There is no other way of putting this. What we have here is possibly the first Android superphone. Everything about the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, the hardware, the cameras and the experience of using it, is elevated when compared with even the very best flagship phones out there. The headline specs include the 108-megapixel camera with 100x zoom, a large 6.9-inch display that does 120Hz refresh rate and a massive 5,000mAh battery. In some parts of the world, you will get 5G as well. But it is not just the specs that come together well, but it has more to do with how the entire Galaxy S20 Ultra experience has been put together without really hurting the familiarity that carries forward from other Samsung Galaxy S20 series flagship Android phones, and indeed the flagships which preceded it.
There is more to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra than simply being a technological evolution. We had noted this in our review of the Galaxy S20+ as well that it is the far-sightedness of Samsung as an organization is why they have been able to launch phones at a time when the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 pandemic has stalled pretty much every other smartphone makers’ plans. These are unprecedented times, and Samsung’s decision to spend heavily on developing Vietnam as another strong smartphone manufacturing hub, is paying dividends now. At this time when China is slowly limping back towards manufacturing normalcy after months of lockdown, they haven’t had to struggle as much as most of their rivals who are dependent on Chinese factories.
How much does this superphone cost?
Let us get this big question out of the way first. At present, Samsung is selling one variant of the Galaxy S20 Ultra in India, and that is priced at Rs 97,900. This is for the 12GB RAM and 128GB storage option (mind you, there is a memory card slot to add more), in the Cosmic Gray version. The 12GB + 256GB and 16GB + 512GB options should be going on sale sometime soon too.
Size matters. Really, it does
For starters, let us compare this with its sibling, the Samsung Galaxy S20+. In Samsung’s line-up over the years, there would always be a Plus, or + variant, which would sit at the very top step in terms of the screen size—the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy Note 10+ or the Samsung Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy S10+, for the sake of illustrative examples. This time around, that mantle has been taken over by the Ultra, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. In fact, it is larger than the Galaxy S20+ (6.7-inch) and the Galaxy Note 10+ (6.8-inches). I love big screen phones—in fact, the bigger the better, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra is genuinely quite exciting to use.
We have to talk about how much space it will take in your trouser pocket or your handbag. This measures 166.9 mm x 76 mm x 8.8 mm in footprint and tips the scales at 222 grams. For perspective, the OnePlus 7T Pro checks in at 206 grams while the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max holds up at 226 grams. In the era of genuinely big screen smartphones, weight will always be a bit of a tradeoff. That being said, balance the Galaxy S20 Ultra on two fingers and it holds up perfectly—that is a testament to the equal distribution of weight, even though one would have expected the large camera module on one side to be a bit more susceptible to the gravitational requirements.
You do need to be a bit more careful with the glass back though, because that can be a tad slick if you hold this with moist hands, for instance. Also, the big camera module at the back may just require you to take a bit more care to prevent it from getting scratches, particularly around the frame of that hump. And let us really not get into a debate about whether the layout of the cameras looks good or not—it does not matter. To be very honest, you hardly ever look at the back of your phone, so no reason to start worrying about how it looks now.
The Display Gets The 120Hz Goodness
The massive and immersive display of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is what visually sets it apart. The 6.9-inch screen is the Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. It is HDR10+ ready. The max resolution is 3,200 x 1,440 pixel and you get a full spectrum of features such as the blue light filter, the colour richness mode and the ability to bump down the screen resolution if you’d prefer that, for the sake of even better battery life.
The real reason why you may want to bring it down FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080 resolution) is to enjoy the 120Hz refresh rate. Scrolling is delightfully smooth and app transitions as well as Android animations look better than they have on any phone so far. Everything just looks like it is flowing though smoother—web browsing, flipping through files, scrolling through the WhatsApp chat list and so on. The only limitation is that this 120Hz refresh rate is not available for the highest QHD resolution, so you need to make a choice. But it is a trade-off that is absolutely worth it.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra has a slightly lower pixel density of 511ppi compared with the 525ppi on the Galaxy S20+, but that is just not noticeable in any form or manner. Colors in the Natural screen mode look nice and subdued, great if you are working on documents, browsing the web or even reading. Switch to the Vivid option, and everything just livens up ever so slightly, and that’s apt for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video streaming sessions.
