This is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Another year, another big Samsung phone. Am I right? Well, actually, no, this year’s first big Samsung phone is the Galaxy S21 Ultra. There was the S20 Ultra the Note 20 Ultra and now this. Three iterations mean that Samsung has had time to work out all of the kinks.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

Now in the Samsung world, Ultra means that it should be the biggest and best version that you can get. The original S20 Ultra was not that much better than the regular S20s. The camera had issues and it was a lot more expensive. This year the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is much better. The camera’s improved and the price has dropped by 200 bucks. So Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra price starts at $1,200. So I guess the third time’s a charm.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Screen

So we have to start with the obvious thing about Ultra phones. They are huge. The screen on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is 6.8 inches diagonally. If you’re keeping count – and you know that Samsung is keeping count that makes this phone 0.1 inches bigger than the iPhone 12 Pro Max screen. But the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is taller and narrower than the Max, and therefore to me, it’s just much easier to hold, See Samsung has kept the curved edges on the screen and actually don’t mind it here.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

I think it works, And it means that the bezels are that much smaller and the phone can be that much narrower. The iPhone 12 Pro Max just feels way bigger because it’s wider. As long as we’re comparing the Samsung phone to the iPhone. Right now, I think some of you are going to disagree with me, but I think the Galaxy looks better. I do love the new squared-off edges on the iPhone. One of those things that we forgot looks weird because we got so used to camera bumps, but it is it’s weird. So Samsung’s fix for the camera bump is to make the metal rails on the side curve right into it, And I actually think it looks Slick as hell, And it means that the camera glass here is just a little bit recessed. Although, yes, there are just a lot of camera holes here, and that that does look weird.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

Speaking of the back. It’s Gorilla, Glass Victus also same on the front, and it has this matte finish, which is pretty nice. Yes, it is Phantom black and it does look very black in person. It also resists fingerprints pretty well, but it might be a little bit more delicate than I would want it to be. We just set this down concrete to get a shot and it’s already got a little bit of scratch on it, where you can see silver underneath. Maybe that was a dumb idea, but now you know.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

Anyway, look you’re only getting this phone. If you love, big phones and Samsung is just better at making big phones than Apple is, They’ve been doing it for way longer. Samsung’s version of Android lets you size text how you want. It can have a little side rail on the side that you can swipe in for extra functions. It makes it fairly simple to split-screen apps lets you turn apps into little pop-up windows that shrink down to floating bubbles. You can just do a lot more with these phones.

Look at the size of these phones, they’re, basically, tablets, and Samsung – is just better at putting tablet options into its software. So big phone good right. Well sure, but honestly, it’s not that hard to find a big Android phone. The point of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is to be the most powerful and capable Android phone price be damned and right now yeah.

Let’s come back to the screen, It’s 3,200 by 1440 pixels and you can set it to have an adaptive refresh rate, so it can dynamically change from 10 to 120 Hertz. That makes scrolling and animation smooth, but it saves battery life when there’s nothing moving on the screen. On the Galaxy S21 Ultra for the first time, you can have both maximum resolution and a higher refresh rate at the same time. You don’t have to pick one or the other, Actually a funny story about the screen. Usually, when Samsung launches a big new phone, it will talk for like an hour about its screen tech, but with this one, they’re just like yep, this is the best screen. I think the screen looks great.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Specs

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

This is also the first mass-market phone with a new Snapdragon 888 processor from Qualcomm, So it has Wi-Fi 6E. Both kinds of 5G have better graphics and of course, it’s fast. It benchmarks really. Well, though, of course, the iPhone still beats it. But to me, the important thing is that feels fast and there’s never any lag. For the first time in an S series phone, there’s, support for Samsung, styluses, the S pen, they’re separate. Looking at the demos, if you’ve ever used a Note, it’s going to probably be about the same experience here: minus support for Bluetooth.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Storage

Now the $1,200 base model has 128 gigs of storage and 12 gigs of RAM. For 50 bucks. More you can step up to 256 gigs of storage and there’s a 512 model that has 16 gigs of RAM and it’s 180 bucks more. Really you should get one of those models with more storage, because, in order to cut the price on this phone down from where it was last year, Samsung had to take some stuff out.

So you know we know they took the AC adapter out of the box, because Apple did so, of course, Samsung is going to do it, but they also cut the micro SD card slot. That move felt inevitable, but it is kind of a bummer to not Have expandable storage, especially for a phone that can shoot 8K video and let you take 108-megapixel photos if you want to.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

It has Qualcomm’s newest, fastest and biggest fingerprint sensor on the screen. There’s a much bigger area that you can tap to unlock. It’s great. Also you know it works if you’re wearing a mask.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Battery life

And speaking of great battery life. On this phone, for the review, I turned on all the bells and whistles. I had max resolution adaptive refresh rate always on screen. I had the brightness cranked all the way up most of the time, and then I spent days and days shooting tons of photos and testing out 4K and a little bit of 8K video and I never killed the battery until basically, halfway through day two. There’s a 5,000 milliAmp battery in this thing and I think it’s enough.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Camera

Really, though, the thing that Samsung wants to separate the Ultra Galaxy phones from the other Galaxy phones are the cameras. The Ultras are the ones that get Samsung’s 108 megapixels sensor and they’re also the ones that get longer telephoto lenses.

