Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review – Suavely Shooting for the Moon

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review – Suavely Shooting for the Moon

As the pinnacle of Samsung’s technological prowess for 2020, the Galaxy S20 Ultra packs the very best hardware that the brand has to offer with the phone being a veritable technophile’s wish list crammed into a posh looking glass-shod chassis that is 8.8mm thin.

Galaxy S20 Ultra front
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Specifications

For the lofty price of RM4,999, the Galaxy S20 Ultra packs a humongous 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O touchscreen with a crisp 1,440 x 3,200 pixel resolution, a 20:9 aspect ratio and 511ppi along with the obligatory under-display ultrasonic fingerprint reader at the bottom section of the display. What elevates it from middling to marvellous is that the display has a 120Hz refresh rate, ensuring silky smooth animations onscreen at the tradeoff of increased battery drain.

Here’s a recap of its specifications:

Specifications
Price RM4,999
Display 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O, 1,440 x 3,200 pixels, 511ppi
Processor Exynos 990 octacore
OS Android 10.0 w One UI 2
Memory 12GB RAM/128GB+microSD card
Camera 108-MP F/1.8 w/ PDAF + OIS 48-MP w/ 4x optical zoom + 100x Space Zoom, 12-MP F/2.2 ultrawide, 0.3-MP TOF camera [rear] / 40-MP [front] Battery 5,000mAh w/ 45W fast charging
Size/Weight 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm / 220g


Your substantial investment also gets you the latest Exynos 990 octacore processor paired with a massive 12GB RAM and 128GB UFS3.0 storage that can be further augmented via a microSD card slot.

You’re also getting 5G connectivity in the 3.5GHz and 3.7GHz band though it lacks support for the lower, and slightly slower 700MHz band. Power users will also appreciate that it has Full DeX support, allowing your phone to be used as an ad hoc PC by hooking it up via a HDMI cable to a monitor.

The main centerpiece of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, on top of its impressive screen and hardware, is its rear quad camera array that is several orders of magnitude more powerful than its siblings the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+.

Galaxy S20 Ultra rear camera

Housed in the chunky rectangular camera bump on the rear is a humongous 108-MP F/1.8 OIS-stabilised camera, a secondary 48-MP telephoto camera with 4x optical zoom and 10x hybrid zoom, a 12-MP F/2.2 ultrawide angle camera and a fourth TOF camera for Live Focus stills and video.

This setup enables the S20 Ultra to be one of, if not the first smartphone in Malaysia to capture 8K resolution video on top of packing an incredible 100x Space Zoom hybrid zoom feature to peep at paparazzi-pleasing distances.

Keeping it powered is an impressive 5,000mAh battery complemented by 45W fast charging as well as the option for wireless charging and reverse wireless charging for other kit like the Galaxy Buds+ wireless earbuds.

Unfortunately, Samsung doesn’t bundle the associated fast charger with the phone and you’re relegated to a stock 25W charger out of the box though they do bundle a USB Type-C AKG pair of earbuds, a casing and a Type-C charging cable to go with the whole affair.

Galaxy S20 Ultra rear

In keeping with Samsung’s traditional attention to their flagships, the Galaxy 20 Ultra exudes quality in every aspect of its design and has a premium finish from stem to stern. It’s on the heavy side on account of its large battery but it has an even heft and is still very wieldable one handed on account of the almost non existent side, top and bottom bezels. The left side is unadorned though the right has a power button and volume rocker while the top itself hosts a hybrid SIM card tray. 

The rear camera bump is the largest and chunkiest we’ve seen in ages and you’ll need a casing – which they provide straight of the box – to mitigate any potential nicks and scratches.

The Gorilla Glass 6 glass-shod backplate looks classy in keeping with an S-series phone but it’s also a fingerprint magnet. The available colour choices – a dark gray or black – are safe but are hardly exciting to look at while the cheaper Galaxy S20 has more eye-catching colours to choose from including a shade pastel blue or pink.

On the bright side, the unique design of the camera bump makes the Galaxy S20 Ultra a very distinctive phone indeed if you’re one to flaunt your taste in mobile devices and seeing what the Galaxy S20 Ultra has to offer, it’s something well worth showing off.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Performance and Benchmarks

In synthetic benchmarks, the Galaxy S20 Ultra performed in an impressive fashion with scores that are among the best in its class. In PCMark’s Work 2.0 performance test, it scored a whopping 11,925 points. In Antutu benchmark, it got a score of 511,713 points. In 3DMark’s SlingShot Extreme Open GL ES 3.1 test, it scored 6,663 points, one of the highest scores currently on test while in Sling Shot Extreme – Vulkan it got 6,363 points. In Geekbench 5.0, it got a single core score of 916 and a multi-core score of 2,581 points. 

