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Earlier than ever before, Samsung has just announced the Galaxy S21 series, its flagship trio that brings in a brand new design with a stylish camera that blends into the frame of the phone and the most powerful processor so far.
Featuring support for Samsung’s S Pen for the first time in an S series phone, the most versatile camera system and the overall most advanced feature set, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the headliner . It comes with a gigantic, 5,000mAh battery, and is a chunky phone, noticeably bigger than your average. Just as big as in size, it is also big in price: it’s the most expensive of the S21 bunch, the Ultra has a luxury-level price tag of $1,200 for the base model.
Design, Display, Size and Colors
Two conservative colors and an extra large and bulky size
Speaking of that screen, it is a 6.8″ OLED display with 10Hz to 120Hz dynamic refresh rate that changes automatically depending on the content. And for the first time in a Galaxy, you can run the phone at 120Hz even at the maximum QHD resolution. Samsung has also improved the brightness and contrast of the screen, which is now the brightest out there with a peak of 1,500 nits and 50% better contrast than on last year’s model.
As for the rest, you have the power and volume keys on the right side of the phone, and there are no buttons on the left (thankfully, no dedicated Bixby button either). And just as you’d expect, there is no headphone jack, while the loudspeaker system consists of one bottom firing loudspeaker and another speaker located in the earpiece. On the bottom, you will find find the USB-C port and mic grill. The Ultra is also water-sealed with an IP68 rating, meaning that it can survive the accidental drop in water easily.
It is the sheer size of the S21 Ultra that impresses, though: the phone is not only larger in width and height, it’s also noticeably thicker than your regular phone, and it weighs close to 8 ounces. Take a look at our size comparison tool below to see how it measures against other big phones on the market:
S21 Ultra colors
Two official S21 Ultra colors on the left, S21+ colors in the center, four S21 colors on the right
- Phantom Silver
- Phantom Black*
- Phantom Titanium**
- Phantom Navy**
- Phantom Brown**
*only Black model will be available with 256GB or 512GB storage
**these colors will be available exclusively at Samsung.com
S Pen support
First S series phone to support it, but you have to buy the S Pen separately
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S series Samsung phone to support the S Pen, but unlike the Galaxy Note family where the S Pen is tucked inside the phone for easy access, here, you cannot stow it inside the phone and it doesn’t even come included in the box.
Instead, you have to separately purchase the S Pen and if you want to keep it always at hand, Samsung suggests a folio type of a case and a back cover one that offer a special slot on the side for the S Pen (but they do make the phone extra wide). Also, the S Pen that Samsung sells specifically for the S21 Ultra is a bit different than the one on the Note series, it’s thicker, so it might actually be a bit more comfortable to hold and use. And instead of having a button on the top of the S Pen that you press to take it out of the Note phones, you need to kind of chip off the S Pen from the case of the S21 Ultra. The Ultra having a Wacom digitizer is also compatible with third-party pens like ones from Staedtler, Lamy and Uni.
For all else, the functionality is mostly the same: you have the convenient lock screen notes, you can annotate images, and use most of the features you have on the Note series and the Samsung Notes app.
108MP main camera and the next gen 100X Space Zoom shooters
The Ultra also improves the camera in a big way with a new quad camera system on the back.
But the big focus of the Ultra is zooming. You get not one, but two telephoto lenses: a 3X zoom lens and then a periscope, 10X zoom lens that gives you more reach than on most other phones. In fact, with the S21 Ultra, Samsung is resurrecting the Space Zoom branding and allows you to zoom in as much as the insane 100X.
The camera app has also gotten a fresh coat of paint. Single Take, the feature where a single press of the shutter button captures photos from all cameras, slightly different angles as well as a few videos, is now improved and serves you an automatically AI generated fun clip to share. You also get a new Director’s View mode where you can capture split-screen video with footage from the rear camera on one side and the front camera on the other, as well as capture simultaneously from multiple cameras. Plus, you get improved Portrait Mode (a feature Samsung used to call Live Focus) with better object separation and additional settings.
On the video side, you can capture up to 8K video at 24fps (rumors wrongly suggested you could capture 8K30). You also have better video stabilization with Super Steady mode that works with even 4K60 recordings (but not 8K).
Processor, Storage, 5G and Wi-Fi 6E
Snapdragon 888 for the US model, Exynos 2100 for the rest of the world
Under the hood, the S21 Ultra is powered by the latest and greatest chips available: US models will be equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, while international models will run on the Samsung-made Exynos 2100.
We won’t go into the minute details here, but what’s important to know is that Samsung seems to have caught up with Qualcomm and the gap between Exynos and Snapdragon models, where Exynos models usually had worse performance and power efficiency, well… that gap seems to be gone with this latest Exynos chip.
As for storage, the S21 Ultra starts at 128GB, but you will also be able to purchase a 256GB and even an all out 512GB model, but interestingly, Samsung is dropping the microSD card slot on all S21 models. Samsung was one of very few companies to still support microSD cards, a power user feature that was appreciated by some, but that comes to an end with the S21 series.
S21 Ultra RAM and storage options
- 128GB model with 12GB RAM
- 256GB model with 12GB RAM (*only with Phantom Black colorway)
- 512GB model with 16GB RAM (*only with Phantom Black colorway)
The S21 Ultra supports both the sub-6GHz and mmWave types of 5G, meaning that it will work with all the various 5G networks in the United States (T-Mobile has rolled out a sub-6GHz 5G network, while AT&T and Verizon have focused on mmWave roll-out). What’s new with the S21 series is that the Snapdragon 888 chip also comes with a 5G modem built-in and not separate as on previous chips, which could contribute to less of a power draw with 5G.
Also, the Ultra is the only one in the series to have Wi-Fi 6E connectivity, which theoretically allows the phone to reach 4X faster speeds than Wi-Fi 6. In practical terms, this means that a 6.5GB Fortnite download on Wi-Fi 6E can take up only 8 seconds versus 31 seconds on Wi-Fi 6.
New fingerprint scanner
Larger and nearly 50% faster
Samsung is also fixing one of the biggest complaints about its phones in recent years: the sluggish fingerprint scanner. The company has been using the first generation of Qualcomm’s ultrasonic fingerprint scanner for a couple of years now, even as newer and faster solutions were adopted by others. Thankfully, the S21 series will ship with the newer, second gen Qualcomm 3D Sonic Sensor which means a 77% larger sensor size, 1.7X more biometric data captured, and most importantly, 50% faster speed.
For reference, the first generation scanner was just 4 x 9 mm in size, while the new sensor measures 8 x 8 mm.
Battery life and Charging
More than a day on a single charge
Equipped with a 5,000mAh battery and a more power-efficient processor, the Galaxy S21 Ultra promises solid battery life.
So far, Samsung is saying that the battery on the Ultra “outlasts the day, even on 5G”, while for the S21 and S21 Plus it says they have “all day battery”, which suggests that the Ultra will indeed have a longer battery life than the other two.
Prices and Release Date
$1,200 price brings a sigh of relief
The Galaxy S21 Ultra will be available on all three major US carriers, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, as well as in stores like Best Buy.
Samsung is kicking off pre-orders for the Galaxy S21 Ultra right away, while the actual release date is set for Friday, January 29th.
Good news is that prices for the Galaxy S21 Ultra start at just $1,200 in the United States, far below the $1,400 price of last year’s S20 Ultra, but we do recommend you keep an eye out for various offers and trade-in deals as Samsung usually has some great discounts soon after the launch.