Tech review: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra an upgrade in every way

The S20 Ultra feels great in the hand despite its massive 6.9-inch display. It feels pretty thin but a tad heavy at 220g.
The S20 Ultra feels great in the hand despite its massive 6.9-inch display. It feels pretty thin but a tad heavy at 220g.PHOTO: SAMSUNG

Samsung has decided to jump the numbering of its flagship Galaxy S series smartphones from S10 to S20 for the start of the new decade.

The new Galaxy S20 series comes in three models - the 6.2-inch S20, 6.7-inch S20+ and 6.9-inch S20 Ultra.

The S20 ($1,298) is available in grey, blue and pink, while the S20+ ($1,498) comes in grey, black and blue. The top-end S20 Ultra ($1,898) is available in grey and black. They will start selling next Friday (Mar 6).

All the models use the Samsung Exynos 990 processor with 128GB of built-in storage. But they support up to a 1TB of extra storage via a microSD card.

The S20 Ultra will be only available here in its 5G variant and has a 12GB of RAM, while the two other models come only in their 4G variants and have 8GB of RAM.

Design wise, all the models look practically the same apart from the differences in display size, weight and the rear camera system.

We reviewed the grey S20 Ultra. The package includes a pair of AKG USB-C wired in-ear headphones, a USB-C-to-USB-C cable, a 25W USB-C charger and a clear cover.

DESIGN & DISPLAY

The S20 Ultra feels great in the hand despite its massive 6.9-inch display. It feels pretty thin but a tad heavy at 220g (which is still lighter than the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max).

The only buttons - for volume control and power - are on the right side of the smartphone.

This is better than the all-left button placement of Samsung's previous flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note10+, which feels rather counter-intuitive to use.

Some might complain about the big camera "bulge" at the rear, but I guess you can't defy the laws of physics when you have a quad-camera camera module.

Its Amoled display houses a "hole-punch" 40-megapixel (MP) front-facing camera centrally located at the top. It feels like having a full slab of display in your hand.

The display does not have the curved sides of the S10 and S10+. This prevents accidental touches made by the base of your thumb from being registered when holding the phone.

The display has a refresh rate of 120Hz for smoother scrolling and to prevent screen tearing when playing games.

By default, the display's refresh rate is set at 60Hz to save battery life, but you can easily change it to 120Hz in the settings.

The display has a 120Hz touch sampling rate, or screen sensitivity to touch, during normal use. This is regardless of whether the display refresh rate has been set to 60Hz or 120Hz. When playing games, the touch sample rate automatically increases to 240Hz.

Whether it is gaming or other content, the display looks absolutely gorgeous and smooth. The viewing angles are wide with vivid colours and sharp details.

I found the on-display fingerprint sensor to work much better than that of the S10+, which I reviewed last year. It takes at most two touches on the sensor for it to recognise my fingerprint - something I did not experience with the S10+.

CAMERA

The S20 Ultra has a mouth-watering rear quad-camera system consisting of a 108MP wide-angle camera, a 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera, a 48MP telephoto camera and a DepthVision camera to gauge the distances between camera and subjects.

The highlight has to be the 108MP high-resolution mode, which needs to be activated. By default, the camera will use pixel-binning technology, which combines nine pixels into one, to produce 12MP photos.

Comparing shots of a same scene in the high-resolution and normal modes, the 108MP picture looks visibly sharper with much greater details. It has the best image quality from a smartphone I have seen.

This mode allows you to crop high-resolution pictures while retaining much of its details. However, the high-resolution mode is only available at the wide-angle focal length.

The telephoto camera is said to have a 10x hybrid optical zoom that offers great versatility for shooting at different focal lengths.

 
 
 

However, the optical zoom stops at 4x. Beyond that, the camera uses digital zoom with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. Shots taken at the furthest end of the 10x hybrid optical zoom look oversharpened and over-processed. But they are still usable for social media.

