"Deep, deep black and popping, saturated colors make for an amazing viewing experience."
Large, beautiful screen with a refresh rate of 120 Hz
The zoom lens frames beautiful pictures
Battery life that blows through a day
First-class internals with 5G for every large carrier
The zoom system seems to be a gimmick
Update: Five months after its first release, Samsung fixed bugs that strained the camera system – and delivered on the promise of the ultimate smartphone.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is an elaborately equipped device with an extravagant price. With $ 1,400, you get an opulent 7-inch display with a refresh rate of 120 Hz, the best internals you can expect from an Android phone, 5G compatibility with all major networks and, perhaps most importantly, a monstrous camera setup.
With 108 MP on the main lens, 48 MP on the telephoto camera and up to 100x zoom, it is clear which function Samsung expects for the knockout punch. Despite its robust statistics, this heavyweight was initially prevented from becoming the undisputed camera master due to errors that plagued the state-of-the-art camera system.
Through a series of patches released in April and July, Samsung finally fixed most of the camera issues. So do the brains fit the muscles well? Or should you contact the upcoming Galaxy Note 20 Ultra for your high-end camera requirements?
Design and display
There are no two options, this is a big phone. With a 6.9-inch display – just a tenth of an inch less than before – the slim Galaxy S20 Ultra is a large device that is somewhat unwieldy to hold.
My hands are slightly above average, and even I had to be extra careful to have a good grip when I pulled them out of a pocket or picked them up. It's big, heavy, and a bit top heavy (did you see the camera hump?). I used single-handed mode for the first time because otherwise I simply cannot operate this phone with one hand.
Riley Young / Digital Trends
That said, it looks and feels like the Grand – or rather 1.4 Grand – that you paid for it. The Quad HD + (3,200 × 1,440) Dynamic AMOLED delivers deep, deep black and popping, saturated colors paired with sharp detail reproduction. Combined with the booming clarity of stereo speakers, this is one of the best viewing experiences you can have on a phone.
It's as bright as the iPhone 11 Pro at its peak, making it easy to see in direct sunlight, while the saturated colors can help brighten darker areas for difficult viewing situations.
New this year is the 120 Hz refresh rate of the screen, twice that of the Samsung Galaxy S10 with the industry standard 60 Hz refresh rate switching between tasks is pleasantly fluid.
On paper, the camera setup of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the main attraction of this device. You can get a similarly sized, beautiful screen on the Galaxy S20 Plus for $ 200 less; The Ultra tilts the scale with a 108-megapixel main camera, accompanied by a similarly stacked 48-megapixel tele-shooter and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera to top it off. This system offers some advantages that no other phone can replicate at the same level, but the overall performance of the camera was mixed at startup.
Riley Young / Digital Trends
Several reviewers reported common problems with the camera of the S20 Ultra that Samsung wanted to fix in software updates. Reported issues that were not officially named by Samsung included over-aggressive image processing (excessive sharpening and smoothing) and focus problems, two issues that are not new to the Galaxy S series. In my first tests, my S20 Ultra showed significant improvements over the Galaxy S10 in addition to focusing in all of these areas.
A system update in April specifically addressed the camera's auto focus problems, and a new update in July targets the others. The changelog mentions improvements to the camera, such as: B. better shots with high magnification (enlarged) and improved video stabilization – welcome and necessary corrections for errors in a flagship phone.
In ideal lighting scenarios, the main camera of the S20 Ultra takes great colors and details in standard 12-megapixel shooting mode, which takes pictures by pixel binning on the 108-megapixel sensor. Here, the Ultra shows its improvements in detail capture and dynamic range over the Galaxy S10 because it is less likely to blow out highlights, smooth out gradients, and produce excessively warm photos. This was the case for both the main sensor and the 40 megapixel selfie camera, which also showed a great improvement in the same areas compared to the S10's selfie game.
For more impressive details, turn on the main camera's 108MP recording mode. You can't see this kind of difference when looking at photos on your phone. However, zoom in on a specific area of a photo on a larger, higher resolution screen and you'll see how detailed this mode is. This way you can crop photos into a smaller area and still get perfectly divisible images.
Yes, the zoom lens is as impressive as you heard it, but after zooming in about 30 times, it becomes more of a party trick than anything else. High zoom images are too grainy to be useful as saying, "Look at what I can do." In addition, distant subjects are difficult to see with the naked eye. Therefore, you are unlikely to ever notice a shot that you can only take at 100x zoom. Even if you did, the grainy, blurry result would not be pleasant.
Compared to other devices such as the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 (maximum 2 × optical zoom), the S20 Ultra has a 4 × optical zoom and uses a mixture of digital and optical magnification, which is referred to as “space zoom” up to 100 ×. The Ultra captures appealing details up to 10 times, with Samsung saying it is "lossless" while the quality loss of the iPhone and pixel becomes apparent. The S20 Ultra has some slight losses, but nothing like the Pixel and iPhone at this zoom level.
Compared to the Huawei P30 Pro, which has a 5x optical zoom and uses a similar optical / digital hybrid to achieve 10x, there is hardly any difference between the two when it comes to optimal lighting. Step into the night and you will see a noticeable advantage in dynamic color rendering for the zoom of the S20 Ultra over the P30 Pro.
S20 Ultra 10x
P30 Pro 10x
Pixel 4 8x
iPhone 11 Pro 10x
Taking photos in low light and using Samsung night mode have been improved over the Galaxy S10. In the former, details and colors are equated with the best, but in the latter this is a step behind Google's Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro. Always create good-looking, accurate images.
There have been cases in less challenging low-light situations where the S20 Ultra took the best looking photo and produced sharp details and punchy colors that weren't too dramatic. But in challenging situations, such as a dark alley or even a dimly lit restaurant, the Ultra showed focus problems during our initial tests, with the shots being colored bright yellow and sometimes a patchy mess of a shot being put together.
