Galaxy S20 Ultra review: Camera is amazing but battery life and design aren’t

There’s no denying that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is one thing daring. Something particular. It exists to indicate off its digicam options. There’s the 108-megapixel sensor, capturing scenes for detailed crop-ins that invariably make you say “wow!” Then there’s the 100x zoom lens that reveals lettering, faces and architectural particulars you possibly can’t see from afar with the bare eye. And the gorgeous 40-megapixel selfie digicam that will not spare your emotions whenever you flip off magnificence mode.

Like

  • Boundary-pushing cameras
  • Bright, sharp, colourful pictures
  • Strong battery life on default settings

Don’t Like

  • Feels thick and heavy
  • Protruding digicam bump
  • Uneven battery efficiency
  • Overpriced for nonessential options

The most superior (and costly) new flagship undeniably pushes boundaries. Samsung desires you to see these pictures and crave this phone. Facing the iPhone 11 Pro, Pixel 4 and Huawei Mate 30, the world’s largest phone-maker is enjoying to win. Does it succeed? Yes… and in addition no.

On paper, the S20 Ultra is unbeatable. It has that insanely colourful 6.9-inch edge-to-edge show. An monumental 5,000-mAh battery. Plus all of the waterproofing, quick charging and reverse wi-fi charging you’d count on from a top-tier Samsung phone.

But in my real-world assessments, the Ultra does not play just like the all-around famous person I need it to be, particularly for $1,400 (£1,199, AU$1,999). Its pictures is generally very good, however unignorable {hardware} and software program drawbacks dampen my enthusiasm for the machine as a complete.


Angela Lang/CNET

I by no means received over my distaste for its thick, heavy design. And I can not ignore its uneven battery efficiency, particularly when the superfast display screen refresh possibility — which makes scrolling, animations and a few content material liquid-smooth — seems to slash battery reserves.

Despite the S20 Ultra’s digicam prowess, I discover myself reaching for the extra refined Galaxy Note 10 Plus and extra attention-grabbing Galaxy Z Flip foldable phone. For me, the Ultra is just much less enjoyable to make use of.

Here’s one other conundrum. Without having the ability to absolutely take a look at the S20 Ultra side-by-side with the cheaper, smaller Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus, it is arduous to say which one is the “best” total. Samsung despatched journalists the S20 Ultra for assessment first, main with its priciest mannequin. The three phones share core software program and {hardware}, however they’ve totally different digicam specs and battery reserves. 

At the time of scripting this assessment, the S20 and Plus are nonetheless days away from happening sale. I can not but communicate to how efficiency compares, however I can say that the S20 Ultra leaves the door open for the usual Galaxy S20 ($999) or S20 Plus ($1,199) to be the smarter purchase for many.

Comparisons with the opposite S20s and with prime rivals such because the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Google Pixel 4 XL are nonetheless to come back. For now, I’ll depart you with my Galaxy S20 Ultra highs and lows. If you are on the fence about shopping for Samsung’s priciest mannequin, my recommendation is that this: wait. The greatest S20 for you will not be fairly so Ultra.

Learning to like the S20 Ultra’s 108-megapixel digicam setting

First issues first. The Ultra’s 108-megapixel digicam is its most attractive function. It guarantees wildly detailed images with shiny colour you could crop for optimum element. 

You will not take most of your pictures in 108 (let’s name it 108 for the sake of simplicity). This is a pictures setting it’s a must to select, and these photographs take as much as eight occasions the quantity of cupboard space as a default photograph, a minimum of in my expertise. In automated mode, pictures resolve to 12-megapixel pictures.

What? How? Through a long-extant idea referred to as “pixel binning,” each 9 “pixels” turns into a superpixel. The concept is to make pictures brighter and sharper by making every of the 12 “pixels” bigger and subsequently in a position to attract in additional gentle. In idea, extra gentle means higher pictures.

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I shot this utilizing the 108-megapixel setting and cropped in near see the element.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I used to be largely impressed with footage I took in 108, particularly as soon as I realized this mode’s candy spot. Some pictures taken in 108 made pictures unnaturally saturated and flattened shadows and particulars — each when seen on the phone and on the computer.

