The Galaxy S20 Ultra has massive QHD+ AMOLED display
It has a quad-camera setup that's capable of 100x zoom
The Galaxy S20 Ultra offers good battery life thanks to the big battery
The Galaxy S20 series is currently the best that Samsung has on offer. Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 series as successors to the Galaxy S10 series, a giant leap in the naming strategy. These phones are of course more powerful and run the latest software from Samsung. The highlight of this series is the Galaxy S20 Ultra. This is the first time that Samsung has used Ultra in the name of a flagship smartphone, and this model does live up to its name. It is big, powerful, and expensive. Priced at ₹ 97,999 in India, the Galaxy S20 Ultra demands a serious premium over its siblings, but does it deliver? We put Samsung's best through its paces to find out.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra design
If the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra was an Avenger, it would be the Hulk in the Hulkbuster Iron Man suit. This smartphone is big and loaded with pretty much everything that Samsung has to offer. The size gives Samsung enough real estate to cram everything into, it might not be appealing to a lot of people. The Galaxy S20 Ultra's display measures 6.9 inches, and it weighs 220g, which for many people will be reason enough to drop it out of consideration. One-handed isn't easy and you will need to shuffle the phone in your hands to reach the top of the display. Using this phone with two hands is easier and also reduces the chance of dropping it.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra sports an ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanner which is well placed. It is higher than the one on the Galaxy S10+ (Review), a good decision since it reduces the chance of the phone tipping over when trying to unlock it. The power button is easy to reach but we can't say the same about the volume buttons.
Samsung has managed to keep the bezels super thin, and they are barely noticeable. With dark mode enabled, the experience is immersive, as this AMOLED panel has excellent black levels. The display is subtly curved at the edges, and it's only when you swipe in from the side that you'll notice the pre-applied screen protector.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a gorgeous AMOLED display
At the top-centre of the display is the embedded selfie camera. The earpiece sits between the display and the frame of the smartphone. The frame is thin, as the black glass curves onto the sides of the smartphone. There are no buttons on the left, as Samsung now lets you use the power button as the Bixby Button. The SIM tray and secondary microphone are at the top while the speaker grille, primary microphone, and USB Type-C port are at the bottom.
Turning the phone around reveals the biggest protruding camera module we have seen on a smartphone in recent times. There are four sensors in there, and it has ‘Space Zoom 100X' written on it hinting at what it is capable of. More on that in a bit. The back panel is made out of glass and has a premium feel. It also is a fingerprint magnet, picking up smudges rather easily. We used the case Samsung offers in the box to keep this phone clean. Speaking of what's in the box, you get a pair of AKG-tuned Type-C headphones and a 25W fast charger.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra specifications
The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a 6.9-inch QHD Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, which is the biggest in the company's current lineup. You have the option to scale the resolution up to QHD+ or down to HD+. There's a 120hz refresh rate option that helps deliver a smooth experience. The display is absolutely stunning and has received an A+ rating from Displaymate. Samsung ships the Galaxy S20 Ultra with the Exynos 990 SoC, which has two Exynos M5 cores clocked at 2.73GHz, two Cortex-A76 cores clocked at 2.5GHz and four Cortex-A55 cores clocked at 2GHz.
Samsung has also packed in a big 5,000mAh battery which seems quite generous. It isn't the biggest battery that Samsung has put in a smartphone – the budget-friendly Galaxy M21, which we recently reviewed, packs in a bigger 6,000mAh battery. You get a 25W charger in the box but the Galaxy S20 Ultra supports 45W fast charging if you buy a compatible charger. There is 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and that's the only configuration that Samsung has on sale in India. Samsung offers up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage in other countries. Storage is expandable by up to 1TB using the microSD card slot.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is huge, making single-handed use difficult
The Galaxy S20 series only supports 4G in India, unlike international variants that support 5G connectivity. This isn't a huge issue or a deal-breaker as 5G networks aren't available in the country yet. The Galaxy S20 Ultra offers Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, stereo speakers, an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, NFC, and four satellite navigation systems. It also supports Samsung Pay using MST.
