Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review cover

What is the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G represents the apex of Samsung’s smartphone design and technology for the Galaxy S series in 2021. With the preorders in Malaysia underway and the phone costing a princely RM5,299 and up, it’s a valid question of whether it’s worth your money. That’s what we’re going to find out in our review.

A couple of things to note beforehand for international audiences. The review sample that we’re testing is the Malaysian version of the Galaxy S21 Ultra which hosts an Exynos 2100 processor versus variants in the United States and China which use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. 

Galaxy S21 Ultra hero shot

Local Malaysia variants of the Galaxy S21 Ultra come in either Phantom Silver or Phantom Black and in two storage configurations – 12GB RAM / 256GB storage and 16GB RAM / 512GB storage with the former costing RM5,299 and the latter RM5,899.

Also, all variants of the S21 Ultra come with an integrated 5G modem so for the purposes of this review, we’ll ditch the 5G suffix for brevity. In Malaysia, there won’t be any 5G networks until 2022 at the earliest so this is a case of futureproofing a phone. With that aside, lets dig into the review!

We previously did a first impression and a quick onceover of the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s build quality and a look at its specifications. This time around, we offer a more thorough look after having had more time to tinker around with it and put it through its paces. Here’s our Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Malaysia review…

Galaxy S21 Ultra Performance 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a powerful flagship-grade setup designed to address the shortcomings of its predecessor.

It’s improved in every way, offering a higher resolution 120Hz display, better camera performance and is powered by the latest Exynos chip.

Let’s start with the specs. The new Exynos 2100 processor and its integrated Mali-G78 graphics is built on a highly efficient 5nm process and is rated to offer 30% higher CPU performance and 40% better graphics performance over the older Exynos 990 and its integrated Mali-G77 graphics that saw service in the Galaxy S20 Ultra last year.  All this translates to better performance across the board and more efficient battery usage, especially on its large display.

When subjected to synthetic benchmarks, the Galaxy S21 Ultra scored impressive results.



GeekBench 5.2.5 SIngle-core score 1045

GeekBench 5.2.5 Multi-core score 3,236

3DMark Wild Life 5,285

3DMark Wild Life Unlimited 5,455

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme Open GL ES 3.1 7,245

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme Unlimited – Open GL ES 3.1 8,192

Sling Shot Extreme – Vulkan 6,561

PC Mark Work 2.0 14,460

PC Mark Battery Life(WQHD+ 120Hz) 7 Hours 16 minutes

 

On paper, the Galaxy S21 Ultra with its Exynos 2100 processor is able to give its nearest rival, the Snapdragon 888 processor that appears in some overseas variants of the phone, a run for its money.

Under practical field tests, the Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t disappoint with the ability to tear through everything asked of it without pausing a beat. The generous amounts of RAM and the beefy CPU let it tackle the likes of Call of Duty Mobile at Ultra settings while ensuring smooth frame rates. This performance was repeated in Asphalt 9 at the highest possible settings and it maintained smooth animations throughout.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review gaming codm

To put it to the test we browsed with over two dozen Chrome tabs opened. Switching between tabs was both instant and effortless.The phone was even able to tackle 4K video editing and even 8K too in a relatively smooth fashion. It also tackled work related tasks like documents with heavy graphics and spreadsheets in Google Docs and MS Office without a hitch.

As it stands, it’s a performance powerhouse of a phone but it does have a few quibbles. It’s the first Galaxy S series phone in recent memory to ditch expandable memory since the Galaxy S6 released 6 years ago though in more recent times the Galaxy Note10 also lacked a microSD card slot. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review asphalt 9 game

With base storage at 256GB, it’s not a major issue and even with heavy use capturing 4K video and the odd 8K snippet or two, snapping away and installing high-end Android games, there was still plenty of storage left though you’ll likely need to do some regular housekeeping every few months or so.

Design


Large phones by their very nature are unwieldy affairs. There’s always the potential for a slip of the hand resulting in it pranging to the floor but Samsung’s experience in crafting large phones is brought to the fore here. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review backplate

To make it easier to hold, they’ve strategically rounded the corners and edges. Combined with the edge-to-edge bezels, you’re able to effectively use it one-handed. My thumb was able to reach across to the other side of its 6.8-inch display. The volume rocker and power button are all emplaced on the right within easy reach.

