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Samsung Galaxy S21 & S21 Ultra Review: premium Android smartphones | CNN Underscored

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Samsung is busy with busy time in 2021 and has released a new series of Galaxy smartphones:


They still use Space Zoom like their predecessors, but now with the latest processors from Qualcomm, you will be able to adapt to future developments and use 5G out of the box. of

And S21+ (starting at $999.99) only differ in screen size-6.2 inches and 6.7 inches, respectively. 6.8 inches

However, it will pack extra memory while maximizing image capture.

We have been using Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra for the past week, and although there must be a lot of overlap between the two, we found some obvious differences.


It is an advanced Android smartphone with an excellent fast processor, excellent camera and long battery life. If you are upgrading, it should be near the top of the list. of

As a successful product of the "Set It All" option, it has incredible display effects and impressive photographic works. If you want a premium smartphone that can withstand any pressure and can withstand the price of $1,199, it is worth a look.

If you do not plan to buy a nearly 7-inch mobile phone, but still want to have the top features of 2021,

It is indeed a complete package. The 6.2-inch screen is sufficient for most people, and it can be used as a viewfinder for wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lens settings. Moreover, we are confident that we will sell the built-in Snapdragon 888 processor at a price of $799, and it will flourish in the coming years. In comparison,

A total of six cameras (including a 10x wide optical lens) improve the shooting level. It can also expand the screen to 6.8 inches while providing a higher resolution experience. Yes, it has a 100x spatial zoom, while the S21 is only 30x.

Compared with the same period last year, the S21 is a small upgrade of the S20-a newer design, a newer processor and a faster camera. Therefore, if you have an S20, it is not necessary to upgrade, although Samsung’s discount deals will try to convince you. S21 Ultra provides an excellent 10x optical lens, and is no longer hindered by some camera options like previous cameras. Compared with S20 Ultra, the experience is more unified. In short: it blows

And other advanced Android phones. These two


It is a first-class smartphone that can keep pace with the iPhone 12 series and surpass Google's Pixel 5 in performance.

Priced at $799,

It is the starting point of its flagship Galaxy S smartphone. With a screen size of 6.2 inches and three cameras on the back, it looks very similar to the previous Galaxy S20-but it is $200 cheaper than its predecessor.

Now, the classic rectangular flat panel is more streamlined. The metal frame of the Galaxy S21 no longer acts as the main casing of the phone, but extends to the camera bump. This is a very nice aspect of design, but not all rainbows and sunshine.

And the previous

It's glass, the sides are metal, and the back is plastic or polycarbonate, so it feels lighter (S21 weighs only 171 grams. Samsung changed the glass to plastic here, just like on the S20 FE and Note 20. Nothing. It ruins the price of the device, but there is no obvious difference. GooglePixel 5, iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 all use high-end materials at similar prices. Samsung’s savings are actually not a factor in flagship smartphones, because consumers The expenditure of nearly 800 US dollars, we hope this device can reflect this price point. This is a lightweight device, you can make a reasonable choice based on the materials used, but you can match metal and plastic here that does not match.

But this is actually our own quality, and it is compensated by the color choice. In fact, we are currently graffiti of the love notes in Phantom Violet color. It is a two-tone design with a gold metal frame and a light purple plastic back cover. It reminds us of the super villain Thanos, but more importantly, it represents a dazzling color combination.

The rest of S21 is very clean. You will find the antenna band and microphone etched in the frame, while the power and volume keys are on the right. The bottom of the device has a USB-C port, sandwiched between the speaker and the SIM card slot. This is not a combo slot, because Samsung is phasing out the microSD card slot. This means there is no expandable storage, so choose your internal storage capacity wisely.


It has a medium-sized 6.2-inch display. Samsung has a display seal and displays it. The color is consistent, and it can stay vivid even when needed. The black point and contrast levels are impressive here. These interconnections make even the most mundane things (such as the Twitter timeline) popular, and WandaVision's latest episode can really shine.

It is not the highest panel that Samsung offers-the Galaxy S21 has a Full HD Plus dynamic AMOLED 2X display. The screen is slightly higher than 1080p and is set to a higher aspect ratio. Even a well-trained person can get a clear display with 2400 x 1080 resolution. Its adaptive switching refresh rate-from 48hz to 120Hz-will be intelligently adjusted to save battery life, because continuous operation at 120Hz will quickly drain the battery.

