Flagship phones are aplenty, with at least one new flagship models being introduced into the sea of smartphones every month. That’s the reason why several OEMs including Samsung have formulated a new strategy to stand out of this highly-competitive segment.
The strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to launch a smartphone that offers beyond what a tradition flagship phone brings to its users – with exclusive and class-leading features which improve the overall experience of its users.
The newly announced Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a perfect example of such device. It put forward a revolutionary imaging system unmatched by other flagships in the market, and brings along the best smartphone display among many other commendable upgrades.
All the wow factors however, didn’t came for free. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra carries a pretty hefty off-contract price of S$1,798 and S$1,998 respectively for the 12GB+256GB and 16GB+512GB variants in Singapore.
With that in mind, the question is whether these upgrades really justify its higher asking price. To find out the answer, do check out our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review below!
Elegant Design, Mind-blowing Display
Its undeniable that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, has one of the best-looking smartphone design so far despite its sheer size. This is especially true for its Phantom Black variant which bears an understated elegant which looks absolutely gorgeous from all angles.
This time round, credit has to be given to Samsung for its new contour-cut camera design which flows and blends well with the overall design of the phone. It certainly looks way more pleasant and stylish than the awkward-looking camera housing we saw on last year’s Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The back of the device sports a matte finish which isn’t prone to those unsightly fingerprints and smudges that devices with glossy back tend to struggle with. Despite its rather silky texture, I didn’t really face any difficulty gripping or holding the device even for one-handed use.
Just like its predecessor, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a glass back which makes the device feels premium on hand as it offers a sturdy and robust build which devices with plastic panel simply can’t replicate.
Sure, the phone may sounds pretty heavy at slightly below 230 grams, but somehow you’ll seem to get accustomed to it after several days with the phone. And for those who’re switching over from other flagship devices like the Galaxy S20 Ultra or Huawei P40 Pro+, you probably won’t even notice any difference in weight.
Moving to the front, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra dons an Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED display which has a central hole-punch cutout for its selfie camera. Although the side edges of the display are curved, but they’re really gradual and doesn’t result in any sort of visual distortions or accidental touches – something which users are usually wary of when it comes to curve display.
The screen looks vibrant and sharp especially with its mind-blowing QHD+ screen resolution, which is a level up from the typical FHD+ resolution we saw on other flagship phones. Likewise, the Galaxy S21 Ultra also beat its competitors with great color reproduction for its front display thanks to its wide dynamic range and high contrast ratio.
Although the Galaxy S21 Ultra retains the 120Hz refresh rate from its predecessor, but its slightly different this time round in the sense that the refresh rate is now “adaptive”, and automatically adapts the refresh rate based on your onscreen contents. That’s actually an intuitive way to conserve battery since a higher refresh rate will only be toggled when necessary.
Most importantly, the front display of the Galaxy S21 Ultra can get really bright with a peak brightness of up to 1,500 nits. This is a well appreciated feature as it ensures the screen remain visible (and not washed out) when snapping pictures on a sunny afternoon.
Aside from all those goodies, Samsung also drafted in a larger ultrasonic fingerprint scanner that sits below the front display for fast and accurate unlocking. Likewise, for the first time, the Galaxy S21 Ultra finally has S-Pen support which will bring productivity to a whole new level.
More Power Than Ever
As usual, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is available in two variants which differ by its underlying chipset. The model which we have in Singapore is powered by the Samsung’s latest flagship Exynos 2100 chipset fabricated under a 5nm EUV process.
In the past, there used to be chattering about “performance gap” between the Exynos and Snapdragon variants with the former being slightly inferior. This issue however, had been thoroughly addressed in the new Exynos 2100 chipset which adopted Arm’s Cortex cores instead of the custom Mongoose cores which were used in the past generation’s flagship Exynos chipsets.
The surge in performance is clearly evidenced in various benchmark tests which reaffirmed that the Exynos 2100 variant has caught up with the Snapdragon 888 counterpart across various fronts including performance and battery life.
In real life usage, the Exynos 2100 chipset is a beast. From all your daily productivity tasks to 8K video recording, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is able to handle with no sweat. Even when I was using the phone to snap sample photos (for this review) for several hours straight, there isn’t any notable lag despite all the heavy AI image processing running in the background.
That’s really important for a camera-centric smartphone since any slight hint of stuttering will affect the overall photography experience no matter how good the cameras are. Also, it ensures resource intensive features like “Zoom Lock” is able to run smoothly enough for users to take advantage.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra continues to impress in the gaming aspect. Smooth and consistent gameplay is what you can expect on the device even at high frame rate or maximum graphic settings. Therefore, performance is certainly top-tier on the device and is probably an overkill for an average user.
Best Camera On A Samsung Smartphone Thus Far
For photography, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra relies on a highly versatile quad-camera system headlined by the new 108 megapixels ISOCELL HM3 sensor with a large 1/1.33” sensor size.
It will be complemented by three other auxiliary cameras that include a 12 megapixels ultra-wide camera, 10 megapixels telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, as well as a 10 megapixels periscope telephoto camera with 10x optical zoom.
What’s notable is that Samsung also fixed the focus issue we saw on the Galaxy S20 Ultra by bringing in an additional laser autofocus module which works like a charm with its fast and accurate detection.
In the default shooting with 9-to-1 pixel binning, the device is able to click flattering images that offer wide dynamic range and color contrasts which look natural and pleasing to the eyes. Level of details within the scene are also well taken care by the camera.
As usual, you can also find an option which allows you to shoot full 108 megapixels resolution images. However, there isn’t really a good reason to go with the full resolution unless you’re printing a huge poster since there aren’t any notable differences between the pixel binned images and those taken with full resolution.
For night photography, the large ISOCELL HM3 sensor did a splendid job in terms of exposure which allows it to capture clear and realistic images without the need to use Night mode. Details are notably aplenty in both highlight or shadow areas.
Coming to ultra-wide, images are equally impressive with rich color profile and ample details in both well-lit and low-light scene. Furthermore, it also did pretty well in rectifying distortion around edges of the image.
Interestingly, the Ultra-wide camera also doubles up as a macro camera for close-up shots which clearly benefit from the use of a high resolution camera as its able to hold plenty of fine details. The smooth and natural bokeh effect at the background is also another plus point.
Next, for zooming, the Galaxy S21 Ultra retains the same “100x Space Zoom” feature we saw on last year’s S20 Ultra. But before we get into that, its worth highlighting that the 3x optical zoom offered by its 10MP telephoto camera is simply awesome. Its surely one of the most useful feature which allows you to get real close with nature and capture all its beauty.
Similarly, the 10x optical zoom on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is also another major accomplishment for its zoom system that’s equally capable of capturing well detailed and sharp images. It did an excellent job in keeping image noise to the bay which results in a clear and non-grainy image that stands out of the crowd.
While most of us usually don’t hold much expectation when it comes to 30x zoom factor, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra performed surprisingly well for its 30x zoom as well. Although its overall color profile may appear slightly flatter, but the image still offers enough details to make it usable.
In fact, even at the maximum 100x “Space Zoom”, you can still easily make out wordings or structures from afar. No doubt, images taken at such zoom level wouldn’t be those you are proud to post on social media. However, its a pretty fun and nice feature to have on a smartphone which further differentiates the phone from other flagship devices in the market.
Before I wrap up the zooming capabilities of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, I also want to highlight the new “Zoom Lock” feature on the device which greatly improves the stabilization of cameras, making it much more easier for users to focus on faraway subjects when zooming beyond the 30x zoom factor.
You can check out the above video on how amazing and helpful this feature is when I was trying to snap a couple of images at 100x zoom. The frame barely shakes at all!
Finally, the Galaxy S21 Ultra also features a 40 megapixels selfie camera upfront that allows you to snap Instagram worthy selfies which looks natural with minimal beautification. Colors are on point and has wide dynamic range that make your selfie really stood out.
Full Day Battery Life
Under the hood, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is backed by a heavy-duty 5,000mAh battery which never disappoints. On a moderate use, it can easily support one full day of phone usage with around 30% to 40% battery juice remaining at the end of the day.
On my heaviest day of usage with the device, when I brought it out to snap photos for four to five hours along with some web browsing and social media consumption on the go, it managed to last me through the day with slightly more than 10% battery. As such, its crystal clear that the Galaxy S21 Ultra has one of the most enduring battery life I’d seen so far.
For charging, the Galaxy S21 Ultra do support up to 25W fast-charging which isn’t the fastest in the market but still offers a reasonable charging speed which is capable of delivering a full charge in slightly above the 1-hour mark.
However, do note that the Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t comes with a bundled charger this time round but you’re certainly free to use back any available USB-C charger from your previous phones.
Wired charging aside, the phone also carries support for 15W wireless charging and 4.5W reverse charging as well.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is no doubt one of the most pricey smartphone in the local market. But price aside, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is hands down the best smartphone currently in the market which easily outperforms any other Android smartphones in nearly every aspects.
It’s elegant design, coupled with its immersive display, top-tier performance, state-of-the-art camera system and impressive battery life are everything most of us hope and look for in an ideal smartphone. So for those who can afford and is willing to spend, nothing will possibly go wrong with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
If you’re currently considering between the Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, a piece of advice is to get the latter. At S$300 more, you’ll be getting more RAM (8GB VS 12GB), better display (FHD+ VS QHD+), upgraded cameras system (front & back), as well as S-Pen support.
In terms of pricing, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is priced at S$1,798 and S$1,998 respectively for its 12GB+256GB and 16GB+512GB models. Its available for purchase at your convenience via both Shopee and Lazada.