It hasn’t even been a year ever since Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 series but they’ve already unpacked the Galaxy S21 as early as January 2021.
I even remember we did a three-way review of the Galaxy S20 variants when it was launched. That experience serves as an eye-opener for me that I am, by all means, an “Ultra” user for the tasks I do. Multitasking, gaming, watching, shooting with great set of cameras, what more could I ask for now that I have the Galaxy S21 Ultra in my big hands?
While there are currently less newer flagships in the horizon powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 such as the China-exclusive iQOO 7 and the Xiaomi Mi 11 with its pending global release, is it enough to say that this phone is the best among all the beasts released so far? Let’s find out.
Ultra-minimal box content
The rumors are true after all. After mocking Apple for removing bundled chargers, Samsung still followed their path and ditched the usual 25W Super Fast Charger. Inside the retail box, I only got the phone itself, the usual SIM tray ejector tool, some paperwork, and a USB-C to USB-C cable.
It appears the removal of the AKG earphones in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packaging was already an early hint.
Love it or hate it, the Galaxy S21 series has a newer design that I honestly admire. While last year’s S20 Ultra had a glossy finish, the S21 Ultra now has a matte finish like the Note 20 Ultra — which should lessen the amount of fingerprints on the device. I used the Galaxy S20+ in Cosmic Black last year and that was an ultimate fingerprint and scratch magnet.
Samsung is proud of this year’s “Phantom Black” colorway by doing several processes to achieve its true and final color. It’s a more mature look that’s bold yet clean.
The whole process reminds me of how Apple made the Jet Black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Regardless of that tedious process, this dark color option closely resembles Apple’s Matte Black variant even more.
But unlike the iPhone’s aluminum unibody chassis, this one is made out of a tougher Gorilla Glass Victus — even tougher than last year’s Gorilla Glass 6. Albeit, there are times when fingerprint smudges still show when hit by light.
Distinct from the Galaxy S21 and S21+ is this humongous camera bump of the S21 Ultra with six holes in different sizes that house its wide array of camera components.
If you have big hands like I do, you’ll enjoy using this phone. Holding the phone feels lighter than last year’s S20 Ultra. But frankly speaking, it’s still on the hefty side — what more if you have petite hands?
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, despite its larger display and sharper edges, was still easier and more comfortable for me to hold in one hand. That’s due to the fact that it has symmetrical sides and a slimmer form factor.
Turning the phone around reveals the new “Contour Cut Camera Design” where the phone’s metal frame meets the thicc AF camera hump. Unlike most people who despise it, I just love this over last year’s rounded rectangular-cutout.
Ultra-immersive audiovisual experience
I’m always a sucker for great displays — and Samsung always exceeds my expectations. Even though it’s less curved and a tad smaller at 6.8-inches (compared to last year’s 6.9), there isn’t much of a difference. It still feels immersive with its narrow and almost-borderless viewing experience.
With its Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, the colors pop with vibrant hues, deeper blacks and whiter whites. It’s still the ultra-crisp and vibrant display I’ve been loving ever since I had the Samsung Wave in 2010 — Samsung’s first Super AMOLED device in history (announced a month earlier than the Galaxy S).
It also has 1500 nits of max brightness, which helped me use the screen even under harsh sunlight. Paired with crisp and loud stereo speakers, it’s truly a great device for your entertainment needs.
While last year’s S20 had a progressive 120Hz refresh rate, the caveat is you only get it under Full HD+ resolution. This time, while it may be adaptive, you get to enjoy 2K+ resolution/120Hz.
It might be an ongoing discussion for most users but I prefer faster refresh rates over larger screen resolution. Enabling both options affect the battery life over time anyway.
To maximize the Samsung ecosystem, I paired the new phone with my good ol’ Galaxy Buds+. I always love how seamless the transition is from connecting all the way to listening without frills and hassle. Don’t fret! As long as your audio accessory has Bluetooth (like my AirPods 2 and Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones), you’re good to go.
Whether you choose Face Unlock or the embedded fingerprint sensor, unlocking is fast and snappy! Unlike before where I have to press more than twice just to unlock both the S20+ and Note 20 Ultra, the new ultrasonic under-display sensor unlocks even when I lightly tap the screen for around 0.5 seconds.
The Face Unlock feature is also here. While it may not be as secure as iPhone’s FaceID system, it’s still fast. Samsung has maximized the use of AI so it will be fool-proof and won’t unlock when you’re asleep.
This Galaxy S21 Ultra has 12GB of memory. Although it maxes out at 16GB RAM, my unit is enough to make the most out of the tasks I do in a day.