Users can choose vivid or natural screen mode. If you have been using Samsung Galaxy for a while, then you will be used to being vivid. It increases saturation and tends to lean on the warmer side for image reproduction. It is different from natural language, which does not have these colors and is closely related to the way the iPhone displays content. We prefer the vividness of S21 because it makes the content more immersive.

Both S21s (like the S21 Ultra, you can learn more about them below) are equipped with a kickass fingerprint sensor on the display. Compared to any other in-screen unlocking methods we have tested, this is a major improvement, surpassing the S20 and S20 Ultra, as well as the Note 20 Ultra.

Technically speaking, this is Qualcomm's new optical fingerprint sensor, and Samsung just chose to use it here. It is much faster to add fingerprints and cut the time by about half (especially if you are using S10). We also did not encounter any missed scans, which was common on the S20 last year. This is a fast and safe way to unlock your phone or verify shopping. Most importantly, you can use it with a mask.

Samsung is continuing to use S21 to promote its imaging hardware. For the second year in a row, there are three cameras on the back. To be honest, although the 12-megapixel lens does not have many physical changes on the S20. Instead, as Samsung strives to keep pace with Apple and Google, the focus in 2021 will be on faster processing and new AI techniques.

Exercise the following lenses:

This is good news: the slow shutter speed we chanted on the S20 is almost solved here. You can easily switch between shots and capture quick bursts. Even if you zoom in on the trek to a 30x space zoom, its overall speed is faster.

At the unzoomed level, the image quality is still very sharp, especially when you are shooting from wide or ultra wide format. Compared with the colors in the middle of the iPhone or the cooler Google Pixel shots, the colors are still more vivid. Packaging details, especially the 12-megapixel wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses.

Choosing to use spatial zoom is when blur and graininess come into play quickly. This feature has improved since last year, but you are still trading at the cost of detail and clarity. For most zoom situations, we strongly recommend that you choose to stay within the 3x optical lens range. This is what the actual lens can actually zoom in, and then you can digitally zoom in on the lens. Samsung also uses some upgrade methods to improve quality.

Samsung is indeed promoting the Single Take of the 2021 series. Basically, this way you can press the shutter and move freely

Or S21 Ultra to capture content. The phone will intelligently capture still images, continuous photos and even videos. Year after year, the final processing of documents is faster. Samsung is getting better and better at capturing the right shots and making changes. You may be left with some portraits, some still images with different effects, timed playback and normal video files.

Another mode we really like is Director's View, in which you can record a front camera and a rear camera at the same time. Ideal for video blogs or when you want to narrate a sequence. You can preview other unused lenses, but you can only select one main lens at a time. However, in our test, it was almost necessary to switch between the two lenses.

On the front, Samsung has inserted a 10-megapixel camera in the pinhole at the top of the 6.2-inch display. This is a solid front lens, comparable to iPhone and Google Pixel devices. Like the rear camera, this is mainly a feature of Samsung's processing, and it does tend to be brighter in terms of color reproduction. We are also very happy that it will no longer make our skin smooth by default.

As most flagship smartphones,

It has the most advanced processor of Qualcomm. Specifically for S21, it is paired with Snapdragon 888 processor and 8GB RAM. It is refined with a 5-nanometer architecture, which is equivalent to the A14 Bionic Android system in the iPhone 12 family.

This setting makes Android 11 equipped with Samsung One UX 3.1 a real leap forward. It all feels instantaneous-for example, the camera opens quickly, and you can open 20 apps in the background without hesitation during multitasking.

On the previous Galaxy S20, everything became more instantaneous. However, it is only slightly faster than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Camera processing and heavy tasks are where this new processor really comes into play. Specifically, when shooting in night or portrait mode, you will find that S21 can quickly capture the moment and render the final image within the recording time.

When we use typical applications, S21 never stops moving forward, including: Outlook, Gmail, Slack, Trello, Microsoft Teams, Twitter, Chrome, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Apple Music, Spotify, Google Home, SmartThings, Fortnite, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Netflix, Hulu, Disney + and GeekBench 5 etc. When playing "real racing", we especially like the adaptive refresh rate, which can be zoomed to 120Hz to get a clear and dynamic picture when driving a car.

