our full review on Samsung’s premium phone

Just days after Samsung’s Unpacked 2021 event, we received one of the first models in the line-up Galaxy s21. Rest assured, the others should arrive soon and of course we will test them as soon as possible.

To inaugurate this series of tests, it is the most efficient model, but also the most expensive of the range, which has come down to us: the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The device is equipped with 4 rear photo sensors, a big 6.8 ″ display, a big 5000 mAh battery and weighs no less than 227 grams. Like the other models in the lineup, it pulsates using a brand new SoC, the Exynos 2100, but takes advantage of more RAM and storage space than the S21 and S21 + depending on the configuration chosen.

Finally, the S21 Ultra is the only model in the range to benefit from curved edges on the screen. Samsung seems to want to do away with this technology that it itself launched a few years ago, or at least to reserve it for its most premium smartphones.

Is this model likely to become the new benchmark for very high-end smartphones? During several days, we tested the new device from Samsung and give you all our impressions, our benchmarks and our remarks on the photo performance of the S21 Ultra. Here we go !

Ultimate precision, and not the least: our tests were carried out using a version of the firmware which may need to evolve by the time the smartphone is released. Samsung gave us carte blanche to publish the test, but we had to make it clear. We will not hesitate to update this article if any other firmware is deployed before the release of the smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra rear photo sensors

Galaxy S21, S21 + and S21 Ultra datasheets

Galaxy s21 Galaxy s21 + Galaxy S21 Ultra
Screen 6.2 “
FHD +
120hz
2400 x 1080 pixels
Gorilla Glass 7
6.7 “
FHD +
120hz
2400 x 1080 pixels
Gorilla Glass 7
6.8 “
WQHD +
120hz
3200 x 1440 pixels
Gorilla Glass 7
Chipset Exynos 2100 / Snapdragon 888 Exynos 2100 / Snapdragon 888 Exynos 2100 / Snapdragon 888
BONE Android 11 + One UI 3.1 Android 11 + One UI 3.1 Android 11 + One UI 3.1
RAM 8 GB 8 GB 12/16 GB
Storage 128/256 GB 128/256 GB 128/256/512 GB
microSD No No No
Main sensor 12 MP wide angle f / 1.8
12 MP ultra wide angle f / 2.2
64 MP telephoto f / 2.0
12 MP wide angle f / 1.8
12 MP ultra wide angle f / 2.2
64 MP telephoto f / 2.0
108 MP wide angle f / 1.8
12 MP ultra wide angle f / 2.2
10 MP Telephoto Optical Zoom X10 f / 2.4
10 MP Optical zoom X2 f / 1.8
Laser autofocus
Selfie sensor 10 MP (f / 2.2) 10 MP (f / 2.2) 40 MP (f / 2.2)
Drums 4000 mAh
25W recharge
4,800 mAh
25W recharge
5000 mAh
25W recharge
5G Yes Yes Yes
Biometrics Ultrasonic footprint scanner under the screen Ultrasonic footprint scanner under the screen Ultrasonic footprint scanner under the screen
Water resistance IP68 IP68 IP68

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra price and availability

The S21 Ultra is available from January 29, 2021 in two colors: Phantom black or Phantom silver. Samsung’s new phone is marketed at the following prices:

  • Galaxy S21 Ultra 12 GB / 128 GB: € 1259
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra 12 GB / 256 GB: 1309 €
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra 16 GB / 512 GB: 1439 €

During the pre-order period, it is possible to receive the protective case for free with its S Pen, and to enjoy three exclusive colors to choose from: Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown.

A design as successful as ever, but a rather bulky device

When you take the Galaxy S21 Ultra out of its box, it is clear that the device is still a little overweight compared to last year’s version. The fault with the module intended for the various photo sensors, which occupies 3.3 x 5.3 cm, for a thickness of 0.2 cm.

