Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: A New Standard Is Set

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This is Samsung's best smartphone yet, with the highest price yet.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
$1,399
Rating
Pros
  • Big, Beautiful Display
  • 120Hz refresh rate display
  • Big battery that lasts all day
  • Fast charging capable
  • Incredible camera system
  • Amazing zoom capabilities
  • Supports 5G across the board
  • Impressive gaming performance
Cons
  • Large camera hump
  • Big price tag
  • No headphone jack
  • Very boring color choices this year
  • 100x Zoom is more hype than feature

Samsung provided Android Headlines with a review unit of the Galaxy S20 Ultra in Cosmic Black (12GB/128GB SKU) for review. We have been using it on Verizon for a little over a week. And it is running on the day-one update, which includes the March 1, 2020 security patch.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is the company's latest flagship smartphone, and it truly has the best of everything that is available right now. The best cameras, best display, best battery capacity, best everything, at least on paper. But how does that fair in the real world? Well, we've been using the Galaxy S20 Ultra as our main smartphone for a little over a week now, and it's now time to get all of our thoughts down into one place, in our full review.

That big, beautiful display

Let's start off with the display, after all when you see the Galaxy S20 Ultra in stores, that is the first thing you are going to see.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra sports a 6.9-inch, 3200×1440 resolution Dynamic AMOLED display at 120Hz. If you're a spec geek, you're probably drooling right now. But what does that mean for the non-spec geeks? Well, you're getting a pretty incredible looking display. And like clockwork, the Galaxy S20 Ultra does have the best display, according to DisplayMate.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Display

At 6.9-inches, you're getting a huge display in your pocket, that you can watch YouTube, and other content on. It also gives you a great place to use multi-window apps, as you get more space for each app. But perhaps most importantly, you can see things better. This is particularly important if you're older and your eyesight isn't what it used to be.

While the Galaxy S20 Ultra does have a resolution of 3200×1440, it is not set to that out of the box. Instead, it is set to 2400×1080, or FHD+. This has been the case for Samsung smartphones for the past few years (at least since the Galaxy S8), so this is no surprise. But it also means that most people won't get to experience the full WQHD+ resolution that the Galaxy S20 Ultra has to offer. Which honestly, is fine. Other than some icons being smaller, I didn't notice a difference between WQHD+ and FHD+ on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. And I'm sure I won't be alone.

But another setting that should be changed when you get your Galaxy S20 Ultra, is the refresh rate. Out of the box, it is set to 60Hz. You're going to want it to be set to 120Hz.

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All of that is to say that we spent this entire review (for the most part) with the display at FHD+ 120Hz. Which is how most people will likely use the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and the experience has been amazing. Going back to my Pixel 4 XL seems like punishment now.

Big display needs a big battery, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra does not disappoint

The Galaxy S20 Ultra comes with the largest battery we've seen in a mainstream flagship smartphone – 5,000mAh capacity. That's a whole lot of battery juice, and looking at the specs, you're going to need it. After all, this does have a 6.9-inch Quad HD+ display, and it is also at 120Hz and there's also 5G support here. So that juice won't go to waste.

But, we are happy to report that the battery life on the Galaxy S20 Ultra has been splendid. Again, we spent almost all of this review period using the phone at FHD+ 120Hz, so it wasn't on its lowest setting, and it was at the full refresh rate. So that's fairly impressive. Now, if you decide to keep it on 60Hz, you will notice a big jump in battery life too.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Battery

We were able to get six to seven hours of on-screen time with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. We've seen from some of our colleagues who also have the phone now, that got over nine hours of screen on time at 60Hz, and that was over a two-day period. Which is pretty insane, to be honest.

But if you were worried about battery life on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, considering all of the battery draining tech inside, don't be. It's a monster.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Battery Life

Though, usually when you have a big battery like this, it takes a long time to recharge. That's not the case with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The included 25W charger was able to fully recharge the Galaxy S20 Ultra in about an hour. That is pretty insane, for a battery this size. Now it does support 45W charging, though that charger is not included in the box. And from some testing we've seen, it can also fully recharge in just under an hour. But it starts charging faster than slows down. While the 25W charger continues to charge fast until it gets to around 80%.

