In the Android market, Samsung has historically produced some of the best flagship devices, and beginning in 2020, the firm took the decision to go all-out with its Ultra models. For enthusiasts, it sounds like a brilliant idea, but for the typical consumer, it’s not exactly simple to sell, especially in light of the rise of premium smartphones that are roughly half the price, like the Pixel 5. However, Samsung succeeded in achieving its objective; the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Android phone available and may even be pricey.
Hardware: A Win for Matte Black As you might guess, Samsung’s top-tier smartphone is a super-premium gadget. It has thin bezels and is made of metal and glass. But then again, so was S20 Ultra from the previous year. What has changed for the better this time? The greatest news here, aside from the camera design upgrades we see on the standard S21, is that Samsung completely abandoned glossy glass in favor of matte. The Phantom Black color of the review device we’ve been using is a really dark black that’s complemented by its matte texture, precisely like Samsung boasted about in its presentation. It’s not really spectacular, to be honest, but it does look nice in person and provides customers with a blank canvas to decorate with accessories. The good news is that if they don’t put on a case or skin, the back won’t accumulate a ton of fingerprints.
The weight and size haven’t changed much, however; by any standard, this is not a small phone. It is heavier than last year’s device and weighs 229g, or more than half a pound. Despite having the same size battery, it is also thicker than last year’s model. But because of the significantly smaller screen size, it doesn’t seem as intimidating. Even while it’s still somewhat large, this smartphone is at least reasonably usable. Samsung also reduced the intensity of the vibration motor, making it less audible when it shakes on a table, but at the expense of haptics that now seem somewhat murky.
DO YOU HAVE TO BE HUGE TO BE ULTRA? The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s size is my main criticism, if there is one. Being large is nice, and I believe this phone manages its size well, but I detest the fact that this size is the only one that can use the camera technology and design. The only way to obtain Samsung’s greatest camera and best specifications is with this enormous phone. I’d love to see this same package in a smaller, if not even smaller, form factor than the Pixel 5 or ordinary Galaxy S21.
I’d really want to see Samsung work on that in 2022. Each Ultra phone that has been released so far has been virtually gigantic. Although the Galaxy S series is intended for a wider audience and now that the price is reasonable, the size options ought to be as well. That strategy succeeded with the Note 20 Ultra.
HOLDING NOTHING BACK | DISPLAY The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s display is slightly smaller than that of its predecessor at 6.8 inches, which has the advantage of making the phone more manageable in the hand. The only upgrade on this display is just one, though.
The 6.8-inch SuperAMOLED display features the same Adaptive Refresh Rate technology as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 2, which results in increased battery life and improved overall utilization of the higher refresh rate. The panel is also the first 1440p display Samsung has used in a flagship this year, and this time, it can be used at full resolution at 120Hz. Although everything is still rendered at 1080p by default software, I didn’t see much of a difference when I switched to the full 1440p resolution. Nevertheless, it’s good to see that Samsung is no longer withholding any display-related information from customers.
To wrap things off, let’s briefly discuss the quality. It’s excellent as usual. The best AMOLED displays are made by Samsung, and the Galaxy smartphones produced by this business always feature the best-looking ones. This display has an amazing range from dark to bright, with brilliant colors and rich, dark blacks. Really, there isn’t anything to be unhappy about. The bezels are quite thin, the screen is fantastic, and the hole-punch selfie camera is not in the way. Samsung simply outperforms every competitor, even the iPhone and Google Pixel.
SAME OLD STORY: SOFTWARE ANDAMP; PERFORMANCE The software on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the same as the software on the standard Galaxy S21 series. Here, you’ll find One UI 3.1 and Android 11 out of the box, both of which are excellent! Despite some annoying idiosyncrasies like redundant pre-installed apps, overpowering settings and features, and, well, Bixby, the design is really simple and simple to use. The ability to handle SmartThings and certain device settings is now Bixby’s strongest feature. It offers helpful functions that function similarly to Siri Shortcuts. When it comes to more general voice assistant duties, though, it is not quite as effective or powerful as Google Assistant, Alexa, or even Siri.
There isn’t much difference between the software on the S21 Ultra and the rest of the series. The layout is the same, the installed apps are the same, and nearly all of the functionality are the same. The S Pen is the only aspect of the software that has changed, which we’ll discuss later.
The amount of advertising that Samsung includes in its pre-installed apps and uses push notifications to market to you, even if you just bought one of its newest phones, is another major irritation. This is a dishonorable practice on expensive products, as we’ve stated repeatedly, and Samsung has to stop using it immediately. However, nothing has altered.
the positive news At least when it comes to support, Samsung is excellent. Mobile devices like the Galaxy S21 Ultra will continuously receive monthly security upgrades in addition to fairly regular major Android updates.
Even though Samsung could do better, overall, I think these efforts are admirable. A Galaxy S series handset will often receive a new version of Android roughly 4 months after Pixels, but frequently much sooner than other significant rivals. Additionally, Samsung has become speedier each year. The Galaxy S20 series received Android 11 almost a month before the S10s update, which was expected. If everything else goes as planned, it is entirely realistic to believe that the Galaxy S21 series will receive Android 12 by the beginning of December this year.
