Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G the most expensive smartphone in its class, is a premium device that focuses on cameras.
Similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the new model features 100X “space zoom” as well as 8K video recording. However, this model also boasts an enhanced shooting experience and better image quality.
In our first impressions article we already discussed the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G’s design and specifications. This review will focus on the system’s performance and cameras. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Galaxy S21 model if you are serious about video and photography. But is the price worth it? Let’s see.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Price and Variants
Let’s first go over the variants available in India for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung has cut the launch price of the Galaxy S21 Ultra series in other countries. However, due to India’s currency rate fluctuations and taxes, prices are slightly higher than last year.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is priced at Rs. 1,05,999 for 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. A second option is available at Rs. 1,16,999 for 16GB RAM and 512GB storage.
Although it is more expensive than the iPhone 12 Pro, it still costs less. Although the base model of the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G looks like the most popular, it is not the best. However, the microSD card slot does not allow for storage expansion. If you plan on shooting 8K video a lot, the higher storage variant might be a better choice.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Cameras
The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G’s camera capabilities are essentially the same as its predecessor. However, Samsung has improved the implementation of the telephoto cameras. A new-generation primary camera with 108-megapixel resolution can do nona-pixel binning, which combines information from nine pixels into one for detailed 12-megapixel photos.
Two telephoto cameras and a ultra-wide-angle 12-megapixel camera are available. Both have 10-megapixel sensors and come with different optical zoom lenses. The first has a 3X optical zoom while the second can handle 10X with a periscope lens. Although hybrid zoom is not mentioned, there are still AI processing at higher magnification levels.
Samsung continues to market Space Zoom on its Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G. It can be used up to 100X. It can be difficult to frame photos correctly when you have such high magnification. Particularly if you are shooting handheld, as we did with the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Zoom Lock is here to help you get the best shots. Zoom Lock allows you to see a preview of your subject in the viewfinder when you zoom beyond 20X magnification. The camera will focus on your subject if you hold it steady for at least one-and-a half seconds and tap the preview box. (The preview box turns yellow to confirm this). This makes it easier to frame a shot properly.
Zoom lock and the new telephoto lenses make zoomed shots easier and look better. You can choose the zoom level that you require using the slider or the camera app. The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G can use digital zoom between 1X to 3X before switching to the first telephoto lens, and again between 3X to 10X when switching to the second.
The native optical zoom levels produce sharper images than any other level. Although image quality at 100X is noticeably lower, AI processing can help to get usable shots.
Low light is where most smartphones will ditch their telephoto camera and use only the primary camera with digital zoom. However, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G will continue to use its telephoto camera as much as possible, despite the narrow apertures.
Although the results are predictablely poorer, they are still very good if used with Night mode. The zoom range is restricted to 10X, and the phone sticks with the 3X Telephoto camera even at that level. This is because the 10X camera has an extremely narrow aperture of f/4.9. The telephoto camera was able to capture very well night shots.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G also has a native 108-megapixel camera that can capture images. This allows you to zoom in and magnify your subject, as well as cropping around it later. The image quality was not the best so I recommend the telephoto camera. This applies to both low-light shots and those taken in daylight.
The 12-megapixel pixel-binned photos were taken in good lighting with the main camera. The dynamic range was excellent, with lots of detail and natural colours. The laser AF sensor on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra made autofocus quick and precise. The camera’s “focus enhancer” kicks in if you get too close to your subject.
It switches to the ultra-wide angle lens for super-macro shots. This was annoying to me because it activated even though you weren’t close enough to your subject. Also, the image quality is slightly lower than what the main camera can capture. The viewfinder has a toggle icon that allows you to turn it off instantly.
The close-ups are stunning, and show rich colours and details. Samsung’s Live Focus mode, now called Portrait, offers the same bokeh options as before. The ultra-wide camera can also be used to shoot landscapes with the same colour tone as its main counterpart.
Even in low light, both the ultra-wide and primary cameras still impress, even with Night mode disabled. However, Night mode will produce better exposed images.
Director’s View is a new mode for video shooting that shows you what the main, ultra-wide and 3X telephoto cameras can capture. This allows you to know what you can expect before you switch. Samsung also offers a live feed with the selfie camera. It can be enabled using a split screen or picture-in–picture window.
This is called ‘Vloggers View’. This mode was not something I used, but it might be useful to some. Other shooting modes, such as Single Take, Portrait Video and Super Slow-mo are very similar to last year.
Samsung has made some improvements to the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G’s video recording capabilities, but they are still not as comprehensive as I would like. The iPhone 11 Pro introduced 4K 60fps video, which Samsung now allows you to shoot with all of its cameras. The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G cannot switch between the cameras once recording has started. This is somewhat restrictive. You will need to shoot at 4K 30fps.
Samsung continues to promote 8K video recording. It is now stabilized, but it also heavily crop the frame. The video quality is excellent in daylight but very grainy in low lighting. The recording length is unlimited.
My biggest disappointment is that 8K video can only be recorded at 24fps on the Galaxy S20 series. Overall, video quality is excellent with good stabilisation and sharp detail. Even with the 3X Telephoto camera, videos shot in poor lighting were impressive.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G’s rear cameras are impressive. They all have important roles, unlike smartphones with dedicated depth and macro cameras. This also includes the selfie camera.
The 40-megapixel sensor captures 10-megapixel images by default. It can capture 4K 60fps stabilized videos and has autofocus. It has excellent image quality, both in low and high light, particularly with Night mode.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Performance & Battery Life
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has excellent camera performance and is also equipped with cutting-edge components. In India, the Exynos 2100 5G SoC from Samsung is used. It is very similar to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 SoC.
