Once a year, I would receive the Samsung Galaxy S-series smartphone to review. It is a good catch up to understand how much the product evolves every year. And since the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G has been launched for over a month, there are enough reviews out there to convince – or confuse – you. Instead of drilling into the specifications, I want to focus on the personal user experience.
The retail package comes with just three items – the smartphone, the USB-C to USB-C cable, and the SIM eject pin. For the price of S$1798 (256GB), it just feels I am not getting the money’s worth, and expected more bells and whistles, just like what Samsung offers for the Flip series.
But then again, we know the smartphone itself is what you are really paying for, and I applaud Samsung for coming up with a new design around the camera module which Samsung calls “contour-cut” which blends the camera into the frame of the phone in a single seamless design. Perhaps, future iterations of the Galaxy series will see this design further expanding across the entire rear of the phone. For now, the rest of the rear is fitted with a frosted finish, so no more fingerprint smudges, finally.
The front display comes with pre-applied screen protector. While the glass is curved at the sides, the display does not, just like the predecessors. I could also barely notice the front camera as the hole is so small and indiscernible, unless you are watching a video content where it draws you visually to the area, which rarely happens. The display is bright enough for me to view the content under broad daylight in noon, but it’s not recommended to do that for too long, as it will increase the heat of the phone and drain the battery.
Generally, there are no surprises for me when I use the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G as my daily phone during the 3-week review. The UI is matured and feels smooth, but not uber-fast. It’s probably a design consideration not to speed up the transition, but I like it fast and gives the impression of a great-performing processor.
The S21 series is the second-generation device from Samsung which uses a 10x telephoto optical lens interpolated to deliver 100x space zoom. The camera quality across the zoom range has improved in leaps and bounds compared to the S20. I was able to full capture the details of the full moon on the S21 Ultra 5G compared to the S20 Ultra 5G.
At the ultra zoom end, the image stabilization is pretty astounding. It can really stabilize your shots. However, at times when I wanted to move my framing position, the stabilisation prevents the frame from moving, and when it decides to reframe, it would shift too much. There are also instances of “digital vibration”, where the camera is uncertain of whether it needs to be stabilized or needs to pan. I think with enough feedback, this issue should be resolved with software updates.
While there appears to be 5 round housings within the camera module, there are just 4 lenses. Nice visual trick from Samsung. There is a 12MP ultra-wide camera, 108MP wide-angle camera, two telephoto cameras (3x and 10x optical) with 10MP resolution. Some noteworthy technical info on the camera system: it supports 4K 60fps video recording throughout the zoom range, so you are not handicapped with a limited zoom range. It employs nona-binning – combining 9 pixels into one – to improve night mode.
Basically, with all these tech, you can leave it to Samsung to decide when to use digital crop and when not to, and when to use binning for noise reduction. The outcome is that sometimes when I pixel peep, I noticed some images are a tad less detailed due to noise-removal.
You can also shoot at 108MP resolution image using the wide-angle lens, but no in-camera cropping is supported. I feel that you can rely on the S21 Ultra camera to capture the full spectrum of your life, from the ultra-wide angle to the super zoom.
Night shots are also very much capable, and honestly, it has become a de-facto for all smartphone cameras to shoot decently in low light. Just be mindful of handshake and try to be stable when capturing the scene to allow the camera to do their job in absorbing as much light as possible so that it can capture more dynamic range.
Supports S Pen
It’s good that the S21 series support S Pen which I find really useful at times, but not that essential to carry with me all the time. So some people might leave the S Pen stored in a safe place and use it when really needed.
I did not get to review the other S21 series, but based on the S20 experience, I think the S21 Ultra 5G would be a choice to go. My reason: the 100x space zoom is the killer feature that are not found in any other phones. Top that with S Pen support. But if these two features aren’t on your wish list, then there are a lot of other Android smartphones that can do what Galaxy S21 can do and at a lighter package and lower price.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G comes with 2 variants – the 256GB retails in Singapore at S$1798 and the 512GB version sells at S$1998.