Within the 4x optical zoom range though, pictures are crisp and detailed. This zoom level is the extent that I will go. I found the still images shot between the ultra-wide-angle and 4x optical zoom to have great dynamic range and punchy colours, with autofocusing (AF) fast and accurate as well.

If you have been watching Samsung advertisements, you might have heard the catchy slogan "100x Space Zoom", which just means extreme digital zoom. Yes, the S20 Ultra can go up to 100x with digital zoom. But using very high zoom levels mean things would get very shaky and the AF would be slow, though this can be useful if you use it like a pair binoculars to make out the things you can't see from far.

The Night mode is able to produce great night shots with accurate colours and minimal noise artefacts. Only downer is that the highlights are overblown at times.

Another touted feature is Single Take, which uses AI to automatically capture stills and videos in different angles and with different effects such as smart cropping a still image or reversing a video. It will choose the best still or video from the bunch that are taken.

If you are the lazy kind, you might find this feature useful. But for those who know what they want to shoot, it is not very useful.

In fact, you might be better off shooting 8K videos than using Single Take. This is because the S20 Ultra lets you extract 33MP still photos from 8K video clips. The result is pretty pleasing.

PERFORMANCE

In terms of performance, the S20 Ultra marginally out-performed Samsung's last flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note10+.

In the Geekbench 5 benchmark tests, the S20 Ultra scored 917 (single-core) and 2,769 (multi-core). The Note10+ scored 816 (single-core) and 2,283 (multi-core).

Apps launch quickly and I did not experience lags in any of the operations I tried. Playing high-performance shooter games, such as PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile, feels smooth as silk.

It is the first Samsung 5G smartphone in Singapore. However, it will only support 5G's Sub-6GHz bandwidth and not its mmWave bandwidth. Both bandwidths are slated to be rolled out in Singapore.

BATTERY LIFE

The S20 Ultra has a whopping 5,000mAh battery, compared to the 4,100mAh and 4,300mAh ones found in the Galaxy S10+ and the Galaxy Note10+ respectively.

Thus, it is no surprise that the S20 Ultra beat its compatriots in our video-loop battery test.

With the display set at the normal refresh rate of 60Hz, the S20 Ultra clocked an amazing 18 hours and 40 minutes. In comparison, the S10+ clocked 13 hours 40 minutes, while the Note10+ clocked 17 hours 45 minutes.

But of course, battery mileage will vary depending on an individual's usage. For me, after a typical 12-hour work day with regular checking of emails, Facebook and Instagram feeds, I find there is still around 60 per cent battery power left at the end of the day.

As expected, battery life is shorter when the display's refresh rate is set to 120Hz. Playing the Asphalt 9 racing game at the 120Hz refresh rate, with two other games - PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile - running in background, I found the battery dropping by 15 per cent in just 30 minutes.

FOR

Fantastic 120Hz display

Display has no curved sides that could trigger accidental touches

108MP wide-angle camera offers great details

Long battery life

5G ready

AGAINST

Big rear camera bulge

Only 128GB of built-in storage

TECH SPECS

Price: $1,898, available Mar 6

Processor: Exynos 990 (Quad-core 2.0GHz, Dual-core 2.7GHz, Dual-core 2.5GHz)

Display: 6.9-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic Amoled, 3,200 x 1,440 pixels, HDR10+ certified

Operating system: Android 10

Camera: 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle, 108MP f/1.8 wide-angle, 48MP f/3.5 telephoto, 0.3MP DepthVision f/1.0 (rear); 40MP f/2.2 (front)

Memory: 128GB (microSD expandable up to 1TB); 12GB RAM

Battery: Non-removable 5,000 mAh

Weight: 220g

RATING

Features: 4.5/5

Design: 4.5/5

Performance: 5/5

Battery life: 5/5

Value for money: 4/5

Overall: 4.5/5 [ST Tech Editor's Choice]

This article contains affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn a small commission.