Just to be extra, I’ve decided to write this review using the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra itself. 

Last week, you read my first thoughts on this flashy new smartphone. I won’t linger too long on certain aspects of the S21 Ultra including its design and size since it’s already covered in the previous article. However, this time, we go deep into the workings of the S21 Ultra and see if this new flagship is worth its RM5,299 price tag. 

Display

Right off the bat, let’s talk about the first thing you see when you get a new phone: its display. Samsung is doing something special with the S21 Ultra this year — on the surface, you see a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O display with a native resolution of 1440 x 3200 pixels. 

samsung galaxy s21 ultra

What does that all mean? 

For starters, you’re going to get the brightest screen with the best contrast with rich colours. Infinity-O, on the other hand, signals a curved display with thin bezels and a tiny cutout for the front camera. For those who can’t stand to see that “notch” on your smartphone screen, this one’s for you. 

All these jargons, though, pale in comparison to what the S21 Ultra’s display actually has to offer: a 120Hz refresh rate. The refresh rate is so quick that it’s perfect for high-definition games to move as slick as butter. Couple that with the smartphone’s 1440 pixel resolution and you’ll get the best gaming experience possible from a smartphone device.

Playing Call of Duty on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra was incredible.

Verdict: I tested this out with some Android games reputable for its great graphics: Call of Duty Mobile, Cover Fire, and a personal creepy favourite, Endless Nightmare. I’m pleased to report that the gaming experience is seamless and smooth. An added bonus: no accidentally pulling down the notification bar like with a certain competitor’s flagship smartphone. 

Camera

The camera prowess is, without a doubt, the piece de resistance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. The new device has added an extra camera this year, upgrading to four cameras: a main wide lens with a 108mp pro sensor, a 12mp ultra-wide lens with 120º field view, a 10mp 3x zoom telephoto lens, and a 10mp 10x telephoto lens capable of zooming up to 100x. To be honest, no one is really going to need the 100x digital zoom as it is far too blurry to actually capture something photo-worthy. Also, when you get that far, the camera’s ability to focus without shaking isn’t great. However, with two telephoto lenses setup in the S21 Ultra, you can actually get some pretty decent shots at the 10x zoom point — just see my photos for proof. 

Although the standard camera mode is set to take pictures at 12mp, you can set it to 108mp to capture even better photos with more details. When you set it to 108mp, that’s where you can really get technical with the phone’s added shooting capabilities in “Pro” mode. Camera enthusiasts can really geek out here with tweaking the aperture, exposure mode, ISO, and whatnot. However, if your photography skills are limited to simply pointing and shooting with a smartphone, these features won’t matter much to you. 

Not much needs to be said for the night mode option — Samsung consistently fares well in low-light conditions, and the S12 Ultra is no different. However, other features like the “Super Slow-Mo” mode will require plenty of lighting to look good. 

Verdict: Does one really need that many high-performing cameras in a smartphone? If you’re one of those who normally travels around with a DSLR, you’re going to enjoy leaving that at home and leaving home with just this smartphone. 

Battery life

Charging twice a day seems set to be the norm, but the S21 Ultra boasts a 5,000 mAh battery which lasts pretty long, based on my personal test. On a day with regular usage – messaging, social media scrolling, two hours of TikTok, emails, a few games here and there – it lasted well over a day with plenty more battery life to continue on a second day. During the night, when unused, the battery power didn’t drop more than 2% either. On the weekends, I was able to test it out more by doing a series of photo and video shoots on the phone, a solid few hours of gaming and video streaming. To my surprise, the battery life lasted pretty much the entire day, finally needing to charge when I headed to bed. Not bad at all. 

(Image credit: Samsung)

Verdict: Packs a significant amount of juice. The S21 Ultra also supports fast-charging up to 25W, but since it only comes with a cable and no charger, it’s up to you to procure that hardware. 

Extra tidbits I enjoyed

Other than the main features of the smartphone that everyone wants to know about, there are a few smaller features that, while I appreciated, aren’t necessarily something for the technophiles. First off is the fingerprint scanner. In this day and age where our public faces are half-covered by a mask, the face detection unlocking feature isn’t a convenient one. This is where the fingerprint scanner came in handy — just a tap on the sensor underneath the screen got the S21 Ultra unlocked and ready to access the MySejahtera app while outside.

Yeah or nah?

My final verdict of this phone and whether it’s worth its RM5,299 starting price tag lies in two questions to ask yourself. One — what is your main reason for using a smartphone? Two — did everything I mentioned above apply to you? If the answer to your first question is just using the phone for social media, texting, and the occasional food and pet photos, the S21 Ultra isn’t the one you’re looking for. It’s a powerful phone with powerful capabilities, which would be a waste not to utilise fully. However, if your livelihood depends on constantly working on the go, taking gorgeous photos and then editing them directly on your phone, or even working with games, then this smartphone is perfect for you. Obviously, if you answered yes to question number two, I know you’ve already pre-ordered your Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. 

(All images by Lifestyle Asia unless mentioned.)

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction.