This year’s crop of Samsung Galaxy flagships, the S21 range, release on Friday, 29 January. It wouldn’t be a Samsung release without early reviews from the major outlets, so let’s look at what they’re saying about the ultra-premium Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Last year, the Galaxy S20 Ultra took an ultra-sized bite out of your wallet, starting at $1.399. This year, Samsung has gone the other way, with the Galaxy S12 Ultra starting at $1,199. Still, to get to that lower price point, some things had to go, like the beloved microSD card slot and a charging brick, which was dropped in the name of saving the environment.
Does the removal of those parts detract from the other things Samsung has added, like S-Pen support? Let’s find out.
Let’s get snap-happy
Last year’s S20 Ultra was let down by camera mistakes, so hopefully, this year’s model is worthy of the Ultra moniker. Samsung has added a new 108-megapixel main camera, which is aided by a laser focus system. There’s also a second telephoto sensor, at 10x zoom, and both telephoto sensors work together when zooming, to get steadier shots.
So, how do they perform? Well, the general consensus is that the S21 Ultra takes great snaps, with “good detail and a wide dynamic range,” according to CNET. The other running theme is that while the 108-MP sensor is cool, Samsung actually combines nine pixels into one for normal shots, resulting in 12-MP images that are higher quality. Android Authority breaks it down further, saying that Samsung has gotten better at their color science, with “more muted, natural tones and less overt saturation.” That’s a good thing, with Samsung known to overexpose straight out of camera.
Low-light performance is improved, and Samsung’s distortion correction algorithms for wide-angle shots work well. The 100x “Space Zoom” still seems gimmicky, though, looking “a bit rough” according to Android Authority. That’s an improvement over last year, but it’s still not a mode that many people will use.
Video-wise, the S21 Ultra can shoot up to 8K at 24fps, or 4K at 60fps. The Verge came away impressed, with the phone doing “a good job with dynamic range, and adjusting exposure on the fly,” with improved stabilization. Oh, and you can finally turn off every level of face smoothing, even in portrait mode. Hallelujah.
YouTuber Mrwhosetheboss loved the S21 Ultra’s camera for the most part, although he did notice that every so often it created oversharp, oversaturated images, like how Samsung’s camera used to create years ago. Maybe that will get rectified in an upcoming update since Samsung doesn’t like to leave issues unfixed.
And the rest…
Samsung used the latest flagship SoC from Qualcomm in the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Snapdragon 888. It’s eight cores of power, enabling 5G and some of the cameras tricks the handset can do. That’s powered by 12GB of RAM and either 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage, depending on how much you want to spend. Oh, and there’s no mini SDcard slot this time. Sorry to all you Android fans that were counting on Samsung keeping that expansion slot alive. All of that means “there’s more than enough power here to keep all your go-to apps and graphically intense games running beautifully,” according to Engadget.
With all of that power, usually, you’d start worrying about battery life. The 5,000 mAh battery in the S21 Ultra consistently lasted a day in every outlet’s usage, even when shooting photos, and 4K and 8K video. The Verge says it’s “easily a two-day phone,” for anyone who’s usage is less intense than a tech reviewer.
Design-wise, Samsung tweaked things to make the S21 range more user-friendly. The camera bump is almost flat to the back of the phone, with the rest of the chassis being thicker than prior models. It’s still massive though, Ultra not just in name.
The 6.9-inch, 1440 x 3200 (20:9) AMOLED 2X display is “one of the best-looking screens I’ve ever seen in a smartphone,” according to Engadget, with other outlets echoing that sentiment. I mean, it is Samsung, and they’re top of the AMOLED market, but this is a standout. Max brightness of 1500 nits, 120Hz dynamic refresh rate that drops to 10Hz to save battery when you don’t need it. It’s a monster.
The Verge mentions that “the S21 Ultra looks great and feels better.” That’s a pretty big compliment when phablet-sized phones often get dinged for being horrible to hold. Oh, and it’s the first non-Note to get S-Pen support, for all you stylus aficionados out there.
Do we need 5G yet?
No, but you’d be silly to buy a flagship without it. CNET says you “shouldn’t get the Ultra for its 5G,” but that’s the same for any smartphone really. Engadget notes that “data speeds were pretty much as fast… as the LTE networks we had access to before.” They do note that if you’re lucky enough to be in a mmWave area, you can get over 1 gigabit per second, but that’s rare (and probably hazardous to your data plan).
5G just hasn’t materialized its promises yet, but as the networks get built out, you’ll want it. With people holding on to their smartphones for longer, can we comfortably say that the networks won’t be there in two years? Not really.
The final word
It seems that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is king of the Android smartphone market right now. Will it keep that crown as the year goes on?
CNET – “Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra phone is pretty badass”
The Verge – “The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is finally worthy of the name”
Android Authority – “one of the best all-rounder devices you can get today”
Tech Radar – “the most powerful Android”
GSM Arena – “absolutely deserves its Ultra insignia”
Have any thoughts on this? Are you interested in the new flagship from Samsung? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.
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