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Galaxy S21 Ultra: The best “old” Samsung flagship phone ever made – best Android deal in mid-2022?


The Galaxy S20 Ultra seriously damaged Samsung’s ambitions as an Android flagship phone maker. The 2020 Ultra came with a lackluster rear look and significant camera issues. Moreover, quite ironically, priced at $1,400, it was the most expensive slab phone Samsung ever made. Luckily, the South Korean company quickly realized that the unthinkable pricing and execution mistakes it had made, so it was redemption time…Sure, the bar was set pretty low, but the following Galaxy S21 Ultra wasn’t just a much better phone than the S20 Ultra. It was one of the most highly praised phones of last year and still is one of the best devices money can buy even in 2022.

This time around, the bar was set very high, and Samsung knew it would take something special to catch people’s attention, which, of course, led to DJ Koh & Co deciding to merge the Note and “S” flagship lineups. That’s how we got  Samsung’s current top flagship – the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which really is a Note flagship in disguise. Although on paper, the Note is “dead” now.

However, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is more or less just an iterative improved to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but with rougher edges (literally) and an S-Pen. Surprising or not, Samsung’s 2021 flagship enjoys a better review score not only from us but from most other tech outlets out there. And it’s for a reason…

If you’ve always wanted to pick up a Galaxy S21 Ultra, but never did… Well, now might be a great time! Let me tell you why!

Galaxy S21 Ultra is probably the better Android flagship deal than the pricey Galaxy S22 Ultra

Now, to be clear – I won’t be convincing you that the Galaxy S21 Ultra runs circles around the Galaxy S22 Ultra because it doesn’t. The S22 Ultra is the newer phone, with a newer processor and improved cameras and display. However, both have their pros and cons, and I think that’s where things get more interesting.

Of course, the price of both phones will be a huge factor, but we’ll talk about it a little bit further down below…

Galaxy S21 Ultra arguably has a better design than the Galaxy S22 Ultra; it also has ton more RAM, and better battery life

For starters, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the latest Ultra Samsung flagship that feels like a Galaxy “S”. It’s more rounded, which makes it more ergonomic and easier to hold for longer periods of time, and this is something that shouldn’t be underestimated, if you use your phone all day every day, which… of course, you do.Furthermore, (and this an opinion more than a fact), the S21 Ultra just looks better than the S22 Ultra. Its camera housing is more badass-looking, and it’s much more practical too – it won’t gather nearly as much lint as the individual camera rings on the 2022 model. 

Then, however strange it might sound, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the phone with the ever so slightly longer battery life. Bear in mind that due to your individual usage habits, your milage will vary, and it’s not a night and day difference.

That’ being said, the Galaxy S21 Ultra definitely doesn’t have worse endurance than Samsung’s new flagship, despite the fact that both come with the same 5000 mAh battery. Shockingly, charging speeds are on par too, despite the fact that the Galaxy S22 Ultra supports 45W fast-charging vs only 25W on the older phone. Both take about an hour to charge, which is very unfair for S22 Ultra users, who might’ve told they’ll get much faster speeds.

The base model Galaxy S21 Ultra also comes with much more RAM than the equivalent Galaxy S22 Ultra, and that’s because of Samsung’s decision to downgrade this year’s Ultra Galaxy to just 8GB of RAM. This might be a much more important factor than you realize since Android phones can be very RAM-hungry.

So, it looks like the extra RAM might be able to give the S21 Ultra an advantage in the long term. RAM is it’s responsible for keeping apps running in the background and opening up quickly after they’ve been last closed.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra has some things going for it too, but is that enough to make you pay twice as much?

Now, no one can deny that Samsung’s Note-looking S22 Ultra actually comes with a few meaningful upgrades over its predecessor…

Of course, the first one is the S-Pen, and if you want/need it – it’s S22 Ultra all the way for you. Then again, if I had to guess, I’d say that 90% of people won’t care about the S-Pen, and if they have it, they might not even remember to use it, so there’s that…

The Galaxy S22 Ultra also offers a slightly brighter screen on paper, which makes little to no difference in real-world use; better night photography – this one’s worth noting if you take many photos at night (most people don’t); and cleaner zoom photos, thanks to improved image processing.

Speaking of photos, the camera hardware on the S22 Ultra is relatively unchanged compared to the S21 Ultra. Both will give you get four rear cameras – an ultra-wide-angle snapper, a primary shooter, and a set of telephoto cameras fixed at 3x and 10x optical zoom. Yes, zoom photos from the S22 Ultra are definitely cleaner (good job, Samsung!), but the S21 Ultra has the same reach and features.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra will get an extra year of updates, but the S21 Ultra will get long software support too

Another thing to note is that the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a slightly newer chip and it will get an extra year of Android OS and security updates. This isn’t something to gloss over:

  • Galaxy S21 Ultra will be updated up to Android 15 and will stop receiving security updates in 2025
  • Galaxy S22 Ultra will be updated up to Android 16 and will stop receiving security updates in 2026

If you’re someone who likes to squeeze the most out of your phone and keep it for as long as possible, then the S22 Ultra is your jam. Still, don’t forget that the remaining three years of OS updates and four years of security patches, combined with the extra 4GB of RAM on the S21 Ultra, will help you get plenty of use out of the cheaper flagship.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S22 Ultra in mid-2022: More or less the same experience for a fraction of the price

Speaking of price, that’s probably the number one reason to even consider buying a used Galaxy S21 Ultra instead of a new Galaxy S22 Ultra. The former will cost you an average of $550, while the latter is twice as expensive to get brand new.You’ll find used/refurbished Galaxy S21 Ultra units in good-mint condition in the US, UK, and Europe. I’ve done the initial research for you:

  • In the US, Swappa might be one of your best options, where a used S21 Ultra in good-mint condition will set you back just $550-650
  • In the UK, eBay might be your best shopping buddy, where deals for Galaxy S21 Ultra in great condition can be as low as £500
  • In Europe, eBay is again one of the best options to shop for a used Galaxy S21 Ultra, where the average price is €600

Shop safely, and always look for the Buyer’s Protection label if you buy from eBay!

Galaxy S21 Ultra is (probably) the best flagship phone Samsung’s ever made and it’s ageing like a fine wine

That’s a really good question, and there are a few different ways to answer it…

Sure, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a slightly better phone than the S21 Ultra. It’s newer – it makes sense. But there’s another take on this, and it’s from the POV of someone who bought the S21 Ultra at launch…

In that case, the S21 Ultra was and will always be the more stable and highly rated Galaxy flagship even compared to the newer S22 Ultra, which arrived with some jittery swiping and micro stutters; less RAM, and slightly inferior battery life.

At launch, the Galaxy S21 Ultra delivered the best value out of any premium Galaxy flagship we’ve ever seen and the good news is that even if you were to buy one now, it wouldn’t age quickly or poorly. It comes with extremely capable hardware across the board (better than that on many 2022 flagships), and since the Note is now dead, Samsung’s next big slab release – the Galaxy S23 Ultra, is due in more than six months.

Speaking of external competition I’d say the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a much safer buy than the newer Google Pixel 6 Pro and gives you a ton more features compared to any iPhone that’s on the market right now. It has more versatile cameras than both Google and Apple’s phones, and it beats the Pixel in areas like battery life, charging, and software updates.

Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra the best-value premium flagship phone ever?

Now, this is an even more difficult question to answer since there are phones like the Huawei P30 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, which received even better reviews at launch. If we look past the lack of a high refresh rate screen, the Huawei P30 Pro aged gracefully ( I have it and it still performs admirably in 2022).

Also, there’s the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which changed our perception of “great battery life” and became one of the easiest ultra-premium flagships to recommend. However, Apple’s phone is yet to prove its longevity. My educate guess is that its conservative camera system and big notch will age rather poorly, which won’t be the case with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

And a bonus round for you! Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra the most improved flagship phone ever, given that it was preceded by the terribly priced and poorly received S20 Ultra? That’s a hard one too… The Pixel 5 – Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy Z Fold – Galaxy Z Fold 2 upgrades were massive and probably deserve just as much (if not more) credit for year-over-year improvements.

Let me know! Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra Samsung’s best-value ultra-premium phone ever and are you planning to buy one in 2022?

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