Compared with the previous Samsung interface, One UX 3.1 is not too clumsy and not too fancy. There are also some annoying things, such as the out-of-the-box Samsung Pay sliding dangerously located at the top of the home button. A huge victory was the replacement of the custom Bixby news screen with the standard Google screen. In this sense, it is closer to the Pixel device and eliminates some confusion.

We have been testing the unlocked version

. There is no carrier inflation software above, but AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon locked versions will have a large number of pre-loaded apps. Out of the box, you can expect normal Samsung apps such as AR Zone, Galaxy Wearable, Health, Samsung Member and other core apps. Folders containing Google and Microsoft applications are also located here.

Another big news is that Samsung is still guaranteeing Android updates for three years. We have no doubt that this Snapdragon 888 processor will last until then and may exceed it-please see the benchmarks below. However, most importantly, it extends the life cycle of smartphones.

When dealing with every device we tested at CNN Underscored, we ran

Pass a series of benchmark tests. One standard is GeekBench 5, which will run the phone as a stress test to complete a series of tasks. The Galaxy S21 scored 1,110 on a single core and 3,477 on a multi-core. This is only slightly lower than the S21 Ultra, which got 1,122 on a single core and 3,489 on multiple cores. This is a set of scores consistent with our daily use, proving that the speed of the S21 is impressive.

The S21 has a 4,000mAh battery that can be easily charged for a full day and then recharged. Similar to our software benchmark test, we ran the Galaxy S21 through a battery test. In this case, we looped 4K video in VLC, set the device to airplane mode, and set the brightness to 50%. When the device reaches 100% power, we unplug it until the device turns off. The test is monitored by two cameras to ensure accuracy.

It lasted 12 hours and 10 minutes, surpassing the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra which lasted 10 hours. Any way you try to slice will be very impressive. Moreover, you can charge your phone in two main ways: through the USB-C port on the bottom, through the plug, or through the Qi-enabled wireless charging pad on the back. When connected to a power source via a hard wire, the Galaxy S21 can charge 25 watts. However, this time you will not plug the power supply box in the box-like Apple, Samsung has given up the accessories that came with it and asked you to bring your own accessories.

Price is $1,199

It is an advanced device that can correct the mistakes of the S20, that is, in the imaging field. In order to provide a clearer 100x space zoom, Samsung has increased the number of cameras to five. The high-quality Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor will help the processing time, and the processor is also responsible for powering this large phone.

The new design language of the 2021 Galaxy series is

. External storage devices are still not here-the bottom of the S21 Ultra has a SIM card slot, USB-C port and speakers. The power and volume keys are built into the metal frame on the right. The antenna and microphone are etched into a metal frame that matches the color of Phantom Black or Phantom Silver.

S21 Ultra is huge. People with small hands will need to use two hands, and even a large hand can sometimes cause you discomfort. Nevertheless, even if it is only half a pound in size, it will not feel like the heaviest brick on the camera bump.

Unlike the S21 which chooses a plastic back cover, the S21 Ultra has a frosted glass back cover and is a high-end product. It also does an excellent job of hiding fingerprints on the Phantom Black surface. Samsung's new color is actually only a deep matte black. Although it is good, we hope that we can choose popular colors. Ultra only offers more timid colors, Phantom Black or Phantom Silver, but you can customize it directly through Samsung as needed.

But this more uniform design

. The black metal on the frame extends to the large camera bump on the back, which is equipped with five lenses, an autofocus sensor and an LED flash. All of this brings an excellent feel to the S21 Ultra.

6.8-inch display on the display

Not just bigger, it's WQHD + AMOLED. It is higher than 3200 x 1440 HD (1080p) and can provide the clearest images. However, in the settings, you can turn it down to FHD+.

Compared with S21, the refresh rate here is also more impressive, because it can be as low as 10Hz and can be extended to 120Hz. This is similar to how the refresh rate shows the minute hand movement on Apple Watch Series 6. The lower Hz means that the S21 Ultra can be displayed on a higher efficiency and larger display, which is very important. This is the real key: O20 S20 Ultra, you cannot run the display with WQHD+ and zoom to 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung has determined here and in our tests that it will not destroy battery life.

The display on the S21 Ultra is a key part of the phone: it is a deep viewfinder for photography, video calling relatives or shooting the latest movies. With the WQHD+ resolution set to the vivid full WQHD+ resolution, the colors do appear suddenly with dark spots on the side, which immediately takes you to any content on the screen.

