Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review 2021:The king of phones

The brand-new Galaxy S21 ultra is Samsung's new ‘the entirety phone’ with more cameras, beefier specifications, and even S Pen compatibility to eclipse the very likable note 20 ultra. If you're dismayed approximately rumors of the stop of word series, simply try the S21 extremely. 

This is Samsung’s vision of smartphone excess for 2021: five cameras led by a 108MP sensor, two telephoto cameras, 100x zoom and 40MP selfies, plus 5G, all-day battery life, and up to 16GB of RAM – all packed into an Android phone with a 6.8-inch 120Hz Quad HD display and an upgraded in-screen fingerprint sensor that has a 1.7x larger surface area than the one on last year’s phone.

It’s the first new smartphone we’ve tested in 2021, along with the Samsung Galaxy S21 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, and it sets the bar high – much higher than last year’s problematic ‘Ultra’ phone. Samsung has retooled its main camera with lasers – yes, lasers – to remedy the autofocus issues on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and also upgraded the specs to keep up with the demands of processing those large 108MP photos, 40MP selfies, and 8K video without as much as a hiccup.

Photos look sharp, dynamic range is impressive and Samsung's ‘tripod lock’ software feature steadies the 30x and 100x zoom levels on subjects to prevent the viewfinder image from jumping around. It’s much easier to pull off the 100x 'Space Zoom' now, although punching in 100x is limited to being a neat party trick due to grainy images, while 30x is passable in the right light.

It’s the S21 ultra’s 10x and 3x optical zoom tiers that nailed the photos we wanted each time – greater than another phone telephoto camera. Our side-by-facet comparisons with the iPhone 12 pro-Max, which tops out at a 2.5x optical zoom, bore that out. Apple’s essential digital camera captures cleanser pics in a few low-mild conditions, but Samsung’s nighttime mode has advanced enough to almost near that hole after sunset or whilst you’re snapping away interior – and its default digital camera app is greater function-packed and less complicated to apply than Apple’s.

Images and velocity are only two-thirds of the tale here. That is a tale of design splendor and the peformance beast, with a lightly curved area-to-edge display, smaller rear camera bump, and mesmerizing matte Phantom Black shade option that’s like a black hole sucking on your gaze (other colorations are available). It’s hard to appearance away. The Galaxy S21 extremely is Samsung’s quality-searching smartphone ever.

Welcome amid a monetary slowdown, the overhauled appearance and improvement in performance have not brought about a fee increase over last year’s S20 ultra – Samsung has honestly made this smartphone drastically inexpensive. Granted, we felt like the first extremely cellphone changed into overpriced, and the S21 extremely is still mighty high priced – it’s extra than the iPhone 12 seasoned Max – however, Samsung offers you a piece greater for the extra value: a bigger, brighter, and more successful curved screen, 10x optical camera zoom (vs 2.5x on the iPhone), and stylus aid, something Apple has but to provide on any iPhone.

Depending on what’s crucial to you, then, Samsung may be supplying extra value in your money.

What’s the capture? We started out announcing that the S21 extremely is Samsung’s vision of extra, however, you’ll need to let go of what doesn’t in shape into the organization’s roadmap. Long gone is the microSD card slot for expandable storage, and say goodbye to MST (being able to use Samsung Pay with credit card device even though they did not have NFC). You gained’t discover a charger inner of the field both; like Apple, Samsung cites e-waste as the cause the energy brick isn’t covered.

If you simplest just were given over the shortage of a 3.5mm headphone jack in Samsung smartphones, brace yourself for these changes – we've seen some diehards in our YouTube video remarks proclaim “no microSD, no sale”. But there’s sufficient advantageous exchange right here to offset any minor pain, sufficient that we are now assured this ‘ultra’ cellphone finally lives as much as its name.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra price and release date

The Samsung Galaxy S21 ultra launch date is Friday, January 29, with preorders nevertheless to be had inside the US, UK, and Australia. The launch occasion became January 14, which means that both the reliable announcement and the release date are a month earlier than we’re used to for the business enterprise’s flagship cellphone. Samsung is bucking trends in 2021. 

The Galaxy S21 extremely price is also considerably inexpensive than the S20 extremely at release, even though it’s nevertheless going to value you a lot. It starts off evolved at $1,199 / £1,149 / AU$1,849 for a model with 128GB of internal storage and 12GB of RAM.

Keep in mind that there’s no microSD card slot for expandable garage, so if you’re keen on taking masses of 4K 60fps or 8K 24fps video, you may want to inspect the 256GB or 512GB storage sizes – and the latter of those sizes additionally bumps up the RAM to 16GB.

Is it all too wealthy for you? The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus don’t tout ‘area Zoom’, S Pen support, or 108MP/40MP pics, however, you do get the 3x optical zoom and slick design, at a much inexpensive charge.

