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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: Strong overall package without major weaknesses

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review header
Picture: TechnikNews
(Post picture: © 2021 TechnikNews)

Last year the South Korean manufacturer presented that Galaxy s20 ultra, which was the almost perfect smartphone on paper. However, it quickly became apparent that huge numbers do not always lead to a better user experience in everyday life. Now a year has passed and the successor, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, should do everything better.

On paper, no major changes have been made compared to its predecessor, but the S21 Ultra is said to have become significantly better, which is said to have fewer teething problems than the S20 Ultra in everyday life. Especially with regard to the built-in ExynosProprocessor, the battery life and the camera. In the following lines we will now clarify the question of whether Samsung was able to eliminate the weaknesses of the predecessor and whether the S21 Ultra is currently the best smartphone on the market.

Haptics, design and processing

The ultra smartphones from Samsung have been characterized by their enormous dimensions right from the start and were very difficult to use with one hand. It's the same with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The smartphone measures an impressive 165,1 x 75,6 x 8,9 mm and weighs 227 grams, making it 5 grams heavier than its predecessor. Despite the slight weight difference, the S21 Ultra somehow feels a little lighter and more balanced. With the S20 Ultra, I constantly have the feeling that the device would fall out of my hand due to the top-heavy weight distribution. Samsung has finally eliminated this criticism of the predecessor, which of course does not mean that the S21 Ultra is a lightweight smartphone. I would advise everyone to hold the device in their hands before buying it. If you like big, heavy and thick smartphones, then you will get your money's worth here. Personally, it would be a bit too much for me and I often had Prodifficult to use the device with one hand.

The front is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, the most robust glass currently used in a smartphone. Unfortunately, I cannot yet confirm whether this is actually the case, as I have used the device with the pre-installed screen protector. If you unlock the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, you are greeted by a huge display, which is only interrupted by a small, centrally located punch hole in which Samsung places the front camera. The edges around the panel are even a bit smaller than on the predecessor. At the moment only that can be done here Galaxy note 20 ultra and I baked the Huawei P40 Pro+ keep up. Many should be pleased that the manufacturer has extremely reduced the rounding of both sides of the panel in this year's Ultra, which means that there were no incorrect entries in my everyday use.

Next, let's take a closer look at the frame. This consists of metal with a high-gloss finish and is therefore extremely susceptible to fingerprints and scratches. While the left side of the frame is kept completely blank, the South Korean manufacturer has installed the buttons for louder and quieter on the right side. The on / off button is located directly below it. Despite the huge form factor, all keys are still easy to reach. The USB-C port, a microphone and one of two speakers are located on the bottom. The second was integrated into the earpiece. Of course, we'll take a closer look at the quality of the speakers later. Samsung then installs two more microphones on the top.

If we turn the smartphone around, the silver color we tested immediately catches the eye. It is matt, which means that it is not susceptible to fingerprints and always looks a little different depending on the incidence of light. If this color is too colorful for you, Samsung has four other, more subtle colors on offer: black, gray, blue and brown.

In addition to the color, you should immediately notice the new camera design in the upper left corner. Samsung has come up with something new here that I haven't seen in any other smartphone in this form. The camera hill extends from the frame of the device to the rear. I'm a big fan of it and I'm always speechless when I compare the design of the S20 Ultra with that of the S21 Ultra. Samsung has taken a big step forward here. Unfortunately, the camera bump protrudes quite a bit from the housing, which means that the S21 Ultra wobbles a bit when it is used on the table.

There is absolutely no reason to criticize the workmanship. Nothing creaks here, nothing wobbles here and in general it makes an extremely stable impression. The keys sit tight in the case and have a good pressure point.

Display - the best (almost) everywhere

One of the highlights is the built-in OLED display on the front. This measures an impressive 6,8 inches and has a razor-sharp resolution of 3.200 x 1.440 pixels. Individual pixels cannot be recognized in everyday life. In addition, the panel supports a smooth refresh rate of 120Hz and this year it can finally be used with the WQHD + resolution at the same time. Furthermore, it is a so-called LTPO display, which was introduced with the Note 20 Ultra. LTPO technology enables the smartphone to switch between different refresh rates.

I can only say positive things about the quality. Starting with the excellent and realistic color reproduction, the OLED-typical really good black value, the white value, up to the fantastic brightness. No other display is as bright in automatic mode. As a result, even on sunny days there are no Protrouble with readability. But unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with the viewing angle stability, which by no means means that it's bad, but compared to the competition and in view of the high price I would have expected a little more. Samsung could improve this a bit with future smartphones.

Software - One UI

The in-house user interface One UI in version 3.1, based on Android 11, is used as software. One UI is a highly customized interface that has little to do with stock Android. Nevertheless, I like it relatively well, because the idea of ​​One UI is to be able to operate the smartphones reasonably well with one hand despite the huge displays. There are also some additional functions, such as an eye protection mode, an ingenious gesture control, a very good always-on display and double tap to switch on and off. In addition, Samsung promises to provide the device with updates for four years.

