Review

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra hands-on review: Pure dominance

It’s not often that one model in a new flagship series from Samsung stands so far apart from the rest that it really becomes necessary to talk about it separately. But that’s absolutely the case with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this device and it really is a strong statement from the company that it means business.

So let’s dive right into this Galaxy S20 Ultra hands-on review and see what kind of a first impression Samsung’s most expensive and most feature-packed flagship ever leaves. For our hands-on review of the Galaxy S20 and S20+, check out this article.

Design and feel

You can pick the Galaxy S20 Ultra out of a lineup pretty easily. It has an imposing personality because of its sheer dimensions and larger display; in fact, the largest yet on a Samsung flagship. Yet, it never feels like a smartphone that you couldn’t possibly use as a daily driver. It will fit in your pocket easily, isn’t too heavy and maintains a thin profile despite all of the crazy tech that it’s packing inside.

It has all of the same new design elements as its siblings which we have detailed in our Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ hands-on review. The Ultra does stand out because of its massive rear camera module. It’s vertically aligned and dominates the back. Given that there’s a decent amount of advanced tech inside, the module does noticeably protrude from the back. Yes, we did the wobble test on a flat surface, and it has great wobbling potential, a consequence of that protrusion.

There’s no mistaking the fact that this is a Samsung flagship. It has the very familiar look and feel that we’ve come to expect from the company’s high-end devices. The subtle curves at the back allow for a comfortable grip while the metal and glass build feels premium in the hand. There are absolutely no complaints here.

Display

The display size of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is stretching the limits of what could conceivably be called a smartphone and not just a small tablet. The 6.9-inch Quad HD+ AMOLED display is accompanied by slim bezels and subtle curved edges. Given how we use our phones these days with content consumption being our biggest priority, there’s a reasonable chance that most customers who can shell out the extra dollars for the largest model will go for the Ultra partly because of the display, the other amazing tech notwithstanding.

Samsung has equipped the entire Galaxy S20 lineup with a 120Hz refresh rate panel. The fluidity and smoothness that it allows in animations and games is hard to miss. It’s great that Samsung has finally shifted to 120Hz panels for its flagship – it’s a welcome addition to the lineup. The panel’s quality is nothing short of exceptional. Samsung’s AMOLED displays rarely give an opportunity to complain and that doesn’t change with the Ultra.

An ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is present as well. Samsung isn’t saying that a second-generation sensor has been installed but it does say that were will be noticeable improvements in speed and reliability compared to the Galaxy S10. That’s partly because the sensor has been repositioned and additional enhancements have been made. We’ll compare its performance to the Galaxy S10’s sensor in our full review.

Software

This is a new Galaxy flagship so you already know that it’s coming with the latest version of Google’s Android OS and Samsung’s custom skin. The Galaxy S20 Ultra ships with Android 10 and One UI 2.1, a minor upgrade of Samsung’s UX which brings a handful of new software features to the lineup.

These new features include Single Take, an AI-based camera mode that uses the full variety of cameras on the device to automatically capture different versions of a scene so that you can decide which one you’d keep. There’s native integration with Google Duo for Full HD video calls with up to 8 people and the ability to share 8K videos directly to YouTube.

Camera

This is what you’re really here for, the camera, the one thing that makes the Galaxy S20 Ultra a certifiable beast. Its quad camera system consists of a 108-megapixel f/1.8 OIS primary sensor with a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra wide sensor and 48-megapixel f/3.5 OIS telephoto sensor. There’s a ToF sensor as well for AR experiences.

Samsung won’t exactly say what the optical magnification level of the actual hardware is, but it’s boasting 10x lossless zoom. Lossless zoom by definition means that the image will not suffer from a quality loss when it’s scaled up. It features revolutionary prism tech to allow the handset to achieve such levels of optical magnification. Samsung is putting on-device AI to great use with its cameras. By combining the hybrid optic zoom and digital zoom, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is able to hit 100x Space Zoom. There will obviously be a loss of quality at that level since the device is essentially cropping an image from the 108MP camera to emulate 100x zoom.

However, having seen some examples of the feature in action, it really does allow for an unprecedented level of optical magnification on a smartphone. Just how useful this will prove to be in daily use is something we’ll test in our full Galaxy S20 Ultra review. It utilizes nona-binning technology to combine nine pixels into one super pixel, which lets more light in and allows for improved quality in low-light conditions. That’s also something we’ll be testing thoroughly in the review. The Ultra is also the only model in the new lineup to feature a 40-megapixel f/2.2 selfie camera.

Samsung is really clear about the customer that it wants to target with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. It’s going after pro photographers, at least the ones who shoot with smartphones and not swear by their full frame cameras. To add to the camera setup’s capabilities, Samsung has developed several new camera features to enable users to do more with their device. There’s a Pro video mode which allows for adjustments to exposure and aperture when capturing videos. A new Single Take mode uses AI to capture multiple varieties of a scene using all of the cameras on the device to provide easily shareable options that include photos and videos. We also liked the crop-zoom feature, which lets you easily achieve the desired crop without considerably altering the image quality. It’s these little common sense features that really go a long way in making our lives easier with the phones we use as our daily driver.

It’s also possible to capture 8K video on the device and even share it to YouTube directly. We played around with all of these new features during our time with the Galaxy S20 Ultra and they seem to be much more useful than some of the features that Samsung has previously built into the camera app just for the sake of announcing something new. Single Take is something that particularly has a lot of potential to be a hot favorite during social gatherings.

Battery and charging

The Galaxy S20 Ultra gets the largest battery of the bunch, 5,000mAh to be precise. This is the largest battery yet on a Galaxy S flagship. For those with a light foot, it will easily last them two days, and will comfortably see even the most demanding of users through an entire day.