With his 6.8 ″ display, yet it is down 0.1 ″ from last year’s edition. Does the S21 Ultra gain as much in ease of use? Not really. Without having the impression of having a “brick” in your pocket, the smartphone is quite large and requires a large space if you want to slip it into your pants or the inside pocket of your jacket. In public transport or in the most delicate situations, its use with one hand in classic mode is simply impossible. It is imperative that you go through the appropriate display mode. Even then, the fact that the entire weight of the device is located at the top of the device (because of the sensors) makes it difficult to hold and use with one hand.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

For our tests, this is the Phantom Black version of the S21 Ultra that we received. Contrary to everything that we had been able to test recently at Samsung, the manufacturer has chosen to offer on this model to ignore a brilliant back. The back of the device is therefore really matt : There really isn’t any mirror effect like on the S20 Ultra, and that’s a pretty good thing. Of course, there is a more discreet side, less flashy, but this avoids any fingerprints on the back of the smartphone. A wise choice in short, even if we would have preferred that the island with rear photo sensors benefit from a different color, as is the case for the Phantom Violet or Phantom Red versions of the S21 +.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra volume buttons

We see the critics of the curved edges coming here: “I don’t like it, the phone is less comfortable in the hand and it is a source of error when you tap the screen.” And we cannot throw stones at them, all tastes and uses are in nature. However, this type of criticism is not necessarily justified with regard to the S21 Ultra. Samsung has reduced the curvature of the phone’s screen compared to the model released last year. The borders are very discreet and during our testing period, we did not encounter any concerns about a possible handling error.

On the right side of the smartphone, you will find the eternal volume control buttons, as well as the one dedicated to turning on the device. This same button is also used to call Bixby, Samsung’s voice assistant.

Finally, note that, like the S20 lineup before it, Samsung’s new smartphone is eSIM compatible. It should be remembered that this technology eliminates the need for a physical SIM card, but that it is only beginning to be installed among operators.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra side view

Screen

The screen is made of a layer of Gorilla Glass 7, which should ensure very good longevity. Corning claims that the glass withstands a drop of 2 meters on “hard and rough surfaces” and offers twice the scratch resistance of Gorilla Glass 6. Obviously, Samsung is the only master on board when it comes to this. thickness of Gorilla Glass used, and this data may vary.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The screen displays an image in WQHD + (3200 x 1400 pixels), the same that the S20 Ultra already enjoyed. Like it, it is capable of offering a refresh rate of 120 Hz. In use, while this technology may be found superfluous at first, it makes scrolling, gaming and video playback noticeably smoother. An observation that we have again made with the S20 Ultra.

The good news is that Samsung has revised its copy from the S20 line released last year. Here we take advantage of an adaptive display frequency. A technology that had already been used on the Note 20 Ultra released later, and which is therefore used on all Galaxy S20s. Even the most model of the range benefits from it. In contrast, the S20 Ultra has a lower bearing than that of its smaller brothers. Where the S20 and S20 + allow the refresh rate to drop to 48Hz, that of the S20 Ultra is able to drop to 11Hz.

Another small novelty: Samsung announces a 25% gain in brightness compared to the S20 Utra. So what is this new screen worth which Samsung praises so much? We analyzed it with a probe and the result is clear: the South Korean manufacturer has delivered one of the most successful products in its history. The panel is indeed extremely well calibrated and bright.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra probe

Two screen modes are available: Vivid and Natural. The Vivid mode is the one activated by default and is very convincing. Super AMOLED requires, we have a panel with infinite contrast. The whites are bright and the blacks are deep. The screen temperature is very controlled, since it is at 6870K, a little above the 6500K of the video standard. On a white display, the panel is therefore slightly bluish, but the thing is almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

Samsung’s Vivid Mode saturates colors to make them appear sharper to the eye. There is therefore no respect for colors, especially in reds, blues and greens. The average Delta E is 3.8, which is still a very good score (below 3 showing great respect for colors). Finally, the brightness is very high, being over 700 cd / m², which means that the display will remain readable, even outside in bright sunlight.

When we analyze the screen in Natural mode, it is not the same music. If the contrast logically remains as high, respect for colors is there this time with a perfect Delta E of 1. Clearly, this is the mode you have to adopt to admire your photos. The colors displayed are very respectful of the original ones. An example to follow.

For the rest, the natural mode remains impeccable, with a temperature of 6490K, which is perfect. The screen does not look blue or red when a blank page is displayed. Samsung also offers to adjust this temperature in the options, but there is actually no reason to touch it. The brightness is not to be outdone, being 600 cd / m², which is less than in Vivid mode, but still excellent.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and its box

In short, the S21 Ultra is undoubtedly the smartphone with the best screen on the market. While the Vivid mode is more attractive to the eye with its garish colors, we still recommend to stay in Natural mode for a very great respect for colors.

