One of the most controversial features of the S20 Ultra was Samsung’s spatial zoom feature that lets you get really close to distant subjects. In our opinion, we found the tool to be problematic and faulty, mainly due to the poor quality of images beyond 10x. The company wants to solve some of these problems with the S21 Ultra, introducing a new dual telephoto system to deliver “greater clarity with every shot.” One of them offers 3x optical zoom while the other goes up to 10x optical and the phone will automatically switch between them depending on the shooting range. The other two cameras on the back are the main 108-megapixel sensor and an ultra-wide 12-megapixel setup.
Samsung has also introduced a software feature called Zoom Lock to help you keep your subject in the frame even if your hands are shaking at a high zoom level. The company also improved its night mode and made it possible to shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second on all sensors, including the selfie camera on the front.
At 6.8 inches, the S21 Ultra’s screen is a bit smaller than last year’s model (6.9 inches), but you probably won’t notice the difference. What’s more eye-catching 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 in the upper left corner of the back of the phone, the entire corner is separate from the rest of the surface. Looks like someone slipped a rectangular protective cap over the phone.
Unlike the smaller S21 and S21 +, the Ultra is only available in the Phantom Black and Phantom Silver color options, although Samsung has said that more colors like Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown will be “available exclusively. on Samsung.com ”depending on the market. The other flagships also offer additional variations of pink and purple, and on them the “contour cuts” are in eye-catching blush hues. On the silver and black units, the corner sections are more subtle as they are in shades to match the rest of the body.
Beyond the surface, the S21 Ultra is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 chip in the United States and the Exynos 2100 in other parts of the world. Those who have used non-US versions of previous Samsung flagships have long complained about the performance delta of the 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% less power than its predecessor. If these claims are true, the S21’s Exynos models might 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-wideband capability which allows it to unlock compatible car doors or send messages to nearby UWB compatible phones. Finally, the S21 Ultra boots with 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and if you want more of each, you can only go for the Phantom Black model. The Silver Edition gets stuck in this setup, while you can go up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage on the Black Flavor.
If you pre-order the S21 Ultra before January 28, you’ll get a free Galaxy Smart Tag and $ 200 Samsung credit. Otherwise, the new flagship will be available through retail and carrier channels, as well as unlocked through Samsung on January 29.
Update (at 12:35 p.m. ET): This article previously stated, based on information provided to Engadget by Samsung, that the S21 will support the S Pen, but none of the Bluetooth-based Air Actions gestures. The company later announced in its keynote that an S Pen Pro would be available that would work with these Bluetooth gestures, and this article has been edited to reflect that.