Galaxy Note 10+ owners: Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra a good replacement?

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It’s time to take a look at the Galaxy S21 Ultra from the perspective of a Galaxy Note 10+ owner who might be looking for an upgrade. Long story short, the Galaxy S21 Ultra isn’t the Note replacement some people were expecting or fearing, even though it supports the S Pen.

Let us save you the suspense and start off by saying that Galaxy Note 10+ owners who consider the S Pen to be the primary reason why they got a Galaxy Note device in the first place might be disappointed by the S Pen experience delivered by the Galaxy S21 Ultra, though not necessarily. It really depends on a few factors which will be explained below, and of course, not everything about these devices revolves around the iconic S Pen. There are other pros and cons to consider.

Reasons to upgrade from the Galaxy Note 10+

The 120Hz high refresh rate display and, the S Pen?

It may seem contradictory at first but bear with us and keep reading until the end, because in reality, the S Pen both is and isn’t a reason to upgrade to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

In other words, the S Pen experience delivered by the Galaxy S21 Ultra as a whole may not be optimal, however, Samsung’s new flagship does take advantage of a 120Hz display, and this one particular upgrade results in smoother animations throughout the UI, as well as a more responsive S Pen.

If you want to experience the S Pen on a 120Hz display and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra isn’t your cup of tea for whatever reason then the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the next-best thing.

A refreshed design backed up by Gorilla Glass Victus

The Galaxy Note 10+ still looks fairly modern today and came in the stunning Aura Glow paint job, though the camera bump might be one design element that may have not aged very well. It’s not off-putting but it looks underwhelming and of somewhat mid-range quality in 2021.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t shy away from highlighting its main camera setup with a prominent camera bump, and it seems to be working well in its favor. The phone certainly flaunts one of the most striking designs we’ve seen in recent years, so if this aspect matters to you then you might get more enjoyment out of the new flagship.

On the practical side of things, the Galaxy Note 10+ is wrapped in Gorilla Glass 6, whereas the Galaxy S21 Ultra has the newer Glass Victus solution at the front and back. Speaking of which, the new flagship’s back panel has a frosty, matte finish, which is a big departure from the Galaxy Note 10’s highly-reflective coating, though whether you prefer one or the other is subjective. What we can confirm is that the Galaxy Note 10+ attracts a lot more fingerprints.

The next-generation chipsets and new cameras are a pretty big deal

Although you can still use the Galaxy Note 10+ for virtually any task without much difficulty, and even though its triple camera setup + TOF sensor remain viable for mobile photography today, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a lot newer and it delivers meaningful upgrades in both categories.

To begin with, the new flagship introduces a new Exynos 2100 chipset with ARM cores as opposed to custom cores, while in other markets, the phone is equipped with the Snapdragon 888 SoC. Both were built on a 5nm process as opposed to 7nm, which makes them not only more powerful but also more energy efficient.

As for mobile photography, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has an amazing setup comprising a new 108MP main shooter, a 12MP ultrawide, and two 10MP telephoto sensors with different properties, working together to deliver up to 100x zoom. The new flagship supports 8K video recording and it has a much more competent 40MP selfie camera.

Bigger battery with excellent autonomy

Samsung’s new flagship comes with a 5,000mAh battery, which means it’s 700mAh larger than the unit inside the Galaxy Note 10+. These figures aside, what really makes a big difference for the Galaxy S21 Ultra are the other upgraded components working together for better autonomy.

As mentioned before, the 5nm chipsets are more power efficient than the previous 7nm-based solutions, but another factor that greatly contribute to the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s excellent battery life is the new AMOLED technology. The phone can even provide all-day battery life with the 120Hz mode enabled.

Galaxy S21 Ultra supports 5G, UWB, and Wi-Fi 6e

The Galaxy Note 10+ was released in a 5G variant but it’s not as widespread as the 4G model, and chances are that if you’re reading this, you own the latter variant.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with 5G everywhere as standard, but even without 5G, the phone would still offer a few other connectivity upgrades over the Galaxy Note 10+, such as Wi-Fi 6e and UWB (Ultra-Wide Band).

