Leading the spring-time roster this year, the Ultra marks a shift compared to the 2019 lineup. Where last year we had the similar in most ways S10 and S10+, and then the S10e positioned below them, this time around there’s a model above the mainstream S20 and S20+ – the new moniker makes all the sense then.
And it’s ultra alright. Sure, it’s got an even bigger display and packs a larger battery with faster charging than the other S20s, plus you can have it with up to a ridiculous 16GB of RAM, while the non-Ultras top out at a modest 12GB. But that’s not it.
It’s the camera – likely the most extraordinarily all-out setup we’ve seen to date. The primary cam uses a sizeable 108MP sensor which combines 9 tiny pixels into one big one with processing designed to make use of the extra data being gathered – Nonacell as Samsung calls it.
Then there’s the telephoto shooter – it’s got an unmatched combination of a big 48MP imager and a periscope lens offering 4x optical zoom over the main. Samsung has ‘100X space zoom’ branding on the back of the phone and we’ll be sure to check by just how much it misses the moon, but in any case it’s a spectacularly impressive tele camera on paper.
The ultra wide isn’t quite there. While it is a new unit with a big sensor and large pixels, it’s still missing a vital part of what makes a truly good camera – autofocus.
Over on the front, there’s yet another ultra camera touch – Samsung‘s fitted a 40MP selfie module to set it apart from the so familiar 10MP units on the regular S20s. It’s going to be one lengthy camera section.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
- Body: 166.9×76.0x8.8mm, 222g (220g for the non-5G); curved Gorilla Glass 6 front and back, metal frame; IP68 rating; Cosmic Grey, Cosmic Black color schemes.
- Screen: 6.9″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 1440x3200px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 511ppi; 120Hz refresh rate, 240Hz touch sensing; HDR10+ support.
- Chipset (market dependent): Exynos 990 (7nm+): Octa-core (2×2.73 GHz Mongoose M5 & 2×2.50 GHz Cortex-A76 & 4×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55); Mali-G77 MP11. Snapdragon 865 (7nm+): Octa-core CPU (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 585 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 585); Adreno 650 GPU.
- Memory: 12/16GB RAM, 128/256/512GB built-in UFS 3.0 storage, shared microSD slot.
- OS/Software: Android 10, One UI 2.1.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 108MP, 1/1.33″ sensor, 0.8µm pixel size, 26mm equiv. focal length (79° FoV), f/1.8 aperture, PDAF, OIS. Telephoto: 48MP, 1/2.0″, 0.8µm, 103mm periscope lens (24° FoV), f/3.5, PDAF, OIS. Ultra wide angle: 12MP, 1/2.6″, 1.4µm, 12mm (123° FoV), f/2.2, fixed focus. ToF: 0.3MP, f/1.0.
- Front camera: 40 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 0.7µm, PDAF.
- Video recording: Rear camera: 8K 4320p@24fps, 4K 2160p@30/60fps, FullHD 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps. Front camera: 4K 2160p@30/60fps, FullHD 1080p@30/60fps.
- Battery: 5,000mAh, 45W fast charging support over Power Delivery 3.0 (25W charger supplied in the box).
- Misc: Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W; Power bank/Reverse wireless charging 9W; Ultra-sonic under-display fingerprint reader; NFC; FM radio (USA & Canada only); Stereo loudspeakers; Samsung DeX support (desktop experience).
Mind you, we’re reviewing the 5G version of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, while an LTE-only variant will apparently also be in existence. It’s not a hugely important distinction for the purposes of this review, as we have little along the lines of 5G networks in our neck of the woods anyway. We’ll be omitting the ‘5G’ for the remainder of the article. Another clarification due here is that we’re reviewing the Exynos version of the handset, as is typically the case.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G unboxing
The Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G ships in what’s become the standard Samsung box for high-end models – black, not very flashy at all. The visuals have changed slightly and now there’s an outline of the phone on the lid, with the ‘S20‘ so big it spills over to the sides.
Inside, there are few surprises. You get the 25W charger as opposed to the 45W one, even though the phone supports the higher wattage, and there’s a USB-C cable to complete the link. The pair of AKG branded earbuds ending in a USB-C connector are also a familiar sight from the Note10 bundle. Perhaps the only slightly unusual bit is the clear silicone case you’ll find in the paper sleeve you need to pry out of the lid of the box.
Let’s face it, if you’re considering spending $1400/€1350 on a phone, you’re probably not driven entirely by reason. Impulsive and/or compulsive buyers as we may be ourselves, the numbers in that first sentence still command some deliberation, even in a money-is-no-object context.
The way we see it, that much cash buys you a Galaxy Z Flip and the flippy Samsung will certainly catch more jealous stares than the ultra Samsung. The Flip is more fragile, it has a much less impressive camera setup and a plebeian 60Hz display (which is also kinda plastic), and not a whiff of 5G. But which one is cooler though?
Funnily enough, for S20 Ultra money you can get almost two Galaxy Note10s in Europe, though that doesn’t seem to be the case in other places. Still, if you do the sane thing and opt for a single Note, maybe even a Plus, you stand to save a lot wherever in the world you are and gain an S Pen in the process. However, Note10s only zoom half the way the Ultra can, and S20s can refresh their displays twice as many times a second as Note10s do.
Or maybe get an iPhone, that’s always an option. A sensible 256GB 11 Pro Max will leave you with $150 in the bank if you’re in the US and save you all the trouble of having to figure out when you’ll be recording with which camera on the Ultra – the iPhone can record with all of them at the same time. Of course, the Ultra’s 4x and 120Hz trump cards remain. There’s a tiny caveat that with Apple’s pricing, the iPhone will actually cost a few dozen Euros more around here, and a cool 30% more in India. So if you’re in India, get the Ultra over the iPhone, obviously.
Seriously, though, the regular Galaxy S20s that we’re still waiting to get our hands on, could end up being the best value S20. Latest chipsets, 120Hz screens too, interesting cameras in their own right, easily more pocketable than the Ultra even if you go for the Plus, and available in moderately interesting colors.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is not without potential. But the overenthusiastic marketing and the sheer size of that camera bump had us expecting the next big thing – instead, space zoom it isn’t and Nonacell is nona-mazing, at least for now.
Yes, the periscope telephoto is great and it’s superior in every way to that other similar periscope telephoto that came a year earlier, but we are a year later now and that’s expected. Yes, the Ultra’s got a big-sensor primary camera which could probably do great things eventually but we didn’t see magic over the past couple of weeks. Yes, it’s the best display Samsung‘s put out, but why can’t we get the refresh rate and the resolution all at the same time? Hmm…
At the Ultra’s asking price, you deserve to be spoiled, and you deserve to be getting magic. And since that’s apparently not the case, we’d advise you to check out the more affordable Galaxy S20s this spring. And, if you think you could keep your sharp fingernails away from it, might as well consider the Z Flip.
- Big, bright and beautiful 120Hz AMOLED display.
- The great periscope telephoto cam offers versatile zoom options.
- The new gen chipset is a solid upgrade performance-wise.
- Stereo speakers are nice and loud.
- Charging is very fast.
- Ultra expensive.
- Underwhelming battery life with 120Hz refresh rate.
- 108MP Nonacell camera fails to live up to the hype.
- ‘Space zoom 100x’ is just for marketing.
- Fingerprint sensor performance is way behind the competition.