There's no doubt about it; Samsung continues to impress and amaze us with every iteration of their Galaxy S flagship series. They spared no expense in packing in the best of their latest technology in the S20 series, and the S20 Ultra is meant to be the ultimate of them all.
It's just insane every time I think about the Ultra; an absurdly fast CPU, 5G connectivity, 100x space zoom, more memory and storage than your desktop PC, and a colossal battery. I cannot stress how this device is the ultimate flagship smartphone that you can put into your pocket.
But it's hard to not consider the S20 Ultra 5G an overkill. When the S20 and S20+ alone is powerful enough, the S20 Ultra 5G may come off as a little too extreme for casual smartphone users. So the question is: is that bad? Well, read on and see what you think.
DESIGN & FEATURES: Bland design, powerful features
To be completely honest, I would say that the design of the Ultra 5G is the weakest point of the device. That's not to say that it's bad! But it just feels weak especially when you compare to the other S20 devices.
There's no doubt that it's instantly recognisable as a Galaxy phone, with Samsung's familiar mix of glass and metal, but the S20 Ultra feels a little conservative in terms of the style. It's basic, and even the colours are feel lacking with just black and gray.
The bezels have shrunk even further to the edges of the phone, but the screen itself doesn't curve as prominently any more. And let's face it, there's also no escaping just how big the S20 Ultra is. A 6.9in screen makes it both taller and chunkier than an iPhone 11 Pro Max, and it's actually hard to use it with one hand with how big the device is.
At least the ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor has been bumped higher up the screen to make it easier to reach than it was on the Galaxy S10, but the tech can still be a little sluggish to pick up your digits. Optical scanners on other phones manage it faster.
The much-maligned Bixby button has been ditched, and while the 3.5mm headphone port has gone along with it, you do at least get a pair of USB-C headphones in the box. IP68 water resistance keeps you safe when your phone drops into a pool of water too.
And then there's the chunky camera bump that sets the Ultra apart from other S20 models, taking up a sizable amount of space on the back of the phone, and bulging prominently out from the glass. If the boring colours weren't enough to make the device less appealing, the camera bump definitely makes it worse. You'll definitely want to invest in a case to help it blend in better, should you decide to get this device.
While the S20 Ultra 5G isn't much of a looker, there's no denying that it still has the best features and tech packed in.
Camera: Great but gimmicky
So yeah, the camera bump isn't much of a looker but it's there for a good reason; it holds no fewer than four lenses, if you count the depth sensor that's onboard purely to give portraits a pleasing bokeh blur, with specs that are undeniably impressive.
There's the 108MP main camera paired with a 48MP telephoto good for 100x hybrid zoom and a 12MP wide-angle. There's also a 40MP front camera for selfie shooting. The cameras on this device is so powerful, it's the biggest reason to forego the others in the S20 series alone if you're looking for the best smartphone camera.
There's still some issues though; during the day, it takes brilliantly detailed and vibrant photos with expertly judged exposure and well-balanced HDR. There's also the usual image processing we've come to expect from Samsung, with somewhat aggressive sharpening that can counteract the detail gained from the high pixel count. The overblown skin smoothing and dramatic shifts in white balance when the sensor detects a face is worrying, though you won't get this issue in the manual mode.
There were some inconsistent focus searching issues as well, though Samsung is reportedly working on a software update that promises a fix. Low-light photos are a real improvement over the previous generation sure, but brute-forcing things with a massive sensor hasn't made enough of a leap to beat Google's excellent Night Sight or Apple's Night Mode. Colours lean too far towards warm hues and noise increases a lot, so while usable, they aren't the very best around.
There are some impressive aspects with the camera like the ultra-wide camera, which matches the main sensor for exposure and colour, and doesn't have as much of a fish-eye effect as some rivals. The front-facing camera is a slam-dunk, too, taking detailed selfies that show few of the smoothing issues of the main sensor.
Zoom is, of course, the star of the device thanks to the 48MP telephoto's lens using a periscope-style setup that allows for 4x optical, 10x 'hybrid', using a combination of multiple images, and up to 100x with sensor cropping. At between 5x and 10x, it is hands down one of the best phone cameras around, that everything else, even the iPhone 11, comes off as amateur-ish.
Beyond that though, though up to 30x images are usable, they are clearly processed and fairly artifact-heavy, while 100x photos are frankly not worth the storage space they take up. Don't be fooled by the videos showcasing how smooth the zoom process is. Not only does the viewfinder shake so much in this zoomed view it's near impossible to focus on a far away subject, any shots you do take have the clarity of a 200s-era webcam. 100x zoom is a gimmick, and not a reason to buy the phone.
The camera app does at least make it easy to swap between each camera and zoom level, with a neat Single Take mode that uses every sensor simultaneously to capture multiple stills and video of a subject. The huge pixel count also allows for 8K video recording, but with so few ways to watch your clips back at full resolution, it's better used for pulling still images from your footage.
Display: So so good
It might not have the curved edges of previous Galaxy phones, but the S20 Ultra's screen is better in every way. The 6.9in, 3200x1440 AMOLED delivers impeccable brightness, ultra-vibrant colours, and unbeatable viewing angles. Bezels are thinner than ever, and HDR10+ videos look sublime, with infinite contrast and amazingly bright highlights.
But the real highlight comes with the silky smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Turn it on and animations suddenly flow like water, with every single bit of motion becoming so much easier on the eye. Even scrolling through your Twitter feed is suddenly a treat for the eyeballs.
You will have to select it though, as the refresh rate doesn't change on the fly. Normally the screen is on 60Hz and you won't notice how 120Hz forces you down to a Full HD+ 2400x1080 resolution. Of course, being on 120Hz means it will eat up more battery than usual so if you want 120Hz be sure to have a charger or power bank ready.
Battery: So much to offer
The S20 Ultra 5G comes with a whopping 5000mAh battery, which also leans in to the device's bulky look. But as mentioned earlier, if you want that 120Hz be sure to have a charger or powerbank nearby. The higher screen refresh rate drains 25-30% of the battery. Throw in some 8K video recording into the mix and it's possible to be drained dry in twelve hours.
Even so, the battery is powering a lot more than the refresh rate and recording, there's also the 5G as well, so heavy users could be looking at rationing power to get through the day. Drop down to 60Hz though, and it's quite easy to last from breakfast to bedtime. It's no endurance runner, but given how much power is on tap, it's hardly a disappointment either.
The bundled charger can manage a full top-up in a little under an hour, but third-party 45W adaptors can go even faster if you're in a hurry. 25W wireless charging is about as rapid as it gets, too.
The S20 5G is undoubtedly Samsung's way of displaying the tech that they have and its powerful capabilities. It remains one of the best Android smartphones around and gives you everything you need out of a smartphone device and more.
Even with that said, it's far from a perfect device. Not just in terms of design, there's the high refresh rate screen that saps battery, and the 100x zoom isn't really something many people would use either. This makes it harder to justify the price of the device.
While the Galaxy S20 and S20+ has less powerful camera features, it's still capable of delivering flagship-level photo quality, which means it should be more than enough phone for most people. But if you want the best tech that Android has to offer, especially in terms of smartphone camera, the S20 Ultra 5G is a great device.