Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Australian First Look Review

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Australian First Look Review
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The Samsung Galaxy S21 has just been announced as part of CES 2021. Earlier this week I was fortunate to get a bit of hands on time with the big daddy S21 Ultra. Here are my first impressions.

Just the specs, please

samsung galaxy s21 australia s pen

If you’re looking for a straight spec dump, I got you. You can also read more about them and check out the phone plans over here.

Samsung Galaxy S21

  • Display:  6.2-inch FHD+ LTPS, 120hz
  • CPU: Snapdragon 875 (Exynos 2100 in Australia)
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB
  • Rear Camera: 12MP Ultra wide, 12MP main, 64MP telephoto
  • Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Battery Life: 4,000 mAh
  • Colours: Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom Gray, Phantom White

Samsung Galaxy S21+

  • Display: 6.7-inch FHD+ LTPS, 120hz
  • CPU: Snapdragon 875 (Exynos 2100 in Australia)
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB
  • Rear Camera: 12MP Ultra wide, 12MP main, 64MP telephoto
  • Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Battery Life: 4,800 mAh
  • Colours: Phantom Silver, Phantom Black, Phantom Violet

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

  • Display:  6.8-inch WQHD+ LTPO, 120hz
  • CPU: Snapdragon 875 (Exynos 2100 in Australia)
  • RAM: 12GB/16GB
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
  • Rear Camera: 12MP Ultra wide, 108MP main (with a gen 2 sensor), 10MP 3x optical telephoto, 10MP 10x optical telphoto
  • Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Battery Life: 5,000 mAh
  • Colours: Phantom Black and Phantom Silver

You may notice that the Samsung Galaxy S21 is all 5G all the time now. RIP 4G.

Elsewhere under the hood the new 5nm processor is said to have a 20 per cent faster CPU, 35 per cent faster GPU and 2x faster AI processor than the Galaxy S20.

When it comes to the battery, the S21+ and S21 Ultra are larger than last year. However, the entry-level S21 has the same 4,000mAh battery as the previous generation.

I’m hoping there will be improvements to the battery management system to make up for the hardware here.

As for the display, this year all three devices have been given a 120Hz refresh rate with an AI-based auto blue light control for user’s eye health.

Design

The biggest change in the design is the wrap-around camera bump at the top left rear of the device. It varies in colour, depending on which colour device you opt for.

While the Phantom Black will be just that, the Phantom Pink and Phantom Violet have a copper bump. The latter is by far my favourite — it looks gorgeous in real life.

Speaking of which, the bump really is as aggressively large as it is in pictures. Though the pretty copper tones certainly helps in keeping it look chic.

That being said, Samsung certainly isn’t the only Android manufacturer guilty of this. The past two generations of Pixels have had huge camera bumps.

We’re most likely to continue seeing this trend until camera tech enables more performance in a more subtle package.

Still, they’re lovely looking phones that feel premium in the hand.

And while I wasn’t able to test performance in my short time with the Ultra, it was certainly swift. I was able to swipe across menus in a lightning fast fashion and both apps and the camera reacted quick and efficiently. I can’t wait to really put it through its paces, along with the rest of the hardware.

S Pen

It turns out the plethora of leaks were true! The S Pen is now compatible with the S21 Ultra. But it’s the only the device in the series that gets this added extra.

The brand new Samsung Galaxy S21 S Pen feels a lot more premium than the previous generations. Unlike the glossy Note 20 version, it has a matte finish. It feels great.

I only got to use it briefly and really didn’t get to see if it performed any different to previous generations. But if you are a fan of the S Pen, you’ll probably love it.

It’s worth noting that the S21 S Pen, and its charging case, are sold separately.

However, Samsung confirmed with Gizmodo Australia that previous-gen S Pens will also work with it. This includes S Pens from the Note series as well as the Tab S7.

Camera

The biggest camera issue across the last couple of flasgship Samsung devices has been been the focus. This was originally a problem in the S20 Ultra and although it was supposed to be fixed in the Note 20 Ultra, it wasn’t.

The primary lens would have trouble focusing on subjects in the simplest point-and-click shots. Even when you tapped the screen it was incredibly hit and miss. The fact this was happening in the top-of-the-line models was particularly bad.

With this in mind, the focus was the first thing I road tested when I got my hands on the S21 Ultra. While I certainly need more time with its camera, I’m pleased to note that the focus seems good.

This was a moving target so I’m quite impressed.

From relatively close shots of food, faces and foliage to moving targets — I didn’t have issues getting the primary lens to focus on the appropriate subject.

That being said, the camera’s AI certainly seems to have a proclivity for faces. During one test of an ornate golden pear, the lens kept picking up and focusing on the faces of two fellow journalists in the background:

In some cases, this may be exactly what you want. And I get why faces are given precedence — they’re usually what people are trying to take a shot of.

I also found that as soon as I tapped on the pear, the focus would immediately shift to it:

I think we can mark this issue off as fixed.

Elsewhere you’ll find a remarkable improvement on the zoom thanks to Samsung’s first ever  dual tele zoom lenses.

While the S20 Ultra could take a cracking shot at 10x, the zoom really fell off a cliff once you got past 20x. That is no longer the case.

Even getting up to 50x zoom without a tripod delivers impressively clear detail that we haven’t seen previously in a Samsung device:

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

No zoom

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

10x zoom

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

20x zoom

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

30x zoom

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

50x zoom

While you can’t push this quite as far at night, the zoom still had incredible results when I took a few cheeky 2x, 3x and 10x shots of the Sydney Opera House at 11pm.

This is due to the faster ‘bright night’ sensor as well as enhanced noise reduction. I saw this play out in real time when a lined up shot looked fuzzy on screen, but would be crystal clear in the preview. This is thanks to the processing power of the device and was quite cool to see.

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

No zoom

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

2x zoom

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

10x zoom

The S21 Ultra also took some lovely regular night shots, though it perhaps amped up the brightness a bit much. Still, there are ways around that when you have time to mess with your settings. I was in a rush!

 

Besides some improved specs and processing, another big new camera feature is the Directors View.

Firstly, it lets you shift lenses and preview how shots will look with each one. It also offers a live thumbnail so you can swap between close up and wider lenses.

Lastly, it video mode you can use a new ‘Vlogger View’ that lets you shoot with the front and rear lenses simultaneously. This basically means you can capture content and reactions at the same time.

I didn’t get to try this for more than a minute but it certainly seemed like it would be perfect for TikTok or even YouTube trailer reactions.

 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Pricing

Being the flagship variant of the S21 range, the Ultra is of course the priciest — it starts at $1,849 for the 12GB RAM/128GB storage variant.

But considering this thing can shoot in 8K, take RAW shots and is in general a complete unit, that’s not enough storage in my opinion.

Most consumers are likely to opt for the 256GB version, which starts is $1,949. 

Or if you really want to go hard, you can go for the 16GB RAM and 512GB storage S21 Ultra, which will set you back $2,149.

What’s interesting here is that these price points are actually cheaper than last year. The 128GB/256GB storage options by $50 and the 512GB version by $100.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra australia

This seems to be becoming a trend with phone manufacturers. We saw Apple and Google do the same thing with the flagship iPhone 12 and Pixel 5 devices over the past couple of months.

So while these are still pricey phones, I like that Samsung is pairing back on its prices. Plus, there’s always the S21 and S21+ to choose from if you’d like something even more affordable.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra will be available for pre-order from January 15 and on sale from January 29 in Phantom Black and Phantom Silver.

There are also some extra colour options if you buy direct from Samsung — Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown.