Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra First Impressions and Hands-on Review


Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series flagships are out and there are some interesting evolutionary changes to talk about. Samsung isn’t caring too much about feature parity between the three of its 2021 S phones – the Galaxy S21 Ultra is markedly superior to Galaxy S21 Plus which has a few extras over the lower rung Galaxy S20. 

This year Samsung improves cameras with some special emphasis on zoom, the display now supports dynamic refresh rate at full 2K resolution, there is an Android 11 based OneUI 3.0 software upgrade and a very promising Exynos 2100 onboard. We have had some first-hand experience with the phone in our own space and will now proceed to discuss our Galaxy S21 Ultra first impressions. 

Contents

Samsung Galaxy S21 series: Price and Specifications

Models Galaxy S21 Galaxy S21 Plus Galaxy S21 Ultra
Display 6.2″ Dynamic AMOLED
FHD+ resolution
120Hz refresh rate
Infinity-O
1300 nit peak brightness
421 PPI pixel density
Gorilla Glass Victus
HDR10+
6.7″ Dynamic AMOLED
FHD+ resolution
120Hz refresh rate
Infinity-O
1300 nit peak brightness
394 PPI pixel density
Gorilla Glass Victus
HDR10+
6.8″Dynamic AMOLED
QHD+ resolution
120Hz refresh rate
Infinity-O
1500 nit peak brightness
519 PPI pixel density,
300,000,000:1 contrast ratio
Gorilla Glass Victus
HDR10+
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or
Exynos 2100
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or
Exynos 2100
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or
Exynos 2100
Memory 8GB + 128GB / 256GB
LPDDR5 + UFS3.1
8GB + 128GB / 256GB
LPDDR5 + UFS3.1
12/16GB, 128/256/512GB
LPDDR5 + UFS3.1
Software One UI 3.0 based on Android 11 One UI 3.0 based on Android 11 One UI 3.0 based on Android 11
Rear Camera 12MP primary camera
(f/1.8, 1/1.76-inch, 1.8µm, OIS)
12MP ultra-wide camera
(f/2.2, 120°, 1/2.55-inch, 1.4µm)
64MP telephoto camera
(f/2.0, 1/1.76-inch, 0.8µm, OIS)
3x hybrid optical zoom
Up to 8K at 30fps
12MP primary camera
(f/1.8, 1/1.76-inch, 1.8µm, OIS)
12MP ultra-wide camera
(f/2.2, 120°, 1/2.55-inch, 1.4µm)
64MP telephoto camera
(f/2.0, 1/1.76-inch, 0.8µm, OIS)
3x hybrid optical zoom
Up to 8K at 30fps
108MP (0.8µm)
12MP Ultra-wide (1.4µm)
10MP Telephoto 3x (1.22µm)
10MP Telephoto 10x (1.22µm)
Up to 8K at 30fps
Front Camera 10 MP 
(f/2.2, 80°, 1/3.24-inch, 1.22µm)
10 MP 
(f/2.2, 80°, 1/3.24-inch, 1.22µm)
40MP (0.7µm, f/2.2)
Battery 4,000 mAh

25W USB PD 3.0 fast charging
15W wireless charging
4.5 reverse wireless charging

4,800 mAh

25W USB PD 3.0 fast charging
15W wireless charging
4.5 reverse wireless charging

5000mAh, 25W USB PD 3.0 fast charging
15W wireless charging
4.5 reverse wireless charging
Misc. features 5G, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, WiFi 6, IP68 ingress protection, Wireless PowerShare, Dual-SIM (Nano + e-SIM), Ultrasonic In-Display Fingerprint Scanner UWB 5G, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, WiFi 6, IP68 ingress protection, Wireless PowerShare, Dual-SIM (Nano + e-SIM), Ultrasonic In-Display Fingerprint Scanner UWB 5G, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, WiFi 6E, IP68 ingress protection, Wireless PowerShare, Dual-SIM (Nano + e-SIM), Ultrasonic In-Display Fingerprint Scanner, S-pen support
Dimensions and Weight 151.7×71.2×7.9 mm; 172 grams 161.4×75.6×7.8 mm; 202 grams 165.10 x 75.60 x 8.90mm; 228 grams
Colors Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, Phantom White Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver, Phantom Black Phantom Silver, Phantom Black

Samsung Galaxy S21Ultra: Unboxing

Samsung has stripped the Galaxy S21 box of all yesteryear flagship luxuries. Here’s all you get:

  • Handset with a pre-applied screen protector
  • USB Type-C to Type-C cable 
  • SIM ejector tool and documentation 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Design and Build

The most noticeable design highlight is the thick aluminum plate layered around the camera array which is perhaps supposed to hide the bump or makes it feel more transitional. This is not a continuation of the glossy aluminum side frame but a separate block with a matte finish matched to the frosted Gorilla Glass Victus back.

