Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra is finally here after months of rumors and leaks. While we know quite a bit about the phone already, there were still a few surprises to be had. Perhaps the biggest change isn't the phone's hardware or software, but the pricing; the S21 Ultra is set to receive a $200 price drop to $1,199.
Despite that move, the hardware still looks to improve on last year's Galaxy S20 Ultra with some advancements to the camera and the display, both of which should make it one of the standout flagships of 2021. Here's a look at everything there is to know about the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra price and availability
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is available for pre-order at Samsung.com starting today at 11 a.m. ET and will be widely available starting on January 29.
The base model starts at $1,199 with 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage and will be available in either Phantom Silver or Phantom Black. Buyers can also opt for a 256GB model with 12GB of RAM or 512GB of storage with 16GB of RAM, but these options are only available on the Phantom Black finish. Exclusively at Samsung.com are Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown color options.
Pre-orders made between January 14 and January 28 will receive a $200 Samsung Credit for use on Samsung.com and a free Galaxy SmartTag.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra specs
|Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra|
|Display (resolution, refresh rate)||6.8 inches, 3200 x 1440-pixels (515 ppi); 120Hz Adaptive Dynamic AMOLED 2X|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|RAM||12GB or 16GB|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB or 512GB|
|Rear Cameras||Quad camera; 108MP, f/1.8 main; 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide; 10MP 3x telephoto f/2.4; 10MP 10x telephoto f/4.9|
|Front camera||40MP, f/2.2|
|Video capture||Up to 8K at 24 fps; 4K at 60fps|
|Battery capacity||5000 mAh (25W charging)|
|Colors||Phantom Silver, Phantom Black, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy or Phantom Brown|
|Size||6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches|
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra design
The Galaxy S21 Ultra isn't a massive departure from last year's Galaxy S20 Ultra when it comes to design, with the exception of the camera array on the back, which Samsung is calling its "Contour Cut Camera housing." Rather than a prominent rectangular bump on the back of the phone, it now smoothly meets the top and edge of the device.
While this may seem like a small change, it makes for a much more polished and distinct look. This should make the Galaxy S21 Ultra both more comfortable in daily use and it should make it identifiable at a glance against other Android smartphones.
At 6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches the Galaxy S21 Ultra is virtually identical to its predecessor in terms of its dimensions, although it is slightly heavier at 8.07 ounces compared to last year's 7.76 ounces.
We covered the color options already, but one thing to note is that they all have a matte finish applied, which gives it a much more premium look and some reprieve from fingerprints.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra display
While Samsung has slightly reduced the size of the Galaxy S21 Ultra display to 6.8-inches from 6.9 inches, it retains the same WQHD+ resolution (3200 x 1440-pixels) and it otherwise improved the display in a number of critical areas.
The most notable is the adoption of the adaptive 120Hz refresh rate that we first saw on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra; this allows the display to scale from 10Hz up to 120Hz depending on the content on your screen. You get to enjoy the buttery-smooth fast refresh rate, while not taxing your battery with it on static pages like images or webpages. Better yet, the high refresh rate is now supported at full resolution, no more dropping down to FHD+ to take advantage of it.
The display technology is otherwise the same with an edge Dynamic AMOLED 2X that impressed last year with a higher peak brightness at 1,500 nits, which will be well ahead of the competition if it holds up in our testing.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra cameras
Beyond the design changes to the camera array, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also adds a fourth lens to the mix. The wide-angle primary lens remains the same 108MP monster at a fast f/1.8 that it had last year. It's joined by a 12MP ultra-wide at f/2.2, a 10MP 3x telephoto at f/2.4 and the new addition to the collection: a 10MP 10x telephoto at f/4.9. On the front, you have a 40MP selfie-camera at f/2.2.
One of the most common complaints with the camera on the Galaxy S20 Ultra was its focusing issues, which Samsung has addressed with the laser autofocus system from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
While the hardware is certainly compelling, it's the software side of things that is usually where Samsung struggles in the camera department when compared to the best from Apple and Google. Samsung makes frequent mention of AI-powered features this time around, so hopefully, it has learned to harness that more successfully. The Snapdragon 888 chipset found in the Galaxy S21 Ultra has made a number of critical improvements in this regard, so there's a reason to hope.
From a feature standpoint, the Galaxy S21 Ultra camera adds an improved Night Mode, the ability to capture 12-bit RAW files in Pro mode if you want the flexibility to edit, and a number of other advancements like Zoom Lock to help you with extended telephoto shots.
Video options include an 8K capture at up to 24fps, with a useful new 8K Snap feature that lets you grab a high-resolution image from any frame of that video. Director's View is another new video feature that allows you to record 4K video at up to 60fps from all four rear cameras (as well as the front-facing camera) and switch seamlessly between them. While it's a natural fit for content creators like vloggers, we'll be interested to see if it's a practical tool for general use.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra performance
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra utilizes the new Snapdragon 888 chipset, which Qualcomm claims should deliver a 20% boost to CPU performance and 25% to graphics when compared to the Snapdragon 865 in the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.
None of this will be enough to push it past the A14 Bionic of the iPhone 12 lineup, but that doesn't really matter as the Snapdragon 888 should be more than capable of handling any reasonable workload that most smartphone users will throw at it.
RAM options are once again 12GB or 16GB depending on the model you choose and storage ranges from 128GB up to 512GB.
Connectivity options are fully future-proof with support for 5G and Wi-Fi 6.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra battery life and charging
The Galaxy S21 Ultra features the same 5,000 mAh battery as its predecessor, which should get even heavy users through a full day without a problem, although we've never seen a device with a QHD+ 120Hz panel, so it may need all of that battery.
The rumors of Samsung removing the charger from the box were true, so Samsung fans can now commiserate with iPhone owners over their lost chargers, although Samsung owners at least saw a $200 price drop to go with the lost charger.
If you don't have a charger already and need to pick a new one up, the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports fast-charging at up to 25W, so look for one that can take full advantage of its speed.
Samsung didn't make any specific claims regarding battery life for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, so we'll need to wait to see how it handles both lab and real-world testing.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra S Pen support
In terrifying news for Galaxy Note fans, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has indeed added support for the S Pen. It utilizes the same Wacom tech found in the Galaxy Note, but users will need to buy the S Pen separately and the phone lacks the built-in storage silo of the Note line. Compatible cases with storage will be available at launch.
Whether this signals the eventual death of the Galaxy Note line remains to be seen, but we're certainly curious to see how this experiment goes.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first true flagship of 2021 and, on paper, it is certainly an impressive offering from Samsung. The improvements to the display and the 10x optical zoom on the camera are both standout features that are made all the more impressive when considering the $200 price drop from last year's model.
We can't wait to get the Galaxy S21 Ultra in for review and see if Samsung's hardware and software experience can take on the best from Apple this year.