We’ve been here before. Each time a Samsung flagship launches – that’s twice a year now with the Note and S series, it’s almost a given that it becomes the Android flagship to beat. There are the Note fans and those who swear by the S series flagship; a choice that usually boils down to the S-Pen. What’s changed over the past few years is the line-up. It’s no longer one device but it’s now three. This year Samsung launched the S21, S21+ and the S21 Ultra. The first two devices are aggressively priced especially at a time when cost: value equations have been redefined in a post-COVID world and customers across the world are tightening their purse strings. The Ultra is unabashedly flagship, a device that crosses the 1 lakh threshold and a device that rides heavily on its pro-grade cam.
Having used the Note 20 Ultra over the past few months, I’ve embraced Samsung’s new camera cut-out. You might see as a bump but for me, it’s more a case of ‘if you’ve got it; flaunt it’. The S21 Ultra further refines the rear camera model – it’s now a gorgeous contour-cut camera with cutting edge lenses. And then there’s the Phantom Black colour option. It had to happen, after flirting with blues, whites and purples, it’s good to rediscover the mystique of black in a whole new matte finish. Just like the Note 20 Ultra, this one repels smudges and fingerprints. But it’s still a tad slippery to grasp. You will get used it though; I’ve opted to use the device without a back cover and the Gorilla Glass (Victus in front) is reassuring. Although it weighs over 220 gm, this one doesn’t feel as clunky as other large-screen devices.
I’ve been smitten by Samsung Galaxy S displays ever since I reviewed the first Galaxy S device more than a decade ago. The S21 Ultra is another stellar display with a variable refresh rate (up to 120Hz). Colours and details are incredible on the 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x display (1440 x 3200 pixels / 20:9 aspect ratio / 515 PPI). I watched a whole episode of Our Planet on Netflix and was blown away with the colours. We’re relieved to see Samsung allow you to catch videos on QHD resolution with a 120Hz refresh rate, unlike its predecessor. This is great for gameplay where you can enjoy smooth scrolling.
The rear cam is one of the device’s headline features – It’s easily one of the formidable you can buy in India right now. There’s a 108MP primary lens but it’s the dual telephoto lenses – with 3X and 10X optical zoom that combine to create a whole new set of possibilities. The 100x Space Zoom is less gimmicky this time with a new Zoom lock feature that ensures the camera is not shaky at 100X. Lowlight images were terrific in our tests and the camera’s video capture capabilities have been further enhanced. The Ultra deserves your attention for the rear cam alone. The 40MP selfie cam comes with some cool new tricks too; I enjoyed testing the new Portrait modes.
There are no surprises on the hardware front. This device is fully loaded. It’s powered by Samsung’s all-new Exynos 2100 processor. Our review unit featured 12GB of RAM and 256GB of internal memory (there’s also a 16GB/512GB variant); it blazed through our tests. The other impressive feature was battery performance – the Ultra features a 5000 mAh under the hood. It comfortably lasted through a day with intensive camera usage and screen time. While the heavy-duty hardware is a given, Samsung makes some big changes in the box as part of its environmental initiatives. There’s no charger brick, no headphones. We saw this with the iPhone 12 series and now Samsung joins the same party. While this is likely to turn off consumers in the short run, we will eventually get used to it.
The other big change is the omission of expandable storage. You can’t add those Micro SD cards anymore to store videos. The Ultra also becomes the first S series device to offer S-Pen support. It’s not like the Note where the S-Pen slides into the phone. I tried it out with two different S-Pens (from the Note 20 Ultra and the Tab S7+) and it works really well. But you’ll have to either buy the S-Pen separately or with a silicon case that also houses the S-Pen. I’m more excited at the prospect of third-party accessories – other brands jumping into the fray with compatible S-Pen clones.
The S21 Ultra irons out some of the kinks from last year’s S20 Ultra. It feels good in your hand despite its heft and is the smartphone display to beat. While die-hard Samsung fans will miss the lack of expandable storage, the versatile rear cam and robust battery more than makes up.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is clearly the new king of Planet Android.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G starts at Rs 1,05,999 and is available in Phantom Black and Phantom Silver