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Galaxy S21 Ultra in the test: Samsung's best and greatest

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra front front. (Photo: t3n)
All good things come in threes: Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is the one consistent further development of the first two Ultra models. The new generation is the best high-end device from the industry leader to date – and even cheaper than its predecessor.

With the Ultra models, Samsung offers high- End smartphones that only have the ultimate in features. The third generation after the Galaxy S20 Ultra (test) and the Note 20 Ultra (test) leaves little to be desired. Many teething troubles, especially of the S20 Ultra, have been resolved, some have been improved and there is hardly anything to complain about, especially since it costs less .

Contents

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: design and workmanship
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with excellent display
  • Ultra-fast: The ultrasonic fingerprint reader of the Galaxy S21 Ultra

  • The camera of the Galaxy S21 Ultra: Better than in the S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: performance and battery life
  • Software of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Current Android with One UI 3.1
  • Conclusion: Samsung can do Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Design and workmanship

Black Beauty: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in “Phantom Black”. (Photo: t3n)

The further development of Samsung’s Ultra series can already be seen in the design and workmanship: The S21 Ultra is excellently processed and consists of Corning’s currently most robust Gorilla Glass 7 “Victus” at the back and front. At the front, the large 6.8-inch screen takes up almost the entire front – there is no longer too much frame. On the sides, the screen nestles only minimally around the edge, which we welcome.

Like the first Ultra generations, the S21 Ultra is a relatively huge smartphone. At 227 grams, it weighs more than the previous models from Samsung’s premium range. The S20 Ultra weighs 220 grams and the Note 20 Ultra 208 grams, even though both have a 0.1 inch larger display. It is therefore in the weight class of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is a shade lighter at 226 grams. Due to its narrow design in the elongated 20: 9 format with a width of 75.6 millimeters, it should be easier to use than Apple’s giant iPhone, which is 78.1 millimeters wide but shorter and thinner. The dimensions in comparison:

160.8 x 78.1 x 7.4 mm
Model Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra iPhone 12 Pro Max
Display 6, 8 inch adaptive 120 Hertz Infinity-O-Display – WQHD + (3,200 x 1,440 pixels, 20: 9, 515 ppi) 6.9 inch 120 Hertz Infinity-O-Display – WQHD + (3,200 x 1,440 pixels, HDR10 + 20: 9, 511 ppi) 6.9 inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity Display, 120 Hz, aspect ratio 19.3: 9, Gorilla Glass 7, WQHD with 320 0 x 1440 pixels, 496 ppi 6.7-inch OLED Super Retina XDR display and 10-bit color depth; 2,778 x 1,284 pixels, 19.5: 9, 458 ppi
Dimensions 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm
Weight 227 grams 220 g 208 g 226 g

Design highlight of the S21 Ultra is without a doubt the new frame that hugs the back at the level of the camera element. From our point of view, it is the best solution so far to capture the now huge camera optics consisting of several sensors and lenses. The device is certainly bulky at this point, but thanks to the new design it looks more like a single piece. Particularly in direct comparison to the S20 Ultra, in which the camera element is built relatively uncreatively on the back, you can see clear progress. Other manufacturers can cut a slice here.

The camera hump of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is bulky, but looks better than its predecessor. (Photo: t3n)

In addition to the large camera element with five CNC-milled openings for lenses and sensors, the matt surface is an eye-catcher. Even with intensive use, no fat fingerprints can be seen, not even on the sc black variant that was made available to us by Samsung for testing. With the S20 Ultra with its glossy glass surface it looked different, every single finger left a trace.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is available in black and silver – both are matt. (Photo: Samsung)

Apart from the excellent workmanship, the chic finish and its distinctive design, the S21 Ultra is still a large and heavy smartphone that is not easy to use with one hand. But if you are used to an S20 Ultra or other current high-end devices with a large screen, you shouldn’t be bothered by it.

Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra in comparison: These are the differences

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with excellent display

From the front it is hard to tell apart: The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra next to the S20 Ultra (Photo: t3n)

The display is also worthy of an Ultra model. The 6.8-inch OLED screen with WQHD Plus resolution of 3,200 x 1,440 pixels and its dynamic (Samsung calls it adaptive) refresh rate of ten to 120 Hertz is excellent. With the help of the automatically adjustable frame rate, static content can be displayed at a reduced hertz rate in order to save energy or to adjust the frequency for videos with 24 to 60 fps. So that the Android system runs smoothly throughout, the user interface is set to a refresh rate of 120 Hertz.

The photo will be the does not do justice to the excellent quality of the display. (Photo: t3n)

The S21 Ultra is also Samsung’s first model in which the full WQGD-Plus resolution can be used in combination with 120 Hertz. The user has to activate this option manually, however, because by default the screen is set to Full HD Plus resolution, presumably to save energy.

But even with a reduced resolution, the screen leaves an excellent impression. In the standard setting “Vivid”, colors are displayed brilliantly with high, but not exaggerated color saturation. If you want it to be even more realistic, you can switch to “natural” and readjust the white balance using advanced settings.

The display options of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. (Screenshots: t3n)

Thanks to the high maximum brightness of up to 1,500 nits, content can be easily read even in direct sunlight. To protect the eyes in the dark, Samsung has also integrated an eye comfort mode that must be activated manually. With the feature, the color temperature of the screen is regulated depending on the time of day and blue light is filtered out in the evening hours.

In short: Samsung has built into its S21 Ultra one of the best, if not the best displays currently available on the market. In view of the fact that Samsung is not only the industry leader in the smartphone sector, but also in screens, this should come as no surprise.

Ultra-fast: The ultrasonic fingerprint reader of the Galaxy S21 Ultra

Another plus point and a significant improvement over the Ultra predecessor is the fingerprint sensor of the S21 Ultra. Qualcomm’s second generation of the ultrasonic fingerprint reader is installed under the screen, the area of ​​which should be 77 percent larger and, according to the manufacturer, 50 percent faster. Qualcomm’s promises can be clearly felt in practice: on the one hand, the authentication hit rate is higher, and on the other hand, unlocking is much faster than with the S20 Ultra or the Note 20 Ultra. In everyday use this is a clear gain in comfort. In addition, the fingerprint reader even works with wet hands, which is not the case with optical in-display solutions.

Faster and bigger: The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra contains a new generation of the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor from Qualcomm. (Image: Qualcomm)

The display of the S21 Ultra has another trick up its sleeve that was previously Note-exclusive: With the help of a Wacom digitizer, the smartphone also supports pen operation. With the help of an S pen, which is not included in the scope of delivery and costs an additional 40 euros, sketches and notes can be made on the device. The other functions that the Note 20 offers, such as using the stylus as a camera trigger or for remote control of a PowerPoint presentation, are not available, as the dedicated stylus does not offer Bluetooth support. We haven’t been able to try the stylus yet.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in comparison with S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra

The camera of the Galaxy S21 Ultra: better than in the S20 Ultra

On the camera side, the S21 Ultra also cuts a better figure than the S20 Ultra, in which Samsung wanted to make a fresh start with a new 108 megapixel sensor after years of standstill at sensor level . The interaction of hardware and software did not work as smoothly as hoped, which was expressed, among other things, by a suboptimal autofocus for videos.

Like its siblings, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a distinctive camera hump. (Photo: t3n)

With the now third generation of the 108-megapixel sensor, which Samsung calls Isocell HM3, the weaknesses of the first generation of the wide-angle camera should be eliminated. The test shows that Samsung did indeed get its new sensor under control. Like its predecessors, Isocell HM3 has a pixel size of 1 / 1.33 inches, f / 1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization (OIS) and a laser autofocus, which is supposed to compensate for the focus weaknesses. By default, the photos are reduced to a size of twelve megapixels using pixel binning in order to achieve better image quality. With full 108-megapixel resolution, you can also take a photo if you wish, but only in 4: 3 format. This means that HDR support is no longer available.

