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Review Roundup: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

You don’t need it, it’s too expensive, it doesn’t always work, but damn if they haven’t done a good job of making you want it.

samsung galaxy s20
Image: Samsung

The latest and greatest from Samsung, the Galaxy S20 Ultra, is in reviewers’ hands and well, maybe you can have too much of a good thing? See, for a $1,400 smartphone that isn’t an exotic foldable, it’d have to be pretty much perfect to have a value proposition. So, does it?

Samsung has a penchant for scoring points wherever it can, but hasn’t had a great run of it on the high-end market lately. Will the Ultra moniker live up to anything but its price tag? Let’s find out. We rounded up some of the best reviews to date on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Here’s what reviewers have to say about it.

About that camera…

So the first thing you really need to know about this phone is the new camera system. Sure, it’s got a 108-megapixel sensor on the main lens that can record 8K video, but is it any good? Well, that depends.

CNET found that “some photos taken in 108 made photos unnaturally saturated and flattened shadows and details,” which sounds a lot like my experience with earlier Galaxy phones. I just don’t like the processing that Samsung does by default, and it doesn’t appear to have changed much.

galaxy s20 camera

Image: Samsung

It doesn’t seem that the pixel binning magic that gets a 12-megapixel image from a 108-megapixels sensor by turning every 9 pixels into one helps much with night mode either. Wired found that it’s unforgiving, needing you to keep your hand steady for several seconds, unlike the user-friendly night modes on the Pixel range or the latest iPhones.

Oh, and about that 100X zoom that Samsung is so quick to champion. Wired has one thing to say about it – “Don’t.” It’s atrocious, and that’s down to how Samsung fudges the specs to get to 100. See, the “100X Space Zoom” is really a 4X periscope optical zoom, then a digital crop to make it look like it’s at 100X. Very deceptive.

The Verge saves some of Samsung’s blushes by gushing about the selfie cam. This mode gives you full control over face smoothing, where the rear camera has Bixby-powered smoothing all the time, interfering with your artistic choices. They weren’t happy with the autofocus either, with it taking longer than it should hunting for focus, resulting in blurry shots. Samsung has said it’s already working on fixes, but why did they send it to reviewers in an unfinished state (again)?

And the rest…

samsung galaxy s20

Image: PC Mag

Okay, so the camera is hit and miss, but what about the rest of the phone? Well, it’s a classic Samsung design, for one. If you’re a fan, you’ll like it. If you’re tired of the same iterative designs year after year, well, you won’t suddenly get energized here. Oh, and it’s freaking massive, with that 6.9 inch screen. You’ll need two hands for it, or maybe a Popsocket (or two) according to Android Central.

You’ll want a case for it too. Not that it’s ugly, just that the combination of Samsung’s classic glass body plus that fucking massive protuberance of a camera bump will have it wobbling six ways from Sunday if you tap on the screen while it’s on a flat surface. A case will stop the wobble, plus protect against the fingerprint-and-scratch magnet housing. You’ll likely drop it too, so protect that glass design. Heck, if you can find one, put two cases on it for extra protection.

The 120Hz screen is kinda nifty, with typical Samsung OLED dominance. The thing is, you can’t use 120Hz if you want the max QHD+ 3200 x 1440 setting. You get speed or resolution, with Samsung giving some platitudes about it being too battery thirsty otherwise.

galaxy s20

Image: Phone Arena

Rounding up the specs you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a laptop. That makes sense though, as it’s priced like a laptop as well. The newest Snapdragon 865 chip powers it, with 12GB of RAM, and up to 512GB of storage. You even get all three flavors of 5G, handy if you actually live in one of the handfuls of cities that have 5G in the U.S., but functionally useless to everyone else.

Big Samsung Galaxy devices always have a big battery, with the S20 Ultra having an ultra-hefty 5,000 mAh. By comparison, the Note 10 Plus only has a 4,300 mAh one. Without that 120Hz screen or 5G, that would be more than enough for a full day with power left in the tank. Turning the 120Hz mode on knocks three hours off the runtime as tested by Tom’s Guide.

Does anyone need 5G yet?

One word here: No. Between slow roll-outs, expensive data plans, and the price premium on handsets, it’ll be a long time before most of the U.S. is ready for 5G, even if the infrastructure was ready for them.

Final verdict: Ultra waste of cash

Ultimately Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra is a halo product. You don’t need it, it’s too expensive, it doesn’t always work, but damn if they haven’t done a good job of making you want it. If you really want a Galaxy this year, get the S20 or wait for this year’s Note.

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