Hands-On, Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Hands-On: Ultra Impressive, Ultra Expensive

The Samsung Galaxy S20 series is finally official, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra sits at the top of the range. Sporting a huge 6.9-inch display, a generous 5,000mAh battery, and a powerful quad camera system capable of doing up to 100x zoom, it’s a very feature-packed flagship smartphone.

I managed to spend some time with the S20 Ultra, and it really does live up to its Ultra moniker. It is easily Samsung’s most impressive mainstream smartphone to date, but that also entails an equally premium price tag. Retailing at RM4,999, the S20 Ultra is Samsung’s most expensive Galaxy S series smartphone yet.

So what do you get for that kind of money? Let’s find out.

Without a doubt one of the most highlighted features of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is its camera performance, so let’s start with that. This phone’s quad camera system is made up of a 108MP f/1.8 primary shooter, a 48MP f/3.5 telephoto sensor, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle lens, and a DepthVision (ToF) shooter.

Collectively, this quad camera system can do 10x “Hybrid Optic Zoom,” and up to 100x digital zoom. While this sounds impressive on paper, it’s less so in actual usage. Yes, it’s capable of 100x zoom as advertised – and I really appreciate the viewfinder at the side when I’m doing more than 30x zoom – but the results are not exactly picture perfect.

Granted, I only had limited time with the S20 Ultra, but pictures I shot at 100x zoom were usually blurry, washed out, and lacking any real detail. Is it impressive? Of course. Is it groundbreaking? Well…I’ll need to spend more time photographing with the phone first before I can answer that.

How about the 108MP main camera? Very promising, actually. It’s capable of capturing images at 108MP, but by default, it shoots at 12MP using what Samsung dubs “nona binning” – it’s a 9-in-1 pixel binning method. Thanks to this, the low light performance of the camera should be greatly improved.

Again, I’ve only spent a very brief time with the S20 Ultra, so it still remains to be seen just how good the phone’s quad camera system really is. But for what it’s worth, it does feel like a very capable shooter with a responsive camera interface. Plus, mobile photography has always been Samsung’s strong suit – I reckon this will remain true for the S20 Ultra.

Not surprisingly, Samsung also added a number of new camera features with the S20 Ultra, and one of the more interesting ones is Single Take. Basically, it’s a burst mode of sorts. All I have to do is press on the shutter button in Single Take mode to start recording whatever I want to capture, and the AI would do its thing.

Once you’ve hit the 10-second mark (or whenever you decide to end the recording before that), Single Take will generate a number of images in various formats. These can either be videos, images with filters added, or even shots focusing on a single subject matter. Single Take does seem like a fun feature to experiment with, but I’m not entirely convinced it’d be something I’d use on a regular basis.

Okay, so that’s the camera system of the Galaxy S20 Ultra; what about other aspects of the phone? Design wise, I quite dig the aesthetics of the S20 Ultra…when I’m looking at the front of the phone. The hole-punch cutout for the 40MP f/2.2 selfie camera on the Infinity-O Display is smaller than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+‘s cutout, the bottom “chin” bezel is reasonably small, and the display no longer curves on either sides, making it a more ergonomically-friendly device.

But turn the S20 Ultra around, and you’ll be greeted by the absolutely huge camera module. Not only does it take up a big chunk of space, it protrudes from the back panel quite a bit too. If you think camera bumps on older smartphones were bad, you should see this one right here.

Anyway, let’s move on to something more positive: the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 6.9-inch 3200 x 1440 Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen. As is always the case with Samsung-made displays, it’s an incredibly good screen with searing brightness, punchy colours, deep blacks, and well-tuned white balance. On top of that, the screen’s refresh rate can now be changed to 120Hz, and it absolutely transforms the usage experience.

Once the 120Hz refresh rate is enabled, every single motion on the S20 Ultra’s display looks extra smooth. Whether I’m just swiping around the home screens or scrolling through the settings page, it’s a very, very noticeable change. Really, once you’re accustomed to 120Hz screens, you wouldn’t want to go to back to 60Hz.

That being said, there is one caveat: the 120Hz refresh rate cannot be enabled if the display’s resolution is set to WQHD+. It’s only available if the resolution is lower, which is either Full HD+ or simply HD+.

Personally, this isn’t a huge issue for me. Even with my own personal Galaxy S10+, I always set the resolution to Full HD+ for the best balance between power efficiency and visual fidelity. Don’t get me wrong, it would’ve been great if the 120Hz refresh rate can be enabled in WQHD+, but it’s certainly something I can live without.

Next is performance. For our market, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is powered by a Samsung Exynos 990 chipset; no Snapdragon 865 variant here. I didn’t manage to really put this SoC through its paces, but the phone itself does feel very zippy and responsive. It’s also a 7nm chip, so it should be power-efficient too.

That power efficiency will be further bolstered by the S20 Ultra’s generous 5,000mAh battery. Chances are, this phone should be able to return above average battery life, even with the power-hungry 120Hz screen.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is an impressive flagship smartphone. It shows just what Samsung can achieve in the mobile space, and the company is finally innovating in one area it was sorely lacking in its previous smartphones. Is there anything about the S20 Ultra that can be faulted?

As a matter of fact, there is one thing: pricing. For the Malaysian market, the S20 Ultra costs a whopping RM4,999. Sure, this is a 5G-enabled smartphone, but for that kind of money, you are only getting 128GB of internal storage (expandable, thankfully) and 12GB of RAM.

So the question is: can the Galaxy S20 Ultra justify this kind of price tag? Well, only a full review of the flagship smartphone can shed some light on this. But if you’re already keen to get it anyway, you can place your pre-order right now until 26 February on Samsung’s official site. Available in Cosmic Grey and Cosmic Black, every pre-order of the S20 Ultra also comes with a complimentary Galaxy Buds+ wireless earbuds worth RM599.