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The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Defies Expectations

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung’s flagship, tentpole smartphone model of 2021. Considered the beefiest version of the already impressive S21 range – which itself already presents a leap from last year’s solid offering – the S21 Ultra is akin to the Xbox Series X to the Series S of the ‘standard’ S21 variation. It’s huge, comes with all the high-end specs one expects from a flagship device under the hood and befittingly, costs a bomb.

After all, you get what you paid for, right? Nope. You get much, much more.

Style And Substance

Unlike the past where black Samsung phones carried a glossy sheen, the texture on the S21 Ultra is matte. Sure it looks great and all but does take a bit of getting used to.

Users with butterfingers beware, however. Due to the uneven feel of the phone, the screen portion has more “grip” than its back, thus you may disastrously mishandle and lose grip of the device easily. I can’t emphasize enough how it takes a while to get used to the heft and feel of the phone straight out of the box.

Although I dig the updated silhouette, the redesigned camera bump which houses the four rear cameras prevents the phone from laying fully flush on its back. You’d also be wise to invest in a protective case and screen protector, as while the phone does come with those top-end materials especially on the screen department, a rogue grain of sand is all it takes to scuff it.

Still, the S21 Ultra feels ultra-premium all around. It is also worth pointing out that the phone also comes in Phantom Silver. Samsung site-exclusive colours include Phantom Titanium, Navy and Brown.

With a body made of mostly aluminum and glass, the S21 Ultra is a hefty phone. Weighing at 227 grams, this smartphone isn’t exactly what I would classify as light. Samsung really should have added a belt in the box. The S21 Ultra will weigh your pants down.

Security-wise, the phone has an in-screen thumbprint scanner to go along with the face unlock feature. Samsung claims that this year’s phone has a larger and faster sensor compared to last year’s model. Since I missed out on trying it, I’ll just have to take Samsung’s word for it. But from my experience throughout this review, the fingerprint sensor is responsive as it could ever be.

Spectacular Scenes and Sound

The Samsung S21 Ultra comes with a huge display size of 6.8 inches of Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen and a high 120Hz refresh rate. It sports almost nonexistent forehead and chin areas which somewhat hurts its ability to comfortably play games on when tilted. Don’t read me wrong here; the phone is lightning fast in loading games and presents zero stutters. But the overall design makes it hard to handle on landscape mode. This is exacerbated when playing shooter games such as Call of Duty Mobile and PUBG Mobile where I am forced to scrunch up my fingers to find that balance of keeping the phone stable and navigating the on-screen buttons.

Then again, I have to be realistic as the S21 Ultra is a top-shelf, luxury-level smartphone – like those sporty Aston Martin cars. Sure they’ll smoke other vehicles on the road but aren’t the sort you’d bring over for track days. If you get my drift.

Needless to say, I had a blast with the crisp images moreover when utilizing the phone for Netflix binges, YouTube videos on the go or when the mood suits me, remote play sessions via the Xbox app thanks to the super clear front-facing stereo speakers. Pumping out even and crisp audio puts the S21 Ultra among the best devices currently in the market to enjoy your streaming services sans a headset.

The S21’s screen is obviously no slouch as well. It’s ultra-bright, ultra-responsive and is a joy to look at. However, I did come across issues of the phone overheating over prolonged use. This could be simply due to a software issue and is easily remedied via an update.

The S21 Ultra has a USB-C port for charging, but does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, following the trend of modern smartphones. Gone also is the storage expansion slot which may pose a problem for those who tend to cram their devices with 4k videos and high-resolution photographs. Speaking of photos, the S21 Ultra is equipped with four cameras;

  • 40MP Selfie Camera;
  • 12MP Ultra Wide Camera
  • 108MP Wide-angle Camera; and
  • Two 10MP Telephoto Cameras

Check out the slideshow below for photos taken on the Samsung S21 Ultra:

As you’d quickly notice, I’m not the best phone photographer out there. And yet, these shots turned out great. Regardless of your skill level, the S21 Ultra will improve it. The bad to decent, and the pretty OK to respectable, wallpaper-worthy shots.

Being a collector of 1/6th scale action figures, I had tons of fun fiddling with the camera settings to capture that one perfect shot that showcases those intricate details of my newly acquired figurines. Though it’s just not for me; my significant other and I had fun testing the macro shot feature on other items as well.

While we doubt we’d have tons of practical uses for this apart from artsy Instagram posts, it is indeed a cool party trick. The wide-angle shots just work, although the 100x zoom lose its novelty really quick. In a way, this justifies the phone’s purchase with your significant other; its camera can be used by all.

Enthusiasts would love the micro-adjustments they are able to make with the phone while casuals can simply switch between specific modes – or just stick on auto. Either way, the phone leaves very little room for error and dare I say it here – any imperfect, out-of-focus and poorly lit photographs that may come out of this phone camera are either deliberate or in most cases, user-induced.

I do have a minor gripe in regards to how the camera processes the images taken. Under optimal lighting, I find the photos taken on the S21 Ultra to be slightly oversaturated for my liking. The colours pop out a bit too much which isn’t really my cup of tea as I’ve always preferred the more natural tones when it comes to our photos.

Then again, if high contrast, vibrant photographs are your jam, you will not be disappointed with the S21 Ultra’s camera.

The humongous battery that comes with the phones is definitely something I won’t be complaining about, as I am able to eke out close to two full days of continued normal use. This is two days of the standard fare; social media, texting, occasional random photography and music listening whilst alternating between Wi-Fi and cellular network. Your mileage may vary but I’m sure you’ll have to be one super hardcore phone user to even get the battery down to 30% by the first day’s end.

To Sum It Up

In all, the Samsung S21 Ultra is easily one of if not (depending on your bias) the best phones one could get in today’s market. It ticks all the boxes a premium, flagship model should and more.

Is this the answer to Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max? Undoubtedly. The 21 Ultra blows it out of the water. Whilst the price may set a considerable dent in one’s wallet, it is all worth it.

Final Score: 90/100

Vital Statistics

Platform: Android 11 OS, One UI 3.1
Body: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm (6.5 x 2.98 x 0.35 in), 227g
Frame: Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), aluminum frame with IP68 dust/water resistance
Chipset: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm)
CPU: Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680)
GPU: Adreno 660
Display: Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1500 nits; 6.8 inches, 112.1 cm2
Memory (Internal): 128GB 12GB RAM/ 256GB 12GB RAM/ 512GB 16GB RAM UFS 3.1
Main Camera: 108 MP, f/1.8, 24mm (wide); 10 MP, f/4.9, 240mm (periscope telephoto); 10 MP, f/2.4, 70mm (telephoto); 3x optical zoom 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm (ultrawide),
Sound: Stereo speakers, no jacks given
Battery: Li-Ion 5000 mAh, non-removable
Price: Starts from RM 4,549.00 (128GB)

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