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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera module macro 8
David Imel / Android Authority
aa2020 editors choice

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: Ultra refined

Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra is a powerhouse smartphone, but can it fix the legacy burdened by its predecessor?

Published onJanuary 14, 2023

aa2020 editors choice

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra fixes most of the issues that plagued the S20 Ultra, all while coming in at a lower price point. The lack of microSD card expansion and a charging brick may frustrate longtime fans, but Samsung has delivered a great all-rounder phone with a clean design, wonderful display, blazing-fast performance, and one of the most versatile camera systems you can get in a smartphone today.

What we like

Big, bright, 120Hz display
Great battery life
Versatile camera system
Super-fast processor

What we don't like

No expandable storage
No charger in the box

Our scores

aa2020 editors choice

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra fixes most of the issues that plagued the S20 Ultra, all while coming in at a lower price point. The lack of microSD card expansion and a charging brick may frustrate longtime fans, but Samsung has delivered a great all-rounder phone with a clean design, wonderful display, blazing-fast performance, and one of the most versatile camera systems you can get in a smartphone today.
This device is no longer widely available. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is now unavailable to buy from most retailers. If you are looking for an alternative device, check out our list of the best Android phones you can buy and the best camera phones.

Samsung uses the word Ultra to denote its biggest and best smartphone of that generation. The Galaxy S20 got an Ultra model, trumping the standard S20 in sheer size and brawn. Then, a few months later, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra carried suit. But now, it’s 2021, and Samsung is back again, boldly branding Ultra on a new Galaxy S device, the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

To give some context, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra was a bit of a letdown. Despite its massive spec sheet, the most ultra part of the phone — the camera — didn’t work nearly as well as intended. The huge 108MP main camera sensor had serious focus issues, the 100x Space Zoom was nearly unusable, and to make matters worse, its bulky 5,000mAh battery didn’t last as long as people had hoped. To top it off, the phone cost a whopping $1,399. That’s the price of many people’s first car.

Read our long-term review: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra one year later

With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, it’s clear Samsung learned from its mistakes. The successor to the Galaxy S20 Ultra uses a brand new 108MP sensor aided by a laser-guided focus system, adds an additional 10x optical telephoto sensor, and utilizes a dynamic AMOLED display that can scale down to just 10Hz for better battery life. The S21 Ultra arguably looks much nicer than 2020’s flagship too, and comes in at $200 less, starting at $1,199.

But with so many incredible smartphones on the market for less than $1,000, is there room for Samsung’s $1,200 beast of a device? This is Android Authority’s Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
About this Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: I tested a US model Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra over a period of seven days. It was running One UI 3.1 based on Android 11 on the January 2021 security patch. A review sample was provided by Samsung for the purposes of this review.

Update March, 2022: Added information on the improved update promise, alternative devices, and more.

Design and display: Simple, yet sophisticated

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra back in hand 5
David Imel / Android Authority
  • 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm, 229g
  • In-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
  • Gorilla Glass Victus
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
  • 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3,200 x 1,440)
  • 20:9 aspect ratio
  • Infinity-O selfie cutout
  • 120Hz adaptive refresh rate

The design of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra follows the same general design trend of the rest of the S21 series. Samsung calls this a “Contour Cut” design, and I think it looks quite a bit better than the design from the S20 series. The camera bump on the S21 Ultra feels purposeful and intentional, even if we’re likely to see plenty of memes comparing it to Cyborg from DC Comics. While the S20 Ultra left the camera bump fairly exposed as a separate module, the S21 Ultra blends it into the design as an accent piece. I dig it.

