Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra phone stands as the most technologically advanced model in the new flagship lineup.

The Ultra was unveiled alongside the more modest Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus and is the highest-specced model available. As such, if you plan to pick up the device, then you’ll need a fairly bulging wallet. 

With up to 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, a 120Hz WQHD+ display and a 108-megapixel camera, this is Samsung’s no-compromise attempt at delivering the best Android phone ever. 

However, considering the regular S21 is far cheaper and gets the job done, do you really need to spend £1149/€1249/$1199 on a phone anymore? Here’s what we found after thoroughly testing the handset.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – Price and release date

  • Galaxy S21 Ultra Pre-order: Carphone Warehouse | Vodafone | Virgin Mobile | Mobiles.co.uk

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra was made available for pre-order on 14 January, immediately after it’s launch. It will hit retail stores on 29 January.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is designed to be a true “flagship” phone and, as such, this is reflected in its price. The starting RRP of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is £1149/€1249/$1199, which is marginally less than the Note 20 Ultra 256GB model and more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

We’d expect the Galaxy S21 Ultra to be available through UK and US network vendors, if you don’t wish to buy the handset outright and prefer to pay in instalments.

Of course, with all non-essential shops currently closed in the UK, you’ll only be able to get these phones online right now.

Design and screen – The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra writes the wrongs of its predecessor

  • The new design is a huge improvement, and for such a sizeable phone I found it feels comfortable to hold, more so than the iPhone 12 Pro Max

  • You can finally enable Adaptive Smoothness (aka 120Hz mode) and the highest WQHD+ resolution at the same time

  • It’s one of the largest, and heaviest, phones around

Taking the phone out of the box, it’s immediately obvious that two notable areas Samsung has made improvements compared to the older S20 Ultra relate to the S21’s screen and design. While neither were particularly poor, the bevvy of big and small changes add up to make this year’s device the one Samsung really should have launched last year when it firstintroduced the ‘Ultra’ branding.

In my opinion, the screen is the real star of the show. If you value a quality display over every other feature, then the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra makes a wonderful first impression.

It’s big at 6.8 inches, ever-so-slightly curved at the edges and, and according to Samsung, can peak at a whopping 1500 nits of brightness. Sadly due to lockdown restrictions I didn’t have a colorometer to hand to check this figure, but with real world use it performed exceptionally well. Fire up some HDR video through Netflix – I used the neon-lit Altered Carbon as a test – and you’ll really see that brightness come into its own. It’s likely to be small in comparison to the displays of other tech you may have around the home, but there’s every likelihood that the S21 Ultra’s screen will be the finest.

Samsung Galaxy S21 UltraThe screen is great

In more practical scenarios, this level of brightness removes the risk of any issues with outdoor visibility, even in very sunny conditions. I never struggled to read the screen, even when using it in direct sunlight.

In a move that shows the degree to which Samsung is positioning this handset as the ‘true’ S21 flagship, this is the only phone of the trio to ship with both an adaptive refresh rate that can move between 10Hz and 120Hz and maintain a 1440p WQHD resolution. The icing on the cake is that both of these features can finally be used together, something that wasn’t possible with any of Samsung’s 2020 phones.

While it can be difficult to demonstrate how much of a difference faster refresh rates make without actually having the phone in your hands, it’s certainly something you’ll miss when it isn’t available. Everything feels so much faster, so much smoother and so much more responsive. The effect is even more welcome as an increasing number of games take advantage, offering higher FP options.

Samsung Galaxy S21 UltraYou can alter the motion smoothing settings

The adaptive nature of the refresh rate offers an interesting benefit, by way of improved battery life. The idea is similar to the workings of ProMotion on Apple’s iPad Pro, rattling up and down the display speed to ensure that energy isn’t being wasted if there’s no visible benefit. 

For instance, there’s no point running at 120Hz when you’re simply watching a 30fps YouTube video or 24fps film on Netflix. The adaptive refresh rate tackles this issue, saving battery life in the process.

There’s a very welcome ‘Eye comfort shield’ option that tones down some bright and white colours, giving the screen more of an orange look. Obviously, this should be disabled when you want accurate colours; however, in the evenings and early morning I’ve noticed it makes the screen a lot easier on the eyes.

I also found the S21 Ultra’s in-display fingerprint scanner is a step up on the S20-family’s. It’s significantly faster and more reliable than the previous Samsung phones I’vetested. Out of 50 unlock attempts, the S21 Ultra only ignored my thumb press on five occasions; this figure was around 15 on the Note 20 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra fingerprint

During a time where the benefits of even excellent face-unlock systems are stunted by mask-wearing, having a fast physical sensor is more welcome than in previous years.

My only issues with the screen are relatively minor. I’d still prefer it to be completely flat, rather than curved, since those edges result in some annoying reflections and contribute to accidental presses. The default ‘Vivid’ mode is also a little too saturated for my taste, especially when displaying bright colours; the ‘Natural’ option is a little more…well, natural and gives colours a more balanced realistic look. This is the setting I’d recommend most people use.

I’d also completely ignore the video enhancement option, since it makes videos too bright and often uncomfortable to watch. Aside from those issues, this is the best screen on any phone right now.

I’d certainly say that the Galaxy S21 Ultra is up there with the best when it comes to design, too, though you really need to appreciate big phones to enjoy using this beast. It weighs in at 228g, which is the same weight as the iPhone 12 Pro Max – and it will only get heftier upon adding a case.

Model Dimensions Weight
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm 228g

Compared to Apple’s most sizeable handset, however, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the nicer phone to hold. It’s slightly narrower, and the rounded sides make it far comfier in the hand than the harsh edges of the 12 Pro Max I tested last year. 

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