The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G marks the third of Samsung’s ‘Ultra’ range release after the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra lineup. And like it’s Ultra’ label suggests, one can be certain this phone comes with a certain quality, at least one Samsung epitomised as their pride release. Though the only Ultra element this time would not be just the quality and upgrades, but the price as well.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is not a phone one can easily afford. With a price tag starting from RM 5,200 for a 256GB variant up to RM 5,800 for the 512GB type, this is a device for those seeking the absolute best Android phone in the market and with the money to spare for it.
For regular Note users like myself who adore the Stylus, the S21 Ultra is a much welcomed new option. The device comes ready with Stylus support, even supporting S-Pens from the older Note series. But even though it supports Stylus use, the phone does not actually come with one – nor does it have a slot to house a Stylus. To store the Stylus, you’d need to get a phone case with a pocket for it.
Specs and Performance
With an Octa-Core CPU running on Android 11 One UI 3.1, up to 16GB of RAM for the 512GB variant, and 12GB RAM for the 256GB model, it’s hard when it comes to the phone’s performance. This powerhouse of a phone is also backed by a huge all-day lasting 5000mAh battery capacity to ensure uninterrupted use.
Depending on where you are, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra can come in either Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 Cortex-1 @ 2.84Ghz or Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 Cortex-1 @ 2.9Ghz. Unlike the heck of a performance difference between the two last year that leans favourably towards the Qualcomm processor, the differences between them this year is negligible due to the significant improvement achieved from Samsung’s move away from using Custom Mongoose core in favour of Arms’ Cortex core.
The Malaysian model comes equipped with Exynos 2100 which is a great improvement over the previous Exynos 990 in terms of core deliveries and efficiency. According to a test sheet done by Golden Reviewer, the Exynos 2100 core deliveries push 22% more performance than the 990 and at 34% higher efficiency.
Weighing 227 gram built on a 165.1mm x 75.6mm x 8.9mm frame, the S21 Ultra is definitely a large phone. The designers obviously went down the classy route rather than stylish when it comes to the phone’s appearance but it’s gorgeous nonetheless. It took me some time to get used to the fact that there are 5 big black holes on the back of my phone but it’s easy to ignore them once I realised what beauty (of images) these holes are capable of producing.
The S21 Ultra is available in both Phantom Black and Phantom Silver in Malaysia, the one we tested was the Silver variant. The best thing about this phone’s design for me is the superb looking matte finish Gorilla Glass Victus rear surface. They feel silky to the touch and most importantly, they do not retain fingerprints easily. For those of you who don’t like using a phone case for whatever reason, the S21 Ultra is a phone that can comfortably go nude without the constant chore of cleaning and maintenance.
I find it prudent to warn you that because of the rather ‘silky’ surface finish of the phone, you may find the S21 Ultra slipping through your grips more easily. This is a large phone and because of the bulky camera housing in the rear, it means the camera compartment will be bearing most of the weight of the phone if you put it rear-down without a phone case. Any drag to the phone in this position is bound to cause some scratches on the housing and if your grip happens to slip when putting the phone down, the entire camera housing will bear the full brunt of the force. I can only imagine it won’t be healthy for the cameras and the phone should that happen excessively.
The aluminium mid-frame made the phone looked cheap (at least on the Phantom Silver variant) but that’s something I can quickly get over by slapping a phone case around it. All in all, the S21 Ultra is not an extremely fashionable phone but the designers’ decision to go for a mature look did pay off in my opinion.
Another interesting development this year is the Display Department. With the 6.8″ AMOLED display panel delivering a vibrant and bright screen up to 1500 Nits Maximum, the brightest so far according to Samsung. Viewing the phone during the daytime outdoor is effortless now due to the 1500 Nits capable panel.
The Quad HD+ 3200 x 1440px resolution is available as an option for those who want the best and don’t mind a shorter battery life. The default resolution on the S21 Ultra is set to 2400 x 1080px and is paired with smooth adaptive 10-120Hz refresh rates. Compared to the older S20 Ultra that capped the resolution to the mediocre 1080p for 120Hz, the S21 Ultra now offers refresh rates from 10-120HZ at all resolutions. The S21 Ultra is also the only S21 variant offering the QHD+ resolution.
Underneath the screen is the redesigned ultrasonic fingerprint sensor producing a noticeable difference in fingerprint detection speed. The sensor surface is now 1.75 times larger than on the previous phone.
The display department this year is as solid as ever with the new brighter AMOLED panel coupled with the sweet adaptive refresh rates across all resolutions.
– 108MP Wide
– 12MP Ultra Wide
– 10M Telephoto 3x
– 10m Telephoto 10x
– Max Zoom up to 100x
– Front Camera 40MP
The camera department this time is the reason why the S21 Ultra is the most expensive Android phone in the market. My only regret here is not being able to go outdoors to take some scenery shots due to the lockdown. But from what I’ve been able to do and play with so far, it made sense why there are so many cameras in the back, and why the S21 Ultra costs such a premium price.
A standard wide lens 108MP capable camera accompanies the S21 Ultra, highlighting one of the four rear cameras in its arsenal. This baby shoots in 12MP by default which is already a beaut, but users can switch it up a notch to 108MP anytime they want. At first glance, users may not notice any difference between the 12MP and 108MP shots until they zoom in and see how the finer details are broken into noises in the 12MP while being perfectly captured and retained in the 108MP. If you are one who typically zoom/crop images to find the perfect frame you want, the powerful 108MP here will give you that versatility without jeopardising image quality. This is my favourite camera on the phone for its all-rounded capabilities and ability to produce crisp sharp images.