These were situations in which the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro defeated the Ultra, and the same was true for handheld shots of the starry sky. It was easy to take these shots without errors on the iPhone and Pixel, but the S20 Ultra takes a few tries. In some situations in night mode, no usable photo could be taken at all.
These issues have been addressed in the months since our first software update review. In our latest tests, high-magnification zoom photos were much more stable and user-friendly, although it will be practically impossible to eliminate all handshakes.
Single take is fun. This feature captures about ten seconds of video and then pulls portraits, black and white images, wide-angle photos, short GIF-like videos, and whatever the A.I. looks useful. This way you can quickly create alternative settings for a photo. It's perfect for quick, casual photos that you can share on social media or instant messaging. For more information, see our ultimate guide to the camera on the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
8K video recording is available, but you may not want to use it. An obvious problem? There aren't many places you can really appreciate it except an 8K TV. It also doesn't work with other key features like Samsung's Super Steady Stabilizer. In addition, 8K videos take up an enormous amount of storage space: a 31-second video consumes 301 MB of storage space – over half a gig per minute.
You can forget to record 8K videos even after sunset. These videos are significantly more granular than those shot at a lower resolution than 4K, even though they use the same camera sensor and lens. Stabilization disturbances, shutter rolls and accidental distortion (especially in bright light) are all evident.
In truth, most of these problems can affect the video recording of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, regardless of resolution, stabilization mode or lighting – it's just a question of the situation in which these effects occur the least. Although the iPhone 11 Pro is not perfect even at night, the superior image processing avoids the many disturbances, distortions and eye-shaking pans that the S20 Ultra generates. This is also the case when you step into daylight, although the problems of the Ultra are generally less.
Video looks best at 1080p with Super Steady in bright light. Distortions are much less common in daylight, but shutter rolls are still noticeable, making camera pans look edgy and overworked. Enabling Super Steady Stabilization, which only works for 1080p video, will reduce this so much that I would recommend taking photos with Super Steady enabled as much as possible.
Both 4K and 8K shots are less attractive due to their lower stabilization and locking roller. At night, however, you have no choice but to do 4K or less without Super Steady, since 8K is useless in such poor lighting conditions, and Super Steady uses the Ultra wide-angle lens, which cannot capture enough light for a usable video even at night.
4K video at 60 fps at night looked best from all options, but distortion, glitches, and shutter rolls were still common, much more than on the iPhone 11 Pro.
Performance, battery life and 5G
The cameras may not keep the promised decadence, but every other aspect of the S20 Ultra's performance doesn't disappoint. With 128, 256 or 512 GB of memory and 12 or 16 GB of RAM in combination with Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 865 processor, you don't want anything anymore when playing, multitasking or using the Ultra every day. Add 5G support to all major U.S. networks, and you have an entertainment and workforce package that's as expensive as its price. You can't say that about an iPhone or a lot of Android phones – especially not about one of the newest flagships.
If you're lucky enough to have around 5G, and even more lucky that it is mmWave, you can expect download speeds of up to 1.6 Gbps during my NYC tests on Verizon's mmWave network, though I would hit between 400 -800Mbps more often on Big Red's spotty mmWave cover. If you’re not on Verizon, don’t worry, because the Ultra can also operate on Sub-6 GHz and 2.5 Accessing GHz networks – good news for T-Mobile customers who are much broader, but considerably slower (around 100 Mbit / s top speed). 5G coverage.
Battery life can be where the S20 Ultra offers the most unassailable performance. With so much going on, it is very much appreciated that this basic but integral part of the great phone experience has not been shortened. Much like we saw the iPhone 11 Pro Max, this bigger phone has a bigger battery. With the refresh rate of 120 Hz activated on the display, a well-known source for increased battery consumption, I was able to use the S20 Ultra consistently for a whole day, with very little consumption for about a day and a half.
This was very similar to my experience with the iPhone, which has no 120 Hz display option. Activating a refresh rate of 60 Hz on the S20 Ultra can take an hour or more, depending on use, but for the nice smoothness of 120 Hz, this little battery sacrifice is a breeze.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is almost everything you can expect from a high-end smartphone – on paper. In practice, it's a phone with a base price of $ 1,400, which means it has to be the best or damn close. It will always be difficult to live up to this price, but Samsung is definitely trying.
Are there any better alternatives?
The iPhone 11 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus cost hundreds of dollars less and offer great big-screen experiences with plenty of battery life. The iPhone is also the most complete camera experience and a real pleasure, although it can't keep up with the Ultra's zoom.
If you want to spend a lot of money on a Samsung flagship, the Galaxy Note 20 looks like a winner. It is expected to be released on August 5th and has a lot of bells and whistles. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Note 10 offers the Samsung experience in a lighter, slightly smaller package with a pen for booting.
If you're a photography purist who doesn't care about spending a full day of battery life, the Pixel 4 XL is another option that offers a sleek Android experience and a camera to be with the iPhone Main competitor.
How long it will take?
This is one of the best points of the S20 Ultra. It is equipped for a period of time. Since all important 5G bands are supported and the camera hardware is ahead of its time (and at this time its own software), the Ultra is designed for durability. All of this, combined with its IP68 water and dust resistance, means that you should work solidly with the Ultra for two or three years.
Should you buy it
Yes. It will always be difficult to justify spending $ 1,400 on a camera-centric device when there are much cheaper phones. But the upcoming launch of the Galaxy Note 20 is likely to bring discounts for other models, and we could see this killer smartphone coming down a notch soon. If you can, grab it – future-proof and impressive. The S20 Ultra is really extremely powerful.