When a new smartphone is released there is often an atmosphere of excitement that follows its release.
Whether it’s the COVID-19 news or simply the ho-hum nature of smartphone releases, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra didn’t excite us until we took it out of the box two weeks ago.
We already know what’s new but the question now becomes whether those new features, updated camera and updated design, translate into real world use.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra (we’ll be calling it the Ultra) is by far the biggest handset created by Samsung, but we are left wondering if it’s the best.
At 6.9 inches the Ultra might seem took big for most, but Samsung has worked its design magic and the Ultra is actually more comfortable to hold than the S10+.
Part of that is down to the weight feeling as if its more evenly distributed around the handset. While the handset is definitely heavier than the S10+, the Ultra’s package just feels a lot better to handle.
The fingerprint scanner is closer to the middle of the display which makes unlocking the handset much easier and less cumbersome than it is on the S10+. We often find ourselves having to reposition our hand on the S10+ but the Ultra just has a better layout.
We lament the loss of the 3.5mm jack, but we do understand that this is a response to the market so we won’t deduct points for its absence.
Samsung has also removed the dedicated Bixby button (as it did with the Note 10) and there are now only three physical buttons on the device itself.
The unlock button can be programmed to either open the power options or launch Bixby (or an app of your choice) when held down.
It’s a bit confusing at first but tutorials guide you through changing what the physical buttons do and how to change the options.
The only other physical buttons are the volume up and down buttons.
Samsung has also opted for the central hole-punch front facing camera as seen in its A-series and the infinity edge display helps make the Ultra makes for a gawk worthy device.
New silicon means better performance and the Ultra does provide that though it comes at the price of battery life.
The trouble with the Ultra is that everything is available in this iteration of the S20 series.
That includes QWHD+ resolution of 1440 x 3200p, up to 120Hz refresh rate and that massive 6.9 inch AMOLED display.
The Exynos 990 is the silicon in our version of the S20 Ultra (the US gets the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865) and its performance is incredible compared to the last generation.
As you can see from our Geekbench 5 benchmark, The S20 Ultra is a sizeable leap in performance from the previous generation. That’s for both single-core and multi-core workloads though we’re slightly more impressed with the numbers for single-core performance as that’s where folks will feel that added grunt.
While using the handset multi-tasking is a joy and there is little, if anything, that will really slow the handset down.
The 120Hz refresh rate of the display is like butter for your eyes. Just moving through menus is a joy at that refresh rate and it’s really tough going back to a handset that doesn’t boast that silky smooth display.
Where the Ultra really shows off its performance is in games. With so many gamers now opting for the device in their pockets, the Ultra is by far and away the best handset available in South Africa for gaming.
The Ultra does get warm the longer you game for but that’s understandable. We would recommend playing games without charging the Ultra as performance is throttled slightly (though noticeably) while the handset is charging.
With the good out of the way we need to touch on something that concerns us.
When using the Ultra’s camera we noted an alarming amount of heat emanating from the device. While the heat never became uncomfortable it is something we need to point out especially for the creators out there considering the Ultra.
The camera bump on the Ultra is ridiculous. It’s so large that the naked handset doesn’t sit flush with a table surface and instead is propped up.
Inside that bump are four cameras. There is a 108MP sensor, a 48MP sensor, a 12MP sensor and finally a 0.3MP Time of Flight (ToF) camera.
The Ultra also features Samsung’s 100X Zoom feature called Space Zoom.
The zoom is digital which means the quality is absolutely appalling and trying to snap an image free-hand is next to impossible. This feature really demands you have a tripod and optimal lighting conditions. It’s cool but also very much a gimmick in a handset primed for the mass market.
How do the camera’s fare without the zoom? To be frank, they do fine.
While the images are not as impressive as those captured on Huawei’s handset to say they are bad would be a misnomer.
There are instances where over exposure hurts photos slightly (such as the image of the arum lily below) but for the most part your snaps will look great.
The single camera up front is good for selfies thanks to a 40MP sensor and you can record 4K video at 60fps using the front camera.
The 108MP is the real star here. Images are crisp and feature a level of detail we aren’t accustomed to seeing from a smartphone.
A gallery of snaps taken at various stages of the day can be viewed below.
The best for last? Not quite.
Despite its 5 000mAh battery, the tech inside the Ultra is power hungry and over the two week review period we noted an average battery life of 13 hours.
To provide perspective, that’s the battery life we’re getting from the Galaxy S10+ which is already a year old and only houses a 4 100mAh battery.
Over time we suspect this battery life will worsen which isn’t exactly great news. As we don’t have a device for an extended review it’s tough to gauge just how long you can expect 13 hours of battery life for, but in our experience, Samsung’s battery performance drops off of a cliff after six months of use.
With that having been said, the amount of tech contained in the Ultra makes it understandable as to why battery performance is less than spectacular.
So this is where we tell you whether the Ultra is worthy of an upgrade.
For those still using a Galaxy S10 series smartphone our answer is no.
While the improvements are not to be scoffed at, they aren’t so vital they warrant a handset swap immediately. In fact we’d go so far as to advise waiting for the next S-series of handsets for even better upgrades and features.
For those using an older generation Samsung (or other brands for that matter) that is now at least three to four years old, then perhaps the more affordable Galaxy S20 or S20+ will serve you better.
The Ultra is a fantastic handset, but we struggle to justify somebody needing this handset as the features aren’t things regular users would call upon.
With all of that having been said, the S20 Ultra is great for creators who need a powerful camera and image processing device in their pocket.
That is by no means a call to ditch your DSLR or mirrorless camera, but rather to use the Ultra as a tool to be used in tandem with others.
For everybody else, however, the Ultra is overkill and unless you’re a power user/prosumer that needs the cream of the crop it’s probably best to opt for one of Samsung’s other, new S20 devices.
Disclaimer: Samsung Mobile South Africa provided Hypertext with a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review unit for a period of two weeks. The review unit has been returned to Samsung Mobile South Africa.