It’s an iterative year for Samsung’s latest flagship smartphones, where the company is simply improving on a year-old design instead of charging new devices with breakthrough features. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, with the new Galaxy S21 Series—Which includes the Galaxy S21, S21 + and S21 Ultra – what you mainly get are refined versions of models from last year for a lower price. Small changes, not all rosy, help make these Android phones a the best money can buy.
Samsung lent me a Galaxy S21 and a Galaxy S21 Ultra to test. The latter is the most notable, taking a price cut of $ 200 his predecessor while still maintaining a great camera system that just might be the best around. But even with this price drop, there’s $ 1,200 left. Unless your eyes are on the top prize, the $ 800 S21 (which also suffered a reduction of $ 200 starting at $ 1,000 S20) will meet your needs, even if it won’t blow you away.
Zoom in on the cat
I want to start with the one reason everyone should splurge for the S21 Ultra: the zoom camera. No, I’m not talking about the fact that you can zoom up to 100X on distant objects; the quality at these zoom levels is poor. It’s the 10X optical zoom that really shines.
Do you need what zoom level? No, but I don’t feel limited by the hardware I use, which I have experienced using phones with 2X or 3X optical zoom. Many phones don’t even have optical zoom, which requires you to zoom in and crop digitally, reducing picture quality. It’s been the norm for quite some time, so it’s nice to see Samsung leading the charge for something better. (In the United States anyway; there are phones with similar zoom technology, but they’re not sold here.) We’ve reached a point in smartphone camera technology where the quality offered at 10X is great most of the time, and that’s something we do. I desperately want to see more affordable handsets spread.
I took crisp, close-up photos of the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building in New York City, despite being across the Hudson River in Brooklyn. The quality starts to drop as the sun goes down (due to its narrower f / 4.9 aperture, the Ultra’s zoom camera can’t absorb as much light as other cameras), but it does an admirable job. when paired with Samsung’s night mode. This mode takes multiple images in a matter of seconds and uses software to merge them into a single bright and clear final image.
There’s actually another 10-megapixel telephoto lens on the S21 Ultra this year. It offers 3X optical zoom which produces great photos if you don’t need a higher zoom level. It’s good to have two options! The remaining cameras are a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, great for tight spaces or for shooting panoramic landscapes, and a 108-megapixel main sensor for everyday shots.
I went for a bike tour around Brooklyn to test the S21 Ultra alongside the S21, the S20 + from last year, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and Google Pixel 5. What I remember is that most of the time, the Ultra comes out on top, even with the selfie camera! It might not be the best for handling high contrast scenes or portraits, and the colors can sometimes be off, but it often produces the sharpest images of the bunch. This is largely true when using Night Mode, although the iPhone and Pixel are much more tolerant of camera shake. If you don’t keep the S21 absolutely still while shooting in the dark, you’ll probably need to retake the shot.