Samsung’s consumer-friendly version of its larger-than-life The Wall display will eventually be available in a more reasonable 76-inch version—you know, for those of us whose homes can’t actually accommodate 110-inch televisions.
Samsung announced the smaller version of the MicroLED TVs today during its big Unbox and Discover event. While the 76-inch MicroLED will be made available “in the future,” the company said the 99-inch and 110-inch versions of the TV will become available closer to April. (It’ll sell an 88-inch version of the TV as well, and that size is slated to launch in fall.) Samsung previously announced sizes beyond the rather limiting 110-inch version of its MicroLED technology-powered TV during CES earlier this year.
In exciting news for folks eyeing the Frame, Samsung’s most popular TV, the TV will get a big storage boost in its 2021 models with an increase from 500MB of storage to 6GB (which Samsung says supports storage for around 1,200 UHD images). The company will also introduce a new Frame accessory later this year for its 55-inch, 65-inch, and 75-inch frame sizes called My Shelf. It’ll ship in beige, white, brown, and black and is meant to help Samsung’s technology blend more seamlessly into your decor. Think of it as a kind of display board for showing off your TV alongside other art or items.
But that’s not all the TV news Samsung dumped on us today. Samsung is also releasing a new full-sun version of its Terrace television in a 75-inch size closer to summer. Meanwhile, the Frame and all Samsung’s Q70A 4K TVs and up will offer AMD FreeSync Premium Pro for console and PC games, a plus for serious gamers.
G/O Media may get a commission
And speaking of gaming, the company’s Odyssey gaming monitor this year will come equipped with Quantum MiniLED enhancements and the company’s Quantum Matrix technology. Additionally, Samsung said its QLED is the official TV of the Xbox Series X in Canada and the U.S., as was the case with Xbox One X in the past. The company’s 2021 Neo QLED 8K, Neo QLED 4K, and QLED 4K TVs are now available either for purchase or pre-order.
Lastly, AirPlay 2 is headed to Samsung’s funky rotating Sero TV, support that in practice sounds eerily familiar to a certain recently deceased streaming service. Per Samsung, iOS devices can be paired to the Sero to “automatically rotate the TV screen based on the phone’s landscape or portrait orientation.” It’s as if even in death, Quibi still manages to find a way. Apple Quibi+ will be supported “soon,” according to the company.
There once was a badass Greek warrior. Indeed, he was the badassiest of them all. He was the perfect killing machine, except for one little thing which took someone who was otherwise invincible and made him…vincible. Now, Achilles isn’t a perfect metaphor for the EOS R5, which I think is the best camera Canon has ever made, but it does have a weak spot—a vulnerable heel, if you will. Many won’t even notice the issue. For others, it will be a fatal flaw.
Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R, came out in 2018, and I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t. It felt a bit thrown together, as if Canon knew it was last to the full-frame mirrorless game, and had to just get something out there, even if it was missing a lot of stuff. I am happy to report that the EOS R5 corrects virtually every one of those issues, and then some. It shoots 45-megapixel uncompressed RAW stills at a very respectable 12fps clip with the mechanical shutter engaged (or 20fps compressed RAW with the electronic shutter), with excellent image stabilization and autofocus tracking. Generally speaking, these photos look phenomenal.
But let’s dive into the hardware. The EOS R5 has some serious heft to it. There’s a big, beefy grip that DSLR shooters will generally love. The EOS R had a capacitive touch-bar as one of its control mechanisms, and it was pretty terrible. It’s gone now! Yay! Instead, the R5 has a standard joystick which is much easier to use—though it does depress a little easily which would lead to accidental clicks when I was just trying to scroll. The R5 also adds a lower thumb wheel on the back, which I love, but I prefer Sony’s implementation, in which it doubles as a four-way D-pad. All of the other buttons and wheels have a good amount of click and enough separation that I was able to adjust settings even when wearing heavy winter gloves. I mostly shot with Canon’s workhorse 24-105mm f/4.0 zoom and its incredible 50mm f/1.2 prime. Both lenses are heavy and chonky, but they are so good I genuinely didn’t care (especially that 50mm).
