Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, review: the “Ultra” we expected

We analyze the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Samsung’s flagship mobile announced in January 2021, which aspires to become what the Galaxy S20 Ultra could not be: the great reference in the high-end telephone segment.

And despite what is often said, in this case, second parts are good.” Samsung has made an effort to reinforce all the weak points of the last generation in this S21 Ultra without deviating in the process from its goal of creating a phone that is as technically advanced as possible.

Thus, the South Korean giant has ended up building a phone with simply excellent hardware, of which, for the first time in years, it can be said that it is the best Android mobile on the market without reservations or doubts of any kind.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

Technical sheet of characteristics of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Dimensions 165,1 x 75,6 x 8,9 mm
228 grams
Screen 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Adaptive refresh rate (11-120 Hz)
Gorilla Glass Foods
Resolution WQHD+ (3200×1440 pixels, 515 PPI)
Processor Samsung Exynos 2100
Operating system One UI 3.1 based on Android 11
Storage 128/256/512 GB UFS 3.1
Cameras Trasera : 10 MP telefoto f/2.4, 35°, 72mm, OIS + 12 MP Ultra-Wide f/2.2, 120°, 13mm + 108 MP Wide-Angle f/1.8, 79°, 24mm, OIS + 10 MP telefoto f/4.9, 10°, 240mm, OIS
Frontal : 50 MP f/2.2, 80°, 25mm
Battery 5,000 mAh with fast charging, fast wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging
Others Ultrasonic on-screen fingerprint reader, IP68 protection, UWB, Wi-Fi 6E, S-Pen compatibility, AKG stereo speakers, Samsung DeX
Departure date January 29
Starting price 1,259 euros

“The model analyzed is a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G with 12 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage in Phantom Black color. The test was carried out on the latest firmware update in Spain, corresponding to version G998BXXU1AUA4 based on Android 11 with One UI 3.1 and the January 2021 security patch.

The best of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

If I say that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the company’s best terminal in years, it’s not for nothing. Some aspects genuinely make the difference concerning other competing models, and above all, concerning last year’s delivery. They are the following:

The best design on a Galaxy S in a long time

The first thing that catches the eye of the S21 Ultra is the same thing that caught the attention of the S20 Ultra: the design. Although for very different reasons .

The best design on a Galaxy S in a long time

We are again facing a vast and heavy device, which exceeds 16 and a half centimeters in height and almost reaches 230 grams in weight. However, the lateral curves and its screen format, narrower than that of other models, make it a more comfortable terminal in hand than rivals such as the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

These lateral curves are more pronounced at the rear than at the front, just like last year. The angles of its screen are so subtle that they affect the screen’s color reproduction as they did in previous generations.

For the rest, we have a small hole in the upper central part, which is much less intrusive than a notch and gives the front an asymmetrical appearance. We don’t know how long it will take for under-screen cameras on Samsung phones, but we settle for this solution in the meantime.

Although the most significant novelty of the Galaxy S21 Ultra in terms of design is not on its front, on its back.

To the renewed appearance of the Galaxy S family, which now integrates the large photographic module so that it merges with the aluminum side bezel at one of its corners, we must add the new “Phantom Black” finish .

The best design on a Galaxy S in a long time 1

Rarely has a simple finish attracted so much attention. Of course, rarely has Samsung dedicated a 3-minute video to talk about the color of one of its phones.

The black color of the S21 Ultra is very black. The Gorilla Glass Victus that covers the back of the phone has been treated so that it can absorb practically all the light that falls on it, and its ability to repel dirt and fingerprints, unlike what happened last year with the gloss finish.

In my opinion, this is one of the most elegant and impressive finishes that Samsung has ever offered in one of its reference devices. However, those who prefer something not so sober can choose the silver version or customize their own S21 Ultra through the new device editor that Samsung offers on its website.

The best design on a Galaxy S in a long time 3

I have to say that, for a little over a week using the device –without a case–, the back has not suffered any damage or scratch. In that sense, it should be mentioned that the Gorilla Glass Victus technology should offer more excellent resistance to both shocks and scratches.

In general, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a well-built smartphone, which gives a pleasant feeling in the hand and, despite its size, thickness and weight, it is comfortable to use thanks to the adjustments that Samsung has made to its design. In addition, the new aesthetic lines give its design a more wonderful personality than in the case of last year’s S20 Ultra, thus ending one of our complaints about the model launched in 2020.