The Photos taken in automatic mode deliver excellent quality with high dynamics during the day, the focus reacts quickly and precisely. Even in the dark, the wide-angle camera of the S21 Ultra produces good results with little noise; the smartphone automatically switches to the corresponding mode for this. What is noticeable in the pictures is the tendency to lighten more than necessary. Here the photos of the Pixel 5 (test) look more balanced in comparison. However, Google’s Pixel 5 reaches its limits faster with its older and physically smaller sensor; The photos of the S21 Ultra are more detailed.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra test photo. (Photo: t3n)

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The camera element on the back consists of more than just one sensor. The wide-angle camera is accompanied by three additional lenses: For more flexibility when taking pictures, there is a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera with f / 2.2 aperture and a 120-degree field of view as well as two telephoto lenses with ten megapixels and f / 2.4 respectively 2.9 aperture installed.

The telephoto zoom -Cameras offer a triple optical zoom and a tenfold optical zoom. The latter is implemented using periscope optics. In addition, Samsung has brought back its 100x “space zoom”, which was introduced with the S20 Ultra, but was then reduced to 50x magnification on the Note 20 Ultra. Since the image quality is no longer particularly good at this high zoom level, Samsung has integrated a so-called zoom lock that starts at 20x magnification. Up to this point, the zoom is still of good quality, the magnification beyond 30x is basically useless.

Thanks to the two zoom lenses, more focal lengths can be achieved on the smartphone and a larger range of photos can be taken with good quality. Other smartphones have to rely more on cropping, i.e. cutting out a section of a photo. Samsung is not the first manufacturer with this solution – Huawei in particular is most recently known for its excellent zoom in the P40 Pro and Mate 40 Pro. It is gratifying that other smartphone manufacturers are following suit. The zoom cameras are only useful during the day when there is sufficient light.

Videos can be recorded with up to 8K at 24 fps; In 4K mode, recordings at 60 fps are possible. The image quality is good, the auto focus works reliably when panning. In Pro mode, numerous parameters can be adjusted not only for photos, but also for videos. The front camera with 40-megapixel sensor, f / 2.2 aperture and 80 degree field of view takes photos by pixel binning with ten megapixels. It should be emphasized that Samsung has integrated a function that completely switches off the smoothing filter.

In summary, Samsung has its S21 Ultra missed excellent cameras that offer great variability and can deal with many light situations. The telephoto zoom function is also strong, with which it can be enlarged up to 20 times in good quality. iPhone 12 Pro Max and Pixel 5 cannot do that.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: performance and battery life

The Galaxy S21 series consists of the manufacturer’s first top smartphones that have the Exynos 2100 chip announced at the beginning of January 2021 on board. It is the first SoC in which Samsung has said goodbye to its cores and relies on the same ARM cores as its competitor Qualcomm with the Snapdragon 888. They still differ, but the return to ARM Cortex cores contributes to that the Exynos 2100 is getting closer to Qualcomm’s top chip than was previously the case.

In addition to the smartphone, only a USB-C charging cable is included in the scope of delivery of the Galaxy S21 series . (Image: Samsung)

In everyday life, the S21 Ultra delivers an excellent performance both in the usual everyday tasks, such as scrolling on websites or in the system, and there are no stuttering or dropouts to be observed when playing more demanding games with a higher resolution. The S20 Ultra had its little problems here and there. In terms of performance, the new model cuts an excellent figure, which you should not expect otherwise from such a device. The SoC is supported by 12 to 16 gigabytes of DDR5 RAM and up to 512 gigabytes of UFS 3.1 memory. Samsung has canceled the memory expansion via micro SD card, which is likely to annoy some fans of the manufacturer. So if you need a lot of local memory, you have to choose one of the models with 256 or 512 gigabytes; If you have a lot of data in the cloud anyway, even the smallest variant should be sufficient. The price difference between 128 and 256 gigabytes is, however, bearable: the model with the larger memory costs only 50 euros more .