Whether I open social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook, it comes to no surprise that they’ll open instantly.
In my previous phone reviews, there are times where some of the apps in the background close by themselves — whether that may be Instagram, a photo-editing app, a shopping app, Apple Music, and a game in idle. The RAM capacity isn’t the issue, rather the management and lack of software optimization.
In the case of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, switching between apps is a breeze. The navigation gestures on the new One UI 3.1 based on Android 11 is more fluid and responsive. One might say these have been around in most 2020 Android smartphones, but Samsung’s implementation is as close as what I get in iOS.
I commit spelling mistakes more often when I use the keyboard, no matter what Android device I use.
Fortunately, typing has been convenient in Samsung’s native keyboard. I was able to type one-handed with little to no typos at all. This means I don’t need a third-party keyboard like Gboard nor had the need to adjust keyboard height. I don’t even need to switch to one-handed mode at this point.
Ultra woes in storage and performance
The Galaxy S21 series marks the first Samsung smartphone to ship with Snapdragon 888 in the US and China. As bad as it sounds, the rest of the world comes with Samsung’s in-house Exynos 2100 processor. These chipsets are both 5nm — which makes it smaller, faster, and more power-efficient.
There’s no problem in performance. I played Asphalt 9 as well as Call of Duty: Mobile (CoDM) and both were smooth and responsive. You can even see how I scored almost 5,000 points in a single Ranked Match game.
But Samsung’s claim wasn’t really addressed at all. During the first fifteen minutes, the phone quickly sizzled while playing. I can literally feel it especially because I used the phone without a case. To make it worse, I went out to shoot some photos around late in the afternoon, and the phone was still hot to touch.
Another rumor that was later confirmed is the removal of the microSD slot. Previously, Samsung supported up to 2TB of external storage.
This review unit comes with 256GB of internal storage. Based on my experience, I was able to maximize my iPhone’s 256GB storage for almost two years. But considering how this phone shoots 4K-8K UHD footage and high-quality stills? It might take a shorter time to completely fill this up.
Having a microSD card expansion offers the fastest and safest way to backup your files. I feel the sentiment and rage of most Samsung users especially because having no external storage in the Galaxy Note 5 made me lost a lot of unbacked files after a motherboard failure five years ago.
Ultra-heavy battery (and drain)
The equipped 5,000mAh battery might be enough for a flagship smartphone like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but my first day with it wasn’t particularly promising.
Other than those heating issues, it’s also plagued with serious battery drain. Using it continuously from 8AM to 1PM with 5G, WQHD+, and 120Hz enabled resulted to a major decrease in battery life. From 100%, it went down to 34% — that’s just five hours of moderate use of social media apps and the camera.
Disclaimer: I did the extensive gameplay and camera test around 3-4PM, just right after doing an hour of charge using my powerbank.
Third day of use, it notified me of a new software update. I’m unsure if that solved the heating and drain issues as I barely used the phone while I worked on articles and videos but the standby time since has been pretty stable. The screenshots prove that from 3PM (82%), it only had a 11% decrease after 11 hours of standby (2AM) with little to no phone activity.
While there’s no official word from Samsung if the S21 models support 45W super fast wired charging, the closest thing you can have is Samsung’s 25W Super Fast Charger.
In my case, I used a third-party 30W USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charger. Even if it only detected “Fast charging”, it was completely juiced up after an hour and a half.
If you have a fast wireless charger that supports speeds of up to 15W, charging the S21 Ultra will also work on that as well.
Ultra-speedy 5G connection
Although 5G speeds may not be blazing fast just like in South Korea and the US, the S21 Ultra was able to detect ultra-fast 5G speeds around the Metro.
Downloading and uploading shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’ve managed to download the first three episodes of the K-Drama ‘Uncanny Counter’ under a minute. Even uploading a 30-second 8K video took a minute — which isn’t possible in 4G LTE and regular Wi-Fi hotspots.
While my unit doesn’t come with the new S-Pen, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S-series smartphone that’s capable of supporting it.
As a creative who’s been fond of the Note series, the S-Pen is, no doubt, a greater way to interact with your phone — regardless if it’s scribbling, digital painting, or even as simple as decorating your Instagram story.
The longer and thicker S-Pen might just be comfortable enough — which was something I wasn’t used to with the Note 20 Ultra’s shorter and slender S-Pen. To make it better, it also has a 9-millisecond (9ms) latency that will feel like you’re writing on a paper.
There’s also the latest Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) support. Lost your Galaxy Buds? It’ll be easier to locate with the SmartThings app. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy SmartTags which you can attach on bags, luggages, and even car keys so you can track them wherever, whenever.
