Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra hands-on review

You might also want to read: Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus hands-on

Samsung today officially unveiled its new Galaxy S20 series and we spent some hands-on time with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the most impressive new phone in the pack.

This new flagship Galaxy is first and foremost about a brand new camera system that takes mobile photography to the next level. The camera array on the back is simply gigantic, hosting for the first time on a Samsung phone a new 108-megapixel sensor for the main shooter, as well as a periscope zoom camera that allows for a 10X hybrid optic zoom.

Of course, cameras are not all that's new: in the display department, the screen now supports a 120-Hertz refresh rate for an extra smooth performance; in the battery department, a massive, 5,000mAh cell ensures great battery life and in countries where a 5G network already exists, Samsung will offer support this faster network.

We have spent a short while with the S20 Ultra and we are definitely impressed. Let us share our experience with it in this article, but first, here is a quick overview of the...

Galaxy S20 Ultra Specs:

Design and Size: This is one giant phone!

Probably the most striking feature of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is not any singular feature on its own, but just the sheer size of this phone. It is not just like any big phone out there, it’s... gigantic! The screen is 6.9 inches and the phone is much bigger and bulkier than last year’s S10 Plus. If you prefer compact phones you should definitely consider the smaller S20 and S20 Plus models, but if you want a large phone with a large screen, you will love the Ultra.

It’s made of glass and metal, nothing new here, but it still looks the part, every bit as premium and luxurious as you’d expect. Well, at least when clean, hold it for a while and it easily gets smudged with fingerprints. It launches in just two colors: gray and black, or Cosmic Gray and Cosmic Black, if you ask Samsung. The playful pink and blue options that you have on the other two S20 phones are not available here.

Oh, and did we mention there is no headphone jack on the S20 Ultra? It's gone now and even the AKG-tuned headphones that Samsung includes in the box now come with a USB-C connector.

120-Hertz Display: A game-changer

The S20 Ultra is a big phone with a big 6.9-inch screen with tiny bezels and the punch hole design with the front camera in the center.

In person, this screen looks incredible. It is AMOLED in its latest and most advanced form with juicy and delightful colors, deep blacks and great viewing angles. It truly impresses.

But the number one killer new feature is this: 120 Hertz refresh rate. Everything looks buttery smooth in 120 hertz and this refresh rate works at lower brightness levels too, Samsung tells us. One small disclaimer: you can only enable it when using Full HD resolution. If you want the maximum Quad HD resolution, 120 hertz is not available. And no, there is no in-between 90-hertz option at all.

Revolutionary New Camera

Seeing the S20 Ultra in person is a bit of a culture shock: you have never seen a phone with such an enormously big camera bump, it’s massive. We've already mentioned the two reasons for that size: a new 108 megapixel main camera with the largest sensor ever on a Galaxy phone, and then three more cameras: the ultra-wide one, the DepthVision ultra-wide camera, and a brand new periscope zoom lens on the bottom that gives you an impressive 10X optic zoom so you can zoom further without losing much in clarity.

Pushed to its limits, it can zoom digitally up to a mind-boggling 100 times, well deserving the Space Zoom nickname that Samsung has given it. Of course, don’t expect great quality at 100 times zoom, images do look blurry and you’d better bring a tripod along, but step one stop short of that at 30 times zoom, just holding the phone in your hand, and you get a surprisingly decent photo. And go at the native 10 times zoom and photos look downright impressive.

Let's take a quick look at the camera specs:
  • 108-megapixel main camera, f/1.8 aperture, OIS
  • 12-megapixel ultra-wide, f/2.2
  • 48-megapixel telephoto, f/3.5, OIS
  • DepthVision (ToF)
  • 40-megapixel front camera

Those 108 megapixels on the main camera, you can use them for full resolution photos, but by default the camera would combine 9 individual pixels into one to create 12-megapixel snaps.

New Camera Features

And here is a quick overview of all the new features that you will find in the camera app:

  • Single Take: Single Take allows you to just hold the camera shutter while the phone will shoot photos and videos with all of the cameras, and then magically pull out the best shots and moments in one album. How do you use it? Do something fun, jump or scream, be creative, and capture it. You will automatically get a short movie, a few GIF like funny animations, a bunch of stylized photos and a lot more in just one take. Samsung says it uses AI, but it’s a really great way to capture a moment and see it as if it was captured from a crowd of people everyone with their own unique view.