Related: The best Samsung phones

Samsung has opted for a matte-textured design for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is far less of a fingerprint magnet compared to its glossy predecessor. This is a massive improvement because glossy black on technology tends to make it look and feel cheap. The matte Phantom Black of my Galaxy S21 Ultra unit feels classy. The phone also comes in Phantom Silver, as well as Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, and Phantom Brown exclusively from

As for buttons and ports, we’re getting a very similar setup to the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The right side of the phone houses the power button and volume rockers, with two microphone holes up top. The left side of the phone is completely void of buttons or ports, and on the bottom, you’ll find the USB-C port, speaker, and SIM card tray. There isn’t much south of the camera bump, save for the Samsung logo. Those stereo speakers are also pleasantly clear even at high volumes. It is also the only S21 series device to support the Bluetooth 5.2 codec.

The body and display of the Galaxy S21 Ultra are both made of Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass Victus. Adding to this, it features IP68 water and dust resistance, as we’re used to seeing in most flagship devices, especially from Samsung. The rails of the device are made of aluminum, and unfortunately do attract fingerprints.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra display in hand 6
David Imel / Android Authority

If you’re a fan of big displays, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will certainly fit the bill. The 6.8-inch display will feel pretty massive to just about anyone, but the overall lack of bezel means it’s not unwieldy. The display is bright and vivid, and I had no trouble using the Galaxy S21 Ultra outdoors.

If you're a fan of big, bright, and vivid displays, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the phone for you.

As mentioned before, this is a WQHD+ dynamic AMOLED display, with a resolution of 3,200 x 1440, though it should be noted that Samsung sets the phone to FHD+ out of the box. This display can dynamically adjust its refresh rate depending on the kind of content you’re viewing on the phone. This can go to as low as 10Hz for things like eBooks, or as high as 120Hz for high-fidelity gaming. You have the option to force a consistent 60Hz if you choose, but you can’t force a constant 120Hz.

This display is also curved, whereas the standard Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus use flat displays. The curve isn’t too extreme though, and the device was still easy to hold, without the issue of ghost touches on the sides like I got with the OnePlus 8 Pro.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra display held in hand over water
David Imel / Android Authority

Similar to last year’s Galaxy S20 series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra uses an Infinity-O punch-hole camera in the top center of the display. I certainly prefer punch holes to notches, but I personally prefer them in the corner of the display instead of the center. Of course, this is all personal preference. Hopefully, we’ll soon start seeing under-display selfie cameras like the one in the ZTE Axon 20 5G transition to the mainstream. Maybe next year.

If you’re into under-display fingerprint sensors, the S21 Ultra has a new one to play with. This is Qualcomm’s second-generation ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, and it’s far superior to the first generation one we’ve seen since the Samsung Galaxy S10. It’s fast and accurate, and I’m really happy to have some kind of fingerprint unlock in the age of COVID-19. Because this is ultrasonic, it can also work when obstructed by water or sweat, so that’s pretty handy if you’re out in the rain.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra also supports a new S Pen accessory from Samsung. This pen has less functionality than the Bluetooth-enabled S Pen in the Galaxy Note series, but it can be useful for doodling or taking notes. And if you do want those features, Samsung sells an S Pen Pro.

Samsung is selling some specialized cases to hold the S Pen accessory, but they’re all a bit awkward, slotting in the pen at a weird angle that’s a bit hard to remove. They’re only available for the S21 Ultra though, so if you’re an S Pen diehard, you might want to take a look.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra back in hand 10
David Imel / Android Authority

Overall, the design of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a vast improvement over 2020’s S20 Ultra. Personally, I think matte textures are far better than glossy in nearly every circumstance, and the new camera bump looks classy. Not to mention, Samsung removed the 100x Space Zoom wordmark on the bump. Good riddance.

Performance and battery: Fast and efficient

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • X60 integrated 5G mobile platform
  • 12-16GB of RAM
  • 128-512GB of storage
  • No microSD card expansion
  • 5,000mAh battery
  • 25W wired charging
  • Wireless and reverse wireless charging


The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra was the first device in the United States to feature the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 mobile platform, and as expected, this phone absolutely flies. The global model of this device will launch with Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 chipset, but for the purpose of this review, I’ll be focusing on the Snapdragon 888-powered US variant.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a powerhouse.

