realme C21 review: the ultra-low-budget smartphone!


The smartphone experience on the realme C21

Using the realme C21 is a decent experience, as long as you don’t use demanding apps or try to run the latest games. The phone doesn’t feel fast, and the general speed with which it does things is reasonable. But, sometimes, you do notice some slugginess. To be honest, from a smartphone this affordable, performance was not something we expected, and neither should you. The screen has a resolution high enough for a pleasant web browsing experience or for checking your social media feeds, but outdoor visibility is underwhelming. We often had to manually set the brightness to the maximum to use the phone in direct sunlight. And even then, the experience wasn’t exactly satisfying. We believe that the realme C21 is a phone best used indoors.

The display on the realme C21

The Realme v1 user interface is stock Android with a few changes, especially to how the Settings are organized. Finding your way around should not be a problem though.

One downside is that many of the apps that are preinstalled with the realme C21 load ads regularly. But, if you spend some time uninstalling most of them, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Many preinstalled apps have ads

Gaming is a disappointing experience on the realme C21 unless you stick to light-casual games that don’t have complex graphics. Otherwise, you are in for very long loading times, low visual details, and quite a bit of stuttering when the action becomes more intense.

Playing games on the realme C21

The mono speaker does its job adequately. It is not a great choice for listening to music or watching movies, and you are better off using a headset. We noticed that the high-frequency sounds tend to be too high pitched when setting the volume to the maximum. Voice calls work reasonably well using the built-in speaker, but don’t expect to hear the other person when you are far from your smartphone.

The phone calls I made on the realme C21 were clear for both parties, but my voice was perceived as more high-pitched than when using other phones. A pleasant surprise is that the noise reduction feature works well, especially when talking on the phone indoors. The signal reception was good too, and we did not encounter any problems in our few days of testing.

Taking calls on the realme C21

The options for unlocking your smartphone work reasonably well, without being fast. Both the fingerprint sensor and the facial recognition do their job reasonably well, and that’s about it. Battery life is stellar on the realme C21 and one of its main selling points alongside the meager price. This smartphone doesn’t have any problems, lasting for two days on a single charge.

Battery stats for the realme C21

The charging time is on the slow side, since there’s no fast charging available on the realme C21. In 30 minutes, the battery charged from 0 to 22%, while a full charge took place in about 2 hours and 48 minutes.

Performance-wise, the realme C21 doesn’t break any records, and it doesn’t even try. It may sometimes be slow but does what you ask it to. Overall, it is an adequate smartphone that covers the basics at a price everyone can afford.

The camera experience on the realme C21

The Camera app is the same as on all the other realme smartphones. It doesn’t have fewer features. It even includes the same Pro mode as you get on more expensive smartphones from the same brand. However, the camera system is mediocre at best. Considering the low price of the realme C21, it couldn’t be otherwise.

realme C21 has a Pro mode

Pictures tend to have oversaturated colors at all times, including in good lighting conditions. Also, the color balance needs some improvement, and night pictures have quite a lot of noise. Using the zoom means details get lost, and you get a lot of graininess. The macro camera is not usable, as it has many focus problems, and the resulting pictures are of very low quality. We would have preferred only one camera on the back of this smartphone that was a bit more capable, instead of three, which are underwhelming. The selfie camera is decent at best, but we noticed some focus issues, especially in low-light situations. To get a better perspective of the picture-taking capabilities of the realme C21, take a look at the gallery we embedded below:

Recording videos works at 1080p and 30 frames per second, but it is evident that the cameras lack image stabilization. Here is a landscape we filmed, in which we also zoomed in to show you how this impacts the quality of the picture you get:

Here’s also a video with cars moving around:

Notice how the cables on the top side of the video suffer from a sort of “bleeding” effect and have unnatural colors.

The realme C21 has low-end cameras, and this is evident, including in good lighting conditions. Considering its very low price, we didn’t expect it to do anything other than take some pictures and record some basic videos, and this phone does all these things.

