Artist Review: Samsung S21 and Note 20

This is the artist review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 and Note 20.

And since this is the artist review, I will not be going through the phone specific info such as benchmarks, download speed, multi-tasking, gaming, photography and video recording. You can find the full specifications for the S21 and Note 20 here and here respectively.

In this review I just want to talk about the drawing experience.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 phones (21, 21+ and 21 Ultra) were released in January 2021, and the Note 20 was released in Aug 2020. These are best phones from Samsung at the time of this review. Both phones support the Samsung S Pen which has palm rejection, tilt and pressure sensitivity.

Samsung Note 20 comes with the S Pen stored inside the dedicated slot on the phone. Samsung Galaxy S21 does not come with the S Pen so you'll have to buy that separately.

Samsung actually sells the official S Pen for the S21 which is priced at a reasonable US $31.99. All S Pens will work so you can buy the S Pens made for the Samsung Galaxy tablets as well. The other pen that can work is the Staedtler Noris Digital and Noris Digital Jumbo. I recommend the Noris Digital Jumbo for the thicker body which is more comfortable to hold. If you want something more compact and easier to bring around, then go with the official S21 S Pen.

If you don't mind not having a place to store the S Pen, definitely go with the S21 for the longer battery life. Besides, drawing with the Note 20's included S Pen feels like drawing with a toothpick.

The S21 phones and the Note 20 Ultra have displays that support 120Hz refresh rate. The Note 20 (non ultra) is the one with the 60Hz display. The main difference between drawing on a 120Hz vs 60Hz display is the latency is more noticeable on the 60Hz display. The gap between the line as it tries to catch up with the pen tip is larger on the 60Hz display. It's certainly nicer to draw on a 120Hz display but the overall drawing experience on the 60Hz display is still quite good mainly because the latency is not the irritating type of lag. In other words, I was still able to draw accurately on S21 and Note 20 regardless of the refresh rate.

There are many wonderful drawing apps on Android. My favourite ones at the moment are Huion Sketch and Concepts.

When it comes to drawing on a phone, it seems like only phones from Samsung are the ones that are great for casual drawing. Bear in mind that these are phone apps we're talking about so I don't expect people to buy these phones for the primary purpose of drawing or creating professional art (which they can if they want to).

If you want to draw on a phone, go with Samsung phones that support the S Pen.

Initial activation force (IAF) of the S Pen is low but you do need to apply some pressure to get a line.

When drawing quick tapered strokes, the lines will end abruptly. That's the limitation of the IAF compared to pen tablets or pen displays. Certain apps like Clip Studio may allow you to produce a nicer looking tapered stroke but even so the tapered stroke will be quite abrupt.

Is not being able to draw a tapered stroke nicely a problem? Well, it depends on what you draw. If you draw hair, as shown above, grass, hatching lines, then not having tapered strokes is a deal breaker.

This was drawn with Huion Sketch. Click for a larger view.

I did not have any difficulty drawing thin lines though. I was actually able to get the thin and thick lines to come out the way I expect them to.

The main issue with drawing is actually the extra smoothness of the display as the S Pen glides on it. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 is very slippery, the smoothness of the display is probably a 4. It will take some time to get used to drawing on such a smooth screen, to learn to control the S Pen.

The phones' aspect ratio is ultra wide. I personally don't draw with the phones in vertical orientation unless it's a vertical subject. It's also not easy to hold the phone and draw like this because your drawing hand can't rest on anything. Both hands are moving and this results in more wobbly lines.

When you have the phone horizontally, you can at least rest your hand on the display and draw. This greatly improves accuracy.

This was drawn with Concepts.

Certain drawing apps allow you to draw with only pen input, meaning you'll get perfect palm rejection. There's no way you can introduce stray strokes accidentally.

My overall drawing experience with the S21 and Note 20 is very positive. The S21 and Note 20 phones are good for those who want something extremely portable that you can take out from your pocket for a quick sketch. The drawing performance is quite good overall with the minor limitation of not being able to draw quick tapered strokes. While it's not possible to draw quick tapered strokes, you can draw slow tapered strokes instead.


Add new comment