Mid-distance and far-away pictures produced extra detailed imagery after I cropped in, however I received quite a bit much less element when making an attempt to make use of the setting too shut up. If you need to simulate a macro, getting as shut as you possibly can to the middle of a flower, fascinating knot of wooden or model brand is simply as prone to introduce extra picture noise, not much less, whenever you crop in tight or zoom in on the phone or laptop display screen.

But use it with the mindset of “shoot now, edit later” and it’s possible you’ll end up ecstatic with the outcomes. You can (and may) take a look at some of my favorite sample photos.

Again, I would not advocate utilizing 108 for each photograph, however whenever you do — like after I grabbed that photograph hanging out the automobile window, or when you do not have time to get nearer to the factor you need to shoot — it’s possible you’ll end up pleasantly shocked.

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Main digicam setting, no zoom.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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Main digicam setting, 100x zoom.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

100x zoom grew on me, however it is not important

I really feel the identical manner about Samsung’s 100x “Space Zoom” as I do about 108. A combination of optical and digital zoom, it is a cool device whenever you want it, however I’m unsure I’d yearn for it if it did not exist. Or somewhat, I’d, simply not typically. 

Over the previous few weeks, I’ve described 100x zoom because the pictures device you want when you possibly can’t bodily get near your topic. So you possibly can use it to seize the element of a domed roof tons of of toes above you, or a performer dozens of rows away on the stage. 

In one testing instance, I used zoom to seize the drama of waves spectacularly crashing towards the rocks. In one other, the stoic face of an ocean kayaker battling the uneven sea.

Samsung’s try is spectacular. Image high quality sometimes is not good at such excessive distance, however that is not what the function is for. It’s there to get an image you most likely would not in any other case get. If the topic issues to you, you will be happier to have it than not. My favourite zoom pictures have been sometimes at 4x, and typically 10x or 30x relying on what I used to be making an attempt to indicate.

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A uncommon San Francisco day that was clear sufficient to see the Golden Gate Bridge. 


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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I nearly misplaced the S20 Ultra to the ocean whereas stabilizing the phone towards the pier to get this 100x zoom shot.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I despatched a 100x zoom photograph of birds to an avid birder good friend. She flipped when she noticed it, impressed that I used to be capable of give her sufficient element to establish the species. That’s a win, even when it did take many makes an attempt to maintain the phone nonetheless sufficient to heart on the immobile flock.

That relentless jumpiness is probably the most maddening facet of 100x zoom. To actually get the item positioned in body, you will want a gentle hand, endurance or one thing to brace the phone towards, like a railing or bench. I nearly fumbled the phone into the San Francisco Bay when it slipped from my grasp whereas making an attempt to stabilize it towards a pier. 

Even with a tripod, I needed to dig deep right into a effectively of endurance I scarcely possess to seize a photograph of a flag flapping excessive within the air and several other blocks away.

100x zoom is cool to have if you happen to’ve received it, however it’s arduous to call it essential function.

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The Ultra is the biggest, thickest and heaviest of the Galaxy S20 telephones.


Angela Lang/CNET

The solely place the S20 Ultra digicam falters

Camera high quality is superb total, with sharp element and wealthy colour. Photos have been a pleasure to shoot, and I believe the information that I’d get so many nice footage spurred me to take extra of them than I usually may.

Night mode was additionally nice. I’m thrilled that Samsung added a countdown clock so you understand how lengthy to carry the machine nonetheless when taking a photograph with this setting (three seconds). 

My one criticism is that in redesigning the cameras, the focal lengths seem to have modified in a manner that makes true macro mode unimaginable. I think that is what the emphasis on 108-megapixel pictures and zoom attempt to overcome. I may get fairly shut to things, however after I leaned in sufficient to see these tremendous particulars, macro mode by no means kicked in. 

Instead, I may see photographs blur out of focus the nearer I received. Backing as much as take the shot after which cropping in gave me higher outcomes. This is not essentially dangerous, however it meant I needed to retrain myself to make use of the digicam.

