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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review
Feb 25, 2021
The Galaxy S21 series came out earlier than we had anticipated. The Galaxy S21 series brought a number of changes for instance the Galaxy S21 and S21+ now feature lower-res OLEDs, no MicroSD expansion, and no chargers in the box. Do you want to know what an Ultra phone looks like? The answer to it is check out the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra till date was expected to be the masterpiece among the Galaxy smartphones from Samsung. When the S20 Ultra faced the S21 Ultra, the outcome wasn’t pretty. Unfortunately, even S20 Ultra pulled the short straw against the S21 Ultra. The Galaxy S20 Ultra had its own fair share of drawbacks. Samsung considered those drawbacks and made the S21 Ultra which makes up for those lacking features in its predecessor.
165.1x75.6x8.9mm, 227g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), aluminium frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins), Stylus support.
5000mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging 4.5W.
Fingerprint reader (under display, ultrasonic); Stereo speakers; NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent); Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), ANT+, Bixby natural language commands and dictation, Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified), Ultra-Wideband (UWB) support.
All things aside the sleek industrial look of the phone is remarkable. The front is covered entirely by the screen similar to all the recent phones from the South Korean conglomerate. The frame and back are entirely a different story altogether. As for the frame it is made of aluminum while the back is made of glass which is now matte with frosty finish and feels great on touching it. The phone itself is slippery but enjoyable to hold.
Now coming to the camera island, I won’t call it that as it’s a behemoth piece of land! The frame runs around the mammoth in an anomalous attempt of making an impression which ended not so well. This is one of those moments where the resolve of the buyer to purchase might waver. You either see the Queen of Beauty stumble or just turn your face away in agony.
The latest S21 Ultra is not as large as you might have expected it to be. As a matter of fact, the screen is slightly smaller making an iota of difference in size in comparison to its counterpart, S20 Ultra. Still, the phone is no less thick or less heavy than the S20 Ultra. The bulkiness of the phone is mainly the outcome of its shorter curves.
They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so we can’t just kick aside the feeling of having the phone on the palm and the grasp of your hand. The phone when between your fingers gives you a feeling of it being big and bulky. It is the same for the new iPhone 12 Pro Max. undoubtedly, you would choose the new iPhone over S21 Ultra in terms of design, even if you have spent a lot of time using the S21 Ultra.
Let’s drop this design topic as it is entirely subjective. Coming to the front, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is introduced with a brand-new Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen which no doubt is the most premium panel Samsung has ever offered to this very date. The phone is fitted with a 6.8-inch 1440p OLED panel with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. This time around you can use and enjoy fluid 120fps on the native 1440p resolution. The screen does not have curved edges and is protected by the latest Gorilla Glass Victus with a 2.5D edge. Hence the front is not entirely curve-less.
The new screen features a Wacom-sensor layer which enables the usage of S-Pen. However, the device has no stylus socket, not to worry as there are cases available for the smartphone that also have a holster where you can place the stylus.
The phone has a 40MP front camera which is placed in the punch-hole that is cut out on the top of the screen. Right above the screen there is the earpiece hidden underneath a barely visible grill. It also acts as one of the two stereo speakers.
What we can’t see with naked eyes is the under-display fingerprint scanner. The phone is equipped with Qualcomm’s latest 3D Sonic Gen 2 sensor. The sensor promises 77% larger area and 50% faster performance when put next to the Gen 1 sensor for test.
In normal conditions the sensor is not visible but if you shower some light and voila, we can see the fingerprint sensors on both S20 Ultra and S21 Ultra. As per what company claims, proven true, actually the sensor on the S21 Ultra is promisingly larger. The sensor on the S21 Ultra is 8mm square whereas that of S20 Ultra is 4x9mm rectangle. The S21 Ultra unlocks in the blink of an eye, so we can genuinely say what Qualcomm claims is true.
