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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review - Top 2021 Android phone so far!

OPPO
Huawei
How does the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G perform after a month of daily use? This is our review of the new flagship!
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review - One month with the best Android phone?
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

Samsung started 2021 on a high note when it announced the new Galaxy S21 series 1 month ahead of the usual February launch window.

The series comes in the S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra 5G. In this article, we are sharing our experience with the top-of-the-line model. Key features include the 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with Adaptive 120Hz refresh rate and 3200 x 1440 resolution, 5nm Exynos 2100 5G octa-core processor, LPDDR5 RAM, UFS 3.1, and 5,000mAh battery with 25W adaptive wired fast charging.

Controversial changes from the previous generation are the removal of the microSD card slot and the box inclusion of the 25W Adaptive Charger.

Samsung's flagship starts at PHP 69,990 and is now available at Samsung stores and Samsung authorized distributors nationwide.


Let's dive in! 

Unboxing/Accessories

Box inclusions
Box inclusions

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G's box is significantly smaller than the Note20 Ultra 5G and the S20 Ultra. This is the result of Samsung not including earphones and the 25W Adaptive Fast charging brick that was included in the Note20 Ultra 5G's box.

Inside the box is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, USB-C to USB Type-C cable, SIM ejector tool, and Quick Start Guide.

The 25W Adaptive fast charger is sold separately but those who pre-ordered the phone will get it as a pre-order bonus along with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.

Multimedia Experience

1440p display with 120Hz Adaptive refresh rate!
1440p display with 120Hz Adaptive refresh rate!

In front of the Ultra, you'll see the massive 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with an Adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, 3200 x 1440 resolution, and Gorilla Glass Victus protection.

Really good screen!

What makes this new display special is aside from being brighter and more color accurate, the display is able to change refresh rates from 10 to 120Hz at the 1440p resolution which Samsung claims is able to save battery life will offering the super-smooth 120Hz experience.

In our real-world experience, all of Samsung's claims are true. When placed side by side with the S21 and S21+'s 1080p display, the S21 Ultra 5G's 1440p is noticeably sharper and more detailed. It is also so bright that we can comfortably place the brightness at 70 percent in broad daylight and the display would still be readable. The colors are vibrant and punchy while the blacks are deep that it is near TRUE blacks.

Like previous flagships, the touch screen is quick, responsive, and accurate. We never experience delayed or misread touch taps or touch gestures. Samsung is near unbeatable with displays.
Top and bottom side
Top and bottom side

On the display is a punch hole that houses the front-facing selfie camera.

Above the display is a razor slit where the earpiece is located. IT is so slim that you have to really look for it and if you own the Phantom Black colorway, you really have to shine a light on it at a certain angle to see it. We had to place our eyes feet away from the phone to see it.

At the bottom of the phone is the speaker grill which works with the earpiece mentioned above to produce a stereo experience. Unlike the previous flagships, the difference between the power of the main bottom speaker and the earpiece was glaringly noticeable. In the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, the difference between the power of the earpiece and the bottom-firing speaker is near enough to each other that we had to intentionally be discerning to notice the difference in speaker performance.

Together, the earpiece and the bottom-firing speaker of the S21 Ultra 5G is arguably the best audio experience we've ever had on a smartphone. The maximum volume is loud enough to fill a room with nearly no distortion. The sound produced has this noticeable power and weight to it and it is best experienced when consuming content that takes advantage of the high-quality audio.

The microphone recording with the S21 Ultra 5G is great. It has great noise cancellation that gives our callers little to complain about voice quality.

Nothing beats a dedicated external microphone but the S21 Ultra 5G's microphones are one of the best on the market today. If you want to live stream with the Ultra, as long as the ambient noise isn't so loud, we would be confident with the Ultra's microphones.

Cameras

Rear-quad camera module
Rear-quad camera module

The S21 Ultra 5G has the most powerful camera set-up of the series with its 108MP f/1.8 main camera, 12MP f/2.2 120-degree ultra-wide-angle camera, 10MP f/2.4 3x Telephoto camera, 10MP f/4.9 10x telephoto camera with Laser AF, Dual Pixel AF, OIS and LED flash.

Upgraded camera experience!

Samsung has decided to further embrace the camera bump and designed it to connect to the metal frame
One UI 3.1 Camera app

Included camera modes are Photo, Video, Pro, Panorama, Food, Night, Portrait, Portrait Video, Pro Video, Super Slow-Mo, Slow Motion, Hyperlapse, Single Take, and the new Director's View.