Audio

The smartphone delivers stereo sound through its two speakers: one is located on the bottom edge of the smartphone, to the right of the USB-C port. The sound delivered is rather very good for a smartphone. The most audiophiles will distinguish a very slight imbalance between the two speakers, the one located on the lower part producing more volume than that of the upper part. But overall, the quality is there. A little advice, however: if the speakers are capable of delivering a very high sound volume, it is better to avoid pushing the smartphone to its limits at the risk of overloading listening.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra USB-C port

As on previous models, and one would have guessed, there is no jack plug on the S20 Ultra. On the other hand and in accordance with the law, the S21 Ultra comes with wired AKG headphones connectable via USB-C to the port of the device.

security

The S21 Ultra takes advantage of an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor located under the screen. We therefore find the same technology that already equipped the S10 and S20 before it, except that Samsung has extended its surface. Fast and more secure than traditional screen fingerprint recognition, the device rarely shows any signs of weakness. Be careful, however, to place your finger flat on the screen.

And if you don’t want to unlock your smartphone using your fingerprint, you can always use the facial recognition module.

Performances

The performance of the S21 Ultra is entrusted to a brand new SoC engraved in 5 nm: the Exynos 2100. As usual, the United States and some other countries in the world are entitled to a Qualcomm processor, a Snapdragon 888 in l ‘occurrence. In France, Europe and other countries, this is not the case and we have to be satisfied with the SoC designed by Samsung. By the way, don’t hesitate to take a look at our article on the Exynos 2100 / Snapdragon 888 distribution, to learn all about the reasons for this choice. RAM is provided by 12 or 16 GB. A nice configuration, in short.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra One UI

But is the Exynos 2100 a bad processor? We tested it using benchmark apps like Geekbench, 3DMark, or PCMark. Let us recall in passing that we have been ignoring AnTuTu for a little while, the application having been withdrawn by Google from the Play Store because it was considered malicious (like all the other applications of the publisher Cheetah Mobile, with which AnTuTu seems strongly linked) .

And to our surprise, the benchmarks show an SoC that really has a lot of response. It turns out to be even more powerful than the Kirin 9000 which equips the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, also engraved in 5 nm. What to play the most greedy games without any problem, which we hastened to do. The smartphone has never shown real weaknesses, and this is certainly one of the strengths of the phone. On the other hand, having for the moment no other elements of comparison than the Mate 40 Pro, our judgment is not final: the Snapdragon 888 (which equips the American version of the S20 Ultra) is it even more powerful? We hope that Xiaomi’s Mi 11 will give us an early answer, failing to be able to get our hands on an S21 Ultra with a Snapdragon 888.

Basic, three configurations are nevertheless possible: one equipped with 128 GB of storage, the other with 256 GB and the last with 512 GB. But, unlike the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the new model has no microSD port . It is impossible to expand the storage capacity of the device and that is a shame. Clearly, it is better not to make a mistake when buying.

Autonomy

The S21 Ultra pulsates with the help of a 5000 mAh battery, the most powerful of the siblings. On this side, nothing has changed compared to the S20 Ultra of last year. As mentioned earlier, the screen refresh rate is now adaptive, so it adapts to the type of application you are running. In theory, this technique reduces battery consumption. In practice ? It’s quite effective.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and its box

As usual, our battery life tests were carried out as follows: we used the device by broadcasting an hour of streamed video. Then we have a video game during the same period, got in our car and used the GPS for an hour. We also made calls always for the same duration, and used the phone multiple times throughout the day, whether checking our messages, twittering, chatting on WhatsApp and of course surfing the web excessively. At night, we leave the smartphone at rest (without turning it off) for about 7 hours.

After 24 hours, we found that there was between 24 and 26% battery life. In this kind of condition, the smartphone is able to last about a day and a half. A little better result than what we got with the Galaxy S20 Ultra last year.

The autonomy of the S21 Ultra has not yet reached the level observed among the competition in the field of premium smartphones, and in particular on the side of the Xiaomi Mi 10T and Huawei P40 Pro. But what is encouraging is that Samsung is therefore well on the way to resolving battery issues, which was a black spot across all of the brand’s premium smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

For the sake of uniformity, Samsung has decided to offer the same fast charging on all of its models. As a result, while the S20 Ultra benefited from a charging capacity of 45 W, that of the S21 Ultra drops to … only 25 W! Here again, like the microSD slot, this model loses a significant advantage compared to the previous version.

