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Last year Samsung launched a budget version to complement its trio of flagships. In 2020, the Korean giant decided to bet on an even more powerful variant. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (Check on Amazon) is the best of the best. Its great highlight is the 108MP main camera paired with a powerful 100X zoom. Does the Ultra deliver a better overall experience?
First of all, let’s take a look at the spec sheet. The high-end processor (a Qualcomm SnapDragon 865 or a Samsung Exynos 990) is paired with 12 or 16GB of RAM.
In addition, we find a 6.9-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 1,440×3,200 pixels. For the first time, a Samsung smartphone offers a screen with a refresh rate of 120 hertz. This makes the display particularly smooth.
The biggest highlight, however, is in the back: the Galaxy S20 Ultra features a total of four cameras. A 108-megapixel main camera, a 48 megapixel zoom camera with a 100x space zoom, an ultra-wide-angle lens and Time of Flight sensor for depth detention.
Furthermore, the device sports a large 5,000mAh battery. This way the phone can cope with the added consumption of 5G connectivity.
Where there is a lot of light, there are also shadows. Thus, it looks like the Galaxy S20 Ultra cameras are not quite there yet – Samsung confirmed that is “working on a future update to improve the camera experience” since there are problems with overexposure and autofocus.
Just like the other two S20 phones, the Ultra has no headphone jack, but it maintains the microSD slot, IP68 certification and wireless charging. The ultrasonic biometric scanner is the same as before. It’s a tad slow and incoherent so you will have to get used to it until you get the hang of it.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – Design
After reviewing the Galaxy S20 Ultra, we still believe that the Note 10 (Check on Amazon) remains the most beautiful smartphone ever made by Samsung in terms of design. The S20 Ultra certainly impresses with its huge 6.9” screen but the “Space Gray” finish on the back looks more like “mouse gray”. It is glossy, a fingerprint magnet, and is quite slippery: we believe that a matte finish would fare better results.
The rear “bump” that integrates the cameras protrudes almost two millimeters. A case fixes this discrepancy (and protects the phone) but its already generous dimensions and weight grow even further. The S20 Ultra weighs 220 grams; the LED View Cover case (Check on Amazon) adds an additional 66 grams.
The size is no less: its 6.9” display is not comparable to a 7” tablet (the former has a screen aspect ratio of 20:9 while the latter 3:2). Still it is 8cm wide and 17cm high. Using it with just one hand is complicated to say the least, and because of the glass back, also dangerous. Thankfully Samsung added a silicone case in the box, plus a screen protector applied from the factory.
Despite all this, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is by no means clunky, on the contrary: the narrow, iridescent aluminum frame makes the smartphone look visually slim (and stunning). In addition, the rounded glass back and the slightly curved display edges create an ergonomic form. The Infinity O display truly deserves its name. Samsung shaved whatever bezels it could find on the top and bottom, creating a near-bezels screen.
The metal frame integrates the SIM tray at the top (it can accommodate two SIMs or a SIM and a microSD card) and the physical buttons on the right. The power button and volume rocker are perfectly positioned and there is no Bixby button (finally). On the bottom, we find the main speaker and the USB Type-C port, but no headphone jack.
Something that also stands out, but that does not seem to have been given much importance is the integration of the earpiece between the screen and the metal frame. The slit is so discreet that it is difficult to see with the naked eye, but the sound still manages to come out uninterrupted.
The hole-punch notch is now smaller (single selfie camera) and centered, similar to the one we saw on the Galaxy Note 10.
In summary, the Galaxy S20 Ultra does not sacrifice camera quality for a more beautiful design. It is large and, in our opinion, stylish enough. There are certainly more beautiful devices out there, but what is more important for you: a superior design or a better camera?
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – Display
The entire S20 lineup maintains the same Dynamic AMOLED WQHD+ display (1,440×3,200 pixels) that has characterized Samsung’s flagships for years. It grows in size reaching 6,9 inches, supports HDR10+ and features a small and unobtrusive hole-punch notch. It is also a 120Hz panel!
This is the perfect screen for consuming multimedia content, especially in its native WQHD+ resolution. It is also great for reading text and has a high enough brightness that is readable outside.
The contrast is good – but not great – and the color calibration is on the warmer side. If you don’t like them you can adjust the colors via the settings.
Now to the highlight which is the screen’s 120Hz refresh rate. The user experience when scrolling, viewing animations and gaming is so smooth that once you have tasted it you will not be able to go back to the standard 60Hz refresh rate.
The trade-off is that 120Hz works only with Full HD resolution (to improve battery life). Although this resolution is far from bad, the decreased clarity will rub some users off.
Another point that also disappoints a little is that the Ultra’s speakers are sub-par to competing models. They don’t get loud enough and the audio profile exaggerates the bass and lacks treble. The result is that audio sounds muffled. Using the included AKG USB-C headphones the sound quality is similar to that of the S20 (Check on Amazon) and S20+ (Check on Amazon).
