Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G hardly shows any weaknesses in our test. It convinces with an excellent display, an outstandingly good camera, and also a very good performance. In view of the huge battery, the runtime could have been a bit longer, but it is still very good and will easily get most users through the day.
Unfortunately, Samsung now also reduces the scope of delivery and omits a power adapter and headphones. Samsung has also removed the memory card slot. Multimedia and photo enthusiasts with a deep wallet should take a look at the S21 Ultra – but more price-conscious buyers also get almost the same overall performance for considerably less money.
Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G in the test: Samsung's best smartphone in 2021
The year 2021 has barely begun when Samsung already opens the high-end smartphone season with its new flagship generation: the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra. Unlike the Galaxy S20 series, the three new top models are only available as 5G versions in this country. Thus, they all feature the same processor, namely Samsung’s new Exynos 2100 with an integrated 5G modem, which of course still supports 4G wireless or LTE.
All three models have two slots for SIM cards and a built-in eSim. You can use two SIM cards or one SIM card plus eSIM for dual-SIM operation at the same time. However, only one SIM can operate in the 5G network.
All three Galaxy S21 models start with slightly lower launch prices than the S20 generation – but you will still have to fork out at least US$1,200 for the Galaxy S21 Ultra at market launch. Unfortunately, Samsung follows Apple’s example and omits a power adapter as well as headphones in the scope of delivery for every S21 smartphone. Only a matching charging cable is now included in the slim cardboard boxes. Samsung also justifies this with “environmental protection” and “resource conservation”. However, this only applies when you actually have suitable accessories at home and do not have to buy extra.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with elegantly concealed camera hump
The S21 Ultra looks quite good from the outside. It looks very elegant in Samsung’s typical Edge design with narrow edges. The transitions are, as usual, very well manufactured. The back is made of matte glass and merges with the now much more elegantly embedded camera block in the same basic color. The camera setup only protrudes by 1.9 millimeters – a significant improvement compared to the predecessor S20 Ultra with 2.3 millimeters. Compared with the S20 models, the camera block thus looks much less like a foreign body and blends in harmoniously.
Samsung remains the display king
The display of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is 0.1 inches smaller than that of the Galaxy S20 Ultra – but still huge: It measures an impressive 6.8 inches diagonally and – like the other S21 models – also has an OLED panel. However, only the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a resolution of 3200 x 1440 pixels (WQHD+). One-handed operation is hardly possible here. As usual from the predecessors and other OLED phones, the giant display scores with a large color space. The screen covers a whole 149 percent of the standard RGB color space. Streaming fans also get their money’s worth because the Galaxy S21 Ultra covers the DCI-P3 color space, which is relevant for HDR videos, to a full 100 percent, which is strong. The Galaxy S21 Ultra can also handle HDR10+. In short: Samsung once again proves that they build excellent smartphone displays.
Even the rather mediocre checkerboard contrast value of 153 to 1 cannot shake that. This is because the display can get up to 1,131 candelas per square meter in HDR videos and under sunlight in our measurement – that not only burns your eyes out, but is also a new best value in our best list. Thus, you can read the screen very well even in bright sunshine. Without a tricked-out light sensor or HDR content, the screen achieves a brightness of up to 530 cd/m² – which is bright enough for indoor use. We measure with 50% white content here.
Samsung has optimized its 120 Hz display technology for the S21 series and relies on an adaptive adjustment of the refresh rate in the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Thus, the smartphone recognizes whether 120 Hz is needed for smartphone gaming or whether a slower 10 Hz is sufficient for relaxed eBook reading. The adaptive frequency control was preset in our test devices. You can find out how your device is set in the display menu. If you want to save power, you should set the display to 60 instead of 120 hertz.
Four lenses to snap them all
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is the model with the most numerous cameras in the Galaxy S21 series: A main lens with a fast f/1.8 aperture and a new 108-megapixel sensor is accompanied by two 10-megapixel telephoto lenses with 3x and 10x zoom. The latter, however, has a rather low-light f/4.9 aperture and is mainly suitable for daylight shots. The 3x zoom has a conventional f/2.4 aperture for the cell phone tele range. There is also an ultra-wide-angle lens with f/2.2 and 12 megapixels. The front lens (f/2.2 aperture) shoots with a maximum resolution of 40 megapixels. Both zoom lenses have an optical image stabilizer to minimize camera shake.
To prevent users from accidentally going far into the digital zoom range and enlarging subjects at the expense of image quality, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a feature called “Zoom Lock” that briefly interrupts the zoom process at 20x digital zoom and only resumes after an artificial pause. If you ignore this cautious admonition, you can zoom up to a factor of 100, but you will lose a massive amount of picture quality. Samsung then calls this “Space Zoom”.
The lab test shows: Pictures in bright light conditions are super. Samsung’s well-known slight oversaturation is again a feature of the S21 Ultra – some will like it, others might find it too unnatural. Overall, the Galaxy S21 Ultra shows a very strong picture quality that can compete with the best rivals on the market. The same applies to the front-facing camera: Thanks to an integrated autofocus, pictures taken with the front-facing camera are consistently sharp and very usable.
By the way: If you want to edit pictures professionally afterwards, it is best to use the Raw format: The S21 Ultra saves RAW image files with a lot of information here, as the name might suggest.
For low-light photography, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is neck-and-neck with the Huawei P40 Pro and P40 Pro Plus. If the device lies on a still surface or snaps from a tripod, the results in the lab test are partly outstanding. However, the competition is partly ahead when taking pictures freehand.
Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra also a strong video smartphone?
