Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review: A Breakthrough Quad Camera vs iPhone 12 Pro Max
No doubt samsung has put everything they possibly can in this new s21 ultra, our phones, you know they become our camera and cameras are always important, but this year it just really stands out for me on the s21 ultra from its design to its functionality, and i Won’T be covering every single aspect of this phone in this review, but this is all the big stuff that matters so let’s start off with the design of their new flagship phone, and this is a review unit that samsung sent me and during their keynote you know They spent almost what three minutes talking about phantom black. Some people made fun of it because hey black is black, but oh, my gosh look at this thing. I love it in person. It has this. You know slate black design, it just looks awesome and even in the dark i mean it kind of just literally disappears into the night in you know. They also integrated this quad camera into the edge of the design in a seamless way to incorporate it. It looks just so much better compared to the previous s20 ultra design. Samsung calls it contour cut. I just call this thing gorgeous and yes, there’s still a bump, but i’ve never complained about the camera bump on any phone as long as it gives us more powerful functionality, and this camera absolutely does now it’s easier and more comfortable to hold in one hand because Of its narrower body and curved edges compared to the iphone 12 pro max’s boxier edges, even if the s21 ultra 5g is 0.
1 inches larger in screen size, and i only bring that up because that’s the phone that many people will want to kind of initially compare This to it has its qhd plus amoled 2x display. This looks as vibrant as ever with a variable 120hz refresh rate that automatically changes from 10hz to 120hz, depending on what type of content is being displayed. Social media uses less video or even playing games as a higher refresh rate. It also has an even higher peak brightness at 1, 500 nits that’s compared to the previous s20 ultra of 1400, and i still choose to change the display setting to natural over vivid, which can be tweaked, because i think that in vivid the display just tends to Pop too much things, look over saturated and the colors do jump off the screen, but it just doesn’t look as natural now. This is still using gorilla, glass victus, but the display tech that i could instantly tell the difference when i felt it and picked it up. Is the new in display fingerprint scanner that is the second generation ultrasonic fingerprint sensor from qualcomm? You know right when i picked it up. It felt different before qualcomm even revealed that their new sensor was out and it has a larger detection area. It captures more biometric data and it’s 50 faster than last year’s model, and this is really to me how fast and accurate an fingerprint reader should be and really just sets the standard as the best on the market.
Today now the snapdragon 888 is a five nanometer chip that brings more performance and less power usage and also integrates the 5g modem in it, so it doesn’t consume as much power. I got to tell you, though, this thing is fast and smooth. The 120 hertz refresh rate visuals also, you know, give me the feeling of a snappy experience that never felt i was lacking in any way. So this is kind of a total package. You also have the latest one ui, it’s, still minimal. On top of android and you’ll still be able to use split screen, apps, even three apps, if you want to, i think that gets a little crowded but bouncing around on a galaxy phone. Just never felt as good to me, and you also have the option to swap between either samsung free when you swipe all the way to the right. This is their panel for news and streaming. Entertainment versus google discover well i’m gon na always set it to google. The s21 ultra also comes in 128, 256 and 512 storage capacities. The 120 and 256 come with 12 gigs of ram, while the 512 option brings 16 gigs of ram. Now one of the major subtractions there’s no longer an expandable memory card slot, really one of the staples of a galaxy phone and other android phones and really kind of a big reason why people stick with the galaxy. You know i’ve never taken advantage of it and i’m sure the data shows from samsung that a majority of users aren’t using it but taking it away to me, is kind of a kick to the gut for long time users.
It might even be a deal breaker for some of you, but it’s also on trend with the majority of flagship phones. Today, the phone supports bluetooth 5.2. It has ultra wide band and wi fi 6e that supports the six gigahertz band. Plus it has an ip68 rating, which means it can be submerged in 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes all right let’s get to what really makes this phone special to me and that’s its cameras. Now i was absolutely impressed with apple’s triple lens camera. When they first brought it to the 11 pro, they have it on the 12 pro, but the galaxy s21 ultra has completely surpassed it with its four camera lens it’s optical zoom. It does macro shots and its overall versatility there’s just so much to dive into here, and i really can’t cover it all, but i’m gon na really cover what i can that i feel is important. So let’s first break down this new quad camera it’s all laid out within this slick, contour cut design, but you start with an ultra wide 12 megapixel camera with an f22 aperture, then you’ll have the workhorse 108 megapixel wide angle sensor with optical image, stabilization and an F18 aperture, which allows the most light of all the cameras in then. This is where it gets interesting. With two telephoto cameras working together, one is a 10 megapixel sensor with a 3x optical zoom and an f24 aperture.
