The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is here, and it's designed to deliver the best of the best from Samsung. And it does stand out from the regular Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus in several ways to earn its Ultra name. This includes dual telephoto lenses for serious zooming; support for the S Pen (a first for Galaxy S phones); and a bigger, brighter and more dynamic 120Hz OLED display.
Display: 6.8 inches AMOLED (3200 x 1400); 10 to 120Hz
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB, 16GB
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear cameras: 108MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra wide (f/2.2), 10MP telephoto (3x zoom, f/2.4), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom, f/4.9), laser AF sensor
Front camera: 40MP (f/2.2)
Video: 8K 30 fps/4K 60 fps
Battery: 5,000 mAh
Wireless: 5G, Wi-Fi 6E, UWB
Size: 6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches
Weight: 8.08 ounces
The best part about the S21 Ultra is that the price is more sane this time around, as it starts at $1,199 (compared to $1,399 for last year's Galaxy S20 Ultra). And the new Ultra comes in a sleeker design and faster performance from Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 chip.
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The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does make some trade-offs. You won't find a charger in the box, and there's no microSD card slot for expanding the storage. But overall the S21 Ultra looks like the most versatile Galaxy phone yet and a serious challenger to the iPhone 12 Pro Max for the title of best phone.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra release date and price
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is available for pre-order starting January 14 at 11 a.m. ET. The release date for the Galaxy S21 Ultra is January 29. You'll be able to buy carrier and unlocked versions of the phone.
The Ultra starts at $1,199 and includes 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. You can also upgrade to 256GB of storage and to a model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. The 256GB model costs $1,249 — basically an extra $50 — while you'll pay $1,379 for a Galaxy S21 Ultra with 512GB of storage.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra design and colors
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a camera bump, but it doesn't jut out from the design as much as it did with the S20 Ultra. A new contour cut design better integrates the bump with the glass back and metal frame around the side.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra colors are limited if you're buying through a carrier, with just Phantom Silver and Phantom Black as your options. But the matte look does come across as sophisticated and should resist fingerprints. Samsung.com will offer exclusive S21 Ultra colors, including Phantom Navy, Phantom Titanium and Phantom Brown.
One welcome design upgrade is that the in-screen fingerprint sensor is now 1.7x larger, so it should be a bit easier to unlock this device. This is especially handy now that many of us are still wearing masks.
Measuring 6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches (165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm) and weighing 8.08 ounces (229 grams), the S21 Ultra is wider and heavier than the S20 Ultra (6.6 x 2.7 x 0.34 inches, 7.7 ounces). So this will definitely be a phone you'll want to use with two hands.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra display
The 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display on the Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn't make you choose between sharp QHD resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate like its predecessor. This phone lets you do both at the same time, so you can enjoy smooth scrolling and gameplay without having to drop down the pixels.
The refresh rate scales all the way down to 10Hz (compared to 48Hz on the S21 and S21 Plus), which should help save on battery life. Plus, the S21 Ultra is designed to get super bright outdoors, going all the way up to 1,500 nits. The S20 Ultra maxed out at 1,200 nits.
Samsung says the S21 Ultra has a 3 million: 1 contrast ratio, which is 50% higher than the S20 Ultra. And there's an Eye Comfort Shield feature that's designed to reduce eye fatigue by limiting blue light.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra cameras
It's the cameras where the Galaxy S21 Ultra stands out the most against the S21 and S21 Plus. There's a main 108MP wide sensor and 12MP ultra-wide camera, which is complemented by a laser auto focus sensor.
The 108MP main camera can capture 12-bit HDR photos with 64 times richer color data and more than three times the dynamic range of the S20 Ultra. Plus, there's a 12-bit RAW file option in Pro mode.
But the headline camera feature is the Ultra's two telephoto lenses — one with 3x zoom and one with 10x optical zoom. The S20 Ultra had just a 4x optical zoom.
It gets better. While the 100x Space Zoom has returned with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, it's not as shaky as before. That's because there's a new Zoom lock feature that identifies your subject to keep it steadier in the frame.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra should perform better than the S21 and S21 Plus in low light, thanks to a faster Bright Night sensor and 12MP nona-binning technology for reducing noise reduction.
On the video front, the Galaxy S21 Ultra can record 8K video up to 30 fps and all of its cameras can capture 4K video at up to 60 fps. But the coolest video upgrade is Director's View. There's a new vlogger mode that lets you use the front and back cameras as the same time for recording video. And you can see live thumbnails of each camera while you're recording video, so you can make a quick call if you want to switch.
Another software upgrade is Single Take 2.0. Just like before, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is smart enough to capture several images and videos at once for easy sharing. But the AI can now analyze more frames per second for locating the best-looking shots while also creating a Dynamic Slow Mo clip.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra S Pen
For the first time ever, a Galaxy S device supports the S Pen, the S21 Ultra makes that happen with a Wacom digitizer built into the display. The S Pen, which is optional, lets you draw, sketch and take notes, just as you can on the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra. It also comes in handy for quickly signing documents.
Just keep in mind that the S Pen is sold separately — it costs $40 — and you'll need to spring for a compatible case if you want to store the stylus on the go when it's not in use. There are two case options with S Pen support, and both cost $69.99.
In addition to the S Pen — which is actually a slightly larger version of the one that ships with the Galaxy Note to improve its grip — Samsung is developing a second stylus. The S Pen Pro ships later this year for an undisclosed price. It's larger overall and offer Bluetooth connectivity.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: 5G, Wi-Fi 6E and UWB
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra supports all of the latest wireless standards, starting with 5G. The Qualcomm X60 modem inside this device is capable of carrier aggregation, which should result in higher peak speeds while delivering better power efficiency.
In addition, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the first phones to support Wi-Fi 6E, a new standard that delivers faster speeds and more overall bandwidth when you have a compatible Wi-Fi 6E router.
Lastly, the S21 Ultra has UWB (ultra-wideband), which makes it easier to share files with other UWB devices, like the Galaxy S21 Plus. And you'll be able to use this phone as a digital key for select 2022 cars.
Galaxy S21 Ultra software and Galaxy SmartTags
If you're constantly losing stuff — like me — you'll want to check out Samsung's new Galaxy SmartTags. You can use this tag in combination with the SmartThings Find app to track down everything from your keys to your bag. You can also use the SmartThings Find app to locate other Samsung devices, including phones, smartwatches, tablets and earbuds.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra battery and charging
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has the same size 5,000 mAh battery as the S20 Ultra, but this phone should last longer on a charge. The 5nm processor inside this handset is more efficient, and Samsung says that it's leveraging AI to analyze usage patterns to reduce power consumption. We'll see how well the S21 Ultra performs on our battery test and if it can crack our best phone battery life list.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra supports a fast 25W charger
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra outlook
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has all the makings of becoming the best Android phone around, at least for those willing to pay a premium. And it's good to see that Samsung has dropped the price by $200 this time around. The biggest reasons to be excited about this phone are the dual zoom cameras and S Pen support, and power users will appreciate that you can get 120Hz and full quad HD resolution at the same time.
However, It's a bummer that Samsung doesn't include a charger in the box, and that you can't expand the storage. And while the more powerful zoom is welcome and Zoom Lock feature, I'm more interested to see how well the S21 Ultra stands up to the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Google Pixel 5 in terms of image quality. Stay tuned for our full review.