An imposing screen that, now, is worthy of the surname “Ultra.”

Samsung has once again provided its star mobile with the best screen that we have tested so far on a smartphone. What a surprise…

But even in an area where Samsung has more than mastered, such as the screen, there was still room for improvement. A margin that becomes much narrower thanks to the advances provided by this S21 Ultra.

And it is that to the excellent 6.8-inch diagonal Dynamic AMOLED screen, Samsung adds the surname “2X” that refers not only to its 120 Hz refresh rate but also to the possibility of combining this high refresh rate with the maximum resolution that the panel natively supports: 3,200 x 1,440 pixels. There is no longer a need to choose between full resolution or extreme fluidity, as with the Galaxy S20 Ultra and Note20 Ultra.

An imposing screen that now is worthy of the surname Ultra

In addition to that, the screen uses LTPO technology, which allows the panel to vary its refresh rate dynamically between 11 and 120 hertz based on the content displayed to offer greater energy efficiency. It must be said that on a day-to-day basis, resolution and refresh rate changes are made in such a way that they are practically invisible.

As new features of the panel, an improvement in the maximum brightness level is included, reaching 1,500 nits under particular circumstances -when playing HDR video, or outdoors under the direct incidence of light-, as well as a function of “Eye Protection” that varies the white balance of the screen dynamically depending on the time of day. Within this model, we can choose whether it should be the device itself that automatically adjusts the colors of the panel or if we prefer to be the ones who choose the most appropriate screen temperature.

It must be said that the eye protection mode is not as “natural” as the one included in the iPhone or the latest models of the Google Pixel series. Still, it is an addition that is appreciated to have and that, at any time, can be deactivated without significant problem.

My only problem with the screen of this Galaxy S21 Ultra is related to the color reproduction used by Samsung by default. Once again, the firm keeps the “Intense” color mode activated as soon as the phone is removed from the box, which leaves us overly saturated and unrealistic. Luckily, everything returns to normal when you start the “Natural” mode through the system settings.

An imposing screen that now is worthy of the surname Ultra 1

The screen of the S21 Ultra also hides a new ace up its sleeve: its new ultrasonic fingerprint reader, of a larger size than the one that had been used until now.

In my tests, this new sensor signed by Qualcomm does not seem faster than the previous models, although it is a little more precise. What makes the difference is the larger area that the reader occupies, which makes it less irritating to find the exact point on the screen to put your finger on to unlock the device. Without a doubt, an improvement that is appreciated more than ever when other manufacturers continue to bet on facial unlocking at a time when we all wear a mask.

Extreme power supported by autonomy to match

Samsung announced the engine’s arrival that powers the S21 Ultra by claiming that Exynos was back, and I’m afraid they had reason enough to make this their tagline for the new generation of chips.

This year, the structural differences of this SoC concerning its counterpart signed by Qualcomm that assembles the model oriented to other markets are much more minor than other years since Samsung has finally put aside its custom cores to make way for the arms technology.

Thus, we find ourselves with a 5-nanometer Exynos 2100 that, led by a maximum performance ARM Cortex X1 core, is capable of moving everything with extreme ease, in addition to providing shelter for new technologies such as Wi-Fi 6E or 5G SA and NSA .

Extreme power supported by an autonomy to match

Synthetic tests may leave this Exynos 2100 behind rival chips such as Apple’s A14, but the truth is that on a day-to-day basis, the result is excellent, and so far there has been no task, no matter how demanding, that has been able to put the S21 Ultra on the ropes. It simply has plenty of power.

To this, we must add the 12 GB of RAM present in the base version: they are more than enough for most of the potential public of this model and ensure that the device will last for several years without needing extra memory, for much that the operating system or applications increase in size and begin to demand more resources.

It also benefits from the advances made on the processor differentiating aspects of this device concerning the S20 Ultra autonomy.

Even with the same battery capacity –5,000 mAh–, and even though the screen can now work at its maximum resolution and refresh rate simultaneously, the Galaxy S21 Ultra behaves infinitely better than last year’s model in this sense, being, this time, a terminal capable of reaching two days of use without too many problems.

