Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G assessment: Second time’s the charm for Samsung’s premier phone

The Galaxy S21 Ultra will get a recent design and sports activities a beautiful black end.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, unveiled alongside Samsung’s Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus telephones, proves that generally it’s important to do one thing twice to get it proper. While simply as daring as final yr’s Galaxy S20 Ultra, the S21 Ultra is a refined second tackle the Ultra idea. There’s nonetheless the 100x Space Zoom, however it’s simpler to make use of. There continues to be the “big for the sake of being big” design, however it appears to be like far more interesting. And there’s nonetheless a excessive value, however at $1,200 (£1,149, AU$1,849) it prices $200 lower than the S20 Ultra in the US. The entire Galaxy S21 lineup is offered to buy — this is how one can purchase one.

If you need the very best specs and options, the S21 Ultra will undoubtedly appear interesting. The phone may even entice digicam nerds, because of the enhancements Samsung made to the cameras. And with the addition of S-Pen assist — it is the first Galaxy S phone to make use of the stylus — the S21 Ultra will doubtless catch the eye of Galaxy Note customers wanting for a unique choice.

Read extra: Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. S21 Plus vs. S21 Ultra


  • Gorgeous phantom black end
  • Two telephoto cameras
  • The display is spectacular
  • S-Pen assist

Don’t Like

  • It’s heavy
  • Lacks a microSD card slot
  • $1,200 continues to be costly

Last yr’s Ultra mannequin, on the different hand, appeared prefer it got here out of nowhere. It was a phone all about extra that, by sheer destiny, was launched at the starting of a worldwide pandemic and recession. Its daring, behemoth tackle the Galaxy S line was undercut by its $1,400 (£1,199, AU$1,999) value and points with its almost domino-sized digicam system.

Overall, the S21 Ultra is a significant replace each by way of {hardware} and software program options over the S20 Ultra. And once you consider a lower cost, all of it form of is smart.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra will get a recent design and sports activities a beautiful black end.

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We assessment the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G and its bonkers cameras


The Galaxy S21 Ultra has the finest black end

I would not name the S21 Ultra’s design radically totally different, however my assessment unit has the finest black end I’ve ever seen on a phone. It’s the stuff that goth goals are fabricated from. The shade is known as phantom black, and once you see it in individual you instantly perceive why Samsung made a almost 3-minute video explaining what went into making the blackest black. The S21 Ultra additionally is available in phantom silver and there are limited-edition phantom finishes in titanium, brown and navy, which may solely be discovered on Samsung’s web site.

The digicam bump is giant and melts into the sides of the phone, that are shiny black. And whereas the common S21 and S21 Plus are snazzy of their two-tone colours, the all-black S21 Ultra appears to be like cool, elegant and badass all at the identical time.

The S21 Ultra is somewhat heavier than final yr’s S20 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s the second heaviest phone I’ve utilized in the previous yr, simply behind the Asus ROG Phone 3.

The show is brighter and provides S-Pen assist

Around the entrance is certainly one of the most spectacular shows I’ve seen. It has a Wide Quad HD decision and a variable refresh price between 10 and 120Hz, which is decided by what’s on the display. And simply to be clear, you possibly can have 120Hz and never take successful on decision like the S20 Ultra did. The 6.8-inch show is shiny and the distinction is beautiful. Covering the display, and the again. is Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus.

Under the display is a bigger ultrasonic fingerprint reader which feels peppy. I had a tough time telling if it was truly quicker than the one on the S20 Ultra. The show additionally has S-Pen assist.


Support for the S-Pen means you possibly can draw, write, edit images and signal paperwork on the S21 Ultra.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I’ve all the time been tempted by the Galaxy Note line of telephones, however I wasn’t positive I’d use the S-Pen sufficient to justify getting one. But I like the iPad Pro-Apple Pencil method Samsung took right here. Without an S-Pen, you may nonetheless get pleasure from utilizing the S21 Ultra. But if you happen to’re S-Pen curious, you should buy a brand new one or discover an previous S-Pen. And there’s quite a bit you are able to do, like draw, take notes and signal paperwork. I really like enhancing images and making changes with the S-Pen.

