If last year’s seemingly endless barrage of Galaxy phones didn’t manage to tempt you, Samsung’s back at it again with another flagship lineup for a new year: the S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra.
Officially available on January 29, the S21 (US$799.99), S21+ (US$999.99), and S21 Ultra (US$1,199.99) build upon features introduced in last year’s models, with improved Space Zoom functionalities, a more durable build, and additional camera features.
Even with these upgrades, Samsung managed to lower the starting price of each phone in the S21 line by US$200 across the board, although that increases depending on the storage configuration you choose.
The S21 and S21 Ultra (the two units I received for review) are both stunning and powerful flagship phones. But, as with the S20 lineup, investing in one of these requires giving a lot of thought as to whether you’re actually going to use every single tacked on feature. At this point, it feels like Samsung is trying to see how much it can pack into its flagship line — insanely high-res camera sensors, stylus compatibility, unnecessary zoom capabilities, and more — for the sake of innovation (and marketing) before it bursts at the seams.
Samsung, this is the look
I’m a huge fan of the design of the entire Galaxy S21 lineup and, looking back, I truly wish this is what the company had gone with for its 2020 flagships. Even though Samsung introduced what I thought was a beautiful design with the S20, it now feels rather safe in comparison.
Samsung swapped out the glass camera module it used on the S20 line for one that’s now integrated into the S21 line’s metal frame. Unlike with the S20 and S20 Ultra, I didn’t have to worry about accidentally scratching the module whenever I placed it down on my desk.
For the most part, the entire S21 lineup has the same aesthetic, with a metal frame bordering each phone. But there is one thing that differentiates the plain S21 from the rest of its siblings: Its body is made of plastic. Both the S21+ and S21 Ultra, by contrast, are made of glass.
Personally, I’m perfectly fine with the S21’s plastic back for a few reasons. For starters, it’s a lot lighter than glass, which makes it easy to carry in my bag or pockets, and hold with one hand. It’s also a lot more durable, so I don’t feel the need to put a case on it. And since each S21 model has a matte finish, it’s tough to even tell the difference between the builds unless you’re holding them.
As it’s done in years past, Samsung is again trotting out some really fun colors for its phones. The S21 will be available in phantom violet, phantom white, phantom gray, and phantom pink. The S21+ will come in phantom violet, phantom silver, and phantom black. The S21 Ultra, however, will only be available in two colors: phantom black and phantom silver.
On the right side of the S21, you’ll find the power button and volume rocker while the bottom edge is home to the USB-C charging port, speaker, and SIM card tray. This time around, Samsung didn’t include a microSD card slot, so you’ll have to rely on uploading content to the cloud in order to free up storage.
If you opt in to the S21 line, you’ll have to choose between three different display sizes:
S21 Ultra: 2400 x 1080 6.2-inch display (421 ppi)
S21+: 2400 x 1080 6.7-inch display (394 ppi)
S21 Ultra: 3200 x 1440 6.8-inch display (515ppi)
The S21 and S21+ also have a 10-megapixel hole-punch selfie camera while the S21 Ultra boasts a 40-megapixel selfie camera.
I can’t say I noticed that much of a difference between the S20 and S21 as far as display quality. But, regardless, the colors are really vibrant on both the S21 and S21 Ultra, and each one gets super bright — even on the lowest brightness setting.
WATCH: Unboxing Samsung’s Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra
As per usual for the company, the S21 line features Samsung’s Infinity-O display, with super thin bezels all around. It also has HDR10+ certification for enhanced contrast in photos and videos, and a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling. But rather than offer users the option to manually switch between 60Hz and 120Hz via settings, the S21 line only offers an adaptive option that goes up to 120Hz, depending on the content you’re viewing. But you can set it to strictly 60Hz as well.
With the adaptive setting, the refresh rate will ramp up for multimedia content (such as mobile games) and decrease for social media apps, emails, or static web pages. And in case you’re worried about not having the option to set it to 120Hz at all times, I can assure you that I really didn’t notice when the refresh rate would slow down or speed up. This also helps to preserve battery life, which I’ll get to a little later.
One thing I did notice, though, is how annoying the in-display fingerprint sensor is on the S21 Ultra
— a complaint I also had with the S20 Ultra. The sensor struggles to recognize my fingerprint every time I try to unlock the phone. I end up either trying multiple times until it gets it right, or admitting defeat and typing my pin in. I know this is a common issue for all in-display fingerprint sensors, but I wish Samsung could’ve made some improvements on this front.
Excellent performance and long battery life
The S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra all have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor under the hood. While using both phones, I found that performance was super speedy. I never experienced lag — not when scrolling through or opening tabs, nor even when I had tons of apps open at the same time.
The Snapdragon chipset is also compatible with both sub-6 5G (for slower speeds) and mmWave (for faster speeds). But that’s only useful if the network is available in your area. Otherwise, you’ll likely have to wait a few years before you can fully take advantage of the capability.
