When the Realme C12 launched alongside the C15 last year, the two smartphones looked very similar on paper and pen, and yet they were priced very differently. In 2021, the manufacturer lowered the prices of the successors of both smartphones. The Realme C25 (Review) has a faster MediaTek Helio G70 processor, while the Realme C12’s successor, the C21, now starts at a base price of BDT 10,990.
It may seem like an attractive price, but Realme has mixed things up a bit. The Realme C21 offers a smaller 5,000 mAh battery (instead of the C12’s 6,000 mAh) and replaces the 2-megapixel monochrome camera with a 2-megapixel macro. Because the Realme C21 uses the same MediaTek Helio G35 chipset as the C12, daily performance hasn’t changed. However, the Realme C21 still offers a decent Android experience for anyone on a budget, as long as they don’t push too hard.
The Realme C21 is priced in Bangladesh at BDT 10,990 for the base 3GB RAM + 32GB storage variant at BDT. 11,990 for the 4GB RAM + 64GB storage option. Cross Blue and Cross Black finishes are offered on both models. There’s also the Realme C20, which is almost identical, except it’s only available with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and it has a single rear camera. It is priced at BDT. 9,900.
165.2 x 76.4 x 8.9 mm for 190 grams weight: in short, if we think that the Realme C21 can be one of the most affordable devices to use, The Realme C21 looks quite similar to the C12 in terms of the overall design, with the three cameras and LED flash neatly placed inside a square-shaped camera module. The body of the smartphone is made of plastic and has a texture with fine grooves on the back, which offers a good grip: everything is made of medium quality polycarbonate, and there are no slight creaks on the back which, among other things, tends to get dirty very quickly wherever you place it. The C21 isn’t as heavy as the Realme C25 (209g), which is owing to the lower 5,000mAh battery.
The arrangement of the elements is the usual one, with a “back to the past” in the back where the mono speaker was placed in the lower part of the body. The three cameras with flash and the fingerprint sensor are located on the rear.
On the left side, Realme entered the SIM Cart (two Nano Sims + one Micro SD), and on the right the volume rocker and the power button. Downstairs, listen, listen, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the microphone (no second microphone), and a Micro USB port for charging (yes, it’s one of the things that turned my nose up before I even used it).
On the front, however, there’s room for a small notch that hides the front camera and proximity sensors which are unfortunately shaky, and at times you’ll be really tempted to Because of the high brightness refresh rate, switch them off.
Most of the specifications, with the exception of the battery and cameras, have remained the same as in the Realme C12. The C21 has a MediaTek Helio G35 processor, which is commonly used by various manufacturers in this price range. There is 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage in the base variant or 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage in the top-end variant. Both allow you to add up to 256GB of storage using a microSD card in the dedicated slot.
Unlike the Realme C25, which comes with Realme UI 2.0, the C21 comes with Realme UI 1.0, which is based on Android 10 and is more useful. It’s a bit old, but the software looks pretty good except for some Realme apps like HeyFun (for fast-casual games), HeyTap Cloud (cloud storage), and Realme Link (to connect with the company’s IoT products). If you don’t need this software, you can uninstall them. The Realme C21 does not run the latest Realme UI 2.0 software but still offers basic customization options.
Despite the absence of Realme UI 2.0, basic customization options like changing the system font, icon shapes, and more are still available. There is a good selection of static wallpapers and also the ability to apply and download new themes.
With the same processor and RAM options as the Realme C12, the software shortcomings of the Realme C12 also trickled down to its successor.
I did notice an occasional lag on the 4GB RAM + 64GB variant I reviewed. Switching between apps was seamless most of the time, but there have been cases where apps have restarted after being opened from the Recent screen. The keyboard sometimes took a few seconds longer to appear and apps took a few seconds to launch. Despite the hiccups, the experience isn’t too bad for a casual user who just wants to run a few simple apps.
The 6.5-inch HD+ LCD panel looks sharp enough at first glance, but it’s easy to spot jagged edges in text and around icons if you hold it a little closer. Colors appear a bit too saturated and the screen appears cooler than it would be naturally. The LCD screen can become bright enough to be clearly visible in direct sunlight, which is good enough for a smartphone in this price range. When viewing off-center content, however, the brightness lowers slightly. The screen also detects fingerprints quite easily and it is quite difficult to get rid of them.
