Galaxy S21 Ultra review: third time’s a charm
This is the samsung galaxy s21 ultra, and i know what you’re thinking another year, another big samsung phone. Am i right? Well, actually, no, this year’s first big samsung phone is the galaxy s21 ultra and it’s different, because this is our third ultra phone there’s, the s20 ultra the note 20 ultra and now this and three iterations means that samsung has had time to work out. All of the kinks now in samsung world ultra means that it should be the biggest and best version that you can get and last year the original s20 ultra was not that much better than the regular s20s. The camera had issues and it was a lot more expensive this year. The galaxy s21 ultra is much better. The camera’s improved and the price has dropped by 200 bucks. So it starts at 1200. So i guess third time’s a charm, so we have to start with the obvious thing about ultra phones. They are huge. The screen on the galaxy s21 ultra is 6.8 inches diagonally and if you are keeping count – and you know that samsung is keeping count that makes this phone 0.1 inches bigger than the iphone 12 pro max screen. But the s21 is taller and narrower than the max and therefore to me it’s just much easier to hold see. Samsung has kept the curved edges on the screen and i actually don’t mind it here. I think it works, and it means that the bezels are that much smaller and the phone can be that much narrower.
The iphone 12 pro max just feels way bigger because it’s wider as long as we’re, comparing the samsung phone to the iphone let’s, just get it all out of the way right at the top right now. I think some of you are going to disagree with me, but i think the galaxy looks better. I do love the new squared off edges on the iphone, but you know what the camera bump here is. One of those things that we forgot looks weird because we got so used to camera bumps, but it is it’s, weird and so. Samsung’S fix for the camera bump is to make the metal rails on the side curve right into it. And i actually think it looks slick as hell, and it means that the camera glass here is just a little bit recessed. Although, yes, there are just a lot of camera holes here and that does look weird speaking of the back it’s gorilla glass victus also same on the front, and it has this matte finish, which is pretty nice and yes, it is phantom black and it does look Very black in person it also resists fingerprints, pretty well, but it might be a little bit more delicate than i would want it to be. We just set this down on concrete to get a shot and it’s already got a little bit of scratch on it. Where you can see silver underneath, maybe that was a dumb idea, but now you know anyway, look you’re only getting this phone.
If you love big phones and samsung is just better at making big phones than apple is they’ve, been doing it for way longer. Samsung’S version of android lets you size text how you want it can have a little side rail on the side that you can swipe in for extra functions. It makes it fairly simple to split screen apps and let you turn apps into little pop up windows that shrink down into floating bubbles. You can just do a lot more with these phones. Look the size of these phones they’re, basically, tablets and samsung is just better at putting tablet options into its software, so big phone good right well sure, but honestly it’s, not that hard to find a big android phone. The point of the s21 ultra is to be the most powerful and capable android phone price be damned and right now yeah. This is that let’s come back to the screen, it’s 3200 by 1440 pixels, and you can set it to have an adaptive refresh rate. So it can dynamically change from 10 to 120 hertz that makes scrolling and animation smooth, but it saves battery life when there’s nothing moving on the screen and on the s21 ultra for the first time you can have both maximum resolution and high refresh rate. At the same time, you don’t have to pick one or the other, actually a funny story about the screen. Usually, when samsung launches a big new phone, it will talk for like an hour about its screen tech, but with this one they’re just like yep.
This is the best screen and yep it is, i mean hell. Sometimes i would even switch the color from natural, which i usually prefer to vivid just to feel more alive. I think this screen looks great. This is also the first mass market phone with the new snapdragon 888 processor from qualcomm, so it has wi fi 6e. Both kinds of 5g has better graphics and, of course, it’s fast. It benchmarks really. Well, though, of course the iphone still beats it. But to me the important thing is that it feels fast and there’s, never any lag and for the first time in an s series, phone there’s support for samsung, styluses, the s pen, they’re separate, and i assume they’ll work. Fine samsung didn’t send this one. So i can’t test it, but looking at the demos, if you’ve ever used a note, it’s going to probably be about the same experience here, minus support for bluetooth now the 1200 base model has 128 gigs of storage and 12 gigs of ram for 50 bucks. More. You can step up to 256 gigs of storage and there’s a 512 model that has 16 gigs of ram and it’s 180 bucks. More and really, you should get one of those models with more storage, because in order to cut the price on this phone down from where it was last year, samsung had to take some stuff out. So you know we know they took the ac adapter out of the box, because apple does, of course samsung’s gon na do it, but they also cut the micro sd card slot and that move felt inevitable.
