The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is already this year’s best flagship Android phone, despite only being released at the beginning of 2020, as my summary very well sums it up. Despite the fact that it boasts a 120Hz screen and the most zoomable camera we’ve ever seen, it actually costs more than the absurdly pricey iPhone 11 Pro Max.
That’s definitely not ideal if, like me, you’re still paying off credit card debt from holiday shopping, but if you do manage to raise the money, I doubt there will be many better Android choices when the new decade gets started.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Design
Of course, the S20 Ultra’s price isn’t the only factor to consider, and furthermore, if you’re looking for the very pinnacle of smartphone achievement, a product like that is never going to be inexpensive.
The S20 Ultra naturally resembles a four-figure smartphone in both appearance and feel. The display is incredibly huge this year, spanning 6.9 inches across the diagonal, and the side bezels are somewhat thinner than previously. The tiny notch that houses the 40MP selfie camera is also significantly smaller and has moved to the top center of the screen.
You might have noticed some design modifications elsewhere on the phone’s rear. This year’s phone had its numerous cameras neatly arranged in a horizontal line, while the Galaxy S20 Ultra has a very bulky rectangular camera configuration in the top left corner.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra does wobble when placed on a flat surface due to the large number of cameras in this portion, which unfortunately takes up much of the space on the back of the phone and protrudes quite a little. The several cameras, together with the larger battery and larger screen, add to the device’s overall weight, which comes in at a wrist-aching 222g.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra only comes in “Cosmic Grey” or “Cosmic Black” in the UK, making it appear somewhat dull in comparison to its colorful siblings. However, Samsung made a wise decision by removing the dedicated Bixby button from the left edge. Although the phone’s Bixby capability is now enabled with a long press of the power button rather, I’m sure I’ve never purposely hit it in the past. Unfortunately, you now have to simultaneously press the power button and the volume down button if you wanted to turn the phone off.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 120 Hz display
It’s time to get into more depth about the first of Samsung’s new features. Samsung has finally upgraded one of its phones to a 120Hz screen, which doubles the typical 60Hz rate and opens the door to ultra-smooth gaming and silky-smooth scrolling. It’s encouraging to see high-refresh-rate screens start to come on more widely used smartphones as they had previously mostly been found on gaming-focused devices like the Asus ROG Phone and Razer Phone. Although I will cover how this impacts battery life later in this review.
Nevertheless, the advantages are evident as soon as you unlock the phone. The phone’s settings menu and user interface are instantly slick and snappy, which is probably certainly made possible by the generous amount of RAM and powerful new processor. Additionally, several third-party applications, like Chrome, Twitter, and Facebook, support the faster refresh rate, so it’s not simply native apps that get the benefit.
Naturally, this does not imply that every app available on the Play Store is compatible with the 120Hz display, and few of the games we tested in fact support frame rates higher than 60fps. Another limitation is that the phone’s original WQHD+ resolution doesn’t support 120Hz, so if you want the greater resolution, you must lower the refresh rate to the industry-standard 60Hz. For me, it’s a simple decision: on a screen this size, smoother is nicer than sharper.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s functionality and battery life
All three of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 smartphones are the first to use the Exynos 990, the company’s most recent high-end mobile processor, as I already explained. With a complex heterogeneous architecture and a 7nm fabrication process, this processor handles daily tasks with the help of four energy-efficient Cortex A55 cores running at 2GHz, two Cortex-A76 cores running at 2.5GHz, and two Mongoose M5 cores running at 2.73GHz.
I warned you that it was challenging. This translates basically to faster processing rates in our testing as Samsung is able to give better levels of sustained performance. As you can see, the Galaxy S20 Ultra offered a 21% boost in multi-core performance over the Exynos 9820-powered Galaxy S10 Plus and Note 10 Plus from the previous year in the Geekbench 4 CPU benchmark.
In actuality, there isn’t a speedier Android phone available right now. Android, I say, because Apple’s A13 Bionic, which drove the iPhone 11 series, still dominates. However, you shouldn’t worry because the S20 Ultra is extremely powerful and can handle whatever you can throw at it.
The new Mali-G77 GPU also demonstrated that it is more than capable of running some of the best-looking games available on the Google Play Store. You won’t have any issues managing your farm in Stardew Valley or participating in tense firefights in Call of Duty Mobile. In order to maintain consistency, the results below were obtained at native resolution (WQHD+) with 120 frames per second turned off:
The positive news about the S20 Ultra’s battery life keeps coming. In our looped playback test, which turns off all data connections and plays a few sequences from Spider-Man 2 at a typical screen brightness of 170cd/m2, it lasted for a total of 22 hours and 12 minutes. When it comes to endurance, turning on 5G will have a significant influence. In my practical testing, I discovered that the 120Hz refresh rate significantly depleted the battery, but I was still able to get more than a full day’s worth of intensive use out of a single charge.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s software
The phone’s performance and battery life are excellent, but the software’s ease of use and general responsiveness are even more so. Samsung’s One UI 2 launcher is present on top of Android 10 on the S20 Ultra. One UI originally appeared on Samsung flagships last year, replacing the overbearing TouchWiz launcher of earlier phones. This latest iteration introduces a number of modest design tweaks that enhance the user experience to varying degrees.
One UI has been upgraded, among other things, to improve notification readability on the lock screen of the phone by changing the text color in accordance to whatever backdrop wallpaper you have chosen. The date/time icons now occupy less space in the top-left corner of the notification drawer, which has also undergone some style changes.
Naturally, the experience is still fairly similar to that of the previous year, and a few of my earlier complaints apply to the S20 Ultra as well. The size of the app icons may be changed in the phone’s settings, but I don’t like how chunky they are by default. Additionally, Samsung still insists on pre-installing its own apps on the phone that cannot be deleted. Additionally, it took a while for some security patches to reach Samsung phones from the previous year, so keep that in mind this time around.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 8K video, Space Zoom, and a 108MP camera
The Galaxy S20 Ultra, the only member of the S20 family with a 108-megapixel (f/1.8) camera, may be a bit of an ugly duckling, but its upgraded camera specifications are unmatched. The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 beat Samsung to the market with a 100MP sensor last year, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of Samsung’s own Isocell Plus sensors on a smartphone. Until recently, a camera with a 100MP sensor cost at least £10,000. The medium format Fujifilm GFX100 is the cheapest 100MP camera that I’m aware of.
Review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Verdict
Phew. With a new Samsung flagship, there is, for once, a lot to discuss, and I’m sure I missed some things. The Galaxy S20 Ultra supports all 5G protocols, including mmWave, so there’s definitely enough for me to talk about its network capabilities, but this review is already bursting at the seams so I’ll add to it later.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is the most stunning Android smartphone that has ever been produced, so I won’t ramble on for much longer and just state that. In addition to being remarkable in how it approaches introducing new features, Samsung has remarkably perfected the entire process.