With the exception of the foldable Galaxy Fold, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the largest, best and most expensive smartphone Samsung has ever made. Then that is already clear. In this Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review, we find out how you like the phone and whether it is a better buy than the normal Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
List price € 1349, –
Colors Black and gray
OS Android 10 (One UI)
Screen 6.9 inch OLED (3200 x 1440)
Processor 2.7 Ghz octacore (Exynos 990)
Storage 128GB (expandable)
Battery 5,000 mAh
Camera 108, 12 and 48 megapixel + depth sensor (rear), 40 megapixel (front)
Connectivity 5G, 4G (LTE), Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi, GPS, NFC
Format 16.7 x 7.6 x 0.9 cm
Weight 220 grams
Other Fingerprint scanner behind screen, waterproof and dustproof
Website www.samsung.com/nl 8.5 Score 85
- Big and breathtaking screen
- Best hardware of the moment
- Versatile cameras
- Ready for the 5G era
- 100x zoom is marketing talk
- 120Hz screen puts a lot of pressure on battery life
Samsung presented the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus and S20 Ultra in February and has been selling the smartphones in the Netherlands since March. In recent weeks I walked around with the Ultra model, available from a staggering 1349 euros. This makes it considerably more expensive than the S20 (from 899 euros) and S20 Plus (1099 euros). How do you like one of the most expensive smartphones of the moment?
Put the S20 Ultra next to any other Android smartphone or iPhone and you will see it immediately: the S20 Ultra is enormous. The device measures 166.9 by 76 by 8.8 millimeters and is therefore a lot larger than the average phone. The explanation is simple: the S20 Ultra’s 6.9-inch screen is larger than any other smartphone screen. And yes, 6.9 inches is really big. Ultra large, to stay in the Samsung atmosphere.
Although the phone has hardly any edges around the display, it is impossible to operate the S20 Ultra with one hand. This device requires both hands, not least because it is also heavier at 222 grams than other smartphones. The high weight is of course partly due to the large screen, but also to the large battery – more about which later.
Regardless of its size, the design of the smartphone seems familiar, especially if you are familiar with the Galaxy S10. The S20 Ultra is made of glass and aluminum, is waterproof and dustproof and feels great in the hand. Please note that the glass feels smooth quickly and attracts fingerprints. Therefore, and with a view to scratches, a case is not an unnecessary luxury. This way you also get rid of another problem: the wobbling when the smartphone is on its back. There is a large camera module on the back and it protrudes. At the bottom of the phone is a USB-C port, but compared to the S10, the 3.5mm headphone jack has been removed. That’s too bad.
Screen: great in every way
Coming back to the screen: that’s great in every way. Not only in size, but also in image quality. The OLED display, which comes from Samsung itself, is breathtaking and the maximum brightness is very high. Handy for when the summer sun will soon shine. The screen resolution is standard full HD; sharp enough for all your activities. Do you want a really crystal clear screen? Change the resolution in the settings to qhd. Good to know: this has an adverse effect on the battery life.
By default, the screen shows a refresh rate of 60Hz, which means that the display refreshes sixty times per second. However, you can also switch to 120Hz, which makes the image look smoother and the S20 Ultra feels much faster. From animations and the photo gallery to reading articles in the browser; the difference with 60Hz is clearly visible. App and game developers must also optimize their programs for 120Hz, otherwise you will not notice it. An optimized game plays more pleasant at 120Hz and you will notice this especially with fast games such as Call of Duty, PUBG and Fortnite.
The 120Hz screen is a very nice feature that is turned off by default. The settings screen makes clear why: just like the higher screen resolution, the higher refresh rate drains the battery faster. I’ll get to that in a moment.
In the middle of the screen, at the top, there is a small hole for the 40-megapixel selfie camera. I never bothered about this hole. The phone makes excellent selfies, if desired with all kinds of filters or – more to my taste – a realistic sharpness-depth effect. An ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is placed behind the screen, more at the bottom. This will unlock the S20 Ultra. The scanner works faster and more accurately than that of the S10, but beats the optical scanners of the OnePlus 7T Pro, Huawei P40 Pro and Oppo Find X2 Pro.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra specifications: the best of the best
As you would expect from a very expensive smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra has the best hardware of the moment. The Exynos 990 processor is a speed demon and flies through your apps and games, aided by the very large 12GB RAM. With its 5G support, the phone is ready for the new mobile 5G network, which is expected to start in the Netherlands in the summer.
