The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best smartphone from the Samsung Galaxy S21 series. Especially with the screen panel and the camera options, Samsung has pulled out all the stops to show off. Whether the smartphone is also a good purchase, you can read in this Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
MSRP € 1249, –
Colors Black, silver, blue, brown
OS Android 11 (One UI)
Screen 6.8 inch OLED (3200 x 1440, 120hz)
Processor 2.9 Ghz octacore (Exynos 2100)
Storage 128, 266 or 512GB
Battery 5,000 mAh
Camera 108, 10, 10 and 12 megapixels + depth sensor (rear), 40 megapixels (front)
Connectivity 5G, 4G (LTE), Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi, GPS, NFC
Format 16.5 x 7.6 x 0.9 cm
Weight 227 grams
Other Fingerprint scanner behind screen, waterproof and dustproof
8 Score 80
- Camera capabilities and quality
- No audio port
- No memory card slot
The Ultra version of the Samsung Galaxy S20 was not a sales hit. Not that the smartphone was bad, on the contrary. But there was something to criticize. The periscope camera, for example, left a lot to be desired. The marketing department had its head a bit too much in the clouds and exaggerated the possibilities of the zoom lens, the 100x zoom turned out to be rather unusable in practice. The 120 hertz screen, 5G and the chipset also demanded a lot from the battery. Samsung also leveled the price with Apple’s most expensive iPhone. Fortunately, Samsung has solved these problems, making the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra a truly sublime smartphone. Only Samsung (in addition to the just-mentioned price) coped with even more disadvantages from Apple, which leaves a somewhat bitter aftertaste. Especially because the drawbacks are so unnecessary and consumer-unfriendly. I will explain that in more detail later in this review.
What’s new about the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s most striking innovation is the design of the smartphone. The top left corner at the back has been used to process the cameras. And there are quite a few. There are a total of four lenses, sensors for depth determination and of course a flash. The S21 Ultra version is the only smartphone in the series with a glass finish. The regular Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus have a plastic finish. The combination of a hefty price, glass (which of course is always fragile) and the cameras that protrude from the housing make sure that a case is absolutely recommended. If you choose to use the smartphone without a cover, the beautiful matte finish ensures that few visible fingerprints remain on the device.
A huge screen panel has been placed at the front, which remarkably enough has no curved edges. However, Samsung has processed the camera in a hole in the middle at the top of the screen. This does not look nice. But it does ensure that the screen edges are minimal and that almost the entire front is used by the display.
Samsung has placed the fingerprint scanner under the screen. This is nothing new. What is new is that this fingerprint scanner has a larger scanning surface than other smartphones. That is a pleasant progress, but smartphone makers still fail to keep up with the accuracy and speed of a physical fingerprint scanner (on the back, under the screen or on the side of the smartphone).
Most beautiful screen panel ever
And that screen really needs to be highlighted. Samsung has put the competition at a great distance with this screen panel. The OLED screen has a diameter of 6.8 inches, making the Galaxy S21 Ultra a hefty smartphone (16.5 by 7.6 centimeters).
The color reproduction of the OLED screen is truly sublime, the image razor-sharp and the images smooth thanks to the high refresh rate of the screen (up to 120 hertz). Thanks to the ability to choose a dynamic refresh rate, you have a smoother image when desired. Without this killing your battery.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra gave you the choice of either an extra sharp image with a UHD resolution or a high refresh rate. The Galaxy S21 Ultra can do both. This gives you an ideal screen for watching videos or playing games, for example, but also the photos and videos that you take with the versatile cameras come into their own.
And speaking of those cameras. Actually, this is the part where Samsung tries to distinguish the Galaxy S21 Ultra from the other two Galaxy S21 smartphones. The Galaxy S21 (and Plus version) have a wide-angle, telephoto lens and regular lens. This is also the case with the S21 Ultra, although the lenses used are slightly different. A periscope zoom camera and a depth sensor have also been placed.
As you would expect from a smartphone in the highest price range, the camera can compete with the best smartphones in terms of photo and video quality. As with other multi-lens smartphones, you get the best photos and videos when using the regular camera. Especially in terms of details and dynamic range (where, for example, light and dark parts can be clearly distinguished) are impressive. The colors are a bit saturated, but to be honest that is not a disadvantage. In addition, the colors and the screen are a golden one-two punch. Even when there is little or no light available, the camera still manages to capture a lot.