The Pro mode allows for control of ISO (50-3200), Shutter Speed (1/12000-30 secs), White Balance, exposure compensation (+-2 stops), and metering modes (Matrix, Spot, and Centre-Weighted).


Like the rest of the 2020 Samsung flagships, the S21 Ultra 5G comes with the "Single Take" camera mode. Once you press the shutter button, the S21 Ultra 5G will take photos and videos with all cameras. It will then pick the best from all the photos and videos and put them all in one album.

The new "Director's View" takes the Single Take feature to a new level by allowing the user to have a live view feed from the selfie camera, the main rear camera, the ultra-wide camera, and the 3x telephoto camera. The user can also switch between the three rear cameras on the fly while recording.

This is a massively demanding feature to the chipset and Exynos can now handle it live.

Rear Camera Samples

Main camera daylight
Main camera daylight
3x telephoto camera daylight
3x telephoto camera daylight
10x telephoto camera daylight
10x telephoto camera daylight
100x Space Zoom daylight
100x Space Zoom daylight
Rear ultra-wide camera daylight
Rear ultra-wide camera daylight

In daylight, the main, 3x/10x telephoto, and ultra-wide cameras produce stunning images that are sharp, detailed, and vibrant. Almost no discernable noise or grain. Exposure is most impressive as it was able to retain the colors in the sky without underexposing the foreground. The post-processing does tend to be a little oversaturated in color.

On the other hand, the 100X Space Zoom is an improvement over the previous generation but like last time, it has very limited use.
Close-up
Close-up

The main camera can also take pictures at a near macro-level of distance to the subject and is able to produce a natural bokeh along with sharp details.
Main camera indoor
Main camera indoor
3x telephoto indoor
3x telephoto indoor
10x telephoto indoor
10x telephoto indoor
100x Space Zoom indoor
100x Space Zoom indoor
Ultra-wide camera indoor
Ultra-wide camera indoor

Indoors, the image quality remains the same as in daylight. Sharp, detailed, vibrant, and almost no noise or grain. Exposure is correct but as in the daylight images, the color is slightly oversaturated.
Main camera low light
Main camera low light
3x telephoto low light
3x telephoto low light
10x telephoto low light
10x telephoto low light
100x Space Zoom low light
100x Space Zoom low light
Ultra-wide camera low light
Ultra-wide camera low light

In low-light, all cameras have slightly more grain in shadow areas than in daylight and indoors but are well controlled. The main camera is able to produce sharp and detailed images with vibrant color. What is impressive is that only the 100X zoom loses detail and sharpness. This is consistent in all situations until the 30X hybrid zoom.
Main camera night mode
Main camera night mode
3x telephoto camera night mode
3x telephoto camera night mode
10x telephoto camera night mode
10x telephoto camera night mode
Ultra-wide camera night mode
Ultra-wide camera night mode

The rear camera's Night Mode is available for the ultra-wide, main, 3x telephoto, and 10x telephoto. All four cameras have a noticeable improvement with a brighter exposure and bright areas or light sources have recovered color and detail.
The front-facing camera on the punch hole
The front-facing camera on the punch hole

In the front display's punch hole is the 40MP f/2.2 selfie camera with Dual Pixel AF with screen flash. Camera modes include Photo, Video, Portrait, Portrait Video, Selfie Night Mode, Single Take, and Director's View.

The Portrait and Portrait Video modes (for both the rear and selfie camera) have up to 7 levels of blur and up to 8 levels of face smoothening. There is no Pro Mode with the front-facing cameras.

Samsung's new Portrait Photo and Portrait Video mode is now able to detect the user's face and is able to produce the blur effect even if the user is wearing a mask. This was not possible with the previous generation that was then called Live Focus and Live Focus Video modes.

Selfie Camera Samples

Selfie camera daylight
Selfie camera daylight
Selfie camera portrait mode - blur
Selfie camera portrait mode - blur
Selfie camera indoor
Selfie camera indoor
Selfie camera portrait mode - color point
Selfie camera portrait mode - color point
Selfie camera low light
Selfie camera low light
Selfie camera night mode
Selfie camera night mode

Across daylight and indoor selfies, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G's 40MP f/2.2 is able to take super detailed, razor-sharp selfies with vibrant color and strong contrast. It is mostly accurate in terms of white balance and skin tones but in the indoor situation, Neil's skin tone is darker than it really is. Samsung may need to tweak the White Balance and Skin tones thru a firmware update.