Extreme power supported by an autonomy to match 1

And even with intense use, the battery of the S21 Ultra does not suffer. Since I took the phone out of its box, every one of the settings that take the experience with this device to another level – the maximum screen resolution and frequency of the panel, the Always-on mode – have remained active, and at no time have I seen the need to devise techniques to save battery power.

Therefore, even those who use their devices more intensely than usual should not have any problems with this S21 Ultra. Autonomy is, without a doubt, one of its strengths.

So is the ability to charge the device quickly, either via cable or wirelessly. For this, yes, it will be necessary to have a compatible charger, which Samsung has decided to sell separately.

The worst of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

But the perfect mobile does not exist –yet–, and although the Galaxy S21 Ultra is dangerously close to the excellence that Samsung has been pursuing for so many years, it still has some improvable details that, we trust, will be corrected in the future editions of this series:

Good software, tainted by questionable decisions

Samsung had been improving its phones’ software for several consecutive years at a good pace until reaching a point of maturity never seen before in the company’s customization layer.

With One UI 3.1, Samsung’s software is more polished, more loaded with valuable features, and faster than ever while maintaining the aesthetic details that set it apart from any other software available on the mobile market.

As exciting and welcome news, there is the Google Discover feed, which now comes as a default option on the One UI home screen, replacing the Samsung Free –however, it is still possible to use the latter, if it is possible. For some reason, someone wants to do it–.

Good software tainted by questionable decisions

In addition, for the first time, Samsung includes the Google messaging application natively in the software of its new phone, thus enabling the possibility of chatting through the RCS standard for any user who decides to buy this device.

And it is precisely here that we begin to see the first problems: although Samsung has chosen to include Google’s messaging app, it has also decided not to remove its own. And since neither can be uninstalled, you’ll have to get used to living with two messaging apps in your phone’s app drawer.

This is just one of the many cases of duplicate apps that, once again, dirty the experience with Samsung’s star mobile. Above all, in the face of those who already used Android mobile and Google apps in the past, and who will be forced to use the alternatives proposed by Samsung in One UI or live with two applications designed to carry out the same functions.

We must also talk about the ads that Samsung places in the installed applications of its brand new terminal of 1,259 euros. It is not a case as flagrant as that of Xiaomi, because in this case, it is possible to deactivate them much more quickly. Still, at this point, it is difficult to digest that a device of this price continues to show advertising to its users.

None of these problems are decisive, nor do they frustrate the experience with the device. Those who are more or less familiar with Android and its operation at a somewhat more advanced level will have no problem configuring One UI to their liking and getting rid of all the points of friction that Samsung’s customization layer still drags.

However, I think it is convenient to highlight these “defects” –to call them in some way– with the aim that, sooner or later, Samsung continues to improve in reducing the complexity of its software to the point of making One UI the best existing customization layer in Android.

Small details that take it away from excellence

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a “cheaper” mobile than the Galaxy S20 Ultra — can that adjective refer to a 1,259-euro mobile? To adjust the price, Samsung has decided to cut back on certain aspects.

And such cuts, I fear, will not be welcomed by everyone.

The first is probably one of the most controversial that Samsung has carried out in a long time, not because of what it implies for users, but rather because just a few months ago, it was the firm itself that showing off its chest . have followed in the footsteps of other manufacturers in this regard.

I’m talking, of course, about the decision not to include a charger in the box. This should not be a problem for those people who already have a relatively modern terminal with a charger and USB-C cable. But for the rest, it means having to shell out even more money to take advantage of one of the Galaxy S21’s capabilities, such as fast charging .

Good software tainted by questionable decisions 1

Another issue is that of the microSD card. Precisely the year in which Samsung gives more prominence than ever to 8K video recording and its 108-megapixel camera capable of capturing huge images, we lose along the way the possibility of expanding the phone’s internal storage through microSD cards.

This means that the 128 GB of the most basic variant could fall short sooner than many might imagine and that it may make more sense to spend 50 euros more than the model with double the storage costs.

To conclude, I could not miss the opportunity to mention one of the most challenging decisions to understand of all those that Samsung has made to end up conceiving the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

It is none other than compatible with the S-Pen. The fact that Samsung has not even included this accessory with the phone’s test unit says a lot about the relevance that this addition can bring to the experience with the device.

