This is not a full review, not even close, but just basis of a few days’ worth of usage, I have absolutely no trouble in saying that the Galaxy S21 Ultra will end up becoming ‘the Android phone to beat’ this year. It is that good. Now I know you are wondering, what if Samsung pulls off another Note from its hat later this year, and if history is anything to go by, it will be slightly better, or better still, slightly more refined. But you know what, that is okay too.
The way that Samsung usually designs its high-end flagships leaves room for both to establish and enjoy their own clientele. If anything, the ‘Note’ is reserved for a slightly more niche audience. The ‘S’ is what most people would end up buying anyway and this year, Samsung is also giving Note aficionados a reason to—maybe—switch sides. What I am trying to say is, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a very important phone for Samsung and so far, it seems, it is worth all the hype.
This starts with the design. It is not ‘brand new’ so to say, and yet it has been completely reworked from scratch. I know, weird, but it is true. The most familiar thing about the S21 Ultra is its top-notch build quality—all high-quality materials here, which is a combination of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus and metal. The phone’s most striking aspect is its new contour-cut camera module. It is an interesting work-around to the whole camera-bump-gate that has been going around the smartphone-verse for some time now. Now that I think about it, why did no other brand think about this earlier.
The trick is to do away with the island styling completely and instead, fuse the whole thing with the outer frame at one end. While still a workaround—in my opinion—this allows Samsung to not compromise on camera hardware and somehow make the phone less obnoxious while at it. This also ensures that the phone does not wobble on a surface—phew!
The S21 Ultra’s other striking bit is Samsung’s choice of colours. It comes in white. And, yes, Mr. Wayne, it does come in black.
Coming back to the familiar elements, the S21 Ultra is built like any other Samsung flagship which is to say that it is built very, very well. The phone exudes premium luxury, and while it may seem tad too much, when you are spending close to a lakh on a phone, you are probably in it for that exemplary experience. With its sharp, understated look and elegant matte finish, the S21 Ultra is a very desirable piece of hardware you would absolutely want to have if money is not a constraint.
The S21 Ultra, just like Samsung’s last few flagship phones, does not pull any punches when it comes to size and form factor. It is a big phone, period. It is as big as the iPhone 12 Pro Max and thicker. While I do like the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s squared-off edges—despite them biting into your palms, the iPhone’s design works better to let it stick to your hands more firmly—the S21 Ultra is taller and more forgiving when it comes to handling. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is wider, but it has more even weight distribution. Clearly, there is no clear winner here.
The S21 Ultra pulls ahead when it comes to screen specs and quality though. The phone has a 6.8-inch Quad HD+ ‘dynamic’ AMOLED 120Hz display. This is adaptive, capable of going as low as 10Hz ‘automatically’, while brightness can go all the way up to 1500nits. In a first for any Samsung phone, the S21 Ultra lets you run 120Hz at Quad HD+ resolution. The ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanner is also getting a refresh—it covers a larger area of the screen now and so far, it seems better (faster) too. Lastly, the S21 Ultra is the first Galaxy S series phone to support Samsung’s S-Pen stylus accessory though there is no silo to stash it—and it is not bundled in the box for free.
Under the hood, the S21 Ultra packs an Exynos 2100—Samsung’s equivalent of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888—in India. This is paired with either 12GB or 16GB RAM and 256GB or 512GB storage. There is no micro-SD card slot for storage expansion though, so that is the end of an era. Rounding off the package is a 5,000mAh battery with 25W fast wired charging, 15W fast wireless charging and wireless power share, 5G connectivity, dual-SIM, IP68 dust and water resistance, stereo speakers, and support for Wi-Fi 6E and ultra-wideband (UWB) tracking for seamless integration with Samsung’s SmartTag trackers. Software inside the phone is Android 11-based OneUI 3.1.
Coming to the S21 Ultra’s headlining feature(s). The camera(s). The S21 Ultra comes with four cameras on the back. The main and ultra-wide-angle are same as last year—108MP (brand new HM3 sensor though) + 12MP. Rounding off the package are two 10MP cameras (3x, 10x zoom capable), one of which is periscope-style. All the cameras have OIS and can record in 4K@60fps while the main camera can additionally also shoot in 8K. The front camera is 40MP capable of recording 4K@60fps videos.
While Samsung has thrown in a lot of ‘compelling’ hardware inside the S21 Ultra, this time, a bigger ‘focus’ seems to be on software especially around areas like focusing and demosaicing. Samsung says the S21 Ultra will also not smoothen faces—at all—as much as its last phones. At the same time, features like ‘director’s view’ let you explore new ways to create content.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at Rs 1,05,999 for the variant with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage going all the way to Rs 1,16,999 for the model with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage. The phone will ship January 29 (pre-booked consumers will start getting deliveries on January 25). And yes, no charger or earphones in the box—so that is that.