This is the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition). It’s not the most exciting phone of the year, but possibly one of Samsung’s most important. It isn’t awe-inspiring like the Galaxy Z Fold 2.
But what it lacks in its ability to be attention-grabbing, it more than makes up for with its more affordable price point. All while delivering on the most beloved features of the S20 series.
Of course, a cheaper price tag means there has to be compromises somewhere. In this review, we’ll take a look at the choices Samsung made, and whether or not the S20 FE deserves to be a part of this high-end lineup. Or if it’s just a fancy name on a mid-range phone?
Unlike the rest of Samsung’s S20 lineup that comes with black boxes, the S20 FE comes in this white box. The text styling is very much the same. If you look closely, there are icons engraved on the box. The packaging order is also pretty standard.
Our unit comes in a sleek, Cloud Navy color. If Navy isn’t your thing, there are five more color options to choose from: Red, White, Lavender, Mint, and Orange.
In the box are the SIM tray ejection pin, the usual quick start guide, a 15W travel adapter, and a USB-C to USB-A cable.
Part of the family?
On the outside, you’ll find the Galaxy S20 FE sharing the same design ID as the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra. The same rounded corners, same shaped aluminum frame, same placements for its button ports, and antenna lines.
It also got the same Infinity O display with a punch-hole for the selfie camera. The much loved 120Hz refresh rate is here, as well.
The handset also carries the same top-of-the-line processors: Snapdragon 865 for the 5G variant, and Exynos 990 for the LTE-only model. It has triple cameras, too! Wide, Ultra Wide, 3X Zoom, Night Mode, Pro Mode, and Space Zoom.
Additionally, it has a pretty large battery, stereo speakers, an IP rating for water and dust resistance, and even a micro SD card slot for expandable memory.
Whoever told you plastic is cheap is seriously disturbed
For it to be priced at US$ 300 less than the S20, Samsung had to make cuts, but we think they chose wisely.
First, its body is made of polycarbonate plastic instead of gorilla glass. Plastic, when done right, doesn’t have to look or feel cheap.
Just like the Note 20, the S20 FE doesn’t feel nor look cheap, especially with those eye-candy colors.
Of course, the all-glass S20 definitely feels more premium, but slap a case and you wouldn’t notice a difference. But then again, you probably don’t even need a case when a phone has a plastic back.
Learning to compromise
While the S20 FE prides itself on a 120Hz display, its resolution maxes out at Full HD+. It isn’t a deal-breaker though. Even if the first S20 trio all have Quad HD+ displays, you’re stuck at Full HD+ if you want to enjoy that high refresh rate.
Speaking of displays, the S20 FE has a flat display — which to some is actually better. It has a 6.5-inch screen that’s slightly larger than the S20, and almost as big as the S20+ because of its larger bezels.
Despite the size, it’s still comfortable for one-handed use. And that bigger screen is always a plus when it comes to watching videos or playing games.
Half the memory
The S20 FE has half the amount of RAM as the regular S20. But it doesn’t mean that it’s lackluster when it comes to its performance. For everyday tasks like surfing, watching YouTube and/or Netflix, or scrolling through Instagram, the RAM size won’t even matter.
RAM will only matter when you’re multitasking or when you quickly switch between several open apps, one after the other. Despite the reduced RAM size, it still shares the same top-of-the-line processors as its more expensive siblings. It’s still a heavy lifter, performance-wise.
In fact, the phone worked just like any other during our stint — whether it’s watching Start-Up on Netflix, switching between multiple messaging apps, or playing League of Legends: Wild Rift.
Instead of using Qualcomm’s Ultrasonic Fingerprint Scanner, the S20 FE uses an optical — still under-display scanner — from a company called Goodix, which also makes them for the OnePlus 8 and Huawei P40 series.
Surprisingly, the Galaxy S20 FE unlocked more consistently than the Galaxy S20.
The same triple camera setup
In every phone review, the most exciting part is testing and comparing the phone’s cameras. The Galaxy S20 FE has the same standard triple camera setup, offering you wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto.
It has a 12-megapixel main camera with a 123-degree field of view, a 12-megapixel wide camera same as the S20 and S20+, and an 8-megapixel telephoto camera.
Although, it doesn’t have the exact same hardware so it produced slightly different shots compared to its siblings.
Playing around with the rear camera
The first thing you’ll notice in these photos is the balance — both in color and contrast. These sample photos taken using 1x Auto mode were neither cool nor warm, and shadows are balanced evenly along with the highlights.
