REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
South Korean tech giant throws the darkroom sink at this snapper-focused flagship
Before we proceed, we'd like to take this moment to ask our readers - and please pass this on to everyone else - to adhere to all the safety measures being implemented by the UAE leadership in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic. These are unprecedented times, but together, we'll emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. #StaySafe and #StayHome, everyone, please.
We were expecting an '11' this year; whether or not Samsung made sure its newest Galaxy S flagship was named in a manner suited to the times - actually, make that year - is anyone's guess (we're assuming a world without leaks there). Well, in any case, it is indeed apt: New year, new decade, new beginnings.
And let's take superlatives a step further here: Samsung didn't just throw the kitchen sink here - they hurled a darkroom sink, figuratively speaking (and if ever there's an actual idiom for that).
That's exactly what they're touting with the new Galaxy S20 series. Three new devices that are ready to face the digital future. Three smartphones were launched - the S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra 5G - and we're fortunate enough to have a run at the last one, which is also the cream of the crop. Let's dig in.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Again, we need to stress that certain specs vary by region; for example, there is no 256GB option being offered here in the UAE.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G is one big device, both literally because of its 6.9-inch screen and figuratively for what it offers. For comparison's sake, the S20 is at 6.2 inches while the S20+ is at 6.7 inches. Only the latter, however, comes with a 5G-ready option.
Put it in your hands and you'll immediately figure out that it's one huge phone. Indeed, pound-for-pound, it is big, but thanks to the ability of manufacturers now being able to minimise bezels all around and squeeze in that aspect ratio, it doesn't feel like it. It is, however, on the heavy side, clocking in at 220g; that's okay for me, since I like the feel of something actually in my hands, and you'll also be forced to really hang on to it or risk dropping it.
Design-wise, Samsung continues on with its traditional simple-yet-sleek design. While the Infinity-O Display doesn't slide down the edges, its ultra-thin bezels - chin included - give it a real full-screen experience. Add the fact that it opted for a punch-hole for the front camera and you're sure to maximise your digital real estate.
The edges are adorned with a metallic frame. All keys - volume rocker and power - are on the right, the SIM tray is atop and below is a USB-C port. And Samsung pulled off a Note10 here, finally saying goodbye to the 3.5mm audio port, making the S20 the first in the Galaxy S line to adopt this.
But don't fret, since bundled within are some neat headphones from, once again, AKG.
Right behind is a smooth glass finish, but its reflective nature doesn't expose finger smudges when you look at it from certain angles. And popping out on the upper-left portion is its quad-lens camera system. I like the way Samsung designed it, but there's just something a bit off: I mentioned 'popping out' earlier because the camera portion is a bit thick, so putting the phone down face-up doesn't make it lie really flat.
Marvel at its edges, as usual:
To be fair, I can't think of a flagship that lies really flat because of its cameras, but this one's too thick, risking the cameras getting scratched since it'll be the first to hit whatever surface you're gonna put it on. A solution here is getting a protective cover for the device, but there are folks who love to use their phones without covers so its design can be appreciated. I'm very happy with the S20 Ultra 5G's design, but you gotta protect it too.
That said, let's go directly to the main attraction.
Four cameras aren't anything new today; 12MP ultra-wide, 48MP telephoto, DepthVision and 108MP wide lens are what Samsung offers in the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G.
And no, that '108MP' isn't a typo. Not even that '100X' thingy you'll find on it:
Obviously, it's a miles-apart thing between the default 12MP resolution and 108MP in terms of image size. But you really wouldn't tell the difference immediately (you can click or tap on the sample photos to see their full-sized versions):
The one below is the one taken using the 108MP mode. You'll notice the slight difference in lighting and colour, and from this vantage point that's about it. However, if you zoom in, there's where you'll see the difference upon closer inspection:
Now it may not seem much, but you'll notice that the image below has, pound-for-pound, more solid detail compared to the one above. At this really zoomed-in range, it's quite difficult to make that out.