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Basically, the battery life is amazing here, and you'll never need to worry about topping up the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Memory for days

An issue that many hardcore users and reviewers have brought up to Samsung in recent years, is that its phones are really aggressive about removing apps from memory. This was to free memory up, and also conserve battery. Samsung heard us. It gave us more memory, or RAM, and it also gave us the ability to keep up to four apps in memory, forever.

This is good for the gamers out there, that might need to exit the game and get some work done, but don't want to wait for it to reload later on. Instead, they can just tap on the icon and it'll open up to where they left off.

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Of course, 12GB of RAM also helps with that. There's a ton of RAM in this phone, and even without pinning apps to memory, we never really had any issues with apps having to reload, if we had a lot of apps open. I never closed any apps on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, so that should tell you something.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Performance

Even though it usually only takes a few minutes for an app to reload, it can still be a bit of a nuisance, but that is no longer an issue on the S20 Ultra.

That RAM is also paired with the latest and greatest from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 865. Paired together, the Galaxy S20 Ultra just flies. We noticed no stutters at all in the Galaxy S20 Ultra during our review period. It also never got super hot, unless we were gaming for an extended amount of time. Which is a testament to how well Samsung has done with getting rid of the heat inside the phone.

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While the Galaxy S20 Ultra is technically not a gaming smartphone, it definitely could be one.

One UI 2.1 is like a breathe of fresh air

One UI has quickly become my favorite Android skin, though I'd of course rather have stock Android. But it is a really great skin for Android. Samsung has listened to feedback and made changes to its skin and, it is actually really good. Of course, this isn't really new, since One UI has been around for over a year now.

But with One UI 2.1, Samsung has made some additional changes to the software, making it even better. It is stripped out even mode things that were under-the-hood and slowing down the phone. Basically, it optimized the software further.

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There are also a few minor changes, like with the "Device Care" menu. Which used to be a circle showing you what you needed to do to optimize now, and it would take a few seconds to load. Now it doesn't load at all, and shows you the level of your battery, storage, memory and security. Even going as far as showing you how long that battery can last, as well as how much storage you've used, etc. It is actually much more useful now.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Software

And of course, you can click on each one to get more data. I actually really like the changes to the battery menu. So if you click on "Battery Usage", you can see the battery stats for the day like usual, but you can also see it for the past seven days. Now that might not be a big deal for everyone, but for a reviewer like myself, it's good to see, as I can go back and see how the battery did over the past few days. On top of that, you can zoom into an hour on the graph below it, and see how the battery was used at that time. That includes screen on-time, what apps were being used the most, etc. It is perhaps my favorite change to One UI. Because instead of making things more difficult, Samsung made it better and easier to use.

Another change for One UI 2.1 is Samsung Daily. It's essentially Bixby Home, rebranded. So it's still on the left of your home screen, and it gives you updates and content from a variety of apps, a bit like the Google app does on the Pixel and other stock Android devices. I actually prefer this over Bixby Home, it seems to be much more streamlined too. However, you can still disable it if you wish to do so.

One UI 2.1 is still based on Android 10, so no you're not getting Android 11 here – and won't be until later this year, much later. But it is a slight update from One UI 2.0 that came out late last year. The software on the Galaxy S20 Ultra does absolutely fly, and that's expected with the internals here, but still good to see.

A new, yet familiar design

The Galaxy S20 lineup looks pretty familiar, even though it does have a slightly refreshed design. It still has the curved corners, that make it a Galaxy S device – while the Galaxy Note is more boxy. It's familiar yet different.

One of the big changes, design-wise, that Samsung made this year, was the curved display. A big complaint on the Galaxy S10 series was how curved the edges were. It resulted in a lot of accidental touches, and actually made it almost a requirement to use a case with the phone. Which for most people, isn't a big deal. But with the Galaxy S20, the curves aren't as pronounced and actually, you barely even notice that it is curved. The backside is actually more curved than the front. And the glass melts into the stainless steel frame of the S20 Ultra.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Design

The design is mostly good, but there are a few things we don't like. The biggest one is the camera bump. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is already a pretty thick device, but then you see that thick camera bump on the back, and it makes it even thicker. It's so thick, that you can actually see that the phone doesn't sit flat on a table. That's also due to how large the bump is. This makes it pretty tough to actually use the phone when it is on a table or another surface.