Under live field tests, the Galaxy S20 Ultra performed like a champ, adroitly tackling everything thrown at it from gaming to hefty 4K video editing. It handled Call of Duty Mobile on the highest settings, tackled 4K video editing on the built-in video editor with videos rendered in mere minutes and managed to undertake a host of more mundane tasks in a swift fashion from word processing, emails to web browsing. As the very embodiment of cutting edge smartphone tech at this moment in time, there’s nothing it can’t handle.

The Super AMOLED display of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is impressive indeed with sufficient clarity to make it easy to see even under broad daylight in either 120Hz FHD+ or at its native 60Hz WQHD+ resolution, serving up exquisite colours and pin-sharp detail. 

Galaxy S20 Ultra angled

Why not both WQHD+ and 120Hz, you ask? Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a catch with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. If you’re enabling the 120Hz refresh rate, you’re relegated to FHD+ resolution only. If you want to take advantage of the phone’s native WQHD+ resolution you have to reduce it to 60Hz.

Both features would have been nice in tandem though this would presumably represent a significant drain on the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s battery. 

Galaxy S20 Ultra refresh rate

Even at FHD+ resolution, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is capable of displaying lusciously vibrant and crisp footage; no surprise there as it’s HDR and HDR10+ ready. With the 120Hz refresh rate turned up, menus and web browsing feel incredibly smooth though not all apps and not all games are optimised for this high refresh rate. The 240Hz touch sampling rate also means that it ought to give you a slight edge in competitive games like Call of Duty Mobile; Once you’re accustomed to the silky smooth 120Hz refresh rate, you’ll be dismayed to downgrade back to a conventional 60Hz panel. 

Movies and games are a real treat to watch on the S20 Ultra’s display, more so for the fact that it’s pair of stereo speakers are competent performers, with excellent sound staging and clarity for their size.

There’s still a few quibbles though. For the price of entry, the onboard 128GB of storage is a bit on the low side though that can still be addressed with a microSD card. The other pickle is that it lacks an audio jack though seeing the wide availability of quality wireless earbuds these days, it’s becoming less of a deal breaker.

Galaxy S20 Ultra angled

We weren’t able to test 5G connectivity with the phone seeing as it’s not deployed in any widespread fashion in Malaysia but field tests with 4G LTE proved to be very satisfactory around town and in a few rural areas outside of town around Kuala Lumpur and Melaka with minimal signal dropout with test accounts from several major telcos. On the bright side, owning the S20 Ultra means that you’re all set when 5G does roll out in Malaysia.

Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Performance

The Galaxy S20 Ultra packs an impressive camera array centered around a 108-MP F/1.8 camera with a 12-MP ultra-wide angle camera as well as a 48-MP camera with a periscope style-telephoto lens riding shotgun.

Galaxy S20 ultra rear

Both the primary 108-MP and 48-MP camera have optical image stabilisation. Perched in the corner is a DepthVision camera for LiveFocus videos and stills. This combination of hardware allows the phone to capture up to 8K@24fps video and the ability to use a combination of optical and digital zoom to achieve 100x hybrid zoom.

Galaxy S20 Ultra front

At up to 4x zoom, the phone relies on a periscope-style optical zoom lens. Beyond 4x zoom and below 10x, the phone relies on what Samsung calls ‘lossless hybrid optic’ zoom,  a combination of sensor cropping as well as both optical and digital zoom with no discernible losses in image quality.

Galaxy S20 Ultra zoom

Beyond that all the way to 100x, the phone uses purely digital zoom though it’s a challenge as even the slightest hand movements will create significant shake in the camera at that zoom distance.

Galaxy S20 Ultra camera UI
The camera user interface is a familiar affair for any Samsung phone user with a fully-featured Pro mode that lets you tweak white balance, ISO, shutter speed and more. This time around, the camera offers a new Single Take mode.

Galay S20 Ultra single take mode

Essentially an AI-infused burst mode on steroids, a single press of a button takes a slew of shots and video clips up to 10-seconds in length combined with a variety of filters to yield a selection of shots that you can pick and choose from. If there’s one killer feature with the S20 Ultra’s camera user interface, One Take mode is it and I hope that this feature gets trickled to other Samsung phones later on down the line.

When capturing snaps, the primary 108-MP sensor does most of the grunt work with snaps pixel-binned to 12-MP resolution embellished with image stabilisation and a bunch of other tricks to yield sharp, judder-free shots. You can optionally shoot at full 108-MP resolution and yield up shots that you can crop later at your leisure.

galaxy S20 ultra wide angle

Primary 108MP rear camera for the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Note the clocktower just above the train station in the distance.

galaxy S20 ultra 100x zoom

100x Space Zoom with the Galaxy S20 Ultra with a tripod – we can actually read the time on the clock!