Like Apple and its iPhone 12s, Samsung has decided not to include a charger in the box. To take advantage of the fast charge, it will therefore be necessary to bring the appropriate unit. Count around twenty euros for an official Samsung charger on online sales sites. As such, note that we have attempted to charge the device using a competitor’s 45W charger (whose name begins with an H). It took us over 2h30 to fully charge the S20 Ultra. In conclusion: it is better to equip yourself with a Samsung charger to considerably reduce this waiting time.

A smartphone compatible with the S Pen stylus

Just like the models in the Note range, the S21 Ultra is compatible with the Samsung S Pen. The brand’s famous stylus is therefore entering the Galaxy S range, showing Samsung’s desire to make its smartphone a device also dedicated to professionals. Conversely, the focus was on the gaming aspect of the Note 20 Ultra last year, through a partnership with Microsoft.

However, this does not come in the box with the device. It will have to be purchased separately for the sum of 39 euros. But unlike the Note 20 Ultra (for example), the stylus does not fit into the smartphone itself. A protective shell is provided for this purpose, which allows the S Pen to be housed on the side of the device. Two models of protection are available: one is a fairly standard case and costs € 79 (the S Pen is included). The other is called Clear View since and offers a small screen on the front to display the time, notifications, etc. It is sold € 99 and is also accompanied by the stylus from Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra S Pen

While we were unable to get our hands on the S Pen during the entire testing phase, we were nevertheless able to do so when we got started at the premises of Samsung France. This 2 hour session allowed us to get an idea of ​​the responsiveness and maneuverability of the S Pen. FYI, the stylus is identical to the one found on the Galaxy Tab S7 + that we tested a few months ago. The responsiveness and precision of the stylus are excellent, while the 6.8 ″ screen area allows you to approach the use you can have with the Samsung tablet.

Environment

The S21 lineup is one of the first to take advantage of Android 11 right out of the box, all brands. There is no need to download an update here, the smartphone is equipped by default with the latest version of Android, to which One UI 3.1 is added. Among the new features of this edition, we can cite the choice of presentation of notifications (detailed or summary), better management of volume control, or transparency effects scattered everywhere (in the application drawer, in the notifications panel…).

The Samsung overlay becomes even easier and faster to use. It allows you to personalize and manage the smartphone from every angle. Certainly, some will criticize Samsung for really wanting to do too much and for moving away with each iteration a little more from the simplicity of an Android Stock. But it is clear that One UI has enough to meet all requirements, all types of use, and that we never find ourselves lost in menus and sub-menus: the interface is simple, clear and yet very well stocked.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra One UI

Photos and videos

When it comes to shooting, the S21 Ultra innovates very little compared to last year. The device is equipped with the following 5 sensors:

  • One 108 MP wide-angle main sensor
  • A 12 MP ultra wide-angle sensor
  • A first 10MP telephoto lens offering a 3x zoom
  • A second 10MP telephoto lens offering 10x zoom
  • A 40MP front camera
In ultra-wide-angle mode.

We note the presence of an additional digital zoom, which is rather an excellent thing since it is possible to “go up” up to x10. Overall, the quality of the shots is really excellent: the main fault that we could formulate with regard to Samsung shots seems to gradually fade. The colors are less saturated than on the previous versions. The color balance therefore seems much better controlled on this S21 Ultra than on the S20 Ultra or even all the other smartphones of the brand.

In wide-angle mode.

The ultra-wide-angle module also works wonders, hardly distorting the pictures on the edges (a defect found on almost all competing devices). The two optical zooms do their job perfectly. The level of detail is very good, revealing perfectly usable shots.

In 3x zoom.

When you switch to digital / hybrid zoom, you get very good quality shots here again… As long as you don’t ask for too much either. As the various shots in this article show, things tend to get messy when you go up to 30x, the shots becoming totally unusable when you push up to 100x. Let us remember in passing that all our shots taken using zoom, whether optical or digital, are taken using a small tripod.

In 10x zoom.
In 10x zoom.
In x100 zoom.

The smartphone is also capable of filming in 8K (definition 7680 x 4320 pixels) at 24 fps, or in 4K UHD (3840 x 2160 pixels) at 60 fps. On the other hand, surprising as it may seem, there is however one point on which the S20 Ultra is however less good than the S20 and S20 +. In slow-motion, the camera does not natively shoot at 960 fps, but at 480 fps.

On the left a photo taken without activating the night mode / On the right the same photo with the night mode.

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