The other is a 10 megapixel sensor with a 10x optical zoom, which is the best optical zoom on the market today and an f49 aperture. It also has a laser autofocus sensor for more accurate, focusing and it doesn’t have any of the significantly slower autofocus issues that initially affected the s20. In my tests in this video comparison here using the s21 ultra and then an iphone 12 pro max, you can see there’s just a slight moment where the s21 has to adjust, where it’s really a lot more subtle of a transition for the iphone. You might even have to go back and look at it twice to see if you can catch it, but let’s. Look at some of the images that i captured to show you just how impressive this camera is. I took it out to the redondo beach area to get some images of surfers from a distance and with these images, you’ll see me start at 0.6, with the ultrawide lens then 1x, then 4x, then 10x, then 30x and finally, 100x for its space zoom. Now we know space zoom at 100 times is a combination of the 10x optical and then ai digital zoom, and there have been some nice pictures of the moon that people have taken. I mean samsung markets this a lot, but rarely will you ever really use it consistently after the first few times. For me, i was more fascinated with being able to get up to a true 10x optical zoom, which resulted in video footage of surfers from a distance that just looked great compared to the iphone 12 pro max.
That gets a 2.5 x optical zoom at best that’s. Just weak in comparison now, i think samsung just really needs to lean into this 10x optical zoom capabilities instead of you know, going for the marketing 100x base zoom when it talks about this thing, because 10x is so much more important and so much more practical. Now i can imagine at sporting events when we can return to them. The s21 ultra would absolutely be my phone of choice. I mean it. Wouldn’T even be close, and if you look at here, each of the four lenses can also shoot up to 4k. At 60 frames per second, while the wide camera can go up to 8k at 24 frames per second. But what makes the s21 ultra so versatile with this two telephoto lens is how it uses them together. So when you’re going up to 3x that’s a true optical zoom with the telephoto lens, but then from 3x to 6x in that range it’s using a combination of the 3x optical sensor and then the ai digital zoom to kind of push it there now here’s interesting Samsung said once you get to the 6x to the 10x range it’s, actually using a fusion of the two lenses until you can get to that 10x mark where then you’re using the true 10x telephoto lens, obviously anything after that, if you’re talking about 30x or the 100X space zoom is using ai digital zoom in combination with the optical zoom, but that’s just really a more in depth.
Explanation to tell you how it works, but bottom line when you’re using this thing you don’t have to think about it. It just works great. So look, you might think this is already a super versatile, quad camera, but it also then brings macro shots. So if an object is detected by the laser autofocus to be within 30 centimeters of the camera, it switches over to the 12 megapixel ultra wide lens. To give you an extreme close up up to five centimeters away in distance, and i put this to the test with an up close look at the best poke that you can find around here, shout out to just poke, and you can see the difference between the S21, ultra 5g versus the iphone 12 pro max it’s, not even close here and then again, let’s. Look at this flower right. I used the macro shot held them both up the same distance from the flower. You can clearly see how much more details in the s21 ultra. This is not even a contest when it comes to this now there’s. Also, a new shooting mode called director’s view that lets you preview, the wide ultra ride and zoom lens and then change between them. On the fly, you can use the front facing camera as like a picture in picture version for this or even do split screen, and this can all be done for landscape or vertical video it’s. Just a new way of storytelling directly on the camera and the interface is super smooth and similar to what the filmic pro app can do, but it’s all built in a samsung’s camera app there’s.