G/O Media may get a commission
The R5 has an electronic viewfinder with 5.76 million dots of resolution and a refresh rate of 120Hz, so things look smooth and very sharp, but it’s still a ways behind from the Sony A7S iii’s EVF with a bananas 9.44 million dots. The R5 now has two memory card slots: one SD UHS-II, and the other for a CF Express Type B. CF Express is newer and more expensive, but it’s also a hell of a lot faster, and you’ll need it for some of the higher-end video modes, which can’t be shot to the SD card. I made the mistake of buying a 128GB Hoodman Steel CF Express card for this review and I kept getting an error saying: “Movie recording has been stopped automatically. Slow card write speed.” On paper the card should be fast enough, but I later read other reviews saying they had this same issue with this camera and this card, so spend the extra $20 or so for a Sony card if you would like to avoid this headache.
The EOS R5 is the first camera to get Canon’s new autofocus system, dubbed Dual Pixel CMOS AF II, and it somehow covers 100% of the image sensor. It is absurdly good. Its Eye-AF was incredibly accurate, nailing the retinas of subjects, both human and animal. It’s now at least as good as Sony’s Eye-AF, but then it goes one better: When it can’t find an eye, it diverts to subject tracking automatically. It does this in still and video mode, and you can adjust how sensitive you want it to be and how smoothly you want it to shift focus. It also works at up to six stops below optimal exposure (-6Ev) if you’re shooting with a f/1.2 aperture lens, meaning it can focus in the dark better than a lot of humans. In busy scenes with more than one potential subject, it was prone to getting confused about which was the important thing to you, but that was easy to fix with a quick tap on the back of the screen.
The original EOS R didn’t have any in-body stabilization, and that was not so great. The R5 has five-axis stabilization that’s as good as any I’ve used. It has a maximum compensation of between 6.5 and 8 stops, depending on what lens you’re using. I wasn’t able to measure that metric scientifically, but I can tell you that I was able to take handheld photos that I had no business taking. The shot above, with the focus on the icy needles at the top of the tree and the stars in the background, was shot with a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second. My hand is not that steady! I typically try to keep things above 1/60.
Generally speaking, photos look excellent. When the lighting was good, many photos I took needed almost no tweaking at all. They looked sharp and vibrant, and while they came off as realistic, they also have a film-like quality that I love. The only way that it doesn’t measure up to my current go-to camera (still the Sony A7R iii) is in dynamic range (meaning the difference between the lightest thing and the darkest thing within a photo where both are still usable). It isn’t quite as good at recovering blown-out highlights, but even more importantly, the shadows aren’t nearly as flexible. When attempting to push shadows back up to recover detail, noise becomes a real problem, and it frequently has a purple-ish hue. I had to lean on the Noise Reduction panel in Lightroom way harder than I would like to, which can’t hide all sins and sacrifices sharpness, too. Dynamic range on the EOS R5 is good, but it isn’t great.
“OK, OK,” you say. “This all sounds quite good! Where’s the damned Achilles heel you teased?” Well, if you’re strictly a photographer, there isn’t one. And if you’re almost exclusively a photographer who just takes a tiny bit of video here and there, then you’re probably OK, too! But if video is important to you, well, here comes the poison arrow.
The EOS R5 is capable of shooting 8K RAW video at 30fps, something even the mighty Sony A7S iii can’t do. Most of us don’t really need 8K yet, but the camera has a neat trick where it can take that whole 8K frame and compress it into a super high-quality 4K image (HQ mode) at up to 30fps. Best of all, the massive 1.7x crop from the EOS R is gone, so you’re able to really use all of that Canon glass as it was intended. If you’re shooting in Canon Log (a flat color profile) you can shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 video in camera, which gives the footage a lot of flexibility for color correction and applying cinematic looks. That is all great news. The 4K HQ C-Log mode is truly gorgeous and is what I would recommend using all the time…except you can’t, because the EOS R5’s overheating issues are mind-bogglingly bad.
Let me qualify this. If you’re out in the field, mostly shooting photos, and occasionally shooting short 4K HQ videos, you’re probably going to be just fine. If you want to shoot longer videos, though, it’s a non-starter. I found that the camera overheated after just 24 minutes of shooting in HQ mode. That’s bad, but what’s worse is how long it takes to recover from overheating. We’re talking upwards of an hour until it’s fully back to normal and you can shoot more than a minute or two of video again. If you are shooting for a client, or at a wedding, that will get you fired on the spot. I shoot interviews and documentary-type stuff, and here, again, this camera would be useless. Same for vloggers.
