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New year, new Samsung Galaxy phone. But is the Galaxy S21 Ultra any different from the companies other offerings?
Samsung left much to be desired with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, even though Samsung stuffed the phone with all kinds of features like space zoom that honestly was super gimmicky. Samsung went back to the drawing board with the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G and delivered one of the best smartphone experiences at a significantly lower price.
Display & Design
One thing you’re always gonna get with any Samsung smartphone is a great display, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra easily delivers that with its 6.8-inch 120Hz Quad HD display. The screen on the S21 Ultra is the first of its kind on any smartphone, easily delivering a 120Hz refresh rate while still in a pixel-packing Quad HD resolution. Unlike its predecessors, the S20 series and Note 20, which made you choose between 120Hz/60Hz and Quad HD/Full HD, the S21 Ultra and even the S21+ both run Full HD+, with 120Hz by default.
While this is an improvement, it can drain your battery depending on what you’re doing, like watching movies, binging on YouTube videos, or playing games. Speaking of gaming, we were blown away at how easily the S21 Ultra handled Xbox Game Pass games so smoothly without any noticeable framerate drops.
The screen automatically bumps up to an impressive 1,500 nits when battling bright settings like direct sunlight when outdoors. That’s up from the S20 Ultra’s 1,200 nits which at the time was impressively high. The screen on the S21 Ultra is easily the best screen on any smartphone out at the moment, including the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
The in-screen fingerprint sensor is back and has been redesigned, and utilizes ultrasonic technology courtesy of Qualcomm. This one feature is very clutch because you can’t really use your face to unlock the phone while outdoors, being that mask-wearing has become the norm thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We appreciated that Samsung incorporated its use with other apps as well.
As far as design goes, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a sleek and beautifully designed phone. For our review unit, Samsung sent us the Phantom Silver handset, which also looks blue when light hits certain angles. Not sure if that was what Samsung was going for this time around, but it’s definitely a nice design touch.
The back of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is made out of smooth Gorilla Glass supposed to reduce fingerprints, but we definitely saw plenty of them when handling the phone, which is our only complaint about the phone’s design. The back can crack if dropped. We also learned that the hard way, while it didn’t spread, it was a noticeable break. The owners can remedy these minor issues by just getting a case, and we highly recommend you do.
S21 Ultra is a rather large phone coming in 6.8-inches with a curved edge-to-edge screen and a non-existent bezel. The 40MP front-facing camera brings back the pinhole cutout design that Samsung owners have grown accustomed to that doesn’t affect your video viewing, gaming, or scrolling experience while using the device. The size shouldn’t throw you off because most smartphones are opting for bigger designs.
The camera box is rather unusual looking, but at the same time, it helps the S21 Ultra stand out from other phones. At first glance, it will throw you off a bit, but you eventually get used to it.
While all of those other features are great, the most important feature on any smartphone is the camera. Regardless of how you feel, Samsung has the best cameras on their phones, don’t argue with us. Anyway, the S21 Ultra features an extremely powerful camera setup packing a 108MP main sensor.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra has FIVE cameras and a 100x zoom range, aka “Space Zoom,” which is still very gimmicky. We honestly don’t see the need for it unless you’re trying to see something from an extremely far distance because the photos are still rather grainy.
It’s the 3x, 10x and, and 30x photo zooms that will win you over. Thanks to the additions of a new tripod lock feature, it will help you capture your zoomed-in subject by keeping it in focus which proved to be rather difficult when Samsung first introduced 100x zoom on the S20 Ultra. You can get a great example of how clear photos are even in 30x zoom that will make iPhone owners envy some of the shots you will be able to capture.
Below look at the first photo of the goose capture using 30x zoom. We were absolutely stunned at just how great the quality remained.
Portrait Mode is also very exceptional, especially in optimal lighting situations. The same applies to the 40MP front-facing camera, as shown in the photos below. I also threw in some shots I captured using the ultra-wide lens, and they were crispy.
Some other camera-related features that stand out are Portrait Video which is great for vloggers who want to record videos while tuning out the background and the new director view. Director View is an achievement that you can only utilize on other phones through a third-party app. Samsung was able to get around all of that. Basically, it allows the user to capture video by using both the front and rear cameras simultaneously. If you see something hilarious or shocking going on, you can record the moment while including your reaction and splice the video together.
Death of The Note?
The S21 Ultra is also the first Samsung phone not named the Note to allow S-Pen functionality. Like the Note20 Ultra, the S-Pen works very well with the S21 Ultra. There have been rumors that Samsung is killing off the Note line of Galaxy phones, and this decision by the company kind of hints towards that.
The fact that that S21 Ultra works very well with the S-Pen and already has a case that has a slot for the accessory is giving Galaxy Note fans an easy off-ramp from the popular device. We don’t expect S21 Ultra users to rave about the S-Pen, but we look at this decision as a way for Samsung to get support for it on other phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 2, which would benefit from it immensely.
Samsung promised that the Galaxy S21 Ultra would deliver all-day battery life, and for the most part, it does. We got a full day and some change use out of the device’s 5000maH battery while using it on its default settings. The battery takes a significant hit when the 120Hz screen refresh rate is being used on the S21 Ultra.
Like the latest iPhone, it does not come with a charging brick, so it’s time to keep those old chargers close. Inside the box is a USB-C-to-USB cable that works with the 25W charger that came with most Samsung smartphones since the S10 to take full advantage of fast charging. You will also be able to wirelessly charge other devices like your Galaxy Buds Pro or Galaxy Watch 3 or any device that uses Qi-charging via reverse wireless charging.
Unfortunately, the 45W charger does not work with the S21 Ultra.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best new smartphone on the market right now. Now that won’t lure any Apple fans over to the brand, but this should definitely make Galaxy users somewhat let down with the S20 Ultra happy. Despite being significantly cheaper than the previous S20 series phones coming in at $1,200, the S21 is still up there price-wise. Still, for an amazing camera, all-day battery life, beautiful screen, snappy performance, and S-Pen support, it is totally worth it if you got it. Plus, most carriers offer great deals, so we encourage you to take full advantage of them when upgrading.
The only major letdown with the S21 Ultra is the lack of expandable memory, something most Galaxy users will fret about, but the boosted internal storage should help. Also, if the price is also a determining factor, Samsung’s new A Series lineup should entice you.
Samsung has once again managed to set the bar high with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Photo: Bernard Smalls / Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra