Update: Our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is being wrapped up right now, as we’ve tested almost everything about this new smartphone – and for the most part it impressed. We’ve added photos using the 108MP camera, 100x zoom range and 40MP selfie camera. It’s a big impressive phone, but it’s hard to justify the high asking price with lingering camera inconsistencies.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra two-minute takeaway
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is Samsung’s biggest Android phone, and its most daring sales pitch: you can own the world’s most advanced 5G phone with its best camera specs to date – if, that is, you’re prepared to spend more money than ever on a non-foldable smartphone.
The Ultra is designed for early adopters and three things stand out: it has a massive 6.9-inch 120Hz display that will stretch your hand, five cameras with 108MP photos, 40MP selfies, a 100x zoom and 8K video recording, and 5G antennas with peak speeds 66 times as fast as 4G LTE. Samsung is going big on numbers, justifying why the Galaxy S20 Ultra isn’t simply the Galaxy S11.
We tested the S20 Ultra-exclusive 108MP and 40MP selfie camera modes, which you won’t find in the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus. The gap between these large photos and normal-sized 12MP shots is small – at least until you crop in to isolate subjects for all-new photos with less quality loss than normal. It’s a nice jump from the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus cameras, though issues with inconsistent autofocus and overexposure keep the Ultra from being the best camera phone until Samsung issues an update.
The 48MP telephoto lens allowed us to get up close and personal with far away subjects thanks to a 4x optical, 10x hybrid optical and 100x digital zoom. For context, it far surpasses the 2x optical and 10x digital zoom of previous Samsung phones, and the limited 8x digital zoom on the Google Pixel 4. At 100x, we were able to zoom into landmarks, although at this zoom range it’s far from an Instagram-worthy shot. It’s the 10x hybrid optical zoom that really shines in the end.
Don’t get fooled by the numbers game: the ‘lesser’ S20 and S20 Plus use a superior-sounding 64MP telephoto camera and have larger individual pixels, but the Ultra’s main and telephoto cameras use bigger sensors, and that’s more important for absorbing more light. Its 12MP ultra-wide camera is the same across the board on the S20 series, but it too has a larger sensor than the 16MP Galaxy S10 telephoto lenses. More on this in the Cameras section below.
Samsung continues to offer the most robust camera app of all the big camera phone brands, and with the S20 series it answers that everyday question: should I take photos or a video? Take both. Its new ‘single-take mode’ captures a variety of shots over a 10-second span: photos, ultra-wides, portraits, hyperlapse video, regular video, etc. It kept us out of the settings menus and in the moment. You can also clip 33MP photos from video, which proved handy.
The S20 Ultra’s specs rival those of laptops, meaning it’s more than you’ll ever need: 12GB or 16GB of RAM, a 7nm chipset, and 128GB or 512GB of internal storage. There’s also a hulking 5,000mAh battery for pulling down battery-intensive 5G signal and an in-screen fingerprint sensor carried over from last year’s phones. However, the S20 series also have the dubious honor of being the first S phones without a 3.5mm headphone jack.
It’s impossible to justify the Galaxy S20 Ultra price for everyone – even those who bought the S9 Plus or S10 Plus, and intended to get the next ‘big one’ from Samsung. The S20 Plus is more than enough phone for most upgraders, and even that gets a price hike over the S10 Plus.
For others, though, the word ‘upgrade’ means a completely different thing: they want a phone that pushes new boundaries, and they don’t mind if that pushes the price tag further into Galaxy Fold territory. The Galaxy S20 Ultra Samsung’s own version of Tesla’s ‘Ludicrous Mode’ in its electric cars, and even if the camera is a bit overhyped and inconsistent, early adopters will love showing off how its cameras go from 0.5x to 100x zoom real quick.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra release date and price
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra release date is Friday, March 6 in the US, Australia and UAE, or March 13 in the UK, alongside the S20 and S20 Plus.
The S20 Ultra costs a staggering $1,399 / £1,199 / AU$1,999 / AED 4,499 – and that’s just for the version with 128GB of internal storage and 12GB of RAM.
If you feel like you may need 512GB of onboard storage and a mind-boggling 16GB of RAM it’ll be $1,599 / £1,399 / AU$2,249 / AED 5,399.
Some good news, though: you’re probably not going to need to max-out the storage, given our move to the cloud and the fact that 5G connectivity will allow you to easily pull down remotely stored data. Plus, all models of the S20 have a microSD slot for expandable storage up to 1TB in case you do hit the 128GB capacity.
Screen and overall size
Samsung’s 6.9-inch display will push the boundaries of your fingers’ reach and your thumb’s dexterity, yet it won’t feel much bigger than the S10 Plus – its width is actually a tad smaller than the 6.8-inch Note 10 Plus and 6.7-inch Galaxy S10 5G.
It’s just that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is noticeably taller, not wider, expanding to a 20:9 aspect ratio. You can still grip it with one hand, and shove it in a deep-enough jeans pocket – just know that you’ll have to operate it with two hands to comfortably touch all corners of the display. It’s big, just not as big as its 6.9-inch screen suggests.
We found the Super AMOLED display to be bright and pixel-dense at its 3200 x 1440 QHD resolution and look perfectly fine at the default Full HD+ resolution. The smaller resolution saves battery life and, spoiler, it’s the only way to experience the 120Hz screen refresh rate. It’s not QuadHD-compatible yet.
That’s OK, we tended to favor Full HD+ with 120Hz turned on rather than dialing the refresh rate back down to 60Hz. Samsung matches pure gaming phones like the Asus ROG Phone 2 and Razer Phone 2 with this refresh rate, and the screen fluidity makes playing fast-paced games and even scrolling through Instagram feel nicer.
We appreciate that Samsung found a way to make a smaller punch-hole for its front-facing camera in the top-center of the screen and selfies actually look better. Say goodbye to that wide dual-lens selfie camera from the S10 Plus, as there’s only one camera embedded in this display. Software handled the depth fine, which casts doubt on why you need a depth camera on the back of the Ultra and Plus.
We were consistently wowed with Samsung’s screen-to-body ratio, brightness levels and support of display standards such as HDR10+, offsetting our often cumbersome handling of this massive phone. It’s worth it if you want today’s best smartphone display.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is made of glass and aluminum – there’s no ceramic version this year – and comes in just two colors: Cosmic Gray and Cosmic Black. The Cloud Blue color is exclusive to the S20 and S20 Plus, while Cloud Pink comes in the smaller S20 size, which is a shame for Ultra owners who want some extra flash.
There’s still a curve on the right and left edges of the screens, though it’s much less pronounced compared to past S phones. Sadly, that doesn’t mean fewer accidental presses of the nearly bezel-less screen. Samsung still doesn’t have excellent palm rejection software, so while we touched the edges with our grip and tried to press the shutter button in the camera app, the phone constantly thought we were trying to activate multi-touch and zoom in instead of performing single press of a button. Palm creep is very real on this phone.
We’ve talked about the tall-not-wide dimensions (166.9mm x 76mm), so now let’s talk about the girth and weight. At 8.8mm, the Ultra is noticeably thicker than the other S20 phones and all of the S10 phones (those range from 7.8mm to 7.9mm), and it has a sizable rear camera bump on top of that. Both are completely OK with us.
It’s also heavier at 220g (roughly in between the S10 Plus at 175g and the Galaxy Fold at 276g). But again, to us, this is a completely favorable trade-off given the fast 5G mmWave technology, 108MP camera, and 5,000mAh battery that are packed into this cutting-edge smartphone.
Too many times, camera team leads from various phone makers have told TechRadar “we would’ve fit in a better camera, but the design team won” – that’s a direct quote from one of them. The Galaxy S20 Ultra, thankfully, doesn’t sacrifice camera quality in order to look extra chic. It’s big, but it looks stylish enough – and more people will see your glorious 108MP photos than your phone anyway.
We could write a whole review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s cameras, there’s so much to say about them – and that’s good news if you want something fresh out of your smartphone’s photos. It’s Samsung’s biggest camera sensor upgrade since the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.
Update: We did just that with an in-depth Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera test that includes more sample photos, in case you want a deep dive into how the larger sensors perform.
We found the hyped-up 108MP camera mode to offer the ability to crop in on photos without as much quality loss as normal 12MP cameras from Samsung, Apple and others. It makes sense for the same reason recording 8K video is often a good idea, even if you don’t own anything more than a 4K TV: you can crop and edit without sacrificing detail. It gives you creative latitude, even if you ultimately output to a 12MP photo and 1080p video in the end.
But Samsung’s overaggressive image processing does overexposure shots in the 108MP mode (probably in an effort to reduce noise) and we had difficulty with the autofocus in several of our tests. That’s troubling for such a pricey camera phone. You also lose features like motion photos (fine) and beauty mode (won’t miss that), and there seems to be some baseline skin smoothing you can’t control (not good).
The 100x digital zoom range of the 48MP telephoto camera is a neat party trick that never provided us a usable photo. Even on a tripod, we found the 30x digital zoom to be oversharpened and not at all great. It’s the 10x hybrid optical zoom that appeared most impressive in side-by-side photo comparisons with the iPhone and Pixel.
There’s a downside to inflated megapixel counts, though: the individual pixels are often smaller. We’ve seen that on plenty of cheap Android phones that tout 48MP and 64MP cameras with deceptive marketing, only to perform poorly in low light. Luckily, Samsung’s situation is different.
The S20 Ultra does have smaller pixels at 0.8 microns, whereas the S20 and S20 Plus push the pixel size to 1.8 microns (up from the S10 series’ 1.4 microns). But there are two things going for the Ultra that should make up for those smaller microns.
First, Samsung employs something called nona-binning technology, combining nine pixels into one to increase the pixel size to 2.4 microns in low-light situations, and leaves you with 12MP photos (the 9-to-1 math on a 108MP camera checks out).
Second, the S20 Ultra has physically larger camera sensors – 1/1.33-inch main sensor and 1/2-inch telephoto sensor. We’ve seen less noise from nighttime photos thanks to these physically bigger sensors that can absorb more light, though Samsung tends to go overboard with the exposure, making some shots look artificial and smoothed.
And that’s the rub with the Galaxy S20 Ultra camera. It has the best hardware we’ve seen on a camera phone, and deserves all of the hype it has gotten. But autofocus issues and shot overexposure leave us wondering why you should pay so much for big camera spec numbers that results in photos that look pretty good, but not any better than what you can get on an iPhone, a Pixel or last year’s Note 10 Plus.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – 1x (no zoom)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – 2x zoom
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – 4x zoom
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – 10x zoom
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – 30x zoom
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – 100x zoom (max zoom)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra ultra-wide camera – 0.5x zoom
Samsung’s single-take mode and 8K video
Samsung’s camera app continues to be the best out there, balancing robust features with ease of use. You can swipe anywhere on the screen to flip between front and back cameras and make a hand gesture to trigger the selfie camera timer. This is so much better than what Apple does right now – the timer is now hidden behind a menu on the 11 series. We also love the fact that you can double-press the lock button to launch the camera app without having to look at the screen. Sometimes it’s the little thing that make snapping a photo easier.
We had fun with the new ‘single-take mode’, which cycles through the cameras and some of Samsung’s 13 modes for ten seconds, then picks the best shots. We ended up with wide, ultra-wide, smart cropped and filtered photos, as well as a video and hyperlapse video. It feels like this is more than a gimmick, and we hope other phonemakers adopt something similar.
The S20 Ultra camera introduces 8K-resolution video recording, and Samsung’s Super Steady stabilization now incorporates anti-rolling correction (up to 60 degrees). Both sound great, but both can’t be used at the same time.
We discovered you can’t get 8K and Super Steady. In fact, Super Steady didn’t work in 4K either. It’s still a 1080p affair. And 8K is limited to 24fps, so you’re not going to get all the bells and whistles you do with 4K and Full HD video.
What 8K did for us was it allowed us to crop and edit video without sacrificing quality. 4K, meanwhile, gave us frame-rate and zoom versatility – you get 20x video zoom in 4K, whereas you’re stuck at 6x in 8K. We did experience the same autofocusing flaws in 8K as we saw on 108MP photos, though. You can start to see a theme here: big numbers aren’t always better.
