Samsung has been managed to carve out a pivotal role as one of the most important players in the Android ecosystem.
Their phones are consistently some of the most purchased on the platform, and they have managed to maintain a healthy lead in the overall smartphone sales charts. Even with this healthy lead, Samsung has not stood by and let the Galaxy line grow stagnant, constantly improving on the formula year to year. This year’s S21 Ultra is a testament to this innovation, delivering a remarkable smartphone experience that is uniquely Samsung, while feeling like a major leap for the Samsung S lineup of products.
As you unbox the new Galaxy S21 Ultra, you will quickly see just how gorgeous the new phone is. Samsung has gone all out giving it a style all its own that manages to look striking, even when compared to the vast array of android devices currently out in the market. Compared to the glossy look of last year’s offerings, the S21 range has a sense of style and design that makes them look exciting and new, along with feeling as premium as the price point suggests they should be.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra feels the right balance of size and usability, like it was crafted to do exactly what it needs to be, while eliminating anything that does not fit the design and style the company was going for. The 6.8 inches (17.27 cm) display with curved edge-to-edge screen makes the phone feel like it has almost no bezel, with the 40MP front facing hole punch camera seeming as minimal as possible to reduce sacrificed screen real estate while using the device.
The screen on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is stunning, delivering truly amazing colours and blacks, while boasting a staggering 120Hz refresh rate Quad HD. While it may not be necessary to have a full QHD screen running at 120Hz, it looks amazing while you do anything on the phone. Things feel snappy and responsive, with media coming to life on the display.
The in-screen fingerprint sensor also saw an upgrade for the S21 range, now using ultrasonic technology that gives a much more forgiving read, that is faster and just worked better overall. There is apparently 1.7x more surface area the sensor can read from, and honestly it felt better compared to past iterations in the Galaxy range, making it a much easier solution for biometrics. I hope to see the technology continue to improve, but what I am seeing here already feels leads ahead of what many Android phones have on offer.
While it may not have a space in the phone to store it, the S21 Ultra also supports the S Pen thanks to the with a Wacom digitizer built into the display. It is a nice touch, even if it is sold separately. I did give it a try for this review, and it works as you would expect. If you are used to the Note range of products, you know what to expect here. The feature is great should you need to sketch or take notes, but beyond signing documents, I found very little reason to crack it out aside from testing to ensure it works.
Performance and Battery
Samsung’s new OneUI 3.0 built on Android 11 feels like a great upgrade over past flavours of Android, feeling much less in your way when using the phone. Yes, you will still find plenty of animations, visuals flairs and sound effects that make it feel a bit “extra” when you just want to jump on your phone and get things done, but that is the price you pay for buying Samsung, and they have made it a generally better experience all around. With a powerhouse processor under the hood, the overall phone feels blazing fast.
The Samsung Galaxy S range of devices are known to be the best of what Android has to offer, so it is no wonder they have opted for the top end Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 SoC (US) and the 12GB Ram — Exynos 2100 when outside North America — for the core of this flagship offering. The specs give the phone a smooth and fluid overall experience, with no notable stuttering, slowdown or really anything that could hamper using the device. I have used many of the new Flagship ranges hitting this year, and it is good to see that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra feels as fast as the other competitors in the space.
Jumping over to gaming, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra delivers fantastic results from all types of gaming I threw at the phone. From Fortnite, to Call of Duty, everything felt buttery smooth, with the sound and visuals coming to life with the S21 Ultra. There is something about seeing your mobile games running at 120Hz on a crisp AMOLED screen that makes it easy to understand why mobile gaming has taken off in recent years.
Thankfully, the battery powering the beast of a device is an impressive 5,000mAh cell that should get most people a full day on the default Samsung settings. If you want to push your phone to the limits and do a full QHD at 120Hz, you can, you just will cut your longevity in about half, getting around 10-11 hours in our testing.
Out of the box, Samsung sets the display to FHD at 120Hz, and honestly, I would leave it here. Most people will not notice a difference between QHD and FHD on a handset this size, and unless you are still cracking out the VR, there is really no reason to justify the battery life loss you will suffer.
The screen will also adapt to not run at 120Hz all the time. While yes, it will crank up for applications that can take advantage of it, for viewing static text or looking at email, it will bring it down to a reasonable rate so it does not kill your battery any more than it needs to, adjusting between 11Hz and 120Hz as needed.
Should you be pushing your phone, forcing it to die a bit faster than intended, Samsung has ensured the S20 Ultra is easy to charge (Even with no charger in the box). It offers 25W USB-C charging to quickly top up your device while in a hurry, or you have the option of wirelessly charging the phone at 15W, with the ability to reverse wirelessly charge those Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro should you be so inclined.
Samsung keeps trying to give Apple a run for its money in the camera department, and it is clear with the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s five cameras and fully impressive 108MP main sensor that they are throwing everything at this endeavour. On the back of the phone, you will find a 108-megapixel f/1.8 shooter with OIS, 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide camera, 10MP telephoto (3x zoom, f/2.4), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom, f/4.9), and a laser AF sensor.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra, with its zoom lens, pushes what you can do with the phone’s camera. While I am still not a fan of a zoom lens on a phone, Samsung has improved the telephoto on this offering, delivering a much more thought out and useful camera. While it still allows up to 100x digitally, I would avoid this. It is a nice feature, but images don’t feel nearly as crisp and often are almost unusable for anything beyond throwing up in a disposable social media post.
The 108MP main camera offers the ability to capture in 12-bit HDR with 64 times richer colour and better dynamic range compared to last year’s S20 Ultra, and now the photo snobs get a fantastic 12-bit RAW file option should they wish to dive into the pro mode.
Overall, the camera delivered fantastic results that felt true to life and were filled with detail while never losing the shadows and colours that make sure the images come to life on the screen. It is up to the user to decide if the Apple photos or Samsung images better suit your needs as both have their advantages and disadvantages, but at least on a digital screen, it is hard to deny that the S21 Ultra produces some stunning images.
Everything feels improved, from the night shots to the portrait mode, giving the overall camera experience a well-thought-out feel that delivers where it needs to while offering the specs that would excite any photography fan looking for the next best camera.
Since this is 2021, the video capabilities of the S21 Ultra are about what you would expect with the phone allowing 8K video up to 30 fps with all the cameras allowing for 4K video at up to 60 fps. If that were not enough, the phone now offers vlogger mode, that lets you see both the front and back cameras at the same time as you record, letting you decide when you switch, letting you focus on the action or yourself when needed.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra delivers on every area an Android fan could want. They have revamped the design, improved the camera, and given one of the best screens I have seen on a smartphone to date. While it could have been another year of iterative improvements, Samsung decided to mix things up and deliver a phone that not only meets current demands, but smashes expectations by improving on all aspects of the phone in the best possible way. This is the flagship Android smartphone we have all been waiting for, and I can say without a doubt, if you want the best Android has to offer, the S21 Ultra has you covered.