Performance - fast and fluid

Under the hood here in Europe is the new Exynos 2100, with either 12 or 16 GB of RAM and 128, 256 or 512 GB of internal storage that cannot be expanded. I tested the top version with 16 GB of RAM.

For the last two to three years, the in-house ExynosProcessors heavily criticized, especially in terms of efficiency. On paper, they were also slightly worse than them in terms of performance Proprocessors from Qualcomm, but this is rather negligible, because the everyday performance is excellent. Apps start and close extremely quickly, you won't find any stutters or delays here, and overall the operating speed is at a very high level. The only thing that could be improved is the processing of photos. Sometimes that takes a really long time.

heatprostated problems?

Another criticism of last year's ExynosProcessors was the heat development, which also our editor Kenneth noticed with the Note 20 Ultra. First of all, I would like to give the all-clear for everyday use of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. I didn't notice anything negative here, but the tide turns when gaming, taking photos or running a benchmark. Only then does the smartphone become noticeable, but by no means worrying, warm. This could only happen in the summer when the temperatures are higher Probecome a problem.

Battery - good, but not perfect

Samsung has equipped the S21 Ultra with a 5.000 mAh battery that can be charged quickly with up to 25 watts. However, you have to buy the required power supply separately if necessary. I think that's just ridiculous for such a high price, especially because at the beginning they made fun of Apple publicly.

I always got through a day well and often 1,5 days were not at all Proproblem The screen-on-time with activated 120Hz was mostly between 8 and 9 hours for me. Almost 10 hours were also possible with main use in the WLAN. If you deactivate the smooth 120Hz refresh rate and use the device with 60Hz, the battery lasts a good hour longer. In itself, these are really excellent values, but for 5.000 mAh you can expect a little more, especially because other smartphones with 120 Hertz and much smaller batteries like this one OnePlus 8T or Sony Xperia 5II, offer similarly long running times. Despite this, the battery life is very good and nobody should Prohave trouble getting through a day without a charge.

Standby consumption

One of the biggest Proproblems of last year's ExynosProcessors was the enormous standby consumption, especially when in the mobile network. Samsung also wants this with the new Exynos 2100 Prohave gotten the problem under control and have succeeded in doing so.

Standby test in the WLAN

In order to test the standby consumption exclusively in the WLAN, I took three other smartphones to hand, all to 100 overnight Profully charged and left on standby for 15 hours the next day. This occurred OnePlus 8 Pro, Live Y70 and I baked the I live X51 5G against the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. All were on the same WLAN and did not have a SIM card. Furthermore, all had Bluetooth, GPS, manual brightness and the always-on display activated. Thus, all devices were in the same state. The results after 15 hours actually surprised me positively. Both the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Y70 from Vivo only lost 16 Procent, the Vivo X51 5G lost 23 Procenter and the OnePlus 8 Pro even whole 24 Procent.

Standby test in the cellular network

Next, I wanted to test the standby consumption in the mobile network, whereby I also activated the WLAN from time to time. I chose the Y70 for this comparison because it lost the same amount of battery as the S21 Ultra in the previous test. The same conditions applied to this test as well, i.e. Bluetooth, GPS etc. were activated and both had a SIM card from the same provider. After 7 hours on standby, the S21 Ultra lost 8 and the Y70 only 5 Procent battery, which means that the standby consumption in the mobile network is slightly worse than in the WLAN. Overall, I was quite satisfied here, although Samsung could still improve a little here.

Camera

When it comes to cameras, Samsung is throwing numbers around again. They install a total of four sensors on the back, which are arranged in the upper left corner. The main camera has a resolution of 108 megapixels like its predecessor, although this is a better, newer sensor. There is also an ultra-wide-angle camera with 12 megapixels and a field of view of 120 degrees. Thanks to the new laser autofocus technology, macro shots are also possible. The manufacturer also installs two telephoto lenses, each with a resolution of 10 megapixels. One of the two enables a 3x optical zoom and the other even allows 10x optical zoom recordings. Digital can be zoomed up to 100 times. The front camera on the front has a resolution of 40 megapixels.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera

Four cameras? Or maybe five cameras? No, there are four cameras and a laser autofocus. (Picture: TechnikNews)

Starting with the main camera. In good lighting conditions, this takes excellent pictures, which are characterized above all by an excellent dynamic range and good sharpness. As is typical for Samsung, colors are rendered a bit stronger, but still sufficiently realistic. Compared to last year's Galaxy smartphones, Samsung has improved a lot here. As soon as the lighting conditions become more difficult, you should activate the night mode, in which the images are exposed for around 2 to 6 seconds, depending on the situation. This makes the images significantly brighter and sharper. Overall, I was very satisfied with the lowlight performance, even if Huawei is still a bit better, especially when it comes to sharpness. Nevertheless, I can see visible improvements compared to the predecessor. The night mode is much more reliable on the S21 Ultra and no longer overdoes the contrast values ​​so much.