Now, it does have a regular 4K mode, and that mode doesn’t suffer from overheating problems. It looks…fine, until you compare it to the HQ footage and then you realize how much detail you’re missing. It’s significant. The regular 4K mode looks downright mushy by comparison. There are other drawbacks that indicate that video was really an afterthought for Canon, despite the fact that the company hyped 8K and HQ 4K at launch. Changing from stills mode to video mode is kind of a pain. You can hit the record button in stills mode and snap a quick video, but instead of defaulting to your last-used video settings, it shoots 1080p30 for some stupid reason (if there is a way to change this, I haven’t figured it out, and Canon didn’t respond when I asked). It has a high-frame rate mode that shoots 4K at 120fps, but then it slows it down in the camera to 30fps, which is annoying if the rest of your project is 24fps. Changing between video modes (HQ, high-speed, C-Log, etc.) is unintuitive and takes way more clicks than it should.
This is all tremendously frustrating. This was poised to be the camera that would bring me back to the Canon ecosystem with all its tasty glass, and on paper it really looked like it would. I consider myself a hybrid-shooter, though, meaning I shoot a lot of photo and a lot of video. More and more that’s becoming the rule, not the exception, for content creators. This camera simply cannot keep up with those demands, and ultimately, I don’t think it should have launched until it could. Sony took forever to come out with the A7S iii, but when it launched you could shoot 10-bit 4K120 until the cows came home in slow-motion and the thing wouldn’t overheat. It just feels like Canon fumbled and face-planted on the one-yard line, and that really sucks.
Again, if you really only care about shooting stills and just want to shoot a bit of video here and there, I recommend this camera without hesitation, especially if you already have Canon lenses. I loved shooting with this camera and the photos it produces are beautiful. For everybody else, I’m sorry—this camera is just a massive tease. It showed what it’s capable on the video side, with truly beautiful 8K and HQ 4K footage, but it can’t be relied on to produce enough of it, at least not for those of us who want to capture high-quality 8K video on a regular basis. Canon has received a massive amount of criticism for the overheating issues, and I’d bet good money that its engineers are working hard on solving it for the Mark II version. I think that camera would eat everybody else’s lunch (as this one could have done), but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Gorgeous 45MP RAW photos at up to 12fps uncompressed (20fps compressed)
Best eye and face focus-tracking I’ve used
Optical image stabilization is excellent for stills
8K and HQ 4K video looks stunning, but camera suffers from debilitating overheating issues
For a while it seemed like Sony’s high-end digital filmmaking cameras were on a collision course with its Alpha mirrorless cameras as those shooters became more capable at capturing video. Today the inevitable was confirmed: Sony officially revealed its FX3 with features from both the company’s digital cinema and Alpha lines, giving creators a more affordable way to capture Hollywood-caliber content.
An image of the FX3 leaked a few weeks ago led to speculation that Sony’s compact cinematography tool would be able capture video at 8K resolutions, but the full-frame, back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor the camera is using is limited to resolutions of up to 4K, or 16:9 QFHD at up to 120 frames per second. Although even with a cooling fan and a vent design that encourages natural heat dissipation, the FX3 can only record uninterrupted at 4K, 60P. Higher frame rate shooting is limited so the camera doesn’t overheat. Skipping 8K is a choice Sony made to either keep the FX3’s price tag down, or to ensure it doesn’t compete with the company’s pricier digital cinema cameras—or both.
When shooting video, the FX3’s ISO settings can be pushed to an impressive 409,600 which might come in handy the next time you find yourself filming on the dark side of the moon and can’t see the sun. The camera’s 627-point autofocus system includes features like AF Transition Speed, which ensures that automatic focus changes happen smoothly so as not to be jarring to audiences, and Touch Tracking, which allows operators to simply tap an object on the FX3’s flip-out touchscreen display to tell the camera what it should keep focused in frame, even as the subject is moving around.
With the battery and memory cards installed (both dual CFexpress Type A and SDXC cards are supported), the FX3 weighs just 1.58 pounds and includes a hot shoe mounted grip, making it easier to hold, operate, and maneuver the camera at low angles. Keeping a lightweight camera steady while shooting handheld is a real challenge, so the FX3 employs five-axis in-body image stabilization for smooth videos even while filming with a lens lacking any stabilization of its own. The applied stabilization is also captured as metadata while filming, allowing it to be tweaked during post-production.
