The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra doesn’t go upside down, and it doesn’t fold, so you might wonder why it costs $1,400. The astronomical price becomes more comfortable to swallow when you consider that Samsung has packed its most advanced camera ever in this flagship phone. A quad-lens stack that holds a 108-megapixel primary sensor and a 10x lossless zoom shooter that can go up to an unprecedented 100x digital power. This is our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review.
One look at the photos that this collection of bloody optics and sensors can capture and the Galaxy S20 Ultra seems destined to be voted The Best camera phone on the market. One problem with that: since the publication of our first review, we have encountered several issues with the cameras. Fortunately, the S20 Ultra is much more, with its gigantic 6.9-inch, 120Hz Quad-HD display, and future-proof support for all the major carrier’s 5G network.
Yet, even for $1,400, the Galaxy S20 Ultra still can’t be perfect. To start with, Samsung has removed the headphone jack, and the camera module on the back is distractingly massive. Some users may love the more compact 6.7-inch Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus (priced at $1,199) or the even compact and cheaper 6.2-inch Galaxy S20 (priced at $999), but those models lose the powerful zoom of the Ultra.
From the price and that screen to the 108 MP camera, just about everything is super large on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. That should make it one for the Best phones that money can buy when Samsung comes up with a solution to the problems with the camera. But it also means that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is not suitable for everyone.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Design
In some ways, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra looks a lot like the Samsung phones that preceded it – namely, the S10 and Note 10. The edges are curved, the display goes to the edge of the device and almost kisses the metal frame, and there is an Infinity-O hole-punch camera cutout at the top, smack dab in the middle. But the S20 Ultra is like a Galaxy flagship phone on steroids. For one, the screen is massive, stretching 6.9-inches from edge-to-edge, which is more significant than even the 6.8-inch Samsung’s Note 10 Plus.
And the giant rectangular camera module at the rear dominates the back of the device, aggressively bulging out of an otherwise inconspicuous gray glass plate. The S20 Ultra comes in only two incredibly dull shades – Cosmic Black and Cosmic Gray – which are undersized when you consider how much this phone goes on under the hood. Samsung offers Cloud Blue and Cloud Pink versions of the less expensive Galaxy S20 variants, although these shades are missing for Ultra customers. And no matter what color you buy, this phone is also a severe magnet to fingerprints; maybe Samsung should have offered a matte glass option as well.
The only aspect of the design of the S20 Ultra we haven’t touched on yet is its size, and make no mistake – this is a beast of a smartphone. The phone measures 6.6 x 2.9 x 0.34-inches and weighs around 7.7 ounces, making it much more significant and a smidge thicker than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but a hair narrower. On Samsung’s merit, though, it could keep the S20 Ultra lighter than the 7.97-ounce Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, although the iPhone has a smaller battery and a smaller camera module. Anyway, if you prefer a smaller smartphone, the S20 Ultra certainly isn’t for you.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Display
The display almost makes up for the lackluster design of the S20 Ultra 5G. Almost. It’s a beautiful display that’s The Best you can buy on any phone right now. Samsung gave its flagship 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O screen with multiple resolutions and refresh rate options. Out of the box, it is set to Full HD+ or 2,400 by 1,080 pixels. You can improve it to Quad HD+, or 3,200 at 1,440 pixels, or downgrade it to HD+ at 1,600 at 720 pixels.
Whatever you choose, you get the same 20.5:9 aspect ratio. The sharpness of the screen is merely excellent, even at the medium setting. You will see a slight degradation if you drop it to HD+, but the Quad HD+ setting is dazzling in its brightness. You can choose refresh rates of either 60Hz, which is what most screens use, or much better 120Hz, which is better for gaming. Let me tell you, the 120Hz setting gives the screen a lush smoothness that must be seen to be believed. Without the ability to combine the high number of pixels and the high refresh rate at the same time, you have a screen that dominates every other panel on the market.
The color is excellent. Of course, the display is HDR10+ certified, which means that the right content will deliver an incredible dynamic range. I watched some HDR10 movies on Netflix and was impressed. Samsung allows you to manage almost every factor of the display and its performance. Choosing the full resolution or the refresh rate will affect battery life, but you can adjust the brightness, blue light filter, color profile, and all other typical settings. The Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G has an incredible screen.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Camera
The camera must – and is – the number one selling point for this phone. It’s a sample of an imaging system, and it’s more advanced than anything we’ve seen before. The basis is this one. Samsung gave the Galaxy S20 Ultra a quad-camera setup on the back. The standard lens has a 108MP sensor at f/1.8. As standard, it shoots 12MP images, with a factor of nine out of the full number of pixels (no-binning). The camera is connected to an ultra-wide-angle 12MP camera at f/2.2, an optical 48MP camera at f/3.5, and a time-of-flight camera to process the depth information. Some of the functions Samsung has to include 100x zoom and 8K video recording.
The most important sensor is a beast. Few phones have been sent with such a high number of megapixels (see the Xiaomi Mi Note 10), but you can be sure that there are more on the road. The idea behind such a sensor is twofold: Firstly, to allow more light and, secondly, to provide incredible details. This sensor ensures the excellent performance of the S20 Ultra in low light. While the primary setting is to shoot 12MP shots, you can choose to shoot the full 108MP shots at any time. The full resolution shots are surely impressive in their detail, and the noise is not as bad as I expected.
Most standard daily shots look almost perfect. All the beach/boardwalk shots below are visible in their accuracy. The picture is better than real life because the shadows are more or less correctly eliminated for the details. Zoom in on the balloons in the boardwalk game, and you’ll see a lot of detail, but also some noise. My Pixel has, for comparison, not captured so many details. The only thing that struck me was the white balance, which got too hot now and then.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 family has several elegant new camera modes, including Single Take, Night Mode, Night Hyperlapse, and much more. Here are some examples of the Night Mode with the dark photos taken in normal mode and the second one with the Night Mode on. You can see the difference it makes. It is just like seeing in the dark, although there is a bit of noise.
Let’s talk about the zoom. Samsung says the phone can zoom 100x. That is technically true, but it is not the sales argument you think it is. Using a combination of lenses, optical zoom, and digital cropping, Samsung can create a range of zoom options. You can shoot with 0.5x, 1x, 2x, 4x, 5x, 10x, 30x, and 100x using simple buttons on the screen. You can drag the slider to find the right amount of zoom for the shot.
It’s crucial to spell out the differences. The phone can capture 4x optical zoom thanks to the periscag 48MP camera. Everything else is hybrid, i.e., a mix of optical and digital cropping. Samsung says it uses AI to help reduce the inevitable shocks in your hands, which are evident at 100x, but I cannot say that it works particularly well.
Then the re’s 8K video recording. Sure, the S20 Ultra can capture and even trim 8K video directly, but almost no one can watch. The vast majority of TVs sold today are Full-HD or 4K. A few high-end 8K TVs can now be rolled out to consumers, but they cost thousands of dollars and are not yet ready for mainstream use. That means all you do with 8K video is to bite your device’s storage. At least for now. You could say that this possibility makes the S20 Ultra future-proof to a certain extent.
The video I recorded on the phone looks great. All you have to do is set it to 4K at 60fps and sit back and enjoy it. It is sharp, colorful, well exposed, and on point when it comes to white balance. You’ll be impressed. I like one of the newer features that allows you to switch seamlessly from shooting with the primary camera to the selfie camera so you can add yourself to a clip. Video also supports the live focus mode or bokeh. As with still images, the ToF camera is used to assess the depth and create a portrait-like effect when recording video. It’s not the best, but it can add a fresh look to your images.
Theselfie camera is a 40MP that can bake up to 10MP. You can see in these examples that it works well. By adding a time-of-flight sensor, the depth information is more accurate.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Hardware and Performance
The S20 Ultra 5G is one of the first smartphones to come with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor. It comes with 12GB RAM, but you can choose 16GB if you have $1,599 left. Our review unit had the stock 12GB. Running 3DMark, AnTuTu, and GeekBench, the 865 destroyed every other phone currently in these tests’ respective databases. The S20 Ultra defeated 99% of all other devices tested and delivered particularly stunning results compared to the Snapdragon 855 hardware of the previous generation.
More importantly, the device felt snappy all the time. No matter what content or app you run on the S20 Ultra, it devours the calculations and provides butter-smooth performance. I noticed a slight, slight delay when I bumped the S20 Ultra 5G to full resolution or faster refresh rate. However, that’s a lot of information for the processor to crack, and the phone does an admirable job. As always, with Samsung, you can empty the memory and clean up things to give the phone a performance disorder.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Battery Life
Then the re’s the 5,000mAh battery, which one of the biggest batteries on any smartphone to date. The S20 and S20 Plus have 4,000mAh and 4,500mAh batteries, respectively. The biggest device gets the biggest battery, and Samsung claims that it will deliver two days of battery life. This also depends. On a day when I set the device to the faster 120Hz refresh rate at Full HD+ resolution, with the brightness of the screen and the battery in adaptive mode, the 5,000mAh pushed from morning to night without any problems.
There was still a small reserve in the tank, certainly not enough to last another half day. I had to charge it that night. I got the same results when I put the phone on the full Quad HD+ resolution at 60Hz. It is clear to me that if Samsung allowed the owners of the S20 Ultra 5G to use both the full resolution and the faster refresh rate, the battery would die much quicker. This is different if you choose the Full HD+ resolution option and 60Hz. With this conservative setting, battery life is undoubtedly longer.
