Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: the phone that many expected [Review]

In early 2021, Samsung launched its new family of top-of-the-line smartphones: Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 + and Galaxy S21 Ultra. All of them arrive with very attractive cameras, compatibility with 5G networks, but without expansion via microSD and no charger in the box. Today we are going to review the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the busier and more resourceful brother that Samsung lent us for testing.

  • Incredible screen
  • S Pen support
  • Drums
  • Enhanced cameras
  • Without charger and microSD card
  • Large and heavy appliance

Design

Let’s start by taking a close look at the design. With the powerful Gorilla Glass Victus – even the Note 20 Ultra – protecting the front and rear of the device, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has an aluminum finish on the sides. The IP68 protection against water and dust guarantees that extra security when using the cell phone.

But let’s talk about what draws the most attention: this new concept of camera module that embraces the metallic side, giving a sense of continuity in the design, and not looking like they simply glued a rectangle on the back.

This module houses four lenses, an autofocus sensor and a flash. The camera’s “hump” is still in evidence here, so it’s nice to use a case to prevent the phone from dangling when you rest on a flat surface.

Side detail of the jump camera of the Galaxy S21 Ultra (Photo: Derek Keller / TecMundo)

The design is very elegant and, although the S21 Utra is also available in silver, who is calling attention wherever it goes is this black, or better, Phatom Black. Samsung dedicated an entire presentation video to show how it got into that really beautiful matte tone. Speaking of the practical part of the thing: it keeps the finger marks away from the rear.

Samsung chose to keep the buttons on the right side only, as well as on the Galaxy S20, leaving the left part free. I don’t even know if we still need to mention this in 2021, but no P2 input for headphones, and since there is no headset in the box, you will need to buy a Buds or a USB-C headset separately.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is neither a small nor a light device, but that is not even his proposal. Those with smaller hands may have difficulty handling the phone using just one of them. But despite that, it has a good grip – albeit slippery.

Galaxy S21 Ultra TecMundoRear cameras of the Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image: Derek Keller / TecMundo)

Screen

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 6.8-inch OLED screen with a refresh rate that automatically varies between 10 and 120Hz. This means smoother navigation, displaying animations, and also walking and opening applications.

The most interesting novelty is that the maximum rate is no longer limited to 1080p, as is the case with the S20, and can also be used at the maximum screen resolution, which is the WQHD + (3200 x 1440 pixels). That is, you don’t have to choose between high resolution and high refresh rate. However, as expected, battery consumption with the screen at its best drains more battery.

To try to minimize this impact a little, Samsung opts for a variable refresh rate, which adapts automatically according to each content, leaving the 120 Hz for games, for example, and dropping to 10 Hz while consuming static content, such as texts .

The Galaxy S21 Ultra also has a much brighter display, with a maximum brightness of 1,500 nits –
the largest ever seen on a Galaxy screen. The contrast is also better compared to the S20 Ultra (more specifically 50% according to Samsung, but visible during our tests). A feature called “Protection for eye comfort” adjusts the blue light filter to reduce eye fatigue.

Galaxy S21 UltraGalaxy S21 Ultra (Image: Samsung)

As always, Samsung does its best on the screen, and here it continues to shine: excellent color reproduction, strong brightness to see even under a big sun and deep blacks. Remember that Samsung sends the device with the vivid mode activated, but the natural mode brings more pleasant tones.

The front camera is located in the center of the display and the fingerprint reader is under the screen, but with some changes. According to Samsung, the ultrasonic sensor is 77% bigger and 50% faster than the previous generation. In practice, what I can say is that you don’t need to hit your thumb just in the small space it was before, and it really speeds up biometric unlocking. Much faster than using Face ID and entering the code to unlock the iPhone when we are wearing a mask.

Performance

As you would expect from a top-of-the-line product that costs many thousand reais, the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s performance is not to be missed. In Brazil, it arrives with the Exynos 2100 chip, which is from Samsung itself and debuted here in the Galaxy family of 2021. It has a 5 nanometer architecture.