On the software front, the Galaxy S20 Ultra runs the latest One UI 2.1 on top of Android 10. Our unit was running the April security patch. The UI is well designed and we never had any issue finding what we were looking for. It also has some neat Android features such as Dark mode and Digital Wellbeing. A few Microsoft, Google, and Samsung apps are preloaded, along with Facebook and Netflix. The My Galaxy app sends push notifications once in a while, but this can be disabled easily.
A feature called Link to Windows, which lets you push notifications and text messages to a Windows PC, is available on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. It also has gesture navigation which makes it easy to use this big smartphone instead of reaching for tiny navigation buttons at the bottom of the display.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra performance and battery life
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is an excellent device for media consumption. The AMOLED panel is one of the best we have seen till date and has excellent viewing angles. The stereo speakers add to the overall experience, however, these speakers aren't equally powerful and we found the bottom-firing one doing most of the work.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra runs Android 10
Samsung's ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanner is fast and gave us no issues. The centre-mounted selfie camera can be used to unlock the smartphone with face recognition. This too was fast, but we preferred the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, especially in low-light conditions.
We never really had any doubts with respect to performance, since 12GB of RAM is more than enough for any kind of multitasking. Since we have already benchmarked the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (Review), we had a fair idea of how the Exynos 990 SoC will perform. Nevertheless, we ran all the same tests on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and it performed quite well. In AnTuTu, it scored 4,77,373 points, while managing 931 and 2,773 in Geekbench's single-core and multi-core tests. The Galaxy S20 Ultra also achieved 39fps and 22fps in GFXBench's Manhattan 3.1 and Car Chase scenes respectively.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra could handle popular titles such as PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile without any issues. We played PUBG Mobile on this smartphone and it defaulted to the High preset which worked fine. After 20 minutes, we noticed that the smartphone did get warm to the touch.
Battery life on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is very good, but it heavily depends on what you are doing with the device. Gaming and using the camera tends to drain the battery faster than usual. With our usage, which consisted of browsing the Web, taking a few photos, gaming, and watching YouTube videos, the phone lasted for a day and a half without needing to be plugged in. We ran our HD video loop test as well, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra went on for 17 hours and 54 minutes. Charging using the supplied charger is quick. The phone got to 59 percent in 30 minutes and it took about an hour to charge completely.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra cameras
The camera module on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the biggest we have seen in recent times, and it packs in a lot of hardware. The star of the show here is undoubtedly the 108-megapixel wide-angle primary camera. It is one of the biggest sensors we have seen on a smartphone. Along with the 108-megapixel primary sensor is a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera and a 48-megapixel telephoto camera. Next to these are a depth vision camera and the flash. For selfies, there's a 40-megapixel front camera.
The camera UI is similar to what we have used in the past on other Samsung devices. There are multiple camera modes to choose from including a Pro mode for photos as well as videos, which gives you complete control over different parameters. You also have the option to shoot stills at the full 108-megapixel resolution.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra has one of the biggest camera modules we've seen on any recent phone
We took lots of photos during the course of this review, and using the zoom camera was the best part of our experience. Since it is the highlight of this smartphone, let's talk about it first. We observed that for zoom upto 3.9x, the Galaxy S20 Ultra would use the primary sensor. At 4x and beyond, it would switch to the 48-megapixel telephoto camera. Samsung claims that the Galaxy S20 Ultra combines information from the 108-megapixel primary camera and the 48-megapixel telephoto camera to offer up to “10x Hybrid Optic Zoom”. Beyond that, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is capable of up to 100x zoom using a combination of sensor cropping and digital magnification, which isn't lossless. We first thought this would be gimmicky and that the phone might not deliver sharp output, but the Galaxy S20 Ultra managed to make our jaws drop to the floor.
Tapping the telephoto camera button jumps to a 5x zoom. Other zoom level shortcuts pop up on the screen, ranging from 0.5x all the way to 100x. You can also pinch to zoom to any level of magnification you want.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera samples at different levels of zoom (tap to see larger image)
The camera zoom performance is impressive, and text even at a distance is legible. At higher levels of zoom, you will need to keep the device steady for a clear shot. Samsung also shows you an overview of what the camera is pointed at in a small window in the viewfinder which is very helpful. Photos at the highest zoom level aren't very sharp, but we can excuse that since we haven't come across better results on any other device yet. In low light, the results aren't as good as daylight, as the output has big grain due to softening. However, large text was still legible.