Many many megapixels of photography goodness
The aforementioned camera hump on the back of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is for a very good reason. Because within it is some serious photography prowess. What you get are four cameras—a 108-megapixel wide sensor, a 48-megapixel periscope sensor, a 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor and a ToF depth sensor. This is a massive leap forward in terms of what phones and cameras can do together. Zoom is perhaps what will really get you interested. You can start from the ultrawide 0.5x zoom all the way to 4x optical zoom and 10x hybrid zoom. This is where something called Space Zoom kicks in—that is all the way up to 100x. to be honest, handheld zoom wouldn’t really cut it after 30x, and you really need to either mount the phone on a tripod or prop it up somewhere safely to get any sort of expected detailing in these high zoom photos. But the very fact that it is possible in a smartphones simply would not have been believable a few years ago. I have to say that at 50x, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra delivers better results than what Huawei managed with the P20 Pro last year—that in fact topped out at 50x zoom.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra shoots 12-megapixel photos by default, with the pixel binning method that pulls in data from individual sensors in clusters, the idea being to get more details in photos. If you scoff at the idea of having to see 12-megapixel size photos, you can switch to the 108-megapixel photography mode in the camera app. Yes, the image size itself is bigger which means it’ll also take up more space wherever you store it—that being said, some photos truly deserve that special treatment.
In the time I have had to test the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, Samsung has released quick updates which have improved certain aspects of the camera performance. What started out as a very slow and inconsistent focus, has instead become better now. It is not only faster, but locks in better too. That being said, it is still not fast enough to properly focus on and capture a naughty toddler—those photos are blurry because of the movement and focus is mostly not on the moving subject. But like I said, it is better than before, and there is great hope that Samsung will iron this out in the coming set of software updates too. However, for those of you who may want to take simpler photos, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra delivers sharp, colourful, dynamic and detailed photos.
Performance has no parallels, at least none yet
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra that you will be able to buy in India will be powered by the Exynos 990 chip takes forward the case for the 7nm architecture and is paired with 12GB of the very fast LPDDR5 RAM. Among other things, including the UFS 3.0 standard internal storage, this is great news for the overall performance. It is these little things that must come together nicely for a smartphone to evolve into a superphone, and that is exactly what has happened with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. There is 128GB internal storage by default and this can be expanded by as much as 1TB via the card slot route—you really will never run out of space. From what I experienced, the Exynos 990 chip offers nothing short of slick performance, irrespective of the usage scenario on the smartphone. There are no slowdowns at all and there no heating that is apparent on the back even when you are really stressing the phone out with apps and games.
A bit more about the Exynos 990 chip though. This is an octa-core processor, where two cores run at 2.73GHz, two cores run at 2.5GHz and four cores run at 2GHz. These core clusters keep clocking up and down depending on the application and software load at the time, and the lower power tasks are handled by cores that help save on battery life too. Speaking of which, there is a large 5,000mAh battery powering this Android superphone. With this, you get 45-watt fast charging, 15-watt fast wireless charging, 9-watt reverse wireless charging for any compatible accessories you keep on its back to juice up and is the USB PD3.0 compatible. In our testing experience, a fully discharged Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s battery was fully charged and ready to be unplugged in 68 minutes—that is when we used the charger provided with the phone. Charging times may vary if you use another charger or an adaptor with a different power rating.
Software strictly doesn’t need changes, but uniqueness is missing
It is not at all difficult to appreciate the subtle changes and improvements that Samsung has done to the One UI over time. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra runs One UI 2.1 and that gets performance enhancements and new features as well including the Google Duo calling functionality integrated in the Phone app. It all just works, there is no doubt about it, and doesn’t feel like an overwhelming smorgasbord of features strewn all around. That being said, and I have observed this earlier as well with the Galaxy S20+ review, it feels a little odd that the interface on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra feels the same as pretty much any other Samsung Galaxy Android smartphone, irrespective of price. Right down to even Samsung’s own app icons. It might be time for Samsung to consider having two forks of their One UI interface—one for premium devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and one for the rest. It helps in differentiation.
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Authentication requires some effort
The in-display fingerprint sensor on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is the same as last year’s Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy Note 10 series, but it certainly delivers faster performance this time around. However, it still gets stumped if your fingers aren’t completely dry or the display is smudged. The face detection works fast for the most part, but I have noticed it struggles a bit in low light and takes a couple of attempts at repositioning the phone to make it work well.
The Last word: the first of the Android superphones
We had said that the Samsung Galaxy S20+ was the best Android phone to buy, a while ago. That continues, albeit with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra now very much in the mix—it does everything the Samsung Galaxy S20+ does and then a bit more to go with that, if you want to spend that extra money. The size is not a problem, you’ll get used to it. In fact, the large display real estate is very immersive and usable. Not only does the 108-megapixel camera really take the photography game a couple of notches ahead, but the next big battles in this space could revolve around the usable zoom capabilities. The thing is, no other Android phone can stand up to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, look it in the eye, and genuinely claim that it can match it spec for spec. Because none can, at least so far. It is an almost brutal way to reset the benchmark. It will not be easy for the rivals to respond.