If there is one thing we can be assured of, it is that Samsung doesn’t hold back much when launching its flagship phones twice a year. We now have three new Galaxy S-series flagships available as the year gets started, with the most expensive model being the aptly called Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s design and main features
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first device with a new design for 2021. The S21 Ultra now has a matte finish and is sandwiched between two layers of protective Gorilla Glass Victus. It also features a new camera housing on the back, and its vertical line of cameras is now neatly integrated into the top-right corner of the device thanks to a design feature called the “Contour Cut” by Samsung. You can choose between “Phantom Black” and “Phantom Silver” for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which does not have the same selection of colors as the rest of the line.
The absence of a headphone port on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is not surprising, but at least Samsung didn’t install a button specifically for Bixby. Long-pressing the power button instead summons the digital assistant. Additionally, the under-display fingerprint scanner is now 1.7 times bigger than the one on the model from last year and functions well in the rain.
Additionally, this is the first Samsung phone to come out of the box without a charger. Following Apple’s lead, Samsung claims that removing the charger will lessen the phone’s environmental effect, but it also claims that doing so will relieve consumers of any need to keep purchasing pointless charger attachments with new phones.
Customers wishing to move from an iPhone to a Samsung device should be discouraged because the Galaxy S21 Ultra charges via USB-C and does not work with Apple’s Lightning connector. Instead of completely deleting the charger, it could be more consumer-friendly to give them the option of getting it or not.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Display
Of the three new S21 phones, the Galaxy S21 Ultra features the largest screen, measuring 6.8 inches. One of Samsung’s “Dynamic AMOLED 2x” screens, it can now display 120Hz at the panel’s native 1,440 x 3,200 resolution.
It comes as no surprise that the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s display is of the highest caliber. The S21 Ultra’s maximum brightness, as determined by my tests with our X-Rite display colorimeter, peaked at 874cd/m2 with the auto setting activated and a blinding 1,548cd/m2 when displaying HDR material.
The “Natural” setting of the S21 Ultra most closely resembles the sRGB color profile, with a coverage of 94% and a total volume of 95.7%, out of the two color modes available. The DCI-P3 color space, which is utilized in the majority of HDR playback, and the “Vivid” option are quite similar.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Samsung phone outside of the Note family to enable Samsung’s S Pen stylus, which is a novel development this year. This new S Pen is made by Wacom and is available separately for $34. You can also buy a stylus case, which is prominently featured in Samsung’s marketing materials. Both of which were not made available for review.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s functionality and battery life
The Exynos 2100 chipset, known as the Snapdragon 888 in the US, is the same in the Galaxy S21 Ultra as it is in the rest of the range. But unlike other phones, you can also choose between 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of non-expandable storage, as well as an upgrade from the standard 12GB of RAM to a monstrous 16GB. I’ve found that any smartphone doesn’t really need 16GB of RAM because my MacBook Pro “only” has 8GB of RAM.
But whether or not to spend more money on a 5G model is a decision you don’t have to make. This year, all three phones include 5G without charging extra, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first smartphone to enable Wi-Fi 6E connections, but the likelihood that many people will have a new 6GHz router at home is currently vanishingly small.
So let’s get to the part of this review that involves plenty of numbers. The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s Exynos 2100 matched the single-core performance of its predecessor, the Exynos 990 found within the S20 Ultra, in the Geekbench 5 CPU test. However, it differs in how well it performs on several cores. Here, the S21 Ultra has a significant improvement of about 24%.
Overall, though, the S21 Ultra falls short of the Snapdragon 888 (used in the Xiaomi Mi 11) and cannot compete with the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s unmatched processing performance.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra has made the most advancements in the area of graphics rendering. In the GFXBench Manhattan on-screen test, the S21 Ultra’s GPU performance averaged 93 frames per second (fps) at native WQHD resolution, which is about twice as fast as the S20 Ultra’s. The frame rate increases to 118 fps when the screen resolution is reduced to FHD+.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Cameras
This year, the cameras also get their fair share of improvements. The Ultra does indeed have a 108MP (f/1.8) main camera and two 10MP telephoto lenses, making it the only S21 phone with those features.
Why are there two? Up to a 100x maximum magnification, Samsung claims the combination of 10x (f/4.9) and 3x (f/2.4) zoom cameras improves the quality of “Space Zoom” photographs. A fourth 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide sensor and a 40MP (f/2.2) front-facing selfie camera support these cameras.
Camera advancements include better low-light noise reduction and the capacity to slow down numerous events in a single slow-mo movie. Additionally, you can instantly capture a still image from 8K video and add virtual lighting to portrait photos.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Galaxy S21 Ultra can take pictures that are nothing short of extraordinary in terms of quality. The S21 Ultra, like other high-megapixel-count flagships, only takes 12MP photos in auto mode by default, though this feature may be enabled in the settings.
If you need to quickly zoom in on something, you can press on one of the quick-select zoom ranges (0.6x, 1x, 2x, 4x, 10x, 30x, and 100x) or use an on-screen slider to change the camera zoom on the S21 Ultra.
It’s manageable to use, but anything magnified by 30x or more may be difficult to fit in the frame. Although not significantly, the S21 Ultra’s stabilization does reduce hand shake, and the resultant image may not be what you were going for.
Conclusion of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
The Samsung S21 is a fantastic smartphone that has all the features you could ask for in a premium model. But with a four-figure price that exceeds its already-expensive competitors, it’s difficult to sell, particularly in the current environment of economic turmoil.