Samsung has moved its annual Galaxy S series launch to the left by about a month this year. Given the challenges we all faced in 2020, it’s nice to see 2021 kick off with some new phones from Samsung. We received a new Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G to try out and will be spending a lot of time with the new phone over the next few weeks.
Also: Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review: Entry-level flagship drops $ 200 with few compromises
The Galaxy S21 phones are the first to hit the market with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. We’re seeing general improvements in the display, cameras, and more. In addition, the S21 Ultra 5G supports the S Pen and everything it offers. We still have to figure out how well it is supported as there is no S-pen included and there is no silo to carry the S-pen. So right now it’s a somewhat confusing story.
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The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G has everything you could want for 2021 and sets the bar for Android smartphones this year. The phone can be pre-ordered with all kinds of trade-in and launch offers.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G specifications
- processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
- Main display: 6.8 inches, 3200 x 1440 pixel resolution (515PPI), Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O with an adaptive refresh rate of 120 Hz
- operating system: Android 11
- R.A.M.: 12 GB / 16 GB LPDDR5
- warehouse: 128/512 GB internal storage options
- Cameras: 10MP rear 1: 4.9 telephoto lens with 10x optical zoom and a second 10MP 1: 2.4 telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom view). 40MP f / 2.2 front camera.
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, GPS / Galileo / GLONASS / Beidou, NFC, UWB
- Sensors: Accelerometer, barometer, ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, gyro sensor, geomagnetic sensor, hall sensor, proximity sensor, RGB light sensor
- Dust / water resistance: Degree of protection IP68
- battery: 5000mAh non-removable with fast wireless charging. Wireless PowerShare is also available.
- Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm and 229 G.
- Colours: Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown
Previously, users had to choose between a lower resolution to get the highest refresh rate of 120 Hz. With the S21 Ultra you can now toggle the Quad HD Plus setting and the adaptive refresh rate of 120 Hz. The display also offers 25% more brightness than any other Samsung Galaxy smartphone.
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The display is made of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on both the front and the back. So we have to see how the durability tests stand up to the demands.
Also: The Samsung Galaxy S21 is official: release date, price, features, specs, and everything else you need to know
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra works with S Pen.
The most noticeable new hardware feature of the S21 Ultra is the new Contour Cut camera housing, which extends the metal frame from the right and back. The cameras are surrounded by this metal frame and have a pretty unique camera array design. Like the 2020 S20 Ultra, cases will likely be released to accommodate that camera bump and flatten the back of the device so it doesn’t wobble when placed back on a surface.
Much of our full review time is clearly being spent with this updated camera system. The S20 Ultra’s camera was disappointing in some areas, but software updates made it better. Hopefully Samsung has released a fully functional camera system with outstanding performance for the S21 Ultra.
The other major hardware improvement on the S21 Ultra is the support for the S Pen experience. The S21 and S21 Plus do not offer this support, while the S21 Ultra includes Wacom technology. We know that there will be limited S Pen functionality at startup and that future updates will provide more support. I spent a few minutes with the S Pen on a Note 10 Plus and a Galaxy Tab S7 Plus trying out this feature, but I’ll go into more detail in the full review.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a gorgeous piece of hardware with minimal top and bottom bezels, no side bezels, and a small, hole-punch-centered, front-facing camera. The Power / Bixby and Volume buttons on the right and nothing on the left. The sides have a slightly flat surface, so the phone feels like a note with less curvature around the edges.
The Super AMOLED display is obviously stunning and I am sure that it will soon receive the highest title of any smartphone display. Samsung continues to improve its display, even if there seems to be little room for improvement, as Samsung sets the bar for display technology on smartphones. Higher brightness, improved contrast ratio and Eye Comfort Shield are included in the S21 Ultra.
Another change that could affect enterprise customers is the lack of support for microSD in every Galaxy S21 model, including the S21 Ultra. Removable, expandable storage has always been a staple for Samsung smartphones and we will miss them. My test unit happens to have 512GB of internal storage, so I can’t imagine storage being an issue on this model. I’m also testing the model with 16GB of RAM.
Wi-Fi 6E support is included in the S21 Ultra, but we can’t test this as we don’t have access to a 6E network. Future proofing the latest flagship smartphone from Samsung is great.
Also: Samsung Galaxy S21 starts at $ 799.99 and launches Galaxy S21 Plus, Galaxy S21 Ultra with camera upgrades
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G will start with Android 11 and Samsung One UI 3. The Android security update from January 1, 2021 is available in our test device. We may receive more updates on these evaluation units before they become publicly available later this month.
I’ve been using One 3.x on a Galaxy S20 Ultra for a few weeks and I’m happy with the user interface. I’m excited about the launcher update, which now shows Google Discover as an option on the far left of the home screen. You can still switch to Samsung Free, but it’s great to see Samsung offer options to users. In the past, I’ve always turned this panel off because I didn’t find Samsung’s offering very convincing. This also applies to me with OnePlus and its old shelf home screen.
Facebook is installed by default, but instead of just disabling it, you can now uninstall it completely, and I definitely did that as soon as I started the app launcher. We still find some Samsung apps like Internet, News, Samsung Notes, Samsung Health, and a few others, but you have the option to choose these apps during setup so that you don’t have to install them all and have more control over your phone than in your phone the past.
First usage experiences
The two standard colors S21 Ultra, Phantom Black and Phantom Silver, are perfect for business use. The other three colors are exclusive to Samsung.com and offer a professional look with a little flair. The S21 Ultra will launch on January 29, starting at $ 1,199.99. There are also pre-order and trade-in offers.
Samsung sent the S21 Ultra with the best specs, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of internal storage so this beast can easily handle anything we throw at it. We’re going to test some powerful games, connect and run DeX, and see if this new S21 can help us get the job done in any situation.
I only spent a few hours with the S21 Ultra, but one of the first things I did was pull out an S-pen from a Note 10 Plus to see what the S21 Ultra can do. I was honestly quite surprised that the S21 Ultra delivers the same S Pen experience, including support for screen-off memos. I got the impression that there would be some restrictions, but so far I haven’t found any. There is the problem of carrying and charging the S Pen, so there is even more to explore and see that Samsung is developing to support using the S Pen on the S21 Ultra.
Full test plan for review
My T-Mobile SIM card is in the Galaxy S21 Ultra and will be my daily driver during the test period. Here’s what I want to focus on, but please leave comments and let me know what else you would like to address:
- Speed and responsiveness
- Cellular reception
- Battery life
- Camera performance compared to iPhone 12 Pro Max, Pixel 4A 5G and more
Feel free to interact with me here or on Twitter while I work on the full review and other S21 Ultra articles.