RIP bundled chargers — what Galaxy S21 means for future smartphones

Galaxy S21 Plus
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is here — but its bundled charging block is not. In addition to announcing that the new S21 series will be sold without a charger, Samsung also confirmed that more of its phones will too going forward

We may not like it, but not including a charger puts Samsung in a good position, even though there is still more the phone maker could be doing.

When Apple removed the charging blocks from the iPhone 12's box in October 2020, some of us were wondering who might follow suit. Samsung's decision to copy, or at least go in the same direction as Apple, shouldn't be surprising. As Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight puts it: "Where Apple goes, others tend to follow". That's despite an amusing post on Samsung's official Carribean Facebook page last year that took a less-than-subtle swing at Apple no longer offering chargers, suggesting that Samsung might have been keeping its charger for now. (Naturally, this post is no longer live.) 

Why phone chargers are an endangered species

There are a couple of big reasons why Apple and Samsung have stopped supplying bundled chargers. First off, as Wood notes, this has some immediate financial benefits to a phone maker. Aside from eliminating the cost of the accessory from the equation, removing the charger also results in "more compact packaging that also saves money on shipping, warehousing and more." 

But Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst for Techspotential, says  that this decision isn't purely about saving a few bucks on manufacturing and logistics: "Electronic waste is a real problem; this is not just an opportunistic way for manufacturers to cut costs." This has been the thrust of both Samsung and Apple's explanations, and while it's good to see these two huge businesses tip their hat to environmental causes, it is leaving users somewhat in the lurch.

That's why Wood thinks that both Samsung and Apple should be doing more if they're serious about protecting the environment. "It’s a shame that neither Apple or Samsung backed [the decision to no longer provide new chargers] up by offering a USB to USB-C adaptor in the box, a discounted charger option to those that might need one or an environmentally-friendly trade-in program to swap older, less efficient chargers with newer ones that also feature fast charging,” Wood said. Let's hope that this is something both Apple and Samsung, or perhaps a rival manufacturer looking to steal an advantage, can start up in the near future.

The future outlook for phone charging 

So where does all this leave us? While taking away bundled chargers may rile some smartphone buyers who are used to getting chargers with their new phones, the chances this will actually impact sales is unlikely, according to  Greengart. "This is not going to hurt sales – most consumers really do have multiple chargers already, and Samsung standardized on USB-C years ago, so compatibility is not an issue," he said. 

So if you were hoping for some huge hit to Samsung's phone sales to motivate a U-turn on the charger question, you may want to think again.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review MagSafe

(Image credit: Future)

Looking to the future, there may be another factor inspiring the disappearance of the chargers: fully wireless devices. For example, Apple's iPhone 13 is rumored to be the company's first portless phone, only capable of wireless charging. It'll require users to rely on a wireless charger, be it a MagSafe charger or a third-party, something far more expensive to throw into a phone box for free compared to a standard charging head.

We don't know anything about the Galaxy S22 yet, but it may only be a few months before leaks and rumors start to fill in the blanks about its charging specs, and given Samsung's focus on wireless and reverse wireless charging for the past few launches, it doesn't seem unreasonable to think the phone maker would do the same thing.

With Samsung having now joined Apple, it seems likely that most of the world's other smartphone makers will also stop including chargers with their new phones. However if this is to become a trend, these companies need to make it easier for users to ditch their old chargers, benefiting the environment by recycling the redundant tech and allowing the user to access the latest fast-charging tech more easily

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.