Furthermore, the device swallows two SIM cards (dual SIM) and it has a micro-SD slot (for a maximum of 1TB card). The standard version of the S20 Ultra has 128GB storage space. Of that, about 111GB is available for your apps and other media. It will be enough for many people, but not for some. The micro-sd slot is a solution, or you have to save for the S20 Ultra with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. This version will be released in May for 1549 euros.
Battery life and charging
The battery of the S20 Ultra has a capacity of 5000 mAh. It is the first time that Samsung has put such a large battery in a mainstream smartphone, and the choice is understandable. The S20 Ultra’s large display uses a lot of power, with the 120Hz refresh rate further reducing battery life. A 5G connection also slurps more energy than 4G and WiFi, although no 5G network was available during my test period. I cannot say whether the smartphone will last a long day if it works via 5G for part of the day.
What I can tell you: the battery life via WiFi and 4G is excellent as long as you use the screen at 60Hz. With that lower refresh rate, I have not been able to empty the smartphone in one day. Even on long days abroad, where I was constantly connected via 4G and noted a screen-on time of almost five hours, the S20 Ultra still had twenty percent power left at bedtime. That is a very respectable score, although it also means that you have to charge the battery overnight or the next morning.
With the screen switched on at 120Hz, the battery life is of course less good. The much faster refresh rate consumes considerably more power. How much exactly is difficult to determine because every day is different in use, but it has happened regularly that the phone was almost empty before I went to bed. The English website Anandtech the S20 Ultra had all kinds of tests done with the screen set to 60Hz, and repeated those tests at 120Hz. The battery life at 120Hz is twenty percent shorter and that is not wrong.
With the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra you get a 25W USB-C plug. The higher the number, the faster the battery charges. The 25W plug is a welcome upgrade over the Galaxy S10 and older, which used a 15W plug. Charging the S20 Ultra fully takes just under an hour and a half. There are plenty of smartphones that charge faster, but they also have a smaller battery.
The S20 Ultra can also charge wirelessly, although this is 15W slower than via the USB-C cable. If you place a product that can charge wirelessly on the back of the S20 Ultra, the latter will give off its power. For example, you can charge your electric toothbrush or iPhone – although the S20 Ultra can not be used during charging because it is with the screen down.
A 108 megapixel camera
On the back of the S20 Ultra is the large camera island that ensures that the smartphone is not completely flat on the table. This camera module includes a flash, a Time of Flight sensor to measure depth, a primary camera, a wide angle lens and a zoom camera.
First, the primary camera, with which you will shoot most photos and videos. This camera stands out for its very high resolution of 108 megapixels. By default, however, the camera app shoots in 12 megapixels, with nine pixels merging into one pixel (108: 9 = 12). This so-called quad-bayer technique should improve the photo quality. You can also shoot in 108 megapixel, but this produces a very, very large image. This mode is only useful if you want to crop a photo or print your photo on a meter-sized canvas.
I did not feel the need for the past few weeks and used the 12 megapixel mode. The camera takes very beautiful pictures that stand – which we are used to from Samsung – are slightly more colorful than reality. The pictures have a large dynamic range, eyes are very sharp and look good in the dark. Occasionally I noticed that the camera would not focus on an object within two distances, something other testers are also bothered by. Shortly after returning my S20 Ultra, Samsung released a software update that should improve the camera. I cannot say whether the autofocus problem is a thing of the past.
What good is the camera with 100x zoom?
An important selling point of the S20 Ultra is its zoom camera. Samsung is so convinced of the Space Zoom camera that it even places the name on the camera module of the smartphone. That creates high expectations. Then the technique: Samsung places a praised 48 megapixel camera including lens rotated ninety degrees in the housing, with a prism that captures the image. The result is a so-called periscope camera that, according to Samsung, can zoom four times optically, or to bring the image closer without loss of quality.
The Huawei P40 Pro and Oppo Find X2 Pro offer the same periscope camera with five times optical zoom. In June, the P40 Pro + with ten times optical zoom will appear.
Samsung therefore sticks to four times, but the zoom button in the camera app of the S20 Ultra offers five times zoom, whereby the camera also partly uses digital zoom and the quality deteriorates. The camera app also contains buttons for two, ten, thirty and a hundred times zoom. This means that a lot of use is made of digital zoom and you notice that.
