Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra vs Google Pixel 4 XL
Design and display
First, let's look at what these two phones have in common. Both the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Pixel 4 XL are made of glass and metal. Both are resistant to dust and water ingress. Both come with stereo speakers and lack a headphone jack. I also want to point out that they're both rather conservative in terms of appearance: bland, flat rectangles you can get in a limited range of boring colors: black or grey for the S20 Ultra and black, white, or orange (limited edition) for the Pixel 4 XL.
One thing that makes the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra different is that it's a noticeably bulkier phone. It is taller, wider, thicker, and heavier than the Pixel 4 XL – and the Pixel is already a quite large phone. The obnoxiously large camera area of the S20 Ultra doesn't look good in my opinion, but others seem to be fine with it, stating that it makes the phone look more powerful and more advanced.
A subtle difference I want to point out: the power button on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is positioned closer to the user's right thumb, while on the Pixel 4 XL it's a bit harder to reach.
As we've pointed out in the past, the screen on the Pixel 4 XL looks really, really good. But the one on the Galaxy S20 Ultra is even better – and not only for being larger. It also has great colors and a much higher brightness output.
The Pixel 4 XL display supports a 90Hz refresh rate which makes movement appear smoother. It's a subtle difference that makes the phone feels faster and more pleasant to use. The Galaxy S20 Ultra supports an even higher, 120Hz display refresh rate. It looks even smoother as a result, although few people may be able to tell the difference between 90 and 120Hz. Also, the 120Hz mode on the S20 Ultra only works at 1080p resolution setting.
Fingerprint reader vs Face recognition
Here's one thing the Pixel 4 does better than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Google's phone uses face unlock to recognize its owner, and it works really well, even in challenging environments like in complete darkness. The Galaxy S20 Ultra, meanwhile, relies on an in-display fingerprint reader. It works fine, but it is less reliable than Google's solution. The S20 Ultra also supports facial recognition, but it's not quite as secure. It's an option added for convenience, mostly.
Camera and audio
The top reason for getting a Galaxy S20 Ultra is the powerful camera at the back: a 108MP main camera, a 48MP telephoto camera with 4x zoom, a 12MP super wide-angle camera, and an extra sensor for capturing depth information for portraits. The Google Pixel 4 XL seems vastly inferior with its 12MP main and 12MP 2x zoom telephoto camera, but as we've said in the past, specs alone never paint a full picture.
In reality, if you only need to take a simple picture, the Pixel is likely to perform just as well as the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The Pixel's photo may even turn out better in certain situations, as the Ultra tends to oversharpen certain scenes. Also, the Ultra's camera has a very, very shallow depth of field, which makes it worse for capturing close-ups of flowers or small objects.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S20 Ultra takes better photos at night. With Night Mode enabled on both phones, image quality is comparable and very similar.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra's strength lies in the powerful zoom capabilities of its camera. Technically, it goes up to 100x zoom, but pictures look quite terrible at that level of magnification. They look very impressive in the 10x - 30x range, however, and are better than the Pixel's zoomed-in shots. Curiously, the Pixel takes better pictures at 2x zoom with its telephoto cam. That's because the Ultra uses digital zoom only in the range between 1x and 3.9x. Its telephoto cam kicks in only once you get to 4x zoom. At night, on the other hand, the S20 Ultra is the better zoomer.
Another advantage the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra has over the Pixel 4 XL is that it has a super wide-angle camera. This allows it to capture a wider scene without you having to step back. The Pixel 4 XL doesn't have such a lens, unfortunately. Here's the difference it makes:
Portrait mode and selfies
At a glance, selfies from both phones seem to be similar in quality, but when you take a closer look, you'll notice that the Pixel 4 XL captures more detail with its front camera. We believe there's a bug in the S20's camera system causing this, as that's how all our S20 models behave right now.
Portraits out of both phones look beautiful, with well-applied background blur and good object separation.
As far as video recording goes, the Galaxy S20 Ultra has the upper hand. The Pixel's videos look pretty good, but the S20 Ultra supports higher recording quality with its 4K60 support and manual controls. 8K video capturing is also an option that pro videographers may be interested in.
Both phones have stereo speaker setups comprised of one loudspeaker on the bottom and the earpiece acting as a second speaker. The Galaxy S20 Ultra sounds pretty good, but the Google Pixel 4 XL beats it in this category with its loud, clear, bassy and balanced sound.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra, however, comes with a pair of good-sounding earbuds in the box, while the Pixel doesn't even have a USB-C to 3.5mm dongle. Neither phone has a headphone jack.
Software and performance
Once again, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is quite a few steps ahead of the Pixel. With 128 or 512GB of storage and up to 16GB of RAM, it is a future-proof powerhouse ready to deal with anything you throw at it. It is also powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chip and supports 5G connectivity.
The Google Pixel 4 XL comes with last year's Snapdragon 855 chip and does not support 5G. That's not much of a drawback, however. The bigger bottleneck is the low amount of on-board storage: 64GB in the base version. A 128GB model is also available, but even that would not be enough for some people. Unlike the S20 Ultra, the Pixel doesn't have a microSD card slot.
The good news is that neither phone feels slow with day-to-day tasks. Even if you get the Pixel, you won't feel like you're getting a weaker phone – or at least you won't for another year.
The Pixel 4 XL runs a cleaner, lighter version of Android. It's not as feature-packed as Samsung's solution, but some might prefer it that way. Google brags with the hand gestures you can use to skip songs or silence alarms, and while they look cool, they're mostly just a gimmick. What could be useful to students – or anyone who often takes voice notes, really – is the Recorder app. It transcribes your words in real time as it hears and can create a text version of a voice recording. Neat!
Both phones support wireless charging. However, only the Galaxy S20 Ultra has reverse wireless charging, allowing it to act as a wireless power bank and charge accessories or other phones if needed.
Speaking of charging, the Galaxy S20 Ultra comes with a much more powerful charger in the box. Despite the larger battery that it packs, it is quicker than the Pixel in charging from zero to full.