  • Night Mode 2.0: Night Mode has also been improved in the S20 Ultra and it now brings up more light and color in nearly pitch black situations. The improvement is quite big when compared to what is currently available on the Note 10 and Galaxy S10 series.

  • Night Hyperlapse: The big new sensor allows you to now capture a hyperlapse at night. A Hyperlapse is a type of video that speeds up time and it can be very impactful. Now, with the bigger sensor you can get it to look very clean and noise-free.

  • 8K Video: 8K video is the leading new camera feature that provides a stunning amount of detail. It's not the default option (probably because 8K video also takes up a ton of space), but if you want that detail you can use it, plus in 8K video you are also able to capture 33-megapixel snaps while recording. You can share 8K videos to YouTube or beam them to a compatible 8K Samsung TV, and you also have the option to convert the footage to a lower resolution when you send it to friends.

  • Improved Super Steady: The Super Steady option (you can enable it by tapping on the wavy hand icon in the camera interface) automatically gets rid of noise and jerkiness in your videos and it's great when you are trying to film something sporty or active where you have to walk or even run with the camera. Samsung says it has used both AI and hardware improvements for this. Keep in mind that Super Steady uses the ultra wide camera with a significant crop, and not the main camera, so it might not be the best fit if you are shooting videos in low light.

  • Pro Mode for Video: Just what it sounds like, Pro Mode for video gives you manual control over things like shutter speed and ISO, so you can adjust the brightness of the video much like you can on a DSLR camera.

Processor, 5G Connectivity and Storage

All three Galaxy S20 phones will come with the new Snapdragon 865 chip in the United States, while most of the rest of the world will get them powered by the Samsung-made Exynos 990 chip instead.

5G connectivity is also available optionally on all three models, including the Ultra, but keep in mind that some markets where there is no 5G network yet are likely to get a 4G only version of the phones that will also help Samsung cut the price for those countries.

If you are wondering what type of 5G networks will the phone support, you will be happy to learn that it will include support for both mmWave technology (extremely limited range, but record beating speeds) and Sub6 bands (wide coverage, slower speeds than mmWave), so it will make the best of all 5G networks.

And in terms of storage, the base version of the S20 Ultra will come with 128GB of on-board storage, but you will also 

Battery and Charging

The S20 Ultra ships with a massive 5,000mAh battery that provides enough juice even with the higher demands of a 5G network and a 120-Hertz screen. We don't have the official battery numbers just yet but this is the biggest size battery Samsung has ever put on a flagship smartphone (and any smartphone to our knowledge), and it is expected to deliver.

In terms of charging, the phone ships with a 25-watt Fast Charge wall adapter in the box and for the first time, the charger itself features a USB-C connection, so you get a USB-C to USB-C cable in the box as well. The S20 Ultra is also the only one in the S20 series to support 45-watt fast charging speeds via a separately purchased adapter (just like on the Note 10+).

Samsung has also made improvement to the wireless charging that is still supported, but now happens even faster.

Price and Release Date

You can pre-order the Galaxy S20 Ultra starting February 20th on T-Mobile, but it will take until March 6th for the phone to actually arrives in stores for the low, low price of just $1400, and that's for the 128-gigger. The $200 Samsung store credits and free Buds+ can't right that wrong. Unfortunately, the horror only continues with the 16GB/512GB model, which will land on US carriers for the whopping $1599.99 price tag. Any takers?


Related phones

Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
  • Display 6.9 inches
    3200 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 108 MP (Quad camera)
    40 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 12GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 5000 mAh
  • OS Android 10
    Samsung One UI



19. cevon3239

Posts: 224; Member since: Jan 01, 2020

Unlike your claim, there is nothing wrong with the FPS on the Note 10 models. More accurate and secure versions of biometric hardware are simply slower, do the needing required accuracy to prevent spoofing. Just stick with your insecure Face ID that can be unlocked by almost anybody. After seeing the Ultra, which I wanted for the camera, the phone is too boring other than the display area which is very cool looking. I can see it is really tall. They should have centered the camera and just made the phone thicker and put in a 5500mAh battery instead. That way the sensor would be flush. Would still be "ugly", but less obtrusive.

14. bekkerlo

Posts: 3; Member since: Feb 12, 2020

I'm in Botswana and I've been to the Samsung website. The S20 Ultra model on the website is listed as 'S20 Ultra LTE.' So it seems contrary to reports there actually will be an a 4G version of the Ultra! I could post a screenshot but your comment section doesn't allow.