Ultra-Grade Cameras and Features
On paper, the S21 Ultra has some beefy camera sensors: a 108-megapixel f/1.8 wide (main) camera with Phase-Detection AF and OIS, as well as a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide sensor with a 120º FoV (Field of View) that’s also found on other S21 smartphones.
What makes it stand out than the rest of the S21 line are the two 10-megapixel telephoto cameras: one that’s capable of 3x optical zoom, and another that reaches up to 10x optical zoom, both with Dual Pixel technology and OIS for clearer zoomed shots.
The problem with last year’s S20 Ultra is how wobbly it is when using the zoom function. But because of better sensors and stabilization, the S21 Ultra now has a zoom lock feature where it focuses on a subject from a distance without the camera preview getting distorted.
Other than the 8K UHD/24fps support, 4K/60fps comes standard regardless of what lens you use for video recording. Even the front camera supports it so vloggers can edit and upload videos in 4K.
While the dual shot mode has been around since the Galaxy Note 3 where it simultaneously takes a photo/video both from the front and rear cameras, Director’s View is more of an improvement with better configurations to choose from.
Other than the single view, you also get the classic split mode, and even a PiP (Picture-in-Picture). But the biggest addition is the ability to effortlessly switch between the wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses.
Ultra-mazing 108MP camera
The ultimate star of the show is the wide camera that’s capable of shooting 108-megapixel photos. If we’re going a bit technical, the S21 Ultra packs the latest ISOCELL HM3 sensor by Samsung with a larger sensor and improvements in dynamic range, autofocus, and low-light. It’s an update from the HM2 and last year’s HM1 of the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra.
With the presence of natural light, one would always expect that the latest smartphones will take great photos. It’s always the software processing techniques that differentiate the camera quality of one smartphone to another.
Over the years, Samsung is known for boosting the saturation of the photos it takes — and the S21 Ultra does the same. While it may look good on the eyes of many, it sometimes goes overboard with all the camera processing and algorithm just to make a natural, “bland” scene into something lively and vivid that looks artificial.
For most users, this isn’t a bad thing. If the camera software does all of the job, it means less time for them to process it. But for a serious shooter like me, I’d prefer flatter shots and adjust what’s needed after the shots were taken.
Other than the color test, I also tested how the camera performs when it comes to food. Most Android smartphones I’ve tried tend to over saturate and over sharpen food shots. Fortunately, the images above look more natural.
Even my issue with Note 20 Ultra’s weird radial blur on close-ups are gone. But if you want that extra-dramatic blur effect, Food Mode will help.
I also tried using the main sensor with manual mode. The shots above clearly show that the S21 Ultra is capable of producing top-notch, DSLR-like bokeh.
From the perspective of my friend who uses an iPhone Xs Max, she was astounded with how the S21 Ultra performed using the Portrait Mode.
Other than the wider view, background on both shots look creamy with a clean segmentation between our hair strands — something most Android phones and older iPhones can’t do properly.
Just like on the Galaxy S21 and S21+, the S21 Ultra features the similar 12-megapixel Ultra-wide camera. It’s capable of shooting wider shot perspectives just like the building I captured above.
The ultra-wide sensor also helps capture more elements and details in outdoor shots like these.
In tight situations, there’s got to be a use for telephoto zoom lenses. If one isn’t enough, Samsung doubled it for better and clearer shots from afar.
In the first set, the HDR (High Dynamic Range) and AWB (Auto White Balance) were both consistent throughout the lenses — something most Android manufacturers fail to do. I tested the superiority of the S21 Ultra’s cameras up to its maximum focal length.
Since I’m an architecture dilettante, I tried zooming in close to the building. At my surprise, the window looked sharp and clear enough after the preview.
In the second set, I saw these playful Chow Chows roaming around the grasses with their hoomans.
Zooming in as close as 30x digital zoom helped me capture one while his/her tongue is sticking out. But if we’ll look closely, the shot has a weird noise reduction that sits between camera grain and software smoothening.
Let’s move straight ahead to the third set, I tried using both the 3x and 10x telephoto lenses.
The HDR was pretty dull in the wide shot and it’s less green in the first three modes. Meanwhile, zooming in to 10x looked more lively because of the saturation boost.
Finally, this last set was taken in my favorite park. Again, the wide angle lens had an inconsistency, this time in exposure. Unlike the HDR problem from the last photo, that can be corrected through post-process.
Zooming in as close as 10x gives us clear details of the metallic tree. Zooming in further at 30x is acceptable. 100x zoom is barely usable.