To give you some storage requirement context, 8K video files will eat up just under 600MBs for every minute of footage in the HEIC format (and every 8GB it’ll start a new file) – we say that just in case you’re deciding between the 128GB and 512GB versions of this phone.
Luckily, w were able to trim the large 8K videos files right inside the phone’s built-in video trimmer, which we found handy. You can also clip 33MP photos on the Galaxy S20 Ultra while recording or in post if you’re filming 8K video. You just tap a button inside the camera UI and it saves a high-resolution photo to your camera roll.
5G, battery life, specs and software
The Galaxy S20 Ultra will almost certainly the first 5G smartphone for a lot of people – just 1% of phones that shipped in 2019 were 5G devices, so it’s still very new tech. Like the S20 Plus, the Ultra combines sub-6 and mmWave technology to offer the fastest peak download speeds. The S20 is outfitted with just sub-6, and it won’t be sold by Verizon, an mmWave-exclusive carrier in the US, for this reason.
So how fast is 5G on the S20 Ultra? Exactly 66 times faster than the 4G LTE iPhone 11 Pro Max we also tested right next to Samsung’s phone.
Our first 5G speed test broke our previous record of 1.4Gbps with a 1.9Gbps peak speed in New York City on Verizon’s mmWave network. But we did have to be outdoors and close to a 5G node on top of a lampost to make that happen, but it did happen. Sadly, mmWave is extremely fast but incredibly limited in range, whereas sub-6 is slower (ranging from 200Mbps to 500Mbps) but has a wider range, offers a more reliable connection and works indoors.
The S20 Ultra and S20 Plus combine these two 5G technologies, which futureproofs your access to 5G. Since 5G hogs battery life, the main advantage of the S20 Ultra is that it has a 5,000mAh battery capacity while S20 Plus a 4,500mAh battery.
The rest of the internal specs are all top-of-the-line: a 7nm chipset (Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 in the US or Samsung’s Exynos 990 in the UK and Europe), 12GB or 16GB or RAM, 128GB or 512GB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot for expandable storage.
Samsung’s ‘Super Fast’ charging returns on the S20 Ultra, up to 45W with an optional charger and 25W with the charger included in the box. That mirrors what we saw on the Galaxy Note 10 Plus, as does the Ultra’s fast wireless charging prowess of up to 15W.
Samsung’s One UI 2.0 software reskins Android 10 with a one-hand-friendly layout. A lot of the menus items you need to touch appear on the bottom half of the screen. This year’s perk is that it now boasts Google Duo integrated directly in the dialer app. We were able to make Full HD video calls, and you can chat with up to eight people.
The other new software addition is Quick Share, Samsung’s take on Apple’s AirDrop. It allows you to share files with multiple people, not just one person at a time, without having to connect to Bluetooth or sign into anything. However, the feature is exclusive to the Galaxy S20 series with the intention that older Samsung phones should get it in the future.
You’re going to see a lot of reviewers chastise the S20 Ultra for being big, heavy and expensive – and it is all of those things. But Samsung has also designed the Ultra to be an absolute powerhouse, without compromise – and it’s shaping up to be just that.
Samsung is offering something new that pushes the boundaries of smartphone camera and connectivity technology like we’ve never seen before. But its S20 Ultra camera isn’t always consistent with exposure and autofocus issues, and while its 108MP photos have their perks, it’s hard to call them ‘the best’ we’ve taken on a phone.
You shouldn’t buy the Galaxy S20 Ultra if it’s too big for your hand or you can’t afford it, and that may be true for most people. It makes a convincing case for foldable phones to exist. However, it’s nice to see a phone that doesn’t hold back and embraces a 1mm thicker size and camera bump for more battery life and better photos – at least once Samsung issues a software update to fix the camera.
We’re going to continue testing the Galaxy S20 Ultra a little more and come to a conclusion on the all-important battery life this week (and hopefully have a camera update by then). But, in many ways, we already know it’s at the top of our technical (not value) rankings.