The screen of the Galaxy S21 has a pre-applied thin plastic protector. The scanner and the plastic layer form a great pair. The layer of plastic is not the best at guarding the screen when we talk about cracks. If you still wish to buy a third-party glass it’s not a bad idea per say, but the accuracy and the speed of the ultrasonic scanner would undoubtedly diminish, so keep that in mind when you go out to buy one.
Let’s turn over and talk about the back of the phone. The rear panel is also fitted with Gorilla Glass Victus, which takes a curve towards the frame as your finger approaches the edge of the back while smoothly caressing the back. The glass takes a curve abruptly making the curve short, unlike the curve seen on the S20 Ultra, hence giving it a bulkier impression.
Even when taking a quick peek at the back of the phone, you can see the matte finish which actually looks spectacular but feels splendid when touched. When you hold S20 Ultra in one hand and S21 Ultra in another you might feel that both phones are slippery. Unlike the S20 Ultra’s glossy back, you won’t see a single fingerprint mark of the matte back of the S21 Ultra even after using it for the whole day. The back of S21 Ultra is clean which you might label as a rarity these days.
Now moving on to the new Ultra quad camera sitting on the camera island, more of a mountain. First column comprises the 12MP Ultrawide cam, below that we see the 108MP main Camera and next the 10MP 10x telephoto lens. The second column has the laser-AF tech, the LED flash, and the 10MP 3x snapper.
The module sits on the phone like a proud giant, as if they are meant for each other. The phone with that behemoth for a camera island makes the phone appear as if it was carved out of a one big block. Let’s leave it at that and allow you to decide if it’s good looking or not.
The metal plate comes with a brush finish and is fitted perfectly next to the matte glass. The only thing which is bothering is that this area is prone to fingerprints so it’s a child’s play to spot your fingerprint on this section of the phone.
Given the humongous size of the camera island the phone wobbles a lot – it’s really obvious to note this thing.
The frame is made of aluminium with a glossy finish, the camera extension also shares the same finishing. If you like keeping your phone clean, it’s really difficult to prevent this area from getting smudged and also isn’t easy to keep tidy. The top has two mics sitting alone apart from each other, can say close yet far away. We can definitely call the left side a barren land with nothing in sight as far as your eyes can see, mainly because there is nothing there. The right side is home to the volume buttons and the power key.
The bottom is where you will see most of the stuff – it has the SIM slot, the mouthpiece, the USC Type-C charging port and the second stereo speaker. Honestly, it’s really crowded and kindly make a note and be careful as the microphone sits right next to the SIM slot and may look like the ejection hole. Don’t mistake it for the ejection hole and damage it.
It’s unfortunate if you own a pair of wired earphones because this phone doesn’t offer a 3.5mm jack, so might have to buy another set of wireless earphones. The phone is also missing the microSD slot hence no storage expansion for you. We might very well say that the S21 series phones have killed the microSD card slot.
A piece of advice from me would be “Handle with care”, mainly due to the increased weight of the phone shoots up the risk of dropping it and not to mention the phone itself is slippery. Might wanna pay extra attention while taking photos or video, as it is uncomfortable to hold. Umm, we recommend buying a case, just to be safe.
Overall, Samsung you did a good job and made all the right choices for this masterpiece. The S21 Ultra has earned the label of a phone with great and solid build of premium materials. The matte back and the frosted metal around the cameras do make the phone stand out and that’s what attracts the attention. Not to mention, the phone is water-resistant, but not sure if everyone will appreciate the improvisation in the new look and approach to the main camera. The phone is among the slipperiest one around so extra care or a better case, might be a good option – better safe than sorry.