G/O Media may get a commission
Most filmmakers will want to keep the optional grip attached, because it not only offers quick access to several controls, including ISO, iris, white balance, and zoom, it also features 15 custom buttons that can be programmed as shortcuts to 140 different functions normally buried in a software menu. The grip also has a mount for a microphone, a pair of balanced XLR/TRS audio inputs, and a 3.5-millimeter stereo two-channel jack while the camera can capture four-channel 24-bit audio when multiple mics are attached.
The FX3 will officially be available starting sometime in March with a price tag of around $3,900. That isn’t pocket change, but it’s also $2,600 cheaper than the new $6,500 Sony Alpha 1, which many people will be considering as their next video shooter. It is, however, $1,400 more expensive than the recently announced $2,500 Blackmagic Design BMPCC 6K Pro, which offers 6K shooting and an HDR rear display, although 120 fps high-speed recording is limited to 2K. But for video content creators who already have a bag full of Sony E-mount lenses, or already have a workflow involving Sony’s higher-end digital cinema cameras, the FX3 sounds like an easy choice.
Starting at $2,500, the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro costs $500 more than the previous model, and in exchange for that extra cash, the big upgrade on the BMPCC 6K Pro is a new HDR rear display that now tilts out (instead of being locked in place) and tops out at an impressive 1,500 nits of brightness.
Aside from the new display, the BMPCC 6K Pro also comes with a new built-in IR ND filter to help users better control their footage’s exposure, with the camera able to block 2, 4, or 6 stops of light. And to help to ensure the camera doesn’t run out of juice, the BMPCC 6K Pro now supports larger NP-570 batteries, with Blackmagic having also made an optional $145 Battery Pro Grip that can hold another two NP-F570 batteries, delivering up to 3 hours of recording time.
And while it’s not part of the BMPCC 6K Pro’s stock config, Blackmagic also made a $500 optional 3.68 million dot OLED EVF that can tilt up and down up to 70 degrees.
G/O Media may get a commission
Elsewhere, the BMPCC 6K Pro is pretty much the same as the previous model, with the camera’s dual native ISO 6K sensor (6144 x 3456) still offering up to 13 stops of dynamic range, a 25,600 max ISO, and 6K/60 fps video recording (or 120 fps at 2K). Port selection also remains unchanged, with the BMPCC 6K Pro featuring USB-C, a full-size HDMI port, dual mini XLR ports, and separate headphone and mic jacks.
The only real problem for Blackmagic is that next week, Sony is expected to launch its take on a portable cinema camera in the FX3, which is rumored to support native 8K video capture. However, with the cost of the FX3 still TBA, ultimately choosing between the BMPCC 6K Pro and the Sony FX3 will probably come down to pricing and how invested people are in a specific ecosystem.
Sony’s camera division has been on a warpath lately with the recently announced Alpha 1 serving as a direct response to Canon’s EOS R5. But now info has leaked about a new Sony cinema cam that could pose a serious threat to both Canon and Black Magic.
Based on a tweet from respected leaker Nokishita, the new Sony FX3 has a few interesting things going on. That’s because even though it carries the FX tag like Sony’s high-end cinema cams, it also sports Alpha branding from Sony’s consumer mirrorless camera segment, which suggests that Sony may position the FX3 as an option for both pros and more advanced home users.
And while there aren’t any detailed specs available for the FX3 just yet, MirrorlessRumors.com claims people are speculating that the FX3 could support video capture at 8K, UHD 8K, oversampled DCI 4K, and high frame rate UHD 4K. If true, that would land it right in the sweet spot for a lot of experienced content creators looking for a powerful but still relatively portable dedicated video cam.
Additionally, the positioning of what looks like an AF joystick on the top side of the camera (instead of in the back where it would usually be), suggests that the FX3 might have a huge built-in screen to better monitor footage, similar to what you get on a Black Magic Pocket Cinema cam. Elsewhere, the inclusion of multiple mounting threads should make the FX3 easy to slip into a cage, giving users extra flexibility for tacking on additional components and accessories.
G/O Media may get a commission
Either way, the big picture is that with the FX3, it looks like Sony is specifically targeting competing video cameras like Canon’s EOS C70 and the Black Magic’s range of dedicated cinecams, as it looks to gobble up even more of the mirrorless camera market share.
