Review of the flagship Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (SM-G988)

The S21 Ultra is the third Galaxy to achieve this status. The name Ultra refers us to the fact that in this device all technologies are turned to the maximum, but the price is appropriate, there are no discounts. The first Ultra device was the S20 Ultra, which was released almost a year ago, then the Note20 Ultra appeared at the end of the summer, and here is the third model.

To some extent, it can be argued that Ultra is turning into an independent phenomenon, the positioning of such models is straightforward - all the best that you can buy at the maximum price. That being said, people often want a link to similar competitor models, but they simply don't exist, as no one can afford to cram so much expensive technology into one device. At a cost, Ultra is even slightly more affordable than the same iPhone 12 Pro Max, which makes many people compare them directly. But in terms of filling, these are models of a fundamentally different level, a comparison is impossible here. So, the Pro Max is an almost unmodified copy of the regular iPhone 12 Pro, while the Ultra has a different screen type, S Pen support, which puts the device in a completely different category of devices. Another thing is what you need from the model, how you assess your needs.

One of the key design elements in Ultra is the camera block, it floats from the side surface, looks unusual. And this is a fundamental difference from the S20 Ultra or Note20 Ultra, where the camera block strongly protruded from the body, constantly touching the edges of the pocket if you wore the device without a case. In fact, the same bronze-colored Note20 Ultra has always been chic, and it does not need a case. But the protruding block forced me to use a case, otherwise the device touched my pockets, which caused trouble.

And this is what the new design looks like.

Note that now only the two sides protrude, which are inside, and this removes the issue of the device getting caught in the pocket. The next moment, which has already become a classic for Samsung, but the company does not see this as a problem.

We are all different people, someone is shaking over their device, someone thinks that it can be worn in any way, since it is just a thing. I belong to the second type of people, while I don’t throw my phone somewhere out of the blue, but I can carry it with other phones, keys, put it in the glove compartment of a car with something else. And all potential shortcomings with such treatment are revealed almost instantly, for other people it takes a year, or they do not see them at all.

Samsung has always had metal edging for cameras, and this metal has always been painted in the color of the case. In black devices, this edging quickly wore out and turned white. For some this has never happened. In S21 Ultra, this is exactly the situation, the influx on the body is not part of the chassis, there is a connecting seam. That is, the camera is covered by an overlay, the impression that it is made of plastic. But the impression is deceptive, since it is metal and it differs from the side edging. At the edges of the lining, the metal can wear out, since the fit is not the maximum, I saw this on the S21. Nothing makes you think that the S21 Ultra will be different.

There have been a small number of complaints on the S20 Ultra that the glass covering the camera module is cracking at the back (this is possible when the device is hit, the glass remains glass, no matter how strong it is). Replacing it with a metal insert solves this issue.

Another point in the design that has changed: Samsung wanted to visually beat the camera modules, to give them significance in the eyes of the buyer. Therefore, for each camera they made their own edging, increased the surface of the lens (which could not be done, in reality the lenses are much smaller, with the exception of the periscope zoom for x10). But here it was necessary to highlight each lens, and they were drowned in the body. In theory, this avoids contamination from touching greasy surfaces, such as fingers. In practice, when you carry the machine in your pocket, all these surfaces collect dust.

It's never happened that dust accumulated on my lenses like that, the exception is the same iPhone 12 Pro, which has a similar design, but there the lenses, on the contrary, protrude from the body and collect fat. Here is the opposite problem, there is no perfection in the world. Using a cover does not solve this problem, but only exacerbates it.

You probably know that I am against cases, but all Ultras need them, wearing them due to the protruding camera block without a case is bad. In S21 Ultra, you can refuse the case, but then there will be nowhere to carry the S Pen, a vicious circle.

Let's talk about case materials. The back panel uses Corning Gorilla Glass 7 (aka Victus), due to satin finish, the glass is matte. The device is very durable, withstands falls on hard surfaces, here you can praise it in every possible way. It was my S21 Ultra that did not fall, but the Note20 Ultra flew with the same glass. Everything worked out, but this became an incentive to purchase a case (since the camera block protrudes there, all falls from it, you get it on the go, and clings to the edge of your pocket).