In low light, the Selfie gains some grain and noise but is controlled and it is impressive how the color, sharpness, and detail are retained. Selfie Night mode brightens the exposure and it recovers the detail and color in the bright areas or light sources. We recommend using the Selfie Night Mode when taking a selfie in low light when there is little movement in the frame.

The rear-facing camera can capture up to 8K at 24fps without stabilization and up to 4K at 60fps with stabilization while the front-facing camera can shoot up to 4K 60fps with stabilization. This is an upgrade as when the S20 series launched, all three models record 8k at 24fps or 4K at 60fps without stabilization. It is worth noting that when you are recording in 8K, you are limited to the main camera and when you are recording in 4K at 60fps with stabilization, you can record with all four cameras but once you are recording, you can not switch to another camera.

Samsung's Super Steady mode is present and is available with the main camera and the ultra-wide camera. The mode is limited up to 1080p at 60fps only.

The best footage from the rear camera comes with the 4K at 60 and 4K at 30fps with stabilization. The footage from these is sharp, vibrant, detailed, smooth, and stable. Very little artifacts. The 8K footage is super sharp but there are several downsides like you are limited to the main camera, no stabilization and the file sizes are huge.

Video footage from the front-facing camera at 4K at 30fps is sharp, vibrant, and with minimal grain. We do recommend using image stabilization because the video can be very shaky without it.

In summary, the S21 Ultra 5G takes arguably the best photos and videos from any Android phone in 2021. In our comparison with the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, the S21 Ultra 5G was able to stand toe-to-toe with Apple's best.

Performance

AnTuTu and Geek Bench 5 scores

In terms of performance the new 2.9GHz 5nm Exynos 2100 5G octa-core processor, Mali-G78 MP14 GPU, 12GB/16GB LPDDR5 RAM, 256GB/512GB UFS 3.1 was able to give an AnTuTu score of 609,219 and a GeekBench 5 single-core score of 1075 and multi-core score of 3375.
3D Mark WildFire benchmark scores
3D Mark WildFire benchmark scores

In the new 3D Mark Wild Life benchmark, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G scored 5,379 and an average of 32.2 frames per second. Wild Life said that the S21 Ultra 5G beat 87 percent of other devices.

With the latest games like Call of Duty: Mobile, NBA Live, and Genshin Impact, the Exynos 2100 pushed the graphics settings of each game at maximum graphics and frame rate. The impressive thing about the S21 Ultra 5G is that the phone and the chipset maintained temperatures at tolerable (relatively cool) levels.

Samsung has made great improvements to Exynos. The difference in performance between this generation of Snapdragon and Exynos is there but is now negligible in real-world use.

The removal of the microSD card slot has limited the storage capacity of the Ultra to only 256GB and 512GB. This could be a major concern for some people. Especially audiophiles, power users, and content creators.
Battery usage at two different dates

Inside the S21 Ultra 5G comes with a large 5,000mAh battery that supports 25W Adaptive wired charging, 15W Fast Wireless Charging, and reverse wireless charging.

S21 Ultra is one of the few high-end flagships with a 5,000mAh big battery and decent fast charging speeds!

In our daily usage where we were constantly connected to WiFi, LTE, and 5G (when available) while doing our routine tasks where we use the phone to call, text, web surf, e-mail, stream music, and video, to play games, and to navigate with Waze, the S21 Ultra 5G was able to last a full day of use with some charge to spare. We would unplug the phone from the charger at 8 AM and at 8 PM we would get around 20 to 25 percent of the battery left. 

With the 25W charger (sold separately), it takes around 75 minutes to charge the battery from 0 to 100 percent.

25W is a downgrade coming from the 45W of the S20 last year. 25W of charging is fast, but it is considered slow compared to most Android flagships with around 65W of fast charging.
One UI 3.1

Under the hood is One UI 3.1 based on Android 11. It offers several visual and under hood tweaks to the already good Android Skin. Visually, the icons have gotten smaller to give each one room to breathe. The notification panel is now translucent while the settings menu was tweaked to make features and settings easier to find. Because Samsung packs in a ton of features each generation, making a non-confusing settings menu is always a challenge. Samsung has made it better this time around.

ONE UI not the best yet, but it is getting there!