Unfortunately, there’s no word on pricing just yet, but current rumors say Sony is expected to officially announce the FX3 prior to the CP+ show, which is slated to take place virtually starting on Feb. 24.
Fine, fine! A TV in the sub-$20,000 category you say? Reader, the TV for you is the LG CX OLED. For shoppers looking to upgrade their TVs in 2020, this was the OLED to buy. Gizmodo’s senior reporter Sam Rutherford actually has the LG GX, which has a gallery design, and here’s what he says: “Even though it was pricey, my TV has quickly become the best home tech upgrade I’ve ever made. It’s got gorgeous colors and a beautiful design, and honestly, it makes me question my love for traditional movie theaters.”
Price: Currently, the 77-inch version is on sale at Best Buy for $3,300, but Costco shaves about $50 off that price and includes Hulu and Allstate protection credits in the amount of $100 each.
Last month, the Apple rumor mill was buzzing that the company’s long-whispered-about mixed-reality headset would be powered by the new M1 chip and, unsurprisingly, would have an outrageous price tag. A new report from the Information seems to corroborate those juicy tidbits, as well as reveal some new jaw-dropping morsels. The headset could cost as much as $3,000, sport 8K displays, and have more than a dozen cameras for hand-tracking.
The madness! The audacity! The incredible Apple-ness of it all!
Citing an unnamed source working on the project, the Information lends credence to an earlier Bloomberg report from noted Apple prognosticator Mark Gurman. The headset will purportedly have a “sleek curved visor” and will feature a type of mesh fabric. Another interesting tidbit is it might have swappable headbands, which the AirPods Max were rumored to before their launch.
According to the report, Pegatron, a Taiwanese manufacturer that also makes iPads and iPhones, has been tapped to build the product.
G/O Media may get a commission
Apple will purportedly use a “thimble-like device” on a user’s finger to interact with software, but it’s unclear whether that device will be included with the headset itself. The headset’s cameras are also supposed to “pass video of the real world through the visor and display it on screens” to the user, as well as track eye and hand movements. The report also claims that there will be an “outward-facing display” on the visor so users can show what they’re seeing to others.
Speaking of displays, the headset will supposedly include not one, but two 8K displays—which is mind-boggling and sounds like overkill considering most people don’t even have 8K TVs at home, not to mention the dearth of 8K content. An intriguing tidbit in the report notes that it’s possible Apple could use eye-tracking to only render the parts of the display that a user is currently looking at. Areas in a user’s peripheral vision would be rendered in lower resolutions.
The combination of an M1 chip, two 8K displays, and more than a dozen cameras could very well result in a ridiculous $3,000 price tag. That would make this headset incredibly inaccessible to the average person, given that current VR headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 retail for $300. More expensive VR headsets are around $900-$1,000, which is a third of what Apple’s might cost.
A $3,000 price tag puts this thing in the realm of Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, which as of right now is mostly an enterprise device. It also contradicts Gurman’s assertion that Apple’s goal with the headset seems to be priming consumers (and developers) for an eventual pair of smart glasses. While it’s likely that Apple doesn’t care about this headset being a commercial hit—supposedly only 180,000-250,000 are expected to sell—at this price, hardly anyone is going to handle this thing, let alone get the chance to become more familiar with the potential of AR or VR.
But, as with the Apple Car, we likely have years of rumors ahead of us. The augmented reality headset could drop next year, with AR glasses in 2023.
Last year, Samsung broke out the “Ultra” adjective for the first time on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. That phone was certainly ambitious, but between its $1,400 price tag and features that didn’t quite live up to expectations, Samsung’s super premium phone felt less like an Ultra and more like a Galaxy S20++.
In a move seemingly designed to make up for its predecessor’s somewhat lackluster showing in 2020, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra has arrived. It’s packaged in a slick new design with quadruple rear cameras, and it’s packed with several features unmatched by practically any other phone on the market. Except now, Samsung’s super premium phone costs $200 less than last year’s model. The S21 Ultra isn’t just a big improvement. It’s an over-the-top, maxed out handset that combines all the features from the entire Galaxy range.
