In a world where there is no shortage of smartphones, it is not easy to shine. Samsung does so effortlessly. A company that has a smartphone in every possible price range, makes no compromise in leading the way in innovation through its flagship series. 2021 is already off to a great start and Samsung's latest Galaxy S-series has a major role in it. The Galaxy S21 Ultra makes heads turn and will spellbound you with some of its above-par features, which we will explore in this review.
Samsung sent us the review unit of the Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Black - the stealth-looking premium flagship that is bound to attract attention. We've heard from peers that the Phantom Silver is quite stunning too, but we are leaning towards the dark shade and betting many would love that too.
For the unversed, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra comes in two configurations - 12GB+256GB and 16GB+512GB - priced at Rs 1,05,999 and Rs 1,16,999, respectively. The Phantom Black comes in both variants, but the silver shade is only available in the 12GB+256GB model. The flagship can be pre-booked now but the sale begins January 29. If you're still holding out on whether or not you should pre-book the device (besides the attractive offers you get), this review should help you decide.
Let us give you a brief about some key features of Galaxy S21 Ultra:
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with Quad HD+ resolution and adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. Protecting the display is the toughest Gorilla Glass Victus.
- The cameras are better too. The Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a 108MP pro sensor that offers an interesting 12-bit RAW file option to make editing fun. There are also 12MP ultra-wide Dual Pixel, 10MP Dual Pixel OIS Optical 3x, 10MP Dual Pixel OIS Optical 10x and 100x Space Zoom Laser AF sensors. From night shots to portraits, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is class apart.
- Under the hood, the chipsets remain the same depending on the market, but there's 12GB RAM and 128GB/256GB storage. For those who want no-compromise power, there's 16GB RAM with 512GB storage.
- The Galaxy S21 Ultra also packs the biggest battery at 5,000mAh supported by Fast Wireless Charging 2.0.
- But what's most interesting is the fact that the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports S-Pen – something that has been exclusive to the Galaxy Note-series up until this moment.
Design and display
it's rare to see refreshments in the design in the flagship series, but Samsung wasn't afraid to explore. The Galaxy S21 Ultra brings a new design, setting it apart from its predecessors in more ways than one. Samsung hasn't spared any details to make sure every bit of the phone appeals to the users. From strength and durability to style and form factor, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra sets itself apart.
The matte black finish is absolutely stunning as fans of Batman would totally dig this. If the Dark Knight had a phone to go with the batmobile, the Galaxy S21 Ultra would be it. As soon as you get the phone out of the box, it feels heavy and fills up your palm comfortably. The weight distribution is excellent and the aspect ratio is just right to make sure single-hand use isn't a Roadies task.
The overall design of the Galaxy S21 Ultra brings out the focus on the cameras, as it rightly should. The curved chassis with a glossy finish complement the matte black panel well. The camera housing is protruding so it won't lay flat on the table. But if you actually look at how well the cameras perform, it is something you'll gladly be okay with. Even the Samsung logo at the back is in shiny black, which is only visible at certain angles. The speaker, Type-C port, SIM card slot all sit at the bottom, so there's no confusion trying to locate the SIM card tray. The left side is left untouched, but the right side has the volume and power/lock buttons, well within reach.
Moving on to the display, we absolutely loved the fact that the curve on the sides is very subtle. So much so that the screen film doesn't come out easily. But more than that, it is the safety factor that takes precedence as the less curve is less prone to damage. Like a calmly flowing river, the display fuses into the chassis to continue to the curved sides, which is something worth adoring if you have got an eye with attention to detail.
Coming to the display itself, we had no doubt the S21 Ultra would be among the best. In fact, it is safe to say that the Galaxy S21 Ultra's display is as good as it gets. It is super-bright, delivers rich colors and has vivid contrast. The punch-hole camera on the top is placed symmetrically right at the center and doesn't get in the way while playing games or streaming content.
The 6.8-inch Quad HD+ dynamic AMOLED display is absolutely stunning at WQHD+ resolution. But you can also do with the FHD+ for your day-to-day use if you're concerned about draining the battery. Speaking of which, the adaptive refresh rate is a much-needed addition as it can alternative between 10Hz all the way up to 120Hz automatically depending on the content. So if you think you'll be able to tell the difference between the automatic switching of refresh rate, think again.
Part of that incredible display is the all-new ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, which now covers a larger area of the screen. Not just that, this is the fastest fingerprint scanner we've used under a display and boy, doesn't it feel great in times of COVID-19 when facial recognition is proving to be a challenge with face masks. And the phone is water and dust resistant rated at IP68.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has set a whole new benchmark for cameras. From shooting portraits to landscapes in normal or wide-angle modes, you will not be disappointed.
