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Returning the S21 Ultra: Honest review

(Topic created on: 03-02-2021 02:18 PM)
Hi all just thought I'd share my experience with the s21 ultra and give you my perspective on why I am returning this device.

I am a long time Samsung user and have been using only Samsung devices for the last 4-5 years. So after seeing all the positive influencer reviews I decided to buy the s21 ultra 512gb with 16gb ram top of the line.. the best phone money can buy. But unfortunately after paying over £1300 I felt like I didn't get the usual flagship experience that you once got with Samsung devices. I own a note 9 and man what a device that is, the only reason I wanted to "upgrade" was for the cameras and the fact that Samsung were offering me a good trade in value. Below I will be comparing vs the note 9 and while the s21 ultra is certainly an upgrade in terms of specs what Samsung forgets is that when one buys a flagship its the experience that counts as well.

1 - The unboxing - well there's not much to it really. You open the box you get a phone and a cable. Even the cable is a USB C to USB C. We'll if they're assuming people will use old chargers then they should provide a USB C - USB A and an USB c to USB A converter like they did all this while this will also help with transferring data from the old phone. The note 9 on the other hand had a premium unboxing experience with you having to slide out the box from the sleeve and once you take your phone out you have other goodies. Not a big deal but didn't feel as premium after paying so much. That being said the build quality of the phone is awesome and it looks beautiful it feels solid in the hand. Not much larger than the note but because it is chunkier its easier to hold and feels premium all round. Great design overall. 

2 - The screen - This is one thing I absolutely fell in love with in the s21 ultra. The front is nearly entirely screen and the difference between 120hz and 60hz is noticeable when comparing side by side. I think Samsung, as always, have done an excellent job with the screen. Unfortunately my screen had a slight pink tint. When you look at the screen at certain angles and the background is white this tint is visible for example on Facebook or ebay. Probably poorly calibrated or a manufacturing issue. A search online reveals quite a few others have this issue. For such a pro level phone a pink tint is unacceptable as people use these phones to edit photos etc with all that power. And the colour accuracy being off doesn't make sense at this price. Comparing side by side the note 9 doesn't have this issue and whites look white from any angle no pink tint. Overall the 120hz is definitely something I think of as an upgrade though as everything is buttery smooth and one UI 3.1 looks beautiful. In my opinion this is the hallmark of this device and is great for gaming watching videos etc. 

3 - The cameras - It's all advertisement nothing else. The camers are sub par and a Google pixel or iPhone from a couple of years ago can beat it easy! Yes it has great camera hardware. But the shots I took with the 10x optical zoom or even the 3x have an unacceptable amount of processing resulting in blurry water colour like images. Feathers and fur come out noisy and blurry. The macro from the wide angle lens is pretty good and sharp though. But if you plan to take pictures of pets, birds kids etc who won't be too still, especially in indoor lighting you will most likely get blurry photos that you can barely use as the camera is slow overall. The cameras are great for outdoor landscapes in bright light and have great dynamic range. Also comparing indoor photos of objects and plants my note 9 produces photos that are sharper. The AI on the portrait mode is a hit or miss at times blurring the body of the subject. In many regards the note 9 performs comparably in good light and its hard to tell the difference. The portrait mode is arguably better on the note 9 as it uses both cameras to capture portraits. Overall the camera was the main reason I got the phone but was left disappointed with it. Sure they've improved it since last year but its still not there yet. It will likely take another couple of generations for them to get everything right. Also some will argue that software updates can probably fix most of the camera issues. Well perhaps so but I didn't pay £1300 to be a beta tester for Samsung. They shouldn't release half baked products it should work as promised straight out of the box. 

4 - Battery life - its pretty good on the s21 ultra I was averaging 7ish hours of screen on time with 10% left. The note 9 was around 5 hours which would still get me through the day. With us being stuck at home anyway it doesn't matter much for me right now. 

In conclusion unless you just want to have the latest and greatest for bragging rights, or unless you're into heavy gaming or photo/video editing and need the power, if you own a previous generation Samsung flagship like the note 9 or 10 I would say don't upgrade, especially not for the csmeras as your device is probably capable enough for most daily tasks and likely takes better photos. The only perceiveable upgrade is the screen and some marginal quality improvement in photos from the main camera in certain situations. But £1300 is a significant sum for not so significant upgrades. Yes the processor, storage, ram, software is new but most people barely harness all that power and yesteryear flagships are still snappy enough in real life usage. The note 9 does feel less smooth because of the 60hz refresh rate but it's not like it hangs or struggles to cope with tasks. Also if you don't look at them side by side it's easy to eventually forget and get used to the 60hz display. £1300 for smoother scrolling through menus and Facebook is a bit of a stretch and the phone didn't seem like a significant upgrade that I would happily stick to for the next 2-3 years. 

Also, I missed having an sd card slot to swap files quickly between devices and the headphone jack is still awesome on the note 9 also the finger print reader on the note 9 is much more reliable. Another strange thing I noticed is that the light sensor on the note 9 is much better. If I switch the lights off for example the phone does a much better job of adjusting screen brightness vs the s21 ultra. Hence I have decided to stick with it for now and see what other phones come out this year or maybe even next year. In fact I just received a security patch for the note 9 today so good to see Samsung will still supporting this device with security updates for the next year or so. Samsung have come a long way in that regard and is probably why i would want to stick with them. 

For now it's goodbye s21 ultra. 

First Poster

I'm still using my s20 Ultra! Hoping the s23 has more significant upgrades than the s21 and s22!  Removing the micro SD slot is the main reason I have not upgraded from the s20 ultra!!! If the s23 ultra does not feature a  micro SD slot I will buy an IPhone 14 instead of a galaxy! I have been a strong supporter of the galaxy line since s3.   The micro SD card feature was the only advantage over iPhone features the last 3-4 years and since "some genius" at Samsung proposed the "Brilliant" idea to remove it.  I am very unimpressed!!!


Good for you. This phone is nice, but it's not worth the $1,100 price tag I paid for it.