of the icon badges. You can press and hold on an app icon that’s showing a badge and the notifications will be revealed in a pop-up menu. Head into settings > notifications > app icon badges and you’ll find this option at the bottom of the page under “notifications on app icons”.
Disable a notification you’ve received: This is a standard Android feature, but it’s really useful. If you get a notification from any app and you never, ever, want to see it again, slowly swipe the notification to the right and you’ll see a settings cog. Tap on that and you’ll see the option to turn off notifications for that app.
Samsung Galaxy S21 volume controls, sound and do not disturb
Learning to master do not disturb is a key skill of Android. You can get it to give you the notifications you want when you want them, you can silence your phone when you want without needing a mechanical slider, but still let those vital notifications through. On the Galaxy S21 you have four volume sliders: system, ringtone, media, notifications.
Master the media volume toggle: Within the volume settings (settings > sounds and vibrations > volume) you’ll find the option to use the volume keys for media. This is on by default and means that when you press the volume buttons, only the media volume moves, like your music. Turn it off and it controls ringer volume, but switches to media volume when you have media playing, for example in Netflix or Spotify.
Change the vibration levels for everything: Head into settings > sounds and vibration > vibration intensity and you can change the vibration levels for calls, notifications and touch.
Turn off the charging noise, unlocking noise, keyboard sounds: Samsung would have your Galaxy beep and vibrate on every action and touch. Head into settings > sound and vibration > system sounds/vibration control and you’ll find all the options to turn these things off. Do it, please.
Enable and control Dolby Atmos: This can be toggled on in quick settings, or head into settings > sounds and vibration > sound quality and effects. Within the Dolby Atmos section you have the option for auto, movie, music or voice as individual options for audio enhancement. There’s also the option to just have Atmos automatically turn on when you start a game.
Adapt the sound quality to you: You can customise the sound output from the S21 devices. Head into settings > sounds and vibration > sound quality and effects and you’ll see “adapt sound” down that the bottom. You can take an age-based profile or you can create a custom setting based on a short listening test.
Engage do not disturb: Do not disturb is an Android feature that lets you silence your phone, but set up a range of exceptions. Swipe down quick settings and tap the do not disturb button to turn it on. You can also set it to a schedule, for example at night, or when you’re in the office. Just press and hold the quick setting to access the full menu options.
Allow alarms and exceptions in do not disturb: If you want silence then do not disturb is great. But if you want some notifications, then you have to designate the appsthat are allowed. Head into settings > sound and vibration > do not disturb and you’ll see a section for exceptions. Here you can allow alarms (essential if you want to wake up in the morning), but also allow repeat callers or nominated contacts – such as favourites for messages and calls – as well as reminders. You can also add apps to ignore do not disturb – so if you always want your connected doorbell to alert you, you’d be able to enable that app here.
Allow notifications in do not disturb: While sounds and vibrations are silenced in do not disturb, you can still have silent notifications. In settings > sound and vibration > do not disturb > hide notifications you’ll find options to allow or stop notifications. Hide all will mean nothing appears, but you get to choose – you can turn off icon badges, the notifications list, pop-ups and status bar icons.
Game booster tips
Gaming is one of the top uses for phones, so knowing the options really helps.
Limit the refresh rate to save battery: We mention in the display section how to turn on adaptive refresh, but you can also limit the refresh rate to 48Hz to save battery in games that don’t need a fast refresh. Open the Game Launcher app and tap the menu button top left. Hit “Game performance” to enter the settings. You can then toggle on “low refresh rate”.
Block navigation gestures in games: This is a big deal to stop you accidentally leaving a game when playing because your swipes were wrongly interpreted. Go to the game booster settings as detailed above, then select “block during game”. Here you can toggle off navigation getures. To exit a game you’ll have to swipe twice.
Turn off autobrightness during games: There’s nothing more annoying than your brightness dimming when you’re gaming. In the menu detailed above you can also opt to block autobrightness to avoid this problem.
Turn on Dolby Atmos for gaming: Another feature of the phone is Atmos and you can have it turn on for game. Head into settings > sounds and vibrations > sound quality and effects and you’ll see the option for Atmos in games.
How to use the screenrecorder: There’s built-in screen recorder on the S21 and you can access this via quick settings. Just swipe down and you can turn it on, with options to record no sound, media sound or media sound and the mic. Once it is active you get on-screen controls, which can be minimised to the side so they don’t get in the way of your game.
Samsung Galaxy S21 camera and photo tricks
The cameras on the S21 and S21+ are quite different to the S21 Ultra – but there’s a lot that they have in common and a lot to get to grips with.
Engage the 108MP mode (S21 Ultra only): The S21 Ultra has a 108-megapixel camera, but by default it’s set to 12-megapixels. If you want the full resolution, tap the aspect ratio button in the viewfinder and you’ll see the “4:3 108MP” option.
