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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Is Bigger Always Better?
The biggest surprise in this year's flagship Galaxy lineup was the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The super-sized phablet is by far the most expensive non-folding smartphone from the house of Samsung. If you are wondering why does it cost Rs. 92,999, that's because it flaunts the largest and 120Hz QHD+ AMOLED panel, best-in-class hardware and a crazy 108MP quad-lens camera setup capable of 10x lossless zoom and 100x digital zoom.
- Best-in-class Display And Audio Performance
- Versatile Zoom Camera With Impressive Performance
- Great Device For Gaming
- Very Well Optimized Software
- High-Quality Haptics
- Excellent Audio Performance
- Long-Lasting Battery
- Expensive Affair
- Bulky, Not Built For One-hand Operation
- 108MP Camera And 100x Zoom Are Just Gimmicks
- 8K Video Recording Offers No Real Advantage Over 4K @60fps
- Minor Inconsistencies in camera’s Software Algorithm
- Underwhelming In-screen Fingerprint Scanner
We have posted a detailed camera review on our website and YouTube channel that will give you some idea of the image and video quality. Here we will talk about our user experience of using the Galaxy S20 Ultra as our daily driver. Let's get started.
As Big As A Phone Can Get In 2020
True to its ‘Ultra' moniker, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is a super-sized Android phablet. With the largest AMOLED panel (6.9-inches) in town, the smartphone feels huge in hands, more like a metal-glass brick. It even dwarfs the Galaxy Note 10+, which might give you an idea about its large form-factor. The glass-metal construction also makes it heavy and extremely slippery.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra measures 166.9x76x8.8mm and weighs 222g. Surprisingly, the iPhone 11 Pro at 226 g is heavier than the S20 Ultra.
However, due to the combined effect of a gigantic display, heavyweight and glass-metal construction, you can simply forget about using this phablet with one hand without a case. Also, the color scheme is a tad dull and boring. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is available in just two color variants- Cosmic Gray and Cosmic Black. We are testing the former one.
A report suggests that Samsung might soon introduce a new color variant for the S20 Ultra to add some visual flair to the package.
Massive Camera Hump
The massive camera bump at the back panel is impossible to ignore. It occupies almost one-third of the back panel and makes the S20 Ultra wobble like anything when kept on a flat surface. It is a legitimate trade-off Samsung had to make to fit in a rather unique camera hardware that's capable to capture 108MP shots and 8K video recording.
Samsung can also be seen confidently boasting the 100x zoom feature by engraving ‘SPACE ZOOM 100X' at the bottom of the camera module. Sadly, the 100x zoom shots fail to impress. Honestly, any brand would have boasted the feature since it marks a new beginning in smartphone photography.
The front of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is occupied by gigantic 6.9-inch AMOLED screen. The QHD+ OLED panel with slender curves and almost zero bezels is a sheer delight to look at. The centre placement of the cutout looks much more symmetrical that what the brand had offered with the Galaxy S10+. Moreover, it's hard to believe that the minor punch-hole cutout houses a massive 40MP selfie camera. The power button and volume rockers are placed on the right edge.
The bottom houses the Type-C port, a microphone and a speaker. The SIM card tray is positioned on the top along with the secondary microphone. Importantly, you won't even realize that the top-most portion of the display also houses an earpiece grille. It is invisible to the eyes but works wonderfully.
Sturdy Build Quality, IP68 Certified, No 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Being the flag bearer of Samsung's flagship Galaxy series, the phablet feels ultra-premium and has a very robust build. Samsung has also added Gorilla Glass 6 on both front and back panel to ensure protection from scratches and possible screen damages. The metal-glass build feels very sturdy and the phablet is also IP68 certified to offer protection from water and dust. The smartphone can survive up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.
It is 2020 and you just cannot expect a flagship smartphone to offer the conventional 3.5mm headphone jack, so no complaints in this department.
Overall, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is not built for everyone and is not for users who prefer handy and lightweight phones. You must consider the Galaxy S20 or can also give the Galaxy S20+ a try. Despite flaunting a big 6.7-inch display (Just 0.2-inch smaller), the Galaxy S20+ is pleasingly ergonomic than the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Best Ever Display On A Smartphone. Period
The Galaxy S20 Ultra's excellent screen has literally spoiled me for life. It's a phenomenal display to consume multimedia content. The super punchy colors, fluid 120Hz refresh rate and impressive QHD+ resolution make it really difficult to stop streaming videos, playing games or simply scrolling on your social media platforms' timelines. You would even find yourself simply staring at the wallpapers as they never looked this good on a 20:9 aspect ratio form-factor. Or it might just be the lockdown effect.