As one could anticipate, Samsung has a winner in terms of performance. With 12GB of RAM and the Snapdragon 888, there are no slowdowns in this situation. Despite the 4GB of extra RAM, I can’t say I really saw a difference between the Ultra and normal S21. However, I can’t say that I really saw a difference when compared to cheaper phones either. Performance is comparable to that of the $699 Pixel 5, which has a processor from a previous generation and a series down. Samsung has an advantage in keeping games and background-running programs active. The performance of this phone will probably last longer as well.
BATTERY LIFE | NO ENDURANCE QUESTIONS No matter what features, screens, or applications are used, a phone with a battery capacity of 5,000 mAh will always have a long battery life. And indeed, the Galaxy S21 Ultra performs admirably in terms of endurance. With this phone, I can easily get through a long, demanding day and go to bed with 40% or more of the battery remaining. It’s definitely conceivable to destroy this phone in a day, particularly if you use the camera a lot, but I’m prepared to wager that most users won’t succeed. The S21 Ultra put up a total of approximately 6 hours of screen time on my busiest day, but it wasn’t completely depleted after 15 or so hours; it was still at about 35%. Outside of Google’s Pixel 5, which has a rather large battery for its lower specs, this is without a doubt the finest battery life I’ve encountered.
On the S21 Ultra, the charging condition is also rather favorable. Although not very fast, wired charging at 25W will offer your phone a short boost when you need it. However, there is the issue of the charging brick not being included in the box. Both good and terrible aspects exist. In the long term, I believe this is the right decision, but I do wish Samsung had just provided free chargers to anyone who requested or required them, given that a decent 25W charger will cost $20 or more.
Qi is arrived and can deliver up to 15W of power wirelessly with the proper charger. It functions perfectly, however I did find that because of this device’s enormous footprint, I was a little more prone to misalign the phone with the coils on some charging pads.
The name of the game is “CAMERA | VERSATILITY.” To say that I was dissatisfied with the camera on the Galaxy S20 Ultra from the previous year would be an understatement. It was just horrible, to be honest. I’m very happy to report the exact opposite for this year. I’m hesitant to proclaim this smartphone’s camera the greatest in the world, but it is certainly in the running.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s primary 108MP camera produces generally top-notch pictures. Though Samsung still has a tendency to overbrighten and sharpen to its detriment, the experience is still rich in detail and color. The autofocus, which was the camera’s major weakness in the previous model, has also been entirely improved. I have no issues about it; it is quick and trustworthy. The primary sensor still offers significant advantages like improved low-light shooting, amazing natural bokeh, and the fantastic sharpness that comes from having so many megapixels.
But for me, processing is still hit or miss. The most of the time, pictures turn out fantastic, however if your subject is moving, this camera can easily fumble. My two dogs are my favorite subjects for photography, and as you can see below, it’s not hard for a dog, even one that is mostly motionless, to turn out blurry on the S21 Ultra. Although I still hope Samsung would be more consistent with its processing, this is now the best product the firm has to offer.
There is still a lot to discuss, though, outside of that primary sensor. A 12MP ultrawide camera is present, which is adequate but not very noteworthy. But I’m delighted to see it; wide-angle cameras are helpful. As long as you have enough light, Samsung also designed this sensor such that it can be utilized for up-close macro photography.
The two telephoto sensors in this case tell a broader tale about the additional cameras. Both cameras have 10MP resolution, although only one has a true 3x optical zoom while the other has a 10x zoom. The 3x sensor is fantastic because it allows you to take zoom images that are generally far crisper than what a high-resolution sensor can achieve with digital zoom. Although you won’t utilize the 10x zoom lens as frequently, the results are still very good. You can get 100x Space Zoom when combined. The results after approximately 30x are remarkable, but as you approach the maximum, things do predictably start to fall apart. Maximum oil painting effect is evident, although it does have the benefit of allowing you to figuratively shoot images of the moon. Although I’m sure some software trickery contributed to those outcomes, this is still a truly cool trick.
At 1x, 3x, and 10x, S21 Ultra
In direct contrast to Google’s Pixel, the rival Android camera, Samsung’s additional cameras actually demonstrate that having the additional hardware is worthwhile. Samsung leverages hardware, but Google strives to accomplish everything through software. The outcomes? Particularly when it comes to zoom, Samsung has a distinct and visible advantage. Even though Google’s Super Res Zoom is excellent, it falls short. The primary sensor operates similarly. Although Samsung’s camera is more flexible and has a larger sensor than Google’s, Google’s camera is highly consistent.