As bonuses, these macro shots were taken in a windy environment. While it may not be as clear as what you get from a DSLR, Galaxy S21 Ultra’s long zoom capabilities are clearly commendable for producing the right amount of exposure, contrast, dynamic range, even if it displayed some hints of over-sharpening.
Ultra-clear night shots
It wouldn’t be a camera test without testing how it performs under low-light scenarios.
Regardless of what camera lens you’re using, Night Mode works on both the Ultra-wide, wide, and telephoto lenses.
Of course, without Night Mode, shots look blotchy, smudgy, with a lot of dark shadows and blown-out highlights. But with Samsung’s Night Mode, it fixes not only the Dynamic Range, but also the exposure and contrast of the image — especially in situations where there are less night light available.
With night mode turned off, the convenience store sign was barely recognizable. But with the magic of Samsung’s image processing, it was able to fix all the colors and details in the image.
But unlike the previous Huawei flagships, the S21 Ultra maxes out night zoom at only 10x. The Mate 30 Pro I used in 2019 was capable of zooming in on the moon as close as 30x.
Unlike its younger siblings, the Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a larger 40-megapixel front shooter with a dedicated ultra-wide view. Other than the less-smeared faces with retained face artifacts, the front camera can also shoot in Portrait Mode that works just like how the rear cameras perform.
As another bonus, here’s how the Galaxy S21 Ultra Phantom Black will look like if you’re planning to flex it in your future mirror selfies 😂
Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra your Ultimate GadgetMatch?
Priced at PhP 69,990 for the 12GB/256GB model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra simply isn’t for everyone. If you’re the type of user who has the purchasing power and clearly knows that you want the best of everything in a smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate smartphone you can buy right now.
You might be considering to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max instead. That’s a fine option if you’re the type of user who’s locked in Apple’s ecosystem. But if it doesn’t bother you to try something new in the Android world, the S21 Ultra might just be a better option.
I know what you’re thinking. There’s still the existing S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra that both cost a little less. They still have a great set of display, specs, and cameras at a lower price. But if owning what’s new in the market today is an important buying factor for you, look no further and pick the S21 Ultra — unless you want to wait for a quirkier follow-up of the Galaxy Z Fold2 and the Z Flip.
Consider the Galaxy S21+ if you wanna keep the same material and specs minus the cameras and curved 2K display. If you want the less fancy stuff, go for the Galaxy S21, Note 20, or even last year’s Galaxy S20 FE (unless you can wait for the S21 FE successor).
MagSafe Battery Pack Review: Is it worth It?
$100 for a powerbank?
Fast forward this July 2021, Apple unveiled the real deal. But is it worth the $100 asking price?
Watch our iPhone MagSafe Battery Pack Review now!
Huawei Mate X2 Review: The Better Foldable?
While the Galaxy Z Fold2 showed various improvements over the uncanny Galaxy Fold, Huawei’s Mate X2 offers better outer display ratio, more robust durable hinge mechanism, and an almost crease-less display.
But which one is better? Head over to our Huawei Mate X2 review now!
Huawei MatePad 2021 review: Midrange tablet contender
A multimedia champ
In the age of advanced technology, there is still space for budget and mid-range devices. This is where the Huawei MatePad 2021 comes in. A simple but capable tablet that can keep up with your daily needs.
Here I am, using the device for some time now and I can actually say, man, this is good! At first, I was doubtful about the capabilities of the MatePad given that it does not have Google services. But to my surprise, this device can stand on its own and deliver great performance when you need it to. But of course, it has its own setbacks.
The new MatePad is a simple but clean design. The weight of the device is so light, it’s not a hassle to hold around all day. I advise you to place a case over that tablet. Its weight can definitely fool you and it has an occasional slipping from time to time. The device is easy to hold in landscape orientation, it feels good on the hands too.
Unfortunately, when you hold it in a portrait orientation, it suddenly feels too slim, but bearable. Its curved corners help with the grip and the screen follows that curved corners too, giving it a modern look. Its midnight grey colorway is definitely a great color, but I hope they add more colors to their lineup.
The single shooter camera at the back is nothing special. I understand how a number of tablets do not really prioritize it. The quality of the rear camera is acceptable given that there’s good lighting in your area.
The front-facing camera is not good at all. However, given its price and the fact that it’s a tablet, you shouldn’t expect much from it anyway.
I love the screen size. It has curved corners and is well optimized with the apps. The IPS display is 2000×1000. Great quality, but there are better screens out there. For a mid-range device, the display is highly acceptable.
Having a 10.4-inch screen, multitasking is a breeze. With this, you can use two apps and still have a sizeable screen for content. eBook mode is like the ultra power saving mode on Samsung galaxy phones. Your screen will turn black and white which not only saves you from eye strain, it also saves the battery of the device — which is amazing!
