The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra was once the undisputed king of Android phones. Successor to the previous S20 Ultra, the S21 Ultra brought major improvements to battery life, camera quality, processor and new features, such as the support for S-Pen.
Considering the intense rivalry posed by other older high-end devices like the iPhone 13 Pro Max, Pixel 6 Pro, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, can the S21 Ultra be the ideal option for budget-conscious buyers seeking to purchase a phone in 2024?
Design and Build
Though Samsung has shifted to a more minimal design with this year’s S23 Ultra, the S21 Ultra still looks aesthetically pleasing. On the rear, the camera housing (or as Samsung calls it “contour cut”) makes this phone look unique and stylish. While the camera does protrude slightly from the back, it doesn’t affect usage and blends well with the design.
On the sides, the S21 Ultra features a metal frame with a smooth finish providing a comfortable and secure grip. Additionally, the front glass is shielded by Gorilla Glass Victus, and the hardware is rated with IP68 certification for dust and water resistance, providing added protection and durability.
The S21 Ultra is available in five colors; Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, and Phantom Brown.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra features a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display boasting a resolution of 1440 x 3200 pixels. The display is top of the line, with a 120Hz adaptable refresh rate and a pick brightness of 1500 nits.
Even by today’s standards, the display on this phone is phenomenal. The colors pop, it’s bright and vibrant and did I mention that it’s an OLED display? So expect those inky blacks.
As mentioned before, the S21 Ultra is equipped with an adaptable refresh rate display. It works by adjusting the refresh rate depending on the content that is displayed on the screen. Consequently, when the content being viewed does not require a higher refresh rate, battery life is preserved and not expended unnecessarily.
The camera setup on the S21 Ultra is undoubtedly its standout feature. The device boasts a quad-camera system, which includes a 108MP primary sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor, and two 10MP telephoto sensors with 10x and 3x optical zoom, respectively. The camera setup also features laser autofocus, which ensures that your photos and videos are always sharp and in focus.
The S21 Ultra captures pictures with sharpness and impressive dynamic range, even in bright environments. Its camera software is fun to use and provides numerous features to experiment with, including the Pro mode, which is my personal favorite. There’s also a night mode that performs great with low-light photography.
For zoom enthusiasts, the S21 Ultra’s telephoto camera uses a periscope design that allows for up to 100x digital zoom. This is achieved by combining optical zoom with digital zoom. While this is great, 30x is the sweet spot for a balance of quality and zoom.
Additionally, S21 Ultra has a feature called Space Zoom. It uses AI-powered zoom technology to enhance zoom quality and minimize blur. It also has a zoom lock feature that helps you keep the camera steady when taking photos at high zoom levels.
If you’re coming from an older Android phone, this camera system will be a significant upgrade.
Performance & software
The S21 Ultra is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset or the Exynos 2100 chipset (in some regions). The Snapdragon version does perform significantly better, with better cooling and overall performance. This is important to take into account when purchasing a used S21 Ultra.
Furthermore, the S21 Ultra has 12GB or 16GB of RAM depending on the variant. Storage options also range from 128GB to 512GB. Unfortunately, there is no SD card support.
The S21 Ultra is equipped with a 5,000mAh battery that is capable of lasting an entire day under heavy usage. Additionally, the device offers 25W fast charging, 15W wireless charging, and 4.5W reverse wireless charging, enabling you to wirelessly charge other devices. However, there are some users who have reported battery drains and overheating of the device, especially with the Exynos version.
Note: When purchasing a pre-owned phone, it’s important to consider that the battery may not perform at its peak capacity, as it might have degraded over time.
Currently, S21 Ultra runs on Android 13, with Samsung’s One UI 5.1 skin on top. One UI is one of the best Android skins available, offering a clean and intuitive interface with several customization options.
Furthermore, the S21 Ultra will continue to receive software updates for several years to come, allowing you to benefit from the most recent features.
- 128GB 12GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM, 256GB 16GB RAM, 512GB 12GB RAM, 512GB 16GB RAM
- Bluetooth 5.2
- 5000mAh battery
- 40MP selfie camera
- Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
- Large display
- Good battery life
- Amazing camera
- Premium design
- Samsung Dex
- Discounted price
- 12GB RAM
- 120Hz adaptive refresh rate
- No expandable storage
- No Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST). Click link to learn.
- S-Pen not included
Should you pick the S21 Ultra over the S23 Ultra?
If budget constraints aren’t a concern, the S23 Ultra stands out as the better choice. It boasts a built-in S-Pen, an impressive 200MP camera, a lightning-fast processor, and a plethora of other enhancements. Nonetheless, the S21 Ultra remains an excellent option, particularly if it can be acquired for less than $500.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a fantastic smartphone that checks all the boxes. With its striking display, impressive camera, and exceptional performance, it is an excellent option for those seeking an affordable high-end device. Additionally, the phone’s superior build quality, extended battery life, and fast charging capabilities enhance its appeal. Although the S21 Ultra was costly initially, several discounted deals now make it an ideal choice.
For more information on this year’s Samsung flagships, click here to learn more about the S23 and S23 Plus.