When the Realme C12 came onto the market last year alongside the C15, the two smartphones looked very similar on paper and still fetched very different prices. In 2021, the manufacturer lowered the prices for the successors to both smartphones. The Realme C25 (review) features a faster MediaTek Helio G70 processor, while the successor to the Realme C12, the C21, now starts at a starting price of Rs. 7,999.
It might seem like an attractive price tag, but Realme changed things a bit. The Realme C21 offers a smaller 5,000 mAh battery (instead of 6,000 mAh for the C12) and replaces the 2-megapixel monochrome camera with a 2-megapixel macro camera. Everyday performance has not changed because the Realme C21 remains on the same MediaTek Helio G35 processor as the C12. However, the Realme C21 still offers a decent Android experience for anyone on a budget, as long as you don’t ask too much of it.
Realme C21 price in India
The Realme C21 costs Rs. 7,999 in India for the basic version with 3 GB RAM + 32 GB storage and Rs. 8,999 for the option 4 GB RAM + 64 GB storage. Both variants are available in the versions Cross Blue and Cross Black. There’s also the Realme C20, which is almost identical except that it only comes with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage and has a single rear camera. It costs Rs. 6,999.
Realme C21 design
The Realme C21 looks pretty similar to the C12 in terms of overall design, with all three cameras and the LED flash neatly housed in a square camera module. The casing of the smartphone is made of plastic and has a texture with fine grooves on the back, which offers a good grip.
Thanks to this matt surface, the back does not take fingerprints and remains wipe-free in daily use. At 190g, the C21 doesn’t feel as bulky as the Realme C25 (209g), which is mainly due to the smaller 5,000mAh battery.
One small design detail that has changed since the Realme C12 is the placement of the individual speaker. It now sits on the back in the lower left corner next to the Realme logo. There is a small indentation next to the grille to prevent the sound from being blocked when the phone is placed on a flat surface.
Realme C21 specifications and software
Most of the specifications, except for the battery and the cameras, are the same as for the Realme C12. The C21 has a MediaTek Helio G35 processor, which is widely used by several manufacturers in this price range. There is 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage in the basic version or 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage in the high-end version. Both of them let you add up to 256GB of storage with a microSD card in the dedicated slot.
In contrast to the Realme C25, which came with Realme UI 2.0, the C21 offers Realme UI 1.0, which is based on Android 10. It’s a bit old, but the software works with the exception of a few Realme apps like HeyFun (for quick casual games), HeyTap Cloud (cloud storage), and Realme Link (for connecting to the company’s IoT products). These apps can be uninstalled when you don’t need them.
Despite the lack of Realme UI 2.0, basic customization options like changing the system font, icon shapes, and more are still available. There is a decent selection of static wallpapers and the ability to apply and download new designs.
Realme C21 performance and battery life
With the same processor and RAM options as the Realme C12, the software deficiencies of the C12 have also prevailed in the successor.
I noticed occasional lags on the 4GB RAM + 64GB variant that I checked. Switching between apps was smooth most of the time, but there have been cases where apps restarted after opening from the Recent screen. The keyboard sometimes took a few extra seconds to pop up and apps took a few seconds to launch. Despite the problems, the experience isn’t that bad for a casual user who just wants to run a few simple apps.
The 6.5-inch HD + LCD panel seems sharp enough at first, but it’s easy to see jagged edges in text and around icons if you hold it a little closer. Colors seem a bit too saturated and the display presents a cooler tone than it would be natural. The LCD screen can get bright enough to be clearly visible in direct sunlight, which is pretty good for a smartphone in this price range. However, the brightness drops significantly when viewing content outside the center. The display also picks up fingerprints quite easily and these are difficult to wipe off.
In terms of performance, the Realme C21 managed to run casual games smoothly, but struggled with Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty: Mobile.
Asphalt 9: Legends was hardly playable with the standard graphics setting and showed a lot of delays and pauses during the race. In addition, the game won’t even let you go into performance mode (for reduced graphics quality). Call of Duty: Mobile was not playable because it was horribly delayed even when the graphics quality was set to low and the frame rate was set to medium.
Placing the speaker on the back is not a good idea as it will direct sound away from the user. When streaming movies or games, my index finger often covered the speaker, resulting in dull sound and reduced volume. In addition, the individual loudspeakers are quite tinny and the sound cracks at high volume.
Since the Realme C21 was not designed for graphics-intensive 3D gaming, I mainly used it for sending messages, checking emails, streaming movies, and taking photos. In my occasional use, the phone’s 5,000 mAh battery lasted a good two days. Our HD video loop test lasted 24 hours and 21 minutes on a single charge, which is 7 hours less than its predecessor (the Realme C12) but is still very good.
In contrast to the Realme C25, the C21 does not come with an 18 W charging adapter. Instead, you get a 10W charger that charges the 5,000 mAh battery to 22 percent in 30 minutes and 44 percent in one hour. In my experience, the phone reached 100 percent in 2 hours and 19 minutes. This is still faster than the Realme C25, which took 3 hours and 7 minutes to reach 100 percent due to the reduced battery capacity.
Realme C21 cameras
While the 13-megapixel main camera with its f / 2.2 aperture and the 2-megapixel depth sensor remain the same as in the older Realme C12, the manufacturer has with the C21. swapped the 2-megapixel monochrome camera for a 2-megapixel macro camera, which many people will find more useful.
The user interface of the camera app is the typical Realme UI 1.0 camera with easy access to filters and the chroma boost function that enhances the colors of photos. However, the user interface is not very responsive and there are slight delays when switching between camera modes. Simply swiping from photo to portrait format or to video mode requires a little patience.
The overall picture quality of the photos is below average. Photos taken in daylight were bright but lacked detail with cloudy textures. When shooting subjects in broad daylight, lights were blown out on both the subject and in the background. The same applies to portrait mode when both the front and rear cameras are used. Just like the Realme C25, the rear view camera increases the color saturation when capturing a human subject in automatic mode. This does not happen when inanimate objects are shot.
As expected, the photos get darker after sundown as the details have a big hit. Most of the low-light photos ended up looking like paintings, and the special night mode didn’t help in my experience either. Photos taken in night mode were blurry with oversaturated colors. They also lacked depth and looked flat. The autofocus speed will take a beating at night too, and it will take a little patience even if you tap to focus while capturing darker scenes. Selfies taken in low light were full of noise and had no sense of depth.
The 2 megapixel macro camera captured shots that looked a little too dramatic with excessive contrast and strange looking colors. Shots with the main camera looked much better, with good sharpness and colors that were closer to reality.
Video recorded in daylight is satisfactory, but cannot be used when recorded in low light. Videos recorded at 1080p 30fps showed blown highlights in lighter areas of the image. There is no stabilization, which makes videos that were shot very shaky when walking.
Given its price, the Realme C21 is meant to be the first smartphone for someone who has upgraded from a feature phone or just wants to run a few everyday apps and make calls. It’s a simple budget smartphone that can handle a few hiccups but is good enough for the casual user who isn’t expecting much. Camera performance is pretty weak, and the same goes for games, which leave battery life as the biggest selling point.
Even so, many budget smartphones recently launched offer hardware similar to the Poco C3 (review). Priced at Rs. 7,499, it seems a bit superior in terms of camera quality but falls short in terms of software performance. If you are looking for a near-series Android smartphone in this price range, you can also take a look at the Moto E7 Power, which starts at Rs. 7,499 (3 GB + 32 GB). It offers slightly weaker performance and has two rear cameras, but adds an IP52 rating.