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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, analysis: raw power and photographic versatility in a brilliant high-end

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.
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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, analysis: raw power and photographic versatility in a brilliant high-end

‘With great power comes great responsibility’, even more so if you are the ‘Ultra’ model in a family of flagships. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the most ambitious of Samsung’s ‘S’ models, which have repeated variants with the standard Galaxy S21 model and its Galaxy S21 + variant. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra had some shadows to resolve and we already anticipate that its main weaknesses have been resolved in this new generation.

The S21 Ultra goes through our analysis table in order to see what has changed, what is maintained and what the new Samsung flagship brings to the market. Its intention is to be the best phone on the market , a great ambition that translates into a strong commitment to top-of-the-line hardware. Is this the Ultra generation we were waiting for? Let’s get rid of doubts with our analysis.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra data sheet

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Screen 6.8 ”Dynamic AMOLED 2x
120 Hz
WQHD +
Processor Exynos 2100
RAM 12/16 GB
Storage 128/256/512 GB
Rear camera 108 MP f / 1.0
Ultra wide angle 12 MP f / 2.2
Tele 10 MP f / 2.4
Tele 10 MP f / 4.9
Laser AF ToF
Frontal camera 40 MP f / 2.2
Battery 5,000 mAh
Fast charging 25 W
Wireless charging 15W
Wireless PowerShare
Operating system Android 11 + One UI 3.0
Connectivity 5G
WiFi 6 and 6E
UBW tracking
Dimensions and weight 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm 228
228 grams
Others AKG stereo speakers, IP68, S Pen support
Price From 1,259 euros

Design: big changes sometimes feel good

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After a few months using the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, I detected two clear problems: its one-hand usability and how slippery the back was. In this generation Samsung has coated the rear glass with a matte paint . With it, it is achieved that the tracks are not marked, that it is more difficult to see micro-scratches and that the back does not slip as much as its predecessor.

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However, what has most impressed a server is how, by cutting the height and width a few millimeters, you gain so much experience with one hand . Last year the S20 Ultra was too big and wide, a somewhat clunky and difficult to use terminal. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a fairly large terminal, but more comfortable. The big penalty is the weight, which goes up to 228 grams without a cover. It is a high figure, which translates into some discomfort when we have been using the phone for a while. It is the price to pay in a terminal 16.5 centimeters high, glass and aluminum construction and with a quite generous battery inside.

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In addition to the new matt paint, the module has been completely redesigned. It protrudes a lot from the body of the terminal, so it will dance when we put it face up on a table. Despite being gigantic, the appearance of the phone is minimalist, simple and elegant (especially in this unit in matte black). It is a design that pleases the eye and that marks a refinement that was quite necessary in the S family. The corners of the Galaxy S are still rounded, which adds an extra in ergonomics and feel in hand.

Height (millimeters) Width (mm) Thickness (millimeters) Weight (grams) Screen (inch) Battery Surface (cm2) Volume (cc)
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 165.1 75.6 8.9 228 6.8 5,000 124.82 111.09
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 166.9 76 8.8 220 6.9 5,000 126.84 111.62
Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro 165.1 76.4 9.33 218 6.67 5,000 126.13 117.69
Sony Xperia 1 II 165.1 71.1 7.6 181.4 6.5 4,000 117.39 89.21
Huawei P40 Pro 158.2 72.6 8.95 209 6.58 4,200 114.85 102.79
LG Velvet 5G 167.08 74 7.85 180 6.8 4,300 123.58 97.0103
Motorola Edge 161.4 71.1 9.29 188 6.7 4,500 114.75 106.60
Black Shark 3 Pro 177.79 83.29 10.1 253 7.1 5,000 148.11 149.59
Nubia Red Magic 5G 168.6 78 9.8 218 6.65 4,500 131.51 128.88
OnePlus 8 Pro 165.3 74.35 8.5 199 6.78 4,510 122.9 104.47
iPhone 12 Pro Max 160.8 78.1 7.39 228 6.7 3,687 125.59 92.81

At the compaction level, its measurements are not helpful. It is a terminal with a high surface and volume, only surpassed by other giants such as the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro or its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. However, despite being a huge terminal, we once again emphasize that it is comfortable (saving the point of excessive weight), a leap forward that we asked for compared to last year’s model.

Img 0265 The button panel of the S21 Ultra is very high.

Regarding the design line, the module is part of an aluminum piece that is glued to the terminal’s own metal frame, giving a quite pleasant feeling of continuity. The right side houses the power button and the volume buttons, which, by the way, are too high to be able to reach them in the natural position of the hand . The left side is completely deserted, housing the SIM card slot at the bottom, next to the USB Type-C port and speaker. In this generation, the expansion through microSD cards disappears , so the slot only houses the nanoSIM.