The Exynos 2100 is able to handle One UI 3.1 without a hitch, we were consistently getting snappy and smooth performance when navigating thru the UI, launching, and switching between apps.
5G Speedtest using Smart Communication's network
5G Speedtest using Smart Communication's network

The S21 Ultra 5G connects wirelessly via WiFi 6E, 5G, 4G LTE, Ultra-Wide Band (UWB), and Bluetooth 5.1 and the phone connects wired through the USB Type-C. The USB Type-C port supports OTG while the wireless connection via WiFi 6E, 4G LTE, and Bluetooth 5 is stable and as fast as you would expect from a flagship Exynos chipset. 5G connection quality highly depends on the telco coverage of the current area.

5G works in supported areas!

In our experience, when in areas with 5G coverage, the connection is usually stable with connection speeds that vary from low two digits to three digits. In some areas like Greenhills, the Smart 5G connection was able to consistently offer around 200 Mbps download speeds with the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G. We were disappointed with the around 20 Mbps in upload speeds though. We hope the local telco can further improve 5G connections in the future.

Both the face unlock and the In-Display fingerprint scanner set-up process are fast and straightforward. The face unlock tech quickly detects my face and unlocks the phone as soon as the display is active. It is also able to detect my face even if I take off my glasses. It does struggle when you are trying to face unlock in a dim environment.

The display brightens up to be able to compensate for this. This new face unlock has an added feature where the user can register an alternative look to unlock the phone. It works when the user wears glasses but it does not work if the user is wearing a face/surgical mask.

Pros - Premium and durable build, good display, better than expected Exynos performance, great speakers, reliable cameras
Cons - Slippery, no microSD card expansion, no 25W in-box charger, 25W max charging speed is slow for a flagship, 100x zoom is still gimmicky

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Specs

Display: 6.8-inch 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass Victus protected Dynamic AMOLED 2X 120Hz screen w/ QHD+ 3200 x 1440 resolution at 516 ppi
CPU: 2.9GHz 5nm EUV Exynos 2100 5G octa-core processor
GPU: Mali-G78 MP14
RAM: 12GB/16GB LPDDR5
ROM: 256GB/512GB UFS 3.1
Back Camera: 108MP f/1.8 w/ Laser AF, OIS + 12MP f/2.2 120-degree ultra-wide-angle + 10MP f/2.4 3x Telephoto w/ Dual Pixel, OIS + 10MP f/4.9 10x telephoto w/ Laser AF, OIS + LED flash
Selfie Camera: 40MP f/2.2 w/ Dual Pixel
Battery: 5,000mAh w/ 25W fast charging, 15W wireless charging, reverse wireless charging
OS: Android 11 w/ One UI 3.1
Connectivity: WiFi 6E, 5G, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.1, UWB, MST, OTG, NFC, dual-band GPS, dual SIM (hybrid)
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, orientation, proximity, gyroscope, sound, magnetic, pressure, heart rate
Others: Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock, IP68 water and dust resistance, USB-C, UHQ 32-bit/DSD audio support, AKG stereo speakers, Colors: Phantom Silver, Phantom Black
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
Weight: 228 g
Price: PHP 66,990 (12GB/128GB), PHP 69,990 (12GB/256GB), PHP 79,990 (16GB/512GB)

Verdict

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is the most impressive Samsung flagship phone to date. AND arguably, it is also the best Android smartphone available today, we can't praise it enough.

There are some concerns like the rear camera module design (love it or hate it design), removal of the microSD card slot and the 45W charging support, and the omission of the 25W charging adapter from the box. 

Aside from those nitpicks, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is probably the best pick if the user has the budget for it. The display and the cameras are arguably the best in the market today while the battery life is able to get us through the day even with the 120Hz refresh rate turned on at 1440p.

We haven't even mentioned how beautiful and how polished the fit and finish are with the build quality and design of the phone. It looks and feels like jewelry.

So if you are looking for an Android phone that can do it all in 2021, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is on that list.

This phone receives our highest rating for a phone yet and it's only the beginning of 2021.

Samsung has made a winner of the phone here with very few downsides. If you are coming from a smartphone from 2019 like the Galaxy S10 and Note 10, we wouldn't blame you if you decided to upgrade. 

If Samsung will continue to offer such high quality and reliable performance, we can't wait what the next Note will offer.

Build/Design - 4.85
Multimedia Experience - 4.9
Cameras - 4.75
Performance - 4.75
Average - 4.81/5

What do you guys think?
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