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This was the closest I may get to the flower earlier than the digicam misplaced focus. I’d must both zoom in or shoot in 108 and crop for better element.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Single Take mode is not a slam dunk, however it may be helpful 

Samsung has been speaking up a function referred to as Single Take, which shoots a set menu of as much as 10 pictures and 4 movies when you choose the mode then press and maintain the shutter button. The extra you progress round, the extra different your pictures and movies develop into.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it — this mode is a gimmick. Most of the time, I do not love the pictures it takes utilizing AI algorithms and my digicam roll winds up affected by photographs and movies I do not need or want. Nine occasions out of 10, I’d somewhat compose the pictures myself.

However, there’s one time it does come in useful: whenever you solely have one alternative to seize a second and also you need to get as a lot out of it as you possibly can. But you continue to must assume to pick Single Take, after which bear in mind the way to use it for the very best outcomes.

Examples the place I had success:

  • A avenue performer I occurred to see in a sq..
  • Wild floor squirrels crawling over individuals who ought to undoubtedly not have been feeding them individuals meals.
  • A gifted bartender making and pouring an extravagant cocktail that unfurled smoke into my glass.

I nonetheless wound up deleting a bunch of the Single Take photographs and movies, however there have been sufficient that I may use to get my level throughout. Still, not a cause to purchase the S20 Ultra, Galaxy Z Flip or different S20 phone that has it inbuilt.

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My favourite photograph from many makes an attempt capturing with Single Take mode.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

8K video recording is cool, however does not matter

The S20 telephones all seize movies in 8K decision. These information are large. Samsung says each minute shot will take up 600MB of storage. You even have to face alarmingly distant out of your topic to suit it into body. 

8K video is the longer term, however there are few platforms accessible proper now, like TVs (even Samsung’s) and social media websites, the place you can view the content material. YouTube has technically supported 8K video since 2010

The major profit is about the identical as 108 pictures. It’ll allow you to retain element when cropping right into a video. This will provide you with the identical impact as zooming in. I attempted it on a number of movies I shot. Samsung made enhancing 8K video straightforward on the S20. It’s additionally straightforward to drop the decision down sufficiently small to share on, say, Twitter, which permits movies of as much as 1080p. 

It’s good that edits and backbone modifications create a brand new file that does not overwrite the unique footage. You can tweak to your coronary heart’s content material. 

Here’s extra on the pros and cons on the Galaxy S20 and why it’s important to the future of phones

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Shooting 8K video will take up plenty of storage, quick.


Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung’s 120Hz display screen: Ultrafast battery slayer

In addition to the digicam, the Galaxy S20 telephones have a standout function within the 120Hz display screen. This quantity refers back to the display screen pixels refreshing 120 occasions a second, which doubles the usual velocity of 60 occasions a second, or 60Hz.

Flagship telephones from OnePlus and Google, and gaming telephones from Razer and Asus, all have 90Hz or 120Hz refresh charges as an possibility, particularly one which’s meant to make scrolling and gameplay a lot smoother.

I’m an atrocious gamer, however I may instantly inform the distinction with the 120Hz display screen turned on. Even wiping out at almost each activate Riptide GP2: Renegade, I nonetheless managed to come back in first place towards a bunch of sport bots, on a tougher stage than I’d ever tried (cough, stage 2, cough). 

It felt as if time slowed down. I used to be Neo in The Matrix, dodging bullets by manipulating my environment. I used to be a time bandit, and it felt good.

Unfortunately, conserving 120Hz on full-time additionally drained battery like a thirsty vampire. One day, I went from 100% to 15% in a mere 9 hours, admittedly after heavy use that included three hours of Google Maps navigation. Another day, battery life drained from 100% to 12% in 10.5 hours after use that included tethering to my laptop for an hour and streaming Netflix for 3 hours. But conserving the phone on 60Hz gave me higher than all-day life no matter what I did.

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Unlike the S20 and S20 Plus, the S20 Ultra does not are available vigorous colours (simply black and grey).


Angela Lang/CNET

On 4G, the S20 Ultra is a 5,000-mAh battery beast

With the display screen on its default mode, I received the all-day longevity I anticipated from the S20 Ultra’s large 5,000-mAh battery. For reference, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus has a capability of 4,300 mAh and lasts me from 6 a.m. by 2 a.m., with extra to spare. I do not even get nervous till I’m all the way down to a minimum of 12%. 