Top notch OLED screen till date:
This year, Samsung reserved the best screen exclusively for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Out of the Galaxy S21 trio it is the only one that features a 1,440p screen, the other two are lagging behind with 1,080p screens. The one thing that’s similar is all of them support 120Hz refresh rate at the native resolutions, including the Ultra variant, which is a first for Samsung. The refresh rate can jump as high as 120Hz and fall as low as 10Hz if need be.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra features a screen with 1,440 x 3,200 pixels or 515ppi spread across a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. Whereas, the S20 Ultra had a 6.9-inch display. The difference is so small that it will slide by unnoticed. The panel is protected by a piece of Gorilla Glass Victus.
The screen is supposedly the brightest one in the market, with brightness that can reach 1,500nits. NO, NO don’t get so excited, even though that number looks high but is actually delusional. Meaning, this number is for HDR video playback and can’t be attained while regular usage and hence it won’t be wrong to call it a “mirage”.
Speaking of HDR, the S21 Ultra offers HDR10+, naturally, it can play the highest of the highest definition content that’s available around across all popular services such as Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.
Overall, if truth to be told, the screen is the best of the best among all the screens out there. We can very well call the screen and the phone “a pair made in heaven”.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is equipped with a 5,000mAh battery which is indeed the same as the S20 Ultra. However, the screen is slightly on the demanding side as it supports HRR over the native resolution. The S21 Ultra is distinct from S20 Ultra in terms of newer and more efficient hardware. We can expect to receive similar numbers but to our surprise that is not the case.
With 120Hz and Full HD+ resolution the phone is able to mark a screen on time of 6.5 to 7 hours. This time is recorded with moderate use of the phone. The battery life plummets when using the WQHD+ resolution. The time that is recorded is 5.5 hours of screen on time and then needs to be refuelled. Putting that aside the smartphone will undoubtedly last for a full day on single charge if using Full HD+ resolution which is sufficient for most of the users.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra might be the pick of the litter, but doesn’t come with a charger. You would have to purchase one if you own a USB-C charger. What’s good is Samsung as a generosity is giving away chargers on many of its pre-order campaigns. This is somewhat becoming like a trend for smartphone manufacturers (That’s what Apple did with its iPhone 12 series). This might be your only chance to get a free charger that’ll last long enough because we suspect it to be a one-time thing and won’t happen again next year.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with stereo speakers in a traditional hybrid configuration, one at the bottom and the other one which also acts as the earpiece. When the orientation of the phone is portrait the top speaker manages the left channel whereas when in landscape orientation, both of them will make sure to play the correct channel.
As far as sound goes, the quality is really good. From what we can say the vocals are well presented, the high notes play nice, though there isn't much bass.
If you are familiar with using the S Pen that accompanied previous Galaxy Notes, then you might not face any issues using it on the Galaxy S21 Ultra too. There is also low-latency support in some of the selected apps, which was vague at the time of announcement.
The phone itself doesn’t come with the S Pen, so it is supposed to be bought separately. The S-Pen that’s sold separately as exclusively for Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with a price tag of $39.99. The S-Pen that’s meant exclusively for the handset is larger than the one that came with Galaxy Note20, and also looks and feels more like a real pen. The S-Pen comes with a Matte black finish with a really comfortable shape, then there is a single button and not to forget the head of the pen that’s replaceable. The S-Pen looks more or less like the stylus that came with Galaxy Tab S7+.
At this point, the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports only the basic functions that can be performed with S-Pen. We could see more advanced features similar to the Note20 and Tab S7 series once the S-Pen Pro is announced which is scheduled to arrive later this year.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is equipped with one of the most versatile camera setups that’s available till date and also the hardware that’s worthy of the device. Contrary to Galaxy S20 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with two telephoto lenses, instead of one, for accurate 3x and 10x optical zooms, involving no deception.
The primary camera makes use of Samsung's latest 108MP ISOCELL HM3 1/1.33” sensor with 12,000 x 9,000-pixel grid and 0.8µm pitch. It has a Nona-pixel Bayer filter pattern that allows for 9-to-1 pixel binning, so the effective pixel size becomes 2.4µmm and the resolution 12 MP. The lens in front has a 24mm equivalent focal length and an f/1.8 aperture and is stabilized.
