Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review

GSMArena Team, 25 January 2021.


This year, the Galaxy S21 series came earlier than expected, and it brought a slew of changes. The Galaxy S21 and S21+ now feature lower-res OLEDs, no microSD expansion, and no chargers in the box. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is what the original Ultra should have been - jam-packed with high-end features, no asterisks, no fine print. Still no charger, though.

The original S20 Ultra was supposed to be the greatest Galaxy to date, but it fell short of that. You could enjoy a 120Hz refresh rate, but only at a lower 1080p resolution. The telephoto camera was advertised as 5x, but it was, in fact, 4x, and let's not even start with the Space Zoom. The ultrawide camera had a great sensor, but it couldn't do macro shots due to the lack of autofocus. The battery was large, but battery life was poor. You get the point.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

Well, the Galaxy S21 Ultra makes up for everything. It has a large 1440p screen with native 120Hz support, adaptive at that. It also brings two dedicated telephoto snappers - one for 3x and another one for 10x optical zoom. Its ultrawide camera does feature autofocus, which works for macro shots. The new Ultra also offers ultrawide-band support, and surprise, surprise, S-Pen support as well. This has to be the first non-Note Galaxy phone to offer that - one for the history books.

There is no S-Pen socket on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and neither is there a bundled stylus. But you can use any S-Pen that's been in circulation, as well as the newly announced S-Pen for S21 Ultra and the upcoming S-Pen Pro. Samsung has also opened the S-Pen to third-party companies that make Wacom-based styluses, so you can expect even more options in the upcoming months. Finally, you can store the stylus in your pocket or opt for some S21 Ultra cases with dedicated pen holders.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the only S21 model to come with a 1440p OLED screen, unlike the previous generation. And even better, it now supports 120Hz at that high resolution, so you don't need to choose between high res and high refresh rate. This new Ultra screen also supports Adaptive Refresh Rate that can vary between 10Hz and 120Hz, just like the Note20 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

The latest Galaxy bears the latest chipset, of course. All international models use the new Exynos 2100 SoC by Samsung (like the one we are reviewing), while the USA and China will be getting devices running on the Snapdragon 888 instead. The RAM has been bumped to 12GB, and there is a limited 16GB model, too.

The camera has seen a welcome upgrade. The wide snappers remain relatively the same - a 108MP shooter with f/1.8 26mm lens and a 12MP cam with f/2.2 13mm optics, but now it features autofocus. The zoom system has been completely revamped, though - it now features two 10MP imagers, one for 3x optical zoom and another for 10x optical zoom via a 240mm periscopic lens.

Other flagship tidbits worth mentioning - a 40MP selfie eye with AF, stereo speakers, Wi-Fi 6e, 5G connectivity, ultrawide-band support short-range communication, fast wired and wireless charging for the large 5,000mAh battery.

This year isn't off to a good start for the fans of the rich retail bundles, though. Like Apple and Xiaomi, Samsung has removed the chargers and headphones from the retail boxes and ships each Galaxy S21 only with a cable.

Let's take a deep dive in the specs now.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G specs at a glance:

  • Body: 165.1x75.6x8.9mm, 227g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), aluminum frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins), Stylus support.
  • Display: 6.80" Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1500 nits (peak), 1440x3200px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 515ppi; Always-on display.
  • Chipset (International): Exynos 2100: Octa-core (1x2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3x2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4x2.2 GHz Cortex-A55); Mali-G78 MP14
  • Chipset (USA/China): Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 (5 nm): Octa-core (1x2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3x2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4x1.80 GHz Kryo 680; Adreno 660.
  • Memory: 128GB 12GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM, 512GB 16GB RAM; UFS 3.1.
  • OS/Software: Android 11, One UI 3.1.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 108 MP, f/1.8, 24mm, 1/1.33", 0.8µm, PDAF, Laser AF, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 1/2.55", 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, Super Steady video; Telephoto: 10 MP, f/2.4, 70mm, 1/3.24", 1.22µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom; Telephoto: 10 MP, f/4.9, 240mm, 1/3.24", 1.22µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS, 10x optical zoom.
  • Front camera: 40 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.8", 0.7µm, PDAF.
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 8K@24fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30fps.
  • Battery: 5000mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging 4.5W.
  • Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, ultrasonic); Stereo speakers; NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent); Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), ANT+, Bixby natural language commands and dictation, Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified), Ultra Wideband (UWB) support.

The Note10 was the one to retire the 3.5mm jack, and now the Galaxy S21 is retiring the microSD slot. Samsung makes up for that with a minor price difference between the 128GB and the 256GB models - just €50. It's up to you to decide whether this compensation is enough, though.

There are some omissions, too, this time - inside the retail box.

Unboxing the Galaxy S21 Ultra

Well, well, well, how the tables have turned?! It was just last October when Samsung mocked Apple for not including chargers with the latest iPhones. And a mere two months later, Samsung was caught scrubbing these jabs off the internet in preparation for the launch of its own charger-less flagship.

It's not the first time Samsung had done this, is it? We still remember how the audio jack mockeries disappeared overnight, foreshadowing the jack-less Galaxy Note 10.

So, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Samsung phone to come without a charger or headphones. The maker joins Apple and Xiaomi in a quest to make the planet cleaner, and this ought to make a positive impact eventually. It just requires one small sacrifice from you, the user - you need to buy a USB-C charger if you don't own one and keep it for the long haul.

The thin Galaxy S21 Ultra box contains a USB-C-to-C cable and the phone. That's it.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

The Galaxy S21 pre-orders do include various freebies such as a 25W charger, Galaxy Buds, and even a SmartTag, so you aren't without options. Samsung switched to USB-C chargers since the Note10 and S20 generations, so the chance of you having one isn't that big, and it's a good thing you can now grab it for free.

Our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also came with one very thin protector, almost invisible in fact, applied in the factory. It's plastic and will be good only against scratches, but it's still better than nothing.

Reader comments

  • Amit
  • 26 Feb 2024
  • s8f

Please try changing your csc using Samfw tool and see if it works. I recently got a new S21 ultra cause it was cheap but it was not getting any updates, changing the csc to xas did the trick. P.S - Mine is a US variant.

  • Anonymous
  • 25 Feb 2024
  • xpf

This phone is one of the boest of all time. Everything is awsome but mine is still android 12 . Does anyone has this problem and how can i recieve updates

  • Daniel
  • 07 Feb 2024
  • KLU

Why? I'm considering buy used S21 Ultra as secondary android phone. Is today midrange like redmi note 13 pro better? spec wise it's doesn't looks like that or is this processor things with 7s gen 2 performance and stabili...