A lot of people complain that they wanted the version with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, but the real thing is that Samsung’s new chip has evolved in relation to its predecessor and even rolled a kind of my fault from the manufacturer, which, during the international presentation of the S21, even showed consumer comments disappointed with the latest version released.

Samsung Exynos 2100Samsung Exynos 2100 processor

During routine use, the device proved to be extremely fast to launch applications and even render photos and videos. The games ran smoothly and at that 120 Hz rate, making everything very smooth at high resolution.

I opened several applications, played games, abused the split screen mode, watched video with maximum resolution, all to see if it had any impact on performance, but I didn’t have any experience of choking. But in compensation, the device heats up when under pressure. In fact, it heated up even during video calls at Google Meet and when updating the system. I didn’t have the opportunity to test an S21 Ultra with Snapdragon to give my verdict on the difference between them.

The model we tested has 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of internal storage, a very important point of choice when buying the device, since now it no longer comes with the possibility of expansion to microSD. However, it is also available has versions with 16 GB of RAM and 128 or 512 GB of storage.

Software

We tested the Galaxy S21 Ultra running Android 11 with Samsung’s One UI 3.1. Personally, I like the new aesthetics of this latest version, which made the Samsung interface cleaner, with smoother animations, more attractive icons and a more realistic feeling when pressing virtual buttons.

Holding the clock you can see the widgets on the lock screen, for example. They have a new face and even have the option to put their cell phone time. To the left of the home screen, you can choose whether you want to view the news feed via Samsung Free or Google Discover. Just touch and hold the home screen to set your favorite.

Now you can also remove the location data from the image in a very easy way when sharing your photos and videos. The camera has a lot of cool things to play with too, but we’ll see in more detail later.

Director's ViewDirector’s View on Galaxy S21 (Image: Samsung)

Cameras

The Galaxy S21 Ultra arrives with a stout set of four rear cameras and major improvements over the S20 Ultra. The main camera runs at 108 MP and uses a technology that combines up to nine pixels in one to capture more light and improve night shots. The result of this associated with the size of the sensor, which allows a lot of light to enter, are really interesting photos, with very vivid colors and little noise even in low light environments.

Even night mode can be used with up to 10x zoom. In addition, the main camera can also capture photos with 12-bit color depth, providing 60 times more color richness than the S20 Ultra.

The 12 MP ultrawide is also present when taking pictures with greater angulation, landscapes and such, and also brings more stabilization to the videos. The addition of a laser spotlight is also very pleasing.

Photo taken with Galaxy S21Rich colors when capturing the Galaxy S21 Ultra (Photo: Joyce Macedo / TecMundo)

But the bug catches even when we move to the two telephoto cameras, with 10 MP sensors each, one for 3x optical zoom and the other for 10x optical zoom through a 240 mm periscopic lens. The sharpness of this second sensor is impressive and demonstrates a great improvement over the previous generation of the Galaxy, which was considered a bit of a “trickster” by many people.

This negative perception of the feature made Samsung take a step back and limit the zoom capabilities on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which offered a “only” 50x hybrid zoom. The company took advantage of this time to work on harmonizing hardware and software.

On the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the 10x digital zoom and the 10x optical zoom together create a 100x megazord hybrid zoom, enabling the maximum power of Samsung’s well-known Space Zoom feature.

Photo without Space Zoom Photo without Space Zoom (Image: Joyce Macedo / TecMundo)

Photo Galaxy S21 UltraSame photo above, but with 100x Space Zoom (Image: Joyce Macedo / TecMundo)

The novelty is that it now has a feature called Zoom Lock, which uses optical stabilization powered by Artificial Intelligence. Basically, what it does is to lock the frame when we use the zoom, which brings more sharpness and clarity to distant objects and even when capturing that photon of the moon.