Design and display
  • Large phone with a great 6.8-inch display and 120Hz refresh rate
  • Contour Cut camera has proven divisive, but looks unique
  • A whole variety of color choices
The Galaxy S21 ultra is one gorgeous-searching cellphone – so much in order that we didn’t trouble to position a case on it throughout check out. Risky, yes, however the finish of our evaluate device – a matte Phantom Black with few seams – helped minimize the camera bump and fingerprints smudges.
In addition to the deep, Vantablack-like Phantom Black coloration, there’s additionally a Phantom Silver color on sale anywhere, at the same time as Samsung’s very own online keep offers an extra three alternatives: Phantom Titanium, Phantom military, and Phantom Brown. Anything shade you pick, the matte end of every is an enormous improvement over the ultimate year’s S20 collection, which had a reflective sheen that seemed a little plasticky and cheap.

Both the Galaxy S21 extremely and S21 Plus have a smooth Gorilla Glass returned whilst the Galaxy S21 is caught with a polycarbonate (study: plastic) again that feels less smooth to the touch. Most effective in an aspect by way of facet contrast might common customers be able to inform the difference.

We’ve been locating the S21 ultra to be huge in which it desires to be, at the same time as minimizing the whole lot you don’t want to look. As an example, its huge show stretches the hand at 6.8 inches, but the curved facet-to-part display screen way that bezel is nearly non-existent, and that 40MP the front digital camera hides behind a tiny punch-hollow that’s easy to ignore after a few minutes of watching a video.

The galaxy s21 ultra monitor is Samsung's first (among smartphones) that’s ready to go for walks at an easy 120hz refresh charge while during a pixel-packing quad HD resolution. the entire s20 series and see 20 ultra compelled you to select out between 120hz/60hz and quad HD/complete HD, whilst the new s21 and s21 plus are caught at complete hd+, with 120hz enabled by using default.

The lengthy-awaited verdict to having both? meh – it’s the great of both worlds, sure, but you won’t see an excellent deal of a distinction between 1080p and Quad HD on a show of this length, and quad HD will drain your battery faster. 

The want for resolutions better than full HD among smartphones became being driven by way of VR headsets – you'll see a ‘screen door effect’ at decrease resolutions when the pixels were so near your face. however Samsung, in conjunction with the whole mobile enterprise, appears to possess cooled all phone-primarily based VR tasks.

This is still Samsung's exceptional screen, however for several other reasons. we observed the 6.eight-inch frame to be simpler to comprehend than the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 seasoned max, and that’s in huge component because of the curved show and ordinary narrowness of Samsung's tool. the curved edges are subtle on the s21 extremely, and not pretty as said as on past Samsung devices, and which suggests fewer errant presses.

We additionally tested the monitor brightness of the galaxy s20 extremely outside, and it mechanically amps the maximum amount as a wonderful-brilliant 1,500 nits while important. different phones with AMOLED monitors, alongside the s21 and s21 plus, reach at1, two hundred nits, and each bit allows in direct sunlight.

Samsung’s redesigned in-display fingerprint sensor, which uses ultrasonic technology courtesy of Qualcomm, makes its debut on the galaxy s21 series. there’s 1.7x greater floor location to the present invisible biometric pad, and that we located it become extra forgiving of our frequently wayward thumb placement – that’s a relief given the reality that faces unencumber is useless at a time while we’re frequently hidden at the rear of masks.

S Pen compatibility
  • First in Samsung's S series to work with a stylus
  • Doesn't fit inside the phone, like the Galaxy Note series
  • Compatible with a variety of stylus as well as Samsung S Pen

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung’s first non-Note phone that’s compatible with its S Pen stylus, and it’s a trend we like seeing. However, things work a touch differently here: there’s no S Pen included with the phone and, even once you make the separate purchase, there is no thanks to embedding the stylus into the body of the phone.

There’s a folio case that holds a newly designed S Pen that’s slightly larger and easier to carry than the version that tucks inside the body of Galaxy Note phones. It neatly slots into the inner spine of the case and feels secure there, so you'll be wanting a Galaxy S21 Ultra case for quite a protection. Exactly what you’re alleged to do with the stylus without buying this folio case is unclear.

We were ready to jot quick notes and convey up all of the Air Command options, which include a spread of features you'll use without touching the phone’s screen. Though you'll use an unspecified Note stylus together with your phone, we appreciated the very fact the new S Pen is larger and easier to understand than the toothpick-sized Note S Pen.

Missing from the new S Pen we tested before launch were the Bluetooth shortcuts for triggering the camera and other apps. you'll customize actions and remotely command the Galaxy Note 20 sort of a magician with a wand. We could also be ready to go all Harry Potter ahead of our smartphone again when the even more special S Pen Pro model launches later this year, but details are scarce on its extra functionality. 

