Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Hands-on Review: Black is the New Orange

More features...more refinement...more best


While looking at the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, I was constantly thinking to myself…it feels like I’ve seen all of this before. Why? Because, the Galaxy S21 series is undoubtedly the most leaked Galaxy S series phones ever since Samsung has been making them. Although, leaks really don’t tell you the entire story because premium phones are all about the experience.
Just like its name, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is choc-a-bloc with “Ultra” features. But the pricing is equally “Ultra” for India. Anyway, I’ve been using the phone for about a day and what follows are my first impressions.

Black Beauty

So yeah, while most of the design was leaked much before the launch, nothing, absolutely nothing can prepare you for how gorgeous the new Phantom Black colour looks in real life. In its matte black stealthy avatar, the S21 Ultra is a stunner. I am absolutely in love with it. I can’t really control my emotions here. The front and the glass is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus and I can tell you that it is the best glass protection solution I’ve used all my life. I’ve been manhandling the Note 20 Ultra and not a single scratch on it ever since launch.

Talking about the new camera design, I find it supremely attractive and an obvious improvement over the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Note 20 Ultra’s camera module designs. The way the new module design blends into the glossy aluminium frame looks slick and appealing. It looks very futuristic. Very sci-fi.
In hand, the phone does feel heavy at 227gm and thick at 8.9mm. This phone is actually fatter and heavier than the Note 20 Ultra and the S20 Ultra. But thankfully, the weight distribution is just fantastic. Also, the finish feels silky to the touch. The refinement in phone design is immediately apparent and it is a lesson in how to do industrial design for premium phones. Just fantastic stuff by the engineers at Samsung.
As for the rest of the design, you get fantastic haptic feedback from the power button and the volume rocker. The satisfying sound that you hear when clicking the button is just music to your ears. By the way, the SIM card tray now doesn’t include a slot for an extra memory card.

S-Pen? Yes, Pen!

On the front you get a 6.8-inch QHD, Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel. Samsung uses a 120Hz Adaptive refresh rate that automatically switches from 10Hz to 120Hz based on the content type. Samsung hopes to improve the phone’s battery performance using this new feature. And, I don’t even have to say this, the display quality is just A+++. You get 1500 nits of peak brightness, HDR10+ support, slim bezels, and a very tiny dot notch camera, all of which add up to an immersive experience. Watching Netflix videos was super fun.
Furthermore, the upgraded ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanner also feels fast now. Also, the haptic feedback has definitely been improved from the Note 20 Ultra.

But, the one new feature addition that was expected, but still very surprising, is the addition of S-Pen support. I used the Note 20 Ultra’s S-Pen with this and it worked just fine. It felt odd and weird, in a nice way, to use the S-Pen with the S21 Ultra actually.
Do you think that Samsung has added support for the S-Pen to slowly phase away the Note lineup of phones in the near future? Do let me know in the comments.

The Art of Refined Camera Hardware Experience

You can see the camera specs in the image above. It obviously feels excessive, especially with two telephoto lenses, but Samsung has made quite a few changes to the software to refine the hardware experience even further.
The first feature I noticed is Focus Enhancer. Using this feature, Samsung takes the help of the ultrawide angle camera to correct a fundamental flaw with the main 108MP camera. Confused?

Well, whenever you shoot close up shots with the larger 108MP sensor with the f/1.8 aperture, due to the plane of focus the edges of the subject look blurred. Now, with Focus Enhancer, Samsung actually switches to the ultrawide for a sharper focus and limite depth. How do I know this? Well the EXIF data clearly reveals that the Focus Enhanced image was shot at f/2.2. Also, the image looks warped. So, while the solution is warped, whether it is good or not depends on your individual perception. Did you like the solution?

The other new feature that I noticed is the Director View, which uses a picture-in-picture mode and activates the front and the rear camera at the same time. And finally, the two telephoto lenses with OIS make it easier to focus now and shooting even at longer zoom ranges is easier. The pictures just look fantastic.

Exynos 2100 Inching Closer to Snapdragon Flagship SoC

The other new addition to the S21 Ultra is the Exynos 2100. Now, at least on paper, it looks as promising as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. While I am yet to run benchmarks on it, I played a few sessions of COD on it and it ran just fine with no heating issues. Wait for my full review.
To juice up all this hardware all this, you get a 5000mAh battery. It supports 25W fast charging and 15W fast wireless charging. But yes, no charging in the box. All of this will also be tested in the full review. Oh yeah, there’s support for 5G as well but there’s no 5G yet in India.

OneUI 3.1

As for the software, Samsung has introduced OneUI 3.1 and I find it pretty intuitive. Plus the 120Hz display makes everything feel super smooth. Now, for some odd reason, Samsung has introduced a new Samsung Free app which syndicates the Dailyhunts News section. I sincerely feel that Samsung should’ve stuck to Google’s Discover Feed as default but there was no other bloatware, so I didn’t mind it much. I believe there is a way to go back to Discover Feed.

Closing Thoughts

I still have a lot to explore in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It is an “Ultra” phone after all. But my first impressions are obviously very positive of this really expensive phone. Stay tuned for my full review and comparisons. Until then, do share your content requests on the S21 Ultra 5G with us.