For storage, you’ll have the choice between the following:
Galaxy S21 and S21+:
8GB of RAM / 128GB of internal storage
8GB of RAM / 256GB of internal storage
Galaxy S21 Ultra:
12GB of RAM / 128GB of internal storage
12GB of RAM / 256GB of internal storage
16GB of RAM / 512GB of internal storage
There’s no expandable storage on these phones, so you might want to think about how much space you’ll need, especially if you’re planning on taking photos with those 64-megapixel and 108-megapixel sensors.
Both the S21 and S21 Ultra have the same batteries as last generation’s devices: The S21 has a 4,000mAh and the S21 Ultra features a 5,000mAh. Since I used the S21 Ultra as my primary phone, I tested its battery life more heavily than the standard S21.
When using it on on a daily basis with apps like Telegram, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, and Gmail, I was able to squeeze out about 10 hours while still having about 50 percent battery remaining by the end of the day. I definitely don’t use my phone as much in quarantine as I typically would since my laptop is always in front of me, but I can still confidently say you’ll be able to get well over a day out of this phone with standard use.
With 120Hz enabled on the S20 Ultra, I was only able to get 12 hours out of the phone. So that adaptive feature clearly helps preserve juice without ever forcing you to switch back down to 60Hz to stretch out battery life.
While I can’t give an exact number of how long the regular S21 lasted me, I can base it off last year’s version since it has the same battery. With the standard S20, I was able to get a full day’s worth by switching from 120Hz to 60Hz when the battery was low. So, it’s safe to say that with the adaptive refresh rate, you’ll get around the same if not more with the S21.
It’s really all about the cameras
Overall, the Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra produce some really impressive and enticing shots. But before we break down the photos, let’s talk about the camera systems on the back.
On the back of the S21 Ultra is a quad-camera setup that consists of:
a 108-megapixel wide-angle lens with f/1.8 aperture
a 120-degree 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens with f/2.2 aperture
dual 10-megapixel telephoto lenses
The S21 has a triple-camera module that includes:
a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens with f/1.8 aperture
a 120-degree 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens with f/2.2 aperture
a 64-megapixel telephoto lens with f/2.0 aperture
Both phones also feature the same autofocus (AF) sensor that was introduced in the Note 20 Ultra. Having used this on three phones now, I can assure you it’s a very necessary feature. On both the S21 and S21 Ultra, I never had to tap on the screen to adjust the autofocus the way I did with the S20 Ultra.
The S21 and S21 Ultra also come equipped with Samsung’s Space Zoom feature which is a mix of optic zoom technology and software-based, AI-powered digital zoom. You can zoom in up to 50x with the S21 and up to 100x on the S21 Ultra.
The zoom feature, first introduced in the S20 lineup, has had several issues: finicky autofocus and stabilization, and grainy images. To help with this, Samsung introduced a new Zoom Lock capability (more on that later).
Even though the main sensors on the S21 line are the same as on the S20, color appears improved in some aspects. Rather than pump up saturation and sharpness, the software is more selective, resulting in photos that don’t look overly processed. I also noticed that it leans towards warmer tones across the board, which is great for scenic images, but not ideal for skin tones.
Below are examples of some wide-angle and ultra-wide shots that I took using the S20 and S20 Ultra, as well as the S21 and S21 Ultra.
Standard shots (wide and ultra-wide)
These photos are a great example of how the S21 Ultra is more selective about its saturation. Right off the bat, you can see it brightens and saturates the gold colors on the statue, and evens out the tones on the rest of the photo. The background shrubbery and trees are also less dark and easier to see than on the S20 Ultra.
Sure, the photo taken with the Galaxy S20 Ultra looks more natural all around, but the gold colors aren’t as punchy and the overall photo leans towards cooler tones. Without that contrast, this photo looks a lot flatter compared to the one on the S21 Ultra.
As with the photos of the statue, the Dwight Schrute snowman shares similar characteristics. On the S21 Ultra, the photo is a lot warmer, which is clearly visible in the yellow of the shirt as well as the brown and white buildings in the background.
The photo taken with the S20 Ultra sharpens the entire image while maintaining its natural colors. But compared to the S21 Ultra, which increased saturation on certain aspects (like Dwight’s shirt), it still looks realistic while this photo above looks super dull.
The same image processing can be found on the standard Galaxy S21 as well. With the photo on the right, the darker pink pops more and the stone looks less sharp because of the warmer environment. The dynamic range is more present on the S21 too — the building in the background is a lot more visible on the S21 than it is on the S20.
These two ultra-wide shots are actually pretty similar in characteristics. But if you look closely at the buildings, you can see that the saturation of warmer colors is consistent. The brick building on the left of both photos is a lot brighter and more defined on the S21 than the lighter shade on the S20.
Battle of the Space Zoom
When Samsung introduced Space Zoom last year, I couldn’t help but wonder: “Who the hell needs to zoom in at 100x?” Then, I tested it out with the S20 Ultra only to find that all the images I took looked like they came from a pixel-art game.
I mean, look at a photo of this duck I took zoomed in at 100x:
Photos snapped at 30x zoom weren’t as bad, but the main selling point here was the ability to go all the way up to 100x. And that wasn’t the only issue — the camera would also get super shaky whenever I’d zoom in, which only added to the grainy image quality.
