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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Review: 24 hours!

Samsung doesn’t always make phones for the masses, sometimes they make phones that show us the potential of the latest mobile technology. Even if this means that the price tag is higher than most people can afford.

by Nicole on March 2, 2020
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
Positives
  • 120Hz Display
  • Solid top of the line camera
  • Good low light
  • 100X Zoom is a gimmick, but still very cool
Negatives
  • It's way too big
  • Battery life is not great

We got to spend 48 hours with the Exynos version of the Galaxy S20 Ultra but only one full day. At this point, it seems clear that Samsung still has a few updates to issue before the phone is really ready for review. Having said that, you’re able to pre-order now for March 13th, and we noticed a big difference between the battery life on the Snapdragon version in the US (which has the majority of reviews) and the Exynos version available in Germany. So expect a full review when some significant camera updates roll out by then we’re sure they’ll have a few stability updates released too.  

Samsung is using a multifaceted approach to tackling the big question of how we’re going to use our next generation mobile devices. The Galaxy Z Flip is certainly eye catching but if you’ve used this phone, then you’ve switched to the S20 Ultra it’s 6.9 inch display feels so large that you’ll unconsciously try to fold it. If you thought that there was no practical place for foldable phones, think again!

What makes the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Stand Out?

1. It’s expensive, the 512GB version will set you back 1,549EUR the 128GB edition isn’t much less at 1,349EUR.

2. 100X Zoom on the camera

3. 120Hz refresh rate on the display

There is no doubt that these are impressive, but you can’t help but realize that that Huawei was really ahead of the game with the P20 Pro and Mate 30Pro. With Huawei’s devices in exile missing Google’s services, the S20 Ultra is the ultimate Android smartphone for those who simply have too much money.

Is the S20 Ultra too big?

At 6.9 inches the S20 Ultra is big, it also feels big in hand. If I don’t have at least one finger towards the top of the phone it might topple over. The camera bump is large and the lenses seems to pierce deeper into the smartphone than the 8.8mm thickness allows. The lenses are actually perpendicular to the phone’s back.

For me it’s too big, like anything you get used to it. But expect a lot of near drops, people walking into it on the busy streets of Barcelona and the fact that it really doesn’t fit into any pocket comfortably.

Is 100X Zoom Worth it?

Will you actually use it? You bet your booty! You’ll use it show off/justify the price tag of you extremely expensive smartphone! In all seriousness, the photos themselves aren’t great, they’re not usable for shares on social media, I call them smudgy. What do you expect from 100 time zoom? Even if it’s not that clear, it’s amazing you’re able to make out any detail from something that far away.

The S20 Ultra’s camera array is excellent, one of the best ever to be put into a phone. That it can’t take good 100x photos is only common sense, after all, its optical zoom only has a magnification of 4x.

It’s hard to argue with how impressive the zoom is, even if you can’t use the photo that’s 100X zoom for much. We’re zooming in on the angel below the dom.

This is where the photo started, just to make sure your jaw is dropped.

Even if you can’t use the end photo, what 100X zoom gives you unparalleled composition flexibility. The camera UX is fantastic, switching between 1x-4x is smooth, 20x a little view of the surrounding scene at 5x pops up making it easy to find what you’re looking to shoot. It’s pretty easy to keep what your shooting in frame considering it should be impossible to shoot something at 100X without a tripod. Sure the frame is always moving, but it’s still a testament to the software stabilization.

The optimal zoom to take great photos is .05-10X after that we notice a loss of fine detail. The main sensor is a 108MP Samsung S5KHM1. It is made for pixel binning, and takes 12-megapixel photos as standard: nine pixels on the sensor make one in the final image. But there is a 108MP mode that captures a lot more detail (not a given for these modes), and is worth using for pretty, well-lit holiday scenes. The ultra-wide camera is a genuine 12-megapixel sensor, but one with 1.4 micron sensor pixels for well above average native sensitivity and good dynamic range.

Night image quality is not at the same level as the Google Pixel 4 or Huawei Mate 30 Pro. It’s still very good, but we found we had to make a few tries in auto mode and it was more consistent in the multi second night mode. The S20 Ultra doesn’t come out for a few months, so we do expect the camera to get less gitchy. What we’ve seen so far does put this phone in the top 5% of low light performers.

TOF sensor, this creates real time depth maps for bokeh in stills and video. The object detection is pretty average at this stage. Like we said, we expect a few updates to smooth out some of theses minor issues.

Samsung has put out a statement that there are some significant camera upgrades on the way. We don’t expect a significant change, but the camera will be less buggy, which is what most of the complaints on social media are currently focused on.

Selfies

There are two schools of thought around selfies. One that men like, the Pixel strategy which is show me me those pores! Let’s over sharpen everything! And the one that women like where the skin has some detail but looks smooth and flawless.

Samsung typically has opted for the Asian preference, but the S20 Ultra definitely sharpens your selfies more than I’d like especially in low light! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good selfie cam, but I think more men will be pleased with these results than women.

Display – Once you go 120Hz there is no going back!

The 6.9 3200 x 1440 display can refresh at 120 times a second! By default its set to 60Hz (probably for battery life) but the 120Hz makes everything scroll more smoothly and it makes it feel lightning fast. Sure, it’s probably an optical illusion because how fast the phone responds has nothing to do with how fast the screen refreshes, but to my mind the 240 times a second the S20’s display reacts seems better at 120Hz.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Exynos Version and Battery Life

It’s bad. There is no getting around the fact that the everyone with the Snapdragon version thought the battery life was fine. I spent 72 hours at Non-MWC in Barcelona with the S20 Ultra Exynos edition and there wasn’t a single person who didn’t complain about the battery life on the Exynos version.

I was only able to spend two days with S20 Ultra, here is a screen shot from the only full day I had with it and it’s not good. 8:00am I unplugged social media, email, calls, what’sApp a little photography wth WiFi on and just before 7pm I’m at 8%. I consider this a standard or average day.

One thing you should check when you get your S20 Ultra is fast charging is turned off by default. Originally I thought it was just total garbage, it turns out fast wireless charging, super fast charging are both on by default but fast charging its not.

Early Verdict

The battery life is not great, the Exynos version that we have in Europe doesn’t seem to be holding up to the battery life beast the US outlet claim to be reviewing. We expect that between now and when the phone is actually available in a month Samsung will issue updates fixing the problems it seems to have with standby time.

The camera is solid and gimmicky, which is what you expect from a flagship phone these days. The S20 Ultra is meant to inspire and lead the future of mobility. Which means that I’m going to use it to it’s full potential when I’m using it. I don’t want to lower the refresh rate to 60Hz from 120Hz and not use the dual SIM to try to get all day battery life! If you’re going to put out a phone with the latest and greatest tech, I want to use them! If I wanted to downgrade the capabilities of the handset I’d just get a different smartphone.

If it’s worth the 1500 price tag, it’s really hard for me to say. The smartphone will be coming out with updates that may fix the battery life. But in the state that it’s in today, the battery life on the Exynos version of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is just too average (or below average), for that premium price.