Also so many other features like an improved single take for both still and video moments taken simultaneously and then captured with ai processing plus the front facing 40 megapixel sensor has a selfie color tone that you can actually change between bright, which is the default versus natural, Which i prefer this is the most versatile camera system that i’ve used on a phone to date, but it’s also easy to use at the same time, and you can still dig deep into the pro mode if you want to, but either way you’re going to get Great shots, samsung has just done something special here, especially when cameras are our phones and at the heart of our content creation. I came away absolutely impressed now. There are a few other things that the s21 ultra 5g gets rid of. There’S, no longer a power adapter included in the box, which makes the box and packaging a whole lot slimmer. And yes, we know samsung teased apple about taking away the power adapter, and then they did it within a year themselves. I mean that didn’t look good, but i will say at least it makes a little more sense for them to do it when they’ve had a usbc power, adapter included for the past few years, with their phones that support charging their phones at the maximum wattage. Compare that to apple who removed their power adapter, but then included a new cable that isn’t compatible with any of their previous phone chargers, and then you still need to buy a new power adapter to get the highest charging capability.
Now the other feature removed. Samsung pay will no longer support magnetic secure transmission or mst. For short, this allows you to pay at terminals that don’t support nfc payments by generating a magnetic signal similar to that of a traditional payment card when you swipe it, but earlier devices that support the feature will still work with mst, but future devices will no longer Have mst according to samsung, the s21 ultra is where it starts. So several features that were key differentiators are no longer part of the galaxy lineup, but it will also be bringing something new to the s21 ultra. That has never happened before s pen compatibility. So you will now be able to use the s pen or other compatible styluses from previous galaxy notes, even third party ones, with the s21 ultra on launch. It will support all the writing capabilities. You expect but bluetooth functionality like using it as a remote for photos or its wireless jedi, like gestures, that we’ve seen, will not work on launch, but they are expected to be coming in a future release. So at the moment, the s pen and early styluses will only be compatible with its writing features. Now, they’re also selling a new s pen for the s21 ultra that will have the same nine millisecond latency, but again only compatible with writing capabilities. For now, a new s pen pro will be released later in the year, but there’s no price or release date.
For that yet – and this doesn’t mean that the note lineup is dead – i mean at least not to me. I really think that you know they’re at least just bringing more functionality to the galaxy s lineup and i’m. Honestly, not a stylus user. With my phone i’ve said this before i’ve tried, but it’s never stuck with me so i’m, not really the target user for this. But i’d love to hear if any of you find the s21 ultra with an s pen more appealing, maybe even to the point where you’d leave the note family or you’re just still fine sticking with the galaxy note lineup now, battery capacity brings the same 5. 000 milliampere hour battery as the s20 and i’ve easily been able to get through a full day with as much as 30 battery left. I know that our usage patterns are different. Since we are staying at home, more and that’s all i can really use as a reference right now, but even on my long days, testing this using the cameras. Throughout the day i still had about 20 juice left at the end, so the battery has been impressive and the snapdragon 888 clearly helps out with that. The galaxy s21 ultra 5g retails for 1199 for its base model with 128 gigs of storage that’s 100. More than the iphone 12 pro max with 128 gigs of storage, so we’re talking about a 1200 phone before adding any extra storage space, but they have really thrown the top specs of this device with truly a best in class camera system for 2021.
That is gon na be really hard to beat. Now, if you pre order by january 28th on samsung.com they’ll, try to help out by giving you a 200 sampson credit to use on phone accessories, bundles or even products like samsung tvs, plus you’ll, get a free bluetooth. Galaxy smart tag that’s a 29.99 value to use to track an item in case it gets lost now the galaxy s21 ultra 5g. This is one of the best high end galaxy phones that i can remember in a long time because it stands out with this new elegant design. It’S got stellar performance thanks to the snapdragon 888 it’s fingerprint sensor and screen is top of the line. It’S top tier quad camera system is top of the line plus. Then you also have the option for an s pen you’re, also paying for what you get at its 1200 starting price point. But the dreamer in me is already looking ahead and saying to myself. You know i can’t wait until they put this amazing camera system and get it to the point where it’s small enough to fit into the entry level. S21. Well, we’re, not there! Yet! But if you’re in the samsung ecosystem and you’re ready to upgrade – and you can live with the removal of the sd card, expansion slot and no more samsung pay mst, i think this is an absolute no brainer, even if you’re not. This is a phone that might actually make you consider switching over.
I don’t say that often i don’t even say that year to year, but it’s that good to me – and i know that it’s early in the year, but the s21 ultra 5g is easily gon na.