By comparability, the S20 has a 4,000-mAh capability and the S20 Plus is available in at 4,500 mAh.

In CNET’s looping video drain take a look at of a 1080p video on 120Hz in airplane mode, the battery lasted 24 hours, which is dramatically totally different than my real-world expertise. This video take a look at is not the very best instance as a result of the video itself does not play again at 120 frames per second, so I think it is not triggering the display screen’s doubled refresh price, which can have an effect on battery life. We have extra lab assessments to come back that may higher simulate real-world efficiency. 

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The Galaxy S20 Ultra can wirelessly cost different equipment, like these Galaxy Buds Plus.


Angela Lang/CNET

Tom’s Guide additionally discovered that the S20 Ultra’s 120Hz took off three hours of battery life from its regular testing protocol, in comparison with working the identical take a look at at 60Hz. With 120Hz engaged, the Ultra’s 5,000-mAh battery lasted simply over 9 hours in a steady 5G drain take a look at. 

I’ve to notice that every one my real-world testing occurred over 4G, although the S20 telephones are all 5G-ready. (Buyers within the UK and Australia must pay additional for 5G variations of the telephones.) AT&T, my regular service, wasn’t achieved with 5G certification on the time of testing, however the community says will probably be by the point the Galaxy S20 telephones hit the market on March 6. 

A SIM card T-Mobile supplied by no means linked to the 5G community the place I used to be in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. We’ll observe up with 5G testing from New York, so we are able to consider if and the way 5G may have an effect on battery life.

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You can actually see the module rise from the floor.


Angela Lang/CNET

S20 Ultra design: Thick and heavy

The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s options are its major draw, however you possibly can’t talk about them with out acknowledging what it is like to really choose up and use the machine. True to its title, the Ultra is massive. And heavy. And, for my palms, unwieldy. 

With a 6.9-inch display screen, a 7.76-ounce (220-gram) heft and thicker sides than the extra lithe Galaxy Note 10 Plus, the S20 Ultra is a pocket-busting, arm-tiring phone. Coming off every week with the Galaxy Z Flip (which has an analogous peak, however a slimmer construct and lighter weight), the Ultra is a cumbersome brick that might do some severe injury if utilized in self protection.

Some of my coworkers preferred the softer rounding on the perimeters, and I can see why. A much less dramatically curved display screen makes the perimeters really feel much less pointy, and retains your finger from sliding off the aspect of the edge-to-edge show. But it additionally makes the phone really feel thicker, and my fingertips have been extra conscious of the perimeters of Samsung’s built-in plastic display screen protector than they have been on the Note 10 Plus. 

I respect that the Ultra by no means slipped off my nightstand and that finger grease is much less obvious. What I did not like was the fixed feeling that the Ultra at all times was on the precipice of toppling out of a pocket and crashing to its doom. I ought to notice, although, {that a} colleague mentioned it match into all his pockets besides the one on his shirt. 

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That large digicam bulge is why you want a case

The thick, heavy construct makes the phone extra of a drop danger, particularly with that protruding digicam bump on the again. It exists as a result of Samsung redesigned the S20 Ultra’s digicam sensors, which makes your complete module bigger. 

I do not fault the corporate for that, however it does imply that if you happen to drop the Ultra with no case, the glass alongside the again is extra prone to break, and damaged glass can downgrade your photograph high quality. I sadly know this firsthand from the time my Note 10 Plus assessment unit misplaced an argument with poured concrete. Wide-angle and portrait pictures have by no means been the identical.

A case will resolve the sensible issues. I’ve tried two that Speck kindly despatched me. They stand up from the floor only a hair over the digicam bump, which makes that module primarily flush with the phone. 

The two circumstances I attempted additionally make the phone really feel bulkier and heavier. If you are shopping for a $1,400 phone, a case is price the price to guard your funding. But it additionally compounded the issue of the Ultra being thick and unwieldy to make use of.

A minor criticism in regards to the colours: I want Samsung had made the S20 Ultra flashier than the Cosmic Gray and Cosmic Black selections. I received the gray mannequin to assessment, which to me appears to be like like putty or modeling clay. Beauty is within the eye of the beholder, however the colour design workforce and I are clearly on totally different wavelengths.