Right off the bat, the S21 Ultra’s new design helps set the tone. The rear camera module extending into the side of the phone not only makes S21 Ultra feel less bulky, but it should also add some extra durability because the housing surrounding the phone’s camera lenses is now metal instead of glass. To balance the Ultra’s looks and toughness, Samsung opted for Gorilla Glass 7 on both sides, with the back getting a lovely matte finish. And while I’m still not sure if all the time Samsung claims it spent trying to choose the perfect shade of black was worth it, the S21 Ultra (at least in Phantom Black) has the kind of stealthy exterior that evokes favorable comparisons to the SR-71 Blackbird, the Batmobile, and others. Black on black is always a slick look, though the S21 Ultra is available in white, too, if that’s more your speed.
Then there’s the S21 Ultra’s screen, which is a technicolor dream. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that at least for now, Samsung makes the best mobile displays in the world, and the S21 Ultra is the best new example of that. There’s a small, centrally located hole-punch cut-out for the phone’s 40-MP selfie cam. But aside from that, it’s pretty much an unblemished 3200 x 1440 6.8-inch swatch of beautiful AMOLED pixels, with a slight but not distracting curve around its edges and a tiny hint of bezel that helps mask small features like the almost invisible earpiece piece up top.
Samsung’s big display upgrade for the Ultra is the addition of the variable refresh rate tech it debuted on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The change not only gives the S21 Ultra a screen that can hit 120Hz, but also the ability to dynamically change its refresh rate depending on the content you’re currently looking at. If you’re looking at a still photo, the S21 Ultra can lower its refresh rate down to just 10Hz to help save on battery.
Or if you’re watching a video, the S21 Ultra’s display can match the clip’s frame rate. When you’re playing a game, boost things up to 120Hz for the optimal viewing experience. And if you’re just browsing the web, the S21 Ultra’s higher refresh rate makes everything look extra smooth. Of all ways VRR can be applied, that’s the one that makes the biggest impact to me. Samsung nailed the most important qualities of a good screen: It’s vivid, bright, and responsive. No other phone can match the S21 Ultra’s combo of quality and refresh rate. More than ever, I’m convinced every high-end phone should have a 120Hz display—no excuses.
On top of that, the S21 Ultra is now stealing some more of the Galaxy Note’s thunder with support for a couple different optional S-Pens. So even though you don’t have a place to stash the pen in the body of the phone (unless you get one of Samsung’s new cases too), you can get the same drawing and note-taking experience on a Galaxy S handset for the first time, which is always a nice choice to have. I didn’t get to test it out myself because S-Pen support isn’t available yet.
Another big improvement that might not get a lot of attention is the S21 Ultra’s new in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is not only 1.7 times larger than the S20 Ultra’s, it also feels way faster. Ever since phone makers started switching over to in-screen fingerprint sensors, a lot of people have tolerated them while sometimes remarking they wanted the old-school rear-mounted sensors back. However, after years of refinement, the S21 Ultra’s in-screen fingerprint reader is undoubtedly a perk, and in a time when facial recognition is a bust whenever I’m outside, I find myself appreciating the S21 Ultra’s new sensor even more.
On the inside, U.S. models of the S21 Ultra come with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip with 12GB of RAM and 128GB of base storage. Unfortunately, Samsung decided to ditch the microSD card slot from the entire lineup of 2021 Galaxy S phones. For some, this may be the last straw in their list of grievances against Samsung, but the reality is that this is simply the direction smartphones are moving as a whole, just like the removal of headphone jacks paved the way for mainstream wireless audio.
My bigger gripe is that with the removal of microSD expandability, I wish Samsung had opted to include 256GB of base storage instead of 128GB, to help smooth this transition. It would be nice for buyers to feel less of a need to shell out for extra storage, especially with Samsung’s top-tier device. That said, moving up to 256GB costs just $50 instead of the $100 premium many that many other phone makers typically charge.
Meanwhile, even though the Snapdragon 888 can’t quite match the benchmark numbers put up by the Apple’s A14 chip in the iPhone 12 (3,614 for the S21 Ultra vs 4,261 for the iPhone 12 Pro Max in Geekbench 5’s Multicore CPU test), I never noticed a hint of lag or slowdown while using the S21 Ultra. At least in my experience, while Apple’s latest chip has theoretically better performance, there isn’t much you can throw at a phone today that the Snapdragon 888 can’t handle with ease.