Moreover, the S Pen is the first to be equipped with a Galaxy S mobile phone. It is not as integrated as the Galaxy Note, and after some tests, we found that it is essential to the S21 Ultra. With a large 6.8-inch display that supports Wacom technology, this is an excellent way to quickly jot down notes or doodles. If you are from Galaxy Note or Tab S7, you can use the same S Pen here. Samsung also sells two protective cases bundled with the S Pen, or you can get a standalone stylus. You will have full access to Samsung Notes, you can write on the screen when it is locked for quick notes, and you can use it to control the user interface.

The S20 Ultra’s camera experience is very slow, the results are blurry, and there are autofocus issues. Samsung passed

. Let's get familiar with the hardware on the back:

As we did above, we will embed all the photos captured on the S21 Ultra below. There are 5 lenses in total, which is a complete photography system.

The ultra wide angle is here as powerful as the S21, allowing you to capture a wider lens without sacrificing image quality. Whether indoors or outdoors, using it to capture New York City is a very pleasant thing for us. By default, Scene Optimizer is turned on, which is an example of what Samsung AI is working on. In some cases we tested, it resulted in darker images and lack of color. Turning it off can solve the problem, but it is not as simple as pointing and shooting in this case.

The nona-binning technology that combines pixels to provide 12-megapixel images has been improved year by year. For starters, the processing time is close to one second, and the processing time is even shorter for images taken during the day with sufficient light. Zooming in on these photos preserves the details in the slightly saturated image. You can also choose to shoot at full resolution of 108 megapixels.

What is really interesting is the 100x spatial zoom. We will say in advance: If you expect 100x freehand drawing without graininess, you will be disappointed.

We took a few photos from the edge of Freedom, the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower (a 100-story skyscraper above New York City). It can be said with certainty that, especially at 100x, this is a blurry lens, retaining some details. The lens also seems to struggle in low light conditions. It can be said that we took a close-up photo of the Statue of Liberty at close range, which is very clean. Therefore, to some extent, this is still a mm head, and we don't want you to shoot at 100x speed often.

The star that really does this is a telephoto lens with a 10x optical lens. It is indeed a game changer for mobile photography, and we very much hope that it can be used on S21, S21+ and other phones on the market. It is very suitable for long-distance shooting and provides usable images, which you are proud to share on the Internet. This too

Lens. With these, it is the fusion of 3x optics and 10x optics with artificial intelligence and many fast capture technologies. All of these are combined to provide a blurry (that's blurry) image shot at extremely large zoom.

Without crazy light, in the test lens, we saw a lot of particles blur the image. When shooting freehand with 100x zoom, there may be some lack of clarity, we just want higher clarity. We have contacted Samsung to learn about the excellent performance of using Space Zoom in low light, but we have not heard any response yet.

It has great potential for photography. Single lens shooting and improved scene detection function will help you to take better photos regardless of the lens. Portrait shooting has also been greatly improved, allowing better hair detection and shooting where the focus should start or stop. Like the iPhone 12 series, you can choose from different portrait lighting, and Samsung can let you adjust the blur level in real time to take it a step further.

And if you are a selfie fan, this is good news for you. For starters, when you flip the front camera for the first time, a window will pop up asking if you want to take a natural selfie. Samsung no longer uses AI to promote skin smoothing or facial beautification. The S21 Ultra improves the quality of the front lens to 40 megapixels.

As mentioned above,

The biggest difference in using the same state-of-the-art processor as the Galaxy S21 is the amount of RAM (memory) paired with the processor. As Samsung has done in the past, they are packing more RAM into the most high-end smartphones. It provides a runway for heavy tasks-consider large games and creative tasks such as photo or video editing. It is also sufficient to power the five cameras on the back and the larger 6.8-inch display.

Choosing 128GB or 256GB internal storage space means there will be 12GB RAM inside. The largest 512GB variant of the S21 Ultra has up to 16GB of RAM, which is unheard of on a smartphone.

Although we tested higher RAM models, our experience on S21 Ultra is almost the same compared to S21. As we expected, it is not RAM that needs to be considered in daily use, but the efficiency and functions that the Snapdragon 888 processor can provide. Of course, the image processing speed may be faster, but there is no real noteworthy point. This is really good news, because you don’t have to buy the most expensive models with a big screen for the best performance, especially if you want a smaller phone.