Speaking of software, Samsung’s camera app has received some cool updates. Although I personally don’t like the notion at all, you may use the Single Take feature to automatically take pictures and movies with all the lenses. Additionally, there are comprehensive Pro modes for both still images and films, with the latter being notably excellent as an integrated feature. There is even an option that enables audio to be taken via a pair of Bluetooth earphones during a film instead of the phones mics, kind of like a wireless lavalier. Directors View makes it simple to flip between multiple camera angles while you’re recording. Samsung’s S Pen can transform the S21 Ultra into a reliable tool for in-the-moment video editing, much like it did with the Note.
In the photography rivalry, the difference between Galaxy, Pixel, iPhone, and other devices is as small as it has ever been. Today, it is genuinely difficult to find a flagship phone from a reputable brand with a truly subpar camera. Even though they all have advantages and disadvantages, they can all take at least a passable shot.
Samsung makes a valiant effort with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. This has the best software backing it, the most sensors, and the best sensors. Is it the best because of that? Not necessarily, but there is one area in which Samsung excels. The Galaxy S21 Ultra, or “jack of all trades,” is by far the most adaptable camera on the market. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is undoubtedly capable of getting the shot you desire, and it’ll probably be a good shot as well. That contrasts with what Google offers, which is a very reliable camera but one that isn’t always fully functional. Apple is another example of a company that blurs the lines. Modern iPhones are almost as reliable as the Pixel, although even the most expensive iPhone 12 Pro Max lags the S21 Ultra slightly in terms of hardware capabilities.
What can Samsung do to improve? The future is probably in software. The underlying processing can be improved to make these cameras more reliable. The S21 Ultra as it stands is proof that Samsung is already a force to be reckoned with in the field of smartphone photography, but there is always potential for development.
S PEN | NICE TO HAVE, BUT NOT A SELLER The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s expanded compatibility for the S Pen stylus is one of Samsung’s key selling factors. The S Pen, a defining feature of the Galaxy Note line for years, is a genuine selling point of those smartphones, but it is less significant on the S21 Ultra.
The positive The S Pen experience on the S21 Ultra is nearly identical to that of the Galaxy Note. The absence of Bluetooth features like gestures and a wireless shutter button is acceptable because these functions weren’t all that useful to begin with. Instead, it performs the same functions as a regular active stylus, providing incredibly accurate input as well as extra functionality like the ability to choose specific areas of the screen for screenshots, create GIFs, and add drawings before sending images. Your favorite features from a Galaxy Note are probably present and functional if you have ever owned or considering one.
a negative Even while the S Pen is fantastic, eliminating the phone’s storage silo somewhat undermines its utility. Your stylus won’t be available when you need it unless you purchase Samsung’s bulky case with a S Pen storage slot. Due to this, I simply do not see the benefit, especially if this is excluded. Instead, I think someone who fully supports the Samsung ecosystem will find this valuable. Supporting your tablet’s stylus on your phone, if you own a Galaxy Tab S7, for instance, is a fantastic extra, but in my opinion, it’s not worth the price of admission.
FINGERPRINT SENSOR | THE LITTLE THINGS The fingerprint sensor on Samsung’s flagship models for 2021 is one of my favorites because, well, it works quite well. The S21 Ultra’s ultrasonic under-display sensor is quick, dependable, and accurate in contrast to the slow and unsatisfactory ultrasonic under-display sensors Samsung has been utilizing for a few years. It’s just an extremely good fingerprint sensor, which is really all there is to say about it.
SPEAKERS This situation with the speakers is generally very dull. The sound quality is decent, and the S21 Ultra’s massive size also contributes to some mediocre stereo separation. Simply said, there is nothing noteworthy about this. Although they don’t impress, it’s okay that they sound good. That is what the Galaxy Buds Pro do.
STORAGE/MICROSD The absence of a microSD card slot is one of the Galaxy S21 series’, and the Ultra in particular, most divisive features. This has been a staple on Samsung phones for years, but it is no longer available and most likely won’t be. I don’t think this is a huge concern at all for typical purchasers. For the majority of consumers, the S21 Ultra’s 128GB, 256GB, or massive 512GB of storage will be more than enough. But since enthusiasts are more inclined to use the feature, it is unfortunate for them. Given that the Ultra is specifically designed for them, it’s an odd decision, but one we’ll have to make.
LAST THOUGHTS The smartphone industry has undergone significant transformation in recent years, and 2020 was among the most unusual. On the one hand, there were many conventional flagship phones, but a new market sector also existed. Models like the Pixel 5, LG Velvet, Galaxy S20 FE, and others were among the inexpensive flagships. To appeal to a different, larger audience, they make wise compromises as opposed to going all in and worrying about the cost later. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the complete opposite of that, as implied by its name. If it falls within your budget, it does not hold anything back and performs admirably.
I got to the conclusion that very few people should purchase the Galaxy S20 Ultra when it was released the previous year. It was pricey and failed miserably when it came to cameras. After a year, the narrative has completely changed. Due to a $200 discount, the Galaxy S21 Ultra manages to be offered at a price that is fairly reasonable. Not just on paper, but in practice as well, this is the greatest choice Samsung has to offer this year. It’s worth taking into consideration if the $1,199 price tag fits inside your budget.