The time has finally come, pricing a flagship at US$999 has become the norm and unless companies have the specs to justify it, they’d better be ready for some nitpicking.
So how does Samsung justify The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s US$1399 price tag? Simple – by throwing big numbers and cramping in the latest hardware into one beautiful package. You’re looking at a whopping 108mp main camera, 8K video recording, a 120hz display, a massive 5,000 mAh battery, 12GB of Ram and 5G capability. One might ask – “Do I really need half of these things?” It’s subjective. For many people, myself included, 8K video and 5G connectivity feels too far fetched for the average user.
Design – Aesthetically Dull
Nowadays it’s difficult to tell apart Android smartphones apart just by looking at the screen. With manufacturers looking for more ways to push the boundaries of bezel-less design ever since the debut of Samsung’s Infinity Display on the Galaxy S8, who knows where smartphone design is heading next.
Taking cues from the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, the S20 Ultra features a punch-hole camera cutout at the top and the same fingerprint sensor at the bottom – albeit in a better, more ergonomic placement. The biggest change comes with the removal of the headphone jack and the shifting of the Bixby Button and volume rockers to the right.
The biggest difference lies at the back of the device with the rectangular hump housing a quad-camera setup. It isn’t the most elegant design, but it’s far from an eye-sore. I do wish the bump didn’t protrude as much as it does because even with an official Samsung case on, the phone still wobbles when placed on a flat surface.
Screen – Super, Sexy
It’s no secret that over the past couple of years, Samsung made the best displays in the market and with the S20 Ultra, the trend continues. Viewing the 6.9” panel is an immersive experience, colours are well saturated, and using the screen is a pleasant experience. The panel also supports a max resolution of 3200 x 1440p, HDR10+, and peaks at a plentiful bright 1200 nits, making outdoor usage a non-issue.
What’s new this time is the 120hz mode. While it isn’t turned on by default, switching over to it makes a world of difference because scrolling through content feels more fluid. There is a caveat though, switching 120hz mode on does reduce the resolution to 1080p, unless you’re pixel peeping – 1080p still looks great. As of now there is no way of getting the best of both worlds with 1440p @ 120hz, it is ultimately up to Samsung’s willingness to push out an update for it. Heck, the newly announced One Plus 8 does it.
If you weren’t a big fan of the whole curved display craze, you’re in for a treat. Kind of. The curvature on the S20 lineup has been severely reduced, and while not entirely flat, it is significantly flatter compared to all its predecessors which makes applying screen protector easier. It also should make for cheaper screen repairs.
Camera – Close-Up Catastrophe
Where do we even begin with this? On one hand Samsung is pushing the boundaries of mobile photography with insane zooming capabilities, but on the other, it falls short on many basic tasks.
Equipped with a total of 4 cameras with higher megapixel count compared to its smaller siblings, the S20 Ultra sounds like a photographer’s dream come true though we’ve all seen how this has played out, the Google Pixel beats any dual/tri-camera phones with just one.
One of the biggest issues many have found – myself included – are the massive sensors Samsung has slapped into this phone. Sure, there are lots of advantages with big sensors like better low light shots, it also comes with its biggest problem: An extremely shallow plane of focus. Shoot an object from a normal distance and you’ll notice that part of the subject you’re trying to shoot isn’t in focus.
Much like the Panasonic GH5 when it first launched, the S20 Ultra was plagued with horrible focus hunting. Thankfully Samsung was quick (kinda) on the updates and with 2 updates later, the issue was addressed (again, kinda). The good news here is that while software updates can help bring the camera to greater heights, the bad news is that it’s a hardware issue so you’re pretty much stuck with it.
Let’s Talk Lenses
The 12mp Ultra Wide Lens gets plenty wide with its 120° field-of-view. There’s still a fish-eye distortion at the edges of the photos but personally, I’d take that as the Ultra Wide “Charm”. Details captured with this lens aren’t necessarily the sharpest, nor is it the best under low light conditions, but under the most ideal conditions, pictures do look good and it captures more of a unique perspective.
Behold, the ridiculous 48mp Telephoto Lens that does up to a x100 zoom which Samsung coins – Space Zoom. While it just screams gimmick, though I hate to admit that I fiddled with it for a stupid amount of time. The Telephoto lens only kicks in when you pick the x10 zoom option and it works well, again, not the sharpest image at x10 zoom but it can look good under good lighting conditions. The Telephoto Lens also does a decent x30 zoom but I much rather shoot on the main Wide-angle Lens at 108mp mode and cropping in from there.
So how about that x100 zoom? If you can imagine the soft images produced at x30, you can imagine how things look at x100 zoom. Pictures shot at x100 looks just like a Picasso painting so take that as you will, I just don’t see a huge deal around the Space Zoom as Samsung is selling it to be. It’s a neat party trick but that’s really all there is to it.
When I’m not doing any Ultra Wide or Portrait shots, I’m on the main 108mp Wide-angle Lens shooting sharp and detailed pictures. There really isn’t much to say about this one except that it does what its name suggests, shooting at a higher megapixel, giving you space to crop in. It really is your typical Samsung point and shoot – with its aforementioned focus issues.
One particular mode I was pleasantly surprised with is Night Mode. Night Mode on the S20 Ultra is good – like really good. Even shots taken without it are really good but switching to Night Mode brings out the details in the shadows whilst reducing the highlights producing very natural looking low light pictures.
One UI 2.1
Gone are the days of Touchwiz and the short lived Samsung Experience launchers. Samsung seems firm on One UI and we’re seeing a 2nd iteration of it on the S20 lineup down to the S9 lineup. The goal of One UI is an optimized one handed experience, and optimized it is. Everything from the home page to built in utility apps are easy to navigate and are consistent with one another, the words/menu take up the top half of the screen while interactions take the bottom half. It seems as though Samsung already had a 6.9” phone in mind when developing this UI.
I am being very specific here though, only menus and built in utility apps are well optimized for one handed usage. If you don’t have Shaq O’ Neal’s sized hands, be prepared to stretch them around the phone. There is a one-handed mode so there’s that.
One UI 2.1 isn’t a drastic change from its predecessor though they are a nice touch whether you’ve noticed them or not. Samsung’s approach this time around is going for less intrusive notifications, this means pop up notifications and system alerts are significantly reduced in size meaning a less intrusive experience.
If there’s one thing longer than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s name, is its battery life. Batteries are probably the only number that translate well from paper to practice and even powering a 6.9” display, the S20 Ultra is tough to kill.
My initial plan was to get on 120hz @ 1080p for the first 2 weeks followed by 60hz @ 1440p for the following week to test whether this phone can last me a day but even at 120hz I’m getting a full day with slightly heavy usage at 5 to 6 hours of screen on time. You can probably get more juice out of it by going to higher resolution at 1440p at 60hz but going from a buttery smooth 120hz to 60z might prove to be difficult.
5G – Is it redundant?
For now, yes. Nobody should buy this phone solely for 5G connectivity because it’s still too new, too few areas have it and quite possibly the courier you’re subscribed to is only looking to expand into it. If by any chance 5G becomes a standard within the next 6 months then at least you’re future-proofed.
The Galaxy S20 is many things, but spending US$1399 dollars on a phone you have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to spend a couple hundred dollars (in our case, thousands) more all for bigger numbers on the spec sheet. If it’s anything to go by, the S20 Ultra is the reason you should pick up the S20+ instead.