Because although the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Galaxy S in history to have S-Pen compatibility, it does not seem that this is going to be a compelling reason to choose this terminal over any other high-end device launched this year and much less justifies the possible disappearance of the Galaxy Note family in the short term.

In any case, the option is there for everyone who needs it, at a price close to 70 euros for the version of the S-Pen –and its phone case– lacking Bluetooth, and therefore incompatible with the gesture control present in the last two generations of the Note family. Those looking to get an experience closer to the Note will have to wait for the S-Pen Pro, which should arrive sometime in the next few months.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: so are its cameras

The curse of the first generation was baited with the Galaxy S20 Ultra camera, as its primary sensor suffered from serious focusing problems that ended up frustrating the user experience.

With the Note20 Ultra, this problem was remedied mainly, although the level of the photographs was still not at the level of the market benchmarks in this regard.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

This year, Samsung maintains the same recipe but seasons it with improvements and additions that promise to make the S21 Ultra’s photographic system the best we’ve tested on a firm terminal to date.

Thus, we come across a configuration of four sensors on the back and one on the front. They are the following:

  • Ultra wide-angle camera: 12 MP f / 2.2, 120º, 1.4μm, 13mm equivalent
  • Camara principal : Samsung ISOCELL HM3 108 MP sub OIS, f/1.8, 0.8 μm, 24 mm equivalente
  • Telephoto Camera 1: 10 MP, 3x optical zoom, OIS, f/2.4, 72mm equivalent
  • Telephoto Camera 2 : 10 MP, 10x optical zoom, OIS, f/4.9, 240mm equivalent
  • Front camera: 50 MP f/2.2, 80°, 25mm equivalent

We see that it is a photographic system that covers focal lengths from 13 to 240 millimeters to give the user the most excellent possible versatility, something that Samsung has been focusing its efforts on since it first introduced a telephoto and Ultra-wide angle on one of your devices.

On this occasion, the configuration is complemented with a fifth sensor designed to improve focus through laser technology, being able to more precisely measure the distances between the camera and the object to be captured, thus adjusting the camera parameters accordingly.

But the main change lies in the inclusion of a dual telephoto sensor, giving the possibility of capturing images with 3x and 10x optical zoom and making this one of the great attractions of the S21 Ultra camera.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 1

The truth is that Samsung’s decision to bet once again on the “spatial zoom” is striking, especially after the criticism harvested by the zoom system of the S20 Ultra, and its subsequent “softening” process in the Note20 Ultra, by reducing the maximum zoom to 30x.

But instead of reducing the maximum zoom, Samsung has chosen to equip the two telephoto sensors with an optical stabilizer, thus enabling a “zoom lock” function that allows you to lock the focus for more stable shots when using the focal length. Longer.

As additional novelties, a new technique is demosaicing with which Samsung gives the possibility of capturing images in 12-bit RAW format using the “Pro” model of the camera.

Dedicated macros. The impressive “macro” mode is hidden in the S21 Ultra. And it is that thanks to the new focus system integrated into the sensor with ultra-wide-angle lens, it is possible to capture images of objects located just a few centimeters from the camera, with a quality infinitely superior to that of the vast majority of mobile phones with cameras. In addition, the extra power of the processor gives the possibility to capture video with several cameras simultaneously and process the images using AI techniques in a faster and more efficient way.

All those advances and improvements on paper are accessible, to sum up in one sentence: the S21 Ultra’s camera system is the best I’ve tested on mobile to date. Each of the sensors offers excellent results in the circumstances for which they have been conceived. The improvements in its zoom capabilities make it a much more versatile camera than those of the competition.

All the weak points present in the Galaxy S20 Ultra have been corrected in this generation: the autofocus is fast and precise, there is no slowdown after pressing the shutter button and the image processing, although it maintains that look so characteristic of Samsung by overexposing the shadows, subtracting some depth from the images, and saturating the colors more than I would like, has been softened so that these features are no longer as accentuated as in previous generations.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 3

And more importantly, Samsung has finally learned how to process human faces correctly, avoiding subtracting detail and softening facial features, instead of taking advantage of the extra resolution of its sensors to generate detail-packed portraits and self-portraits without the need to render juggling as it happened in previous generations.

In that sense, it’s worth talking about the selfie camera 40-megapixel, which in this generation combines higher resolution with improved processing, to end up offering one of the best self-portrait experiences we’ve tasted in a long time, at the level of the latest Huawei models.