Realme C21’s performance was adequate for casual games, however, it struggled with Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty: Mobile.
Asphalt 9: Legends was barely playable on default graphics settings and exhibited a lot of lag and pauses while running. Also, the game doesn’t even allow you to switch to Performance mode (for reduced graphics quality) Call of Duty: Mobile was unplayable as it lagged terribly even with graphics quality set to Low and frame rate set to in Media.
Placing the speaker at the back is not a good idea as it moves the sound away from the user. When streaming movies or games, my index finger would often cover the speaker, resulting in muffled sound and reduced volume. Also, the single speaker is quite metallic and the sound rips at high volume.
Since the Realme C21 is not designed to run graphics-intensive 3D games, I ended up using it mostly for messaging, email checking, and streaming movies, and photos. The phone’s 5,000mAh battery lasted two days with my light usage. On a single charge, our HD video loop test lasted 24 hours and 21 minutes, which is 7 hours less than the Realme C12, but still very good.
The C21, unlike the Realme C25, does not come with an 18W charging adapter. Instead, a 10W charger is included, which charges the 5,000mAh battery to 22% in 30 minutes and 44% in an hour. The phone reached 100% in 2 hours and 19 minutes in my experience. This is even faster than the Realme C25, which took 3 hours and 7 minutes to reach 100%, due to the reduced battery capacity.
While the 13-megapixel main camera with f/2.2 aperture and 2-megapixel depth sensor remains the same as the old Realme C12, the manufacturer has replaced the 2-megapixel monochrome camera with a 2-megapixel macro camera in the C21, which many people will find more useful. The selfie camera also remains similar with a 5-megapixel sensor, but it has an f/2.2 aperture compared to the f/2.0 aperture on the previous model.
The camera app interface is the typical Realme UI 1.0 camera with easy one-touch access to filters and the Chroma Boost feature, which amplifies the colors in photos. However, the interface is not very responsive and there is a slight delay when switching between camera modes. Even just going from photo mode to portrait or video mode requires some patience.
The overall image quality of the photos is below average. Photos taken in daylight came out bright but not very detailed with dark textures. When photographing subjects in broad daylight, the lights are turned off, both on the subject and in the background. When using the front and back cameras, Portrait mode is the same. When shooting a human subject in auto mode, the back camera, like the Realme C25, boosts color saturation. When firing inanimate objects, this does not happen.
Unsurprisingly, after dark photos get muddier and details take a big hit. Most low-light photos ended up looking like paintings, and the dedicated night mode didn’t help improve things, in my experience. Photos taken in Night mode came out blurry, with overly saturated colors. They also lacked depth and appeared flat. Autofocus speeds take a hit even at night and you’ll need a bit of patience, even if you tap to focus when shooting darker scenes. Selfies taken in low light were full of noise and lacked a sense of depth.
The 2-megapixel macro camera captured shots that looked overly dramatic with excessive contrast and weird colors. Photos taken with the main camera looked much better, with good sharpness and colors closer to life.
Video shot in daylight is satisfactory, but cannot be used when shooting in low-light conditions. Videos recorded at 1080p 30fps showed dull highlights in the brightest areas of the frame. There is no stabilization of any kind, which makes videos recorded while walking really shaky.
Given its price, Realme C21 is meant to be the first smartphone for those who have upgraded from a feature phone or those who simply want to run some daily apps and make calls. It’s an entry-level budget smartphone that works with a few issues, but it’s good enough for the casual user who doesn’t expect much. Camera performance is pretty weak and the same can be said for games, which leave battery life as their main draw.
That said, many recently released budget smartphones offer similar hardware, such as the Poco C3 seems a bit higher when it comes to camera quality, but falls short in terms of software performance. Those looking for an Android smartphone in this price range can also look at the Moto E7 Power, which is priced starting at BDT. 9,499 (3GB + 32GB). It offers slightly weaker performance and has dual rear cameras, but adds an IP52 rating to the mix.