The primary 108-megapixel camera takes 12-megapixel shots by default. It has good dynamic range and the shots we took had excellent detail. Even objects in shadows were reproduced well. We took the same shots at 12 and 108 megapixels, which resulted in a much bigger file size. The higher resolution allows you to zoom in further. At 100 percent crop, some mild grain was present in the output but this can be excused.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra daylight camera sample (tap to see full-size image)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra wide-angle camera sample (tap to see full-size image)
In low light, the phone can meter scenes correctly, and manages good details. Even text is legible in the brighter areas. With Night mode, the entire scene is brighter, and details in the shadows are improved. Zoom is restricted to 10x when using Night mode, and the phone only uses the primary sensor.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra low-light camera sample (tap to see full-size image)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Night mode camera sample (tap to see full-size image)
Close-up shots have excellent detail as well, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra managed a natural depth effect while keeping the subject sharp. Edge detection was also very good, and it managed to accurately separate the background from the subject. In low light, close-ups were still sharp with neatly blurred backgrounds.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra closeup sample (tap to see full-size image)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra low-light closeup sample (tap to see full-size image)
Live Focus mode lets you set the level of blur before you take a picture, and informs you when the phone is ready for the shot. You can edit the shot later to change the level of blur or even change the blur effect.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra portrait sample (tap to see full-size image)
The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a Single Take mode just like the Galaxy S20+, which lets you record a 9-10 second clip and then applies music and filters to it automatically. It is useful for capturing activities for sharing quickly.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra relies on a single selfie shooter instead of dual front cameras like on the Galaxy S10+. The camera has a wide field of view but it crops it by default to deliver 6.5-megapixel shots. You can switch to a wider frame which will be saved as a 10-megapixel shot. You can also take photos at the full 40-megapixel resolution. Selfies seem to be smoothened by beautification by default. You can switch this off, before taking a shot, and we saw improved detail when we did so.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra selfie sample (tap to see full-size image)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra lowlight selfie sample with live focus (tap to see full-size image)
Video recording maxes out at 8K for the primary camera and 4K 60fps for the selfie shooter. We did record footage in 8K but not all PCs and other devices will be able to play such footage properly. For 4K as well as 1080p, the output has excellent stabilisation. In low light, there was a bit of a wobble, especially with 4K recordings, but the quality is very good overall. The Super Steady mode uses the ultra-wide-angle camera and manages to stabilise footage well even in low light, but the output isn't nearly as bright as anything recorded with the primary sensor.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is one of the best devices that Samsung has put out yet, and we hope that this camera technology trickles down to other models soon. The camera system on the device is excellent, and you are going to get a good shot pretty much irrespective of lighting conditions. We were also happy with the video recording performance of the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
However, at its asking price of ₹ 97,999, the Galaxy S20 Ultra will definitely make buyers think hard before pulling the trigger. It packs in top-notch performance, but also warms up under load. While the big AMOLED display is an absolute treat to enjoy videos on, this phone is a bit too bulky for comfortable day-to-day use.
The 100x zoom capability is the Galaxy S20 Ultra's main party trick, the number of times you'll actually put it to use might not be worth the huge investment it demands for everyone. If it is the 108-megapixel camera that you want, you could choose the less expensive Motorola Edge+ or the Xiaomi Mi 10 5G (Review). The Xiaomi option costs about half as much as the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and delivers good performance for its price. However, if you want the absolute best in terms of camera features as well as quality, there aren't many other options that come close. If you want the best bits of the Galaxy S20 Ultra at a more affordable price, the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (Review) could be a reasonable compromise.
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Aditya Shenoy reviews smartphones, wearables, headphones and speakers for Gadgets 360, out of Mumbai. Aditya is a reviewer for Gadgets 360 and has written extensively about smartphones, software updates, and upcoming devices. Aditya is available on Twitter at @adishenoy, and you can mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, so please send in your leads and tips.