The HDR balances the exposure and highlights, too. If you’ll look at the photo above, the clouds didn’t appear blown out.
Bokeh — even without portrait mode — looks seamless, crisp, and clean.
When taking photos close to dusk, and even in the blue hour, the S20 FE produces lesser noise but the loss in quality is noticeable when you zoom in.
The loss in quality is even more evident when you use the telephoto lens at night.
When it gets really dark, Night Mode kicks in. Compared to the S20, the S20 FE’s long exposure results in brighter photos with more color and detail.
If you can see the vibrant TukTuk and the food shot in a Thai restaurant, the S20 FE packed some punch when taking photos in low light.
Even when you subject the camera to an extremely low light test (without using Night Mode), the results are still astounding.
Now, let’s move over to the ultra wide-angle lens. The S20 FE has a slightly wider field of view, albeit looking dull, cooler, and gloomy.
Meanwhile, using the 3X Optical Zoom lens can have a different result depending on the photo. Sometimes, it takes brighter photos. But more importantly, there is lesser noise even when using zoom.
On paper, the S20 and its siblings have more superior camera, but the S20 FE doesn’t fall behind. Personally, we didn’t feel we’re using less of a smartphone camera, seeing how we’ve used the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra this year.
The only disadvantage would be the S20 FE’s ability to shoot videos only in 4K. Frankly, we don’t think most users will mind if they can’t shoot in 8K. We personally don’t.
Selfies we enjoy
Upfront, the S20 FE has a better selfie camera — which makes sense based on the user this phone targets. Both in day and night (and in a pandemic wedding using a pink stage light), the S20 FE surely delivers.
We’re happy since our faces didn’t wash up. Some smartphones — even without beauty mode — beautifies your face and it’s annoying AF.
Battery that delivers
The Galaxy S20 FE packs the same 4500mAh battery as the S20+. During our stint, the phone lasted a solid day of moderate use, with some left-over for the next morning. About six to seven hours of Screen on Time switching between WiFi and Cellular.
It’s a big deal that the Galaxy S20 FE delivers on battery life. Imagine having to charge your phone before the end of the day. So. Inconvenient.
The phone only ships with a 15W charger in the box, but it does support 25W fast charging. With the bundled charger, the phone got to 13 percent in 10 minutes, 36 percent in 30, and a full charge in 90 minutes.
Samsung’s 25W charging adapter is an optional US$ 34.99 purchase, although we found it on Amazon for US$ 13.99. Using that fast charger, you can get to 23 percent in 10 minutes, 50 percent in 30 minutes as claimed, and 100 percent in 65 minutes.
Furthermore, the Galaxy S20 FE supports up to 15W wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging, in case you need to recharge your Galaxy Buds Live.
The arrival of the S20 FE is a sign of good things to come. If for anything, it’s an acknowledgment that users who have come to love the S Series, just aren’t willing to pay a thousand dollars for it anymore.
Should Samsung release a follow-up, they should make an adjustment to the S21’s base price.
This year, we’ve seen companies offer a less prestigious processor — the likes of the premium midrange Snapdragon 765G — seen on the likes of the LG Velvet, OnePlus Nord, and the Pixel 5.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
At the end of the day, it all boils down to what you as a user value most. Frankly, we think Samsung did all the right things here.
By satisfying the needs of the spec-obsessed who need the best processor and the fastest display, and those of the everyday user who will benefit most from long battery life, and almost-as-good camera — at a more palatable US$ 700 price tag.
And for that, we gave it the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.
In the Philippines, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE retails for PhP 35,990. It’s available on Samsung’s Online Store, Samsung’s official physical stores, and authorized retailers. The Galaxy S20 FE is also available via Smart’s Signature Plans.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: The best among the beasts?
Are the extra specs worth the extra price?
It hasn’t even been a year ever since Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 series but they’ve already unpacked the Galaxy S21 as early as January 2021.
I even remember we did a three-way review of the Galaxy S20 variants when it was launched. That experience serves as an eye-opener for me that I am, by all means, an “Ultra” user for the tasks I do. Multitasking, gaming, watching, shooting with great set of cameras, what more could I ask for now that I have the Galaxy S21 Ultra in my big hands?
While there are currently less newer flagships in the horizon powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 such as the China-exclusive iQOO 7 and the Xiaomi Mi 11 with its pending global release, is it enough to say that this phone is the best among all the beasts released so far? Let’s find out.
