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Samsung S21 Ultra 5G Smartphone Review

Is the Samsung S21 Ultra 5G the ultimate camera phone? With quad camera and up to 10x optical zoom, 8K video recording, and 40mp selfie camera, can it delivery the goods? Find out in our full review.


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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
 

Quick Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G offers not only a 3x telephoto lens, but also a 10x telephoto lens. As long as you don't use the additional digital zoom, then results can be very good. It has a great 12mp ultra-wide camera, and an excellent 12/108mp main wide-angle camera. Images can look a little over-saturated on the phone's screen, but look good when viewed on a computer, and have a slight lean towards warm (rather than cool) colour reproduction, which will be preferred by many. We were impressed by the results, and apart from the Night mode which can have some issues, we'd say that the S21 Ultra produces some of the best looking photos we've seen on a smartphone. The added 10x telephoto zoom is the added icing on the cake.

One thing to be aware of, is the price, which is definitely high, and you'll most likely need to buy the more expensive version with 256/512GB storage if you want to record 8K/4K video, as there is no MicroSD slot, so no cheap way to expand your memory when you end up filling up the phone. If you do use the smartphone for video, then the Director's view, as well as the ability to record 4K 60fps video with any of the cameras, makes the S21 Ultra a great choice.

+ Pros

  • New 10x telephoto camera
  • Consistant results from all cameras
  • Excellent colour
  • Excellent range of cameras
  • Speedy performance and snappy responses

- Cons

  • No MicroSD memory card slot
  • Night mode images can have issues
  • High price
 

 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (1)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is currently Samsung's top of the range premium smartphone, and offers some of the highest specification cameras we've seen yet on a smartphone, with an ultra-wide camera, a 108mp wide-angle camera, a 3x telephoto, and a 10x telephoto camera, as well as 8K video recording and 40mp selfie camera! Is it worth the premium pricetag that goes with it? Find out in our review.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Features

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (3)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is Samsung's flagship smartphone, in their range of premium S21 smartphones, with the S21 and S21+ also available. However, the S21 Ultra has the largest screen, the biggest battery, with more cameras, and higher specification cameras as well. It's also compatible with the S Pen from the Samsung Galaxy Note range.

Cameras included on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G:

  • 108mp wide-angle, PDAF, OIS, f/1.8
  • 12mp ultra-wide-angle, f/2.2
  • 10mp telephoto (3x), f/2.4
  • 10mp telephoto (10x), f/4.9
  • 40mp selfie camera, with PDAF, f/2.2
    *PDAF = Phase detection auto focus.

The main 108mp camera features a larger than normal 1/1.33inch sensor, with 0.8micron pixel size, however, the default is for the camera to shoot in 12mp mode, using 9 pixels combined, giving an effective 2.4micron pixel size.

Almost all of the cameras include optical image stabilisation (OIS), excluding the front selfie camera, and the ultra-wide-angle camera.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (8)

 

The new S21 Ultra features a 3x telephoto camera, as well as a 10x telephoto camera, so now, Samsung's offering of a 100x zoom, is using 10x digital.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra features a 4x optical zoom camera and Samsung used this to offer a 100x "Space Zoom" - this uses digital zoom, and as you can guess, the results were not particularly impressive. The new S21 Ultra features a 3x telephoto camera, as well as a 10x telephoto camera, so now, Samsung's offering of a 100x zoom, is using 10x digital, rather than the ridiculous 25x digital on the S20, so results should be improved. You also have the option of 30x zoom, and this is using 3x digital zoom on top of the 10x.

 

Camera and Photo Shooting Features

There are a number of intelligent shooting features built-in - Intelligent features

  • Scene Optimizer
  • Shot suggestions
  • Scan QR codes

Scene optimizer is an automatic scene recognition feature, and has 30 different modes, such as Food, People, Sunset, Sunrise etc. This can easilly be turned on or off depending on whether you like the changes the camera makes.

There are a variety of shooting modes available including Single Take, Photo, Video, Pro, Panorama, Food, Night, Portrait, Portrait Video, Pro Video, Super Slow-mo, Slow motion, Hyperlapse, and Director's View. Of these Single Take is quickly worth mentioning, introduced with the S20 Ultra, it gives you a number of different results and effects from one photo.

There's also Blink and Blur detection, and the camera will also detect if you need to clean your lens, popping up an alert if that's the case. Raw shooting is supported, and the Pro mode gives you full manual controls.

 

Video recording features

The S21 Ultra offers up to 8K 24fps video recording, and from this you can select a frame to create a 33 megapixel image! For most people 8K video will be a nice to have, rather than a necessary feature, and instead you may want to record 4K video, which is available at speeds up to 60fps. There's also Portrait video, which adds bokeh effect to video recordings.