Samsung does offer 45W super fast charging support on the Galaxy S20 Ultra but there’s some bad news. It’s not shipping the charger with the phone. Much like it did with the Galaxy Note 10+, customers will have to purchase the 45W charger separately if they want to juice up their device at those speeds. All Galaxy S20 models come with a 25W charger in the box.

Conclusion

As far as its specs are concerned, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is in a league of its own right now, thanks to its advanced camera tech and impressive internals. It’s definitely the phone to beat for Android manufacturers in the first half of this year.

Does it work, though, beyond the distinction of being the world’s first 100x zoom phone? There’s no denying the fact that this level of camera tech will come in handy. There are high expectations from the 108MP camera’s low light performance as well and Samsung says that low-light photography is one of the pain points that it has addressed with this device.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra does two things for Samsung. It’s a symbol of Samsung’s technological dominance. The Korean giant has worked very hard to come out from the shadows and establish itself as a leader instead of a follower. If anything could signal to its competitors that it means business in 2020, it’s this, the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

It’s also an ode to Samsung’s fans. Long before the rumors began, our founder Danny wrote an opinion highlighting the fact that Samsung’s next flagship needs to be a true camera powerhouse as the company had seemingly been slipping in this department and would quickly be bested by its rivals. That was always difficult for fans to see. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is something that will make them feel proud. It’s usually these fans who are waiting with wallets in hand for the top-tier flagship from Samsung every year. We’re pretty sure they’re already throwing money at their monitors, and after playing around with it for a few hours, so are we.

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powergeek
powergeek

In some countries they are not even releasing the 512Gb version where the S10+ 1Tb was available before! Also the S20 Ultra is dual-sim AND eSim compatible. Does it means it can handle 3 phone lines? Also any upgrade on the Dex side? Wireless connexion? Thanks.

Abhijeet M.
Abhijeet M.

Nope, it’s still hybrid slot. Guess Samsung saved space by having a single slot tray while putting the other as eSIM.

Landon A
Landon A

I cannot wait to get it in hand, likely three weeks from today!! I hope its capabilities will justify the price. Fingers crossed!

pachorra123
pachorra123

..and after regurgitating up to 1400 dollars for a ridiculously overpriced new phone Samsung tells you to regurgitate another 45 dollars for a proper fast charger since only the basic 25W model comes in the box. Samsung has become a stunning enterprise in every sense and everyone still drooling allover it!

preime101
preime101

I am surprised no tech website is mentioning that they filmed the whole unpacked event on S20s in a custom rig. That is just incredible and surely must be first or?

kingrohan
kingrohan

Its Just big numbers on the paper, real performance will tell if its worth the upgrade.
I have the S10+ and I will upgrade probably in 2021-22 because that’s when it will be a REAL upgrade.

But, I really love the fact that they just announced that S10 will get some of the S20 features via software update. Hoping for a pro video feature
Kudos to Samsung.

Gunter2
Gunter2

You’ll probably get a great trade-in price for your S10+. Might be worth checking it out anyway

dagger1
dagger1

No audio jack is a deal breaker for me. And the 120hz will only be an interesting features for heavy gamers as you have to sacrifice resolution for it and it has negligible impact on any other use.

Gunter2
Gunter2

If you’re not into gaming or photos you’re right, no point in upgrading, but the headphone jack is never coming back. One thing though, I got the USB-C headphones with the Note10 plus and sound is perfect, though I use the free Galaxy Buds to be honest. The phone charges so quickly, even wirelessly, it’s not a sacrifice not having the jack and the AKGs that come with it are pretty high quality. I was like you when it was dropped but I have to admit I was wrong. But I know some people just prefer the jack it’s understandable.

bekkerlo
bekkerlo

I’m in Botswana and I’ve visited the Samsung website. One of the models on offer is the S20 Ultra LTE. Where can I send you guys a screenshot of this? It seems you’re unaware that there will actually be an LTE version of the Ultra! At least in Africa.

dajaco
dajaco

LTE will just be the regional branding for the 4G devices which are available worldwide. It’s likely that there is no viable 5G network in Botswana – so only the 4G devices are on sale?

kaoniao
kaoniao

i wonder whether the 10x optical zoom will be as good as the huawei zoom or not coz during the presentation this morning when they did a zoom out it seems to be very blury

Gunter2
Gunter2

From a DSLR camera perspective 10x lossless zoom means 10x optical, so maybe they mean the same thing, we’ll find out I suppose!! ……..but 100x hybrid zoom is amazing… Imagine how good even going to 20x or 30x or even 50x will be. I’ll be waiting for Note20 Ultra, but maybe I should start saving my money now, and hopefully get a great trade in on my Note10 plus!!

MarkSOceanDem
MarkSOceanDem

I got $700 trade in for my Note10+
Don’t wait

Gunter2
Gunter2

No point unfortunately . We have Note10 plus devices as we use sPen in our work environment. Each year we upgrade 8 Note phones (good tax deduction too!), so we always get very good trade ins anyway. The good news, my wife has S9 plus and has just pre-ordered S20 Ultra so at least I’ll get to try it out a little. But well done, that is an excellent trade in deal.

JSH1973
JSH1973

1579 Euro is what the Ultra 512gb/16gb will set you back here in Ireland, I really want one but that’s painful to hand over 🙂

Gunter2
Gunter2

About the same in Germany too. My wife just pre-ordered that model but she’s getting a few hundred Euros for her S9 plus so will take a bit of the sting out of it. It’s definitely not cheap.