It’s been a month since I started using the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and that means it’s time to give an update to my review. Even during the relatively short time between getting the phone and writing my initial review, it was clear the phone was something very special. However, living with a device on a daily basis for weeks usually exposes some issues, or at the very least some idiosyncrasies that only become apparent after a period of time.
In fact, the only major thing I’ve discovered over the last weeks is that I don’t really want to stop using this phone. It really is that good.
I apologize in advance if you’re waiting for some strong criticism against the phone, or a revelation that stops the Galaxy S21 Ultra being a must-buy phone. It’s not coming. It has proven to be a reliable, high-performance, exceptionally capable, and most of all, enjoyable phone to use.
For example, when I wrote about the camera’s macro ability, I took a photo of a snowflake that simply wouldn’t have been possible with my iPhone 12 Pro. I did so without getting up from my desk, and the camera essentially did all the work for me. I’m all for experimentation, but I also want a camera to realize my creative intent without me needing to venture into Pro manual mode, or repeatedly fail at getting it right, and the S21 Ultra does exactly that.
I want the phone to be fast and responsive throughout my day. The S21 Ultra hasn’t let me down, and continues to be faster than I’d ever need it to be. I’m using a U.K. version with the Exynos 2100 processor inside, and have no complaints about its ability, or its power efficiency either. Even on heavy use days, I’m finishing with about 30% battery life remaining.
Even on the heaviest days, I’m left with 30% battery remaining.
It works well with accessories, too, showing how far Samsung has come in building its own product ecosystem. I’ve been using the Galaxy Buds Live when on WhatsApp video calls, and they connect to the S21 Ultra instantly after a prettily animated pop-up recognizes they’re nearby. I experienced no problems swapping the Buds Live between my S21 Ultra and my Mac Mini M1 either. I want all my hardware to be frustration-free, and Samsung has achieved this.
Mystery issues cured
I noted a couple of intermittent mystery issues with my Galaxy S21 Ultra in my review, specifically some times when it failed to charge, and also a flaky Wi-Fi connection. I informed Samsung about them and it was keen to investigate, asking me to send the phone back to them, along with a pair of chargers I had been using.
Kindly, they agreed to provide a replacement so I could continue testing the phone. Preparing the S21 Ultra for return meant grabbing all my data and restoring the device, so I swapped my SIM into a different phone for a day or so. Not only was I sad to see the phone go, but I also missed using it until the replacement arrived and was ready to use. If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the Galaxy S21 Ultra, I don’t know what will.
What happened with the issues I had? A software update mostly solved the Wi-Fi problems on my initial review model, and I’ve had no problems with the replacement, with the phone remaining stable since and always pulling a signal even when it’s quite far away from my router. On charging, I used the replacement phone with a Samsung charger, a Native Union wireless charger, and an Inateck wall charging block and couldn’t replicate the problems I’d had early on.
Just two things to consider
Despite using the phone for almost a month, it hasn’t got any smaller. Obviously, it won’t actually get smaller, but what I mean is, my hands haven’t got used to holding this large phone. It’s still a bit of a beast, and in some circumstances I’ll reach for my iPhone 12 Pro to browse the news or watch a quick YouTube video, just because it’s so much more manageable when relaxing on the couch or in bed.
The other thing to consider is the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The S21 Ultra has replaced the Note 20 Ultra as the best Android smartphone you can buy on our recommendation list, and it genuinely is the better overall package. However, there are some tempting deals around for the Note 20 Ultra — at the time of writing ,it’s $1,099 on Amazon — and we shouldn’t forget this excellent phone is still fairly new. No, the camera isn’t quite as good, but the rest is very comparable, and if the S Pen is desirable to you, it’s a far better implementation.
To sum up, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best S Series phone I’ve used, and the first smartphone in a while that I’ve not wanted to give up using. If you’ve been holding off on getting one, ,don’t do so any more. It’s excellent.
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