The HM3 sensor offers a number of enhancements over the HM1 sensor which was used on the S20 Ultra and Note20 Ultra. The enhancements include revamped HDR, low light and autofocus performance.
The selfie camera of Galaxy S21 Ultra is the same as the S20 Ultra - a 40MP Quad-Bayer shooter with autofocus. The cam saves 10MP images, but you can choose the 40MP too, no issues there.
Apparently, Samsung's strange way of handling the zoom levels for selfies is gonna stay with us for at least one more generation. You see that, there are two zoom modes - native 25mm equiv. resulting in a 10MP photo and zoomed 32mm equiv. saving a cropped 5MP photo. The selfie camera always switches to a default cropped-in view instead of opening with the zoom setting that was last used. This stuff is damn irritating and I mean it when I say this.
The selfies are among the best we’ve seen from a smartphone, so that’s quite satisfying. The resolved detail is plenty, the dynamic range is great, the colours are spot-on, everything looks good and not over the board.
The high-res photos turned out to be outstanding in terms of details. If you’re into capturing even more detailed photos then we highly recommend the high-resolution option.
The portrait selfies are also amazing – the algorithm does its job flawlessly by segregating the subject and making the background blur.
Video recording and quality:
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra offers 4K video capturing at 60fps across all five cameras, including selfie camera. You can also shoot 8K at 24fps videos with the primary camera, even if on paper the chipset is capable of shooting 8K at 30fps, which is a bit overkill.
Even if you stick to the 1080p 30fps and 60fps clips, you get stunningly rich colours, excellent stability and phenomenal dynamic range too. The quality is so good, even when shooting in harsh sunlight, the subject’s skin tone is never over exposed and the background exposure remains spot-on.
Just like every year, Samsung launched its flagships with 2 chipset variants with specific regions in mind, getting either this one or the other. North America and China are the regions graced with the latest Qualcomm’s flagship chipset whereas the rest of the world get the phone with the latest in-house chipset – Exynos 2100 SoC.
If you ask me, I would say Qualcomm’s chipset is much better as it has always offered top-notch performance for every penny’s worth. For someone who is into games like me, won’t compromise on the processor’s performance. If you ask me to compromise, as a gamer I’ll just say you’re asking too much of me.
The Final Verdict:
If you have stayed with us since the beginning, you might have noted that there is a conflicting opinion about the GalaxyS21 Ultra, but yes, this masterpiece definitely isn’t beating around the bush. At the least you would be in need of medical attention if you had paid a lakh Rupees for a phone and it isn’t giving you the same number of features in return.
I won’t sugar coat things, the phone is an absolute beast on paper, even though it doesn’t allow storage expansion via a microSD card and also skipped on the bundled charger. Who said everything that looks good on paper isn’t good in reality? During this review we felt like the good stuff overpowers the bad. There are most of the things which can be fixed, so not to worry.
If you are in the market for the best and latest phone, no need to look further, Galaxy S21 Ultra has got you covered. No doubt it has its issue but they can be sorted out with a patch or two making it a true and flawless flagship phone that truly deserves to be called “Ultra”.
Offers the best OLED screen, 1000+ nits, 1440p, 120Hz, HDR10+
Exceptional fingerprint scanner performance
Amazing battery life, fast refuelling of the 5,000mAh battery
Phenomenal stereo speakers with loud and clear sound
The fastest chipset that’s available in the market, 5G, Wi-Fi6E, Ultra-Wide Band
The UI is super smooth, S-Pen support
The daylight photos are good but slightly over processed
The selfies are of top-notch quality
The 4K30 videos look profound
The phone is bulky and slippery
Refinement is required in image processing department
No microSD card slot, some of you might be missing it
NO charger and NO headphones, that’s a real bummer
No consistency in chipsets (two variants – Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100), meaning it’s different in different regions
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