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The 5 best things about the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
The Galaxy S20 series has been far more controversial than the S10 lineup it succeeds, thanks to a stratospheric price tag and camera system that doesn’t quite hit the mark. You can find our review of the S20 Ultra here, but today I’m going to outline my five favorite aspects of this expensive, premium phone. I’ve had mine for over a month now, and it’s been my daily driver since it arrived. As such, I’ve been able to experience everything the S20 Ultra has to offer, and what it’s like to live with over a longer period.
A beautiful display
Samsung has made the best displays in the industry for years now, so placing the S20’s screen at the top of the list shouldn’t surprise anyone. Like their predecessors, each S20 model has a big, bright, and beautiful screen. As I mentioned in an editorial discussing why I switched to Samsung phones, the display is (literally) a huge part of the experience. It’s more than bright enough for outdoor use, and the 1440p resolution makes it sharper than you could possibly need, although this year there are trade-offs to make in that respect. Samsung added a super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate to the S20, and it looks phenomenal. Sadly, it’s limited to 1080p, so you’re forced to choose between resolution or smoothness. While this is a shame, it’s not enough to bump the screen out of the best category. 1080p looks fine and is a small sacrifice to make for an experience this smooth.
Beyond resolution and refresh rates, Samsung has upped the touch polling to 240Hz. The latency between your finger touching the glass and the phone responding is almost non-existent, making everything feel super fast. Some argue that having a 120Hz refresh rate is pointless on a phone, and there isn’t a right or wrong opinion on that. But reducing latency is unequivocally worth it — other phones feel sluggish in comparison.
Excellent Battery life
The S20 Ultra has a 5,000mAh battery, and that’s reflected by the battery life you’ll squeeze out of it. At 120Hz, with all power-saving features switched off, I’m easily getting 6-7 hours of screen time a day. Standby time is good too, with my phone making it to 1am with at least 20% left in the tank. Compared to my old Galaxy S10, that doesn’t sound great, considering that it gave me almost identical stats from a smaller battery and less efficient processor. But the S10 lacked a high refresh panel. The S10 offered extraordinary battery life that I was always pleased with, so getting the same numbers out of the S20 Ultra is fine by me. Besides, if you need to squeeze more out of it, knocking the display down to 60Hz should keep it going as long as you need it to.
Samsung software is good now
Samsung’s software used to be a painful experience, but since it released One UI, things have changed completely. With One UI 2.0, it’s fast, fluid, and feature-packed — the software experience found on the Galaxy S20 has everything you could ever want and is the only flavor of Android I want to use. There are far too many things to cover, so I’ll just FOCUS on my favorites.
Phones are getting bigger every year, and using them with one hand is no mean feat. Thankfully Samsung includes one-handed mode, which is activated by swiping down on the home button/gesture bar. Everything is pulled down within reach of your thumb, and it’s a feature that has become invaluable on my S20 Ultra.
Good Lock is a collection of apps and modules that allow you to customize many aspects of your Galaxy experience, from the lockscreen to the sound panel. Being able to choose which icons appear in your status bar, customize your navbar, or create a custom theme for One UI are just a few of the extensive options available to you. For an in-depth look at everything it has to offer, there’s a handy walkthrough here. In short, almost everything in One UI is tweakable through Good Lock, making it easy to tailor the experience to your needs.
Since it includes the latest Snapdragon 865 SoC (in certain markets) and at least 12GB of RAM, the S20 Ultra is no slouch. Even my Exynos model is more than powerful enough to speed through anything I throw at it, from graphics-heavy games to social media and web browsing. One UI isn’t the bogged-down mess that TouchWiz was, and doesn’t slow things down one bit. 12GB of RAM sounds like overkill, and honestly, it is. The 8GB found in the older S10 already held more apps then you could need in memory, but there’s no such thing as too much RAM. Even if you can’t make use of it all now, it means the phone is future-proofed, which is no bad thing.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review: the superphone that’s a little too massive
Samsung’s new Galaxy S20 Ultra superphone is packed to the brim with chart-topping features, including 100x zooming, 108MP cameras, a ginormous screen and 5G.
The £1,199 S20 Ultra leads an important new lineup of 5G-as-standard smartphones from Samsung, which looks to make the technology a normal part of mobile life rather than an expensive add-on for early adopters.
But in 2020 5G alone isn’t enough to stand out, so the S20 Ultra has a smorgasbord of stats and features that, on paper at least, make it unbeatable.
First is the sheer size of the thing. It has a 6.9in QHD display, which is practically the size of a tablet. It is 222g in weight and 76mm wide, which is right at the limit of what I can handle. The 166.9mm length makes it difficult to without injuring yourself or the phone when you sit down.