As expected, the zoom is one of the strengths of the S21 Ultra against the competition. No other mobile — except perhaps the Huawei Mate40 Pro — is capable of offering as much quality in such a wide focal range as this device, which, up to 30x magnification, generates captures with an outstanding level of detail thanks to its system double telephoto _

Part of the improvements is derived from the renewed stabilization system, which allows the focus to be fixed more precisely to avoid unwanted movements in the captures. Even when capturing images of the Moon using the maximum zoom level offered by the device, the camera can remain stationary for easy focusing .

At night, the extra size of the sensor makes the Samsung model capable of capturing light where there seems to be none. And if that’s not enough, Night Mode does the job perfectly, lighting up night scenes convincingly. However, noise reduction techniques feel unnatural, especially when the location is original there is hardly any light.

As for the video, it is not surprising that Samsung remains the absolute reference in the Android world to capture moving images. Clips recorded by the S21 Ultra stand out for their excellent dynamic range and high-speed focusing system. Stabilization is also good, although if you want to use the “Super steady” mode to minimize movements and vibrations, we will again be forced to reduce the resolution of the video to Full HD and 60 fps.

This year, in addition, Samsung keeps a few tricks up its sleeve aimed at complementing the excellent image quality provided by its cameras when capturing videos, such as the possibility of recording at 8K resolution, or better yet, in 4K. and 60 FPS with all cameras on the back of the phone, or add-ons such as “Director’s Perspective” mode, which is very useful in certain situations by showing previews of all the cameras on the device simultaneously, so that it is possible to choose the most suitable one for each scene quickly.

And how does this camera stack up against other heavyweights at its level? To clear up doubts, I recommend you take a look at the fantastic camera video comparison between the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro, prepared by our colleagues at Urban Tecno:

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: final opinions of Andro4all

Last year, I concluded my review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra by talking about how the numbers that made up the terminal’s technical sheet seemed to have been more critical to Samsung than the experience with it, which left us with a technological beast, but whose whole was not at the level of the sum of its parts.

With the S21 Ultra, the formula is the same, but the result is radically different .

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra final opinions of Andro4all

We are again facing the most technically advanced mobile that Samsung has created to date. However, this time Samsung seems to have given the importance, it deserves to everything that goes beyond numbers, and that adds value to the experience with the device.

Thus, we end up with a smartphone with a design with much more personality, the best camera ever seen in a Samsung –and, probably, the best on the market today–, a combination of performance and autonomy that does not make us look with envy at the variant with a Snapdragon processor, and a screen that, now, leaves behind the limitations and gives everything to show why Samsung is the number 1 brand in this regard.

In short, a true Ultra. The one we were all waiting for.

Price and where to buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is available in three different configurations. All of them can be reserved from the day of the device’s presentation, and those who decide to do so will receive the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro and a Samsung Galaxy SmartTag.

Its price varies depending on the chosen configuration, starting from 1,259 euros in the version with 12 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage starred in this analysis.

Model Setting Price in euros Available colors
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 12/128 GB 1,259 euros black and silver
12/256 GB €1,309
16/512 GB €1,439

If you do not want to reserve it, it is possible to get it through the usual sales channels, including Samsung’s online store, where it is also possible to take advantage of a replacement program, for which the company offers us the possibility to deliver our old terminal in exchange for a discount, which can exceed 1,000 euros if we talk about one of the latest Apple devices -yes, Samsung continues to pay more for Apple mobiles than for its own-.

In addition, it is also possible to find it in other stores such as Amazon .

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra final opinions of Andro4all 1

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, opinion and Note from Andro4all
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra?
In favor
  • Excellent screen, the best we have ever tested on a mobile
  • Excellent performance and autonomy
  • Design with personality and high-quality construction
  • The most versatile camera system ever seen in a Samsung mobile
  • Good quality and powerful audio system
  • Ads, duplicate apps, and other questionable add-ons to your software
  • No charger in the box or microSD slot
Conclusions I hardly remember when was the last time Samsung managed to pull out a high-end mobile free of defects or compromises. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is, in fact, worthy of that surname for offering the best of the best without falling in practically anything and solving all those failures present in the previous edition of this series.

★ ★ ★ ★ Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Now yes: Samsung has created the best Android mobile on the market.