Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra hands-on review: unexciting but solid

Samsung's new flagship smartphones have arrived. The Galaxy S20 Ultra lives up to its name, at least on paper. Five cameras with a total of more than 200 megapixels, 8K video recording and as much storage and RAM as a decent desktop computer. We have already been able to lay hands on the new Galaxy S20 models during a preview event in Munich, and here's what we think of it.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra release date and price
All models of the Samsung Galaxy S20 are available from 13 March 2020. The Galaxy S20 Ultra starts at $1,399 for the model with 128 GB of storage and 12 GB of RAM. The top model with 512 GB of internal storage and 16 GB of RAM can be purchased by Samsung for $1,599.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Samsung's in a bind. On the one hand, Chinese manufacturers are attacking with attractive flagship smartphones at budget prices, greedy for market share. On the other hand, there has been an expensive feature contest with Apple and Huawei for years. This leaves Samsung little room for overly bold design changes to its flagship Galaxy S series smartphones.

While the South Koreans are already laying the foundation for the foldable future of smartphones with the Galaxy Fold and the upcoming Galaxy Z Flip, the new Galaxy S20 Ultra is rather conservative and stays on the safe side, at least from the outside. But you shouldn't be deceived by the comparatively unexciting design of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The completely new quad-camera system on the back reveals Samsung's ambitions. With a 108-megapixel main camera and the 48-megapixel telephoto camera with up to 100x hybrid zoom, paired with an ultra-wide-angle camera and a time-of-flight camera christened "DepthVision", Samsung aims to return to the top of the camera rankings once again.

The performance of the cameras in combination with the current Snapdragon 865 or in Europe with the Exynos 990 also demonstrates a very special feature: 8K video recording. To enjoy such huge videos with pixel precision, you need a compatible 8K TV, ideally from Samsung of course. But if you don't have an 8K screen at hand now, you can take advantage of the freedom that video in this high resolution offers.

This way, you should be able to change the picture section afterwards without big quality losses, provided of course the final video is only played in 4K or Full HD anyway. Also, thanks to the "8K Video snap" function, 33-megapixel photos can be generated from the 8K videos. The Ultra model's selfie camera integrated into the display in the hole punch has a resolution of 40 megapixels. The selfie cameras in the two smaller models, however, only offer a 10-megapixel resolution. But we can only say how good the cameras of the S20 models actually are and in comparison to each other after our extensive testing. It's impossible to judge these fairly in a short hands-on session.

But what we can already say is that the 6.9-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED display of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is impressive with its 511 ppi pixel density and HDR10+ certification. Not surprisingly, after all, Samsung builds some of the best displays in the industry - including for Apple's iPhone. Crisply sharp, bright, rich colors and even thinner bezels at the top and bottom are present compared to its predecessor. But there's no unnecessary and user-unfriendly "waterfall" display as in Huawei's top models, which curves over the entire sides on the left and right of the device. Sure, the display falls a bit to the side, but not too much. There is enough space for well-placed power and volume buttons.

Speaking of space, does anyone still remember when Samsung's Note series stood for "big smartphones" and the S-series for comparatively compact all-rounders? Well, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is larger and heavier than the current largest Note model. For this, you get a huge 5,000-mAh battery in the S20 Ultra. But it also needs to be this big due to the optional 5G (mmWave, Sub 6, TDD/FDD) on board.

In terms of performance, Samsung doesn't hold back either and has packed between 12 and 16 GB of RAM into the S20 Ultra, depending on whether you choose a model with 128 or 256 or 512 GB of storage space, each of which can be expanded by up to 1 TB via MicroSD.

In Europe and selected markets, all S20 models are equipped with Samsung's own Exynos 990. In the USA, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 eight-core processor is used. 

By the way, under the display, there is once again an ultrasound fingerprint sensor hidden, and a simple but still quite insecure face recognition system via the front camera is also available.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: technical specs

6.9-inch, OLED
120 Hz
Dimensions166.9 x 76.0 x 8.8 mm
220 grams
Operating systemAndroid 10
ProcessorExynos 990 / Snapdragon 865
RAM / Storage
12/16 GB of RAM
128/256/512 GB
Battery5,000 mAh
Rear camera: 12 MP, F2.2, Ultra-wide
108 MP, F1.8, Wide.angle, OIS
48 MP, F3.5, telephoto lens, OIS
DepthVision (ToF)
Front camera: 40 MP, F2.2
Special featuresSpace Zoom
Hybrid Optical Zoom 10X
Super Resolution Zoom 100X
Price$1,399 / $1,599
The specifications of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra are really impressive. The housing design, however, is not. The ceramic case is now yesterday's news. Instead, there is only high gloss Gorilla Glass 6 all around. No special gloss or color effects (unless you count fingerprints, which these cases attract like nothing else). Only Cosmic Grey or Cosmic Black are available as colors for the Ultra, too.
The smaller models are at least additionally offered in Cloud Blue or Cloud Pink. It's a pity, but the camera systems of all S20 models stick out so far that a protective cover is almost obligatory anyway, if only to prevent wobbling on the table. Nevertheless, we are already looking forward to getting all S20 models into the editorial office and testing them extensively.
Early Verdict
Our first impression of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is that it is a wolf in sheep's clothing, with no big surprises. Overall, it's a solid package. Keep your eye out for the full review of all three Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphones, including the S20 Ultra, very soon.
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