Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review: Problems Solved!
Music, hey what’s up mkbhd here, and this is a samsung galaxy s, 21 ultra and it’s, an incredibly good phone. I got ta say now. The thing is: not only does it do a lot on paper because we already know about the big numbers, the huge specs, the ultra story – that’s all still here, but it does a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up on the spec sheet. A lot of subtle, tweaks and changes that turn this from a really good phone to a great one. So of course, i got ta start with the finish, because well i’ve been saying: matte black everything for a solid couple of years. Now to the point where it’s it’s on a shirt, my car, probably my most precious possession – is wrapped in matte black and its name is phantom. So i guess you could say this: phantom black galaxy s21 ultra, the matte finish kind of speaks to me and, like i said, it’s not going to be on the spec sheet. But this is a really nice finish: it’s a really very clean flat, smooth black finish on glass and then with a slightly different texture on the metal housing around the cameras. And then it turns into your typical glossy black around the edges. But just the whole look of this phone to me is very intentional, i’m on record, saying i actually really like it, and that was my first impressions, video and i’m sticking by that just the way the camera module curves into the body of the phone.
The way it looks like like an overlay of another s21 ultra on top of the first one, really the worst thing about it – is that it’s still uneven, so it still rocks on a table. But everything else about this design, i think, is as good as it gets. I was kind of worried it would look great out the box actually and then just collect a ton of fingerprints and look awful, but this matte black has been shockingly good at rejecting fingerprints. So that’s sweet – something you might have noticed also is samsung – has a carbon fiber weave in the camera module for like every other color of this phone, except for phantom black for some reason, but luckily for less than two bucks channel sponsored dbrand’s got you covered with A carbon fiber camera skin, so you can still get that look easy. So, okay, now that i’m done raving about the design, the galaxy s21 ultra as a sequel to the s20 ultra is actually largely the same phone it’s got a lot of the same big numbers. The ultra stuff is still here, but there’s. A lot of small intangibles, a lot of small adjustments that they’ve made that i really like, probably more than you think and then like. I don’t know how to say this without sounding kind of full of it. But i feel like this phone was designed by, or maybe at least worked on by people who have watched mkbhd videos does that make sense like there’s there’s, a lot of things in here and, of course, there’s a lot of people out there who have the same Tastes and will like a lot of these changes in any phone, but yeah this.
This exact phone feels more like an mkbhd edition phone than any phone i’ve ever reviewed, so you got ta start up front with that display. This has been a strength of samsung and their phones for years, so you can expect good stuff, and you see that with the improvements on paper right, this is a huge oled that will finally do 1440p resolution and 120 hertz. At the same time, it gets even brighter up to 1500 nits tops so it’s viewable in pretty much any conditions and the new ltpo panel tech makes it actively varied its refresh rate between 10 hertz and 120 hertz to save battery. But from my experience has stayed very responsive, i’ve, never noticed a dip in frame rate in everyday use, so it’s managing it really well, which is a success, but even with all that stuff that’s on the spec sheet, there’s. Also all the stuff that’s, not on paper. Like the fact that they keep flattening the display even more than last year, this one doesn’t spill over the edges kind of at all anymore, obviously like that it’s also a little bit smaller and the body of this phone it’s. Still a big phone don’t. Get me wrong, but it’s not like stupid big like here. It is compared to iphone 12 pro max another pretty big phone, but it’s, actually a smaller footprint here and next to the oneplus 8 pro it’s still huge, but doesn’t seem so overbearingly massive right, it’s.