Then there's the fact that the Ultra is such a large device. It's a 6.9-inch smartphone, and it's made of curved glass. Making it a big, slippery smartphone. So you'll still want a case on this one, probably a thin case, since it is already a big and heavy phone. Carrying this and a Pixel 4 XL in the same pocket, made for a pretty heavy pocket.

For most people, the colors that a phone comes in isn't a big deal, since it's going to go right into a case. But the colors for the Galaxy S20 Ultra are pretty boring. Samsung provided us with a cosmic gray Galaxy S20 Ultra for this review. And the other color is cosmic black. Now, to Samsung's credit, it does seem like the cosmic gray is less prone to showing fingerprints, thankfully. But it would be nice to get some exciting colors like the Aura Glow that it did for the Galaxy Note 10+ last year. These two colors are pretty boring.

Obviously, if you want a smaller smartphone, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is not the phone for you. But the Galaxy S20 might be, with its 6.2-inch display (and its $400 less).

These cameras can do everything, literally!

Now, let's talk about the camera. Arguably the most important feature on any smartphone in 2020.

Samsung has an all-new camera system on all of the Galaxy S20 models, but here we are only talking about the Galaxy S20 Ultra since that's what this review is about. The Galaxy S20 Ultra has four cameras on the backside. There is the main, 108-megapixel camera which features PDAF and OIS. That is paired with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, and a 48-megapixel telephoto lens. The fourth camera is one you can't actually switch to. It's a 0.3-megapixel Time of Flight lens, used to measure depth, giving you a more natural bokeh – more on that in a minute.

With this new camera system, Samsung is focusing on a few key features like Space Zoom. This is where you can zoom in at up to 100X. That is fairly insane for a smartphone. And almost unbelievable. So we put it to the test, and yeah, 100X zoom is not something you'll use much, if at all. It's not good at all. It can be very noisy, and doesn't really focus that well on the object you are trying to photograph. This is expected though, considering this is using a hybrid zoom – optical and digital.

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But, zoom on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is still really good. Up to about 10x, you can get really great looking images. And like with any camera, the more light you have, the better it'll look. So 10x zoom outside in daylight looks much better. Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether the picture I took was zoomed in or not, since it looks that good. The Galaxy S20 Ultra can do 4x zoom optically, which looks really good actually.

Bigger sensors mean better depth of field

All of the sensors on the Galaxy S20 Ultra are bigger this year. With a bigger sensor, that allows more light to get in. Something we've heard many, many times from smartphone makers. But with these larger lenses, you are also getting better depth of field. The Bokeh effect on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is so good that, I rarely use Live Focus. The naturally blurred background looks so much better.

The Bokeh effect isn't quite on the same level as a macro shot or a macro lens, but it is pretty close. It's almost on par with Google's Portrait Mode on the Pixel, actually. That's really impressive, seeing as this is all being done naturally, so it looks better and not as fake.

Night mode has been drastically improved

Samsung did more for night mode than just giving us bigger sensors. That definitely helped, as it lets you get in more light. But it really improved night mode too, giving Google's Night Sight a run for its money.

There are some samples in our Flickr album showing how good night mode is, but it does give it a bit of a yellow tint for some reason. This is something that Samsung will most likely improve in a future software update, and honestly, I think it looks good in some scenes. But those wanting the most true-to-life colors, the Galaxy S20 Ultra isn't quite there yet, in night mode.

A small tid bit about night mode though, there's a new animation that looks really cool. Basically, its a crescent that turns into a full moon, in the shutter button, as it takes the image. While it is counting down beneath the shutter button. It's a subtle, but really cool animation that most people won't notice or care about. We showed it off on our Instagram recently.