18. sgodsell

Posts: 7679; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

If you really love in Botswana. Do honestly believe 5G is going to be in Botswana in a few years time? I will bet a definite no.

21. bekkerlo

Posts: 3; Member since: Feb 12, 2020

There won't be 5G in Botswana any time soon. We're only just getting 4G to the most populated areas of the country now, so an investment into next gen tech will take many more years. By the way, what is this of if I really live in Botswana? Is there something I would gain by lying about living in Botswana?!

20. cevon3239

Posts: 224; Member since: Jan 01, 2020

Also the modem in the phone is 3/4/5G compatible.

22. bekkerlo

Posts: 3; Member since: Feb 12, 2020

Point is- if there is an LTE version of the Ultra, I will be spending at least $100 less than the 5G version. And I upgrade every two years, so I won't have any concerns over if I won't be able to access 5G here as it is going to take at least another 5 years before we get the next gen tech.

13. abhinavjangir0201

Posts: 24; Member since: Aug 25, 2018

So no one is talking about 20:9 aspect ratio and 167 mm length?? because it's not xperia Last year xperia 1 got lots of hate for the same

15. Jason2k13

Posts: 1489; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

First of all, Sony Xperia 1 is 21:9 aspect ratio, s20 ultra is 20:9. People complained because it was too long and the forehead was bigger than the chin, while the ultra has symmetrical dimensions top and bottom. If the Xperia’s forehead and chin was the same size, it would have been a good looking phone.

11. adecvat

Posts: 678; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

- not flicker free - optical zoom 4x (P30 pro has 5x) - 25w charger (not 40w) - aluminum not steel - ultrawide camera from budget A51

7. Cat97

Posts: 2074; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Sorry, I don't need a portable TV right now.

17. drazwy

Posts: 378; Member since: Jan 15, 2014

Guess you just move on then.

6. FreedaBees

Posts: 6; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

I wonder which clothing manufacturer will be the first to offer pants with a pocket that extends all the way to your knee to fit this thing? Can someone please explain a mystery to me? Samsung includes 32-bit/384kHz DACs in their phones without a headphone jack. Why?. The inbuilt speakers on phones wouldn't even tax an 8bit DAC. The DAC is bypassed for Bluetooth and USB-C headphones rely on a DAC in the plug, as do UBB-C->3.5mm adapters. So without any way to output a high resolution analogue audio signal, why include a high end DAC?

5. shawman

Posts: 100; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

pricing would make it a niche. I will wait 6 months to see it drop in price. Based on what we saw with S10, we should able to buy it half off by then. Also should have started with 256GB like note 10 series and bumped up to 1TB for all in phone. Overall disappointed with S20 on pricing. starting it at 999 means it will be the lowest selling flagships. Even Apple sells base iphone 11 at 700 rather than "pro" phones.

3. Johnabis

Posts: 69; Member since: Feb 17, 2011

I thought Samsung said March 6th for the release during the live stream?

2. Priyam009

Posts: 82; Member since: Oct 23, 2018

Huawei P40 series going to destroy this piece of toy camera! So much hype but fall flat as usual although without proper software support P40 will not be as all rounder as S20 but the main aspect camera will be way better I guess, not just such an incremental megapixel update but a high quality custom Sony sensor and a true 10x optical zooom with beter 100x zoom results i hope

8. pimpin83z

Posts: 653; Member since: Feb 08, 2019

"Huawei P40 series going to destroy this piece of toy camera!" LOL! Based on what?

9. FreedaBees

Posts: 6; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

Optical zoom lenses beyond 4 - 5x usually have noticeably lower performance, so if it does have a 10x, it might not be doing as much destroying as you are hoping for.

12. Priyam009

Posts: 82; Member since: Oct 23, 2018

Now who told you that do you have any idea how lens, aperture focal lengths work? Anyway it will also have a 3x telephoto and the leaked sample of P40 pro is there where both the telephoto works at tandem to produce sharp detailed texture retaintion even at 20x Hybrid Check out yourself! So much clarity and dynamic range even in a cropped photo

23. FreedaBees

Posts: 6; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

Several decades of using ILC cameras and untold hours reading about and doing photography 'told' me that. I can't tell much definitively from that twitter photo as it's not a full resolution sample, but I can tell enough that it's aesthetically a bad photo and that the bokeh is horrible. The details on the bird seem good but the use of flash casting that shadow from the head onto the background ruins it. I'll wait to download proper full res samples from both the S20 and P30 before forming a real opinion.

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