Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: Polished excess
It isn’t just samsung’s, first premium, smartphone of the year, there’s a real chance. This is samsung’s only truly high end traditional smartphone, we see in 2021 and if that’s true, the pressure was on samsung to put its best foot forward here. For the most part, it did not by swinging for the fences, mind you, but by basically fixing all the problems we had last year, Music right off the bat there’s one glaring change we need to talk about the galaxy s21 ultra is cheaper. The base model with 12 gigs of ram and 128 gigs of storage sells for twelve hundred dollars or two hundred dollars less than the base s20 ultra from last year, then there’s, the top of the line model with 16 gigs of ram and half a terabyte of Storage, that’s, 220, less than last year’s version. Look i get it. That is still a lot of money to spend on a smartphone, but this is a move in the right direction. This is the least expensive starting price for one of samsung’s ultra phones, since ultra phones became a thing and, unlike with the smaller galaxy s21 samsung doesn’t seem to have made many compromises here. So what does 1200 actually get you well a new design for one thing, samsung says the s21s benefit from the biggest redesign in galaxy s, history, which sure i guess i mean all they really did – was extend the phone’s metal frame around the ultra’s rear cameras, which Is honestly fine by me? I really like the kind of pointedly asymmetrical look going on here, even though it means some of my universal phone accessories don’t fit anymore, that’s, honestly, pretty much it for the redesign i mean the only other real change of note here is the fact that there is No more expandable storage and i could go on and on about why.
I think this is a lousy idea, especially because this is supposed to be the premium power user device, but i’ll spare you i’m, not a fan. Apart from that, we’re looking at a device that’s just about the same size and weight as last year’s model, which means the s21 ultra, is a big phone like too big for a lot of people. That said, it is worth noting that the ultra basically weighs as much as an iphone 12 pro max, but is a lot easier to handle because of the screen’s tall and narrow aspect ratio, while we’re on the subjective displays. Twelve hundred dollars also gets you what has to be one of the best. Looking smartphone screens, i have ever seen: it’s one of samsung’s dynamic, amoled panels with a tiny hole cut out for a 40 megapixel front camera, and there is plenty to like about this display. Colors are rich, viewing angles are great and max brightness peaks at 1500 nits, so outdoor use is no problem, just like on the note 20 ultra. This is a variable refresh rate display, so it syncs as low as 10 hertz when you’re just looking at photos or whatever and surges to 120 hertz when you’re scrolling through twitter or playing compatible games. And how is this for new? For the first time you can get this screen running at its full 3200 by 1440 resolution and at its peak 120hz refresh rate. At the same time, i know some people have been just clamoring for this and after living with this screen for a while, i can safely say just do yourself and your battery a favor and leave the screen at full hd all the time.
The difference in resolution is just not that meaningful unless you’re really really in need of detail. The galaxy s21 ultra also delivers on the performance front thanks to the new snapdragon 888 chipset. Now this is the first 888 phone we’ve had the chance to test and there’s. Pretty obviously, more than enough power here to keep all of your go to apps and games running beautifully and again, that’s, not a surprise when benchmark apps point to notable performance games compared to last year’s snapdragon 865, which itself was already more than fast enough for most Use cases in most people, what benchmarks can’t quite describe is how fast this phone feels between that extra compute power that super fast screen and some under the hood tweaks. The ultra honestly feels like the most responsive phone i’ve used in a long time with all that said, the galaxy s. Experience is a little different this year for one, the ultra ships with samsung’s, one ui, three and android 11, which ushers in enough changes that they could easily fill a video of their own. So i’ll just shout out a couple here: google’s excellent discover feed replaces samsung’s daily, which is great because samsung daily was always kind of ad written and generally pretty awful. You also get samsung free as an option to sit where the discovered feed does, which i guess is nice. If you prefer to read the new samsung chooses for you or to watch streaming free video channels, i mean look whatever why not meanwhile, samsung’s private share app lets.
You securely share files with anyone. You want and control access to those files as long as they also have a galaxy phone, which is kind of a huge disappointment for me and of course there is the s pen, samsung didn’t give us one to test, which is fair, because you yourself will have To buy one or scrounge one out of an old galaxy note honestly, it feels weird to use one of these styluses on a non node phone at first and, as you would expect, the experience is not quite the same there’s a bit more latency here for one. So you’ll see your strokes, trailing behind the tip of your s. Pen. Whenever you use it and while the s21’s wacom digitizer means you can still click the s pen to access your shortcuts, you can’t do any of the really cool remote control tricks. That made the note 20 ultra’s s pen such a joy to use don’t get me wrong, like you can still take notes and sketch dogs or whatever, with the s21 ultra it’s, just not as elegant here samsung. If you’re watching this, please don’t stop making galaxy notes. There’S, obviously, a lot going on inside this phone. So what does that mean for battery life? Well, in general, i got the same performance. I got out of the galaxy note 20 ultra last year, so about five to six hours of screen on time, and that is with mind you pretty consistent use.