In addition to features like the night mode and the so-called Single Take, in which the smartphone continuously records the scene for up to 15 seconds and then lets the “AI” choose the best photo and video under various filters, there are now also new video functions. For example, the so-called “Director’s View” lets you switch back and forth between the different perspectives of the other lenses during video shooting. With the Vlogger view, you can record videos simultaneously with the front and rear camera. Together with the optional video setting “portrait video”, the S21 Ultra screams for the attention of content creators – TikTok, Instagram and YouTube say hello.
However, the “director’s view” does not seem to be thought through to the end. This is because it is only possible to switch between the individual lenses. Functions like face tracking or any scenic filter functions cannot be set or optimized by the “AI”. In our eyes, this is wasted potential, since the computing power is available.
On the other hand, the “professional video” mode is full of settings: From shutter speeds to the autofocus, cinematic 8K movies with 24 frames per second or 4K movies with a maximum of 60 frames per second can be produced here.
The quality of the video recordings is excellent – if the illumination is right. However, we are disappointed by the low-light shots. Only setting connoisseurs can produce really nice videos with the video pro mode.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G has top performance
Like every year, Samsung also introduces its new, in-house high-end mobile processor with its new Galaxy S generation: This year’s is called Exynos 2100. And like every year, some Samsung fans in Europe would rather have the current Snapdragon processor. Samsung wants to change that with the Galaxy S21 series and brings the new Exynos 2100, the first system-on-chip (SoC) since 2016 that does not use processor cores developed in-house, but relies on ARM reference designs. Samsung also integrates a 5G modem for sub-6 GHz mobile and mmWave instead of relying on an extra chip. The high-performance compound consists of a very strong Cortex-X1 core with a clock rate of 2.9 GHz as well as three more efficient Cortex-A78s that accelerate up to 2.8 GHz. For less demanding tasks, there are still four Cortex-A55s – here with 2.2 GHz. Samsung has also optimized the cache system and other processor elements (scheduler for task distribution).
Depending on the selected memory variant, the processor has between 12 and a whopping 16 GB of working memory at its disposal, which is plenty for demanding apps and smooth multitasking.
The performance is great: Animations run smoothly throughout, and the user can enjoy the full 120 hertz. Loading times are minimal, and apps constantly open at a very high speed. Thus, the good benchmark results are not surprising: It loads and renders our complex test PDF file in a lightning-fast 1.9 seconds. In the GFX benchmark (scenario: Manhattan 3.1; offscreen; 1,440p), the Galaxy S21 Ultra achieves a rate of 67 fps. Samsung thus shortens the gap to Apple with its extremely performant A14 Bionic chipsets. We measured a rate of 78.9 fps in the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
The integrated 5G modem supports all 5G frequencies. So far, many smartphones have had problems when the LTE and 5G frequencies are very close to each other, for example at 1,800 MHz for LTE and 2,100 MHz for 5G (Telekom) or 800 MHz for LTE and 700 MHz for 5G (Vodafone). This is because at present, every 5G smartphone has to connect to an LTE “anchor frequency” for the first time before the mobile network forwards the devices to the 5G network. (Read more in our 5G test) The S21 series supports parallel operation of 1,800 MHz and 2,100 MHz for 5G and LTE anchor frequency. The combination of 800 MHz and 700 MHz that is also used in the Vodafone network is still not possible.
Samsung can do batteries after all
The massive battery of the S21 Ultra holds a whopping 5,000 mAh and achieves a very good runtime of 12 hours and 37 minutes in a Full HD+ resolution with 60 hertz. For our online runtime test, we dimmed the brightness to 200 cd/m², which is suitable for indoor use, and let the smartphone continuously load and display videos and websites from the LTE network. A script also simulates scrolling and typing inputs.
Charging works quickly – if you still have a suitable 25-watt power supply at home. Unfortunately, Samsung follows Apple’s path and does without a power adapter in the scope of delivery for all Galaxy S21 models. The battery capacity increases from 0 to 100 percent in 86 minutes with the power adapter in the test. After half an hour, 53 percent of the battery is already charged and ready for use.
Wireless charging is of course also on board, but only with up to 15 watts of maximum power. Wireless charging of other devices on the Galaxy S21 Ultra also works again, Samsung calls it Wireless Power Share.
Conclusion: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- A new feature that will please fans of the Galaxy Note series is the possibility to use the Galaxy S21 Ultra – and only that – with a pen, to write and draw on it. However, the necessary Samsung S Pen is only offered as an optional accessory.
- Unlike the Galaxy Note smartphones, the Galaxy S21 Ultra does not have room to accommodate the pen in the casing. Instead, Samsung offers two different protective cases in which the pen can be stored on the device.
- As already mentioned, the Galaxy S21 Ultra does not come with headphones and a power adapter – so if you do not have an old one, you will have to pay about US$35 for a new power adapter. Unfortunately, Samsung also follows another Apple trend and does not include an SD card slot in the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Thus, you have to be sure that you have chosen a model with enough storage when you buy it because upgrading is no longer possible.
- Like its smaller sisters, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is protected against water, dust and other dirt according to the IP-68 standard.
- The Galaxy S21 Ultra features dual speakers that provide an excellent sound in the test. A clear sound and good bass make the audio experience pleasant even without headphones.
- NFC is on board and thus enables mobile payments via Google Pay or Samsung Pay, among other things. Bluetooth is installed in the current version 5.2 and USB with Type-C jack in the 3.1 standard.
- Samsung also advertises Wi-Fi 6E support, which is currently completely superfluous in this country since there are no suitable routers on the market and the required frequencies have not yet been released by the Federal Network Agency.
- The Galaxy S21 Ultra can be unlocked biometrically via facial recognition and a very fast and reliable ultrasonic fingerprint scanner.
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Last product update on 2021-09-24 | Source: Amazon Affiliate