Super slow-mo records at up to 960fps at 720p resolution, and you can record slow motion video at 240fps and 1080p resolution. Video recording includes a "Super Steady" feature, that uses the ultra-wide-angle camera (check) and uses a crop to enable a high level of digital stabilisation. This is at 1080p and 60fps.

There's also Hyperlapse 4K video support. HDR10+ video recording uses the rear camera (and is currently in beta). Director's view is new, and lets you record from both the selfie camera, and the rear camera.

 

The mobile phone has all of the things you'd expect from a premium flagship smartphone including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, a large battery (5000mAh rating), in-screen fingerprint sensor, face recognition unlock, plus plenty of ram and storage, with 12GB of ram, with 128/256GB storage options or even more available with the 16GB ram and 512GB storage option. The S21 Ultra also supports the S-Pen from the Note series, although this is an optional extra.

There are two colour options for the S21 Ultra 5G including Phantom Black or Phantom Silver which is the colour we have, and as you'll see in the photos, the colour changes depending on the angle and light levels. There are an additional three colour options if you buy direct from Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (12)
 

Key Features

  • Rear Cameras
    • 108mp f/1.8 main wide-angle camera with OIS, 24mm equiv.
    • 12mp f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle camera, 13mm equiv.
    • 10mp 3x (72mm equivalent) f/2.4 telephoto camera, OIS
    • 10mp 10x (240mm equivalent) f/4.9 telephoto camera, OIS
  • Front camera: 40mp f/2.2 camera with PDAF, 26mm equivalent.
  • 6.8inch, 3200x1440, Quad HD+, HDR10+, 120hz, AMOLED
  • LED flash
  • Pro video / photo modes
  • 8K 24fps, 4K 60fps video recording
  • ISO50 to ISO3200 available in Pro mode
  • Auto HDR / Scene recognition, Panoramic shooting
  • IP68 water resistance (1.5m freshwater upto 30min)
  • In-screen fingerprint reader, face recognition
  • 12/16GB RAM options, 128/256/512GB storage options
  • Stereo speakers built-in
  • 5000mAh battery rating

 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Handling

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (16)

The first thing you notice about the S21 Ultra 5G is the large camera block, which makes the phone seem much larger and thicker than other smartphones. The cameras are now much more prominant, and with a fresh design, the cameras actually look larger than the S20 Ultra, thanks to larger front elements. The camera feels good in the hand, with a stylish matt finish on the back that we're a fan of, and solid metal sides that feel solid and well made.

The screen is slightly smaller than the screen on the S20, and the smartphone is slightly shorter, but with a thicker body and camera unit, the S21 feels larger, and the S20 does a much better job of pretending to be a slim phone. There's not much in it really, and you'll soon get used to the size of the phone. A case is highly recommended, as smartphones are pretty good at breaking without one, and this could make the smartphone feel perhaps too big for some.

Buttons and ports are where you expect them to be with power/volume controls on the right and the USB-C port on the bottom alongside a speaker, and SIM tray. The phone doesn't feature a MicroSD card slot, so if you need more space you'll need to move content off the phone, or you could go for the larger storage options. There's also no headphone jack so you're going to need an adapter or wireless headphones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (13)

The manual Pro mode gives you excellent control over the ultra-wide and wide-angle cameras, with options to set the ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus, white balance, and you can also adjust the contrast, highlight, shadow, saturation and tint.

The Samsung S21 Ultra 5G has a clear camera system, making it easy to change between the different shooting modes, and the only real usability issue could be that the amount of options and shooting modes available could be a little overwhelming for the beginner. Once you get used to the different options and modes available, you'll be glad to have so many available, and the icons are clear and easy to understand. If you've used another Samsung smartphone, then it should be easy enough to pick up.

There's a big line-up of modes including Single Take, Photo, Video, Pro, Panorama, Food, Night, Portrait, Portrait Video, Pro Video, Super Slow-mo, Slow motion, Hyperlapse, and Director's View. Thee 'Single Take' mode is a bit like burst mode as it uses AI to capture content for up to 10 seconds which is then processed and saved in various formats.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (15)

The 6.8inch screen looks great, and with a refresh rate up to 120Hz will be great for gaming as well as scrolling. Due to the size of the screen it can be a little tricky to use the phone with one hand, although this will of-course depend on how big your hands are. For most people, it'll be best to use the phone with two hands, and when taking photos, this should help you get sharper blur free photos.

Geekbench 5 scores are 1088 (single core) and 3360 (multi-core), an improvement over the S20 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (2)

Battery life - The phone has ample battery life, with a 5000mAh battery rating. The phone supports fast charging, however, no charger is included in the box, so to take advantage of fast charging you'll need to purchase a compatible fast charger. A 25W charger is available from Samsung from £17/25 depending on model. If you're going to be away from a power source, we'd recommend getting yourself a portable power bank just in case. 


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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Smartphone SIM Free Android Mobile Phone Phantom Silver 256GB
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