The Galaxy S20 Ultra is one of the most important phones of the year. But compared to the Galaxy Z flip that launched alongside it, it’s also sort of boring.
The S20 Ultra doesn’t fold in half to become more compact or fold out into a big tablet, but it absolutely nails the fundamentals and of course you get a gigantic new camera system.
So let’s talk about whether you should spend $1,400 on Samsung’s flagship in this Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Specifications
|Specifications||Galaxy S20 Ultra|
|Display||6.9 inches, QHD+|
|Display Type||120Hz, Dynamic Amoled|
|Software||Android 10, One UI 2|
|Front camera||40 MP, f/2.2|
|Rear camera||108 MP, f/1.8 (main)|
48 MP, f/3.5 (periscope telephoto)
12 MP, f/2.2 (ultrawide)
0.3 MP, TOF 3D, f/1.0, (depth)
|Fast Charging||45W fast charging|
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Box contents:
1. Phone with pre-applied plastic screen protector
2. 25-watt USB-C charger
3. USB-C to USB-C cable
4. USB-C in-ear headphones
5. A pair of large and small sized eartips for the headphones
6. User manual
7. SIM ejector tool
8. Clear Case
Design and Build
Something you’re either gonna love or hate (depending on who you are) is just how giant the Galaxy S20 Ultra really is.
It’s one of the biggest and heaviest phones, around coming in at 220 grams. It isn’t quite as heavy as the iPhone 11 Pro Max or some Huawei flagships, but it feels the heavy.
It’s also incredibly well-built, Samsung’s gotten really good at hardware, design over the last few years and the S20 Ultra feels like a tank.
It’s got a glass and metal design with less pronounced curves around the edges than before which actually feels a lot better.
It means that there will be fewer accidental presses with the exception of the giant camera bump around the back. The design actually hasn’t changed all that much since the Galaxy S10.
You get a slightly smaller camera cutout and tighter bezels around the display, but otherwise this is pretty familiar.
There’s still great features like IP68 water resistance and reverse wireless charging, the only thing that’s really missing this time around is a headphone jack, which I’m sure some of you will miss much more than others.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Display
If you ask me, what is one of the S20 Ultra’s best new features?
Its display, it’s giant and the colors are gorgeous and it’s just great to look at whether you’re creating or consuming content. One thing that is the my favorite in S20 Ultra is the 120 Hertz refresh rate.
Samsung has skipped the 90 Hertz train and went straight to doubling its 60 Hertz panels and the result is just an incredible.
It give you a smooth experience whether you’re scrolling through lists and apps or playing supported games like Microsoft’s Forza.
Performance and 5G
Another big change on the S20 Ultra is the move to 5G.
Samsung is using Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset in the S20 series which features support for 5G networks through its X55 modem.
In plain English, that means that you’ll get 5G on the S20 Ultra anywhere. It’s available on any carrier that supports it, but the problem is it (5G) still not really available in India.
For those of you guys who don’t know, let me tell you, depending on your region, you’re going to get a different version of the S20 Ultra.
|Snapdragon 865 (single core)||830|
|Snapdragon 865 (multi core)||3096|
|Exynos 990 (single core)||811|
|Exynos 990 (multi core)||2698|
You’re either going to get the Exynos 990 or you’re going to get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 version of S20 Ultra.
Generally speaking, both of these are going to be very fast for your day-to-day but the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 variant is just better.
After performing some benchmarks over and over again, you’ll notice that the Exynos 990 version just keeps scoring lower and lower.
So in terms of performance, you might not notice that much of a difference, but if you are somebody who’s a heavy user, maybe do lots of gaming for longer periods of time, then you’re definitely going to be noticing this difference.
Now I’m sure there’s some good reasons behind why Samsung have these two separate chipsets, potentially around supply and production, but it’s just unfair giving half your market an inferior smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Software
The software experience on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is pretty similar to other recent Samsung devices.
This is the same version of Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI 2 with some small additions like the new music share feature that lets your friends connect to your phone over Bluetooth.
Then stream music to any speakers you’re already connected to. Samsung is also partnered with Google to integrate duo video calling straight into the phone dialer.
This is undoubtedly to give Android users a similar experience to FaceTime on the iPhone and the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the first phone to support 1080p video streams during video calls.
Galaxy S20 Ultra: Battery and Charging
The 865 processor is pretty power efficient and the Galaxy S20 Ultra is packing a massive 5000 mAh battery.
But even so we were reaching single digit battery percentages by the end of some days which isn’t quite what we were hoping for.
That being said, we’ve heard from plenty of other reviewers that battery life on their units has actually been pretty great even with 120 Hertz enabled, so your mileage may vary.
But at the very least this should still be enough to get you through a full day even with heavy usage. Another area where you’re going to be noticing a difference is in battery life.
So the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 variant has really good battery life. I’m easily getting between 6 to 7 hours of Screen On time on a single charge.
Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Review
Now we should talk about the cameras because that’s really the biggest new change with the Galaxy S20 ultra.
You get 4 cameras in the giant housing on the back of this phone and each of them has a larger sensor size than last year, specifically the main sensor is 3 times larger than before and it comes in at a 108MP compared to last year’s 12.
Samsung is using pixel binning to still give you a 12 MP output that pixel binning combined with the larger sensor.
Means that every photo you take is sharper and brighter than ever before and the depth of field coming out of shots taken straight from the normal shooting mode are insane.
There’s a ton of natural bokeh and the focal plane is so narrow that even shooting rounded objects like a cup can lead to some out-of-focus text around the sides. It’s pretty insane to think that these kinds of photos can come from a phone.
There’s really no need to use portrait mode anymore since you get a much more natural look out of the regular camera amd as an added bonus, you get to avoid all the artificial cutouts around your subject.
Now that being said, this is still a Samsung camera with all of Samsung’s camera quirks the S20 Ultra absolutely refuses to let shadows be dark lifting up the exposure on the entire photo and oftentimes blowing out the highlights.
As a result there’s also a ton of over sharpening going on with pretty much every photo and you can get a really nasty haloing effect around objects that are too bright.
You also have the option of shooting at the full 108 MP resolution instead of pixel bending down to 12 MP, but you lose out on a ton of brightness and sharpness and of course the file is much much larger.
The Ultra-Wide camera has been improved by quite a lot with the larger sensor to the point. It’s almost as good as the main sensor on last year’s S10.
On the other hand, the telephoto has been completely redesigned with this new periscope layout with the camera.
It actually had to lay it sideways on the inside of the phone, then bounce light off of a prism to get the image into the sensor.
Samsung advertises a 10x hybrid optic zoom with this telephoto camera with the ability to zoom in up to a 100x digitally.
The photo results at 100x aren’t that useful, you’re certainly not gonna Instagram these shots, but the fact that you can even get that close and still see details.
The real useable photos comes somewhere between 4X – 10X where you can actually get some pretty great looking photos. These are actually good looking photos with again some pretty natural-looking depth of field.
It’s pretty shocking just how good almost every focal length on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is that we did run into one majorly annoying problem
The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a lot of trouble with autofocus, whether you’re shooting photo or video. The S20 Ultra has a tendency to pulse in and out of focus especially while shooting in low-light.
This is probably because unlike the S20 and S20+, the Galaxy S20 Ultra uses phase detect autofocus rather than the faster dual pixel.
Samsung says it’ll be issuing a fix for the autofocus issues in a software update coming soon, but until it does this is a pretty frustrating shooting experience.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra comes with a single selfie shooter instead of dual front cameras like on the Galaxy S10+. The camera has a wide field of view but it crops it by default to deliver 6.5 MP shots.
You can also switch to a wider frame which will be saved as a 10 MP shot. You can also take photos at the full 40 MP resolution. Selfies seem to be smoothened by beautification by default. You can switch off this setting before taking a shot.
The front-facing camera supports 4k video at up to 60 fps, if you’re shooting at 60, you do lose video effects and stabilization.
If you step it down to 30 you get that stabilization back but again no video effects with the rear cameras.
You can shoot it all the way up to 8k though of course, you lose stabilization in the process and these are absolutely massive files.
In general, you’re better off shooting in 1080p or 4k, but if you want to shoot 8k and share it online, you can upload an 8k directly to YouTube from the phone or downscale your footage in the gallery for a more shareable file size.
This is also one of the first times I’ve been happy to use a Samsung camera in low-light. The light performance of S20 Ultra with night mode has been improved compared to the previous year flagship S10+.
But even in auto mode, you can get surprisingly bright and sharp photos that are way better than anything we saw on the Samsung Galaxy S10.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Verdict
1. Big, bright and beautiful 120Hz display.
2. The great periscope telephoto cam offers versatile zoom options.
3. Stereo speakers are nice and loud.
4. Charging is very fast.
1. Ultra expensive.
2. Underwhelming battery life with 120Hz refresh rate.
3. ‘Space zoom 100x’ is just for marketing.
4. Fingerprint sensor performance is way behind the competition. But it is secure.
So let’s wrap all this up by talking about who exactly the galaxy S20 ultra is for.
Starting at $1,400 and going up even higher if you want more storage and 16 GB of RAM its Samsung’s most expensive non-folding phone and not everyone can take advantage of some of its newer features like 5G.
That being said, this is one of the most powerful phones on the market and even with its autofocus issues, the cameras are incredibly impressive with sharpness and natural depth of field rivaling that of even some dedicated cameras like the Sony RX100.
If you have the money to spare and you’re looking for the best phone, you can buy Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.
You can also downsize to the Galaxy S20 or S20+ and you’ll get just about everything the S20 Ultra has to offer – the 108 MP main camera and the 100x telephoto.
Now if you like my Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review, consider sharing this article and if you have any questions, let me know in the comments.