Take one look at the Phandroid YouTube channel and you’ll see that quite a phones have already crossed our collective desks in the first portion of 2021. There have been a few standouts, but none embody the “flagship” experience quite like the the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung opted to release its latest flagship earlier than ever before, giving people access to the newest Snapdragon processor and a slightly-tweaked design, along with some new and fun color options.
But the truth is that when it comes to my “daily driver”, there are just times where a phone doesn’t cut it, and unfortunately, that’s what happened with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. I wasn’t sent a review unit by Samsung, so the decision was a bit more “real” when it came to deciding whether I should continue carrying the Ultra with me on a daily basis.
The wrong sacrifice was made
From a hardware perspective, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is just phenomenal. As someone who does not have the opportunity to use phones from Xiaomi and Huawei, the biggest competition for me when it comes to hardware is between Samsung and Apple. The companies each offer something a bit different, as Samsung’s display melts into the frame, while the redesigned camera module is now a part of said frame instead of being a block on the back of a phone.
But the physical hardware isn’t everything. It all started with the Galaxy Note 20 lineup, but Samsung finally got rid of the microSD card slot. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal when you consider that I usually carry an iPhone 12 Pro in one of my pockets while using an Android phone at the same time. However, with my Android devices, I like to have options, and Samsung opted to take that away with its most premium (non-folding) smartphone. It’s not like the device doesn’t have the space, or anything like that, which makes the decision even more head-scratching to me.
Being able to load up my phone with my library of ROMs for mobile emulating and downloading my music library or backlog of podcasts is just not something that’s possible. Well, it is possible. But that would have required even more money out of pocket and that’s just not something that I was willing to do this go ’round.
This isn’t the same argument that has been had for years, as the headphone jack has appeared and disappeared from different phones. At least not for me. I’m not an audiophile, but I do have more sets of Bluetooth headphones around my desk than I do smartphones. So pairing up via Bluetooth isn’t a big deal. But it’s not like there’s a Bluetooth solution at my disposal to have access to all of my media and games whenever, and wherever, I want without compromise.
The Z Fold 2 was guilting me
When the Galaxy Z Fold 2 was announced, I almost instantly decided that it was going to be my next phone tied to my carrier. I happily waltzed into my local Best Buy on launch day, traded in my iPhone 11 Pro and upgraded to the Z Fold 2. The reason why the Z Fold 2 continues to tempt me even as it sits unused on my desk for a few days is because of what’s possible. No, it doesn’t have S Pen support, and yes, I’m still concerned about it getting caught in the random rain storm that appears. But as Kellen over at Droid Life put it best, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the perfect couch phone.
At the end of the day, when I’m done putting words on virtual paper and it’s time to sit back and relax before bed, the Z Fold 2 is the perfect companion. I’m hoping and praying that the Z Fold 3 features a larger cover display and brings S Pen support, because I might never go back to an iPhone as my primary phone again. But being able to go from a usable Cover Display to a tablet with the same device is just a dream. It’s something that I never thought would really happen when the rumblings of foldable smartphone displays were first making noise.
But now, every time my SIM card goes into another phone, my Z Fold 2 just looks at me like a disappointed friend that I just told that I won’t be able to hang out. And truth be told, despite it being the heaviest phone I’ve ever used, and the fact that I have to pay the extra attention and care to it can be a bit of a frustration. But there’s nothing out there like it (save for the Mate X2 and Mi Mix Fold that I can’t get my hands on), so for me, it’s still the best phone to use even this far into 2021.
S Pen support is wonderful, but a pain
Whenever I see a rumor about the Z Fold 3 or am asked about what is one feature I want more than anything else, it’s S Pen support. I believe that Samsung has developed glass that can work with the Fold 3, and the company wanted to test the waters by bringing S Pen support to the S21 Ultra since we won’t be getting a Note device this year. And while the S21 Ultra with S Pen support is great, it’s just too cumbersome to really use on a regular basis.
Using the S Pen with the latest Galaxy device has made me realize that Samsung might have delayed the real best smartphone that doesn’t fold. Having quick and easy access to the S Pen, without being overly large, or needing to use a wide and bulky case is just as seamless of an experience as you could want. Samsung and Spigen have tried to make this transition a bit easier with the S Pen cases that are available, but it’s just not the same. Most of the time, I found myself taking the case off altogether, which defeats the purpose of having an S Pen to use with it.
Why I’ll miss the Galaxy S21 Ultra
I hear you, this is a lot of complaining about some very first world problems. But ever since the S21 Ultra went into the box to be shipped off to its new owner, I have had some sellers remorse. With LG dead and gone, and OnePlus seemingly just floating along trying to bring the hype and falling short, Samsung is Android. The company’s market share is incredible, and everywhere you look, someone is either using an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy device.
So, for me, it sucks to not have the best Android phone (again, that doesn’t fold), and that’s definitely some FOMO that I wasn’t expecting. The device features a matte finish on the back that I’m absolutely in love with, melts into the hand without feeling too cumbersome, unless you’re reaching to the top opposite corner. The cameras are just as good, if not better, than I originally expected, although I still feel that there is some room for improvement from a software and processing perspective. I mean, trying to and being able to snap a picture of the moon from your phone feels as great as pointing the Pixel 4 at the night’s sky and capturing all of the constellations.
The company used to be a laughing stock when it came to both software optimization and software updates. But Samsung has reversed its course and is now leading the way (other than Google) in updating its devices. Shortly after the Galaxy S21 Ultra launched, Samsung went and updated almost all of its compatible devices to Android 11. There were some hiccups along the way, but in large part, the rollout went off without a hitch. And this is something that is greatly appreciated as we continue to see devices that launch with Android 10 and promise future software updates only to be left as an afterthought.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a fantastic phone, and will continue to be one of the best until its eclipsed by either the Z Fold 3 or the Galaxy S22. But for now, it was time for me to give it up and look to the future with more phones coming in the pipeline to take the crown. I’m still hoping that OnePlus can get its act together, or maybe Google’s rumored SoC will give the Snapdragon 888 a run for its money. But that’s unlikely to happen, so Samsung will continue to be the embodiment of Android for many.