The glass is slippery when cold or put on the sofa, but the phone is so big I can’t see many using it without some sort of case or a handle.
The screen’s 120Hz refresh rate is twice the standard 60Hz, and faster still than last year’s OnePlus 7 Pro and Pixel 4. Animations and scrolling through lists, sites and other content is so much smoother at 120Hz that it’s difficult to go back to 60Hz, even if that limits the resolution to FHD.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review: 2 weeks later
Flip the phone over and you’ll find the super-sized lump containing four cameras and a flash in the top left corner. It’s big, sticks out miles and you can feel it with your fingers when you use the phone.
Great performance and good battery life
The S20 Ultra is the first smartphone to ship in Europe with Samsung’s latest Exynos 990 processor. In the US it has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 instead. Both variants come with 12 or 16GB of RAM, which is more than most laptops.
Performance all round was brilliant. Snappy, responsive and smooth, even with graphically intensive games. Like everything else, the battery is supersized in the S20 Ultra, with a capacity of 5,000mAh, which is about 1,000mAh bigger than the one in the iPhone 11 Pro Max or OnePlus 7T Pro, and bigger than the 4,500mAh battery in the S10 5G.
Battery life ranges from an excellent 42 hours on 4G with the screen set to FHD at 60Hz, to 40 hours with that upped to 120Hz, and a solid 38 hours on Vodafone’s 5G with 120Hz active. The S20 Ultra will get through even the heaviest of days without needing a charge.
Fully charging the S20 Ultra took 70 minutes with the included power adapter, but closer to two hours with other 30-45W USB-C chargers. Fast 15W wireless charging and 7W wireless power-sharing is also available – great for charging your Galaxy Buds or other Qi-compatible phones from the back of the S20 Ultra.
Samsung does not rate the battery in the S20 Ultra for a set number of charge cycles (which is typically 500) but does provide a one-year warranty. Despite being rated as difficult to repair, Samsung says the device is generally repairable and that the battery is replaceable, by authorised service centres at costs likely to be in excess of £200.
Samsung offers trade-in and recycling schemes for old devices. It did not comment on the use of recycled materials in its smartphones.
One UI 2.1
The Galaxy S20 Ultra runs the same version of Samsung-customised Android 10, called One UI 2, as the Galaxy Z Flip.
One UI has become one of the best implementations of Android, particularly for big-screen smartphones, because it treats the top of the screen as an information display section and the bottom – the bit you can actually reach with your thumb – as a place for all interactions.
You have to use Samsung’s apps to really take advantage of it, but broadly it works very well. You can also do split-screen multitasking, have apps float over other apps (not just video), duplicate messaging apps such as WhatsApp so you can have two accounts on one phone, quickly manage two sims from the notification shade, and a plethora of other features.
One UI 2 defaults to the traditional three-button Android navigation bar, but Android 10’s new gesture navigation system makes using the super-sized screen easier.
Samsung guarantees only two major Android versions from release. It provides monthly security updates for its devices but does not commit to a particularly length of support, instead listing the current support status of handsets on its security site. Other models such as the Galaxy S7 Edge from 2016 are currently receiving only quarterly security updates.
Apple supports its iPhones for approximately five years, including security and full iOS version updates. Google offers about three years of security and version updates for its Pixel line, while OnePlus offers two years of software plus another year of security updates.
Samsung has recently made great strides, but you will still likely have to wait in the region of three months for major version Android updates to appear after Google releases them. £1,199 is also a lot of money to pay for a phone that is only guaranteed updates for two years.
The massive lump on the back of the phone contains Samsung’s new quad-camera system: a large 108MP wide angle, 12MP ultra-wide angle, 48MP telephoto with periscopic 4x optical zoom and a depth sensor. There’s a 40MP front-facing camera poking through a small hole in the screen too.
Samsung’s camera system has taken a big leap forward over the last year, after lagging behind competitors from Apple, Google and Huawei. The quartet of cameras allows you to smoothly zoom from ultrawide angle (0.5x), through the wide angle (1x) and out to 4x optical zoom, then on to 10x hybrid zoom. From there you’re into what Samsung calls “Space Zoom”, which is essentially a digital zoom on top, taking you all the way to 100x magnification.
The 12MP ultrawide camera produces some really good shots in most lighting conditions, excellent for creating a fisheye effect close up or for capturing more of a cityscape in one shot.