But it is kind of a bummer to not have expandable storage, especially for a phone that can shoot 8k video and lets you take 108 megapixel photos if you want to. But for me none of the specs that i’ve just rattled off the positive or the negative were as important to my experience of using this phone as the next spec. It has qualcomm’s newest, fastest and biggest fingerprint sensor in the screen. There’S, a much bigger area that you can tap to unlock and i do mean just tap it’s, just like boop unlocked boop, unlocked, boop, it’s, great and also you know it works if you’re wearing a mask and speaking of great battery life on this phone. For the review i turned on all the bells and whistles. I had max resolution adaptive refresh rate always on screen. I had the brightness cranked all the way up most of the time, and then i spent days and days shooting tons of photos and testing out 4k and a little bit of 8k video and i never killed the battery until basically, halfway through day two there’s, a Five thousand milliamp battery in this thing – and i think it’s enough, really, though, the thing that samsung wants to separate the ultra galaxy phones from the other galaxy phones are the cameras. The ultras are the ones that get samsung’s 108 megapixel sensor and they’re also the ones that get longer telephoto lenses. So, okay, what do we got here? Five cameras there’s the main 108 megapixel sensor at f 1.
8, which kicks out 12 megapixel images by default there’s a 12 megapixel ultra wide. Then there are not one but two: 10 megapixel telephoto lenses, one at a 3x zoom and one at a 10x zoom and the other hole here is for the laser autofocus sensor. Then the fifth camera is the 40 megapixel selfie camera on the front, which does 6.5 megapixels by default. But you can get the full 40 megapixels if you want so let’s start with that 108 megapixel camera, because it is the heart of this whole system. It is a second generation samsung sensor, the first one was in the original galaxy s20 ultra and that 100 megapixel sensor was a whiff. It had focus problems which samsung later had to fix on the note 20 ultra with a laser for autofocus, which is also here but other than that, though it just wasn’t really worth the hype. Samsung’S regular cameras on the regular s20s were almost as good. Now, with the galaxy s21 ultra well now, it’s good, i haven’t had any shutter lag. I haven’t had any miss focus issues and things like the narrow plane of focus seem a little bit better too. It is a noticeable step up from last year. In fact, there’s really only one other smartphone camera that’s, even in the same league as this phone, and it is not the pixel 5 which i got ta say, has really fallen behind this year. No, the other phone that’s worth talking about here is the iphone 12 pro max, which also has a larger sensor compared to the other iphone.
So you know what let’s just look at some samples, so i think this first photo is a really good representative example of what the s21 ultra can do. I set the focus point through the fence and i love that it grabs sharpness and detail of everything behind the fence, while letting the fence itself have a little bit of blur. Plus the colors here are super accurate to what i was seeing during that shoot. Here’S, a night mode shot and let’s just get into the s21 ultra versus the 12 pro max. I prefer how samsung exposed the bike here, but i think both are good and just look at the detail on the tire tread in this shot. Here’S another comparison photo, and you can start to see how these cameras have different opinions on how to expose things. Samsung still wants to make things just a little bit brighter than i like. Well, apple has honestly learned its lesson and is happy to leave contrast and shadows in now, here’s, comparing portrait mode and again samsung kind of just over. Does it with the colors a little bit, but i do think it has slightly better sharpness. Comparing ultra wides both seem fine. I think it comes down to just choices and preferences and color and exposure on the whole. I do think the iphone has a very slight edge in these comparisons, but it’s very slight. On the other hand, the s21 has a bunch of other tricks, and this year i think they’re more than just gimmicks.
So let’s talk about zoom there’s, both a 3x zoom and a 10x optical zoom here, which means that you can get better images in zoom in that sort of sub 10x range without having to resort to weird crop tricks. That samsung sometimes does so here’s an example. Starting at the main sensor going in at 3x and then 10x, all very good, then samsung still has this space zoom feature that’s supposed to let you get to 100x and i guess it’s better than last year. You can kind of get something decent at 30x and very good light, but of course, at 100x it’s still a mess, but that 10x zoom with its periscope lens. It really does yield better results that you can get from other cameras in the iphone specifically. So if you start here, this is a very challenging low light shot, but then you zoom in at 10x and yeah. The galaxy definitely wins at that zoom level. Then there’s, video and there’s a bunch of samsung camera tricks here as well. So, for example, it can now shoot 4k 60 out of every single camera lens. That seems gimmicky, but i’ve noticed a significant improvement in quality shooting out of the ultra wide camera. It can also still do 8k video, but now you can pull out a slightly better. Still out of the 8k, if you want, it also has a director’s mode built in so you can get a preview of what’s happening from every single lens and switch between them as you’re shooting.
