[Review] All You Need in One Sleek Package: The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
After enjoying hands-on experiences with Samsung's foldables - the Z Flip and Fold 2 - we've finally gotten an opportunity to acquaint ourselves with their latest flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
As the highest-end model of the S21 family, the S21 Ultra boasts several top-of-the-line features that set it apart from the rest of its family, including a 108MP wide-angle shooter, a 40MP selfie cam, a massive 5,000mAh battery. as well as storage options up to 512GB. It also features the largest display of the lot at 6.8 inches.
With that said, let's proceed with the review!
I still think the "no charger included" thing is actually cost-cutting disguised as eco-friendly efforts - but as long as the savings are passed down to consumers, I don't mind if it becomes the new norm. After all, I do have a growing charger graveyard in one of my drawers that I'm not looking forward to adding to.
Anyway, all you'll get in the box is the phone itself, and a smaller box with the SIM tray ejector, a USB-C to USB-C cable, as well as the usual paperwork inside.
Smooth and fingerprint resistant
I know some people who scoff at the idea of flagship phones having a plastic exterior, but honestly I don't hate the idea. Most of us kiasi lang cover it up with a phone case anyway, so the aesthetic and tactile appeal of glass is mostly moot. Plastic is lighter, cheaper, and way more durable.
Even if you’re the YOLO type who walks around with a naked phone, the S21 Ultra's Phantom Black matte finish does not feel cheap by any means. It's luxuriously smooth and surprisingly resistant to fingerprints.
Update: The Samsung S21 Ultra features a Gorilla Glass back; only the base S21 variant comes with a plastic back. We apologise for this error.
The matte finish covers the entire back and camera bump, and is complemented by a glossy black trim around the edges. Overall, it's a very aesthetically pleasing design worthy of a flagship device. My only gripe is that the Ultra doesn't come in Phantom Violet :')
As expected, a stunning display
You can't really expect less than perfection from a brand that manufactures its own displays. The 6.8" AMOLED Display on the S21 Ultra boasts a 1440p resolution and 120Hz refresh rate, which looks amazing. It ships with 1080p as the default setting though, so you’ll have to manually go in to change it. You can also choose HD+, but I prefer my images crystal clear.
Another thing worth mentioning is its variable refresh rate setting, which dynamically switches the refresh rate from anywhere between 10Hz and 120Hz depending on what you’re doing. You can also fix it at 60Hz if you want to extend battery life.
You can choose from 2 screen modes - natural and vivid. Under vivid mode, you can customise the white balance and RGB settings to further suit your tastes. You can also choose between light and dark themes - personally I prefer the dark theme as it’s easier on the eyes, and with the AMOLED display, you can probably eke out even more battery life as well. The screen comes with a maximum brightness of 1500 nits so it excels under all lighting conditions.
In terms of durability, the display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, AND the device itself has an IP68 rating, so you can be sure it’s pretty resistant to scratches, dust, and splashes.
There’s also a super responsive built-in fingerprint reader, which is great in COVID times where facial recognition just doesn’t work anymore cause we’re all wearing masks.
Loud and clear
Another thing worth mentioning is the audio quality on this thing. It can get really loud, which is great for filling a room for an impromptu karaoke session, and yet it still retains great audio quality, which is no mean feat.
The stereo speaker setup is great for movies, music, and even gaming. Sadly, it doesn’t come with a headphone jack, so you’ll need a pair of wireless buds instead.
As for performance, we’ve got the Exynos 2100 chip instead of the Snapdragon 888 that most tend to favour due to battery efficiency and thermal performance. However, the 5,000mAh battery on my Exynos model definitely lasts more than a full day with normal usage.
With some social media, calls and messages, I’ll still have around half a tank left by the end of the day. I even tested out some Genshin Impact on this thing at 30FPS and medium settings, and it fared pretty well, with the phone heating up just a little bit and remaining well within comfortable temperatures.
If you like looking at numbers, here are the benchmarks from GeekBench and 3DMark:
While battery life is great, charging isn’t super fast. It supports a maximum of 25W wired charging, 15W wireless, and 4.5W reverse charging. The numbers are less than half than some other phones out there in the market right now, which is disappointing if you like super fast charging, but on the flip side, it does mean your battery doesn’t take as much abuse and in turn, that will prolong battery life in the long run.
And in case doom-scrolling social media wasn't enough for you, you can swipe left on the Home Screen to access Google Discover, which curates content based on your interests, ensuring that you'll be sucked down into a black hole of videos, news, and articles until sunrise.
If you'd like, you can replace this with Samsung Free, which divides its contents into 2 tabs - Read and Play. Personally I prefer Google Discover, which already has years of my browsing history to better recommend relevant interests, but it's nice to have another option should you need fresh content.
A top-tier shooter
Arguably, one of the most important parts of a smartphone are the cameras. After all, a lot of us are either selfie addicts, or guilty of snapping tons of food pics that you’ll probably never look at again.
Anyway, you’ll find a 40MP selfie camera on the front, and a quad camera array on the back. The 4 back cameras are a 108MP wide angle, 12MP ultra wide, and 2 10MP telephoto cameras.
If you go inside the camera app, you’ll see 4 icons that represent wide, standard, 3x and 10x zoom (sample pictures below).
It supports 100x space zoom, which I still feel is a novelty, but it’s there if you want to take yet another photo of the moon, or spy on people showering in their apartment across the city. You can tap on the preview window in the corner to help stabilise the image, but I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.
There’s no dedicated macro mode, but it will automatically turn on as soon as you get close to a subject. As for single take mode, it’s a pretty interesting feature. Basically, you take a short video from anywhere between 5 to 15 seconds, and it will help you edit a variety of images and clips. Results will vary and it‘s quite unpredictable, but still a fun feature to play around with.
There’s also a bunch of other modes to play around with, but let’s talk about the selfie camera for now. Now, it DOES have a built-in beauty filter for all the catfishes out there, but you can turn it off if you don’t like it. For those who enjoy a bit of artificial beautification, you can pick between levels 1, 2 and 3 for varying amounts of slimming, smoothening, and eye widening.
Overall, the image quality is what you’d expect from a Samsung flagship - clear, vibrant and high quality.
A couple of things to note
Now, another thing that you might find intriguing is that the S21 Ultra is compatible with the Samsung S Pen. I don't have one on hand to test out, but according to Linus’ review video, it’s backwards compatible as far as the Note 9 S Pen, which is great news for those who already have one.
One last thing to take note of is the lack of expandable storage, which sucks for those who tend to suck up phone memory like a sponge, so choose your phone variant carefully to make sure you have enough storage space to last until the next time you upgrade your phone.
This particular unit has 12GB of RAM along with 256GB of storage, but it can go up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage if you need it, or as low as 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage if you’re not a heavy user.
Is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra one of the best flagship smartphones you can get out there right now? Yes. Apart from a couple of minor quibbles, the S21 Ultra pretty much offers you everything you need in a smartphone right now - a stunning display, amazing camera capabilities, great performance, good battery life, S Pen compatibility, and more.
The only downsides I'd say are the lack of a headphone jack and expandable storage as well as the choice of the Exynos 2100 chip over the Snapdragon 888. Either, they aren't dealbreakers for me, so if you have RM5,299 to spare, this is definitely one of the best options on the market now.
If the price is too steep for your pockets, you can always go for the more affordable base and Plus variants instead. For more information, you can head on over to the official product page here. Meanwhile, stay tuned for our video review if you'd like to take a closer look at this beautiful device.