In daily use, I saw no slowdowns or stuttering on this device, and it chewed through effectively every task I threw at it with ease. No apps felt sluggish or were kicked out of memory, likely due to the blisteringly fast Snapdragon 888 processor and substantial 16GB of RAM packed into my unit.

As you can see in the chart above, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smoked in Gary Sims’ Speed Test G. CPU, mixed, and GPU independently received some of the best scores we’ve tested, with only the GPU falling behind the ASUS ROG Phone 3. We have no doubt that the Snapdragon handset will handle anything you can throw at it.

The Exynos 2100 model performed surprisingly well too, which is great for global buyers who have long had their worries about Exynos version Samsung devices. However, deeper testing did reveal that the Exynos can’t sustain its peak performance quite as well as the Snapdragon model, which might be a concern for heavy gaming sessions that last more than 30 minutes. Check out our article below for more on the Snapdragon vs Exynos divide.

More on performance: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Snapdragon vs Exynos tested — Which is faster?

In benchmarks, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra performed about as well as you’d expect from Qualcomm’s latest chipset.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G speed test
David Imel / Android Authority

As is to be expected of any 2021 flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a 5G-capable device. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 is the first SoC from the company to feature an integrated 5G modem in the form of the Qualcomm X60. This modem has the ability to connect to low-band, mid-band, and mmWave 5G networks, and my review unit was packed with a Verizon SIM card to fully test these speeds. Your experience will vary based on location and network compatibility. But of course, if you find yourself in an optimal 5G location, particularly with mmWave 5G, the speeds you can achieve are pretty outrageous.

See also: The best 5G phones you can buy right now

Adding to the connectivity bumps, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first phone in the US to feature Wi-Fi 6E. I won’t wax poetic about what this protocol is, but expect better speeds and bandwidth allocation on these networks. If you want to learn more, check out our dedicated article here.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with between 128-512GB of storage, which I think should be a healthy amount for most people. The baseline storage of most phones has finally moved up to 128GB, with even the $349 Google Pixel 4a featuring this capacity. Unfortunately, Samsung has removed microSD card expansion from the entire Galaxy S21 line of devices. This may be seen as quite a blow to many longtime customers who are used to Samsung offering all the bells and whistles in terms of I/O. But now, Samsung is joining the leagues of other manufacturers offering no headphone jack and no microSD card expansion. If you’re dead set on this feature, you’ll have to look at other devices like the LG V60 or one of the Galaxy S20 series devices.


The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a sizeable 5,000mAh battery. This is a larger battery than you’ll find in most devices, though it is still bested by the 6,000mAh cell in the ASUS ROG Phone 3. Still, the dynamic refresh rate and out-of-the-box FHD+ resolution setting afforded the Galaxy S21 Ultra some pretty impressive battery life. On lighter days, I got two whole days out of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, ending the second full day with about 15% remaining. On heavier days running around the city shooting lots of photos, videos, and a little gaming, I got just over one full day. On average, I expect most people to get just over a day and a half from the S21 Ultra.

Related: Here are the best Samsung Galaxy chargers

Perhaps one of the most controversial parts of the Galaxy S21 series is the omission of a charging brick in the box. This comes on the heels of Apple and Xiaomi scrapping the charger from their packaging, primarily citing environmental reasons. While I can appreciate that at this point most people probably have a charging brick, that isn’t the case for everyone. And considering the cable included with the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a USB-C to USB-C cable, many people will have to buy a whole new charger if they want to use that cable with their device.