As a matter of fact, yours truly showed that combo photo above simultaneously to a garden-variety user and a professional photo/video dude; even before the former could even utter a stutter, the latter immediately snapped (no pun intended) that the one below was the better one (had to treat him to a burrito for that).
Ergo, the real deal about the 108MP sensor is that you can crop up photos you've taken in that mode without losing that much detail. It's pretty much that straightforward.
Here's another example; see if you can tell the difference now; the one on the right is the 108MP shot:
In general, photos are clear and crisp - no doubt about that. You'll get more of those a little later, but in the meantime, check this one out:
Notice that it isn't as bright as you'd expect it to be? Well, this is the result when you whip out the phone and fire a shot without tinkering with the camera app. This is a hit-or-miss situation - either you'll love it for its more natural feel, or complain about its apparent underexposure; I tend to lean further to the latter, being not a fan of phone cameras overdoing stuff.
Below, the one on the left was taken in the manner above; the one on the right was the result of tapping on the screen to brighten it up:
Wonder Woman was indeed lit up better in the second shot.
Some night shots, and while we're at it, let's play a little game here: There are three shots below; which was taken in 12MP, 108MP and night mode? (Don't cheat! Look at them before going to the next paragraph.)
Before we get to the answers, you'll notice the empty streets, so allow us to take this opportunity to again appeal to everyone to comply with the UAE's drive to curve coronavirus - please adhere to the 8pm-to-6am curfew hours being enforced.
Now, for the answers: Top is in 12MP, middle is in night mode and last is in 108MP. By far, night mode delivers the best results - and keep in mind 108MP doesn't have night mode.
This next one, meanwhile, lights up the scene well (the area isn't as bright as it is in the photo), but if you zoom in smudges are everywhere:
These next ones I like, because they're very natural-looking, whether in 108MP (top) or night mode (below):
And well, Samsung slapped in another humongous spec - the 100x Space Zoom. See what it can do for you:
From top to bottom, those were 0.5x (ultra-wide-angle), 1x, 2x, 4x, 10x, 30x and 100x zoom shots. Don't expect to get steady shots when you go beyond 30x; using a tripod may help, but good luck when the wind becomes a factor in either case. The best and most reliable zoom in the lot that would still take very nice shots is 10x.
The idea of Space Zoom is to be able to get shots that are really far away, but it doesn't really work for, for example, trying to get a close-up shot of a person's face as if you're just standing in front of that person.
And with that, here's a gentle reminder: Please be responsible in using this feature... you might get into trouble if you use this for rather dubious purposes.
By the way, when you're using 108MP, you only get until 6x zoom.
And for good measure, Samsung splashed in the ability to record 8K video (you also get 4K, don't worry). And you know what that means - super-crisp videos. You can even pull out a 33MP still from an 8K video, just like these flowers that were dancing wildly to some pretty strong late-afternoon wind (it rained afterwards; hello, summer):
Zooming in to that pulled-out photo will make you enjoy what 8K can bring.
Now, the problem with here is that you can only truly appreciate 8K video on stuff such as an 8K TV. Another drawback of the 8K ability is that the darker the scene gets, the grainier it'll be. Well, at least we're being future-proofed here. And just like the 108MP lens above, you can crop and edit 8K videos without losing much detail.
For low-light videos, 4K would be better - maybe even better in full HD, because with it you'll be able to use another newbie, Super Steady, which gives the stabilisation that can be comparable to an action cam. But then again another caveat: Super Steady doesn't work on 4K and 8K.
Now you may be wondering how much space 8K videos will consume. Simplest answer - a lot. A 30-second 8K video on the device will eat up over 290MB - pretty much in line with Samsung's 600MB-per-minute figure - which means a five-minute 8K video, the limit which you are allowed, will eat up a whopping 3GB. Keep in mind, you only have two storage options here - 128GB and 512GB. And even if you throw in a 1TB SD card, you may pretty well consider what model you'll buy if you become trigger-happy with 8K.