For those seeking more range options in their shots, the S21 Ultra comes armed with a 10MP 3X Zoom and a 10MP 10X Zoom lens capable of zooming (Digitally) up to 100X. While the 100X Zoom sounds mighty impressive, the photo quality taken from it is far from anything acceptable. Photo qualities from up to 20X Zoom is fine, or up to 30X if you are not particular with some noises in your shot.
If you are worried about the S21 Ultra inheriting the S20 Ultra Auto Zoom problem hence plaguing the photo qualities on the 108MP (Rear cam) and 40MP (Front cam), you can stop worrying. The new laser-assisted detection autofocus addition on the S21 Ultra has rendered that problem history. Shots now focus properly, capturing the details they are supposed to catch, allowing those cropping images for social media to retain the image quality post-crop. The S21 Ultra also allows for the saving of 12-bit Raw files making it more convenient for any post-operation photo editing.
All cameras now record videos at 4K 60 FPS but video Recording on the S21 Ultra broke the 4K boundary and is capable of recording 8K videos on 24 FPS settings. Samsung has included a Super Steady mode for video recordings that serves as a stabilizer, but I’ve not been able to test this out.
Content creators rejoice as the new Director’s View mode is one I foresee being made exclusively for creators in mind. This mode allows for both the front and rear camera to run at the same time, recording from both sides simultaneously. Narrative and Reaction video makers have a new playground here.
The camera department is undoubtedly the main selling point here and the main reason why anyone would consider getting this pricey phone. If you want a powerful camera in a phone and an 8K ready recording device, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra should definitely be on your radar.
Premium fee for a phone but no MicroSD card slot. Yay! or nay?
While it sounds glorious to be able to record up to 8K videos, the massive file size that comes with it is a fact user must confront due to the absence of a MicroSD card slot this time.
The phone’s 256GB ready storage, or 512GB (depending on which you bought) would only offer a short term peace of mind if you are a video/photo heavy user. What has always made the Samsung phones stand out from Apple’s iPhones had partially been the option for Samsung users to use MicroSD cards on the phone, but that is now gone. All the S21 variants this time will not accommodate MicroSD cards, forcing storage-heavy users to either perform more data-transferring from their device to another or to consider Cloud storage options. For those looking to constantly shoot long 8K or 4K videos with the phone, the absence of a MicroSD slot could hinder any plans for massive projects here.
For a phone that comes at this price, I find it rather unbelievable that Samsung has chosen to omit the MicroSD Card slot. Storage heavy users, beware.
On the Gaming Side of things…
There have been no instances where the phone failed to perform, or where its performance deteriorated. But again, this is expected of the latest Samsung flagship in the market.
I’ve been stressing the phone the best I can since I got it to see how well (or not) it works for gaming. But as one would expect from Samsung’s latest flagship Ultra series, the S21 Ultra can easily fend for itself. The phone has everything it needs to handle games from the medium to advanced range. Plus its 5G ready capabilities, even Cloud gaming would no longer be just a possibility, but a reality.
One memorable moment for me was playing Genshin Impact on it. My previous experience with Genshin Impact on Note 10 Plus and the S20 saw the phones lagging during co-op sessions with 3 other players online. When everyone started serving their skills and combos frames would take a dive and performance stuttered. On the S21 Ultra, however, it has been a smooth sailing journey thus far even during performance heavy moments.
The previous Samsung phones could already handle most of the games in the market with relative ease so there was no reason the S21 Ultra would face any problem running games on max settings, and it didn’t. To truly push the phone to its limit would require the current S21 Ultra specs and hardware to become a market norm and for games to be developed with this landscape in mind. But as for this and possibly the next year, there shouldn’t be a title that this phone cannot tame.
But rhythmic or any game that relies heavily on listening to tunes and signals will find that the S21 Ultra is not a good platform. The fault mainly lies in the position of the speakers on the top and bottom of the side frame. When playing games on landscape mode, the speakers would frequently find themselves covered by our index fingers during the grip. The muffled sound from the covered speakers produced little incentive to play any musical games on this phone. A workaround would be using the Earbuds or pairing the phone to a Bluetooth Speaker (but beware of the delay).
The 5000mAh battery capacity played its role well in providing and moderately longer gaming sessions. Together with the QHD+ adaptive screen with refresh rates up to 120Hz, gaming on the Galaxy S21 Ultra can feel remarkable.
The other two downsides I’ve experienced so far other than the speakers when gaming is the weight of the phone and the bulky camera compartment. The weight of the naked phone alone is already heavy and it gets heavier in a phone case. This makes it less ideal to hold the phone and play games for long hours.
The bulky camera compartment makes gripping uncomfortable on the left side (or right, depending on your hold). The difference in weight between top and bottom means more effort must be put into balancing the phone when you have to hold it with one hand. I expected myself to get used to it after a while but it’s hard not to notice it when a supposedly simple activity like playing games on the phone starts tiring me out due to the less than friendly ergonomic design.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the phone that will take care of all your current and foreseeable future needs. It has everything it needs to deliver quality display, quality photos and videos, top-class performance, and has gotten rid of all the previous flaws and errors that plagued the S20 Ultra series.
The only roadblock here is the price tag. The S21 Ultra costs a whopping RM 5.2k upward. If you are looking for a device that can capture nice photos and record good videos, simple research on the net may yield better alternatives in the form of DSLR cameras. If you want to buy this device for gaming purposes, it should be noted that it costs almost twice as much as a single PlayStation 5 but handles far less.
But if you are looking for an all-rounder phone that would give you a few good years without worrying about upgrades or playing catch up to software requirement advancement, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra may just fit the bill. This will be a reliable long-term partner albeit an annoying one due to you needing to perform storage maintenance from time to time because there’s no MicroSD card slot.