Samsung will gladly sell you a charger for $19.99 if you don’t have one, but it seems like quite a cop-out to me. We tested a bunch of other chargers, but only a couple of them charge the Galaxy S21 Ultra at the full 25W speed. Your two other options at the moment are Samsung’s 45W Travel Adapter or the Elecjet 45W wall charger.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra vs S21 Ultra design
David Imel / Android Authority

The S21 Ultra charges at a maximum rate of 25W. This is an interesting shift from when Samsung sold an optional 45W charger for the Galaxy S20 Ultra. That said, the 45W charger was found to have only a minor effect on overall charging speed, which is likely why Samsung pulled support for it. This is a bummer, as brands like OnePlus, Huawei, OPPO, and Xiaomi have been pushing charging speeds to 30W, 60W, and even 120W in recent years. I’d hoped that Samsung would eventually start playing catch-up, but I anticipate removing the charger from the box will kill or severely stunt the race for the fastest-charging smartphone.

The Galaxy S21 series also features fast wireless charging up to 15W, and reverse wireless charging at up to 9W. The latter can be useful if you have a smartwatch or a pair of truly wireless earbuds that need a quick jump, but if you’re charging up another phone, heat loss will probably make the power transfer harder to justify, at least in my experience.

15W wireless charging is also fine, but it’s certainly not the fastest on the market at the moment. OnePlus has used 30W wireless charging since the OnePlus 8 Pro, and HUAWEI introduced 40W wireless charging in the P40 series.

Camera: One, two, zoooooooooooooom

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera module macro 8
David Imel / Android Authority
  • Wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm pixel size, dual-pixel AF, 120-degree FoV
  • Main: 108MP, ƒ/1.8, 0.8µm individual pixel size, OIS, phase-detection AF
  • 3x optical telephoto: 10MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.22µm pixel size, OIS, dual-pixel AF
  • 10x optical telephoto: 10MP, ƒ/4.9, 1.22µm pixel size, OIS, dual-pixel AF
  • Laser AF sensor
  • Selfie: 40MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.7µm, with phase-detection AF

To put it mildly, the camera system on the Galaxy S20 Ultra was a mess. The main 108MP sensor had major focusing issues, the 4x optical telephoto camera wasn’t quite as long as many competing flagships, and the 100x Space Zoom that Samsung printed on the camera module itself was barely usable.

See also: 2021 mega camera shootout

Thankfully, Samsung has fixed most of those problems for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The new ISOCELL Bright HM3 108MP sensor brings improved focusing and low-light performance, especially when aided by the new laser-guided focus assist. And now, instead of sporting one telephoto camera, the S21 Ultra is packing two. In Samsung’s camera module you’ll find a wide, main, 3x optical telephoto, and a 10x optical telephoto camera, making it just the second smartphone globally to offer a short-range lens and 10x zoom camera, alongside Huawei’s P40 Pro Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra taking a photo 2
David Imel / Android Authority

Specs aside, you’re likely curious how this camera system actually performs. To my delight, I can confirm that the 108MP main sensor has much better focusing performance than the 2020 Ultra model. Aided by the laser-guided focusing system, I very rarely had any issues trying to get a lock on a subject. That was quite a relief.

Photography terms explained: ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and more

That 108MP sensor is nona-binned by default, meaning Samsung treats groups of nine pixels as one big pixel, and the quality is definitely better than the Galaxy S20 Ultra. While you can take full 108MP images, you probably shouldn’t. They don’t look great, and individual photosites that small mean that even though you can crop in further after you take the image, there just isn’t enough light saturation in each photosite for the resulting image to look good. Just use the optical telephoto cameras if you need to zoom.

But when nona-binned, I was quite happy with the resulting images out of the 108MP sensor. The color coming out of Samsung sensors seems to have gotten much better since the Galaxy Note 20 series, with slightly more muted, natural tones and less overt saturation. There is a good amount of detail without the feeling that the image is oversharpened. That said, Samsung phones do tend to overexpose just a bit straight out of the camera, and that remained true here. The large main sensor also creates a nice amount of natural bokeh, and generally, I didn’t feel a strong need to use portrait mode.

This new sensor also gives pretty great low-light performance, even without night mode on. Images are pretty clear, and sharpness was very good in general. You can still get a little bit of smearing if you don’t hold your hands quite still enough, but in general, the low light of this phone is stellar.

