Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review: Ultra-cool space-age tech with a premium price tag

The new Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is an amazing piece of tech.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review: Ultra-cool space-age tech with a premium price tag

I’ve been testing Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, which boasts an astonishing 100x Space zoom. The S20 Ultra has a stunning, 6.9-inch display that simply provides jaw-dropping visuals.

Everything looks amazing on this display that supports HDR10+ and a 120Hz refresh rate. Once you experience the latter, it’s hard to go back to the standard 60Hz.

The S20 Ultra is a massive phone, but the gorgeous display makes the extra size worth it. Thankfully, Samsung has finally given up on insisting on a dedicated Bixby button. Around the back is the camera system and the largest camera bump I’ve seen on a phone since the Nokia 1020.

This really isn’t a big deal since most people will put a case on it and negate the bumps depth. The Ultra only comes in two colours, Cosmic Black and Cosmic Gray. Not too exciting but overall, the phone does look very premium and feels good in the hand, albeit hefty.

The S20 Ultra has a class-leading display. It’s big, super-bright, sharp at 3,200-pixels x 1,440-pixels, but there’s a catch, you can only use 60Hz at this resolution. This is to save battery life, and so if you want the 120Hz, you have to settle for 2400-pixels x 1080-pixels.

The default is 1080 @ 6Hz out of the box. Personally, I can’t see the difference between the two resolutions unless I do a direct comparison, but I can see and feel a massive difference between 120Hz and 60Hz. Hopefully, a future update will allow for the dynamic changing of both resolution and refresh rates depending on what you’re doing.

The S20 Ultra’s stereo speakers system works equally well for both music and video, making it great for media consumption in combination with the vibrant display.

The 100x Space Zoom is one of the headline features, but it’s important to put it into perspective. The S20 Ultra is using a special telephoto periscope lens with a 4x magnification and boosting it to 100x via software, so essentially, the Space Zoom feature is a digital zoom combined with AI wizardry.

Nothing wrong with that per se, but it’s hard to accept this as a killer feature, or a great reason to buy this phone. 100x Space zoom is a gimmick, but the camera system on the S20 Ultra is one of the best out there and the results are excellent up to 30x in good lighting.

I did have some issues where the autofocus would struggle, but some of this was down to understanding how each lens works. For example, if I wanted to take a close-up shot of a subject, I had to use the normal 1x lens. I found the zoom lens wouldn’t focus on anything closer than an arm’s length away.

The S20 Ultra also has one of the biggest sensors with the highest megapixels (108MP) in a smartphone. The larger sensor means a bigger area for light to gather and should, therefore, in theory, it should have better low light performance.

The 108MP sensor in the S20 Ultra is about twice the size and nearly four times the surface area of the main sensor in the iPhone 11 Pro. Of course, sensor size isn’t everything, nor is the number of pixels, but overall image quality and usability are excellent.

I love the new wave of phones with these larger sensors because you can get out of focus backgrounds naturally, rather than just via software. The downside is that if you get too close to a subject, not everything will be in focus where you might want it to be.

There’s always pros and cons, but what you get in the S20 Ultra is excellent quality and the flexibility of three different focal lengths— ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2, wide-angle: 108MP, f/1.8, with PDAF, OIS and a Telephoto: 48MP, PDAF, f/3.5, OIS. The front selfie camera has a 40MP sensor with PDAF, f/2.2.

The S20 Ultra can capture 8K video, which is truly an amazing feat for a smartphone. However, it’s unusable and gobbles up precious space on the base models 128GB of storage. Also, the ability to capture 33MP stills from the 8K video is unusable.

I found that most video is shot in less than ideal lighting environments and due to the very nature of video, the extracted still photos had motion blur.

The S20 Ultra here in Europe is the Exynos version and not the Snapdragon 865 and Adreno 650 GPU available in other markets, which is proven to be more powerful and energy-efficient than Samsungs Exynos CPU. This is nothing new for Galaxy smartphones, but the differences between the two variants is more evident as it is on the S20 line.

My review device came with 12GB of RAM, and 128GB of fast UFS 3.0 storage. There’s also a 512GB storage version with 16GB for an extra €200. The Ultra supports 45w charging of its 5,000mAh battery, but you only get a 25w charger in the box.

It also supports wireless charging and wireless PowerShare for charging other devices. On average, I was able to get a full day’s use, but certain tasks like gaming drained the battery much quicker than I was expected.

The S20 Ultra 5G supports dual-band 5G connectivity, dual-band Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC. 5G works fine in my test on the Vodafone network, but 5G is still very limited with very spotty coverage.

The Samsung S20 Ultra is an amazing piece of tech that you probably shouldn’t buy at the incredible price of €1,299 (Vodafone). Instead, I’d recommend checking out the standard S20 4G/5G, which has most of the same features for €799 (Vodafone).

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