The addition of a matte grippy finish over the glass backplate also helps it resist greasy fingerprints, making it one of the most practical and good looking phones in their line-up with the Phantom Silver finish of our test unit still retaining its posh look even after several days of romping about in our pockets and office desk.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review charger port

Another quibble is the lack of a 3.5mm audio jack but that’s gone the way of the Dodo these days. Fortunately there’s a plethora of wireless earbuds out there and Samsung’s own Galaxy Buds Pro addresses that issue nicely.

 

Display


What truly impresses is the 6.8-inch WQHD+ AMOLED display with its 120Hz dynamic refresh rate. It’s currently the biggest , sharpest phone display currently in service with an experiential trifecta of high resolution, large size and a fast 120Hz refresh rate. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra front view

Clarity under daylight was excellent with 1,500nits brightness and reading content on the phone was a pleasant affair as it has Blue Light shield tech that filters out the blue light spectrum to make it easier on the eyes.

When you’re reading documents and images, details and text looks pin-sharp. Even as you’re scrolling web pages and gaming, the dynamic refresh rate ensures that even the mere act of scrolling down is incredibly smooth.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review display

Experiencing this kind of quality on a 120Hz panel this sharp is a life changing experience indeed. Detractors may harp on the punch hole for the selfie camera but we didn’t even notice it after awhile and it’s smaller than last year’s S20 Ultra punch hole.

On a side note, the phone also has stereo speakers in keeping with its flagship status. They’re among the best available while boasting great detail and bass with minimal distortion even when dialled to maximum volume. With the provision of a proper stand, this makes for an excellent Netflix binging device.

Galaxy S21 Ultra angled colours

S Pen stylus support


This is also the first Galaxy S series phone to have S Pen stylus support by either buying its optional stylus that is bundled with a casing or by cannibalising another Samsung device with an S Pen like a Note series phone or a Samsung tablet. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra rear

The Galaxy S21 Ultra will feature an optional casing that integrates an S Pen stylus

Unfortunately, you don’t get gesture controls where you can wave it around like a wand to control the camera or navigate the menus with any of these options. You’re limited strictly to jotting on the display. If you’re still keen on a tablet, Samsung is rolling out an S Pen Pro that has these remote gesture controls.

The phone has 5G connectivity but we weren’t able to test that along with its other next generation features like its UWB with any Galaxy Smart Tags as we weren’t able to score one for the review nor are there any devices on hand with WiFi 6e support. 

 

Galaxy S21 Ultra Battery Life

In terms of battery life, the S21 Ultra and its power-efficient CPU had impressive endurance. Even with heavy usage capturing 8K video, intensive gaming and heavy Netflix usage, the S21 Ultra at WQHD+ @ 120Hz resolution, the phone was easily able to last a full day with juice to spare on its 5,000mAh battery. If you’re pragmatic, you can dial it down to FHD+ resolution and easily get north of two days worth of battery life. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review battery

One downside is that the S21 Ultra maxes out at 25W fast charging unlike the older S20 Ultra which had 45W charging though charging performance was still pretty snappy.We used the 25W charger from the older Galaxy S20+ and the Note10 to get it to full charge in a couple of hours.

 

Cameras and Test Shots

 

From the get-go, the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s camera array has been designed to address the shortcomings of the S20 Ultra and Note20 Ultra and take mobile photography and videography to the next level. 

On top of better optics and better integration with the camera sensors, the S21 Ultra also leverages machine learning via the Exynos 2100’s enhanced NPU which is capable of 26 trillion operations per second (TOPS) for better snaps.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review rear camera

The hardware on the rear is impressive indeed and is a more refined blend of the cameras in the S20 Ultra and Note20 Ultra. You get a primary 108 megapixel F/1.8 camera that offers OIS and PDAF while a secondary 12 megapixel F/2.2 ultra wide angle camera is on hand for scenery and large group shots. 

Rather than just one zoom camera, they’ve elected to split telephoto duties to two cameras, each at different zoom levels with OIS on both. You get a 10 megapixel camera with 3X optical zoom and another 10 megapixel snapper with 10x periscope zoom. 