The ultra wide-angle camera is definitely one of the best on the market. It takes sharp photos with a good dynamic range and colors are also reproduced a little more strongly than in reality. There are blurry spots here and there at the edges, but this one Proproblem is noticeable in almost all ultra-wide-angle cameras. In poor lighting conditions, the quality decreases visibly, despite the night mode. From time to time the results are still quite usable, but often the recordings are too dark and quickly start to rustle. Here, too, Huawei is still a bit ahead. In addition, the ultra wide-angle camera automatically switches to macro mode as soon as the distance between the sensor and the object is 2 to 30 centimeters. The resulting images convince with great sharpness and good bokeh. Dear manufacturers, you don't need a dedicated macro camera.

But the biggest improvements are in the zoom. The 3x magnification is perfect for anything up close and the 10x magnification is extremely useful when you want to photograph objects from far away. For a smartphone, the quality is simply impressive. The recordings are sharp and convince with a very good and realistic color reproduction. Here I even like it visibly better than my Huawei P40 Pro+. On the other hand, it is slightly ahead in terms of sharpness and difficult lighting conditions. However, where Samsung outclasses the entire competition is in the stabilization. While it usually takes five attempts with Huawei to hit the right object, with the S21 Ultra only one attempt is usually enough. So to conclude, the S21 Ultra, along with the P40 Pro+, has the best zoom camera in a smartphone. Kudos to Samsung.

Videos in 4K at 30 or 60 FPS look really good in daylight. As soon as it gets dark, however, they are no longer usable and 8K videos are still a gimmick. With the front camera, you can take quite passable selfies, even if faces are always drawn a little too soft for my taste.

Test photos

Let's take a look at a few test photos. The following images are unprocessed, but compressed without loss in order to keep the loading times and memory consumption of the website low.

Comparison with the Huawei P40 Pro+

Let's compare the camera in different situations with the Huawei P40 Pro+. Both devices have a 3x optical, 10x optical and 100x digital zoom.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra scores with significantly better macro shots, the slightly better dynamic range and more realistic color reproduction from 3x magnification. The P40 convinces in return Pro+ with the better low light performance and from 10x magnification with the slightly higher sharpness.

Comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

In this comparison, we mainly want to see whether Samsung has got the weaknesses of last year's predecessor under control with the S21 Ultra.

Samsung has definitely got the weaknesses of the predecessor under control. Thanks to a new autofocus system, the S21 Ultra focuses much more precisely and reliably. Furthermore, the night mode has become noticeably more reliable and delivers visibly better results. When it comes to zooming, the S20 Ultra can no longer keep up with a 10x magnification at the latest. So Samsung has improved a lot here in a year.

Other - great speakers, good fingerprint sensor, etc.

As already mentioned at the beginning, Samsung uses the earpiece as a second speaker, which creates a stereo sound. They sound really good and get louder than any other speaker I've ever tested. The built-in vibration motor was also able to convince me across the board. It gives an extremely high quality feeling and does not sound annoyingly loud.

The smartphone can be unlocked using the fingerprint sensor integrated into the display, which is easy to reach. Compared to its predecessor, it is almost twice as large, which makes it easier to hit it with your finger. It reacts extremely quickly and often just a quick tap on the area is enough to unlock the device. There is nothing to complain about when it comes to reliability, but others can keep up very well. For me, the fingerprint sensor on the Samsung Galaxy 21 Ultra is currently one of the best on the market.

In addition, the S21 Ultra supports the S-Pen, which, unlike the Galaxy Note series, cannot be accommodated in the device. You can optionally buy it from Amazon for currently 40 euros. Depending on your needs, a silicone cover or a Smart Clear View cover can also be purchased, in which the pen can be integrated on the side. Compared to the current Note, the S-Pen of the S21 Ultra unfortunately lacks Bluetooth, which means that there are no remote control functions.

Furthermore, the smartphone is protected against the ingress of water and dust according to IP-68.

Summary

I really liked the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra because it doesn't have any major weaknesses. Unfortunately, the memory expansion was crushed, the battery life could be a little better for the size of the battery and the lack of a power supply is completely incomprehensible to me. But in all other points, such as the display, the performance, the camera, the equipment and the speakers, it is one of the best, if not the best, on the market. The battery life is also really good, but as already mentioned it could be a bit better for the size of the battery.

I also find it extremely impressive what the South Korean manufacturer has improved over the course of a year compared to the S20 Ultra: from the feel and the design to the Proprocessor, the battery life and of course the camera. While some of the predecessor was not really mature, the S21 Ultra looks like a finished product Product of the S20 Ultra.

In principle, I can recommend the S21 Ultra to anyone looking for a large smartphone that places particular emphasis on the display, the camera and powerful features. Unfortunately, the price has not yet fallen significantly, which is why I would wait a few more weeks before buying the smartphone until the smartphone is offered for around 1.000 euros. Then you can definitely access it and get a smartphone with a strong overall package without major weaknesses.

Buy Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

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Fabian Menzel

Fabian has been part of since mid-September 2020 TechnikNews and regularly provides the site with various news, but also with some test reports on smartphones. It's a lot of fun for him and he's extremely grateful to have such a great team at his side. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to music and occasionally taking photos with his Huawei P50 Pro.

Fabian has already written 260 articles and left 22 comments.

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