The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is designed to deliver everything you could possibly want in a big-screen Android phone. The phone came earlier than expected, and it brought a slew of changes.
The Galaxy S21 and S21+ now feature lower-res OLEDs, no microSD expansion, and no chargers in the box.
For the Galaxy S21, Samsung put its big bet behind just one part: the processor, Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 888.
The original S20 Ultra was supposed to be the greatest Galaxy to date, but it fell short of that. You could enjoy a 120Hz refresh rate, but only at a lower 1080p resolution. The telephoto camera was advertised as 5x, but it was, in fact, 4x, and let's not even start with the Space Zoom. The ultrawide camera had a great sensor, but it couldn't do macro shots due to the lack of autofocus. The battery was large, but battery life was poor.
Well, the Galaxy S21 Ultra makes up for everything. It has a large 1440p screen with native 120Hz support, adaptive at that. It also brings two dedicated telephoto snappers - one for 3x and another one for 10x optical zoom. Its ultrawide camera does feature autofocus, which works for macro shots. The new Ultra also offers ultrawide-band support, and surprise, surprise, S-Pen support as well. This has to be the first non-Note Galaxy phone to offer that - one for the history books.
There is no S-Pen socket on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and neither is there a bundled stylus. But you can use any S-Pen that's been in circulation, as well as the newly announced S-Pen for S21 Ultra and the upcoming S-Pen Pro. Samsung has also opened the S-Pen to third-party companies that make Wacom-based styluses, so you can expect even more options in the upcoming months. Finally, you can store the stylus in your pocket or opt for some S21 Ultra cases with dedicated pen holders.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the only S21 model to come with a 1440p OLED screen, unlike the previous generation. And even better, it now supports 120Hz at that high resolution, so you don't need to choose between high res and high refresh rate. This new Ultra screen also supports Adaptive Refresh Rate that can vary between 10Hz and 120Hz, just like the Note20 Ultra.
The latest Galaxy bears the latest chipset, of course. All international models use the new Exynos 2100 SoC by Samsung (like the one we are reviewing), while the USA and China will be getting devices running on the Snapdragon 888 instead. The RAM has been bumped to 12GB, and there is a limited 16GB model, too.
It’s the 3x, 10x and, occasionally in well-lit conditions, 30x photo zooms that nail the shot with breathtaking clarity. What helps most at the 30x (and 100x) ranges is the new tripod lock feature, which prevents the viewfinder image from jumping around, something that could be jarring when zooming in that tightly on the S20 Ultra. After a second, the S21 Ultra camera fixes onto a subject that it outlines in yellow on the small zoomed-out corner reticle, and the shakiness is magically dialed down.
Going all the way from the ultra-wide camera at 0.6x to the digitally zoomed-in 30x with usable photos each step of the way is how Samsung stands apart from Apple and its cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro Max (capped at 2.5x optical / 12x digital), and Google’s Pixel 5 (no telephoto). No one (except Huawei) is doing zoom on a smartphone like this in 2021, and your Apple phone-owning friends will have telephoto envy.
Take a deep dive in the specs now.
The Note10 was the one to retire the 3.5mm jack, and now the Galaxy S21 is retiring the microSD slot. Samsung makes up for that with a minor price difference between the 128GB and the 256GB models - just €50. It's up to you to decide whether this compensation is enough, though.
Unboxing the Galaxy S21 Ultra
Well, well, well, how the tables have turned?! It was just last October when Samsung mocked Apple for not including chargers with the latest iPhones. And a mere two months later, Samsung was caught scrubbing these jabs off the internet as it launched its own charger-less flagship.
So, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Samsung phone to come without a charger or headphones. The maker joins Apple and Xiaomi in a quest to make the planet cleaner, and this ought to make a positive impact eventually. It just requires one small sacrifice from you, the user - you need to buy a USB-C charger if you don't own one and keep it for the long haul.
The thin Galaxy S21 Ultra box contains a USB-C-to-C cable and the phone. That's it.
The Galaxy S21 pre-orders do include various freebies such as a 25W charger, Galaxy Buds, and even a SmartTag, so you aren't without options. Samsung switched to USB-C chargers since the Note10 and S20 generations, so the chance of you having one isn't that big, and it's a good thing you can now grab it for free.