I ought to observe there are a number of issues. The S21 Ultra does not include an S-Pen and does not assist Bluetooth or gesture performance. For instance, the S21 Ultra cannot ship you a notification if you happen to go away your pen behind. Also the Ultra does not have a built-in slot to retailer an S-Pen, however Samsung shall be promoting circumstances for it that embrace S-Pen storage.

The S21 Ultra has 2 telephoto cameras

The S21 Ultra’s digicam system obtained a number of important updates. There are 4 rear cameras: one broad, one ultrawide and two telephoto cameras. The time-of-flight sensor is gone and as a substitute there’s laser autofocus.

The 108-megapixel sensor on the principal digicam is new and it has higher autofocus for each images and movies. There’s even a brand new focus enhancer software that pops up onscreen to assist the phone discover focus even quicker for images. The software appears to be like prefer it could be switching to a wider view to take action.


There are 4 rear cameras: broad, ultrawide and two telephotos.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The dual-telephoto cameras are a primary on any phone and add a number of advantages. One has 3x magnification and the different 10x. This means once you zoom in, there are two locations in your zoom vary the place the picture is not being cropped the place your photograph could have higher picture high quality. Another profit is stability. The two cameras are paired collectively to assist make zooming in, even at 100x, simpler and extra regular.

At 30x, a zoom information pops up that can assist you discover the specific spot that you simply’re zoomed in at. You can lock it so it does not transfer, which turns the information yellow. This works effectively. Obviously you continue to must watch out to not transfer the digicam round an excessive amount of, however it’s much less finicky and irritating than the S20 Ultra.

Photos from the S21 Ultra are glorious, with good element and a large dynamic vary. There is a 108-megapixel mode, however I discovered the 12-megapixel images coming from pixel binning look persistently nice.

Below are a number of images I took with the S21 Ultra.


I took this with the principal digicam set to 12 megapixels, which makes use of pixel binning to mix 9 pixels into one.

Patrick Holland/CNET


One advantage of pixel binning is that it will possibly deliver out the particulars in a photograph. Notice the totally different textures and particulars.

Patrick Holland/CNET


I used single-take mode in the digicam app to seize images and movies of this cute little canine. Here’s certainly one of the photos my S21 Ultra selected.

Patrick Holland/CNET


There’s a lot for the S21 Ultra to seize appropriately right here: The barren tree branches, the water and the white fluffy clouds in the blue sky.

Patrick Holland/CNET


Here are three totally different images I took from the very same spot utilizing the broad 1x digicam (left), the 3x telephoto digicam (center) and the 10x telephoto digicam (proper).

Patrick Holland/CNET

In low mild, night time mode is excellent. Flaring on the lens is minimized and images look shiny with out a bunch of picture noise or noise-reduction smearing. Below are a number of night time mode images I took:


This was taken with night time mode and could be my favourite photograph of the bunch.

Patrick Holland/CNET


Here’s one other night time mode seize. I like how the S21 Ultra introduced the colours in the sculpture out.

Patrick Holland/CNET


You can use night time mode on any digicam. I took this shot with the ultrawide digicam in night time mode.

Patrick Holland/CNET

For selfies there’s the identical 40-megapixel digicam as the S20 Ultra. But you now have an choice to alter the shade tone to both shiny or pure which is great.


Here is a selfie I took with the pure setting.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Samsung additionally added the means to take uncooked 12-bit shade images. And there is a new video function referred to as Director’s View, which provides you a thumbnail preview of the video feeds coming from all of the cameras on the telephones. As you report, you possibly can change between them. Within Director’s View there is a vlogger setup that provides you a side-by-side video view or a stacked one if you happen to’re taking pictures vertically. This means you possibly can report your self with the selfie digicam and present what you are seeing or reacting to from any of the rear cameras.

On paper, Director’s View appeared like one thing I would strive as soon as however not likely use. But after a while utilizing it, I can positively see some folks being into this function. If there’s a draw back to Director’s View it is that the last video is saved in HD as an alternative of 4K or 8K. I’d like to see this thumbnail preview interface when recording an everyday 4K video.

I’m excited to pit the S21 Ultra and its cameras towards the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Google Pixel 5. Each phone takes a unique method to pictures and every will attraction to totally different folks.