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As for the front, the use is spectacular . According to GSMarena it occupies almost 90% of the front (89.8%), the frames being almost symmetrical , although the lower one is slightly higher than the upper one. The camera is located in the center of the upper part of the panel, in a small hole that we forget in a few hours of use. Similarly, there is a front speaker embedded in the upper edge, so discreet that it cannot be seen with the naked eye although, as we will see later, it will make a difference in audio.

Except that the size can feel excessive at times, the design exercise with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is excellent: more comfortable, prettier and more compelling than last year.

In short, Samsung leaves hardly any open sides with the Galaxy S21 Ultra at the design level. It is large, but ergonomic, the design is different from other competitors in the market and even the experience with one hand is pleasant. Sometimes big changes work out, and this new design is proof of that.

Display: the way forward

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The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a 6.8-inch ‘2x’ Dynamic AMOLED panel with a maximum WQHD + resolution of 3,200 x 1,440 and 515 pixels per inch , all coupled with an adaptive refresh rate of 120 Hz. It’s the best screen I’ve tested to date , with a wider margin than I might expect. The panel of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is quite different from the S20 Ultra, not only for the final quality, but for everything that is not appreciated.

The panel of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is of a new generation more efficient and, above all, with a higher brightness than ever

The OLED emitters of the Galaxy S21 Ultra are new generation, something that will help both in terms of energy and the luminance capacity of the screen. When we go out on the street, this panel is capable of firing beyond 1,000 nits , a spectacular peak that also consumes less power than the S20 Ultra (according to Anandtech data), a model that had less brightness. We will talk about consumption later, but the brightness level of the S21 Ultra is very high. The minimum brightness indoors is quite low, the maximum does not flash and only when we are in the sun do we notice such high peaks. When we are on the street, the screen of the S21 Ultra has plenty of brightness , something added to some very good viewing angles.

Img 8368 The curve of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is not annoying in hand, but the shading is still quite noticeable.

The only downside to the panel is that the S21 Ultra is the only member of the S21 family with a curved screen . This one is very light, so we have not suffered ghost touches, touch problems or other problems related to usability. What’s more, I am particularly bothered by curved screens and with the S21 Ultra I have had practically the same experience as with a flat panel. However, when the mobile is face up , the shadows generated by the curve are appreciated . This is still an aesthetic and non-functional element, so it does not contribute practically anything (although at the level of usability it does not remain in this generation).

Being such a large panel, there is an appreciable difference when we go from Full HD + to 2K. The panel is much more enjoyable in the maximum configuration

The sharpness of the panel in QHD + is remarkable, noticing a lot compared to Full HD +, the configuration that comes by default in this terminal. We already anticipate that going up to 2K will have little impact on autonomy , so we strongly recommend betting on the maximum resolution to enjoy the panel, since when going down to Full HD + the loss in sharpness is remarkable.

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One point to mention and explain in the S21 Ultra is the adaptive refresh rate, technology that Samsung debuted in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. How does this adaptive refresh rate work? Specifically, in this model the refresh rate ranges between 11 and 120Hz, with the main purpose of saving energy. In other words, the system has different values ​​programmed for the refresh rate, so depending on what we are doing, it will apply one value or another .

120hz

A curious fact here is that this adaptive refresh rate does not work in low ambient brightness situations , such as indoors, requiring a certain luminance for it to work. In other words, if the ambient light sensor receives little light, the refresh rate will remain between 60 and 120Hz, but if the brightness increases and greater energy savings are necessary, the rest of the variables (frequency values) will be activated.

Tg Image 490006445 When we open YouTube the screen refreshes to 30 FPS and the rate increases to 120 FPS as soon as we touch the screen

YouTube is a great example to measure this, because it shows static content, we scroll and we watch videos with different settings (24 FPS, 30 FPS, 60 FPS, etc.), so we have measured its behavior. For example, when we open the app and do not touch the screen, the panel stays refreshing at about 30Hz. As soon as we scroll , it immediately goes up to 120Hz and, when we open a video, the rate adapts to the video itself (in our example 1080p 48 fps).

Although the 120Hz is adaptive, each time we touch the panel the rate rises to 120Hz, so the feeling of fluidity of the panel is complete when we are using the phone.

All these variations mean that the panel is not 100% of the time at 120Hz, something that will help energy consumption. Despite these changes, the feeling is that the panel is constantly at 120Hz (since every time we touch it the frequency shoots up), so we will not notice FPS drops, something ideal for the user experience.

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