The Histen 6.0 3D stereo provided with the MatePad is superb for its price. The quad-speaker setup of this device surely gives it a huge boost and is rare in the mid-range market.
Music streaming was such an amazing experience, it gave me all smiles while testing it out. Even at maximum volume, the audio wasn’t bad at all, the clarity of the music and the instruments still sound superb and this is a huge plus to the device.
The MatePad was pretty good when it came to multimedia consumption, you can download Netflix, HBO Go, and Spotify, just to name a few! The apps were perfectly optimized and the display surely keeps the experience enjoyable. Watching Netflix, HBO Go and YouTube content was fun. I have not experienced any issue regarding the apps itself as it fits perfectly to the size of the display.
Downloading apps can be a new experience when using a Huawei Device. They have their own Huawei AppGallery that may or may not offer you all of the apps you want. For downloading the apps like Netflix, HBO Go and many more, you will be redirected to an APK site. Once in the APK site there will be a download link for you to click and wait for the app to be downloaded. After the process, you’ll find your app ready to set up and use on a daily.
We also have to mention that the MatePad is supported by the M-Pencil. This means you can have more than one mode of entertainment for your device. Take down notes or draw the MatePad is surely lucky to have a stylus fitted for its capabilities.
Gaming in this device is, what can I say? — AMAZING! Great graphics and playing games in the highest settings is no problem for this tablet. Personally, playing games like Mobile Legends is perfect for tablets. Playing PUBG Mobile on this device was quite an experience.
Don’t worry about your device when it comes to gaming, it’s a piece of cake for this one! A little bit of advice, Huawei encourages you to turn off Bluetooth when playing games, the reason is unknown but they’re preventing lag given the notification.
The MatePad holds a 7,250mAh battery, making it a long-lasting device. I played five games in Mobile Legends and the device still stands at 100 percent battery life! You can watch season one of Brooklyn Nine-nine and still have a few more left in the tank. believe me, I’ve tried it myself.
The MatePad surely is a surprising and powerful device, but it seems that this tablet is being held back at some point.
The device lags when using its gestures, from closing apps to left and right swipes, the tablet finds itself lagging and buggy. One huge problem that they need to fix is the App Gallery, now, don’t get me wrong, it works.
The thing is, when you download apps, it takes you to another site and then you download the APK file. YouTube app is nowhere to be found and it’s kind of a bummer. Users will be stuck with a website version turned to an app. The YouTube “app” is buggy and is a pain to use.
Limited apps are available, and lets face it the apps there are not the ones we use on a daily. There are a few apps loaded but not installed and it’s not a pretty sight. It looks like uninstalled bloatware craving for your attention. My advice to anyone who’s going to buy this is that pick some of the provided apps and then remove the remaining apps.
Downloading apps can be a pain too if you’re not familiar with the current Huawei System.
Should you buy the Huawei MatePad?
My answer is a yes, even though they lack Google support and it has a few laggy moments. The MatePad is surely a bang-for-your-buck device. Whatever your current tablet can do, the MatePad can do it too, maybe even better.
MagSafe Battery Pack Review: Is it worth It?
$100 for a powerbank?
Huawei Mate X2 Review: The Better Foldable?
Huawei introduced a different kind of foldable approach with the Mate X way back in 2019. But this year, they’re...
Huawei MatePad 2021 review: Midrange tablet contender
A multimedia champ
Samsung spoils what it’s launching in August
iPhone 14 series might use titanium chassis
BlackBerry resurrection teased once again
Netflix is reportedly producing a live-action Pokémon series
mWell: new health & wellness app for Filipinos
Huawei MatePad Pro 12.6 Unboxing and First Impressions
VanMoof X3 Review: The Tesla of E-Bikes?
Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut coming to PS5, PS4
A long-time PlayStation fanboy switches to the Xbox Series X
How to start streaming with the Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2
Hands-On2 weeks ago
3 reasons why the Huawei Watch 3 deserves to be on your wrist
Features2 weeks ago
Mobile gaming with the vivo V21 5G
Gaming2 weeks ago
Razer launches its new Barracuda X wireless headset
Gaming2 weeks ago
Steam launches first portable console, the Steam Deck
Gaming2 weeks ago
Razer unveils its new Blade 17 gaming laptop
Gaming2 weeks ago
NBA 2K22: Luka Doncic, Candace Parker are cover athletes
Accessories2 weeks ago
LG announces four new monitors in the Philippines
Reviews2 weeks ago
realme Watch 2 Pro: When purpose meets versatility