Ultra-minimal box content
The rumors are true after all. After mocking Apple for removing bundled chargers, Samsung still followed their path and ditched the usual 25W Super Fast Charger. Inside the retail box, I only got the phone itself, the usual SIM tray ejector tool, some paperwork, and a USB-C to USB-C cable.
It appears the removal of the AKG earphones in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packaging was already an early hint.
Love it or hate it, the Galaxy S21 series has a newer design that I honestly admire. While last year’s S20 Ultra had a glossy finish, the S21 Ultra now has a matte finish like the Note 20 Ultra — which should lessen the amount of fingerprints on the device. I used the Galaxy S20+ in Cosmic Black last year and that was an ultimate fingerprint and scratch magnet.
Samsung is proud of this year’s “Phantom Black” colorway by doing several processes to achieve its true and final color. It’s a more mature look that’s bold yet clean.
The whole process reminds me of how Apple made the Jet Black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Regardless of that tedious process, this dark color option closely resembles Apple’s Matte Black variant even more.
But unlike the iPhone’s aluminum unibody chassis, this one is made out of a tougher Gorilla Glass Victus — even tougher than last year’s Gorilla Glass 6. Albeit, there are times when fingerprint smudges still show when hit by light.
Distinct from the Galaxy S21 and S21+ is this humongous camera bump of the S21 Ultra with six holes in different sizes that house its wide array of camera components.
If you have big hands like I do, you’ll enjoy using this phone. Holding the phone feels lighter than last year’s S20 Ultra. But frankly speaking, it’s still on the hefty side — what more if you have petite hands?
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, despite its larger display and sharper edges, was still easier and more comfortable for me to hold in one hand. That’s due to the fact that it has symmetrical sides and a slimmer form factor.
Turning the phone around reveals the new “Contour Cut Camera Design” where the phone’s metal frame meets the thicc AF camera hump. Unlike most people who despise it, I just love this over last year’s rounded rectangular-cutout.
Ultra-immersive audiovisual experience
I’m always a sucker for great displays — and Samsung always exceeds my expectations. Even though it’s less curved and a tad smaller at 6.8-inches (compared to last year’s 6.9), there isn’t much of a difference. It still feels immersive with its narrow and almost-borderless viewing experience.
With its Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, the colors pop with vibrant hues, deeper blacks and whiter whites. It’s still the ultra-crisp and vibrant display I’ve been loving ever since I had the Samsung Wave in 2010 — Samsung’s first Super AMOLED device in history (announced a month earlier than the Galaxy S).
It also has 1500 nits of max brightness, which helped me use the screen even under harsh sunlight. Paired with crisp and loud stereo speakers, it’s truly a great device for your entertainment needs.
While last year’s S20 had a progressive 120Hz refresh rate, the caveat is you only get it under Full HD+ resolution. This time, while it may be adaptive, you get to enjoy 2K+ resolution/120Hz.
It might be an ongoing discussion for most users but I prefer faster refresh rates over larger screen resolution. Enabling both options affect the battery life over time anyway.
To maximize the Samsung ecosystem, I paired the new phone with my good ol’ Galaxy Buds+. I always love how seamless the transition is from connecting all the way to listening without frills and hassle. Don’t fret! As long as your audio accessory has Bluetooth (like my AirPods 2 and Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones), you’re good to go.
Whether you choose Face Unlock or the embedded fingerprint sensor, unlocking is fast and snappy! Unlike before where I have to press more than twice just to unlock both the S20+ and Note 20 Ultra, the new ultrasonic under-display sensor unlocks even when I lightly tap the screen for around 0.5 seconds.
The Face Unlock feature is also here. While it may not be as secure as iPhone’s FaceID system, it’s still fast. Samsung has maximized the use of AI so it will be fool-proof and won’t unlock when you’re asleep.
This Galaxy S21 Ultra has 12GB of memory. Although it maxes out at 16GB RAM, my unit is enough to make the most out of the tasks I do in a day.
Whether I open social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook, it comes to no surprise that they’ll open instantly.
In my previous phone reviews, there are times where some of the apps in the background close by themselves — whether that may be Instagram, a photo-editing app, a shopping app, Apple Music, and a game in idle. The RAM capacity isn’t the issue, rather the management and lack of software optimization.
In the case of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, switching between apps is a breeze. The navigation gestures on the new One UI 3.1 based on Android 11 is more fluid and responsive. One might say these have been around in most 2020 Android smartphones, but Samsung’s implementation is as close as what I get in iOS.