The chassis of the device is made of stainless steel (in some places they write about aluminum, but the metal differs from the younger models, where aluminum is of the 7000 series). I don't see any, absolutely no difference in what material the Ultra or junior models have, since the metal is painted in the color of the body, glossy. From the experience of previous models, the coating is reliable, does not fly around in any way, scratches on it are practically not visible. You can use a hacksaw to saw through the body, but why - the material is good and practical.

The dimensions of the device are 165.1×75.6×8.9 mm, weight is 228 grams. Large, masculine, but the entire front surface is occupied by the screen, it turns out that the device justifies its size.

I took a case for this S View smartphone, the S Pen was included in the kit. Of course, in a case, the device becomes quite massive, it is clearly visible.

And here everyone must choose which option he prefers, whether he needs a cover or not. Traditionally, there is a full-fledged protection of the IP68 standard, you can drop the device into the water, and nothing will happen to it. Control elements are distributed as follows. On the right side there is an on/off button, a paired volume rocker. The bottom end is a USB Type C connector, a microphone and a slot for two nanoSIM cards.

There are two microphones on the top end, while there is no microphone on the back panel, a new location of microphones, but in practice noise reduction, video recording - everything works fine.

Strongly built, well-assembled device, everything is standard for Samsung. Separately, I want to note that the fingerprint sensor built into the screen has changed, its area has increased by 1.7 times, and it also responds noticeably faster. Watch a video on how it works, I think it will describe the operation of the sensor better than hundreds of words.

The second speaker is hidden under the screen, it works in hands-free mode when watching movies, and if at first there was a feeling that it was inferior to conventional speakers, then after a couple of months I can say that this is not the case. The device perfectly plays video, music, both speakers reproduce sounds perfectly. The smartphone is loud, and there is nothing to complain about, you will get a great experience in how it reproduces sound.

Compared to Galaxy Note20 Ultra

Compared to Galaxy S20 Ultra

Compared to iPhone 12 Pro

Compared to Galaxy S21+

Display

Let's look at the technical specifications of the screen: 6.8 inches, 1440x3200 pixels (20:9), Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 511 ppi, automatic brightness control, AlwaysOn Display, Corning Gorilla Glass 7, HDR10+, 120Hz refresh rate.

The first change is that now the 120Hz frequency can be used not only for FullHD+ resolution, which is the default, you can activate this feature for full resolution as well. The adaptive mode has become more accurate, adapts to the content that is on the screen (the frequency varies from 10 to 120 Hz). I didn’t change the settings, I always used 120 Hz, it’s more pleasant.

Spoiled by good screens, but the S21 Ultra display looks like something new compared to all previous models from Samsung: a bright and very clear picture, visible in all conditions, excellent viewing angles. In direct comparison with younger models, this is even more noticeable. For those who pay attention to the display and want the best for themselves, the choice is obvious - you need to look at the S21 Ultra.

Also, for the first time in the S-series for the Ultra, support for the touch layer from Wacom was added, the device works with the S Pen, but it is not included in the kit, as well as the connector on the case (as in the Note series). The software is exactly the same as what we see in the Galaxy Note.

The default screen setting for the color gamut is "Saturated Colors" (there is also "Natural Colors"). In this mode, the brightness and contrast of the picture are maximum, and the colors hit the eyes. If the sky is not just blue, but blue. At some point, this upset me, because it is impossible to navigate what you are photographing, the screen distorts the picture too much, but everything is fine on the computer. As a result, I turned on "Natural colors", although they are muted in the menu.

Traditionally, there is a blue color filter, a dark theme, including the ability to set a scheduled job. Adaptive screen brightness adjusts to your preferences. In manual mode, you can set the brightness up to 550 nits, in automatic mode it goes up to 1500 nits. This allows you to read the phone screen even under the brightest sun.

As always, there is an AlwaysOn Display mode, it allows you to display the clock, calendar, picture in standby mode. At the same time, the screen does not consume much energy, and this diversifies the look of the phone.