When you switch to the wide-angle or zoom lenses, you deliver something in terms of detail. There is some noise and some details are lost in low light. But these photos are also of excellent quality. When you use the periscope lens to zoom in more than 10x, you notice that a lot of details are quickly lost. It’s a nice lens to impress at parties, but photos get a bit noisy and it’s difficult to aim at such a far zoom. In practice, that deep zoom is not indispensable.
All zoom levels of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (photo taken from the same location). From left to right: 0.6x zoom, 1x zoom, 10x zoom, 30x zoom and 100x zoom
5G chipset: Exynos 2100
With the previous generation of Samsung Galaxy S smartphones, the battery life was a bit disappointing. The battery capacity of the smartphones is average. But the chipset was hungry. Especially on mobile networks, the smartphone consumed an extraordinary amount of energy. With 4G, but especially when you were connected to 5G. As a result, the battery life was often only a day in practice, which is not good with a new smartphone and battery.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra uses a new chipset: the Exynos 2100, assisted by 12GB of RAM. This smartphone also connects to 5G. The battery has a capacity of 5,000 mAh, which is the same as the 5G version of its predecessor. The chipset delivers excellent performance, everything runs smoothly: from processing photos to demanding apps and starting up the smartphone. The battery life has also improved a lot. Depending on your use, a day and a half is feasible without effort. The battery no longer drains as quickly when you connect to a mobile network. Although 5G and the screen do take their toll on the battery. When you use 4G and screw down the screen settings (such as resolution and refresh rate), you can do a day or two with a full battery. Something you can actually expect from a battery with this capacity.
Android 11 with Samsung’s OneUI
Since Samsung has been making Android smartphones, the software has been adapted down to the smallest details. Samsung calls this shell OneUI, and it comes with many useful extras and a recognizable appearance. Samsung is also working hard to improve support via software and security updates, three years of Android updates and four years of security updates are promised. Although that is still far from the level that Apple offers, Samsung is taking steps in the right direction. A trend break from other major Android manufacturers such as Motorola and OnePlus, which are increasingly negative in the news because of their update policy.
Samsung’s OneUI shell does not offer the luxury you would expect from a smartphone worth more than a thousand euros.
Samsung’s OneUI shell does not offer the luxury you would expect from a smartphone worth more than a thousand euros. Voice assistant Bixby, a whole bunch of bloatware … Samsung even still hides an unnecessary virus scanner in the settings. It still gives the feeling that the smartphone is priced more expensive than what it radiates. A feeling that mainly lingers after testing the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
In the shadow of Apple
Because although I am very impressed with the smartphone, I have trouble recommending it. Samsung has long had the image of copying Apple’s iPhone, and while they don’t go along with the design of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, they still make this image worse by blindly copying Apple’s greedy pranks. For example, the prices of Samsung’s top smartphones are aligned with the most expensive iPhones and the audio connection has had to make way. Just like iPhones, Samsung also makes repairs difficult. For example, the battery is glued on, requiring you to attach a heat gun to the battery to replace it, which is dangerous for both your device and the repairer.
New areas are also the lack of a memory card slot and an adapter to charge the smartphone. With which Samsung indirectly sidelined the 8K video function (after all, you need many gigabytes for that) and years of marketing attention for the fast charging function (who buys an expensive Samsung fast charging adapter?).
These consumer-unfriendly decisions miss especially meaningful arguments, and give me the feeling that Samsung’s top smartphones are being put in the shadow of Apple’s iPhone. And if you’re willing to pay that much money for a new smartphone anyway … Buy an iPhone. It is a painful observation for a smartphone that as a device in itself is simply very good.
Alternatives to Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Are you looking for the best Android smartphone, regardless of the price? Then the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is by far the best choice. Even if you see the smartphone in a good offer. Only that price and what you get for it … It is a difficult choice to justify compared to the most expensive iPhone: the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The same disadvantages of this device have been taken over without a doubt. The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a better screen and more camera options, on the other hand, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is more future-proof thanks to more computing power, better software and support.
But there are of course also more affordable alternatives, which are fairly obvious. For example, the Galaxy S21 Plus is a lot cheaper, and is actually not much inferior to the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The camera options are a little less extensive and the screen a little less overly impressive. The same can be said for the iPhone 12. Are you looking for it even more affordable, but do you want a high-quality smartphone from Samsung. Then you can even consider the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE.
Conclusion: buy Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Android smartphone you can buy. Compared to the competition, the camera options and the screen are considerably better than, for example, the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the other devices from the Galaxy S21 series. Yet the price and the other downsides of the device are such unnecessary disadvantages that a purchase is difficult to justify.