On Snapdragon 888

Especially solve the problem that the camera processing time is too long. It has enough cores inside to use five lenses for shooting, stitching pixels together and nine points in one, and can add light when night mode shooting is not present. This is indeed Samsung beating the Note 20 Ultra, providing an engaging experience on the S20, and trying to steal the processor that users need from the iPhone field.

Android 11 equipped with Samsung One UX 3.1 actually runs Ultra just like on the core S21. Just swipe your finger to complete it instantly.

When dealing with all the equipment we tested on CNN Underscored, we passed the S21 Ultra through a series of benchmark tests. One standard is GeekBench 5, which will run the phone as a stress test to complete a series of tasks. The S21 Ultra got 1,122 on a single core and 3,489 on multiple cores. This is a set of scores consistent with our daily use. Compared with the $799 S21, this $1,299 smartphone has a slight advantage.

S21 Ultra – Yes, even if the monitor is set to WQHD+, you can easily complete a whole day. It has a huge 5,000mAh battery. We trace the impressive battery life to the efficiency of the processor, the ability to dynamically adjust the refresh rate, and software optimization.

Similar to our software benchmark test, we ran the Galaxy S21 Ultra through a battery test. In this case, we looped 4K video in VLC, set the device to airplane mode, and set the brightness to 50%. When the device reaches 100% power, we unplug it until the device turns off. The test is monitored by two cameras to ensure accuracy.

It lasted a total of 15 hours and 57 minutes. Like the S21, the S21 Ultra supports fast charging up to 25 watts through the USB-C port. And you need to bring your own wall plug, because this plug is no longer included in the Samsung box. S21 Ultra also supports Qi-enabled wireless charging.

Just like our review of the iPhone 12 last fall and the Galaxy S20 last spring, we are catching up with 5G. Out of the box

And S21 Ultra are equipped with Sub6 and mmWave frequency bands for connecting low-band and ultra-wideband 5G networks. The latter is your promised 5G, whose upload and download speed will exceed your home Wi-Fi.

In the United States, the low frequency band is a more popular frequency band, similar to 4G LTE. Don't expect this speed to drop by 2,000Mbps, but close to 200Mbps at fast speeds. The low frequency band means that there is more space on the network for a large number of devices to connect at the same time. As 5G devices become more common, this will help reduce congestion. The low frequency band is easier to roll out, and there is less fussy technology. You don't need to stand directly in the sight of the 5G tower, you will see it in more wireless markets of AT&T and Verizon.

During the week of testing, we traveled to hypothetical 5G ultra-broadband sites in New Jersey and New York City. When we can see the Verizon 5G cellular site and have our S21 or S21 Ultra point to it-without any obstacles-we can reach download speeds of up to 2,000Mbps. Although we did see a drop in battery power after several tests, neither device got hot. It is similar to our iPhone 12 test because it walked down the street or took some measures that caused us to lose our ultra-wideband connection.

As 5G becomes more mainstream and the network is launched, the experience should get better and better. We hope that the technology behind UWB or mmWave will also mature. Now, if you are in any market in the 5G band, you can enjoy it. But if you are not like this, don't be disappointed, choosing S21 or S21 Ultra will be a way to ensure future development.

S21 Ultra also has other key connection forms: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.0 / LE, especially ultra-wideband. Don't worry about the 6E on the back of the Wi-Fi. This is the latest standard and can be used as a form of future verification. We are beginning to see the first routers with Wi-Fi 6E shipped, and it may take some time to adopt it. Bluetooth is very convenient for earplugs, headsets and a large number of accessories. At present, UWB has not been widely used, but it is very helpful for positioning and tracking.

Samsung has achieved a lot of success this year. along with

, They straightened the boat. We are still declaring that the Ultra, priced at $1,199, has a large display, an advanced processor, more RAM than most people need, a total of six cameras, and other features. This is indeed a super high-quality smartphone, capable of

and with


If you don’t want to display a lot or spend too much money,

It's an amazing choice. Priced at $799, it offers a set of universal cameras, a full-day battery life, the same zippy processor and an excellent display. Currently, it is our favorite Android phone on the market. If you want a bigger experience, check out the Galaxy S21+, which costs $999.

The standard has been set, let us see how other brands compete and what Samsung will offer later in 2021.

Pre-orders will be accepted soon and will be launched on January 29.

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