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, S21 Plus and S21: Specifications in comparison

Model Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Samsung Galaxy S21
Display 6.8 inch adaptive 120 Hertz Infinity-O display – WQHD + (3,200 x 1,440 pixels, 20 : 9, 515 ppi) 6.7 inch 120 Hertz Infinity-O-Display – FHD + 6.2 inch 120 Hertz Infinity-O-Display – FHD +
Operating system Android 11 with One UI 3.1 Android 11 with One UI 3.1 Android 11 with One UI 3.1
Processor Samsung Exynos 2100 Octacore CPU 3x 2.8 + 4x 2.4 + 1x 2.9 GHz Samsung Exynos 2100 Octacore CPU 3x 2.8 + 4x 2.4 + 1x 2.9 GHz Samsung Exynos 2100 Octacore CPU 3x 2.8 + 4x 2.4 + 1x 2.9 GHz
Working memory 12/16 GB RAM 8 GB RAM 8 GB RAM
Internal memory 128 to 512 GB (via microSD card expandable) 128/256 GB (expandable via microSD card) 128/256 GB (via microSD -Card expandable)
Battery capacity 5,000 mAh (fixed installed) 4,800 mAh (permanently installed) 4,000 mAh (permanently installed)
Main camera Wide angle: 108 MP, 3rd Gen f / 1.8, OIS;
Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f / 2.2, 120 °; 10 MP (telephoto lens, f / 2.4, 35 °, 72mm, 1 / 3.24 “, 1.22 µm, OIS) + 10 MP (telephoto lens, f / 4.9, 10 °, 240mm, 1 / 3.24 “, 1.22 µm, OIS), 3- and 10x hybrid optical zoom, autofocus (PDAF, laser AF), flash
Telephoto lens: 64 MP with f / 2.0, 76 °, 28 mm, 1 / 1.76 “, 0.8 µm, OIS
Ultra wide angle: 12 MP with f / 2.2, 120 °, 13 m m, 1 / 2.55 “, 1.4 µm;

Wide angle: 12 MP with f / 1.8, 79 °, 26 mm, 1 / 1.76 “, 1.8 µm, OIS); 3x hybrid optical zoom, autofocus PDAF, flash
Wide angle: 12 MP;
Telephoto lens: 64 MP with f / 2.0, 76 °, 28 mm, 1 /1.76 “, 0.8 µm, OIS

Ultra wide angle: 12 MP with f / 2.2, 120 °, 13 mm, 1 / 2.55″ , 1.4 µm;
Wide angle: 12 MP with f / 1.8, 79 °, 26 mm, 1 / 1.76 “, 1.8 µm, OIS); 3x hybrid optical zoom, autofocus PDAF, flash
Telephoto: 64 MP
Front camera 40 MP (f / 2.2, 80 °, 1 / 2.8 ” , 0.7 µm, 25mm, AF) 10 MP with f / 2.2, 80 °, 1 / 3.24 “, 1.22 µm, 25 mm) 10 MP with f / 2.2, 80 °, 1 / 3.24 “, 1.22 µm, 25 mm)
Connectivity 5G, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.1 5G, Wi-Fi 6, p uetooth 5.1 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
Others Fingerprint sensor in the display, 2D face recognition, hybrid SIM, wireless charging 2.0, waterproof and dustproof (according to IP68), Powershare, stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, Ultra Wide Band (UWB), 25 W fast charging Fingerprint sensor in the display, 2D face recognition, hybrid SIM, wireless Charging 2.0, waterproof and dustproof (according to IP68), Powershare, stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, Ultra Wide Band (UWB), 25 W fast charging Fingerprint sensor in the display, 2D face recognition, hybrid SIM, wireless charging 2.0, waterproof and dustproof (according to IP68 ), Powershare, stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, 25 W fast charging
Dimensions 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm

161.4 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm
Weight 227 grams 202 gram 169 grams
Colours Phantom Black, Phantom Silver Phantom Silver, Phantom Black, Phantom Violet Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink,
Phantom Gray,
Phantom White
Price (RRP) from 1,249 euros from 1.04 9 euros from 849 euros

The Galaxy S21 Ultra does well in terms of battery life. Thanks to its 5,000 mAh battery, most users should get through the day easily and possibly even survive the next half day without going to the socket. If you use the smartphone less, you might not have to use the power supply until the end of the second day. Speaking of which: Samsung has decided to remove the charger and the headphones from the scope of delivery. According to the manufacturer, it is a contribution to environmental protection. On the one hand, the packaging is smaller, and on the other, most users would already have at least one power supply unit anyway.