I commit spelling mistakes more often when I use the keyboard, no matter what Android device I use.
Fortunately, typing has been convenient in Samsung’s native keyboard. I was able to type one-handed with little to no typos at all. This means I don’t need a third-party keyboard like Gboard nor had the need to adjust keyboard height. I don’t even need to switch to one-handed mode at this point.
Ultra woes in storage and performance
The Galaxy S21 series marks the first Samsung smartphone to ship with Snapdragon 888 in the US and China. As bad as it sounds, the rest of the world comes with Samsung’s in-house Exynos 2100 processor. These chipsets are both 5nm — which makes it smaller, faster, and more power-efficient.
There’s no problem in performance. I played Asphalt 9 as well as Call of Duty: Mobile (CoDM) and both were smooth and responsive. You can even see how I scored almost 5,000 points in a single Ranked Match game.
But Samsung’s claim wasn’t really addressed at all. During the first fifteen minutes, the phone quickly sizzled while playing. I can literally feel it especially because I used the phone without a case. To make it worse, I went out to shoot some photos around late in the afternoon, and the phone was still hot to touch.
Another rumor that was later confirmed is the removal of the microSD slot. Previously, Samsung supported up to 2TB of external storage.
This review unit comes with 256GB of internal storage. Based on my experience, I was able to maximize my iPhone’s 256GB storage for almost two years. But considering how this phone shoots 4K-8K UHD footage and high-quality stills? It might take a shorter time to completely fill this up.
Having a microSD card expansion offers the fastest and safest way to backup your files. I feel the sentiment and rage of most Samsung users especially because having no external storage in the Galaxy Note 5 made me lost a lot of unbacked files after a motherboard failure five years ago.
Ultra-heavy battery (and drain)
The equipped 5,000mAh battery might be enough for a flagship smartphone like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but my first day with it wasn’t particularly promising.
Other than those heating issues, it’s also plagued with serious battery drain. Using it continuously from 8AM to 1PM with 5G, WQHD+, and 120Hz enabled resulted to a major decrease in battery life. From 100%, it went down to 34% — that’s just five hours of moderate use of social media apps and the camera.
Disclaimer: I did the extensive gameplay and camera test around 3-4PM, just right after doing an hour of charge using my powerbank.
Third day of use, it notified me of a new software update. I’m unsure if that solved the heating and drain issues as I barely used the phone while I worked on articles and videos but the standby time since has been pretty stable. The screenshots prove that from 3PM (82%), it only had a 11% decrease after 11 hours of standby (2AM) with little to no phone activity.
While there’s no official word from Samsung if the S21 models support 45W super fast wired charging, the closest thing you can have is Samsung’s 25W Super Fast Charger.
In my case, I used a third-party 30W USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charger. Even if it only detected “Fast charging”, it was completely juiced up after an hour and a half.
If you have a fast wireless charger that supports speeds of up to 15W, charging the S21 Ultra will also work on that as well.
Ultra-speedy 5G connection
Although 5G speeds may not be blazing fast just like in South Korea and the US, the S21 Ultra was able to detect ultra-fast 5G speeds around the Metro.
Downloading and uploading shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’ve managed to download the first three episodes of the K-Drama ‘Uncanny Counter’ under a minute. Even uploading a 30-second 8K video took a minute — which isn’t possible in 4G LTE and regular Wi-Fi hotspots.
While my unit doesn’t come with the new S-Pen, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S-series smartphone that’s capable of supporting it.
As a creative who’s been fond of the Note series, the S-Pen is, no doubt, a greater way to interact with your phone — regardless if it’s scribbling, digital painting, or even as simple as decorating your Instagram story.
The longer and thicker S-Pen might just be comfortable enough — which was something I wasn’t used to with the Note 20 Ultra’s shorter and slender S-Pen. To make it better, it also has a 9-millisecond (9ms) latency that will feel like you’re writing on a paper.
There’s also the latest Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) support. Lost your Galaxy Buds? It’ll be easier to locate with the SmartThings app. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy SmartTags which you can attach on bags, luggages, and even car keys so you can track them wherever, whenever.
Ultra-Grade Cameras and Features
On paper, the S21 Ultra has some beefy camera sensors: a 108-megapixel f/1.8 wide (main) camera with Phase-Detection AF and OIS, as well as a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide sensor with a 120º FoV (Field of View) that’s also found on other S21 smartphones.