I am putting this phone through the ringer as i test it once i got to the end of the day. I still had quite a bit left over in the tank for the following morning, so for most people i’d feel confident saying this is going to be a multi day phone. But if you’re playing a lot of games and you’re really trying to push the snapdragon 888 to its limits, yeah it’s not impossible to kill this thing within a day and that’s, especially true. If you have that screen resolution cranked up all the way. Let’S be honest, though, one of the big reasons, the ultra cost, as much as it does is because of its cameras, and this year you get five of them. A 40 megapixel front camera for needlessly detailed, selfies, plus a 108 megapixel wide camera. A 12 megapixel ultra wide and a pair of 10 megapixel telephoto cameras, one with a three times: optical zoom range and another. With a 10 times optical range throw in a laser autofocus module to fix the focusing issues we saw with last year’s s20 ultra, and we honestly have what feels like the most competent camera setup. Samsung has ever put together that 108 megapixel wide camera is going to do most of the heavy lifting and it’s a solid all around performer that’s, partially because of samsung’s ludicrous sensor and the way it treats nine smaller sensor, pixels as one big one by default.
But it’s also because of samsung’s approach to colors they’re really punchy, especially when you’re looking at photos on the phone to the point where they usually look better than reality. That is classic samsung for you and ordinarily. This is where i’d say that, whether the images the ultra takes are better than others really just depends on the way you like your photos, to look this time, though, i really have to give it to samsung. I have been using apple’s iphone 12 pro max pretty extensively and its smart hdr seems just a touch too aggressive at times. Making photos look a little moodier and more contrasty than they should compared to real life. Samsung’S images might skew a little vivid but they’re actually pretty frequently the more natural looking photos, and i cannot say i ever expected to say that if detail is more important to you than anything else, you can also shoot at the sensor’s full 108 megapixel resolution. Assuming you can get close enough to your subject, you can capture just about everything it has to offer, with seemingly no effect on samsung’s image. Processing just know that you probably shouldn’t, rely on it in low light because you lose the benefits of pixel binning. Speaking of low light, the s21 ultrasonic mode does a noticeably better job than last year’s model, which often produced images with a sort of yellowish greenish sickly cast this year’s ultra corrects for those really. Well, though my usual gripe still applies.
Samsung phones want night photos to look as bright as possible, which is nice in theory, but not always what you want out of a nighttime photo. That said, it also stacks up really well against the competition i tested it against the pixel 5 and the iphone 12 pro max and the ultra generally produced the cleanest results. But again remember the cleanest, doesn’t necessarily mean best. I’Ve definitely noticed the iphone, for example, blowing out parts of images, the ultra nails, but the iphone’s photos more distinctly, look like they were taken at night. I can already tell i’m getting a little carried away. We still have other cameras to talk about for one. The 12 megapixel ultrawide is back and to me it is the most forgettable camera here and that’s, not because it’s bad. It takes perfectly nice photos when you can’t back up from your subject or when you need to capture just as much space as possible it’s. Just that, with the way i like to shoot, it doesn’t come in handy all that frequently, the two telephoto cameras are a different story. I mean come on. There are two of them and again we’re working with pure optical zoom here, so the resulting photos, even though they’re, not quite as detailed as ones you get with the main camera, are still plenty impressive and totally worth sharing that’s, especially true of the 10 time zoom Camera, which i did not think i needed going into this review, and now that i’m, almost on the other side of it, i don’t want to give it up if you ever need more range than that there is always space zoom which lets you push in.
As far as 100 times when you’re stalking people, i was supposed to take that out. Sorry, i meant shooting far off bits of architecture, yeah i’m kidding, but space zoom raises the same ethical questions. It did last time 100 times, zoomed photos of people just like hundred times zoomed photos of. Basically anything else are rarely worth the time to spend taking them. But knowing you can watch someone who has no idea you’re, even there never stops feeling creepy. There are, of course, more legitimate uses for space zoom though, and it feels much more polished when you’re framing up your shot. For example, the camera tries to keep whatever you’ve settled on in the frame it doesn’t always work, especially if you’re trying to shoot a moving subject. But it is a huge improvement over just sort of praying for the best. The way you had to with the s20 ultra space zoom feels a lot more functional and consistent than it did last year, especially at super long range. One could even argue the relative merits of shooting a 30 time zoo, but shooting at 100 times. Zoom still feels like a mostly meaningless flex on samsung’s part. You can get some great shot with it’s fine, but practically speaking, does anyone want or need this i mean seriously speaking of practicality. Samsung’S video features are kind of a mixed bag. Shooting 8k video springs to mind, since i can almost guarantee you do not have a display that can properly do this footage justice.
Yet that said, if you’re going to record an ak anyway, first have fun whatever you can also tap a button to pull some pretty decent stills from the video stream, which i have benefited from quite a bit. So far, on the flip side, director’s view is legitimately great, rather than having to blindly switch between cameras and hoping for the best. You can now see video streams from each of the cameras, so you know exactly what you’re committing to then there’s a vlog review which puts your face next to footage and reaction. Videos cool. Why not? No matter what rando tool you’re using to help you shoot your footage, it’s going to look pretty much uniformly great and it doesn’t hurt that you can now shoot at 4k, 60 out of all of the ultra’s cameras. There are some exceptions, though some of my clips with very detailed scenes, looked really grainy and over processed when looking at them on a proper monitor. But thankfully those were in the minority. Look they say the best camera is the one that you have with you, but the flexibility, these cameras offer mean there’s little chance. You’Ll encounter someone something or some place that you aren’t equipped to deal with that’s a powerful thing and that’s. The galaxy s21 ultra all told it doesn’t break much new ground, but that’s kind of easy to forgive when you consider just how competent it is at most things, and that is something we just could not say about last year’s model.
Now i know 2021 is still pretty young and you know we’re going to see some wild new phones this year. But if you’ve been itching for an upgrade – and you want to make sure you won’t need to buy another phone for a while.