Samsung Galaxy S21 tips: 9 features to enable and disable right now

Samsung Galaxy S21 review
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If you’ve used a Samsung phone before, you probably think you know plenty about the latest Samsung Galaxy S21 models. And while it’s true that a lot of top features have carried over from previous flagships, Samsung added plenty of new and improved features you’ll want to either enable or disable once you get your hands on your new phone.

Samsung has a tendency to slap a bunch of features in its phones to see what sticks. Sometimes that can feel like a gimmick — remember AR Emoji from a few Galaxy S models ago? — but other times, there’s generally useful additions and enhancements that deserve your attention. And if the Galaxy S21 is your first experience with Samsung, there’s a lot of features to unpack.

Whether you’re a newcomer or a savvy veteran of Galaxy devices, here are the Galaxy S21 features to tackle first.

Galaxy S21 features: Power button settings

Samsung has shamelessly copied Apple for years, and the way the two phone makers now employ the power button on their devices is just another example of that. In case you haven’t used an iPhone recently, the traditional power button doubles as a way to wake or lock the screen and to summon Siri (with a long press). To turn off the iPhone, you hold Power and Volume Down to bring up the power menu. 

So what does that have to do with the Galaxy S21? Because Samsung’s phone operates the exact same way out of the box.

Instead of Siri, on the Galaxy S21, you have to contend with Bixby, an arguably worse attempt at a smart assistant. You can still use Google Assistant — and we strongly recommend that you do so — but Bixby is tied to a long press of the S21’s power button. Here’s how to change it.

  • From the home screen, pull down your notification shade and tap the Settings gear icon in the top right corner, and scroll down until you see Advanced Features. Tap on that.
  • In the middle of the next screen, open the Side Key option.

Galaxy s21 features to enable and disable

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From there, you’ll have the option to set what a double press of the home button does, with the default being a quick launch of the camera. A long press wakes Bixby by default, but you can change that by selecting the Power Off Menu under the Press and Hold section. If you do, your phone will bring up the power menu when you long press the power button. 

If you still want Bixby, you have the option to set the double press action to summon it. Or you can open a specific app with a double press, it’s your choice.

Galaxy S21 features: Change default Autofill

Many Android versions ago, Google introduced Autofill, a way to input your saved passwords into apps to sign in. These include your Chrome passwords and any that you have told Google to save in the past. It’s a really nifty feature for setting up new phones.

Samsung has its own service tied to your Samsung account called Samsung Pass. It operates in much the same way as Google Autofill, and if you’ve been using Galaxy phones for a while, this might be fine for you. 

If you’re coming from another Android device, though, you’ll be left to input your passwords manually when you’re setting up your apps — that is, unless you change the default autofill service. Here’s how to do that.

  • From the home screen, pull down your notification shade and tap the Settings gear icon in the top right corner. Once in Settings, select General Management.
  • From there, open Autofill Service.

Galaxy s21 features to enable and disable

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You’ll find a box  listing your current autofill option and a Settings icon to adjust any options with the service. To change the default selection, just tap the box that says Autofill Services, which will produce a list of the available autofill options on your device. You may see your password manager here, too. Whichever option you want to use, just tap it and then hit the back arrow in the top left corner of the screen.

Galaxy S21 features: Disable or tweak Edge panels

Out of the box, Samsung has enabled its Edge panels feature on the Galaxy S21. Edge panels act as a side menu that you can open with a swipe in the target area, and the feature can sport a selection of apps, contact, tasks, weather, tools, reminders, and clipboard access. 

You’re able to set what appears in the Edge panel. You can also tweak the handle by setting its position on your screen, plus its color, transparency, and size. Or, if you find the panel annoying, it’s possible to disable it altogether.

Galaxy s21 features to enable and disable

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Want to manage the Edge panel? Head to settings — pulling down the notification shade and tapping the Settings gear icon in the top right corner gets you there quickly — and select the Display menu. From there, you can tap on Edge Panels to open settings there.

To turn off Edge panels, just tick the toggle in the display menu or the toggle on the screen that opens. When you’re done, back out and continue on your merry way.

If you want to change what the panel contains, tap Panels. You’ll be presented with a list of options to choose from, so pick what suits your needs and then hit the back arrow in the top left corner. To change the handle settings, tap Handle. Here you can change all of the things we listed earlier, like position, color, and so on.