There’s the main 108-megapixel sensor at F1.8, which kicks out 12-megapixel images by default. There is a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, Then there are not one but two 10 megapixel telephoto lenses, one at a 3X zoom in one at a 10X zoom. The other hole here is for the laser autofocus sensor. The fifth camera is the 40-megapixel selfie camera on the front which does 6.5 megapixels by default, but you can get the full 40 megapixels if you want.

So let’s start with that 108-megapixel camera because it is the heart of this whole system. It is a second-generation Samsung sensor, The first one was in the original Galaxy S20 Ultra, and that 108-megapixel sensor was a whiff. It had focus problems which Samsung later had to fix on the Note 20 Ultra with a laser for autofocus, which is also here but other than that, though it just wasn’t really worth the hype.

Samsung’s regular cameras on the regular S20s were almost as good. Now, with the Galaxy S21 ultra. Well, now it’s good. I haven’t had any shutter lag. I haven’t had any misfocus issues and things like the narrowed plane of focus seemed a little bit better too. It is a noticeable step up from last year. In fact, there’s really only one other smartphone camera, that’s even in the same league as his phone, And it is not the Pixel 5 which I gotta say, has really fallen behind this year.

Now the other phone that’s worth talking about here is the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which also has a larger sensor compared to the other iPhone. Let’s just get into the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. the 12 Pro Max. I prefer how Samsung exposed the bike here, but I think both are good. Just look at the detail on the tire tread in the shot.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

Here’s another comparison photo and you can start to see how these cameras have different opinions on how to expose things. Samsung still wants to make things just a little bit brighter than I like. While Apple has honestly learned its lesson and is happy to leave contrast and shadows in,

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

On the whole, I do think the iPhone has a very slight edge in these comparisons, but it’s very slight. On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a bunch of other tricks, and this year I think they’re more than just gimmicks. So let’s talk about zoom, There’s both a 3X zoom and a 10X optical zoom here, which means that you can get better images in zoom and that sort of sub 10X range without having to resort to weird crop shucks that Samsung, sometimes does.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

So here’s an example starting at the main sensor going in at 3X and then 10X, all very good, Then Samsung still has this space zoom feature that’s supposed to let you get to 100 X. I guess it’s better than last year.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

You can kinda get something decent at 30X and very good light, but of course, at a 100X, it’s still a mess, But that 10X zoom with its Periscope lens it really does yield better results than you can get from other cameras and the iPhone specifically.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

So if you start here, this is a very challenging low-light shot, but then you zoom in at 10X, and yeah the galaxy definitely wins at that zoom level. It can now shoot 4K 60 out of every single camera lens, which seems gimmicky, but I’ve noticed a significant improvement in quality shooting out of the ultra-wide camera.

It can also still do 8K video, but now you can pull out a slightly better. Still out of the 8K, if you want, It also has a director’s mode built-in, so you can get a preview of what’s happening from every single lens and switch between them as you’re shooting. I wish you could record them all as separate streams and edit them in the post, but that’s probably too much to ask for.

As for the results, well we’re very happy with the stabilization of how to adjust exposure on the fly during a shot and the sharpness. This is a very good video camera and I also have to say I love Samsung’s pro modes for both photo and video. It’s nice to have them built into the main. Camera.

Well, look if you took 50 photos of each of the main cameras on these phones. I think that 30 would be a toss-up based on your personal preference. Then the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra would be clearly better on. I don’t know seven or eight or nine, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max would be clearly better on like 11, 12, or 13. So very very close, and I think the story is about the same on video, but the Galaxy S21 has a bunch of other stuff that you can do built into the camera and, unlike in previous years, with Samsung, some of those new tricks are really good.

One UI Software

Let’S talk software. Here’s, how Samsung’s versions of Android work. They get way too messy and complicated, and then we all complain, and then eventually Samsung simplifies things and then the cycle starts again. Right now we are heading towards the land of Samsung complication.

One UI is still good for big screens, but there are just too many options. I mean look at quick settings. Most of this stuff doesn’t mean anything to the average person. Then there’s Bixby, which is Samsung’s digital assistant, and it is surprisingly, not total trash. If you set it up and you set smart things up for your home and you just live that whole Samsung life. It’S totally passable, but it’s also not necessary. The Google assistant is still here on this phone and it’s still better. You do have to use some third-party software to remap the button, but look it up. It’S totally worth it,

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

Then there’s the texting situation. Samsung is being made to ship Samsung messages by default, whereas everybody else gets Android messages. Now some US carriers do support RCS in Samsung messages, but only kinda, so AT&T doesn’t do RCS that works with other carriers for example. There’s. Also, this cross-carrier messaging initiative, which doesn’t seem like it’s doing anything and it’s still a mess.

RCS problems aren’t Samsung’s fault, but as the biggest seller of Android phones in the US, you would think Samsung would be trying to fix this problem. But if you know you can install Android messages and you’ll be fine. That’s the story with every Samsung phone. If you know your way around Android, you can make this Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra an efficient phone.

You can set the left of the home screen feed to Google instead of Samsung’s weird content deals feed. You’ve got all those multitasking options. You’ve got wireless desks to turn this into a desktop computer. You just have to know how to do it all. If you do it’s great and if you don’t it’s a little confusing.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

So that is the Samsung Galaxy S 21 Ultra. It has the fastest speeds, the best camera system, and the nicest screen of any Android phone right now. Also, It has a battery that lasts more than a full day and it has a new beautiful design. I don’t think it’s going to convince anybody to switch away from something like an iPhone 12 Pro Max. If you prefer Android to iOS.