What makes it stand out than the rest of the S21 line are the two 10-megapixel telephoto cameras: one that’s capable of 3x optical zoom, and another that reaches up to 10x optical zoom, both with Dual Pixel technology and OIS for clearer zoomed shots.
The problem with last year’s S20 Ultra is how wobbly it is when using the zoom function. But because of better sensors and stabilization, the S21 Ultra now has a zoom lock feature where it focuses on a subject from a distance without the camera preview getting distorted.
Other than the 8K UHD/24fps support, 4K/60fps comes standard regardless of what lens you use for video recording. Even the front camera supports it so vloggers can edit and upload videos in 4K.
While the dual shot mode has been around since the Galaxy Note 3 where it simultaneously takes a photo/video both from the front and rear cameras, Director’s View is more of an improvement with better configurations to choose from.
Other than the single view, you also get the classic split mode, and even a PiP (Picture-in-Picture). But the biggest addition is the ability to effortlessly switch between the wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses.
Ultra-mazing 108MP camera
The ultimate star of the show is the wide camera that’s capable of shooting 108-megapixel photos. If we’re going a bit technical, the S21 Ultra packs the latest ISOCELL HM3 sensor by Samsung with a larger sensor and improvements in dynamic range, autofocus, and low-light. It’s an update from the HM2 and last year’s HM1 of the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra.
With the presence of natural light, one would always expect that the latest smartphones will take great photos. It’s always the software processing techniques that differentiate the camera quality of one smartphone to another.
Over the years, Samsung is known for boosting the saturation of the photos it takes — and the S21 Ultra does the same. While it may look good on the eyes of many, it sometimes goes overboard with all the camera processing and algorithm just to make a natural, “bland” scene into something lively and vivid that looks artificial.
For most users, this isn’t a bad thing. If the camera software does all of the job, it means less time for them to process it. But for a serious shooter like me, I’d prefer flatter shots and adjust what’s needed after the shots were taken.
Other than the color test, I also tested how the camera performs when it comes to food. Most Android smartphones I’ve tried tend to over saturate and over sharpen food shots. Fortunately, the images above look more natural.
Even my issue with Note 20 Ultra’s weird radial blur on close-ups are gone. But if you want that extra-dramatic blur effect, Food Mode will help.
I also tried using the main sensor with manual mode. The shots above clearly show that the S21 Ultra is capable of producing top-notch, DSLR-like bokeh.
From the perspective of my friend who uses an iPhone Xs Max, she was astounded with how the S21 Ultra performed using the Portrait Mode.
Other than the wider view, background on both shots look creamy with a clean segmentation between our hair strands — something most Android phones and older iPhones can’t do properly.
Just like on the Galaxy S21 and S21+, the S21 Ultra features the similar 12-megapixel Ultra-wide camera. It’s capable of shooting wider shot perspectives just like the building I captured above.
The ultra-wide sensor also helps capture more elements and details in outdoor shots like these.
In tight situations, there’s got to be a use for telephoto zoom lenses. If one isn’t enough, Samsung doubled it for better and clearer shots from afar.
In the first set, the HDR (High Dynamic Range) and AWB (Auto White Balance) were both consistent throughout the lenses — something most Android manufacturers fail to do. I tested the superiority of the S21 Ultra’s cameras up to its maximum focal length.
Since I’m an architecture dilettante, I tried zooming in close to the building. At my surprise, the window looked sharp and clear enough after the preview.
In the second set, I saw these playful Chow Chows roaming around the grasses with their hoomans.
Zooming in as close as 30x digital zoom helped me capture one while his/her tongue is sticking out. But if we’ll look closely, the shot has a weird noise reduction that sits between camera grain and software smoothening.
Let’s move straight ahead to the third set, I tried using both the 3x and 10x telephoto lenses.
The HDR was pretty dull in the wide shot and it’s less green in the first three modes. Meanwhile, zooming in to 10x looked more lively because of the saturation boost.
Finally, this last set was taken in my favorite park. Again, the wide angle lens had an inconsistency, this time in exposure. Unlike the HDR problem from the last photo, that can be corrected through post-process.
Zooming in as close as 10x gives us clear details of the metallic tree. Zooming in further at 30x is acceptable. 100x zoom is barely usable.