Android 10 and bundled apps

The realme C21 comes with Android 10 preinstalled and Realme’s version 1.0 custom user interface. In contrast, more expensive smartphones from realme come with Android 11 preinstalled and Realme 2.0 UI. However, this strategy was expected for a smartphone with such a low price, as many manufacturers use it. We’ve asked realme about their plans for software updates, and we were told that realme C21 would get Android 11 at some point in the future. Also, this smartphone is expected to receive Android updates for two years.

Apps preinstalled on the realme C21

Here is the list of apps you find preinstalled on realme C21:

  • App Market - realme’s alternative for the Google Play store. It seems to be aimed at Asian markets more than western ones.
  • Calculator - a useful app for making calculus, converting units, or exchange rates.
  • Clone Phone - realme’s app for moving your data from another smartphone to your brand new device.
  • Compass - your standard compass app that helps you identify the true magnetic north, measure the angles of different surfaces, etc.
  • File Manager - a basic file management app that helps you organize files and folders on your smartphone.
  • Game Center - an alternative to Google’s Play Games portal.
  • Game Space - an app for managing installed games, boosting gaming performance for them, and managing in-game screen captures.
  • Hey Fun - another game store. We don’t understand why there are so many on this phone.
  • HeyTap Cloud - an app for backing up files and data from your smartphone to the cloud.
  • Hot Apps & Hot Games - shortcuts to promoted apps and games chosen by realme.
  • Lazada - a mobile shopping app for Asian customers.
  • Music - basic media player for music files stored locally on your phone. Unfortunately, the app is filled with ads.
  • Phone Manager - your basic smartphone management app that is useful for cleaning up storage, app management, and more.
  • realme Link - you can set up a Realme account, link it with your smartphone, and access realme’s services.
  • Recorder - a simple app for making audio recordings with your smartphone.
  • Themes Store - an app for downloading and installing visual themes for your smartphone. Some of them look great.
  • Videos - a useful video player for your smartphone.

There are also popular apps preinstalled like Facebook and Weather, apps which most users want on their smartphones.

realme C21 has many preinstalled apps, some of which are aimed at Asian markets. We wish for realme to optimize this list and install only apps relevant to the country where the user is located.

Performance in benchmarks

We ran several benchmarks on the realme C21 to see what you get in terms of performance and how it compares to other smartphones. This being an ultra-budget smartphone, we didn’t expect to be impressed. First, we ran Geekbench. It got 175 points in the Single-Core tests and 932 in the Multi-Core tests. As expected, these scores place the realme C21 at the bottom of the hierarchy.

realme C21 - Geekbench score

We then used PCMark for Android to measure how well realme C21 fares in productivity tasks. It scored 5765 points - similar to Motorola Moto E, a popular low-budget smartphone launched in 2020.

realme C21 - PCMark score

In the 3DMark benchmark app, we ran the Sling Shot Extreme – OpenGL ES 3.1 test. This smartphone rendered an average of 2.20 frames and 1.40 frames, respectively, and it had a score of 463 points. These are meager results that show that realme C21 was not made with any kind of mobile gaming in mind.

realme C21 - 3DMark score

The Car Chace and 1080p Care Chace Offscreen tests from GFXBench confirmed the same story. This smartphone could render only 5.8 fps and 3.7 fps, respectively.

realme C21 - GFXBench scores

To evaluate the autonomy offered by realme C21, we used PCMark’s Work 2.0 battery life test with the display brightness set to auto. The battery lasted 18 hours and 26 minutes, an excellent result. This smartphone’s battery will not have any problems lasting for two days on a single charge in regular everyday use.

realme C21 - Work 2.0 battery life test

The benchmarks we ran confirmed that realme C21 offers adequate performance for general productivity tasks and excellent battery life.

Do you like the realme C21 smartphone?

Now you know what we like and what we don’t like about the realme C21. Before closing this review, tell us your opinion about this model. Do you like what it has to offer for a very low price? Do you want more from your smartphone? Comment below and share your thoughts.

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