Moon Galaxy S21 UltraPhoto of the sky without Space Zoom (Image: Joyce Macedo / TecMundo)

Photo of the Galaxy S21 Ultra MoonPhoto of the moon with Space Zoom of the Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image: Joyce Macedo / TecMundo)

In short, the set of rear cameras really made an important leap in relation to the innovations proposed there in the Galaxy S20 Ultra and should please even the most demanding.

The front camera maintains its 40 MP with f / 2.2 aperture and phase detection autofocus. The biggest difference I noticed was an improvement in the quality of the portrait mode, which takes better advantage of Artificial Intelligence for the background blur. Skin smoothing also looks more natural and less stressed. In addition, you can also use the night mode in selfies!

Galaxy S21 Ultra SelfieSelfie with the Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image: Joyce Macedo / TecMundo)

Speaking a bit of video, you can shoot in 4K at 60 fps on the front too, but whoever follows me on social media knows that I really liked playing with the new Director’s Vision feature.

It simultaneously captures all the cameras on the phone, including the front one. You can track all images at the same time with the feature picture a picture, viewing live thumbnails of what all the rear cameras are “seeing”. To switch between cameras, just click on the thumbnail you want.

Vloggers can also take advantage of the split display feature, which places the image from the rear and front camera on the same screen, letting you show your face and also what’s on the other side.

Director's ViewDirector’s View on Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image: TecMundo)

I also need to talk about recording with multiple microphones, which allows the use of the mic of a true wireless or USB-C phone, for example, to capture the voice of a singer and the cell phone to record the sound of the guitar he is playing.

Another software breakthrough is in Single Take 2.0, which has gained more Artificial Intelligence processing and captures up to 15 seconds of image and in the end delivers a set of photos and up to four videos that the system understands as the best, including slow motion options.

Drums

Even with the screen set to full resolution, the S21 Ultra’s battery survived smoothly for an entire day. Samsung opted to keep the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s large 5,000 mAh battery, but here I felt it is taking a little longer thanks to processor improvements, software optimizations and dynamic adjustment of the screen refresh rate. The result was an average of seven hours of screen on.

As I said, the variable refresh rate helps to insure spending, but of course 120 Hz gives that drain, even more if we leave the screen with maximum resolution. That’s because – for reasons of Brazil – I didn’t even test 5G, which is another energy-sucking villain.

When you want to save well, you can leave the screen configuration with a standard rate of 60 Hz and Full HD + resolution there to have a great show economy.

The 25 W charger (not included in the box) completes the charge of the S21 Ultra in just over an hour. Wireless charging supports up to 15W and reverse charging, which uses the Galaxy to charge other devices, is 4.5 W.

S PEN

For the first time, in response to requests, Samsung released the S Pen on a Galaxy S. Unfortunately, I didn’t have one to test during the review, but at the international launch of the device I managed to play with it a little and the features are the same as Note line: drawing on the screen, making notes, magnifying glass, translations, and so on. I really like this option.

The problem is that the pen does not come in the box, so whoever wants to use it will have to buy one separately. The good news is that anyone who already has another device at home that uses the S Pen, such as a Tab S, for example, can use it on the S21 Ultra.

Galaxy S21UltraS Pen on the Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image: Samsung / Disclosure)

Another annoying detail is that there is no space dedicated to it on the body of the device, as it happens on the Galaxy Note. So you have to pay more money to buy a case that attaches the pen if you don’t want to lose it around.

Worth it?

And the question that never remains silent is: is it worth buying a Galaxy S21 Ultra? What I can guarantee for you is that Samsung has upgraded the screen of the device, in addition to bringing very nice improvements to the camera with the help of hardware and Artificial Intelligence. The battery also gives you a show and the possibility of using the S Pen is also a bonus for those who like it.

It won’t crash, it brings a beautiful and friendly Android experience, but we can’t ignore the fact that the charger and headset were removed from the box and that expansion via microSD is no longer possible. And it is a huge and heavy phone, don’t forget that.

Putting it all in the balance, it cannot be denied that, currently, it is the most complete Android phone available on the market and that Samsung has heard part of the complaints from previous versions to bring improvements to its new phone.

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