Wide-angle shots came out better than I was expecting as well. The distortion correction around the edges works very well, and color is nice and natural. While wide-angle cameras often have a quite different color profile than other sensors, Samsung did a good job of giving all the sensors a similar tonality.

Okay, now we get to those optical telephoto cameras. As mentioned before, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has two of them. There’s a 3x optical telephoto alongside a 10x optical telephoto. This is great to see because while most people will likely use 3x most often, it’s handy to have that extra reach when you need it.

The quality of both cameras is quite good, with the 3x coming in just a bit sharper than the 10x lens. This makes sense though, as the 10x optical camera has a smaller aperture. A smaller aperture means less light, more noise, more noise reduction, and ultimately, a slightly softer image. Overall though, it’s vastly better than what you previously got from a software crop.

The 10x optical camera also dramatically improves more extreme zoom compared to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Both 30x and 100x are usable now, even if 100x can still look a bit rough. But considering 100x was pretty much useless, this is a big improvement. Hard lines and contrast are much better, and you can read text much easier. The S21 100x also looks better than the same zoom from the HUAWEI P40 Pro Plus, which was a nice surprise.

To make taking images at longer focal lengths easier, Samsung has implemented a shake-reduction system at zooms past 30x. This will bring up a picture-in-picture-style image with a crosshair to help you aim, and once it notices you trying to be stable, it will turn yellow and kick in the shake reduction. This works as a sort of warp stabilizer and is incredibly useful when trying to stay focused on a tight area of an image. While it can still drift around a decent amount at 100x, it’s very useful.

Portrait mode photos generally looked good and had great edge detection due to that laser-guided autofocus sensor, but it’s still not perfect. The system can get confused if there is a lot of detail behind a subject, and I’m hoping this improves over time, if not totally replaced by larger portrait-length sensors, which would create a natural depth of field.

Selfies also look quite good on the S21 Ultra. The sensor is 40MP, but by default, it will bin down to 10MP. The color is really great, especially in good light. In lower light color gets a bit distorted and the image gets a bit soft, but overall I was happy with this camera.

One UI 3.1 has introduced two different settings for selfies: natural and bright. Natural has more contrast, whereas bright will bump the shadows. I definitely preferred the natural mode, since it had more pleasing contrast in my face.

Where video is concerned, the Galaxy S21 Ultra can shoot up to 8K at 24fps, or 4K at 60fps. The quality generally looked pretty stellar, but I did notice some oversharpening and artifacts whenever there were too many hard edges in a scene. Stabilization was also quite good, presumably due to a combination of the optical image stabilization in all lenses but the wide, as well as software stabilization.

The selfie camera can also shoot 4K video at up to 60fps, and overall it looked great. Color and sharpness were just as good as the other cameras, and I was very impressed overall.

Samsung has also introduced a couple of new features, like Single Take 2.0 and Director’s view. Single Take 2.0 can create multiple types of media from one recording of video. It can produce filtered videos and photos, speed effect clips, portraits, wide/cropped shots, and highlight videos. Basically, you press the record button, and Single Take will make a variety of media from that clip.

Director’s View will let you switch between different viewpoints while recording video, from .6x to 1x to 3x. It can also show a feed from the selfie camera in the top corner, which allows you to have multiple different viewpoints in one clip. The phone will show you all three angles in the form of small thumbnails at the bottom of the screen, but instead of spinning up all three camera sensors, the previews are just cropped images from the wide sensor.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has one of the best camera suites we've ever seen on an Android phone.

Overall, the camera system in Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the best you can get on Android. It’s incredibly versatile, with optical telephoto cameras reaching from .6x to 10x, and the up to 100x space zoom really makes it a telescope in your pocket. It’s great.

Samsung has also given its premium camera a boost in the form of the Expert Raw app. It essentially gives you SLR-like control over the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed on your phone. You can also export images as RAW files for easier editing in programs like Lightroom. The app is now available for more devices, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the only member of its series that’s eligible.

