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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review: A good start to the year for Samsung

After last year’s S20 series with its good cameras and performance, we were not sure how Samsung will top it off this year. But to our amazement with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Korean company has managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Does the latest Exynos 2100 chipset perform as it was promised? Is the new camera array better than last years? How will the battery perform? We had all these questions before we started reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Let’s find out how this new flagship by Samsung performs on our test tables.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Design and Display

Samsung has done everything right with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, except one thing. Read on to know more. Let us start with the placements of keys and camera. When you get past the superb and extra-large touchscreen you will find that a metal band runs around the smartphone. This band has the power and volume rocker keys on the right, two microphones on the top, another microphone at the bottom along with USB type-c charging port, SIM tray and the loudspeaker grill.

Samsung-Galaxy-S21-Ultra-ports

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But what is more amazing is that the same metal band bends towards the back from the top and in one metal piece it becomes the camera module as well. So, this back metal, which is part of the side metal band is the camera bump. The very first seen by brand Samsung, for the world. Does it look good? Hell yes! We loved it and it gives the smartphone a distinct identity. The rear camera module has 4 cameras with a couple of sensors and a LED flash.

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The front of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on it, which by the way is the toughest we have seen coming from the Corning brand. Here you can also see a single selfie camera in the top middle part. The ear speaker has been moved upwards with the rest of the sensors so that the user gets an edge-to-edge display experience and it works. More on it later. But right now, the part that we are not in particularly awe of, or are we? The plastic back panel. On a premium smartphone, it is rare to get and Samsung just entered that rare corner.

Yes, the rear back panel of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is made of plastic, but it is reinforced polycarbonate back. It does have a very nice matt finish, which looks really cool, but the internet has gone frenzy talking about its plastic back. All in all, in our tests we got mixed reactions. Yes, we know because of the extra metal on the phone, a less heavy back panel like this one makes sense so that the weight is low and balanced. Which fairly Samsung did. Hence, we got mixed reactions from people we showed the device to. Some liked it and some just wanted more premium glass back panel, despite the increment in weight.

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A rear glass panel is not the only thing missing on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung went the smart way, to reduce its carbon footprint. They have not included a charger or headphones in the box. Again, the jury is out if that is a good thing or bad, as we too got a mixed bag of sentiments here too. While the concept is alien to most Android users, the latest Apple iPhone users would know about it. All in all, it is a good step to save the planet of excessive plastic waste is what we feel.

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Coming to one of the neatest features of Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, its display. The users get a beautiful 6.8-inch ultra large AMOLED Infinity-O display with HDR10+. It has features like 50 percent more contrast, 100 percent more colour volume and 120Hz super-smooth refresh rate. For the lesser-known, it means the screen can refresh 120 times in one second, giving its users a more fluid experience. So, does it do that? Yes, it does. We loved every bit of it. The scrolling, opening of apps, menu et al is very fluid. We played Amazon Prime videos on it, played games like Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty: Mobile. The smartphone’s screen never gave us a chance to squabble.

The text on the screen of Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is very good and legible. Even at 50% brightness, the screen is very legible under direct sunlight. Thanks to 1,500 nits brightness and 1,440 x 3,200 pixels resolution the screen is excellent indoors as well as outdoors. Overall, the screen is one of the best we have seen in recent months, in some cases even better than Samsung Note 20 Ultra, which we found to be the best last year.

Performance and camera

Let us quickly talk about the tech specs that the users get in India. Compared to users in USA and China who get Snapdragon 888 chipset, Indian users get Exynos 2100 chipset with Quad-Core CPU clocking at 2.91GHz. This speed only kicks in when the phone demands it. Like when playing graphic hungry games or apps. Otherwise, to conserve battery the lower speed cores stay alive. With this, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has 12GB RAM and 256GB storage (the device we got for review). Graphics are provided by Mali-G78 MP14 GPU. Together, on paper, the combo does seem very good. But did the new chipset deliver? Let’s find out.

We quickly put the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra to the test. We threw everything at the device including the kitchen sink and it did not flinch even once. We played lot of graphic hungry games, watched a lot of videos etc and the smartphone did not heat up at all. The display is built for everyday use as well as performance. We were extremely happy with it. This is combined with very good speed and efficiency. Speed comes from the top-of-the-line chipset in the smartphone and efficiency comes with a large 5,000 mAh battery inside.