The main 108MP camera shoots 12MP photos by default, combining nine pixels on the sensor into one pixel of final image, in a process known as pixel binning. The resulting photos are great, striking an excellent balance of detail and low noise, although occasionally a little over-sharpened on full crop, even in the kind of middling light of British homes where previous Samsung cameras struggled. Samsung’s dedicated night mode is good but not quite on the same level as Night Sight on the Pixel 4, taking considerably longer to take the same shots.
The live FOCUS portrait mode is improved too, but given that the wide-angle camera takes images with plenty of natural bokeh, I found I didn’t need to use the artificial mode. The camera app has the usual array of beautifying and smoothing features, if that’s your jam.
The camera can also shoot full 108MP shots, but I found that most of the time the 12MP mode produced better images. It’s nice to have the creative option, though, as you can crop right into a 108MP image for a closeup without using a zoom.
The zoom is the star of the show though, rivalling the previous zoom king, the Huawei P30 Pro, which uses a similar periscope lens system for a 5x optical zoom. Shots at 4x optical zoom are best, but push it to 10x and, while not quite lossless, the images are very good indeed, blowing everything but the P30 Pro out of the water.
Zooming to 30x, images are still very good, while Samsung’s 50x zoom beats Huawei’s equivalent from a year ago. The 100x headline figure isn’t really worth using except as a surrogate pair of binoculars, as images are full of artefacts. It’s also worth noting it is very difficult to hold steady at 100x, despite Samsung’s excellent picture-in-picture aiming box that pops up to help hit the target over 20x magnification.
The S20 Ultra also captures very good video, arguably the best on Android. It will shoot up to 8K video, consuming upwards of 10MB a second in the process, but stabilisation and effects are limited to 1080p.
The 40MP selfie camera shoots 10MP images by default, again using pixel binning, and produces some of the very best, most detailed shots I’ve seen on any selfie camera.
Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner
The S20 Ultra has the same ultrasonic fingerprint scanner embedded underneath the screen as the S10 and Note 10 series of smartphones, but it performed slightly better in my testing.
Land your clean, dry finger on the correct spot on the screen and the phone unlocks pretty fast. It also worked better once I removed the included screen protector and re-registered my fingerprints. But it’s neither as fast nor as forgiving as the best in-display fingerprint sensors used by OnePlus in the 7T Pro, nor Face ID on the iPhone 11 or Face Unlock on the Pixel 4.
- There’s a set of Samsung’s excellent AKG earbuds in the box, this time with a USB-C cable as there is no headphone socket.
- Samsung has significantly improved the haptic feedback vibrations, bringing them up to a level with Google’s, but not quite as good as Apple’s.
- The notification vibrations sounds particularly violent when the phone is flat on a desk due to it resting on the large camera lump.
- For some reason the phone insisted on opening the SIM manager in the settings menu each time the phone rebooted.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is available in black or grey, costing £1,199 with 128GB or £1,399 with 512GB of storage, shipping on 13 March.
For comparison, the Galaxy S20 costs £799, the Galaxy S20 costs £999, the Galaxy Note 10 costs £999 and the Galaxy Z Flip costs £1,300; the Google Pixel 4XL costs £829, the OnePlus 7T Pro costs £669 and the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max costs £1,149.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is Samsung’s superphone to conquer all superphones. Everything pushed to excess.
That excess is great when it means a massive battery, future-proofed 5G and a camera that’s leagues ahead of where Samsung was a year ago. The combination of great main, ultra-wide and 4x optical cameras, with a 10x hybrid zoom, is so flexible and fun to use. Even at zooms of 30x you get pretty good pictures, and 100x zoom can substitute for binoculars in a pinch.
But all that excess also makes the phone far too big: I can barely fit it in my and I wouldn’t be comfortable using it as my own phone without some sort of ring or Popsocket on the back.
It’s also incredibly expensive: £1,200 is a lot of money for a phone, particularly one only guaranteed to receive two years of updates from release, but then you can easily spend that on an iPhone. And despite all the features and finesse, the massive black slab looks positively boring next to the Galaxy Z Flip.
There’s no doubt that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is one of Samsung’s best phones to date. I just wish all that camera was squeezed into something considerably smaller and cheaper.
Pros: 120Hz screen, 5G, great and flexible camera, long battery life, microSD card slot, dual SIM, One UI, wireless charging and powershare, fast performance
Cons: absolutely massive, very expensive, no headphone socket, ultrasonic fingerprint sensor not as good as competitors
Galaxy S20 Ultra. One Month Later
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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: What’s the difference?
Samsung has now established the Ultra as its flagship phone, the top device in the Galaxy S family. Having launched this originally with the S20 Ultra in 2020, it followed up with the S21 Ultra in 2021.
So how does the S21 Ultra compare to the older S20 Ultra?
