Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Features | Specifications | Pricing
Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S phone combines impressive telephoto muscle and a few tricks borrowed from the Samsung Galaxy Note line.
12MP + 108MP + 10MP + 10MP
Finder rated as Excellent vs similar phones
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
The line between Samsung's Galaxy S and Galaxy Note phones used to be pretty easy to define. Note phones appeared later in a given year with larger displays and Samsung's own S-Pen stylus for those who needed it. The issue of larger displays has fallen by the wayside in recent years, but the S-Pen was always a Note exclusive.
In 2021, Samsung's blurring the lines even more with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the first phone in the Galaxy S line with support for the S-Pen, as long as you already have one. It's also the flagship of the Galaxy S21 family with a serious boost in its camera capabilities at the front and back of the phone.
- 6.8-inch 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED display
- Choice of two colours
- S-Pen support, but no S-Pen socket
The Galaxy S21 Ultra gets part of its name thanks to the fact it's the largest of the Galaxy S21 family. It features a 6.8-inch WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display with support for between 10Hz and 120Hz display refresh rates, handled dynamically by the screen itself.
There's a small holepunch camera cutout in the top middle of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, while the bottom of the screen houses an ultrasonic fingerprint reader. Samsung's use of ultrasonic readers has typically allowed its phones to unlock more readily than straight optical readers found in cheaper handsets. That will hopefully remain true for the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
While the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ come in a range of colours, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is available through most retailers in Australia only in Phantom Black or Phantom Silver finishes. Samsung will also offer the Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown hues to Australians, but only if you order directly from Samsung itself.
To accommodate its wider range of lenses it has a larger camera array at the back of the phone, but like the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ there's been some work put into minimising the camera bump relative to last year's quite thick Galaxy S20 Ultra handset.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the only phone in Samsung's early 2021 line-up with support for the Galaxy S-Pen stylus, which historically has been the exclusive province of its Galaxy Note phones for handsets. There's a slight catch here if you are keen on an S-Pen enabled Galaxy S phone, because it's not actually supplied in the box with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Indeed, while every Note phone has had a socket for you to slide the S-Pen into the phone body for storage, that's also not a feature of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
If you want an S-Pen for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you'll either have to pop one out of a Galaxy Note device or buy the optional S-Pen case for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which also features a carrying space for the stylus itself.
- 108MP Wide camera plus 12MP Ultra Wide
- Dual telephoto lenses
- Up to 100x Space Zoom with Zoom Lock
- Improved Single Take
- Director's view for video shooting
The other area where the Galaxy S21 Ultra sits well above the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ is in the design and features of its camera array.
The smaller Galaxy S21 phones have front-facing 10MP selfie cameras, but instagram addicts will probably get more out of the 40MP sensor on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
It's when you flip it around and take a gander at the rear cameras that you get a better feel for the potential of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The primary sensor is a 108MP wide angle module, paired with a 12MP ultra-wide sensor for landscape shooting. That doesn't take it that far in pure technical terms away from the sensors in 2020's Galaxy S20 Ultra, although that's still a very capable little combination.
When you realise it's also sporting dual 10MP telephoto lenses it gets really interesting. There's a 3x optical zoom lens for mid-range shooting and a 10x optical periscope-style lens to stretch its capabilities even further. You don't have to pick between lenses, you just choose a zoom range and the Galaxy S21 Ultra handles matters for you. It also enables Samsung to significantly improve the phone's "Space Zoom" 100x feature.
Space Zoom made its debut on 2020's Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, but it was essentially a close-up gimmick, because the quality of shots you ended up with was pretty awful. For the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you get that dual zoom lens to help stabilise optically, pumped up with AI stabilisation that Samsung calls Zoom Lock to help out. Leave a long zoom lens in view for a second or so and Zoom Lock will kick into action, in theory intelligently smoothing your picture for more pleasing results. If Samsung can deliver on the promise of 100x zoom with actually credible pictures, it would give the Galaxy S21 Ultra a huge jump on its competitors in camera terms.