Shooting 8K video on a smartphone is just insane

The Galaxy S20 Ultra is the first smartphone to come with support for shooting 8K video. It's a feature that Qualcomm added to the Snapdragon 865 chipset, which is powering the Galaxy S20 series. 8K footage shot on the Galaxy S20 Ultra isn't the best you'll find, but it is very good. It does lack some coloring, but for most of us, it's good.

Obviously 8K video is going to use a lot of storage, so if you are looking to do a lot of 8K video, you're going to want to make sure that you get a micro SD card. Since the Galaxy S20 Ultra does still have a micro SD card slot available. You can upload this footage to YouTube in 8K as well as playing it on Samsung's 8K QLED TVs that are on the market right now.

If you are shooting in 8K, you can also grab a screenshot in the video, that comes out to a 33-megapixel image. Giving you a lot more detail than if you were to do the same with 4K video. And that's where Single Take comes into play. As you don't want to miss the perfect shot, and Single Take can take multiple shots all on its own, within 10 seconds. Now this is a feature that I will rarely use, but for those that go to different shows, sporting events and such, it is a great feature to have.

Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Samples - Flickr

5G is great, where it's available

A quick word about 5G here. All of the Galaxy S20 models sold in the US are going to be 5G. They of course, also support 4G LTE, but you won't find any 4G LTE-only models here in the US, unfortunately. This is making 5G a much bigger deal in 2020.

But, sadly, 5G is not available everywhere yet. T-Mobile's nationwide 5G network isn't available where I live. Even though Verizon's Ultrawide Band (UWB) 5G network is available here. Since I have a Verizon Galaxy S20 Ultra, let's talk about their network.

Verizon is using mmWave for their first round of 5G deployment. This gives you those crazy fast speeds that we're seeing in speedtests, like over 1Gbps download. But it is very high spectrum, which means it won't travel far. And that means something like a tree could knock you off of the 5G network and back to the 4G LTE network. It also means that a corner might have 5G, but the rest of the street doesn't. Never mind inside a building.

So yes, the Galaxy S20 Ultra does support 5G on all the networks, but chances are, the majority of you won't be able to use it on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, this year. Which is very unfortunate, since those 5G speeds are pretty incredible.

The ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is better, but still not good

Samsung stuck with the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor that goes under the glass, on the Galaxy S20 series, and it's still not that great. It's very slow compared to other under-glass fingerprint sensors and much slower compared to capacitive ones – like the Galaxy S10e fingerprint sensor that's in the power button.

Aside from it being slow, it is still a fairly small sensor. So it's obvious that Samsung did not use the new sensor that Qualcomm unveiled last December. Which is much larger, making the touch target bigger and easier to hit.

Though, for someone like me, coming from the Pixel 4 XL for the past four months, having a fingerprint sensor is actually a big deal. It means I can log into all of my apps again, since many don't support facial recognition yet. But it is still slow. Hopefully Samsung is able to fix this in an update to the Galaxy S20 lineup, but I wouldn't count on it. Seeing as the Galaxy S10 lineup is still pretty slow on that front.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Facial Recognition

Thankfully, there are other options available. Like the ability to use facial recognition. But this is where the Pixel 4 shines. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is not able to see your face in the dark, since it is using the front-facing camera and not something like Soli. So where the Pixel 4 can easily unlock in the dark, the Galaxy 20 Ultra cannot. Which forced me to use the fingerprint sensor more.

Wrap Up

During this review process, we really enjoyed our time with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung essentially took everything that users could possibly want, and put it all into one phone. Sure the Galaxy S20 Ultra is a $1400 smartphone, but you're getting what you pay for here, which is a whole lot of smartphone.

The battery life on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is insane, the camera is the best out there right now, and of course, you're getting the latest and greatest version of Android. This is the best smartphone on the market right now.

I did not say it is the best smartphone for everyone though. It is still a very large device, at 6.9-inches, so those that want something smaller may want to take a look at the Galaxy S20. But as far as the best in every category, this is it.

Not to mention, it is also future-proof with support for 5G (both Sub-6 and mmWave).

You can buy the Galaxy S20 from Samsung by clicking the link below.

Galaxy S20 - Samsung.com - $999+