There’s very little difference in size between these two phones, although the newer model is a little smaller. mostly down to the smaller display. There’s a big change in the camera design, however, and this is very much the signature feature of the S21 family. The frame of the phone now extends to encapsulate the camera, so rather than being an island on the back of the phone, it’s now connected.
That serves to highlight the camera even further.
Elsewhere, the design is much the same. There are curves to the edges of the display, stereo AKG speakers and no 3.5mm headphone socket. Both phones offer IP68 protection.
The S21 Ultra and the S20 Ultra displays are close in spec, but the newer model is 6.8-inches, a little more compact. not that you’ll notice.
While both offer Quad HD resolutions. 3200 x 1440 pixels. the big change for the S21 Ultra is adaptive motion smoothness. This allows the S21 Ultra to use anything from 11-120Hz, meaning it can have the ideal refresh rate for a full range of content. This refresh rate is available at all resolutions. The S20 Ultra would only allow 120Hz at Full HD resolution and 60Hz at Quad HD, so there’s a definite improvement there.
That’s going to please those who want the best of both worlds, but the big advantage of the adaptive setting is that it will adjust the refresh rate to suit the content and save you battery life in the process.
There’s another trick that the S21 Ultra offers. and that’s support for the S Pen thanks to the Wacom digitiser that’s included. While the phone won’t physically accommodate the stylus like the Note does, it will support S Pen input, making it a lot more versatile.
When it comes to the display, the S21 Ultra is just going to be better.
Hardware and specs
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra obviously updated the hardware over the older phone. While some will get the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. others will get the Exynos 2100, depending on the region where you buy the phone. The Exynos 2100 is a lot closer to the Snapdragon 888 than previous Exynos hardware has been. This results in performance is more on par with Qualcomm. and Samsung is certainly talking about it as a return to form.
This hardware is a generational change from that in the S20 Ultra, which was Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865. There are performance increases and more power with greater efficiency from the new 5nm hardware.
The RAM and storage options are the same and the battery will stay at 5000mAh. although there’s no microSD on the S21 Ultra.
There’s a minor change with connectivity, with support for Wi-Fi 6E as well as UWB. ultra wide-Band. on the S21 Ultra. That will allow some options that the S20 Ultra can’t offer, like digital car keys.
Essentially, the big hardware change is that core system on chip, which will make the S21 Ultra just that little bit more powerful than the older device.
- Main: 108MP, 0.8µm, f/1.8, laser autofocus, OIS
- Ultra-wide: 12MP, 1.4µm, f/2.2
- Telephoto #1: 10MP, 1.22 µm, f/4.9 (10x)
- Telephoto #2: 10MP, 1.22 µm, f/2.4 (3x)
- Selfie: 40MP, f/2.2
- Main: 108MP, 0.8µm, f/1.8, OIS
- Ultra-wide: 12MP, 1.4µm, f/2.2
- Telephoto: 48MP, 0.8µm, f/3.5, OIS; 10X Hybrid Optic Zoom
- Selfie: 40MP
The Ultra model from Samsung is all about the camera and there’s huge range of spec to plow through here. So let’s clear out the easy stuff. there’s a single 40-megapixel front camera that’s the same. and it looks like the ultra-wide is the same too, so they are basically the same.
There are changes to the main 108-megapixel camera, with a new generation of sensor designed to bring performance improvements, such as better colour and increased dynamic range. But the addition of laser autofocus. as seen in the Note 20 Ultra. aims to address the FOCUS pain points of the S20 Ultra, offering a better experience overall in the new phone.
There’s also a shift in the arrangement of telephoto lenses, with the S21 Ultra offering two telephoto cameras rather than one on the S20 Ultra. The aim here is to improve zoom performance, with a 3x optical, and 10x optical offering. Big zoom was one of the features of the S20 Ultra and the S21 Ultra ups the ante for better long-range shooting, by giving dedicated lenses for mid- and long-range shooting.
Of course, some of the big improvements will come from computational photography, but with software updates, many of the camera features across these devices are the same.
A shift in design gives the S21 Ultra a refresh in a device that is much the same size and build as the previous version. There are clear improvements targeted on the camera and they’re very welcome, because the S20 Ultra was just a little oversold in its capabilities. It’s zoom over 10x where the biggest difference is felt.
New internals bring a performance boost with a new generation of hardware, while the display changes will make for a more versatile device thanks to S Pen support. and will please those wanting faster refresh rates.
But the experience of using these phones is similar. Yes, the new phone is more attractive, but the biggest real change to the experience comes from S Pen support.