The S21 Ultra can be charged with a cable with a maximum of 25 watts and wirelessly with up to 15 watts. This is now rather slow compared to the competition: Xiaomi’s new Mi 11 supports wired charging with 55 and wireless charging with 50 watts.

Software of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Current Android with One UI 3.1

On the part of the software, Samsung relies on its One-UI interface in the new version 3.1. Basically, it hardly differs from the version that the manufacturer has been pushing for months on its smartphone family via Android 11 update. Furthermore, Bixby is preinstalled as a voice assistant by default, which cannot easily be exchanged for the Google Assistant or Alexa. Third-party software is required for this.

Is new a selection option for the left home screen, on which only the in-house news overview, which is now called Samsung Free, was displayed. In the settings you can now select Google’s news overview “Discover” as an alternative.

In addition to the new addition Google Discover, numerous apps from Samsung, Microsoft and Google are preinstalled in the S21 Ultra. (Screenshot: t3n)

What is strange about Samsung’s one UI interface is that the manufacturer still uses the onscreen three-button navigation as standard. Google introduced gesture navigation with Android 9, which was improved with Android 10 and used as a standard by many manufacturers. We consider gesture navigation to be the better and more modern way of controlling, and one that doesn’t waste any screen space. Why Samsung continues to rely on the basically obsolete control is a mystery to us. At least it can be turned off in the settings in no time at all.

A plus point for Samsung’s software is the update guarantee for three major updates introduced in summer 2020. This means that the S21 Ultra – like the entire S21 family – should receive Android updates by 2024.

Conclusion: Samsung can Ultra

The S21 Ultra is Samsung’s best Ultra model to date. (Photo: t3n)

With the S21 Ultra, Samsung proves that the manufacturer can now build an almost uncompromising premium smartphone after first steps. The first Ultra models were already quite good, but in the third generation, the South Korean industry leader has eliminated the teething troubles of the first models – especially the S20 Ultra. Not only does it look more attractive than the S20 Ultra, there is also hardly anything to complain about in terms of equipment. The display with its dynamic 120 Hertz technology is excellent and should easily outperform the competition. The improved camera system with its four sensors on the back also leaves little to be desired. It not only delivers very good image quality, but also a great deal of variability that few smartphones have. Even Apple’s overphone iPhone 12 Pro Max can’t keep up, but Huawei’s P40 Pro, which unfortunately has to get by without Google services.

Samsung has also improved the fingerprint sensor, which on the S20 Ultra and the Note 20 Ultra was a bit sluggish compared to the capacitive or optical solutions of the competition . Especially with such an essential feature that is used dozens of times a day, reliable and fast functioning is absolutely essential. With the new Ultra model, pen friends no longer have to reach for a note.

What to consider with the S21 Ultra are the size and weight; it’s just a big and heavy smartphone. If that doesn’t bother you, you get a very good overall package that is even cheaper than its predecessor. With its price from 1,250 euros it is still not cheap. It might be advisable to wait a while before buying, as the street prices of Samsung devices usually fall relatively quickly.

Per:

  • Excellent workmanship
  • Distinctive design
  • great AMOLED display
  • high-performance system
  • good and versatile camera
  • very good battery life
  • 3 years Android update guarantee
  • Protection against water and dust according to IP68

Cons:

  • large
  • heavy
  • no memory expansion

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Adrian Ovalle
Adrian is working as the Editor at World Weekly News. He tries to provide our readers with the fastest news from all around the world before anywhere else.

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