But jokes apart, Samsung has outdone itself this time by producing the biggest ever display on a Samsung Galaxy series handset. Talking tech, the Galaxy S20 Ultra flaunts a 6.9-inches QHD+ (3200x1440px) resolution display that churns out 511ppi pixel density. You can either run the display at max. QHD+ resolution with more conventional 60Hz refresh rate, or can bump up the refresh rate to 120Hz at reduced 1080P resolution.
Samsung has done it to help you save some battery life but I think the decision should have been given to users as to how they want to customize the refresh rate and resolution. A quick tip-- set the resolution to QHD+ while streaming videos and bump up the refresh rate to 120Hz during general operations for an amazingly fluid user-experience.
The screen also supports 240Hz touch sensing. It is the brightest AMOLED panel from the house of Samsung and goes as high as 895nits. I did not face any issues in reading texts, watching videos and even playing games in harsh natural lighting. The screen supports HDR 10+, and it's a treat to watch Netflix content in HDR on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. In short, it's a phone for consumers who just love streaming multimedia content on their devices.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Performance
We have covered the Galaxy S20 Ultra's insane 108MP camera setup in detail. The review will give you a detailed overview of the image/video quality, the 100x zoom space zoom feature and other important aspects such as performance in daylight, low-light, etc. Here we are breaking down the camera performance in pointers to make it easy for you.
- The 108MP primary camera uses Samsung's own ISOCELL Bright HM1 sensor. The large 1/1.33" sensor applies Quad-Bayer technology on 0.8µm individual photosites of each color pixel to give resulting 2.4µm pixels.
- The primary sensor is accompanied by a 48MP telephoto sensor placed in a complex architecture with a periscope lens. The third lens in the configuration is a 12MP fixed focus f/2.2 ultrawide angle lens that offers 123° field-of-view.
- The last sensor in the quad-lens camera setup is a 0.3MP, f/1.0 ToF sensor to create bokeh. For selfies, the Galaxy S20 Ultra sports a 26mm wide 40MP sensor with an f/2.2 aperture. The selfie camera also supports PDAF.
Camera Performance Overview
- The Galaxy S20 Ultra captures vibrant shots in good lighting conditions. The daylight shots show excellent dynamic range, punchy colors and good contrast levels. The noise is controlled very well in broad daylight, and in low-light scenarios.
- Both the standard mode, and the ‘Live Focus' mode creates a shallower depth-of-field. The subject isolation looks very natural.
- The portraits shot in outdoor lighting show fine textures and natural skin tones; however, the indoor portraits with people in the frame are mostly marred by the unwanted skin smoothening issues.
- The camera algorithm could use some fine-tuning to address image processing as some pictures show highly saturated colors.
- Galaxy S20 Ultra could also use some adjustments in autofocus.
- Up to 5x optical zoom, the images are perfectly usable.
- The 10x zoom images also show decent details but noise and pixelation become evident.
The 30x zoom images look highly processed.
- The 100x zoom images are not usable but the insane zoom range comes handy to spot distant objects. The feature only comes across as a good party trick. Use a tripod to capture zoom images for stable results.
- The 108MP high-resolution images take up to 40MB space and offer little advantage over 12MP pixel-binned shots.
- The Galaxy S20 Ultra captures bright pictures in low-light with punchy colors. Some inconsistencies like excessive sharpness could be addressed with software tuning.
- The 108MP primary sensor records 4k 60fps videos, while the phone can shoot 4k @30fps from all cameras. The stabilization works across the resolutions, which is remarkable.
- Just like the 108MP images, the 8K footage also fails to offer any significant advantage over the 4k @30/60fps footage. You won't notice any visible difference in detailing and colors.
- Videos across the different resolutions show excellent dynamic range, vibrant colors and fine textures.
- You can shoot 720p 960fps slow-motion videos and even 4K videos with the 40MP selfie camera.
- The Galaxy S20 Ultra also records decently usable zoom videos up to 10x zoom.