We are still wrapping our heads around this bold design but we have come to learn that such design choices are what make a product distinct. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a big and bulky phone and if not for this striking detail it would have felt, well… a little too ordinary.

In case you are wondering, No the phone doesn’t feel top-heavy – the weight is rather well balanced. There’s a tougher Gorilla Glass Victus shielding the front. There’s also the assurance of IP68 water and dust resistance certification.

Samsung has been gradually moving away from ostentatious display curves and it takes yet another step with the S21 Ultra. I for one like subtle display curves and am glad they are still there. 

The display also has S Pen support but it’s an optional extra accessory that goes in a case and not as integrated as on the Note. This would ensure that people who really need S Pen features have more choice.

Back in the day, Samsung’s in-display fingerprint readers used to be relatively slower than the competition even on flagships but that’s not the case anymore. Samsung has upgraded to a faster and bigger (1.71x) ultrasonic sensor after 2 years and this one seems plenty fast and reliable. It’s also positioned where our thumb naturally rests. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Display 

In 2021, Samsung flagships will no longer make you choose between full resolution and high refresh rate. You can have both 120Hz with 2K resolution and that’s precisely how we intend to use it. In comparison, the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ are now restricted to Full HD+ resolution only.

The S20 Ultra supports 120Hz Dynamic Refresh Rate and it’s most probably based on the same HoP back plain technology as on Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra which wasn’t a true seamless VRR solution but had more subsets or more mode-switching options. Ultimately, this will help conserve some battery in the high refresh rate mode. 

It might be too early to comment, but this definitely feels like a stunning AMOLED display with a wide color gamut and HDR10+ support. We have switched to the more color-accurate Natural profile. The Vivid mode will benefit from an AI eye care mode which will adjust blue light based on ambient lighting for a more comfortable viewing experience. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Performance Expectations 

The Exynos 2100 is the first Samsung chipset to directly lift ARM cores without any modifications. The chip is 5nm process-based and has 1 Cortex X1 prime core paired with 3 Cortex A78 performance cores and 4 Cortex A55 power cores. 

The SoC supports up to 26 TOPs of AI performance, which should reflect in faster camera processing and AR applications. Overall Samsung claims 30% better CPU performance and 40% better graphics from the new Mali-G78MP14 as compared to last year’s Exynos 990.

It remains to be seen if thermal efficiency sees any improvement, especially compared to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 that Samsung employs in some other markets. 

The SoC is assisted by LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage. Samsung has ditched the option to add secondary microSD storage this year. 

There is a lot more to look forward to with the hardware – there is UWB connectivity, the latest Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2, and USB 3.2 based Type-C port.

Samsung Galaxy S21 runs Android 11 based OneUI 3.1 software out of the box which we have extensively used on previous Samsung phones and which we quite like. There are some interesting call background options, Android 11 features like a separate conversation tab in the notification shade and notification history, and the (-1) home screen replaces the Bixby dashboard with Google Feed. On the downside, Samsung still pushes a number of its own app and its own Smart Things tab over Google’s smart home dashboard. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Camera expectations 

The Galaxy S21 has four cameras on the rear – 108MP primary camera, 12MP Ultra-wide, a 3X telephoto, and a 10X Telephoto zoom. There is also an advanced laser AF system that will supposedly make AF faster especially while zooming in. 

You get optical zoom for 3x and 10x and hybrid zoom in between and all the way up to 100x. Samsung also uses the 3x telephoto lens for depth information in Portrait mode (no longer Live focus). The Galaxy S21 Ultra can also save 12-bit RAW images.

On the front, there is a massive 40MP selfie camera.

It’ll take us a while before we have tested and analyzed the camera improvements in the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Meanwhile, we have added a few initial samples below, including a 10x Zoom sample. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Battery and Audio 

There is a massive 5000mAh battery inside but this year there is no charger bundled in the box. Samsung has always been conservative with fast charging, but the max 25W fast charging (USB PD) support on the 2021 flagship feels off-putting.

Having said that, we are yet to test the battery mileage and charging time and we will include all such stats in our review to follow.

As for audio, there are powerful stereo speakers tuned by AKG. The audio jack is still missing.

Samsung Galaxy S21 First Impressions

Our first impressions for the Samsung Galaxy S21 are largely positive and that’s the least to be expected of a phone that costs more than a lakh. This is a powerful Samsung flagship with capable hardware matched to a very appealing software, some exciting camera system, and a gorgeous display. 

We will be putting it through its paces in the coming weeks and see if the performance, battery, and optics hold up as expected.  Only then will we be sure if this is a phone that we can wholeheartedly recommend.



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