Review, Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Quick Review: Expensive, But Worth It

We reviewed the camera performance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, so it’s time we get to the full review of the flagship smartphone itself. I’ve been using it as my daily driver for quite some time now, and while it is unmistakably an expensive smartphone, it’s definitely one of the most refined flagship phones I’ve ever used.

If you can look past its steep price tag, you will be very happy with the Galaxy S21 Ultra – it sets the bar high on what to expect from a 2021 flagship smartphone.

What It Is

Display6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3200 x 1440), 10Hz – 120Hz (adaptive refresh rate)
ChipsetSamsung Exynos 2100 2.9GHz octa-core
GPUMali-G78 MP14
RAM12/16GB
Storage256/512GB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)108MP f/1.8, PDAF, OIS
12MP f/2.2 (ultra-wide angle), Dual Pixel AF
10MP f/2.4 (telephoto), Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 3x zoom
10MP f/4.9 (telephoto), Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 10x zoom
Laser autofocus system
Camera (front)40MP f/2.2
Battery
5,000mAh
Dimensions75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9 mm
Weight
229g (mmW), 227g (sub6)
OSOne UI 3.1 based on Android 11
Connectivity5G
LTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.2
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6e
USB Type-C
PriceRM5,299 (256GB), RM5,899 (512GB)

Naturally, the Galaxy S21 Ultra sports the latest and greatest hardware. The Exynos 2100 chipset, for one, offers excellent performance, and given that it is built on a power-efficient 5nm process, it allows the phone to return pretty darn good battery life too. That being said, the S21 Ultra no longer supports expandable storage now, not to mention the fact that a charger is not bundled with the phone anymore.

The Good Stuff

First and foremost, let’s talk about the most eye-catching hardware of the Galaxy S21 Ultra: its stunning 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen. Samsung makes some of the best panels in the market, and this is truly exemplified with the S21 Ultra. It is bright, vibrant, and it even has support for adaptive refresh frame from 120Hz to as low as 10Hz for maximum power efficiency.

Speaking of which, the Galaxy S21 Ultra can return very respectable battery life as well with its generous 5,000mAh battery. On average, I can get six hours of screen on time before running out of juice. Do note that I didn’t even lock the screen’s refresh rate to 60Hz to get this level of battery life, though I did set the resolution to 1080p instead of the screen’s native QHD+ resolution.

And then there’s the performance of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. As mentioned, the Exynos 2100 chipset provides a high level of performance. Whether I’m gaming or multitasking with a bunch of different tabs on Google Chrome, the phone simply blazes through all of them. The fast 120Hz screen also gives the impression of an even snappier performance.

Aside from that, I really like the design of the Galaxy S21 Ultra as well, especially the “Contour Cut” camera design. The side rail of the phone seemingly extends to the camera module, lending to a very unique-looking design language that works really well in…well, disguising the fact that this phone has a huge camera bump.

Overall, the S21 Ultra has solid build quality too with tight tolerances. I love the fact that the rear glass panel has a matte finish as well, though it does make the phone a tad slippery. Oh, have I mentioned the new ultrasonic fingerprint sensor of this phone? It’s much faster and far more accurate now.

Last but certainly not least is the camera performance of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. I’ve covered this aspect of the phone extensively in my camera review, and it’s no exaggeration to say that if you want one of the best camera systems on a smartphone at this very moment, look no further than the S21 Ultra.

Regardless of lighting situation, the quad camera system simply delivers. This is especially the case with the 108MP f/1.8 primary sensor, which can now lock in focus very quickly thanks to the inclusion of a laser autofocus system. I also had a lot of fun photographing with the 10MP telephoto camera with 10x optical zoom – it opens up a lot of possibilities to frame tighter shots to highlight certain subjects.

Of course, the 100x Space Zoom of the S21 Ultra is quite impressive too, though at that level of zoom, not much detail is retained, even under the most ideal lighting condition. It’s a fun party trick, yes, but beyond 30x zoom, you won’t get very satisfactory results.

All in all, I had a blast photographing with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which practically solved all of the issues that plagued its predecessor. Samsung truly figured out how to make its new camera system with the 108MP sensor work seamlessly, and you can judge the camera performance for yourself with the sample shots below.

The Bad Stuff

As with any smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has its fair share of shortcomings. The most prominent one is the fact that this phone can get quite toasty in certain conditions. This is especially noticeable when I’m photographing or gaming with the phone – the top half of the phone (especially the frame) gets too hot to the touch.

Granted, this is easily solved by slapping on a case to the S21 Ultra. But if you plan to use the phone without any case on, you may want to take note of this issue. Based on user reviews, this thermal issue is not exclusive to the Exynos 2100 variant either; the same problem seems to be happening to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 version as well.

Of course, there’s also the steep asking price of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Retailing at RM5,299 and RM5,899 for the 256GB and 512GB models respectively, it is quite a bit more expensive than its predecessor. After all, the S20 Ultra (at launch) retailed at RM4,999, which is RM300 less than the current model.

That being said, you do get more value for your money with the S21 Ultra. Although it costs RM300 more than the previous model, you do get 256GB of storage instead of 128GB. Then again, you’re also losing the microSD card slot with the S21 Ultra, which makes it somewhat necessary to get more built-in storage.

Is It Worth It?

Well, if you’re looking to get one of the best flagship smartphones in the market now – and you’re willing to part with at least RM5,299 – then the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is really one of the best options right now. It has a large, stunning screen, excellent camera performance, good battery life, and to top it all off, it’s a sleek, handsome smartphone too.

Sure, the Galaxy S21 costs a lot of money, and it has a tendency to heat up quite a bit, but it ticks all the right boxes in many other aspects. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Samsung set the benchmark really high on what to expect out of a 2021 flagship smartphone with the S21 Ultra, especially when it comes to camera performance and screen quality.