Photos with four or five times zoom look very nice, with hardly any loss of quality. And don’t underestimate it: five times zoom is quite something. Do you want to bring the image even closer? Then use the ten times zoom function, which still delivers fine images. They are a bit darker and the colors are less attractive, but the image quality is still good enough. That changes after ten times zoom. Bringing the image thirty times closer is nice but does not yield images for your holiday photo book. And that much-discussed hundred times zoom? It is hardly usable. The image flies in all directions and when you finally have the subject in the picture, you get a picture that is so out of focus that you can hardly do anything with it. A tripod helps with focusing but does not change the poor image quality. And that is precisely why I do not understand that Samsung focuses so much on that many zooms, because everyone will be – rightly – disappointed by that hype. My advice: stick to five to ten times zoom, then you can take very nice photos.
Below are a few examples. From left to right you can see 1x, 5x, 10x, 30x and 100x zoom.
The usefulness of night mode
The camera app also includes a night mode, intended to take better photos in the dark. The S20 Ultra takes multiple pictures in about five seconds and combines them into one photo. Night mode is hit and miss: sometimes it’s an improvement, other times there’s a lot of noise and objects look too yellow. Samsung recently released a camera update that should improve night mode, but I have not been able to test this because my S20 Ultra test sample was already returned.
Below you see three situations in which I first took a normal photo (above), followed by a picture with the night mode (below).
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra runs on its release on Android 10 with the OneUI shell of Samsung itself. That OneUI software looks and works differently than the standard Android version that you find on Android One phones and devices from Motorola and OnePlus. For example, the menus look different and Samsung adds extra settings and functions. As far as I am concerned, a part could have been left out, but I am very happy with functions like the one-handed mode. In any case, I can work fine with OneUI, although I think that Samsung pushes too much on its services and those of partners.
When installing the S20 Ultra, you’re thrown to death with friendly yet urgent requests to use Samsung services, create a Samsung account (or sign in), and install Samsung apps. Even if you refuse all this because you don’t feel the need for it, there are more than ten Samsung apps on the phone after installation. Apps from Microsoft, Facebook, Spotify and Netflix are also installed by default. If you don’t want to use them, you have to remove them. The world upside down, only because Samsung earns a lot from the collaborations with the app developers. I don’t like it when you pay 1349 euros for a smartphone.
Samsung warrants full Android updates to the Galaxy S20 series for two years, including the Ultra. During these two years, you can count on a security update every month. In year three you will also receive a monthly security update and in the fourth and last year it will be one update every three months.
On the positive side, Samsung keeps its flagship safe for four years, while many competing smartphone brands opt for two years. Google and OnePlus promise three years of updates and Apple says nothing, but uses four to five years of updates.
Less positive is Samsung’s choice to give the S20 Ultra two years of Android updates. That is short for such an expensive smartphone and comes to updates to Android 11 and 12. Google and OnePlus offer three years of Android updates. iPhones usually get four or even five version updates.
Conclusion: Buying a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra?
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is without a doubt the best Samsung smartphone ever, and also one of the best smartphones you can buy right now. The device has a luxurious design, beautiful 120Hz screen and excellent hardware and is very pleasant to use. Yet it is not perfect. The camera software had some errors during my test, the hundred times zoom function is useless marketing talk and with the 120Hz screen turned on, the smartphone does not always last a long day. There is also room for improvement in the software field. Samsung’s software is intrusive at certain points and two years of Android updates is really too short for a very expensive device.
Because yes, with 1349 euros, the S20 Ultra is one of the most expensive smartphones you can buy now. Is it a better buy than the regular S20 or the S20 Plus? The answer is yes if you value the bigger screen and the better cameras. In all other cases, the answer is no, because the Ultra version is otherwise almost identical to the S20 and S20 Plus but is considerably more expensive.
I think most people are best off with the regular S20 and even more specifically the 4G model. It costs about 849 euros and is little less than the Plus and Ultra variants. Providers prefer to sell the more expensive S20 with 5G, but the added value of 5G will be so limited during the first two years that the extra cost is difficult to justify.
Alternatives to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra are the Oppo Find X2 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max and expected toppers like the OnePlus 8 Pro and Sony Xperia 1 II.