The Samsung Galaxy S21 series spearheaded by the Galaxy S21 Ultra made its global debut at their grand Samsung Unpacked 2021 launch online a few days ago with preorders in Malaysia rolling out a few hours later.
The myriad of leaks beforehand did not do justice to what Samsung revealed onstage with their new trio of phones – the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21+ and, in particular, the Galaxy S21 Ultra – taking the limelight.
The top of the line Galaxy S21 Ultra is the smartphone equivalent of a Rolls Royce, with a luxurious design paired with premium materials and the best hardware of its generation that allow it to go toe to toe with any other flagship phone. It also has a price tag to match but you get what you pay for.
Samsung Malaysia has kindly allowed us to review a sample of the Galaxy S21 Ultra for the local market with an Exynos 2100 processor. Here’s our first impressions of the Galaxy S21 Ultra and our experiences unboxing and wielding it for 24 hours.
What’s in the box
I must admit that Samsung’s initiative to omit the charger and wired earbuds does bring about dividends in terms of how light and compact the package was.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra easily has the most compact packaging I’ve ever seen with the phone shoehorned into a package that’s half the size of last year’s Galaxy S20 Ultra box.
There isn’t much in the box beyond the phone itself, a sheaf of warranty and instruction manuals, a SIM eject pin and a USB-C to USB-C cable.
If you need a charger, you’ll need to use your own or purchase one though the ongoing pre-orders until 28th January give you a Wireless Charger Trio pad that not only helps you charge your phone but other associated accompanying gear like their Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Watch too simultaneously.
Galaxy S21 Ultra Look and Feel
Belying its slim casing, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a bit of heft on account of its premium build quality at 227g but the moment you touch it, you can feel the attention to quality that Samsung has lavished on the phone.
Flip it to the back and the first thing that draws your eye is the design language of the camera housing that they’ve dubbed as Contour Cut which expresses a different dual-toned chromed finish from the rest of the phone.
In the case of our test unit, it looks almost like a slightly blued metallic silver which is a subtle yet pleasant contrast to the rest of the chassis. In order to keep the thickness of the bezel down, they’ve added a bit of beveling on the sides of the camera housing.
There’s also less concern of scratching the camera lenses this time around as they’re all slightly recessed in the housing itself for better protection.
The rest of the backplate is done up in what Samsung calls Phantom Silver which is an eye-catching matte silver finish that is surprisingly good at repelling fingerprints while looking suitably posh. If silver is a bit too ostentatious, you can score the phone in a matte shade of Phantom Black.
Colours aside, the edges and corners are all slightly rounded along with the display itself which has curved edges on the sides. While these curves are not as heavily pronounced as earlier generation phones like the S6, they’re curved just enough to allow you to ergonomically wield the phone one-handed and to reach almost all the way across the display with your thumb.
Add in the grippy matte finish, IP68 water resistance and you easily have one of the most practical designs for a flagship that Samsung has made in years.
Some things to note with the new Galaxy S21 series design is that the S21 Ultra has no microSD card slot. It also lacks a 3.5mm audio jack though these days, it’s becoming much less of an issue as it’s not all that hard to score a pair of decent wireless earbuds.
Gorgeously vibrant display
The 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x display up front is the most refined example of Samsung’s mastery of display panel production with bezels that stretch to the very edges of the chassis on all sides. The only thing breaking up the expanse of this huge display is a tiny punch hole cutout for the front-facing 40MP selfie camera.
Unlike its smaller siblings, namely, the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+, the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s touch screen panel dips down in a sharp curve on its left and right sides. It’s a stylistic choice and does make summoning their One UI edge panels by swiping in from the edges a bit easier though installing a screen protector will likely prove to be a bit more challenging.
Better yet, the display is sheathed in Gorilla Glass Victus, claimed to be the toughest grade of glass available in the market that’s a step up in durability over its predecessor with double the scratch resistance over Gorilla Glass 6 and the ability to survive up to 2 meter drops.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is also the only phone among its siblings to offer compatibility with the S Pen stylus. As you’d likely notice, it doesn’t have a stylus well nor space to accommodate one by default.