Combined, the rear camera array lets you take shots at up to 108MP, shots from 0.6x all the way to a 100X Space Zoom which is a hybrid of both digital and optical zoom for super long distance shots.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Review camera shots

While previous examples require the use of a tripod on account of jittery results, the S21 Ultra has a new Zoom Lock feature that ensures that the viewfinder doesn’t bounce around like mad when you’re capturing zoomed in shots.

The improved Space Zoom is able to serve up some of the best zoomed in shots on test in tandem with the new Zoom Lock that offers steadier shots when zoomed in though it’s a bit of a stretch when you dial it in to maximum 100x zoom. It also understandably works best on static objects like scenery versus something moving about like a car.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review auto

Night conditions on auto mode

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review night mode

Night conditions with Night mode on

While you can read the details on a clock from several hundred metres beyond what you can see with the naked eye with Space Zoom, the results are rather soft so it’s not something you’d see appearing on NatGeo anytime soon. Anything beyond 30x zoom also needs daylight for best results but this is already quite an achievement as it is for a smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review camera UI

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review

A shot of the moon as capture with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Low light shots are improved over the older S20 Ultra with better dynamic range and colours than before with Night mode on, which can be used on any camera though zoomed in shots in low light are soft beyond 10x zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review selfie

Excellent results in dim light with the 40MP selfie camera

Shots in low light aside, shots with the S21 Ultra under daylight, indoors and at dusk were excellent and were deftly exposed, with markedly better handling of dynamic range and detail retention. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review zoomed in

100X Space Zoom

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review ultra wide angle

0.6x Ultra wide angle shot

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review

10x zoom

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review

30x zoom

Captured snaps have more vibrant hues in typical Samsung fashion which look great onscreen. Sticklers for colour accuracy may want to dial down the vibrancy a bit but existing settings out of the box are easily shareworthy indeed.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra close up flowers

Beautiful details on each petal for this close-up shot of these flowers

You can also take full 108MP shots that can be zoomed in for oodles of detail but without all the usual photography and AI enhancements, it means that you need good lighting and a steady hand (or a tripod) to pull it off.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review low light

Auto mode with night mode off

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review night mode on

Night mode on. A world of difference.

In terms of capturing videos, the S21 Ultra is capable of tackling up to 8K@24fps or a more practical 4K@60fps. Captured 8K video offers impressive videos brimming with detail though their large size and resolution means they’re a challenge to edit and you need a massive display like a QLED panel to fully appreciate it.

4K video with the S21 Ultra looks fantastic as well though for more practical use and decent file sizes, the phone is able to capture stabilised 1080p@60fps video with a Super Steady mode that is akin to footage taken with a gimbal. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review backlit

Even with backlit conditions the S21 Ultra’s selfie camera was able to capture delightful portraiture

The camera user interface this time around has been streamlined while adding several new functions. While most of it is old hat for seasoned users, the new camera interface adds in a new Director Mode that gives you a live feed of all the cameras in the S21 Ultra’s display when recording so you can see exactly how it looks like before you press the shutter release when capturing video.

One downside though – captured footage in this mode is capped at 720p. This is, to date, one of the best cameras that we’ve seen mounted in a phone.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review night

Wide angle at night on auto mode

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review 100x

100x zoom at night in dim light conditions where we managed to zoom in on the unifi sign in the distance. It’s impossible to see with the naked eye but the S21 Ultra manages to do it without a problem.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Verdict – Who is this for?

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is far from cheap but you get what you pay for. Samsung’s flagship phone is the embodiment of what a flagship smartphone ought to be in form and function.

Blending the best display we’ve seen in the market, excellent performance and battery life along with one of the best cameras available today, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is for those seeking the best Android phone that money can buy today and deservedly earns our Editor’s Choice award. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review rear

Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia. The Galaxy S31 Ultra is available for preorders with free gifts worth up to RM1,317 until 28th January 2021 and hits retail the following day. Check out Samsung’s official e-store here.

Editor's Choice Hitech Century

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
4.6
  • Display
  • Performance
  • Cameras
  • Battery Life
  • Value

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G offers best in class specifications, an 8K video capable camera suite and a breathtakingly beautiful display. If money is no object and you want the best, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the gold standard in smartphones today.

Pros

The best WQHD+ 120Hz panel that money can buy

Excellent cameras

Great performance with Exynos 2100

Good battery life

IP68 dust and water resistance

Brilliant design

Cons

No microSD card slot

No 3.5mm audio jack

Expensive

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