As bonuses, these macro shots were taken in a windy environment. While it may not be as clear as what you get from a DSLR, Galaxy S21 Ultra’s long zoom capabilities are clearly commendable for producing the right amount of exposure, contrast, dynamic range, even if it displayed some hints of over-sharpening.
Ultra-clear night shots
It wouldn’t be a camera test without testing how it performs under low-light scenarios.
Regardless of what camera lens you’re using, Night Mode works on both the Ultra-wide, wide, and telephoto lenses.
Of course, without Night Mode, shots look blotchy, smudgy, with a lot of dark shadows and blown-out highlights. But with Samsung’s Night Mode, it fixes not only the Dynamic Range, but also the exposure and contrast of the image — especially in situations where there are less night light available.
With night mode turned off, the convenience store sign was barely recognizable. But with the magic of Samsung’s image processing, it was able to fix all the colors and details in the image.
But unlike the previous Huawei flagships, the S21 Ultra maxes out night zoom at only 10x. The Mate 30 Pro I used in 2019 was capable of zooming in on the moon as close as 30x.
Unlike its younger siblings, the Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a larger 40-megapixel front shooter with a dedicated ultra-wide view. Other than the less-smeared faces with retained face artifacts, the front camera can also shoot in Portrait Mode that works just like how the rear cameras perform.
As another bonus, here’s how the Galaxy S21 Ultra Phantom Black will look like if you’re planning to flex it in your future mirror selfies 😂
Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra your Ultimate GadgetMatch?
Priced at PhP 69,990 for the 12GB/256GB model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra simply isn’t for everyone. If you’re the type of user who has the purchasing power and clearly knows that you want the best of everything in a smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate smartphone you can buy right now.
You might be considering to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max instead. That’s a fine option if you’re the type of user who’s locked in Apple’s ecosystem. But if it doesn’t bother you to try something new in the Android world, the S21 Ultra might just be a better option.
I know what you’re thinking. There’s still the existing S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra that both cost a little less. They still have a great set of display, specs, and cameras at a lower price. But if owning what’s new in the market today is an important buying factor for you, look no further and pick the S21 Ultra — unless you want to wait for a quirkier follow-up of the Galaxy Z Fold2 and the Z Flip.
Consider the Galaxy S21+ if you wanna keep the same material and specs minus the cameras and curved 2K display. If you want the less fancy stuff, go for the Galaxy S21, Note 20, or even last year’s Galaxy S20 FE (unless you can wait for the S21 FE successor).
Samsung Galaxy S21 Review: Samsung’s Best for Less!
Is this the perfect S21 for you?
It hasn’t been a while ever since we did a Samsung Galaxy S21 series hands-on video.
While most people want the taller and more premium S21+ and S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 still looks and feels good despite the less fancy polycarbonate back. Other than the smaller display and battery, you still have the speedy Snapdragon 888 (or Exynos 2100) processors and great set of cameras.
But why should you specifically buy the Galaxy S21? Find out more in our review video here.
Lenovo Yoga ANC Headphones: A worthy AirPods Max substitute?
Trying my first ever over-ear headphones
It’s been a while since I wrote an article for an audio accessory. My last take on writing an audio review was our special three-way review of the TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earbuds: namely the Apple AirPods 2, Samsung Galaxy Buds+, and Huawei FreeBuds 3. If you read the article, you know by now that I am, by no means, a professional musician nor a hardcore audiophile.
With that said, I still have my clear preference when it comes to sound and audio quality. I want fuller and richer sound with deeper bass and enough treble to enjoy every rhythm and beat of a song. At the same time, I also like having ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) out of the box. I’m the type of person who clearly doesn’t want any noise distractions regardless of what I’m doing.
When I was given the chance to try a new set of headphones, I didn’t hesitate at all. In fact, this is my first time trying an over-ear headphones. I’m sure, there might be buyers like me who are curious to find out.
A design so chic and posh
Upon seeing the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones for the first time, I already fell in love with its color. The design screams chicness and elegance — very different from most headphones nowadays with bland color options and the obvious hint of plasticky build.
Still, colors depend on each individual’s preferences. The only problem I have in mind with this colorway is that it might get dirty over time.
I’m weirdly attracted to its concentric pattern
The headband feels soft especially with the perforated material
A must for any headphone is the silicone leather and premium plastic material
The included case also looks classy
Of course, the hard-bound case has the same cream color as the headphones for consistency. There’s that minimal “Yoga” branding placed on its lower right (just like on the right side of the headphones). The Lenovo logo is hidden at the bottom side of the case for a cleaner look.