The camera setup has triggered some confusion, so here's a simple way to put it. The top lens is the ultra-wide camera, which doubles as a macro lens when you get really close to the subject. The primary 108MP sensor sits below it, which is basically an upgraded version of the one on Note 20 Ultra. Then comes the periscope-style 10X Optical Telephoto lens. On the next row, there's laser autofocus on top, below that is flash and then comes the 3x optical zoom, which makes for great use-case as sometimes you just need something between 1x and 10x.
With this explainer out of the picture, let us assure you that this setup is more than capable of capturing photos in different scenarios with ease. Not sure how often you'd like to capture the moon on your phone, but it is as if the 100X Space Zoom is meant for shooting the moon rather than any other subject. At that zoom level, subjects (except the moon) gets grainy and having steady hands and focus lock doesn't really help. But anything from 1x to 10x is where the Galaxy S21 Ultra excels.
We were able to capture some excellent portraits, with great depth, excellent dynamic range, rich colors, and balanced contrast. The primary lens captures incredible details, and there's RAW format support to put your post-processing skills to use. The wide-angle shots are pretty incredible too, don't spoil the corners and give a perfect dramatic effect.
Samsung's night mode prompt kicks in automatically if you do not choose it manually to let you explore the darkness. The photos shot in the dark are light up with precision, nothing overboard. The new Directors View feature is a pretty cool addition, useful in case of vlogging. Other features to explore are Portrait Video to blur the background, Pro Video lets you control different aspects including mic, Super Slow Motion is suitable in well-lit areas and portrait background filters let you choose some interesting effects. It's nice to have all these features tucked inside the "More" menu in the viewfinder, but you can always drag them into the main interface for quick access.
The 40MP front camera is absolutely great as well in capturing wide and normal selfies with ease and in any challenging light conditions.
Let the photo samples speak for themselves as to explain what they are capable of:
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in India is powered by Exynos 2100 and our unit came with 12GB RAM. The lack of Snapdragon 888 might come as a disappointment to many, but the difference won't be felt unless you're using both variants side-by-side. On paper specs aside, the Exynos 2100 is more than capable of making sure all your day-to-day tasks and more are handled with ease. From playing GPU-heavy games to streaming content, shooting videos for long hours, to just going about your day with calls, IMs, video calls, etc, the S21 Ultra will live up to your expectations. We did not experience any lags or stutters during the entire time of our review, but it has only been a little over a week, so it is hard to draw a hard verdict at this point. Multi-tasking is a breeze and the One UI 3.1 is cleaner, refined and snappy.
While we are more inclined towards stock or near-stock UI, the OneUI 3.1 has many extras that only come to use when you go looking for them. Isn't it nice to have certain customization options to when you feel like getting wild on the software front. Plus, it is Android, so the possibilities are practically endless. It is interesting how Samsung keeps on improving its software. For instance, the call screen wallpaper is something new and exciting. There's a lot to explore in the One UI, so we'll dive deeper into the phone's long-term review.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is powered by a 5,000mAh battery, a generous offering considering the S-series is usually marred by poor battery performance. The lack of a fast charger is surely something we miss in the box. The option to lower the resolution and the adaptive refresh rate surely comes in handy.
Based on our usage, we got 5 hours of screen on time, easily lasting a full day. That is with a reasonable amount of calls, excess messaging, social networking, Prime Video streaming and such. The battery is likely to get better once the phone understands the usage patterns, so we'll circle back on this in our detailed review.
If only the fast charger was included in the box, it would be a complete package. But you can rely on a trusted wall charger. With a 25W PD adapter, it will take around 75 minutes to fully charge the phone. It is not the best, but it is definitely not among the bad ones.
Based on our brief time with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, it is easily the best Android smartphone yet. For those who want a no-compromise smartphone with great cameras, powerful performance, stunning design, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is easy to recommend. At the current price point, it may not be the first choice for may, but it is likely that the price will drop in the months to come, so if you're willing to wait that long, it will be worth the while.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a worthy flagship that demonstrates the best of Samsung. The fact that Samsung has kept the Ultra superior to the rest of the S21-lineup, it is easy to give reasons to go for the upgrade, even if it means spending a few extra bucks. There are only a few things going against the S21 Ultra, most of them ignorable if you're convinced to buy the phone. The lack of microSD card slot, wall charger and market-exclusive chipset are the kind of things you can live without in a smartphone that excels in every other aspect.