Actually, smaller than the galaxy s20 ultra going from a 6.9 inch to a 6.8 inch display and also the fingerprint sensor is new. I guess that would be on paper too, but they’ve switched to a newer generation qualcomm under display fingerprint reader, and that reader is noticeably bigger, it’s 1.77 times the size of last year. I didn’t notice it being any faster, even though it claimed to be, but just the larger sensor area by itself makes the experience of using the fingerprint sensor all the time, much less frustrating i have less failed attempts. It feels less finicky and maybe someday the whole bottom of the phone will be a fingerprint sensor, but until then, in this world of wearing masks, the improved fingerprint reader is welcome. So also on paper, snapdragon, 8 inside 12 or 16 gigs of ram, depending on which spec you get fast. Ufs 3.1 storage, not expandable, which is technically a downgrade from last year, but it’s, something i haven’t personally used in a long time, then high refresh rate display and a 5 000 milliamp hour battery. So this phone is clearly a flagship performer on paper, but off paper. There are a lot of improvements to one ui 3 on this phone that do probably make a more meaningful difference to the user experience versus just the bleeding edge specs now i’ve said before i’m. Not the biggest fan of samsung’s software and their ui honestly, i i’ve preferred close to stock.
Maybe oxygen. Os is my favorite non stock option, but you can’t sleep on samsung software. The whole reason they do what they do is to offer as many features as possible, and they are still at it. There are tons of features packed into these phones that have a lot of potential for customization and just letting you tailor it to behave. The way you want you never have to dive in and use any or all of the features, because there’s a lot but they’ll be waiting for you. If you have the time to mess with them. I think the stuff you’ll first notice with s21 ultra, is the new volume control here, those sliders just a little cleaner. Looking in one ui, three, the new notification grouping on top of android, just an overall, cleaner, aesthetic and organization to things like that, the stock apps and the improved dark mode that i highly recommend looks great on this oled display and can actually net you a little Bit of extra battery life, but also the google discover page to the side of the home screen and samsung’s launcher what who told them to do that. I did not see that coming but hey. If i worked at samsung and i kept asking for a google play edition for all these years, i guess we know that’s probably never going to happen again, but this is a little taste to that it’s as close as it’s going to get.
I do kind of wish the search box showed up over here too, like it does in the google app but hey. This is solid and i guess if they let me map bixby to google assistant all over the phone. That would have been the cherry on top. But anyway, speaking of battery, we again have an ultra number it’s 5 000 milliamp hours, and that looks great on paper right in practice. I’Ve had a very good battery experience now. The thing to note, which is an ongoing conversation, is the qualcomm snapdragon chip experience versus in other regions, there’s an exynos version, so this year with this phone, it would be snapdragon 8 versus the exynos 2100. Now the initial testing results show uh pretty promising. Basically, for those who haven’t known or haven’t been filled in, usually the exynos version is much worse with battery life and performance in those regions. Initial testing is uh, pretty promising for the exynos 2100 i’m going to leave that actual conclusion getting to people who can get their hands on both phones. But for now, with my experience on the qualcomm phone very good battery life on one day, i got four hours of screen on time and ended around 50 percent. The next day i had around five hours had a little less at the end of the day. I never once killed it in a single day, it’s, pretty clear that the combination of the triple h chip and the ltpo display tech are working well here, i’d i’d say it has what i’d call a worry free battery don’t even really have to think about it Too much with some super heavy use and navigation and bright screen outdoors all the time and gaming taking lots of photos and videos, then maybe maybe you’ll get to the end of the battery.
But hey while we’re here let’s talk cameras. They are a big part of the ultra phone experience, both figuratively and literally speaking, so they hit all the check boxes of big ultra numbers, again: 108 megapixels 100 times zoom 8k video. All that stuff is still here, i would say the experience has actually changed more than the photo quality photo. Quality is still roughly what we’d expect from a high end, samsung phone and i’ll get to that in a second. But there are more changes to how you get to that photo and video that are better there’s, countless examples of this so right when you first open the camera, app samsung asks you if you want to take natural or bright selfies, instead of just defaulting to bright. All the time i’m glad they added that option they didn’t have to, but that results in much more natural selfies from that 40 megapixel camera. For someone like me, with my skin tone, right off the bat instead of having to mess with the exposure slider, then the 100x space zoom, which yes is definitely extreme and probably still a gimmick to most people. It got a lot more stable and easier to use. Thanks to the subject, locking in the viewfinder so now, when you’re zoomed, all the way in on something the camera tries to identify the subject of the photo you’re taking and locks the viewfinder to track that, instead of shaking around so much, it is slightly annoying when You’Re like locked onto something that’s, not quite what you’re trying to shoot and then you have to try to adjust it, probably zoom out and zoom back in, but when it correctly picks your subject.