Hardware And Software Performance
I have been using the Galaxy S20+ and the S20 Ultra simultaneously. Both are powered by the 7 nm+ Exynos 990 chipset with 2 x 2.73 GHz Mongoose M5 cores, 2 x 2.50 GHz Cortex-A76 cores and 4 x 2.0 GHz Cortex A55 cores. For graphics, the smartphones use the Mali-G77 MP1 GPU. The Galaxy S20 Ultra ships with an insane 12GB LPDDR5 RAM which explains why the phablet is super responsive and never slows down no matter how many apps are running in the background.
The phablet is a workhorse and an excellent gaming device. The immersive 6.69-inch QHD+ AMOLED panel with 120Hz refresh rate really makes a difference and delivers console-like gameplay.
The software performance is another aspect where Samsung's latest Galaxy S-series devices excel. The S20 Ultra runs on the latest version of One UI, i.e. 2.1 based on Android 10. It's visually pleasing and is packed with plenty of customization options and useful features.
The gesture navigation works seamlessly and the system-wide dark mode looks more immersive. Features like ‘Edge Panels' to quickly access favourite apps, Always-on display, Edge lighting, Quick share, Bixby routines, etc. all combine to make the overall user-experience intuitive and seamless.
In-Screen Fingerprint Scanner And Face Unlock
Samsung uses the ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint readers on the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the S20+. Based on my usage of the two devices, these aren't the best in-screen fingerprint authentication solutions in the market. The performance is sluggish and results are not consistent. Face unlock is more convenient but then it only works well with adequate lighting and also compromises on security. I shuffled between in-screen fingerprint scanner and face-unlock for a while, but then I simply settled with the more traditional PIN code security.
The Galaxy S20+ scored 883 in Geekbench's single-core test and 2503 in the multi-core test. The Galaxy S20 Ultra scored 903 and 2671 in the same tests. The Galaxy S20+ recorded 4539 in 3D Mark's slingshot extreme OpenGL ES 3.1 test and 5326 in 3D Mark's slingshot extreme-Vulkan test. In the same test, the Galaxy S20 Ultra scored 5401 and 5135.
Battery Life: Good But Not Extraordinary
The Galaxy S20 Ultra packs in a 5,000mAh battery cell, which is one of the biggest battery on a flagship smartphone and the biggest on a Galaxy device. The big battery is a must-have for a phablet that flaunts a 6.9-inch 120Hz refresh rate panel. The battery life is good but nothing extraordinary. There's a noticeable drop in battery life if you run the display at 120Hz refresh rate. Video playback and gameplay at max QHD+ resolution also takes a huge toll at the battery life.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra can last for up to 13 hours with display set to default 60Hz. The phone can last for around 9 hours if you do not want to compromise on screen's fluidity and set the display at 120Hz refresh rate. The 25W fast-charger can refuel the phone's 5,000mAH battery in about 60-minutes.
Audio Performance, Connectivity And Call Quality
The AKG tuned stereo speaker setup on the Galaxy S20 Ultra delivers solid audio delivery. The audio is produced by a bottom-firing speaker and the earpiece which doubles as a secondary speaker. The audio is loud, clear and one of the loudest in the segment. The S20 Ultra supports Wi-Fi 802.11, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE, A-GPS, GLONASS, NFC, FM-radio and comes equipped with USB 3.2. The smartphone offers a very stable Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and on-call connectivity.
When you pay a premium as high as Rs. 92,999, you deserve the best of everything. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is a brilliant smartphone and it delivers in all aspects, except one, i.e. the highly advertised 100x space zoom. It's more of a party trick than a feature that you will use rigorously in daily routine.
The 10x zoom shots are fairly usable, and you can also fine-tune the 30x zoom shots for some decent results. Beyond that, the zoom range comes handy and the camera samples fail to impress.
If you are always hooked to your handset for games, movies and other multimedia tasks, there's no better display in the market than the 6.9-inch 120Hz QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED panel on the S20 Ultra. It's simply phenomenal. The phone's computing and multitasking performance will not give you any reasons to complain. You also get a solid audio delivery, responsive and reliable software experience and decent battery life, if not exceptional.
If you don't fancy the 100x space zoom feature and a gigantic screen, the Galaxy S20+ is a great option and will also help you save as much as Rs. 20,000.