A topic of company phones came up recently which had me thinking that maybe I really do need to separate work and personal calls and texts. And maybe I should take a look at the Android ecosystem again, because there bound to be a few colleagues running it and if I am to support them properly, I should be more aware of what’s going on.
So this lead me on a mission to find a cheapish Android device and data plan – preferably away from my current carrier since in the unfortunate (but highly unlikely, yet still probable) event that my broadband and current carrier went down, I could still tether my computer to this new device and continue to work.
I looked at the OnePlus 9 Pro. I’ve good experiences with OnePlus with the OnePlus 3T that I had a few years ago that I bought as a backup phone. The UI was a breeze to use, and I liked using it quite a bit. It was definitely wooing me away from my iPhone, that’s for sure. Plus it took some really decent photos. The downside? Terrible battery life. Barely made it through the day.
I eventually sold the 3T and went back to merrily using the iPhone, and only using the iPhone. The OnePlus 9 Pro, when looking at what it could do and the quality of the images, made it a tempting option. Yet the reviews I’ve been reading and watching suggested that the battery life still wasn’t great. If you’re going to be using the phone primarily for work, you need something reliable in the battery department.
I also looked at the Oppo Find X3 Pro, which had many more positive reviews – especially surrounding the camera. But again, battery life was said to be a bit of an issue and the cost of the device (as with the OnePlus 9 Pro) were getting too close to the ultra flagship phones from the likes of Apple and Samsung.
So I decided to go with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, my first Samsung phone after being left disappointed by the Galaxy Note 5 battery issue. I loved the Note 5. It was an absolutely beautiful piece of engineering, and I’d have probably have completely ditched the iPhone ecosystem had it not been for the potentially explosive battery situation. So back it went and I stuck with iPhone again (until the OnePlus 3T). The thing about iPhones is – to most people, they may be boring – but damn it, they’re reliable.
Anyway, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a lovely bit of kit:
It reminds me why I loved the Note 5 in the first place. A lot of thought has gone into the design, and it feels really good in the hands. More comfortable than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, that’s for sure – thanks to a leaner, taller ratio. And while the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s notch has never bothered me, the single camera punch out on the display makes things look a lot neater – albeit at the price for reduced functionality – the S21 Ultra’s face recognition comes nowhere close to that of the iPhone.
So I’m using the ultra-sonic under-glass fingerprint reader to unlock the phone rather than face recognition (which I understand to be considerably less perfect than that of Apple’s implementation). It’s not brilliant, but it does the job most of the time. Again, we’re nowhere near the accuracy or performance of the iPhone in that regard. What I hadn’t realised was that the S21 Ultra comes with a screen protector installed by default and found the fingerprint sensor more agreeable without it. As the S21 Ultra comes with the toughest Gorilla Glass yet – Gorilla Glass Victus – I’m not concerned about smashing this thing.
Performance is as I would expect from a Samsung flagship, and Android has never been better. I particularly like the always-on display, which doesn’t take up too much battery life. And speaking of which, it’s really good. On standby it slowly drips away and lasts a good 2-3 days without the need for a charge.
The 108-megapixel camera on this monster of a phone is interesting. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but with one exception: the zoom (10x optical with a 30x hybrid right up to 100x) is magnificent (ha), as is the close-up mode. I’ve switched to pixel binning, ensuring that all photos taken are 12 megapixels – and besides which, you’ve got limited functionality when taking photos with the full 108-megapixel sensor (at least in non-pro mode).
Integrating an Android device with a Mac was never going to be easy, but I’ve discovered something called AirDroid which takes much of the pain away. It can wirelessly transfer files (such as photos, documents, etc.) to the Mac and vice versa quickly and easily. It should let me read and reply to messages and make phone calls from the Mac desktop, but despite setting permissions on the phone to do so, AirDroid keeps telling me the phone still doesn’t have the right permissions!
One of the main reasons for going with Samsung versus the many Chinese handset manufacturers is that Samsung has really stepped up the game when it comes to Android security updates – and that of the phone’s specific hardware features. And even major new releases of Android! This phone is guaranteed at least three major Android releases during its lifetime. Possibly even beyond that. I think of all the Chinese phone manufacturers, Xiaomi is the only one that releases Android security and feature updates in a timely manner. Alas, the Mi X11 Ultra isn’t yet available in this country – that phone looked to be a serious competitor to the S21 Ultra – and I had considered it.
Overall my limited time with the phone has been a good experience. But there is so much to configure and optimise that it’s a bit of learning curve. The iPhone, on the other hand, is quicker to set-up and configure. That’s not to say it’s not as feature rich as Android, but Apple’s UI team have attempted to put configuration options and features in such a way that you don’t need to keep deep diving into multiple submenus to find them.