Putting the headphones back in the case took me some time to sort out. Glad I’m a fast learner when it comes to fixing things (unlike fixing my own life LOL).
Unlike other headphones, this only comes in one color
Or two if we consider the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 ANC headphones that comes in a more stealthy, black colorway. It’s basically the same pair of headphones with a different ‘X1’ branding (not to confuse you with the disbanded K-Pop boy group X1).
Also, the concentric design was eliminated in favor of the flat one for a wider diameter of both pairs of circle. Lenovo even blatantly put both headphone models in the included user manual.
As much as I love black, I’d pick the Yoga one any day because of how unique-looking it is.
Comfy enough to wear
The first time I tried hanging the pair on my neck, it already felt comfortable especially with the soft material. Of course, I tried doing it without my turtle neck on so I really felt the touch.
The adjustable band is really helpful for someone like me who has a big head (no pun intended). It helped me wear the headphones with ease. You have to keep in mind that both band mechanisms aren’t fully twistable. Rather, they only rotate at the front around 180-degrees.
Wearing it feels ultra-light — exactly as Lenovo advertised. While the overall diameter of each ear isn’t as big as nor as egg-shaped as other headphones, I still like the symmetry. The concentric finish adds a premium feel, even if it’s clearly made out of plastic.
Controls were a li’l bit fiddly
Controlling the headphones through its built-in physical controls can be a little bit awkward at first and it honestly needs a bit of getting used to.
As someone who has fat AF fingers, there were instances when I pressed the wrong button when trying to control music. I thought I was pressing the volume up button. Instead, I switched on ANC even if I didn’t mean to.
On the left side, there’s the power switch (which the AirPods Max lacks) that also acts as the Bluetooth pairing switch for new devices.
Meanwhile, the button with three dots has several functions: clicking once plays or pauses the track or clip. It also answers or ends a call. Clicking twice skips the song while pressing three times winds back to the previous track.
On the right side, there’s a mute switch as well as volume controls, increase on top and decrease on the bottom.
The middle button serves as the ANC switch with two levels of Noise Cancellation before it’s completely off. Whenever you adjust or turn controls and switches, you will be informed through the built-in female speaker’s voice.
Sound quality is good…
People who know me (including the GadgetMatch team) are aware that I’m into K-Pop, particularly girl group songs — and by that, almost every K-girl group from the popular to the underrated. But the thing is, songs made by these groups don’t focus on bubbly and cutesy concept.
For example, there are girl crush songs from 2NE1, BLACKPINK, and aespa, melo-romantic tracks such as TWICE’s ‘Cry For Me’ and (G)I-DLE’s ‘Hwaa’, while recent 2020 releases lean more into retro-pop like TWICE’s ‘I Can’t Stop Me’, GFRIEND’s ‘Mago’, fromis_9’s ‘Feel Good’, EVERGLOW’s ‘La Di Da’, STAYC’s ‘So Bad’, Brave Girls’ ‘We Ride’, and more.
To make it more “musically diverse”, I also listened to the funky and uptempo ‘Why Not’ by LOONA, as well as Dreamcatcher’s Scream and BOCA as they lean more into rock (quite similar to most anime intros). As bonuses, I also played tracks of my favorite balladists: the singer-songwriter-actress IU, as well as the Korean band, Day6 and their sub-unit Even of Day — all while writing this article.
It’s safe to say that the amount of songs of different sub-genres I played made me understand the overall sound quality of the headphone — whether in bass, treble, highs, lows, or even mids.
Dialogues I hear from a film, series, news, or documentaries while wearing the headphones are as clear as a sunny day. Albeit, there’s still a notable difference when playing music as I was used to my AirPods 2 which has a richer overall sound.
…but with equalizer adjustments, it can get better
As said a while ago, I want my sound to be rich and full, has deeper bass, and of course, an effective ANC feature. Lenovo’s Yoga ANC headphones delivered good results. But to make it better, I had to manually adjust some settings.
I have this third-party equalizer called ‘Boom 3D‘ that’s available on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. The app enhances the overall sound of the music or audio I play — regardless of what device I use.
In the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones, it was vastly improved. Paying for the ‘3D Surround’ feature might even be the best way to experience surround sound without spending a lot on higher-end ANC headphones.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 Ultra I am using also has a built-in equalizer settings and preset which honestly made better sound quality compared to its default, flat state.
