Galaxy S21 Ultra: The best ‘old’ Samsung flagship ever – best Android deal in mid-2022?

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

This time the bar was set very highand Samsung knew it needed something special to grab people’s attention, which of course led to it DJ Koh & Co the decision to merge the Note and “S” flagship lineups. So we came to Samsung’s current top flagship – the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the Yes, really is a Note flagship in disguise. Although on paper, the note is now “dead”.

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

If you’ve always wanted to get a Galaxy S21 Ultra but never did… well, now could be a great time! Let me tell you why!

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is probably the better Android flagship than the expensive Galaxy S22 Ultra

To be clear, I’m not going to convince you that the Galaxy S21 Ultra is making circles around the Galaxy S22 Ultra, because it isn’t. The S22 Ultra is the newer phone with a newer processor and upgraded cameras and display. However, both have their pros and cons, and I think this is where it gets more interesting.

Of course the Price of both phones will be a big factor, but we’ll talk about that a little further down…

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has arguably a better design than the Galaxy S22 Ultra; It also has a lot more RAM and better battery life

First of all, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung’s latest ultra flagship that feels like a Galaxy “S”. It’s more rounded, making it more ergonomic and easier to hold for longer periods of time, and that shouldn’t be underestimated if you use your phone all day, every day, which of course you do. Also (and this is more of an opinion than a fact) the S21 Ultra just looks better than the S22 Ultra. The camera body looks badass and it’s a lot more practical too – it doesn’t collect nearly as much lint as the 2022 model’s individual camera rings.

Then, strange as it may sound, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the phone with the slightly longer battery life. Remember that your mileage may vary based on your individual usage habits and is not a day/night difference.

That being said, the Galaxy S21 Ultra definitely has no worse stamina than Samsung’s new flagship, despite both sporting the same 5000mAh battery. Shockingly, charging speeds are also on par, although the Galaxy S22 Ultra supports 45W fast charging, versus just 25W on the older phone. Both take around an hour to charge, which is very unfair to S22 Ultra users who may have said they’ll be getting much faster speeds.

The base model Galaxy S21 Ultra also has a lot more RAM than the equivalent Galaxy S22 Ultra, and that’s due to Samsung’s decision to downgrade this year’s Ultra Galaxy to just 8GB of RAM. This could be a much more important factor than you realize given that Android phones can be very RAM hungry.

So it looks like the extra RAM could give the S21 Ultra an edge in the long run. RAM is responsible for keeping apps running in the background and opening quickly after they were last closed.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra has quite a bit to offer as well, but is that enough to make you pay twice as much?

Now, no one can deny that Samsung’s Note-looking S22 Ultra does indeed come with a few significant upgrades over its predecessor…

The first, of course, is the S-Pen, and if you want/need it – it’s S22 Ultra for you. Then again, if I had to guess, I’d say that 90% of people don’t care about the S Pen, and if they have it, they might not even remember using 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 is worth noting if you take a lot of photos at night (most people don’t); and cleaner Zoom photos thanks to improved image processing.

Speaking of photos, the S22 Ultra’s camera hardware is relatively unchanged compared to the S21 Ultra. Both give you four rear cameras – an ultra-wide-angle snapper, a primary shooter, and an array of telephoto cameras with 3x and 10x optical zooms. YesZoom photos from the S22 Ultra are definitely cleaner (good job Samsung!), but the S21 Ultra has the same range and features.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra gets an extra year of updates, but the S21 Ultra also gets long software support

Another thing to note is that the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a slightly newer chip and will get an extra year of Android OS and security updates. This is not to be glossed over:

  • The Galaxy S21 Ultra will be updated to Android 15 and will no longer receive security updates in 2025
  • The Galaxy S22 Ultra will be updated to Android 16 and will no longer receive security updates in 2026

If you’re someone who likes to get the most out of your phone and keep it for as long as possible, then the S22 Ultra is for you. Don’t forget, however, that the S21 Ultra’s remaining three years of operating system updates and four years of security patches combined with the additional 4GB of RAM will help you get the most out of the cheaper flagship.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs S22 Ultra Mid 2022: More or less the same experience at a fraction of the price

Speaking of price, that’s probably the main reason to even consider buying a used Galaxy S21 Ultra over a new Galaxy S22 Ultra. The former costs $550 on average, while the latter is double the price if you get it brand new. You can find used/refurbished Galaxy S21 Ultra devices in good, like-new condition in the US, UK and Europe. I did the initial research for you:

  • In the USA, Swappa might be one of your best options, where a used S21 Ultra in good condition will only set you back $550-$650
  • In the United Kingdom, eBay could be your best shopping buddy, where deals on the Galaxy S21 Ultra can be as low as £500 in great condition
  • In Europe, eBay is again one of the best options to buy a used Galaxy S21 Ultra, where the average price is around €600

Shop safely and always pay attention to the Buyer Protection label when you buy on eBay!

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is (arguably) the best flagship phone Samsung has ever made, and it’s aging like a fine wine

That is a Yes, 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 way of looking at it, and that’s from the perspective of someone who bought the S21 Ultra at launch…

In this case, the S21 Ultra was and remains the more stable and higher-rated Galaxy flagship, even compared to the newer S22 Ultra, which arrived with some nervous swipes and micro-stutters; less RAM and slightly worse battery life.

At the start, the Galaxy S21 Ultra delivered the best value for money of any premium Galaxy flagship we’ve seen, and the good news is that even if you bought one now, it wouldn’t age fast or badly. It comes with extremely capable hardware across the board (better than many 2022 flagships), and with the Note now dead, Samsung’s next big record release is – the The Galaxy S23 Ultra is due in more than six months.

Speaking of external competition, I’d say the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a lot safer buy than the newer ones Google Pixel 6 Pro and offers you a lot more features compared to any iPhone currently on the market. It has more versatile cameras than phones from Google and Apple, and beats the Pixel in areas like battery life, charging, and software updates.

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

Now, This is an even harder question to answer as there are phones like the Huawei P30 Pro and Mate 20 Pro that received even better reviews at launch. If we look beyond the lack of a high refresh rate screen, the Huawei P30 Pro has aged gracefully (I have it and it still works admirably in 2022).

Besides, there are 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 has yet to prove its longevity. I suspect its conservative camera system and big notch will age pretty badly, which won’t be the case with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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

Let me know! Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra Samsung’s cheapest ultra-premium phone ever and do you plan to buy one in 2022?