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A case may give the Ultra a shot of colour and in addition stage out the digicam bump so it will be much less prone to break if you happen to drop the phone.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Processor, storage, Android 10 and all the things else

Headliner options such because the digicam and battery outline the Galaxy S20 Ultra, however there’s much more happening beneath the hood. In the US a minimum of, all of the S20 telephones run on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor, which was quick in benchmarking assessments. In some areas, you may get Samsung’s home Exynos chipset.

I loved utilizing Android 10 and Samsung One UI 2, which made the S20 really feel contemporary, together with darkish mode and little finds all through, akin to setting a heat, cool or impartial colour tone for selfies. 

Samsung additionally added enjoyable tidbits: I preferred turning a Spotify track right into a morning clock alarm (and thank goodness for brand new alarm sounds) and dialing Google Duo’s video chat app straight from the phone dialer. These are cool additions, however not why you’d purchase a Galaxy S20 within the first place. 

I additionally needed to attempt Quick Share, which is Samsung’s reply to Apple’s AirDrop. It permits you to simply zip pictures and information from phone to phone. But there is a catch: The machine you are sharing with must be one other Samsung mannequin, and it additionally has to have the Quick Share function, which implies, proper now, you possibly can solely use it with one other Galaxy S20. I have not been capable of take a look at this but, however will be capable of attempt it out when the S20s I’ve ordered arrive.

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Your excellent Galaxy S20 phone may not be the Ultra in any respect.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Who the Galaxy S20 Ultra is for as we speak — and do you have to purchase it?

After I get an opportunity to assessment the Galaxy S20 and S0 Plus, I’ll be capable of offer you some sensible recommendation on which S20 to purchase. That’s tough to evaluate proper now, for the reason that telephones all have barely totally different digicam techniques and battery capacities. 

I want I have been so blown away by the Galaxy S20 Ultra that I may let you know with out hesitation that that is the mannequin you need. After every week of concentrated testing, I’m unsure that is the case. 

Photography fanatics will little doubt have a blast incorporating the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 108-megapixel setting and 100x zoom into their repertoire, however for the general public I discuss to, these additional settings are academically attention-grabbing, however in no way sought-after.

$1,400 is a truckload to spend on a phone. If the lighter, smaller $1,00Zero variant winds up taking footage which are almost nearly as good, the argument for the Ultra will quickly diminish.

Galaxy S20 vs. S20 Plus vs. S20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus 5G Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
Display dimension, decision 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Pixel density 563 ppi 525 ppi 511 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 2.72×5.97×0.311 in 2.9×6.37×0.30 in 2.99×6.57×0.35 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 69.1×151.7×7.9 mm 73.7×161.9×7.eight mm 76.0×166.9×8.eight mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.75 oz; 163g 6.56 oz; 186g 7.76 oz; 220g
Mobile software program Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight digicam 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight digicam
Front-facing digicam 10-megapixel 10-megapixel 40-megapixel
Video seize 8K 8K 8K
Processor 64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2.0GHz) 64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2.0GHz) 64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2.0GHz)
Storage 128GB 128GB, 512GB 128GB, 512GB
RAM 12GB 12GB 12GB, 16GB
Expandable storage Up to 1TB Up to 1TB Up to 1TB
Battery 4,00Zero mAh 4,500 mAh 5,00Zero mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No No
Special options 5G enabled; 120Hz refresh price; water-proof (IP68) 5G enabled; 120Hz refresh price; water-proof (IP68) 5G enabled; 120Hz refresh price; 100X zoom; water-proof (IP68)
Price off-contract (USD) $999 $1,199 $1,399 (128GB), $1,599 (512GB)
Price (GBP) £799, £899 (5G) £999 (5G) £1,199 (128GB), £1,399 (512GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1349 (4G), AU$1,499 (5G), AU$1,499 (4G), AU$1,649 (128GB), AU$1,899 (512GB) AU$1,999 (128GB), AU$2,249 (512GB)



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Professional Web Designer & Developer,Expert in SEO & Digital Market, Founder of Tech Hunt.

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