Thankfully, Samsung realized its new Space Zoom feature was awful and, therefore, mostly useless. So it made some improvements by adding a Zoom Lock feature and a laser AF sensor. The S21 Ultra also has the help of the dual telephoto lenses to help capture the shots.
With the S20 Ultra, there was a targeting grid that automatically appeared when you zoomed in at 30x or more to allow you to pinpoint the subject. While it used motion-stabilizing AI software, it was still really sensitive and worked better if you had a tripod. But who the heck wants to carry that around on a daily basis? Not me.
With the S21 Ultra, that same targeting guide appears, but this time, it turns yellow once it locks in the frame and senses your hand is stable. It then slowly tracks the subject in the viewfinder, allowing you to capture the photo more precisely.
Reader, I am happy to inform you that it works, making it much easier to snap a photo using Space Zoom on the S21 Ultra than it is on the S20 Ultra. And it results in much sharper images that are actually usable.
But it doesn’t always offer the best experience. It takes a bit long to kick in sometimes, which can be annoying if your subject is quickly moving (something I experienced while at the zoo). And it requires being super still which can be hard with a phone that’s as large as the S21 Ultra. It’s a lot easier to use with the S21, which is smaller and lighter.
There’s no denying these shots above are complete opposites of each other.
At both 10x and 30x zoom, the American flag looks really crisp and clear on the S21 Ultra. It doesn’t look terrible on the S20 Ultra, but it slowly lost its sharpness the more I zoomed in on it.
I never thought I’d say this after using the S20 Ultra, but look how impressive that S21 Ultra is at 100x zoom.
Here are a few additional examples of Space Zoom with the S21 Ultra that I was also impressed by. I was particularly shocked by clarity of the the baboon on the right, taken at 100x zoom, which looks far more crisp than I thought it would.
Space Zoom on the standard S21 is also improved over the standard S20. I was originally content with 30x zoom on the S20, but this is way better.
Although it’s not extremely obvious, the details on the building do look a lot sharper and brighter on the S21 than on the S20.
I’ll give it to Samsung — the company delivered on its promises. Space Zoom has really improved in clarity on the S21 models, whether at 10x or 100x zoom.
At launch, Samsung claimed its S21 lineup had improved 3D analysis to better separate the subject from the photo while in Portrait Mode. And I can confirm that both the S21 and S21 Ultra have improved in terms of the ability to capture depth.
But as far as colors, the S21 Ultra prioritizes saturating warmer colors. On the right, you can see my skin tone looks a lot more unnatural and there’s little contrast between my neck and the rest of my head. With the S20 Ultra, on the other hand, there’s a clearer distinction and the cooler tones help to realistically nail down my skin tone.
The colors are a lot more similar here, which is likely because the shot was taken indoors where lighting wasn’t as tricky. But it’s definitely pumping more clarity and sharpness on the S21 Ultra in comparison to the S20 Ultra. The S21 Ultra also does a much better job at isolating the cat from the rest of the background.
The S21 shot on the left could have done better at sharpening the top of my hair, but it’s not as confused about where to add blur as it would’ve been on the S20. On the right, it did a good job of blurring my jacket while still capturing my sleeve and the coffee cup.
As for selfies, both the S21 and S21+ have a 10-megapixel front-facing camera while the S21 Ultra has a 40-megapixel selfie camera — the latter of which works a little too well. I can see everything from my dry skin to my pores (with Samsung’s beauty filter turned off). Look, it’s great that a front-facing camera can provide that much clarity, but I don’t want to see those things.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again: 10-megapixels are more than enough for selfies.
Lastly, we have Night Mode, which Samsung says has improved thanks to a new Bright Night Sensor. As you can see with the photos above and below, this rings true. The S21 Ultra has a brighter image all around, even though it was taken late at night when it was pitch black outside.
The S20 Ultra, on the other hand, struggles a bit with enhancing the image under such dark conditions. The white wall on left looks a lot darker and has an almost greenish tint to it. Clearly, the S21 Ultra is a lot more capable at capturing low-light shots.
Much improved, but somewhat unnecessary
With both the Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra, Samsung improved on all of the issues that plagued the S20 line. The devices have more durable builds, Space Zoom is a lot easier to use, and the images are a lot sharper. The company is also inching towards nailing down its image processing for more well-balanced photos.
But here’s the thing: The feature sets on these phones are complete overkill. I had to force myself to find a need for Space Zoom. There are even features I didn’t talk about — like the ability to use a stylus on the S20 Ultra and Director’s View (a video feature on all three phones). Again, that’s because I had no need for either one during my time with these phones… and also because they’re superfluous.
While I’d love to congratulate Samsung for fine-tuning features that weren’t ready for retail on last year’s flagship phones, I won’t. Instead of using their customers as guinea pigs for gimmicky features and capabilities, I’d rather the company start focusing on delivering affordably priced flagship phones with practical, useful features.
But I guess that’s what the inevitable “special” editions are for.
ที่มา : Mashable