Single Take was a brand new feature for 2020 Samsung handsets, which fired off all the rear lenses at once and presented you with a selection of shots taken over time to pick from. In 2021, Single Take 2 will offer more customisation, including the ability to select a shooting time of up to 15 seconds for your mix of still and video shots.
- Exynos or Qualcomm processors – with Australia likely to get the Exynos
- 12GB/16GB RAM with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of storage
- 5G ready
- UWB support
- Wi-Fi 6E support
There's less of a line of difference between the pricey Galaxy S21 Ultra and its cheaper siblings if you peer beneath the screen and past the cameras.
They all run on the same as-yet-undisclosed "5nm processor", although the S21 Ultra does have 12GB or 16GB of RAM compared to the 8GB on the smaller models. That 5nm processor is likely to be the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in international markets and the Exynos 2100 locally, although we're waiting on full confirmation for that detail.
Australia tends to get the Exynos variants of given Samsung phones if they exist, so that's likely what we'll see here. Samsung's own Exynos silicon typically lags behind the similar Qualcomm equivalents in pure processing power terms, although we have seen them benefit a little in power consumption terms as a result in prior phones. With both Qualcomm and Samsung heavily hyping the power and power efficiency of their new processors, we'll have to wait and see on that score.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a wider range of RAM and storage capacities on offer as well, with either 12GB or 16GB of RAM on board. While it's not clear it doesn't take too much deductive work to suspect the pricier, higher storage models will be those that also get 4GB extra RAM.
On the storage front, the entry-level model has 128GB, with options for 256GB or 512GB as well. It's not clear whether we'll see every model here in Australia or whether carriers will offer all variants. Samsung has decent market presence but it's likely that carrier models will be the lower-spec variants if past history is any guide.
As you'd expect, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is 5G capable – Samsung was the first phone maker to launch a 5G device in Australia and like the S21+ you also get Ultra Wideband support for future IoT devices. The Galaxy S21 Ultra also has Wi-Fi 6E onboard, so it should be able to take full advantage of compatible Wi-Fi for when you're not on 4G or 5G networks too.
- 5,000mAh battery
- Wired or wireless charging
- No included charger in the box
Samsung's biggest phones have nearly always had their largest batteries. That's still true for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. There's no change from last year's model, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and its 5,000mAh battery, although the processor change could make some real difference to actual battery life.
Where you'll see an immediate power difference is when you take the Galaxy S21 Ultra out of the box, because, like Apple did with the iPhone 12 series, Samsung's opting to omit a charger (or headphones) in the packaging.
Samsung's argument here is that you probably have a charger already and cutting down on chargers means less environmental waste.
The flip side of that is that if you don't have a charger or it's an older, lower-power model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra's 5,000mAh battery won't charge quite as quickly. It does at least support Qi wireless charging and Samsung's reverse wireless "Wireless Powershare" functionality if that's important to you.
The battery endurance of Samsung phones over the years has varied quite a lot, with some of its largest phones being excellent while others have fallen short of the mark. We're keen to test out the Galaxy S21 Ultra's battery, so stay tuned for our full review.
- Some interesting tech in Samsung's early 2021 flagships
The inclusion of S-Pen support but not the inclusion of an actual S-Pen makes the Galaxy S21 Ultra a fascinating device in its own right. Add in those cameras and it could be a real hit of a device, but then the smartphone market is very mature and much of what most users really need is represented in cheaper phones, including Samsung's generally excellent Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, for example.
There's definitely a market for Samsung fans who want the very best and we're keen to put the Galaxy S21 Ultra through its paces to see how it compares against other premium-priced offerings.
Stay tuned for our full review.
Pricing and availability
PriceThe Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra goes on pre-order from 15 January 2021, with in-store availability from 29 January 2021.
Where to buy
It's the priciest of the Galaxy S21 family, with the entry-level 12GB RAM/128GB storage model costing $1,849. The 12GB RAM/256GB storage model costs $1,949 outright and the top-tier model costs $2,149 with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
It will also be available on contract.