But around back is easily my favorite new addition to the S21 Ultra’s arsenal: its new quadruple rear cams. That’s because in addition to a 108-MP main cam and 12-MP ultra-wide cam, the S21 Ultra has two telephoto cams: one with a 3x optical zoom and one with a 10x optical zoom. Last year, Samsung branded the S20 Ultra’s setup with the overzealous Space Zoom moniker, which seemed kind of silly. But on the S21 Ultra, Samsung really means it this time, because space is exactly what this telephoto camera combo delivers. Don’t focus on the marketing claims of up to 100x zoom—that’s meaningless because you can crop in on almost any picture to digitally pump up the zoom. It’s the S21 Ultra’s 3x and 10x optical zoom that really matter because it gives you reach you can actually use.
When I turned the S21 Ultra up to 10x while pointing the camera at the NYC skyline, the Empire State building remained delightfully sharp even from nearly four miles away. And thanks to Samsung’s new Zoom Lock feature—which uses AI to make the camera’s viewfinder more stable—I was able to take that shot handheld instead of needing to strap the phone to a tripod. As someone who loves the versatility of zoom lenses on big DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, the S21 Ultra feels like the first phone that can offer a similar experience on mobile. As I was testing it out, I was cursing the pandemic even more than usual for robbing me of more opportunities to use that 10x zoom. And even when you don’t need that much reach, the S21 Ultra’s shorter 3x optical zoom still trounced the algorithmically-enhanced 3x Super Res Zoom on the Pixel 5.
The camera upgrades don’t stop there either, because the S21 Ultra also includes a dedicated laser autofocus sensor that eliminates the soft-focus the S20 Ultra sometimes ran into. And while Samsung’s image processing tends to result in slightly warmer hues than what you get from a Pixel 5, the S21 Ultra tended to capture photos with colors that looked more accurate to my eye and how they looked in real life. But the big surprise to me is that thanks to an improved Night Mode, some of the S21 Ultra’s super low light shots came out even better than Google’s vaunted Night Sight mode. For instance, the yarn in the No Face pic looks significantly sharper than what I got from the Pixel 5.
Additionally, thanks in part to the S21’s increased processing power, a number of the S21 Ultra’s other camera modes have seen significant improvements. The fun social media-friendly Single Take mode has the ability to capture slow-mo clips and snap up to 10 frames per second (up from 2-3 fps last year), and a new Portrait Mode feature is frankly a big upgrade from Samsung’s old and tired Live Focus mode. You can even record videos in 8K if you want, or capture 8K stills while recording, though I did notice that very occasionally 4K and 8K videos suffered from a sort of oversharpening that caused faint moire-like patterns to appear.
Finally, because the S21 Ultra is powered by a huge 5,000 mAh battery, I got some of the best runtimes I’ve seen a Galaxy S phone ever. On our video rundown test, the S21 Ultra lasted 16 hours and 45 minutes. The only phones we tested in 2020 that beat that mark were the Moto Edge+ (17:18), and the Asus ROG Phone 3 (16:56), the latter of which came with a monstrous 6,000 mAh power pack.
In the end, it all boils down to this: While Samsung axing microSD card expandability is certainly regrettable, the S21 Ultra has the best screen, the longest (and most usable) zoom cam, and the best in-screen fingerprint reader you can get on a phone today. And it costs $200 less than last year’s “Ultra” phone, or $100 less than its premium sibling, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Then, when you factor in all the little upgrades and features, including wireless and reverse wireless charging, improved photo processing, all the enhanced camera modes, and forward-thinking inclusions like UWB support, to me, the S21 Ultra feels like the maxed out, feature-packed phone that’s finally making good on so much of Samsung’s big talk over the last couple years. So while the iPhone 12 Pro Max might have slightly better performance, the S21 Ultra is the phone to beat.
The S21 Ultra’s screen is flat out the best in the business.
Along with axing the microSD slot across the Galaxy S21 line, Samsung is also removing charging bricks from the S21 Ultra’s box.
Not everyone will care about having a 10x optical zoom on a phone, but for those who do, the S21 Ultra is a revelation.
As before, the S21 Ultra features an IP 68 rating for dust and water resistance.
Unlike its less expensive siblings, the S21 Ultra has built-in stylus support, but you’ll need to buy one of Samsung’s S Pens separately.
Wired charging goes up to 25 watts, while wireless charging tops out at 15 watts.
The S21 Ultra supports sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G across the board, regardless of which carrier you’re on.