S21 Ultra has a Snapdragon 888 chip and 12 or 16GB of RAM

Powering the S21 Ultra is the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, together with 12GB of RAM, or 16GB in the costliest mannequin with 512GB of storage (see the chart under for costs). In my benchmark checks, the S21 Ultra scored higher than final yr’s S20 Ultra. And in use, it dealt with all the things I threw at it, even enjoying Xbox Game Pass Ultimate video games on it.

Supplying juice to the phone is a 5,000-mAh battery. I’ve simply been averaging a day and a half on a single cost. That stated, I nonetheless have plenty of battery checks to place the S21 Ultra via. Please test again to this assessment for updates.


You can use the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate app to play Xbox video games in your S21 Ultra.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Below are the outcomes of my benchmark checks for the S21 Ultra.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited


Longer bars point out higher efficiency

Geekbench v.5.0 single-core


Longer bars point out higher efficiency

Geekbench v.5.0 multicore


Longer bars point out higher efficiency

Android 11 and 5G assist

The Galaxy S21 Ultra runs Android 11 with Samsung’s OneUI 3.1 prime layer. And I prefer it quite a bit. I can now default to Google Pay or Google Discover News feed, as an alternative of Samsung’s variations. The look for all the things from settings to pop-up home windows is clear and modern. And with a phone this large, OneUI helps make it simpler to make use of one-handed.

Last, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has 5G and helps each sub-6 and mmWave flavors of 5G. You should not get the Ultra for its 5G. But as 5G networks get higher, so will your 5G speeds and connection. And then we’ll actually have one thing to speak about.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra specs vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Samsung Galaxy Note 20
Display dimension, decision 6.8-inch AMOLED 2X, 3,200×1,440 pixels 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 6.9-inch; 3,088×1,440 pixels 6.7-inch; 2,400×1,080 pixels
Pixel density 515 ppi 511ppi 496ppi 393ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 2.97×6.5×0.35 in 2.99×6.57×0.35 in 6.49×3.04×0.31 in 6.36×2.96×0.33 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 75.6×165.1×8.9mm 76.0×166.9×8.8mm 164.8×77.2×8.1mm 161.6×75.2×8.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 8.07 oz; 229g 7.76 oz; 220g 7.33 oz, 208g 6.84 oz, 194g
Mobile software program Android 11 Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 10-megapixel (3x telephoto), 10-megapixel (10x telephoto) 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight digicam 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel (broad angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing digicam 40-megapixel 40-megapixel 10-megapixel 10-megapixel
Video seize 8K 8K 8K 8K
Processor Snapdragon 888 Snapdragon 865 Plus Snapdragon 865 Plus Snapdragon 865 Plus
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 512GB 128GB, 512GB 128GB
RAM 12GB, 16GB 12GB, 16GB 12GB 8GB
Expandable storage No Up to 1TB Up to 1TB No
Battery 5,000 mAh 5,000 mAh 4,500 mAh 4,300 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen In-screen
Headphone jack No No No No
Special options IP68 ranking, 5G-enabled, 100x Space Zoom, 10W wi-fi charging, 10x optical zoom 5G enabled; 120Hz refresh price; 100x zoom; water-proof (IP68) 120Hz display refresh price, 5x optical zoom, 120Hz show; UWB sharing, S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; water-proof (IP68) S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; water-proof (IP68)
Price off-contract (USD) $1,200 (128GB), $1,250 (256GB), $1,380 (512GB) $1,399 (128GB), $1,599 (512GB) $1,300 (128GB), $1,450 (512GB) $1,000
Price (GBP) £1,149 (128GB), £1,199 (256GB), £1,329 (512GB) £1,199 (128GB), £1,399 (512GB) £1,179 £849 (4G) and £949 (5G)
Price (AUD) AU$1,849 (128GB), AU$1,949 (256GB), AU$2,149 (512GB) AU$1,999 (128GB), AU$2,249 (512GB) AU$1,849 (4G) and $AU$1,999 (5G) AU$1,499 (4G) and AU$1,649 (5G)

First revealed Jan. 21.