Turn on 64MP mode (S21, S21+ only): The non-Ultra models can also shoot at high resolution using the 64-megapixel sensor. As above, from the camera, tap the aspect ratio button and you’ll see a “4:3 64MP” option.
Turn on 8K video capture: If you want to capture video in the highest resolution, head into the video mode and tap the aspect ratio icon – you’ll see the option for 8K 24. You do lose some features at this resolution, as there’s no stabilisation for example.
Turn on the shot suggestion mode: A feature introduced on the S10, it will analyse the scene and suggest the best composition. The camera will suggest the best shot you can take and help you line it up using a guide on the screen. Open the camera and tap the settings cog and you’ll find the option to turn on.
Use scene optimiser to improve your photos: The scene optimiser uses AI to improve your photos, as well as allowing longer handheld night photos. In the viewfinder in the camera app you’ll see swirly icon in one corner. If it’s blue then scene optimiser is turned on and will identify the scene and pick the best settings for you. If there’s no swirly icon, head into camera settings and toggle on scene optimiser. You also get option to tweak how it works in the same section.
Use night mode for better low light shots: Head into the shooting modes and tap night mode. When shooting in low light, keep the camera as steady as possible, until the little moon in the shutter button is filled yellow. It works on both the front and back cameras.
Use Single Take for moving subjects: If you’re looking at something interesting that’s moving around, like a street performer or perhaps your dog, Single Take can grab a range of images and video for you and then present you with a video, highlights and all sorts of other shots.
How to get out of a camera mode: If you find you’re stuck in camera mode and don’t know how to get back, look for the back arrow in the left corner of the phone. This will go back to the normal viewfinder.
Turn off ultra-wide angle distortion correction: When you take a photo with the ultra-wide camera, software corrects some of the distortion that comes with it. The might be a straight line that is curved when it shouldn’t be, for example. If you’d rather the phone doesn’t do that, head into camera settings > save option and you’ll see the option to turn it off.
Quick launch the camera: By default, a double press on the side button will launch the camera. If you want to change this – like we mentioned for the side key controls above – head into settings > advanced features > side key and you’ll find the controls.
Switch camera modes: The camera does loads and you can swipe through modes from photo, swiping through the modes that you’ll see to the right or to the bottom. Basically you can swipe along that list, moving through single take, photo, video, more. You can swipe across the camera display to move through the modes. In more you’ll find the other functions, like pro (manual control), night, live focus, hyperlapse and so on.
Edit the available camera modes: You don’t have to stick to the default options above – you can add or remove modes that you find more useful. Head into “more” and you’ll see a + appear at the end of the list. Tap that and it will allow you to drag those modes you want onto the list, so you can easily select them without opening up the “more” menu every time.
Quickly switch from rear to front camera: There’s a button to switch between front and rear cameras, but you can also do it with a swipe. Just swipe up or down the display to switch to the other camera. (Basically, swipe in the opposite direction to the one that changes the shooting mode as above.) Or, you can double press the power button again and the cameras will switch.
Enable raw capture: If you want the dng files saved as well as regular jpeg, head into the settings > save options. Here is the option to save both raw and jpeg files. To use it you’ll need to be in Pro mode, however, so if you want raw files, turn it on and shoot in Pro.
Enable video stabilisation: There are tweo versions of stabilisation, one in the camera settings that appears to apply to everything, or “Super Steady”, which is much more dramatic. Just tap the icon on the left with a hand and wiggly lines to turn on Super Steady. It’s yellow when turned on, but you can only have FHD 30 or 60 video options on the rear camera. This is the mode that will let you walk around and get smoother pans, but it is limited in the quality you can capture in.
Shoot in HDR10+ video: HDR10+ is a beta (or “labs”) feature. Head into the video mode and then open the camera settings > advanced recording functions. You can toggle on HDR10+, but be warned that you can only view those on a compatible HDR10+ display, otherwise they just look like low quality video. You can also only capture HDR10+ at 1080/30p, not the full range of resolutions the camera offers and you can only turn it off when in those settings. You can then use the Gallery to convert the video if you want to share with some that doesn’t support HDR10+.
Take a selfie portrait: Just switch to the front camera and select portrait from the menu. There are seven different effects and backgrounds to try. Note that skin smoothing is turned on by default, so tap the wand icon if you want to make changes.
To take a long exposure photo: Open the Pro mode. On the right-hand side/bottom you’ll see the option to change the length of the exposure with a symbol that looks like a camera shutter. Use the slider to select the length of time you want. The exposure compensation icon will indicate whether you’re going to over or under expose, by switching from + to -.
Change gallery view: If you’re looking at your photos and you want more or less on display, you can pinch zoom, to change the thumbnail view.
Samsung Galaxy S21 edge screen tips
Edge screen was supposed to make curved edges more useful – but while the S21 and S21+ have flat displays, they still offer the functionality!