Active Noise Cancellation works well
There are two (2) ANC levels before you can completely turn off the feature. If it’s off, you’d still hear some muffled noises. For instance, I could still hear my mom talking while I was editing a YouTube video. On another note, I barely hear myself talk while I’m in a call. I don’t even hear myself singing while jamming to the songs I’m playing even if ANC is completely off.
At Level 1 ANC, it’s enough to block off the sound I get from my loud electric fan, barking dogs, and purring cats. Meanwhile, I barely heard the noise inside a noisy coffee shop when ANC was turned on at Level 2.
There’s also an added ENC (Environmental Noise Cancellation) technology which supposedly separates background noise from your environment while you’re having voice and video calls. As a testament, I was able to hear my crush clearly when we were on a call 😅
While I haven’t tried the ANC feature on most headphones, I’m glad that Lenovo was able to pack this feature in a small and affordable pair.
Bluetooth connection is fast and seamless
Having a fast Bluetooth 5.0 connection is a great feature, especially among wireless headphones. There’s even a feature where you can pair two Bluetooth devices at once.
But, it doesn’t mean you can play both songs on different devices at the same time. It just means, you can seamlessly switch between two devices without having to disconnect one in favor of the other.
But the lack of 3.5mm audio jack might be a dealbreaker
Still, there are times where the music being streamed will have a momentarily 0.5 to 1-second hiccup because of latency. This is where the 3.5mm audio jack takes place — which exists in most ANC headphones in the market today.
Other than the avoidance of latency issues, devices who have it will also give better adjustment in sound, like how the LG V60 ThinQ has a built-in HiFi DAC support. Adding more features mean added cost — and that might be a reason why Lenovo didn’t include one.
For a seamless experience, a 3.5mm audio jack would still have been a great addition for this pair — regardless if one’s an extreme audiophile or a casual listener who prefers great music.
I’m that person who loves listening to music for hours, and the Yoga ANC headphones was able to hold up for more than a day of both standby and use. The power and mute switches helped me save the headphones from unnecessary battery drain.
Lenovo even promises around 14 hours of playback with ANC turned off. Of course, the ANC feature was off most of the time since I’m only inside my room. But when it’s turned on, it barely affected the overall battery life.
Based on my experience, a call for an hour barely had a battery drain. Upon hearing it from the built-in speaker, I started from 50% and ended at the same level.
When it comes to playing music, there was obviously a decrease. From 50%, it went down to 10% after playing music for around four hours of use with ANC Level 1. To save battery life, I turned off ANC. During that percentage, I was able to squeeze in another hour of listening session.
Although this isn’t a surprise for most headphone users, I’m astounded especially because my AirPods only lasts around 3-4-hours from a full charge (lesser if I answer calls). Also, you’ll be notified if the headphones need charging through a phone notification or when the speaker starts to remind you to plug it.
You can charge it from 0% to 100% for around three hours via its USB-C port. The light indicator blinks when charging and stays put when it’s already full. Inside the bundled case, there’s an included USB-C to USB-A braided cable of the same color. You have to use your existing charging brick though as it doesn’t have a bundled one.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
The Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones retail at PhP 7,990 in the Philippines that’s available through Lenovo’s official Lazada page as well as other local distributors. In the United States, it’s available at a special discounted price of US$ 119.99 from the SRP US$ 149.99. This pair is simply one of (if not) the cheapest headphones you can purchase that supports ANC out of the box.
If you’re a casual listener (like me) who wants a lasting pair of headphones without sacrificing and spending too much, the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones is simply a great recommendation — more if you want to step up your audio game.
It looks and feels good with a battery life that lasts more than enough. It’s even ideal for gamers, streamers or budget-conscious musicians/artists alike especially with the inclusion of six boomless microphones.
While Lenovo’s Yoga ANC headphones may not be a direct competitor to most ANC headphones around, it costs less than the PhP 17,790/US$ 359-worth Marshall Monitor II A.N.C, the popular Sony WH-1000XM4 sold at PhP 19,999/US$ 349.99, and even the Bose 700 priced at PhP 26,000/US$ 379.75. The common advantage of these headphones is the inclusion of an audio jack.
While we’re already at the topic of price comparison, it’s a quick realization that you can buy four (4) Lenovo Yoga ANCs in the price of one (1) AirPods Max at PhP 32,990/US$ 549. As obvious as it gets, the differences are the lack of sleek aluminum build, several color options, interchangeable earcups, and the Spatial Audio feature.
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