Even with all of the hype around the appearance of an S Pen on an S phone, we fully expect to ascertain the Note 21 Ultra within the next six to seven months (six if it comes early and 7 if Samsung sticks to its usual August time frame). There's still a requirement for that phone – and for having the ability to embed the stylus inside the handset

  • A phenomenally powerful camera with a 108MP main sensor
  • The quad-camera also includes two 10MP telephoto shooters and 12MP ultra-wide
  • 40MP selfie camera offers strong performance too

Ready for your extreme close-up? The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, with its five cameras and 100x zoom range, impresses this point around, albeit grainy ‘Space Zoom’ photos still not meet our qual
ity threshold for readily posting to our Instagram accounts.


It’s the 3x, 10x and, occasionally in well-lit conditions, 30x photo zooms that nail the shot with breathtaking clarity. What helps most at the 30x (and 100x) ranges is that the new tripod lock feature, which prevents the viewfinder image from jumping around, something that would be jarring when zooming therein tightly on the S20 Ultra. After a second, the S21 Ultra camera fixes onto a topic that it outlines in yellow on the tiny zoomed-out corner reticle, and therefore the shakiness is magically dialed down.

Going all the way from the ultra-wide camera at 0.6x to the digitally zoomed-in 30x with usable photos each step of the way is how Samsung stands aside from Apple and its cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro Max (capped at 2.5x optical / 12x digital), and Google’s Pixel 5 (no telephoto). nobody (except Huawei) is doing zoom on a smartphone like this in 2021, and your Apple phone-owning friends will have telephoto envy.

Yes, having two telephoto cameras does seem downright ridiculous, but they provide different perspectives: 3x and 10x, all without having to travel digital and hybrid in between. The zoom functionality on both is optical, though Samsung’s camera software oftentimes features a mind of its own. We’ve found it can overwrite your decision and pick which camera gets used (likely supported their different apertures and therefore the lighting in your environment). So it's going to take ‘zoomed-in’ photos with the most sensor then just crop to simulate that zoom. It’s a touch unpredictable, but most of the shots end up okay. All you've got to try to to is press the shutter button.

Our previous favorite telephoto camera from Samsung, on the Note 20 Ultra, had a 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom. therefore the 10x optical zoom on the S21 Ultra gets you closer to those far-off subjects, while the 3x optical is handy for pulling it back a touch bit without digital distortion.

Year-over-year the most important improvement is to the 108MP main camera, which made its debut within the S20 Ultra but was dogged with autofocus issues at launch. That’s been fixed within the S21 Ultra because of the addition of laser-assisted phase detection autofocus, which was absent on the S20 Ultra (the Note 20 Ultra did have this). Finally, you’re getting to be ready to do justice to the additional detail from those 108MP shots and 40MP selfies, which makes a post-snap crop easier. Otherwise, without cropping, you won’t see an enormous difference on Twitter and Instagram.

We noticed that the Galaxy S21 Ultra camera offers improved dynamic home in outdoor photos (see photos with a bright sky and darker buildings) over its predecessors, and Samsung now offers 12-bit raw files for greater flexibility when editing. The iPhone 12 Pro series still wins out for several non-zoomed photos, especially indoor and nighttime shots, but Samsung and its more finely tuned night mode (it doesn’t simply raise the exposure) help close the gap.

All Galaxy S21 series phones now record video at 4K at 60fps from all cameras, and 8K at 24fps returns. But it’s the new Director’s View mode that caught our eye this year: you'll capture video with both the front and back cameras simultaneously. Vloggers and other content creators will relish the very fact that they will record reaction shots of themselves, which they will splice in alongside their main footage. 

Director’s View may be a neat concept you don’t get on most phones (the iPhone 12 series requires a third-party app to tug this off). It joins last year’s video-focused additions, like zoom-in microphones for better capturing the topic you’re zooming into, and an improved Single Take mode for recording video and taking photos at an equivalent time.

Specs and performance
  • Sports Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in the US, Exynos 2100 elsewhere
  • Starts with 12GB of RAM, but one option includes 16GB
  • Poor storage options with no microSD support
  • Weight: 227g
  • Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
  • Display size: 6.8-inch
  • Resolution: QHD (3200 x 1440)
  • Refresh rate: 120Hz
  • Pixel density: 515ppi
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
  • RAM: 12GB / 16GB
  • Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
  • Rear cameras: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP
  • Front camera: 40MP
  • Battery: 5,000mAh 
The Galaxy S21 series is quicker for 2 reasons: it marks the debut of brand-new chipsets, and therefore the software has been streamlined just a touch , with the ever-evolving OneUI 3.0 interface tied into Android 11.

At the guts of all three S21 phones is one among two speedy chipsets: either Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 (US) or Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 (just about everywhere else). While we haven’t done in-depth side-by-side comparisons yet (not-so-subtle: yes, we’ll be updating our reviews when we’ve done so), both seem very snappy, albeit the Geekbench 5 scores we’ve gotten don’t quite qualify . this is often why we recoil from benchmarking phones in such granular detail. 