Image quality was superb with beautiful hues and excellent detail. At up to 30x zoom, shots are good enough that you can pick out fine details like car plate numbers and the like. Past sundown, you’re able to yield equally good shots with the provision of Samsung’s Night mode though you need a 4-second delay to snap an image.

galaxy S20 ultra ultrawide mode

Ultrawide rear camera at night for the Galaxy S20 Ultra

galaxy S20 ultra

Primary 108MP camera for the Galaxy S20 Ultra

Galaxy S20 Ultra

100x Space Zoom under low light conditions with the rear camera

10z lossless zoom on the Galaxy S20 Ultra rear camera at dusk. Excellent colour rendition on the mural and levels of detail.

In theory, the 100x Space Zoom sounds amazing but in practice it’s more of a novelty at this point in time. Up to 10x zoom, the rear camera offered zoomed in shots with excellent detail even when shot in an impromptu fashion.

Galaxy S20 Ultra at dusk

Beyond that up to 30x, you can make do with a steady hand and leaning on a railing to get shots to get usable snaps. Beyond that level, you’ll need a tripod. This shot of a clock tower several hundred metres away is perfect evidence of that though the resulting images are very grainy, making it more a novelty at best. It also isn’t particularly good under dim light conditions beyond 30x with even more pronounced grain and noise.

For now, the 100x Space Zoom is purely for bragging rights and attempting shots which you’d likely never be able to take like sitting way back in the mosh pit at a concert and getting up close shots of your favourite performer on stage though – again – you’ll need a tripod to yield remotely usable results. We also attempted a 100x moon shot when the moon was full and oddly enough, our preview shot exhibited more detail than the results we captured.

Galaxy S20 Ultra

100x shot of the full moon

Galaxy S20 Ultra front

Actual results with the 100x shot of the moon

The phone’s signature ability to record 8K video is limited to 24fps and looks absolutely brilliant to behold with footage so sharp that you can screencap crisp 33-MP stills off captured footage. At this resolution, there’s no image stabilisation so you’ll need a tripod or a very steady hand.

S20 Ultra

The ultrawide angle camera exhibits excellent colour rendition and performance akin to the primary camera under daylight conditions like the shot below.

All this footage also takes up a ton of space with a minute of 8K video gobbling up 600MB worth of storage. Watching it is another kettle of fish entirely and you’ll need Samsung’s new 8K QLED TVs to make the most of the footage beyond your Galaxy S20 Ultra’s display. You’ll likely be doing most of your videos in either image stabilised 1080P or in 4K and both yield excellent footage.

 

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Battery Life


The Galaxy S20 Ultra packs a massive 5,000mAh battery which is one of the largest that you can shove into a phone which goes some way towards feeding the ravenous hunger of a 120Hz display and an 8K video capturing device. 

Most users will likely default to the 120Hz FHD+ setting rather than the 60Hz WQHD+ setting to experience the phone’s main calling card. For the former, with modest usage settings, a combination of WiFi and LTE data on all day, a couple of hours worth of watching video, several hours of web browsing and an hour worth of gaming, heavy use of social media and just using the camera and 4K video capture, the phone managed to last a whole day with just enough left for the commute home with about 9 plus hours of active screen time.

The more pragmatic use of the 60Hz WQHD+ option ekes out significantly better endurance. With the aforementioned usage settings, the phone easily lasted the better part of a day and a half with about a dozen hours of active screen time. 

Galaxy S20 Ultra rear

These estimates however go rapidly south if you’re liberally capturing 8K video and using 5G connectivity but we were only able to test the former and not the latter seeing as there’s still a dearth of 5G connectivity in Malaysia. If you’re capturing significant 8K video on the phone, you’ll likely halve these battery life estimates.

Charging the phone is fortunately relatively fast with the provided 25W fast charger. From dead zero, it managed to get fully charged in about an hour which is quite an achievement. We didn’t have a 45W charger to test it with but it should enjoy even faster charging speeds. There’s also reverse wireless charging and it works with the Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds+.

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra?


The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is the pinnacle of Samsung’s technological prowess, with a brilliant 120Hz display, a powerful ensemble of hardware paired with a large battery along with an impressive rear camera capable of capturing 8K video along with 5G support when it rolls out later down the line.

If you happen to have five grand burning in your pocket and want to have bragging rights with the most powerful phone that Samsung currently has, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is right up your alley.

You can check Adam Lobo TV’s online review of the Galaxy S20 Ultra if you’re more of a visual sort of chap. You can check him out in the link below:

 

What we loved Breathtakingly beautiful 120Hz display, excellent rear camera, beefy performance, 8K video capture, 5G ready

What we didn’t All the high end bells and whistles drain battery life fast, 100x space zoom is a novelty, not cheap, camera bump is huge, no 3.5mm audio jack, 

We say The Galaxy S20 Ultra is the sum result of Samsung’s technological prowess crammed into a relatively compact shell. The next generation hardware on offer here is best-in-class  with a 120Hz display and a camera capable of capturing 8K video though this is also one of their most expensive phones to date. If you’re after the best that Samsung has to offer, this is it, hands down.

Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia

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