The new type of OLED screen in the S21 Ultra is new materials, it is claimed that without losing image quality, it was possible to reduce power consumption by 16% compared to the S20. I think that it is, I see it in terms of the operating time in different modes, although here we need to talk about the system as a whole, and not just about the screen. The display on the S21 Ultra is great in every way, but those who like backlight below 50% and suffer from PWM will not like this screen. There are very few such people, but it is worth remembering (however, all screens in products of this level use PWM).

Battery

No change in capacity from the S20 Ultra. The built-in Li-Ion battery has a capacity of 5000 mAh and supports USB Power Delivery 3.0. This allows you to get rid of a simple problem - a long smartphone charge. So, in S20 Ultra, you can charge the battery to 100% in 65 minutes (charging time depends on the ambient temperature). In half an hour you will get about 55% of the charge. The kit does not include a charger, it is worth buying a 25W charger, it will be enough for most use cases for the eyes. There is no point in buying a 45W charge, as the charge speed increases in the first 50%, but the total time remains plus or minus the same.

In the settings, you can turn off fast charging if you think that it wears out the battery (in practice, this is not the case).

Wireless charging supports up to 15W of power, which allows you to charge your smartphone in 100 minutes. It is also very fast and extremely comfortable. For several years, I forgot what overnight charging is, always charging my devices on the go, in between times. And I never have problems with the fact that they are discharged at some inopportune moment. It takes 10 minutes to get a charge for several hours of non-stop work. And this is a convenience that is hard to overestimate.

Reverse reverse charging allows you to recharge accessories or another smartphone, up to 9 W.

Now let's talk about working time in practice. Last year's S20 Ultra at 60 Hz worked a full day with 6-7 hours of screen time, at 120 Hz I had 4-5 hours of operation. Always a confident day of work, there were no restrictions.

I'm absolutely delighted with the S21 Ultra as it lasts me an average of two days at medium load. At 120Hz, screen brightness around 60% (adaptive mode also on), I get two days of battery life and 5.5-7 hours of screen.

Our reader, who likes to customize devices for himself, gets an average of 7-8 hours of work, but there are no special tricks.

This device is one of the longest-lived from a single charge, the progress year by year is clearly visible. It doesn't work as much as its predecessor, it works at least 20% more. And here everything, of course, depends on what you do and what you use.

Communications

There is support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), as well as maximum aggregation of LTE frequencies. There is also Wi-Fi6E, but for Russian users this standard is not very interesting at the moment (it is disabled by default for Russia).

Support for payment systems Samsung Pay, Google Pay, the work does not raise any questions. Of course, there is full NFC for everything imaginable.

Bluetooth version 5.0, there is support for sending an audio stream to multiple devices. There is a proprietary QuickShare feature that allows you to quickly send large files to other Samsung devices (a sort of combed Wi-Fi Direct).

The UWB standard for accessories is not yet certified in Russia, as a result, it exists, but is also closed in software. It remains to note that the GPS is dual-band and works great in urban environments, there are no complaints here.

Memory, chipset, performance

The amount of internal memory can be 128, 256 or 512 GB, there is no support for memory cards, which is sad. On the other hand, choosing even a 256 GB device, you most likely will not experience memory problems. In the basic version, the amount of RAM is 12 GB, in the maximum it is 16 GB, and it is not very clear what this memory can be spent on.

There is Exynos 2100 inside, the performance of this chipset is maximum for today's market, it will last for several years, you will get the maximum possible for software and system performance. I wrote about how the Exynos 2100 works in a separate article.

For those who haven't opened the link, here are the results of a number of synthetic tests.

Cameras

Let me remind you of the main parameters of the camera modules:

  • Basic: Camera with 4 modules
  • Main: 108 MP, 0.8 μm, F1.8, PDAF, OIS
  • Ultra-wide: 12 MP, F2.2, 1.4 μm
  • Telephoto: 10 MP, OIS, F2.4, 1.22 μm, x3 optical zoom,
  • Telephoto 10 MP, OIS, F4.9, 1.22 μm, optical zoom x10