I wish you could record them all as separate streams and edit them in post, but that’s, probably too much to ask for, as for the results, well we’re very happy with the stabilization how to adjust exposure on the fly during a shot and the sharpness. This is a very good video camera and i also have to say i love samsung’s pro modes for both photo and video it’s nice to have them built into the main camera. Samsung’S also got a raw option for photos too, but you know what i’m going to save talking about that until we can look a little bit closer, it versus apple’s pro raw some other time. Oh yeah samsung also does other gimmicks, so here’s me goofing with single. Take two which combines all of samsung’s gimmicks into one single button that you can press keep doing stuff. Oh my god, here’s, where i’m landing the camera system on the galaxy s21 ultra is very good. I think the best you can get on android right now, but you probably want to know what i think about compared to the iphone 12 pro max. Well, look if you took 50 photos with each of the main cameras on these phones. I think that 30 would be a toss up based on your personal preference. Then the s21 would be clearly better on i don’t know seven or eight or nine, and the iphone 12 pro max would be clearly better on like 11, 12 or 13.
. So very very close, and i think the story is about the same on video, but the galaxy s21 has a bunch of other stuff that you can do built into the camera and, unlike in previous years, with samsung, some of those new tricks are really good. One. Last thing with the camera and to me one of the most important things here is a selfie portrait mode shot with the wind making my hair go nuts. The s21 handles the portrait stuff fine, but pay attention to the lines. On my face, what you are seeing here is that you can finally, finally turn all of the face smoothing off i mean it makes me look like an old man now, but that’s. What i am so thank you all right, let’s talk software here’s, how samsung’s versions of android work they get way too messy and complicated, and then we all complain and then eventually samsung simplifies things and then the cycle starts again and right now we are heading towards The land of samsung complication, one ui, is still good for big screens but there’s. Just too many options i mean look at quick settings. Most of the stuff doesn’t mean anything to the average person and then i don’t know let’s check on the default weather widget on the home screen. Oh look there’s an ad built into the software cool, then there’s bixby, which is samsung’s digital assistant, and it is surprisingly, not total trash.
If you set it up and you set smart things up for your home and you just live that whole samsung life it’s, totally passable but it’s – also not necessary. The google assistant is still here on this phone and it’s still better. You do have to use some third party software to remap the button, but look it up it’s totally worth it then there’s the texting situation here in the us, for whatever reason, samsung is being made to ship samsung messages by default, whereas everybody else gets android messages And therefore rcs directly from google, now some us carriers do support rcs in samsung messages, but only kinda, so at t doesn’t do rcs that works with other carriers, for example. Then there’s also this cross carrier messaging initiative, which doesn’t seem like it’s doing anything and it’s still a mess and look rcs problems, aren’t samsung’s fault, but as the biggest seller of android phones in the us, you would think samsung will be trying harder to fix this Problem, but if you know you can install android messages, you’ll be fine and that’s the story with every samsung phone. If you know your way around android, you can make this s29 ultra an amazing and powerful and efficient phone. You can set the left of the home screen feed to google instead of samsung’s weird content deals. Feed you’ve got all those multitasking options. You’Ve got wireless desks to turn this into a desktop computer.
You just have to know how to do it all and if you do it’s great and if you don’t it’s a little confusing, so that is the samsung galaxy s21 ultra. It has the fastest speeds, the best camera system and the nicest screen of any android phone right. Now it has a battery that lasts more than a full day. It has a new beautiful design and some iffy software choices. Look, i don’t think it’s going to convince anybody to switch away from something like an iphone 12 pro max, but it is basically an equivalent phone if you prefer android to ios and if you’re wondering how the smaller galaxy s21 phones compare to this thing. That review is coming up next week, but i will just tell you this: it is a little bit disappointing that if you want the best galaxy phone, you do have to get the biggest one and make no mistake. This is the best android phone if you’re willing to deal with the screen size and the price i don’t know how long the galaxy s21 ultra can hold on to that best, android phone crown, but it definitely has it right now everybody thanks so much for watching.