Note that all the photos shared above have been compressed to optimize for site load speed. If you want to check out all the images in their full resolution, as well as even more samples, you can find them in the Google Drive folder here.

Software: Hello, Android 12

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra display on table straight on
David Imel / Android Authority
  • Launched with Android 11, updated to Android 12
  • Launched with One UI 3.1, updated to One UI 4

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra launched with Samsung’s One UI 3.1 based on Android 11. One UI 3.0 brought a number of new features, like support for bubble notifications, quick access to widgets, more precise volume control, and the introduction of Samsung Free. The 3.1 update adds a number of smaller tweaks, like background call videos, Director’s View in video, and the ability to record from the front and rear camera at the same time.

On the left home screen, Samsung has given you an option to use Google Discover or Samsung Free. Samsung Free is a new service that is much akin to the old Bixby home, offering many of Samsung’s free apps and services such as Pluto TV. On some variants of the phone, Samsung has also switched to using many Google apps as default, like Google Messages for texting. That’s not the case for the US model, however, with Samsung messages still set as the default option.

Overall, One UI is distinctively Samsung. The company has managed to cement a specific style in its interface ever since the introduction of One UI with the Galaxy S10 series, and it remains instantly recognizable. Most of the UI elements are rounded, which complements the curves on Galaxy S series devices.

Android 12 on Galaxy phones: Hands-on with all the One UI 4 features

Now, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has received its Android 12 update — becoming one of the first non-Pixel devices to do so. It brings One UI 4 into the mix, along with a slate of new customization options reminiscent of Google’s Material You.

Ads in Samsung OneUI 3.1 on Galaxy S21 Ultra
David Imel / Android Authority

That said, Samsung features advertisements for other Samsung products in its UI. This is simply unacceptable considering how much the Galaxy S21 Ultra costs. Samsung has caught a lot of flack for this in the past, but it has yet to remove pop-ups like those found above.

Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has removed Samsung’s wonderful MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) technology from the US version of the device, though some regional variants still feature it. This is the technology that allowed Samsung Pay to emulate a credit card by emitting a magnetic field matching that of a credit card strip. Now, Samsung is moving to dump the tech since NFC is becoming so popular. This is a bit strange since MST was one of Samsung Pay’s biggest strengths.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra also boasts one of the best update commitments on the market. While it launched with a promise of three years of software updates and four years of security patches, the flagship has since picked up an additional year of each. That means you’ll see Android support through 2025 and security coverage into 2026.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra specs

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Curved WQHD+
3,200 x 1,440 at 515ppi
Adaptive 120Hz refresh rate
HDR10+ certified
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or Samsung Exynos 2100
12 or 16GB
128, 256, or 512GB
Fast wired and wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
- Wide-angle: 108MP, ƒ/1.8, 0.8µm with OIS and phase-detection AF
- Telephoto: 10MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.22µm with OIS, dual-pixel AF, and 3x optical zoom
- Telephoto: 10MP, ƒ/4.9, 1.22µm with OIS, dual-pixel AF, and 10x optical zoom
- Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm with dual-pixel AF and a 120-degree FoV
- Laser AF sensor

10x optical zoom
100x "Space Zoom"

- 40MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.7µm, with phase-detection AF
4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, SA and NSA, mmWave)
Wi-Fi 6E support
Bluetooth 5.2
S Pen support
Operating System
One UI 3.1
Android 11
Water resistance
Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock
128 GB in Phantom Silver and Phantom Black

256 and 512GB in Phantom Black

Future colors: Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, and Phantom Brown
Dimensions and weight
75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: Value and competition

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra being used in hand from back
David Imel / Android Authority
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (12GB/128GB) — $1,199/€1,259/£1,149
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (12GB/256GB) — $1,249/€1,309/£1,199
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (16GB/512GB) — $1,379/€1,439/£1,329

Starting at $1,199, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is definitely in the upper price bracket of smartphones. That makes sense though, as it packs some of the best specs you can get on the market right now.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s biggest competition comes from the top phones in the iPhone 13 series. With the 128GB iPhone 13 Pro Max starting at $1,099, Samsung and Apple are competing on a very tight margin with their respective ultra-premium flagships. The Galaxy S21 Ultra starts with two times as much RAM if that matters to you, but Apple’s excellent RAM management in iOS will likely make it so you won’t be able to tell the difference.