Galaxy S21 features: Change the order of navigation buttons or switch to gestures

One of the many beauties of Android is that you have options on how to do things. Among those choices is the ability to tell your phone how you wish to navigate. Whether you want the traditional Back, Home, and Recents navigation bar, have them reversed, or use the gestures introduced in Android 10, you can take your pick with your new Galaxy S21.

The gestures are similar to those found in iOS, but they’re not for everyone. Out of the box, Samsung opts for a Recents, Home, and Back nav bar, but you can swap the order or change to gestures very easily by going to settings and selecting the Display menu.

Galaxy s21 features to enable and disable

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From the Display menu in Settings, scroll down to the Navigation Bar option, and select it. By default, you’ll see that the Buttons option is selected. You can set the order you prefer, or if you wish to use gestures, select that option instead. We recommend leaving the Gesture Hints and Show Button to Hide Keyboard toggles on.

Galaxy S21 features: Floating notifications

Android 11’s added Bubbles, which act a lot like the Facebook Messenger chatheads. A chathead alerts you to new notifications instead of requiring you to first pull down the shade. Chatheds also act as a shortcut to the messaging thread. Google’s Bubbles do something very similar, but add functionality for additional apps.

Galaxy s21 features to enable and disable

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Samsung has its own implementation called Smart Pop-Up View. You can use Google’s Bubbles or Samsung’s option, but you’ll need to enable them first. Here’s how to do that after you jump into Settings.

  • In Settings, open the Notifications menu, then tap Advanced Settings.
  • Select Floating Notifications, where you can choose between Bubbles and Smart Pop-up View, or disable them both entirely.

Galaxy S21 features: Video effects

With the Galaxy S21, Samsung has introduced a new feature for video calls. Simply called Video Call Effects, it lets you add blur, a solid color, or an image to your background while on a chat. In this age of social distancing, Video Call Effects spice up your video calls. 

The feature works OK for the most part, but here’s how to turn it on/off and tweak the settings. Start by going to the Settings app and selecting Advanced Features. The Video Call Effects menu is found toward the bottom of the page, but once you scroll down to it and tap, you’ll see the full suite of options. You also can enable or disable Video Call Effects from the toggle right next to the menu entry.

Galaxy s21 features to enable and disable

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Assuming you have the toggle set to On, you can choose between the three options: blur, color, or image. The menu will show you which apps will support the video call effects.

Galaxy S21 features: Always On Display

One really nifty thing with Android is its Always On Display (AOD) option that some phone makers — such as Samsung — include with their devices. When your phone is off, the AOD feature displays some information like the time, date, and any notifications in a lower-power mode.

As noted, Samsung includes an option for AOD with the Galaxy S21, and while having it on all the time does impact battery life, the effect is barely noticeable. To change AOD settings, go to the main Settings app and select Lock Screen.

  • Find the Always On Display option and tap it.
  • You have the option on when to show AOD — Show for 10 seconds, Show Always, or Show as Scheduled.

You also can change the clock style, show music information, change screen orientation, and toggle auto brightness.

Galaxy S21 features: Lock screen widgets

While we’re on the subject of the Always On Display, you can set lock screen widgets for the Galaxy S21 and have them show when AOD is active. You have several options, like weather, music, schedule, and so on. Just go to the Lock Screen section of the Settings app to get your widgets in place.

  • From the Lock Screen menu, find the Widgets option and tap it. You see toggles for all of the available lock screen widgets, which you can reorder if you so choose.
  • Hit the toggle for Show on Always On Display if you wish. 

Galaxy s21 features to enable and disable

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Simply double tap on the clock when AOD is active, then swipe down to access your widgets.

Galaxy S21 features: S Pen (Galaxy S21 Ultra only)

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Galaxy S phone to come with S Pen support. Support for the stylus used to be limited to the Galaxy Note line. 

Note that this option isn’t available for the Galaxy S21 or S21 Plus. You have to own the Ultra and buy the S Pen separately. You also should have some way to keep the pen safe since it doesn’t have a housing inside the phone like a Note would. (We recommend picking up a Galaxy S21 Ultra case.)

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra S Pen

(Image credit: Future)

The S Pen just works out of the box. Simply tap the tip to the S21 Ultra’s screen and everything should be ready to go. Air Command should appear after you touch the screen again to let you know you can take notes, capture screenshots, and enjoy all of the S Pen goodness.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.

  • ScuroRaven
    sorry but..."Samsung has shamelessly copied Apple for years" Seriously? The two take from each other, and Apple has been behind for the past 5-6 years.