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S20 review: just perfect
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – Camera
Samsung created a lot of buzz with its 108 megapixel sensor and digital zoom up to 100x and both these outstanding features can only be found in the S20 Ultra. The full camera setup is as follows:
- Main camera: 108-megapixel sensor, 0.8µ pixels, f/1.8, optical stabilization.
- Ultra-wide camera: 12-megapixel sensor, 1.4µ pixels, f/2.2.
- Telephoto lens: 48-megapixel sensor, 0.8µ pixels, f/3.5, optical stabilization.
- Time of Flight depth sensor.
On paper, the most interesting figure (even more than the number of megapixels) is that the main sensor is about 1.7 times larger than the one we find in the S10+. It should also be emphasized that it uses pixel binning technology, merging groups of 9 pixels (3×3) together in order to produce 12 megapixels photos, thus capturing more light and detail (pixels go from 0.8µ to 2.4µ).
Speaking of pixel binning, it’s something that the front camera does too. It sports a 40-megapixel sensor (0.7µ pixels, f/2.2) but in this case four pixels (2×2) are merged into one, for a 10-megapixel image (1.4µ pixels). The result is very natural photos, with realistic colors and good white balance in general.
The overall performance of the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s cameras is more than satisfactory. The colors are very realistic (better than before) and show a very good dynamic range in general, although that’s dependent upon good lighting conditions. As soon as the light goes away, or we move to an interior space, with less intense lighting, image quality drops a notch or two.
In the end, the camera left us with mixed feelings. It managed to capture some great shots and others that left something to be desired. Zoom and video are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, but they only matter in certain scenarios.
The main camera, that you will use 90% of the time, produces realistic photos with a good dynamic range but, even in good lighting conditions, lacks sharpness.
During the night (or indoors) this lack of sharpness makes all the difference in the world, and although the new and improved Night mode can help with some shots, it is in no way spectacular.
The same pros and cons we saw before are also true for the video. Videos look great when we shoot outdoors and in broad daylight, with 8K (and 4K) footage showing very good detail. The white balance is usually spot on, although sometimes too warm (but not too much).
Where the Samsung S20’s excels at is in video stabilization. The Super Steady feature lets you capture moving videos similar to what you could achieve using a gimbal, and in good lighting condition it will compensate any loss of detail since it is only usable when shooting at 1080p.
Samsung One UI 2 sits on top of Android 10. In short, One UI has become more complete and the customization options make it easier for the interface to be tailored fitted to what each one of us likes.
There are also all the familiar Samsung goodies, and in addition One UI 2.1 also brings native integration for Google Duo (Google’s answer to Apple Time), allowing you to make Full HD video calls with up to 8 people.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra boasts the latest Qualcomm SnapDragon 865 (U.S.) or Samsung’s own Exynos 990 (rest of the world) accompanied by 12 or 16GB of RAM. This is the only model in the S20 range to be sold only in a 5G version, the other devices (S20 and S20+) come in a 4G and a 5G variant.
In benchmarks, the S20 Ultra destroyed every other phone, except for the iPhone 11 Pro Max (Check on Amazon).
Gaming on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is exceptionally enjoyable. There is no mobile game out there that it cannot handle.
This is perhaps the most future-proof smartphone from Samsung.
Finally a Samsung flagship with a big battery. Sadly 5,000mAh is not enough for two days of use. This is a powerful device with power-hungry features (5G, 120Hz) thus it consumes a lot of energy. Anyway, it will still manage to last you for a day and that is what matters.
What does stand out is Samsung’s 45w fast charging technology. The included charger (25 watts, really Samsung this is where you save money?) can charge the phone from 0% to 100% in just over an hour; a striking result that compensates for the mediocre autonomy. It also sports wireless charging and reverse wireless charging.
Now for the (Check on Amazon) question. Is it worth paying for the Ultra or is it better to save some money and opt for some other model of the S20 lineup? The 108MP camera doesn’t make much difference and the 100x zoom is just a gimmick. The selfie camera is indeed the best of the three, but it isn’t worth paying extra just for that. It lasts a little longer and delivers the best performance of the three, but its cost-effectiveness is far from ideal.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max costs a lot less (Check on Amazon) and is even faster, with an even better battery. It also takes great pictures, it just doesn’t have a long-range zoom.
At half the price you can also find the excellent Galaxy Note 10+ (Check on Amazon). It has similar performance, but a lower autonomy. The two duke it out in photographic quality, with HDR being more efficient in the older model. On the other hand, the camcorder is way better on the S20 Ultra.
If gaming is what matters most to you and you want to try out that 120Hz smoothness then the ASUS ROG Phone 2 (Check on Amazon) delivers a much better gaming experience and costs way less.
As for me, I prefer the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (Check on Amazon), it has everything I need with none of the superfluous stuff that inflate the price without adding substance.