Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
I’ve been writing for Android Authority since 2017. When I first started as a freelancer, my daily driver was the OnePlus 5. Later on, after I became a full staff member, I got a OnePlus 6T. Today, I’m using the OnePlus 7 Pro. Due to my devotion to OnePlus (and the 7 Pro, in particular), I’m known as the “OnePlus guy” on our team. However, the Samsung Galaxy S21 has put that nickname in jeopardy.
I won’t mince words, here. OnePlus had a very bad 2020. Things started out okay with the OnePlus 8 series, especially the OnePlus 8 Pro. Unfortunately, more problems than successes followed. The disappointing OnePlus Nord N10 and N100, Carl Pei’s departure, the Facebook controversy, and the steady Oppo-ification of the brand all made it very difficult to be proud about being the “OnePlus guy.”
Now, with my beloved OnePlus 7 Pro getting old and the company dragging its feet when it comes to an Android 11 rollout, I am tempted to switch teams. With the launch of the Galaxy S21 series, the temptation has grown substantially. In fact, I will admit that I pre-ordered both a vanilla Samsung Galaxy S21 and a Galaxy S21 Plus. My intention is to try them both out and see if ditching OnePlus really is what I want to do.
Samsung Galaxy S21: Why I would switch
Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
Samsung really upped its game this year with the Galaxy S21 series. The designs look great, the lowered pricing is an important and smart move, and the Ultra model finally lives up to its name. The COVID-19 pandemic might prevent sales from going through the roof, but I think the company has set itself up for real success this year.
I wrote the Android Authority review for the vanilla Galaxy S21. In brief, I loved my time with the phone. The camera is terrific (especially for the $800 asking price), its palm-friendly size is a breath of fresh air in the “bigger is always better” world of Android, and the Snapdragon 888 processor is a total monster. Even the controversial changes this year didn’t matter much to me. Yeah, the lack of a microSD card slot is annoying, but the move to a plastic back is actually good, in my eyes. I’ll let you read the review for all my thoughts on those things.
Check it out: The Android Authority Samsung Galaxy S21 review
In the past, the biggest reason I avoided buying Samsung phones was the software. Simply put, One UI is not my favorite Android skin. I’ll take the minimalist simplicity of Oxygen OS or Pixel UI any day over the bloated and sometimes incoherent mess of One UI. When you factored in Samsung’s dismal reputation for delivering Android updates, it was enough to make me swear off the brand.
Things have changed, however. One UI is now better than ever. Yes, it’s still bloated with apps I don’t want and features I’ll never use, but Samsung has done a great job making all that less in-your-face. Moreover, the company has pulled a one-eighty when it comes to after-market support. Security patches are flying in at a furious pace. Android 11 landed on all its major flagships in record time.
In brief, the Samsung Galaxy S21 series has great hardware and great software. This isn’t something I’ve ever been able to say with conviction about Samsung phones.
OnePlus 7 Pro: What makes me want to stay
As great as the Galaxy S21 phones are, the OnePlus 7 Pro is still my favorite Android phone of all time. In so many ways it seems like OnePlus made the phone specifically for me. It ticks off so many of my essential smartphone feature boxes.
I’ve already written a whole article about why I love the OnePlus 7 Pro, so I won’t rehash it all here. I do want to focus on the two things the phone offers that the Galaxy S21 series doesn’t: an uninterrupted display and the alert slider.
I am of the opinion that the pop-up selfie camera is currently the best way to get rid of notches and display cutouts in smartphones. The pop-up camera on the OnePlus 7 Pro is one of its best features, even now after the display cutout has become the industry standard. Yes, eventually we’ll have under-display selfie cameras that will solve both problems. At the moment, however, the technology just isn’t far enough along for wide consumer adoption.
Moving from that gorgeous 1440p display with no cutout to a 1080p display with a big selfie camera hole at the top would be difficult. Nevertheless, after a week of using the Samsung Galaxy S21, the cutout became less of an annoyance. But any time I started playing a game or watching a YouTube video it would be there, reminding me that this display just isn’t as good as that of the 7 Pro.
The alert slider would also be hard to abandon. For the life of me, I have no idea why all Android OEMs haven’t stolen this feature. It’s so nice to simply flip up the slider when I don’t want to be interrupted. Thankfully, the premium version of the third-party Side Actions app gives me a workaround on Galaxy devices. Still, that alert slider would be greatly missed.
What else is in the pipeline?
Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
We’re not even out of the first month of 2021 yet. Although I am greatly impressed by the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, would waiting a bit longer to make a commitment be a good idea?
Obviously, the OnePlus 9 series is right around the corner. However, there doesn’t appear to be much even the OnePlus 9 Pro will offer over the vanilla Galaxy S21. The Galaxy S21 will likely have a better rear camera system, while the rest of the specs should be much the same across the two phones. With the 9 Pro having a display cutout too, the only real advantage would be that I’d get to keep the alert slider and stick with Oxygen OS.
The Asus ROG Phone 4 (or 5) is also coming up soon. The Asus ROG Phone 3 was my favorite smartphone of 2020, so its follow-up is certainly on my radar. The big problem I have with the ROG Phone series, however, is how massive the phones are. I love using them for specific tasks — which includes gaming, obviously — but I don’t like lugging them around with me wherever I go. Nevertheless, it is likely this phone will have an uninterrupted display, which does make it enticing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also expect a Google Pixel 5a to land at some point in the first half of the year. If it’s anything like the Pixel 4a, it’s bound to be a stellar device with a great camera, terrific software, and a low price. Yet, My big gripe with Pixel phones is the fingerprint reader being on the back. My phone lives on my desk for 10 hours every day so I need my sensor on the front.
It appears no matter what I do, I’m going to need to give something up to get something new.
Decision time: What’s it gonna be?
Honestly, I hoped that writing this all out would make this decision easier for me. I’m not sure it worked, though.
On one hand, I have the Samsung Galaxy S21. It will have a better camera than the OnePlus 7 Pro, a faster processor, 5G support, and a smaller form-factor. However, it will have a display cutout and lack an alert slider.
On the other hand, I have the OnePlus 7 Pro. It has a higher-resolution uninterrupted display. Its Snapdragon 855 processor is still fully capable, its camera is good enough to get the job done, and its software is much more in line with my taste.
Inevitably, I’m going to need to upgrade. I can’t use the 7 Pro forever. The question, I guess, then becomes whether or not now is the right time. The notable aspect of this whole conundrum is that I am thinking about switching to Samsung in the first place. I don’t know if that says more about Samsung upping its game or OnePlus’ recent fumbles. 2021 is already a year full of surprises.
Maybe you can help? Answer the poll above, and then let me know in the comments what you think I should do!