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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review: Sprints to pole position

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a camera beast. Along with the ultra-wide, wide-angle lenses and the two telephoto ones are at the rear

twitter-logoNidhi Singal | January 29, 2021 | Updated 17:55 IST
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review: Sprints to pole position
Galaxy S21 Ultra review: Biggest and best

Price: Rs 1,05,999 onwards

Specs: 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz refresh rate, 1440 x 3200 pixel resolution, Exynos 2100 processor, 128GB + 12GB RAM/ 256GB + 12GB RAM/ 512GB + 16GB RAM, 108 MP (wide angle) + 40MP (ultra-wide) + 10 MP telephoto for 3x zoom + 10 MP telephoto for 10x zoom, 40 MP front camera, 5G, 5000 mAh battery, 227 grams

Colours: Phantom Black, Phantom Silver

What's in the box: Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, Data Cable, Eject Pin

Ultra, the biggest and the best of not just the Galaxy S21-series but also Samsung's smartphone portfolio, had a lot riding it. After all, it is battling against the best from Apple - the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Samsung had incorporated the finest display, an advance multiple-camera system and its flagship processor that leaves every other smartphone behind.

Looks good:

With the tall design, Samsung has successfully managed to squeeze in a massive 6.8-inch display. It's a well thought of, practical design without making the phone too broad to hold. Even though it's 0.1-inch bigger than the one on Apple iPhone 12 Max, the curved edges make it feel compact and much easier to hold. Achieving a sleek design without compromising on the camera module has resulted in raised camera bump. Brands have been experimenting with camera bumps in different shapes and sizes but the one on S21 Ultra is elegantly designed. Even though there are visible gaps, the bump still seamlessly blends with the edges on the top and the left.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra looks good, and the phantom black elite.  The premium matte finish at the rear on the phantom black variant makes it feel ultra. Neither does it attract fingerprints and Corning's Gorilla Glass Victus should prevent it from accidental damages. Contrasting the matte finish are the smooth, subtle glossy black edges. The allure around the entire experience of the handset is one like never before.

The king of display:

Samsung had some of the best displays in the flagship Galaxy S-series in the past. The S21 Ultra is no exception. The 6.8-inch dynamic AMOLED 2x panel is bright, vibrant, making everything pop-up on the display. By default, FHD resolution is selected and one can switch to WQHD (3200x1400) for sharper visuals but that drains the battery quickly. Adaptive display setting comes handy as it brightens the screen under sunlight for better legibility (peaks 1500 nits) and dims it when indoors.

As it supports 120Hz refresh rate, Samsung has added adaptive motion smoothness that shutters between refresh rate basis the app requirement, which works just fine. The other option locks refresh rate at 60Hz. Display settings are very subjective and Samsung offers a wide array of options for users to customize what they deem the best - eye comfort shield for blocking blue light, screen mode with white balance, dark and light mode along with the above-mentioned ones.

The display is slightly curved but not all the way to the rear, which I usually prefer.

Be it anything - photos, videos, graphics, animations or even text - everything is crisp with great colour reproduction. Even Streaming videos and gaming was a delight.

Impeccable camera:

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a camera beast. Along with the ultra-wide, wide-angle lenses and the two telephoto ones are at the rear. But thankfully, switching between the four is just a tap away. Within the default photo mode are the icons - multiple trees for the ultra-wide lens,  two tree icons switches to the main 108MP camera (it can also capture images at 12MP resolution - pixel binning), single tree icon switches to 3x telephoto lens and the leaf icon to 10x telephoto. The two telephoto lenses work together for 100x zoom, which comes handy to get closer to a far off subject but does not expect distortion-free results. Even with the phone mounted on a tripod, the S21 Ultra at 100x zoom struggled to stay focused on the subject, even with the zoom lock feature. Especially while capturing the moon. Instead, I captured some decent images just by holding the phone in my hands but had to hold my breath and be steady for close to 5-7 seconds. Ultra did manage to capture the dark patches on the moon but the image was fairly grainy. But the full moon shot at 30x zoom was superb. Frankly, anything over 30x had a lot of noise. For me, the Ultra comes very close to the experience I had with Huawei P30 Pro (a smartphone camera I swore by).

Moving on, the focusing issues I experienced with last year's Galaxy S20 Ultra have finally been resolved. The addition of laser focus and the camera software, together, have completely improvised/enhanced the photography experience. When using the default photo mode, the primary camera lens is quick to focus. Be it a sapling or a gliding bird, it locks focus and capture stunning results. However, at times, it struggles in high contrast scenes. For instance, it not just failed to focus on the baby cauliflower amongst all its leaves but the images captured had a significant amount of noise too. But move to the well-lit environment, low light or even pitch dark and the S21 Ultra outshines. Low light imaging on this is impeccable. It does use AI but what comes down to is the results. If you have a little know-how of photography and settings, the Pro mode is for you. Overall, the images captured are sharp with detailed edges and great colour reproduction.  Something most would prefer - be it for professional use, personal or social media. The only area where the iPhone 12 Max Pro's camera gives it a tough competition is when clicking panorama pictures.

In addition to the photo mode are a host of settings including Pro, portrait, night, food, panorama, portrait video, pro video amongst others that can be accessed from the 'more' tab that includes the Director's View as well. This shows a thumbnail preview of the video feeds coming from all of the cameras on the phones that a user can select. It also captures stunning videos in 8k videos at 24fps. And the super steady mode comes handy for smoother video clips.

With The S21 Ultra, Samsung hasn't just thrown in a lot of features but have perfected the most, which makes it the best camera phone in the market.

Powerhouse:

Samsung has added enough muscle to handle all this along with on-device video editing. The latest 5nm Exynos 2100 chip onboard performs, without getting too hot. Thanks to the display and processing power, gaming was fun. The lag-free performance helped in snipping opponents in Call of Duty and the recently launched FAU-G. A big fan of stock Android followed by OnePlus' Oxygen OS, Samsung's One UI 3.1 wasn't half bad. The app drawer with search option at the top makes it convenient to launch apps. Addition of Google feed on the home screen (swiping right) was a handy add-on. Other than Google apps and services, there are a few preinstalled ones too. Even the 256GB onboard minus expandable memory shouldn't bother much as I have never been able to cross over 100GB on a smartphone. All this is backed with an impressive as never even once I managed to kill it in a single day. From heavy to light usage, I still had anywhere between 15-30 per cent charge remaining. However, just like iPhone 12-series, Ultra is not accompanied with the power adaptor.

Also read: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max: Not just bigger, but better

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