Strong benchmark numbers were posted by the 12GB RAM version that I reviewed. It scored 5,70.453 points in AnTuTu and 960 and 2,995 respectively in Geekbench single-core and multiple-core tests. These numbers are not as good as the iPhone 12’s A14 Bionic, but you can easily tell the difference with regular use.
Graphically demanding games like Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty: Mobile were easily run by the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G at QHD+ resolution. The game played smoothly with good frame rates. You will notice a rapid heating of the upper metal frame when gaming.
This is why you should use a case. This heating was evident even while using the camera app. I found the phone to be comfortable hot, although it did not throttle performance. However, your mileage may vary.
Samsung’s S Pen is also fully supported by the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and can be purchased as an accessory. Although I was unable to test it as Samsung did not send it with my phone, I can imagine the experience being similar to the Galaxy Note series.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra supports Wi-Fi 6E, and also has an Ultra Wide Band chip (UWB), which can be used to unlock your car with the phone (when compatible models are released).
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is a great device for media consumption. The 6.8-inch AMOLED screen is incredibly bright and vibrant. Colours look rich and vivid. QHD+ resolution provides excellent sharpness which is very useful for reading text.
As I said in my first impressions piece the most important feature is the ability to use the native 120Hz refresh rate. It is also adaptive. This means that if no touch inputs are detected or if you’re viewing a video, the refresh rates automatically drop to 60Hz. Samsung claims it can drop to 10Hz to conserve power, but I was unable to verify this claim.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G’s screen looks great in videos. The AMOLED panel is capable of producing impressive black levels, so dark scenes in movies are no problem.
The Dolby Atmos enhancement makes the stereo speakers sound great. High-fidelity audio playback is possible with the DSD 64/128 or 32-bit PCM formats. This headset can also be used as a wired headset.
Other features include an IP68 rating to protect against dust and water, Samsung Pay via NFC or MST and a variety of sensors, including a new ultrasonic fingerprint sensor.
Samsung claims that this model is about 1.7X bigger than the previous one, and it works very well in my experience. For successful authentication, all you need is one quick tap. Face recognition is also supported and reliable.
Battery life was quite solid for me. The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 5,000mAh battery is comparable in capacity to this one. It easily lasts more than a day of heavy or medium use. I was able extend the battery’s life by using lighter usage to just a little over a day and half.
This was when the display was set to QHD+ with the 120Hz adaptive rate enabled. In our HD video loop test, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G ran for 15 hours 37 minutes with the default resolution (full HD+).
Fast charging is supported by the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, but it can only charge at 25W with a compatible USB PowerDelivery Type-C adapter. You will need to purchase this separately from Samsung or another vendor. You get a USB Type C cable and the SIM ejector tool.
I charged the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra5G using a Motorola 27W adapter and OnePlus’ 65W adapter. Both adapters were able to charge the phone at about 70% in an hour.
The phone’s lockscreen displays a message indicating that it is charging quickly. The phone can wirelessly charge quickly with a compatible charger. Reverse wireless charging is also possible.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Software
OneUI 3.1 runs on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G. It worked flawlessly during my week-long review. This latest version of Samsung’s custom skin is based on Android 11. It is sleek and looks great.
Samsung’s familiar gestures and shortcuts, such as Edge Panel, are all available. This should make Samsung users feel at home. Split-screen allows you to make the most of the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s large screen. Samsung DeX is available, which I found extremely useful in wirelessly transferring files between my phone and my laptop.
When I first started using the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, I received spam notifications from Samsung Shop. I had unchecked all boxes that I didn’t want to receive marketing information. However, this stopped after a few days.
What I didn’t anticipate was third-party advertisements in Samsung’s apps like Weather and Game Launcher. These ads are not intrusive and are static. However, they shouldn’t be seen on a high-end smartphone. They’re at the top of the screen if you open the Game Launcher or the weather app.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Ergonomics
Although the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G has a lot to offer, it comes with a few drawbacks. It is a huge phone, by any standard, and it is even thicker and heavier that the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
You can feel the phone’s top-heavy nature even when using it with one hand. I don’t complain too much though. I have the iPhone 12 Pro Max and find it more comfortable to use one-handed due to its rounded sides.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G looks better than the previous models thanks to its new design. The new contour-cut design of Samsung’s camera module is very unique and masks the bulge well. Premium materials are also available, including Corning Gorilla Glass Victus front and back and a metal frame.
The Galaxy S flagships of Samsung in any generation were differentiated primarily by their display and battery sizes. However, the ‘plus” models have seen more differentiation over time. Last year, Samsung introduced the third “Ultra” model that focuses on camera capabilities.
Samsung is attempting to make the gap even wider between its models this year. While the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G remains the flagship product, the Galaxy S21+ 5G (full HD+) and Galaxy S21 5G have lower resolution displays.
The latter even replaces the glass with plastic. Samsung did the same with the Galaxy Note 20 series last year, with the Ultra model receiving a premium treatment while the standard model had no choice but to make big compromises.
We have yet to test the Galaxy S21 5G & Galaxy S21+ 5G. I will reserve my judgment until we do. However, it is clear that Samsung wants users who are looking for the best experience to the Ultra model.
Even if they don’t care about the cameras, it is clear that Samsung wants to make sure that the Ultra model is the one that gets them.
Samsung has increased the price of its Galaxy S phones this past year. However, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is my favorite. The phone is more affordable than the iPhone 12 Pro Max Review, has similar power and features, and it also has the best telephoto camera implementations on the market.
This Samsung flagship is undoubtedly the best. It has a great build quality, a strong battery life, a beautiful display, and productivity features like S Pen support.
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