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Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra smartphone review – a true flagship device

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  • VERDICT

The Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra are true flagship devices that offer an irresistible combination of smart design, great features and an excellent camera. These smartphones show Samsung is at the top of its game.

Samsung has hit the ground running in 2021 with the release of its new flagship Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra smartphones in the first month of the new year.

Why wait? Samsung says it was ready to go with the new devices and decided to pull the trigger early.

And in doing so Samsung has also reduced Apple’s window of clear air without a rival product release.

Apple released the iPhone 12 a month later than normal and Samsung released the S21 a month early so that adds up to two months less time Apple has on its own without a flagship competitor.

And the Samsung Galaxy S21 series of smartphones is a worthy opponent to Apple’s iPhone 12 family.

Features have been improved across the board from design, performance and camera.

And all of these devices are 5G – there are no 4G variants – which says a lot about how quickly the 5G networks art expanding in Australia.

And the Samsung devices are also cheaper – about $250 less than the corresponding device in last year’s S20 range.

This saving could be the result of Samsung following Apple’s lead of not including a charging brick in the box making cheaper to manufacture, cheaper to package and also cheaper to ship.

DESIGN

The S21 smartphones have a new look and feel and are distinctly different even to last year’s S20.

The S21 (6.2-inch display) and the S21+ (6.7-inch) both have a flat screen while the S21 Ultra has a subtle curve on edges of its Infinity O AMOLED display.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

But the biggest design change can be seen on the back with the rather camera bump, which floated freely on the S21, has now been merged to the top left edge of the frame.

Samsung hasn’t back away from the bump – they’re now owning it.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Customers don’t mind either because that big bump houses a  stunning camera system. By shifting it to the edge of panel makes it a little more discreet.

The back panel now has a matte finish which still looks great and makes it less of a fingerprint magnet.

DISPLAY

The S21 smartphones have a Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity O display which look stunning – no surprise there.

Samsung’s displays have always been on the bleeding edge with stunning colour and brightness.

The Samsung Galaxy S21

The S21 series also throws in 120Hz adaptive display so videos look smoother and scrolling has a lot less judder as well.

And being adaptive, it can detect the content you’re watch and come up with the ideal refresh rate.

There is a warning that having it switched on and adapting to the quality of your content will have an effect on your battery life.

The Samsung Galaxy S21

For our review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra we had adaptive display on all the time and still got a lot out of the battery.

NO EXPANDABLE MEMORY

There’s a lot to love about Samsung’s S21 range of smartphones.

But we’re not happy that there is no longer any expandable memory so you can’t use a microSD card to extend that storage.

This was one point of difference Samsung had with the iPhone and now they’ve taken that away.

We’ve seen this before with the Galaxy S devices but Samsung restored the feature.

It’s not a deal breaker but would have been good to have onboard so you can rely more on local storage rather than cloud storage.

CAMERA

The most interesting and attractive part of the Galaxy S21 series is the camera.

Samsung says the camera is the main feature that sells the customer on the product so naturally they’ve poured everything into it and made it even better.

The S21 and S21+ have a 10-megapixel front camera and as triple rear camera system of a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 12-megapixel wide-angle and 64-megapixel telephoto camera.

If you’re even closer to your smartphone camera then you need the S21 Ultra with has a 40-megapixel front camera and, on the back, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, 108-megapixel wide-angle camera and two 10-megapixel telephoto cameras.

S21 Ultra Space Zoom 1x
S21 Ultra Space Zoom 10x
S21 Ultra Space Zoom 30x
S21 Ultra Space Zoom 100x

What we like about the S21 is you not only have great hardware at your disposal to capture great images and videos but there are also features to help you create interesting content including Space Zoom, Director’s View and Single Take.

Space Zoom offers up to 100x on the S21 Ultra and 30x and it works remarkably well and the quality you get even from a 100x image has also been improved.

The new feature Zoom Lock lives up to its name and helps you lock in on a target so you can keep it in frame to capture your image or shoot your video.

Even at 30x zoom – the images are surprisingly good and fully zoomed at 100x the image is still impressive considering you’ve combined an optical zoom with a digital zoom on a phone.

Director’s View

The other new feature is Director’s View which allows users to shoot video from the front camera and one of the rear cameras at the same time.

Now you can film your reaction to what you’re seeing.

In our review we filmed ourselves talking to our dogs so you can see us and our dalmatians Logan and Ziggy simultaneously.

There are numerous uses for this feature – filming a sporting event and your reaction, a birthday party or catch up with friends.

Shot on S21 Ultra

Single Take is back with more features so you can shoot photos and videos at the same time and the see the results with filters and effects applied and all you have to do is pick the ones you want to share.

Of course the camera can produce amazing images and videos – the quality is remarkable with bright colours and amazing details.

Users can also shoot 8K video and play it back on an 8K TV in full quality if they happen to have one.

Shot on S21 Ultra

But even if you don’t shooting in 8K also makes it possible to grab frames from the video and save them as high quality stills.

8K videos are large files and having extra storage space would be handy. This makes the decision to get rid of expandable memory on the S21 even more mystifying.

But overall the S21 camera would easily be the best camera on an Android phone – and close to the best camera ever – it’s head to head with the iPhone 12 Pro Max triple camera system.

BATTERY

The S21 and S21+ have 4,000 and 4,800mah batteries respectively while the S21 Ultra – the device we used most often for this review – has a 5,000mAh battery and had not trouble powering through a day and a half of full use.

Even with the adaptive display which ran the screen at up to 120Hz we still easily got through an entire day.

S PEN

For the first time the S Pen will work on the S21 Ultra with Wacom’s technology that will allow you to write and draw on the screen.

You can use an existing S Pen from the Galaxy Note or the Galaxy Tab or purchase an S Pen on its own or with a compatible case which has a storage slot for the S Pen.

This has sparked rumours that Samsung will kill off the Note family of devices. As a fan of the Galaxy Note devices – we’re hoping this isn’t true.

PRICING

The Samsung Galaxy S21 series of smartphones are up to $250 cheaper than the corresponding S20 devices from 11 months ago.

Good news for customers upgrading from an older Galaxy device or for anyone new to the Galaxy family.

But one reason they are cheaper might be the fact that the new S21 phones don’t come with a charging brick.

No charging brick means a much smaller box for the S21 and S21 Ultra

Yes, they’ve lifted a page from the Apple book and just put a charging cable in a much smaller box.

So it looks like it’s BYO charger from now on. We suspect you’ve already got one but there are plenty of third party options or you can try wireless charging.

Model              ROM RAM RRP Colours
Galaxy S21 Ultra 512GB 16GB $2,149 Phantom Black Phantom Silver
256GB 12GB $1,949 Phantom Black Phantom Silver
128GB 12GB $1,849 Phantom Black Phantom Silver
Galaxy S21+ 256GB 8GB $1,649 Phantom Black Phantom Silver Phantom Violet
128GB 8GB $1,549 Phantom Black Phantom Silver Phantom Violet
Galaxy S21 256GB 8GB $1,349 Phantom Grey Phantom White Phantom Violet Phantom Pink
128GB 8GB $1,249 Phantom Grey Phantom White Phantom Violet Phantom Pink

 

VERDICT

The Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra are true flagship devices that offer an irresistible combination of smart design, great features and an excellent camera. These smartphones show Samsung is at the top of its game.