Instead, you can purchase the S Pen separately with a special case or salvage one from another Galaxy Note series phone or Samsung tablet of recent vintage. One thing to note is that for now, these styli, whether retrofitted or purchased, function strictly as a stylus; if you’re looking for air gesture controls like that seen on the Galaxy Note9 onwards you’ll need to wait for their S Pen Pro stylus that will arrive later this year.
Fire up the display and you’re immediately greeted by just how lush and vibrant the colours are but it gets better. While it starts out of the box preset to a pragmatic FHD+ resolution, you can dial it up to its full glory at 3,200 x 1,400 pixels which is WQHD+ resolution and also enable a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate – both at the same time.
What this means is that you’re able to have a massive, razor sharp display paired with buttery-smooth animations as well as nigh instantaneous responsiveness too; something that no other phone can match yet.
The closest, the OPPO Find X2 Pro last year edges out at a slightly lower QHD+ resolution at 120Hz. We took it for a quick whirl with a few movies on Netflix and a few rounds of Call of Duty Mobile and Asphalt 2. I was wowed by just how smooth and sharp everything looked onscreen.
When it comes to performance for Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S series phones, it falls down to a two horse race for Samsung phones with some regions getting Qualcomm Snapdragon processors and, in the case of Malaysia, their own in-house Exynos processors. Over the years, detractors have wailed at the disparity in performance but this time around, the Exynos 2100 is able to give its Qualcomm compatriot a run for its money.
Built on a new, more power efficient 5nm process, the Exynos 2100 processor has 20% lower power consumption and 10% higher overall performance than last year’s Exynos 990 chip with a tri-cluster CPU and Arm Mali-G78 graphics that are rated for 40% better graphics performance than its predecessor.
On top of the beefy new Exynos 2100, the Galaxy S21 Ultra and its siblings are notable for offering 5G connectivity baked-in as standard across the range unlike last year’s S20 series which had 4G LTE and 5G variants. In the case of the S21 Ultra, it also has several other next-generation examples of tech including Ultra Wideband (UWB) that works with the new Galaxy SmartTags to find stuff you’ve lost or even unlock compatible cars and faster WiFi 6E.
The rear quad camera array is one of Samsung’s most sophisticated camera setups ever made that looks to resolve the challenges seen in last year’s Galaxy S20 Ultra. This time around, it adds a laser autofocus for more precise focus among enhancements in image quality from the triple neural processing unit (NPU) in the Exynos 2100 chip.
This setup retains a primary 108MP camera and a secondary 12MP ultra wide angle camera. It also has a unique zoom setup with a 10MP F/2,4 Dual Pixel camera with OIS and 3X optical zoom paired with a secondary 10MP Dual Pixel camera with 10X zoom and OIS for longer distances. This lets it capture up to 8K@24fps video and up to 108MP sized pics while capturing up to 100x hybrid Space Zoom and up to 3x and 10X optical zoom.
In Malaysia, the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes in two variants that are identical save for minor differences in terms of RAM and available storage. Our sample unit has 12GB RAM and 256GB of non-expandable storage which retails for RM5,299 while a top of the line version has a whopping 16GB RAM and 512GB of non-expandable storage for RM5,899.
Powering the phone is a large 5,000mAh battery with Power Delivery 3.0 wired fast charging, fast wireless charging 2.0 and wireless PowerShare to charge other devices like the Galaxy Buds Pro.
We’ll put it through its paces later and see just how powerful the phone is though early indications on paper and in a few quick benchmarks mark it as a powerhouse of a phone. Stay tuned for our full review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra in the near future! In the meantime, you can get a recap of the exact specifications of the Galaxy S21 Ultra here.
Galaxy S21 Ultra Preorder
The Galaxy S21 series is currently on preorder until 28th January 2021 with the Galaxy S21 Ultra coming with up to RM1,317 worth of freebies that include a free Galaxy Buds Pro, a Galaxy Smart Tag and a free Wireless Charger trio charger.
If you’re fast on the draw, you can key in Samsung’s special promo code SCS21VIP to get a free pair of Samsung ANC Type-C earphones worth a decent RM299, while stocks last. You can check out Samsung’s official preorder page for their online store at https://www.samsung.com/my/smartphones/galaxy-s21-5g/buy/