LOS ANGELES (KTLA) – The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone is taking new steps forward, but at least a few steps back. Still, it’s a major improvement over last year’s model, which had issues with focus. This year the issues are mostly resolved and the S21 Ultra is easy to recommend if you like a big phone with all the features under the sun. Well almost. Read on.
For starters, the S21 Ultra is Samsung’s top-of-the-line smartphone, just below the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. I would actually say the S21 Ultra is the best handset. It has some noticeable software improvements and it’s easier to hold and it even supports the stylus.
There are other low end models that are priced lower in the S21 series. They are not the subject of this review as they will provide a similar experience without all the bells and whistles of the Ultra. Notably, you get a smaller screen, less camera, less memory, and less materials.
With the Ultra, you get a massive 6.8-inch screen and on the back, four cameras. It’s Ultra Wide, Wide, and two telephoto lenses. The zoom on this device is amazing. You get 10x optical zoom and up to 100x zoom in total using software intelligence.
The camera can best be described as “versatile”. There are so many modes that you will never be able to use them all. I also find them a bit difficult to quickly switch between them. But, they are there and give you so many options to capture unique photos and videos.
I love the Director’s View, which lets you record up to two cameras at a time and even place them side-by-side on screen or picture-in-picture.
Space Zoom, as Samsung calls the 100x zoom on the camera, has improved significantly this year. That’s because the camera now uses AI and stabilization to help you “lock in” to your subject, even if it’s far away. The feature was pretty much unusable on last year’s model, and this year it’s fun, if still not very useful.
The daily photos and videos of the S21 Ultra are stunning. Low light images are also better and you won’t believe how good it takes pictures of the moon. Samsung has programmed into a special AI mode that is triggered when you point the phone at it.
The focus issues that I identified in last year’s model are mostly resolved. The camera still has some soft edges and ghosting around the edges of some subjects, but that’s not a giant issue. Additionally, Samsung is smarter at identifying close-up photos and switching to the lens that can best accommodate them for a sharp shot.
The S21 Ultra has a lot of cool touches, like the ability to use a stylus for the first time. It can be a new stylus sold by Samsung, or you can use an S-Pen from an old Note device. As for the fingerprint reader, I find it faster and more efficient than last year.
Still, some things are gone, like the ability to add a memory card. Also, a special MST antenna that Samsung phones were known for has gone missing. The antenna would allow Samsung Pay to work in locations that typically don’t accept payment over the phone. Finally, there is no charging plug in the box, just a USB-C cable.
Samsung’s software continues to evolve in the right direction. The latter includes a new feature called “Object Eraser” which is handy for removing unwanted people or objects from your photos. It’s pretty smooth and works really well.
There is also a privacy feature that allows you to remove location data from an image before sharing it. I’m personally very happy that they’ve also integrated the Google Discover feed to the left of the home screen, so all of your top stories are right at your fingertips.
Overall, this is the best Android smartphone on the market. All of my issues with previous Samsungs have been resolved. I still think social media looks better on the iPhone, and some popular apps are more optimized for iOS, but it’s a solid choice for a smartphone that has more bells and whistles than most.
The S21 Ultra starts at $ 1,200, which is $ 200 less than last year.
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