As always, the new flagship comes with newer firmware

The Galaxy S21 Ultra ships with Android 11 and One UI 3.1, whereas the Galaxy Note 10+ was released with Android Pie but can be upgraded to Android 11. So, given that both phones run the same version of Android, why would the Galaxy S21 Ultra be better in terms of software?

Well, first of all, the phone ships with One UI 3.1 whereas the Galaxy Note 10+ runs One UI 3.0. More importantly, the Galaxy Note 10+ has already received two major Android OS updates and it’s eligible for one more. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is looking at three upcoming Android OS updates, which means it’s a lot more future-proof.

Reasons for Galaxy Note 10+ owners to avoid the Galaxy S21 Ultra

The S Pen experience is not optimal

The Galaxy S21 Ultra wasn’t built around the S Pen the way the Galaxy Note 10+ was, which means it doesn’t have a dedicated S Pen holster. The S Pen is sold as an optional accessory and it can be carried around in a protective case with a dedicated holster, but this implementation is far from optimal.

If you own the Galaxy Note 10+ and you’re an avid Air Actions user, you have to steer away from the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Its S Pen lacks Bluetooth connectivity, the gyroscope, and any associated apps and features that would normally use these technologies. An S Pen Pro with those features will be released later, but that will also have to be carried around separately.

As mentioned above, the Galaxy S21 Ultra does have a 120Hz display which will lead to a smoother S Pen experience, however, there’s more to the Galaxy Note series than a low S Pen latency, and it’s up to each customer to decide which S Pen characteristics matter more to then.

Less on-board storage as standard with no possibility to expand

Galaxy Note 10+ owners who haven’t kept up to date with the Galaxy S21 Ultra might be shocked to learn that the new flagship offers less storage as standard, all the while lacking a microSD card slot.

The 2019 S Pen flagship comes with 256GB of on-board storage at minimum and it was also released with 512GB. In contrast, storage options for the Galaxy S21 Ultra include 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB, but more isn’t always better.

Not only will the Galaxy S21 Ultra start you off with less storage from day-one, but the phone also lacks an external storage slot, so what you see is what you get.

Slower fast charging speeds and no charger in the box

The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers better battery life overall, but it’s worth noting that the phone is limited to 25W fast charging, whereas the Galaxy Note 10+ boasts 45W fast charging capabilities.

Granted, the Galaxy Note 10+ was shipped with a standard 25W charger and only the most dedicated customers went ahead and bought the 45W charger, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t ship with a charger of any kind.

Fortunately for prospective Galaxy S21 Ultra buyers who own an optional 45W charger, it will work with the device, except it will be limited to 25W.

MST transactions are no longer supported for Samsung Pay

This is no news and it’s not very interesting to keep bringing it up, but it’s the reality we live in, and if you do happen to use MST transactions with Samsung Pay (that is, NFC-based payment terminals aren’t common in your area), you’re probably better off keeping the Galaxy Note 10+.

Samsung has abandoned MST for Samsung Pay with the new flagship series and the feature is unlikely to ever return.

Conclusion: Avid S Pen users might be better off with the Note 10+

If the S Pen really is the main reason why you are a Galaxy Note 10+ owner in the first place then the Galaxy S21 Ultra might not be the best alternative. The addition of an S Pen accessory is most welcomed by Galaxy Note users who might want to transition to the Galaxy S series without having to abandon the S Pen entirely, but the Galaxy Note 10+ offers a much more complete S Pen experience overall.

On the other hand, if you no longer care as much about the S Pen, or at least its more fancy features like Bluetooth connectivity, then the Galaxy S21 Ultra does offer a handful of good reasons for an upgrade, at least as long as expandable storage and Samsung Pay working everywhere aren’t very important to you.

Galaxy Note 10+ review | Galaxy S21 Ultra review

  • Model: SM-G998B
  • Dimensions: Bar: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
  • Display: 6.8 inch / 172.72 mm Dynamic AMOLED 2X
  • CPU: Exynos 2100
  • Camera: 12MP

  • Model: SM-N975F
  • Dimensions: Bar: 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9 mm
  • Display: 6.8 inch / 172.72 mm Dynamic AMOLED Display
  • CPU: Exynos 9825
  • Camera: 16MP

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