The best part is that the S21 Ultra is launching at slightly cheaper than the older models. but with the S20 Ultra getting discounts, it could well be that bigger savings are available on the 2020 flagship.
Should you buy the Galaxy S20 Ultra in 2021?
As the first Samsung device to introduce the ‘Ultra’ moniker, the Galaxy S20 Ultra marked a turning point for high-end flagship smartphones. But is the phone worth picking up over a year after its release? Let’s take a look.
It’s no secret that the Galaxy S20 Ultra stumbled out the gate when it first came to market. The eye-watering starting price of £1199 was difficult to stomach, and to make matters worse, the camera suffered from an autofocus problem that hampered the whole experience, despite the phone’s impressive specs on paper.
In the time since that debacle however, Samsung issued several patches to fix the autofocus issue and the once bank-busting price tag is now nowhere to be seen. In fact, it’s now fairly common to see the S20 Ultra available for under the £500 mark. I’ve been using the Galaxy S20 Ultra for a week now to see how it holds up in 2021, and here are my findings.
The screen remains great
The massive 6.9-inch OLED display of the Galaxy S20 Ultra was always one of its strong suits, and that hasn’t changed at all. Just as trips into the office are becoming a regular occurrence again, I’ve been using the S20 Ultra to catch up on some Netflix shows during the daily commute. Having that larger display to show wide-screen content with minimal compromise feels like a huge step up from other phones.
The viewing experience is helped by a whopping 1400 nits of peak brightness, which really does make it feel like I’m carrying a mini TV in my – and in more ways than one. Be aware that with that 6.9-inch display, the S20 Ultra is not for the small-handed or any small s for that matter. This is a hefty phone that requires two hands at all times for comfortable use.
Speedy enough for everyday use
It’s almost a given that all major flagships these days come with a Snapdragon 888 chipset included, but as the phone was released several months before the 888 ever made it to market, the Galaxy S20 Ultra packs an older processor.
In the US, the S20 Ultra shipped with the Snapdragon 865 processor, while folks in the UK received the Exynos 990. Having moved from a Snapdragon 888-powered Galaxy S21 for the purpose of this test, I did notice a slight decrease in overall speeds. However, this is an issue that won’t be felt by anyone who’s upgrading from an older device, like the Samsung Galaxy 8 or Samsung Galaxy 9.
In everyday use, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is still speedy enough that it doesn’t yet feel like an outdated phone. This is helped by the massive 12-16GB RAM that’s available (depending on which version you buy).
The camera can compete
Even against new contenders like the iPhone 13 Pro, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has stood its ground with some of the best smartphone cameras available right now – but what of the S20 Ultra? As previously mentioned, the once irritating autofocus issue now nowhere to seen, letting you enjoy the camera app without fuss.
Samsung’s signature saturated look makes a return here, but the style is elevated on the S20 Ultra. Outdoor shots with plenty of light just look phenomenal, and I found myself impressed by how the S20 Ultra could inject a serious amount of colour into an otherwise ordinary scene without feeling garish.
Portrait shots also have a good degree of competency to them, even if the bokeh effect isn’t quite as refined as it is on iPhone. There’s even a 40MP front-facing camera that imbues any selfies with a surprising amount of detail. Very rarely did I feel penalised for using the front-sensor.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for night-time photography, where the phone stumbles a bit. In outdoor scenes, particularly where there are still light sources available, the S20 Ultra can produce some fantastic shots – this snap from the River Thames is impressive, again for the amount of colour it’s managed to source from the scene. It’s during indoor scenes with low light that the S20 Ultra really struggles, coming away with blurry and uninspiring shots.
The 100x zoom is also just as daft as it first was upon release. Pictures taken from this perspective are so grainy that it usually just turns into a guessing game over what’s actually in the shot. You do get the ability to shoot footage in 8K, although this will really only appeal to people who already have an 8K TV in their possession.
Two days of battery life can be achieved
Living up to its ‘Ultra’ moniker, the S20 Ultra packs a massive 5000mAh battery. Even though that battery has to power all of the high-end specs of the S20 Ultra, it can still give you plenty of longevity – particularly if you find a new or unused model.
In some instances, I’ve been able to use the Galaxy S20 Ultra for almost two days before needing to find a charging outlet, meaning that at no point during the first of those two days was I ever worried that the battery might not hold out.
While many Samsung fans might have baulked at the idea of buying the once ludicrously expensive Galaxy S20 Ultra at launch, the high-end phone is now a far more tempting purchase in 2021.
Featuring one of the nicest screens I’ve ever used for watching content on the go, a fantastic camera array for daytime shots and massive two-day battery life, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is one of the best phones you can buy around the £500 mark.