I coaxed it for a whole day and most of a second before it fell out completely. This is probably the setting most people should use. (It seems the screen doesn’t shift dynamically from 60Hz to 120Hz when you start gaming). Finally, charging the phone. The Galaxy S20 Ultra supports 45W wired charging and a 25W wireless charging. Unfortunately, there is only a 25W charger in the box. However, you have to pay extra for the faster charger. The phone absorbs power like a champion.
I found that it charged the battery by 50% after only 27 minutes connected, and after only 35 minutes on a charging pad. A full charge took about an hour. Considering the size of the battery, that’s good.
Software, Security and Other Apps
First up is a feature called Music Share. This is meant to bypass the Bluetooth tangle in the car. You know how it works. You sit in the car with your phone connected to the stereo. Your passenger wants to play his music through the speakers of the car. To do that, however, you have to disconnect your phone, pair their phone, and so on. A total pain. Music Share is essentially a Bluetooth pass-through. Your friend connects his phone to your S20 Ultra 5G, and can then control the car radio (or any Bluetooth speaker). It does require the second device to run Android 10.
Like Apple’s AirPlay, a new feature called Quick Share makes it easy to send files back and forth. You can turn it on via the quick settings menu. The software prefers Samsung users, but it allows you to compile a list of people who can send you things blindly. The other option is “everyone,” and I don’t think that is an option. I checked it out with another Samsung device hand, and it worked flawlessly for sending photos and videos back and forth.
The phone supports 5G from AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless, but we could not test this feature. None of the carriers supplied a 5G-capable SIM card. We did use the phone in areas that offer T-Mobile and Verizon 5G coverage, but had no luck catching a signal with regular SIM cards, even though the status bar said “5G”.
Interestingly, Samsung adopted the Duo video chat app from Google and baked it into the native dialer of the S20 Ultra 5G. The button is just there and, when touched, starts a Duo video chat with contacts that also use Duo. I had trouble setting this up. You have to open the Duo app separately from the app tray to let it sync with the dialer the first time. Then make sure you use a number that is linked to your Google Account. Once I’ve cleared a few obstacles like this one, it worked.
Samsung focused on gambling phones. Together with the use of RAM and 120Hz refresh rate, a new feature makes it possible for S20 Ultra owners to suspend up to five apps in RAM. The idea is to save people the burden of waiting for huge games like Fortnight to reload when you return to the action. It works the way it’s designed. What’s more, the screen supports the touch response at 240Hz during gameplay. This means the screen can capture your taps and swipe more accurately.
On the security front, you’ll have a Face ID clone, an in-display fingerprint reader, and the usual set of PIN, pattern, and password options. I thought the Face Recognition tool worked well, but it wasn’t perfect. The same goes for the fingerprint reader. Although it is easy to train, the reader was placed just a little further down the screen, and I had trouble locating it consistently. Too bad Samsung didn’t adopt the latest Qualcomm fingerprint reader, which is much larger.
The phone comes with Android 10 and Samsung’s One UI 2.1. It is The Best version of Samsung’s software, but still, I think some people will find it too much, or they won’t like the look of it. For starters, you can’t add Google’s home feed to the home screen panels. Instead, you will have to accept the Samsung version. Besides, Bixby is the default personal assistant, not the Google assistant. You will have to change that in the settings. In any case, Samsung offers room for customization.
Price and Configuration Options
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra starts at a dazzling $1,399 and is now available for pre-order. It will reach store shelves on March 6. The launch configuration includes 12GB RAM and 128GB storage, but you can upgrade to a 16GB/512GB model for an extra $200 if you need more memory and storage. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is available through all major US carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
If you’re looking for an S20 Ultra to break and store, be sure to check out our guide to The Best Samsung Galaxy S20 deals. Some retailers and carriers offer goodies such as gift vouchers and extra credit for a new S20 when you trade in your current smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Conclusion
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is a ridiculous phone, from the gigantic 6.9-inch display to the 108MP camera with Space Zoom. It is the hypercar of the flagship devices, among sports cars. But when you pay $1,399, you deserve an impeccable experience, and the auto-focus problems on the camera now give us a break. The battery life of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is excellent, as long as you don’t use the 120Hz screen mode that often. And I’m glad this phone has 5G to make your purchase future-proof, as long as you can get coverage where you are.
A more significant majority of people will be fine with the $999 Samsung Galaxy S20 or $1,199 Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus. You will get the same fast Snapdragon 865 processor, smooth 120Hz displays, and improved cameras (hopefully minus the autofocus error). However, if you demand the most massive screen and an enormous zoom, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the ultimate Android phone – if you are willing to pay the ultimate price.
That’s it for our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra sets a new standard for displays in premium smartphones, but the price is very high. And the cameras, although impressive, require a fix from Samsung.
- Impressive photos
- Gorgeous 120Hz display
- 5G support
- Huge 5,000 mAh battery
- Snappy Performance
- Cameras have autofocus issues
- Very expensive
- No headphone jack