One last thing, especially for the geeks: You can only record 8K at 24fps, no higher. You're also limited to 6x zoom; for 4K, you get up at 20x.
Now there's also one new, sleek camera mode - Single Take. It lets you take a video for 10 seconds using all the lenses and photo/video modes, then it picks out the best shots ('meaningful moments', as it is on-screen) and presents it in a variety of ways; I was able to churn out a combination of wide, ultra-wide, some videos (hyperlapse included) and other filtered shots.
That's a good weapon to have in, for example, a child blowing candles on a birthday cake; you don't have to hold multiple devices for photo and video or have other people do it - you can get all of those moments, in photo and video, all in a single take.
Oh, and how can we forget those Live Focus shots. Once again featuring my colleague slash good friend slash foil, here's a gallery using the quad snapper...
...and the selfie camera:
There are six options with which you can doodle around with your background - blur, big circle, artistic (transforming lights in the background to certain shapes), spin, zoom and colour point, AKA black-and-white. With the selfie camera, however, you don't have artistic, since you don't have the benefit of the DepthVision lens.
Live Focus snaps do a good job as usual, particularly using the main camera. With the selfie camera, however, there are still some edge issues. And something interesting: If you look at the colour point shots in both main and front cameras, you'll notice that the background behind the eyeglasses remain in colour.
Inside is a massive 5000mAh battery that, in theory, shouldn't give you any headaches.
So how did it do? In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test - plus at the highest WQHD+ screen resolution - it lost only 8 per cent of life. With mixed use, it was good enough to last me a little over noon, so make sure you have its charger handy.
But it's a zip when it comes to charging. The device comes packed with a 45W Super Fast Charging charger, and based on our tests, you won't wait that long.
From zero per cent, the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G quickly rises to 18 per cent in 10 minutes, 57 per cent in half-an-hour, 95 per cent in one hour and fully-charged in one hour and eight minutes. That may not be at par with Realme's ridiculous 33-minutes-to-full-charge marathon, but Samsung still provides a remarkably fast charge when you need it.
Wireless charging, meanwhile, is expectedly a slog (come on, nothing beats wired charging - at this point in time, at least). From zero - and using a Samsung Wireless Charger Duo - it dragged on to 9 per cent in 15 minutes, 19 per cent in 30, 39 per cent in an hour, 59 per cent in 1.5 hours, 79 per cent in two and 97 per cent in 2.5 hours before finally hitting the 100 per cent mark after six more minutes.
There's a lot to explore on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G. It's another power-packed phone; can you expect less from our South Korean friends? The camera bump-ups are the most significant since the days of the S7 - and, as you have seen, really sets a new standard when it comes to mobile photography.
But do we really need it? The argument can be made that smartphones will never replace actual cameras, but it's good to have one which is that powerful in your hands. The 108MP resolution, Space Zoom and 8K video are, indeed, a blessing for those into professional photography, but for us regular users it's a novelty. That said, given the limitations they have in their intertwining features, there is a lot of room for improvement for these.
The productivity side remains a huge plus in it - keep Samsung DeX connectivity in mind always - and being 5G-ready means you don't have to worry when the new mobile standard rolls out in full.
All that said, I'm sticking to what I've mentioned earlier: This is Samsung's bid to future-proof us this early. They've thrown a lot of mesmerising, never-before-seen capabilities on a smartphone. That in itself hikes the stakes significantly, and it'll be interesting to see how the competition responds - and how Samsung will raise it even further in future releases.
GOODIES: Massive crisp display, 8K-ready, reliable battery
GOOFIES: Anything beyond 10x zoom, will be pricey for certain customers
EDITOR RATING: Monster of a smartphone; what do you expect from a Samsung flagship, anyway? The big question is, do we need those mega-high-end camera specs right now? Props for delivering the somewhat unexpected though, and there lies the rub - imagine if all the flaws in these features are fixed in the future, and we won't be surprised if that happens in the next launch. 4.5/5
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