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Talking about which, we got over 1 day of battery life from the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. The use consisted of daily calls and internetwork on a 4G network with Wi-Fi on. We also watched 1 hour of Netflix and another hour of YouTube. Social media browsing and WhatsApp calls and messages were part of the battery drain test too. By the end of it at late night we still had 24% charge left, which means it could have lasted till next late morning. However, since there is no charger in the box, we used a couple of old chargers we had from Samsung and OnePlus. The charging was much better and faster with a 15W Samsung charger than an OnePlus 7 charger. So, depending upon the old charger you still own, you might have to go through a long charge wait time.

We ran a couple of smartphones tests on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra too. These included 3DMark for smartphones and Geekbench 5. These were a breeze for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the results were more than satisfactory. The Exynos 2100 chipset does work and it could very well be at par with the SD 888 chipsets. It got 7,360 points on Geekbench compute test, 3,573 points on Geekbench multi-core test and 5,818 points on 3DMark for mobiles.

benchmarks

Skipping over to its cameras. We had a lot of fun with them, as users get 100X space zoom with a very good stabilisation on board. It works much better than the previous edition and clarity is also better. But what the crown jewel of this smartphone is the 108MP wide-angle rear camera. We clicked a lot of pictures with it in the day and at night. The images shot in the daytime captured excellent sharp subjects. The edge detection is perfect and 9 out of 10 times works well. The night images we captured were superb too. The night mode works flawlessly and with next to no light you end up getting great images here. Engineers at Samsung worked hard on it and it shows in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra night shot

Images taken from the 12MP ultra-wide and 10MP telephoto lens is definitely not as good as the 108MP sensor. However, you cannot rule them out as useless. They still capture great shots during the day and in well-lit rooms. We did get good images with them in dimly lit areas; however, we have seen better imagery at night with similar sensors.

Moving to the front camera, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with a 40MP selfie camera in a punch hole. It captures the face with great detail. Not only that, the subject’s hair strands were also captured well. There were no blurry edges during in well-lit rooms and daylight. At night, the camera did face some issues with capturing accurate details around the subject, but nothing which can be written as a deal-breaker. However, what Samsung can make better is the video recording from the rear cameras. Yes, they can capture 8K videos, but the dreaded bokeh effect the cameras employs is not good for vloggers or video makers who want to show products in their videos. The AI misses the edge and in close moving objects blurs the edges of the subject.

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Android 11 with the latest Samsung ONE UI comes on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, out of the box. The system is super smooth and thanks to a large amount of RAM and a good CPU, we did not face any lag or scroll issues. Apps and games loaded quickly, multi-tasking was good and heating issues were not there. Thanks to the large touchscreen you can easily work in split-screen mode on this device.

With that, there is 5G connectivity in the smartphone too. This we could not test since the tech is still not available in India. Saying that JIO and Airtel are on the cusp of getting the tech here, so it makes sense to have a smartphone which is 5G ready. Other features of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra include Wi-Fi 6, Dual SIM card support, KNOX security and in-display fingerprint reader, which works like a charm. Then there is an IP68 rating on the smartphone too, which protects it from accidental water spills and splashes. Users can also power share wirelessly with other compatible phones and devices. Overall, in the performance department, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra did not disappoint.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with DEX and S-Pen support too. Which many took as the end of the Samsung Note series. Samsung has made clear that the Note series is not discontinued, but S-Pen functionality is available on this smartphone for people who want it. Of course, at an additional price. All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a force to reckon with. It is a wonderful start to 2021 for Samsung as this smartphone has both, brains and beauty. If you can afford it, this is the best Android money can buy.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Pros

Excellent display

Good overall performance

Great battery life

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Cons

Video recording can be better

The plastic back might not be liked by some

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Design
Dsiplay
Performance
Cameras
Value for money
Sulabh Purihttp://www.gadgetbridge.com
Sulabh Puri is the Editor In Chief of GadgetBridge.com. A content specialist, he started his career young and it has been a rewarding 15 years for him. Before heading Gadget Bridge, he was the Editor of Times of India (TOI) Technology and GadgetsNow.com. He has also led TOI’s international edit arm as the Editorial Head of Business Insider India and Tech Radar India. He has also worked with various media houses such as the India Today Group and Cybermedia. He loves everything ‘gadgety’ and enjoys tinkering with new tech toys and automobiles. A graduate in commerce from Delhi University, he is also an adept graphic designer. When he is not working, he can be found in the kitchen, cooking mouth-watering chocolate cakes and croissants.

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