It’S great the results are still insane and not super usable, but hey. If you were using 100x before you’ll be happier with how much easier it is to use in this new version, you of course have the laser autofocus added to fix the autofocus issues we saw with the s20 ultra and i’d say in 75 percent of cases. It works, it sometimes still hunts a little bit with the really close up subjects but for the most part it’s solved and then the camera app also now auto detects when you’re trying to take an extreme, close up and switches to macro but it’s, not a separate Macro camera, as you may have noticed, this phone doesn’t have one because it doesn’t need one. It uses the ultra wide camera, which has autofocus and a super close minimum focus distance, so it actually takes really solid quality macros and it does 4k 60fps video from all the cameras now, including the selfie camera and it’ll shoot 12 bit raw photos in pro mode, Which is an awesome capability that i’ll probably rarely actually use personally kind of like the 108 megapixel mode, but it’s? Definitely a nice to have they’ve added things like the director’s view, which lets you record video from multiple cameras simultaneously, which is enabled by the snapdragon 8. Potentially, really useful for vlog style, shooting and the use of two telephoto cameras, a 3x and a 10x seemed peculiar at first, but i’ve found.
It actually makes a lot of sense so, like i could live without the 10x, and most people also could and the s21s don’t have it and that’s fine, but samsung’s committed to offering that quality super far zoom on this phone. So if they did the 10x by itself and not the 3x well then everything from 1x to 10x would be digital zoom on the main sensor and that’s not ideal. So if they only did the 3x and not the 10x. Well then, everything from 3x in that super far range wouldn’t be quite up to the ultra standard, so they have a 3x and a 10x, and so now everything from 1 to 3x is zoom on the primary camera. Everything from 3x to 10x is either on the primary or the second camera, just depending on what the lighting situation is, and then everything from 10x and beyond is, of course, on that little periscope camera and that’s delivering some of the best 10x to 30x zoom photos That i’m, seeing on any smartphone, so that’s accomplishing what samsung set out to do now. Is it perfect? No, no camera is perfect, it still misses shots. It still does 8k at only 24 fps the wrong frame rate and, most notably, it definitely still fringes on the edges with close up subjects absolutely but overall they’ve controlled it a lot more with color and hdr and focus, and so overall the look is what you’d Expect just easier to get so at the end of the day, when you go down the list with the s21 ultra, they did it like this.
This is the phone that would have come out the lab. If you handed me an s20 ultra and said all right go ahead and make any improvements you want, this is what i would have made. I would have updated the design i would have flattened out the display. I would have added a little google flare to the software, the improved camera experience and i would have spent way too much time on a matte black finish and named it phantom black it’s kind of the best they’ve ever done. Oh and one more thing you might have seen some shots throughout the video of the limited edition icons drop that i did with dbrand a few weeks ago. I’Ve also noticed a lot of you guys on twitter, who missed out on that limited edition drop. So i’ve been working with the brand on this for a while behind the scenes, and now you guessed it, icons is back and it’s, not just limited this time, it’s back permanently, so for all 150 plus devices in their category, icons will live on forever in red And black and triple black, but then also this is more than just a re release, because we’re adding a few things we’re, adding that red and black mask you saw red code mask and we’re, also adding a new limited edition, colorway called silicon, so it’s the matte Black finish with a matte metallic paint for all the icons looks pretty hot.
If you ask me now, if you’re somehow watching this in the future sometime where silicon is over, that limited drop happened and you missed the train. So sorry, but there’s also some more limited edition colorways planned in the future. So definitely, let me know in the comments what other sort of colorways you want to see for icons, either way, that’s been it galaxy, s21, ultra very impressive phone, very close to what an mkbhd edition might look like.