One of the S20 Ulra’s more controversial features was Samsung’s Space Zoom feature that lets you get super close to distant subjects. In our review, we found that the tool was problematic and deficient, mainly due to the low image quality of more than 10 times. The company wants to fix some of that with the S21 Ultra, and introduce a new dual-lens system to provide “greater clarity for every shot.” One of these offers 3x optical zoom while the other goes up to 10x optical, and the phone will automatically switch between them depending on the range you shoot at.
Samsung also introduced a software feature called Zoom Lock to help you keep your subject in the frame even if your hands shake at a high zoom level. The company also improved night mode and made it possible to shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second out of all the sensors, including the selfie camera in advance.
The S21 Ultra’s screen is slightly smaller than last year’s model (6.9 inches), but you probably won’t notice the difference. What’s more striking is Samsung’s new design, with what it calls a Contour Cut Camera housing for the four sensors on the back. Instead of a black rounded rectangle module hanging at the top left of the back of the phone, the entire corner is different from the rest of the surface. It looks like someone is pushing a protective rectangular hood on the phone.
Unlike the smaller S21 and S21 +, Ultra is only available in Phantom Black and Phantom Silver color choices, although Samsung said that more colors such as Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown will be “available exclusively on Samsung.com” depending on market. The other flagships also offer extra pink and purple variants, and on them are the “contour cut” in eye-catching reddish hues. On the silver and black units, the corner sections are more subtle since they are in matching shades with the rest of the body.
Beyond the surface, the S21 Ultra is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 chip in the US and the Exynos 2100 in other parts of the world. Those who have used non-US versions of Samsung’s previous flagships have long complained about the performance delta in Exynos models, and this continues to be a point of frustration for them. Fortunately, Samsung announced this week that the Exynos 2100 will be an ARM-based 5nm system-on-chip that will consume 20 percent less power than its predecessor. If these claims are true, the Exynos models of the S21 may not be as disappointing as previous models.
The S21 Ultra is also one of the first smartphones to support the new WiFi 6E standard for greater bandwidth and faster internet connections. It also has ultra-broadband capability that allows you to unlock compatible car doors or send messages to nearby UWB-friendly phones. Finally, the S21 Ultra starts with 12 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, and if you want more of each, you can just choose the Phantom Black model. The silver version is stuck in that configuration, while you can go up to 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage on the black flavor.
If you pre-order the S21 Ultra by January 28, you get a free Galaxy Smart Tag and $ 200 Samsung credit. Otherwise, the new flagship will be available via retail and operator channels, as well as unlocked via Samsung on January 29.