Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Smartphone: A Hands-On Review

Samsung's powerful new Galaxy S21 Ultra boasts impressive cameras, 8K video, Quad HD display, Snapdragon 888 processing power and sleek style.
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Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra—the most powerful of the three new Galaxy S phones—is an absolute monster on every front. From a powerful camera array to a best-in-class display, the S21 Ultra is on the bleeding edge of phone tech right now.

In terms of form, the S21 Ultra is a large phone. Similar to the iPhone 12 Pro Max, it feels big in the hand and maximizes that size by slightly curving the screen edges but when the phone houses a 6.8” display AND a six-sensor rear camera array, a form like this is a necessity. Size is hardly a problem here as Samsung has opted for a similarly tall, thin style for the past few years and returning users will feel right at home. 

Obviously the camera array is the primary feature when considering buying the S21 Ultra. While the front-facing selfie camera boasts a 40mp sensor, it’s the rear, six-sensor, 108mp array that’s the star of the show. Specs like that enable impressive photographic and video capture abilities: 8K video, optical zoom of both 3x and 10x, impressive image stabilization. 

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All these features come together to create the most impressive phone hardware for creatives so far. The camera software is no slouch either, numerous shooting modes abound to make sure pictures and video are captured perfectly no matter what the circumstance. 

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In an effort to solidify the S21 Ultra’s creative possibilities, Samsung has enabled their smart stylus to work with it, a first for the Galaxy S line that was typically reserved for the Note series only. Unlike the Note series though, the S21 Ultra does not actually come with a stylus—it has to be purchased separately—nor does it house the stylus within its frame like the Note. 

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The average user probably won’t be deterred by this as the phone’s Quad HD screen, toting a 120hz refresh rate, is a pleasure to work on, stylus or not. It’s nice to have the option.

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Aside from the cameras, the S21 Ultra’s screen is definitely its claim to fame. People lamented the recent slate of iPhone 12 options for missing the 120hz refresh feature and Samsung is always quick to fill in the cracks that Apple leaves behind

For the better: That means S21 Ultra users will get a super smooth, super clear, high-res display. For the worse: That means a phone with no charger in the box and no expandable storage slots.

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Another point of comparison between the new iPhones and the S21 Ultra is the inclusion of a larger fingerprint scanner. FaceID may have previously felt like the top tech to have in terms of security unlocks for phones but with the world masked up, Samsung’s choice to never abandon fingerprint security  (facial recognition is still an option too) has made it the more convenient of the two standards given the current circumstances.

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With a lightning quick Snapdragon 888 processor and at least 12 gigs of RAM under the hood, Samsung has built the S21 Ultra to fully utilize all of the phone’s features no matter what it’s doing. Shooting 8K video, playing graphics-heavy games, editing images and everything in-between is possible and the phone still manages to have rock-solid battery life that’ll take it through an entire workday and then some. 

Starting at $1199, offering HDD storage of 128, 256 or 512GB and coming in either phantom black or phantom silver, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is available now. If having the absolute top of the line Android phone is a must, this is the end-all, be-all of Android in 2021. 

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