Add or remove edge panels: Head into settings > display > edge panels. Tap on panels and you’ll see the selection of panels available and you can add and remove those you don’t want. Stick to the useful, otherwise you’ll spend more time navigating and less time doing. Smart select is worth investigating.
Move the edge panel handle to anywhere you want: You can move the edge handle (where you have to swipe to open the edge panels) to anywhere on the left or right of the screen. Just press and hold and you can drag it where you want it. If you don’t want to be able to move it, you can lock the position in the settings, as below.
Change the size and transparency of the edge panel handle: Head into settings > display > edge panels > handle. Within these settings you can change the handle – including making it invisible, changing the colour, size and if you want it to vibrate when it’s touched.
Turn off edge screen: Head into settings > display > edge panel and toggle off edge panels. They will be banished to the bucket of functions you never use.
Bixby tips and tricks
Bixby is Samsung’s assistant. It made its debut on the Samsung Galaxy S8 in 2017 and has subsequently appeared in phones that have followed. The AI assistant can do a range of things, but it’s basically broken down into Bixby Voice (with its own screen) and Bixby Vision. We’ve covered some Bixby Voice tips in the digital assistants section above. If you want to know more about Bixby, we have a full Bixby feature for you to enjoy.
Setup a Bixby Routine: Head into settings > advanced features > Bixby Routines and you’ll find this option. This will let you setup various If and Then recipes. For example, when you travel abroad, turn off mobile data. You can make custom routines based around opening an app, which is great for gaming, for example.
Use Bixby to access settings on your phone: One of the charming things about Bixby is that it can be used to access settings on your phone. Press and hold the Bixby key and Voice will start listening, then say what you want to change on your phone.
Use quick commands to change the state of your phone: There’s a range of quick commands that will adapt your phone for particular settings, like driving, for example. They will let you use Bixby Voice to enable them in a flash. Open Bixby via the button, swipe up to open the main Bixby page, open the menu top right and you’ll find “quick commands”. Here you set up what you want to happen when you say a particular thing. It’s like Bixby Routines but for voice.
Use Bixby Vision to translate: Open the camera and you’ll find the Bixby Vision in the camera modes. Tap it and it will open Vision. By default it’s set to read barcodes and shopping – but open the menu and you’ll find the option to turn on translate, which is much more useful. Then it will find text and live translate that text for you.
Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21+ screenshot
Take a screen shot: Press the volume down and standby buttons at the same time. A screenshot will be captured.
Palm swipe for a screenshot: If you don’t want to press the buttons to take a screenshot, head into settings > advanced features > motions and gestures and turn on palm swipe to capture. This saves you having to press two buttons at once. It should be on by default.
Use smart capture: Samsung gives you more options for screenshots. Head into settings > advanced features > motions and gestures > smart capture. This will let you scroll to get more of a page, with instant edit and share options too. It’s great for capturing full web pages. There’s also a tag generator that will scan the image and suggest tags to add to it.
Capture a gif from the screen: You can create a gif instantly from anything that’s playing on your phone, like a video in Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. Enable the smart select edge panel. Then, once your video is on the display, swipe to smart select from the edge and select animation. A preview window will appear which will let you record video to create a gif.
Samsung Galaxy S21 battery tips
Here’s how to get the best from the battery on the Galaxy S21 models.
Lower the display brightness: It’s no surprise that the brightness of the display is one of the biggest battery users.
Switch to full HD+ (S21 Ultra only): It’s the default setting for Samsung’s phones for a reason – because higher resolutions eat more battery life. Again, the instructions are above, but head to settings > display and you’ll find the option.
Turn on dark mode across your device: There’s some evidence that using dark mode lowers the power the phone needs to illuminate all those white background. Again, it’s in the display settings.
Turn off features you aren’t using: Samsung phones come fully loaded with features and you’re not going to use them all. In many cases you can turn them off. That might include everything to do with Bixby, NFC, the second SIM card slot, edge panels, edge illumination, all the vibration notifications.
View what’s eating battery: Head into settings > battery and device care and tap battery. This will show you the predicted battery usage based on your 7-day averages, and tapping the “battery usage” will show you what’s using up that battery.
Look at your battery usage history: On the battery usage page detailed above, you can tap through the graph to see what your usage was on the last 7 days. Scrolling down the page will reveal the apps that used the most battery.
Engage power saving mode: Either hit the shortcut in quick settings, or head into settings > battery and device care > battery. Here you can turn on power saving mode, with some options for what actions are taken to save your battery.
Use Wireless PowerShare: The Samsung Galaxy S21 can reverse charge wirelessly. There’s a quick settings toggle for the function that will let you charge another device when you place them back to back. Just tap the button and then place the other device on the back of the Galaxy S21 be that Samsung Buds Pro, an iPhone, or any other Qi device.
Time till fully charged: Charge time is displayed when connected to a charger. Look at the bottom of the lockscreen and in the battery status screen. If you’re fast charging, it will say so, and the estimated time left.
Writing by Chris Hall.