As far as features go though, the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a much more versatile camera array. While the iPhone 13 Pro Max offers a wide, main, and 2.5x telephoto sensor that all come in at 12MP, Samsung comes in swinging with a wide, a huge 108MP standard, 3x optical telephoto, 10x optical telephoto, and a laser-guided focus system.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung's best-ever camera system on one of its best-ever phones.
If you want the most powerful phone in Samsung's Galaxy S21 series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is for you. It comes with the largest display at 6.8-inches, the biggest battery at 5,000mAh, and the best camera setup with a primary 108MP sensor. It also comes with as much as 16GB of RAM. However, it's also the most expensive with a starting price of $1,199.

Compared to other ultra-premium Android phones, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has the newer Snapdragon 888 processor which gave it a huge advantage at launch. It’s since been matched by the OnePlus 9 series, the Sony Xperia 1 III, and more. Samsung’s own Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3 launched with the Snapdragon 888, too, though they have the added benefit of folding displays.

Google also launched the Pixel 6 series as excellent alternatives. They incorporate plenty of Samsung’s components, though both phones run on the first-ever Google Tensor chip. They pack updated 50MP main cameras as well, with Google’s impressive image processing abilities.

Now that some time has passed, there’s a new alternative in town. Samsung took its Galaxy S22 Ultra in a new direction, modeling it as a replacement for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra rather than the S21 Ultra. That means you’ll find a boxier design with flat edges on the top and bottom, as well as built-in S Pen support. The latest Galaxy flagship is no less expensive at $1,199, but it does offer an upgraded Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor. Just know that it comes with less base RAM in the most affordable model.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: The verdict

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra wide view of back
David Imel / Android Authority

Starting at $1,199, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is not a cheap device. But considering the specs it’s packing, I wouldn’t call it overpriced, either. There have been plenty of phones launched with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra was one of the first you can get in the United States and still one of the best. In addition, if you want 10x optical telephoto zoom, you’re left between the S21 Ultra or the HUAWEI P40 Pro Plus — and only one of those is easy to buy and has full access to Google services.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a killer combo of great design, blazing-fast performance, a wonderful display, long-lasting battery life, and one of the most versatile camera systems you can get in a smartphone today.

Interestingly, Samsung seems to be pushing customers towards the S21 Ultra with its latest Galaxy S series evolution. While 2020’s Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus were quite feature-packed on their own, the S21 and S21 Plus are much less so. The S21 features a “Glasstic” design, and neither device has a WQHD+ display, only FHD+. Not to mention, the S21 and S21 Plus feature the exact same camera system as their 2020 iterations. If you want a new camera experience and the very best specs, the S21 Ultra is your only option out of the three.

Want another perspective? Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review second opinion

All that said, I think the Galaxy S21 Ultra represents a fantastic start to 2021 for Samsung. It has a great design, a wonderful display, battery life that should last almost anyone a full day, and possibly the most versatile camera system you can get in a smartphone today. The baseline 12GB of RAM should be more than enough for years to come, and Samsung’s commitment to delivering at least three years of major Android updates to its smartphones means you won’t have to worry about missing out on the latest and greatest features for quite a while.

If microSD card expansion, a headphone jack, or super-fast charging are important to you, sadly you’ll have to look elsewhere. But if you’re ok with those trade-offs, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the best all-rounder devices you can get today.

How did it compare to the best phones of 2021? Our Editor’s Choice awards

That’s our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review. What do you make of Samsung’s powerhouse 2021 flagship?

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