Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

9.4
Expert Score

The Flagship BEHEMOTH?

The Good
  • Impressive cameras
  • Curved display
  • Large fingerprint sensor
  • Support for S Pen stylus
  • Support for Wi-Fi6E
The Bad
  • Heavier than an average phone
  • Non-expandable storage
  • No charging brick

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung’s hottest new flagship with some standout features including an impressive & upgraded quad-camera setup, a high-end curved display & a larger fingerprint sensor.

So, what exactly does the Galaxy S21 Ultra offer over its comparatively less expensive models. And is it worth paying all the extra money for? This & a lot more we’ll discuss in detail in our full review down below:

Design & Display:

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a BEHEMOTH in terms of size. It has the S21 series’ signature contour cut design – a metal camera bump that wraps beautifully around the edge & folds right into the aluminium frame. The back is made from curved Gorilla Glass which tapers into the aluminium frame. You get Gorilla Glass Victus covering the display, which is the same as the S21 Plus or the vanilla S21 models. The device has IP68 rated waterproofing too.

It’s a bit hefty as compared to the vanilla model & you might have to use both hands to manage this monolith of a phone. The back feels great in the hands and helps mask smudges and fingerprints.

The standout feature that gives this smartphone the ultimate premium feels is its curved display. The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with a punch-hole cutout for the selfie camera. Besides the curvature, it stands out from the rest of the S21 series due to the upgraded WQHD resolution with a fast 120 Hz dynamic refresh rate. Depending on the situation, the display on this phablet can dial down to as low as 10 Hz to save battery life as opposed to just 48 Hz on the Galaxy S21+.

As far as the quality goes, the bleeding edge S21 Ultra comes with the best OLED display when compared to the rest of Samsung’s S-series. The display is clear & sharp with vivid colors and inky blacks. Colors can be tuned to great accuracy in settings and you get HDR10+ support. The brightness here is incredible especially when you’re binge-watching on Netflix or playing a game! 

The phone also makes use of an ultrasonic fingerprint reader that’s upgraded over last years model, which makes it a lot more responsive and the target area is larger.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes in two sophisticated colours: Phantom Black & Phantom Silver.

Performance & Hardware:

The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with one of the two cutting edge flagship chipsets, depending on the market it’s being sold in. Either an Exynos 2100 or a Snapdragon 888, both with support for 5G connectivity. These processors are built on a 5nm process. The phone performs real-world tasks smoothly providing a quality gaming experience.

Though the chips are still not a huge improvement over last year’s Snapdragon 865. GPU wise the S21 Ultra offers flagship-grade performance, making everyday tasks lightning-fast and doesn’t throttle as you slice through the games. 

The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with the newer UFS 3.1 storage which has a faster transfer speed. The device comes in a variation of 12 GB RAM with 128/256/512 GB of internal storage & 16 GB RAM with 512 GB of internal storage. This year again, Samsung ditched the microSD card slot, so expandable storage isn’t an option anymore!

This new device supports Samsung One UI 3.1 based on Android 11. There were also a few tweaks here and there. One change you’d see directly on the home screen is that the One UI 3.1 provides a Google feed panel instead of Samsung daily. If you pull down the notification shade it’ll cover the full screen now with no gap beneath. You get access to notification history in settings too in case you accidentally deleted something important.

There are some changes to the lock screen too, the default shortcuts are now monochrome & you have access to the well-being widget without having to unlock your phone.

One unique feature in the S21 Ultra is support for the S pen stylus, which before this could only be found on a Galaxy Note series. However, you need to buy it separately which will only add to the cost of the phone. There’s no built-in holder for it as well as opposed to the one found on the Galaxy Note phones, though you could find a case that could do that for you.

It also includes all the basic on-screen features that we’ll get with a Note phone including taking notes, accessing quick shortcuts and taking advanced screenshots. However, you don’t get any of the Bluetooth functions for now though these would be supported by the upcoming S-pen Pro.

The S21 Ultra is one of the first phones to offer support to the new Wi-Fi6E, a new standard that delivers faster speeds and more overall bandwidth when you have a compatible router.

For audio, the phone comes with a pair of stereo speakers. This is a hybrid setup with one bottom-firing speaker & the earpiece acting as the second one.  Loudness is very good with good sound quality.

Battery:

The S21 Ultra comes with a very good battery life that lasts an entire day if you stick to Samsung’s default settings but the battery drained much more quickly when the 120Hz refresh rate is forced alongside Quad HD resolution.

And since you don’t get a charging adapter in the box, you have to buy one separately if you don’t already own one. There’s support for 25 W wired charging, with support for 10 W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging.

Cameras:

The Galaxy S21 Ultra stands out in terms of its cameras compared to its predecessors, in that it comes with a not so ignorable camera island. The phone has a 108 MP main camera, a 12 MP ultra-wide with a laser autofocus & two zoom lenses. A 10 MP 10X periscope zoom & a traditional 10 MP 3X telephoto, both with dual pixel autofocus and OIS. Plus there’s a 40 MP  front-facing camera with autofocus.

From the main camera, 12 MP photos taken during the day are excellent in nearly every respect, you’d be very happy to see the results. Though the 12 MP shots from the ultra-wide are good too but not great, you get nice colours and dynamic range but they appear to be over-processed, and you lose out on some details because of that.

Since the ultra-wide has autofocus you can use it to take close up macro style shots too. The shots turn out decent with plenty of details and nice colors. Zoomed shots from the 10 MP 3X telephoto are upscaled to 12 MP. These are okayish with low noise & nice dynamic range but again they seem a bit overprocessed.

Surprisingly, low light shots from the main camera are merely okay, the level of detail is not at the level of the S20 Ultra or even the vanilla S21. But night mode brings it back to the flagship territory, the results are great with restored highlights and shadows with enhanced detail.

Selfie pictures come out in a cropped 5 MP form by default but you can opt for a wider 10 MP photo.

As far as video recording goes, 4K photage shots at 30 fps are very good across the board including the selfie camera. The videos are not very sharp for a flagship but in all other respects they turn out great. 

Overall, the cameras are quite good and the hardware is solid. Samsung claims to have also improved the Portrait mode on the S21 Ultra by leveraging AI to better separate the subject from the background. Due to this, the S21 Ultra delivers a great bokeh effect here.

Final Verdict:

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a phone that is in many ways groundbreaking with the best AMOLED screen we’ve seen on a phone yet, a good battery life especially for a Samsung flagship, S-pen stylus support and support for the new Wi-Fi 6E. Plus you get a new flagship chipset enclosed in an elegant casing with a durable build.

While we did like the cameras, they could be made better with less heavy-handed processing and hopefully, Samsung will make some changes through software updates & the design is a bit hefty. Due to this, some people might prefer the more compact vanilla S21. Overall, the Galaxy S21 Ultra definitely feels like a cutting edge device & in many respects is the best Samsung flagship available in the market for now.

 

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