What you’ll want to concentrate to more are the interior storage sizes. many of us are turned off by the very fact that the S21 series doesn’t include a microSD card slot for expandable storage, and, frankly, we’re with you thereon . The inclusion of microSD slots always made it easier for us to recommend Samsung over Apple when things were neck-and-neck, as you'll choose the lower storage size and upgrade later. Not anymore.

The base-level 128GB of internal storage with 12GB of RAM won't be enough for everybody . You’ll want to either cough up for the version with 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM, or reach at 256GB of storage with 16GB of RAM. The RAM won’t make much of a difference during a phone, but you’ll definitely notice if you run out of space for storing . 

You’ll got to have a thought of what proportion space you would like beforehand of shopping for the S21 Ultra – and that’s something that Samsung fans rarely need to believe , as microSD cards were always a pleasant fallback plan.

Part of the rationale the S21 Ultra seems snappy is that the incontrovertible fact that Samsung has further streamlined its software interface. With the OneUI 3.0 interface, menus now throw fewer unnecessary windows in your face before executing what you would like to try to to . Turning on power save mode, for instance , makes adjustments immediately.

Samsung's never-dying Bixby Assistant (the 21st century Microsoft Clippy) remains present on the S21 series, but there is no more dedicated Bixby button thankfully, so you will not accidentally trigger Bixby Voice. Bixby Today, former the leftmost menu on Samsung phones, is gone, too. it has been replaced by Google Assistant cards (formerly Google Now) that have a knack for surfacing more relevant information to your day.

battery life
  • A full day of use from a full charge of the 5,000mAh battery
  • Battery life is worse when in 120Hz and QHD mode
  • There's no charger in the box with the S21 Ultra

The Galaxy S21 Ultra battery life was solid during our normal testing, amounting to a full day and alter – but we tanked the battery far more quickly once we pushed that 120Hz screen refresh rate to the max and cranked up the resolution to Quad HD.

Its 5,000mAh battery matches the Galaxy S20 Ultra capacity, and you’re getting to get all-day battery life if you persist with Samsung’s default settings. The resolution is about to 1080p out of the box (again, most users won’t notice an enormous difference between Full HD and Quad HD).

Also helping is that the incontrovertible fact that the 120Hz refresh rate is variable. It’s technically ‘up to 120Hz’, so it won’t be so high if it doesn’t got to be, sparing your battery. Samsung’s backend software will automatically adjust between 11Hz and 120Hz, counting on your activity: reading an eBook (low) vs playing a 3D game (high).

You won’t get a charger with the Galaxy S21, and Samsung is betting that you simply have an old one available , or that you’ll buy one at a newly discounted price. Included may be a USB-C-to-USB cable, but you’ll want one among the newer fast chargers for this phone so as to speedily charge it at 25W (Samsung phones since the S10 5G had a 25W charger within the box). you'll also fast wirelessly charge at up to 15W, and reverse wirelessly charge those Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro or anything that Qi-charges.

Samsung doesn’t support 45W charging on the S21 series whatsoever, something which will appear to be a step backward – the Note 10 Plus and full S20 series were compatible with this optional charger. that 25W has been optimized enough to the purpose that 45W matters little or no , although we’d also suspect few people went out and purchased the special 45W charger.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra?


You want epic camera zooms
Samsung cameras are the most fun for us to test due to the epic shot variety. Two telephoto lenses are the big highlight with the S21 Ultra, and the 100x zoom will impress your friends, even if the standard image quality only ties the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

You need the most powerful Android
The Samsung Galaxy S21 delivers some phenomenally good performance, and if you need a smartphone that can handle multiple tasks at once in split-screen view, or when gaming, this will likely be it.

You want some S Pen features
Grab an S Pen and start jotting down notes on a Galaxy S phone? You can do that for the first time ever here. We’ve also gotten to use tools like translating text and previewing links, just like on a Note phone.

Don't buy it
You’re on a budget
We recommend the S21 Ultra over the S21 and S21 Plus simply because it has so much extra going on. But if you can’t afford it, wait a few months and this phone will drop in price (during Amazon Prime Day or Black Friday).

You need lots of storage
No microSD card slot is a deal-breaker for a lot of people who have emailed us/tweeted at us/left us comments. Almost any other Android phone (outside of Google’s Pixels and OnePlus) has this feature – but you won’t get that advanced camera zoom.

You want advanced stylus features
The S21 Ultra is compatible with the S Pen, but it doesn’t outright replace the Note 20 Ultra. Some features, like Bluetooth shortcuts and a spot to embed it in the body of the phone, remain exclusive to the Note 20 Ultra. Avid note-takers, take note.

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