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Review: Galaxy S20 Ultra fails to deliver the perfection its $1,400 price demands

Khubaib Ahmad


You can get very, very good smartphones for  not a lot of money nowadays. With a low price point, there’s a lot of room for forgiveness. If a feature isn’t perfect, that’s fine! It was a good value after all. As prices go up, though, room for quirks and issues quickly dries up. At $1,400, customers are right for expecting a phone that’s basically perfect and with its Galaxy S20 Ultra, Samsung tries to deliver that, but fails in one key area — a key area that also happens to be the main marketing point.

Hardware |

A super-premium, but boring brick

First things first, let’s talk about hardware. Samsung is really good at making huge phones feel great, and the S20 Ultra is no exception! The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is big. It’s really big. With a 6.9-inch display, it sounds like it should be a behemoth, but thanks to slim bezels that keep it pocketable, the S20 Ultra is pretty easy to get used to.

The build quality of this phone is great too. Build from metal and glass, it may be a little fragile on a drop, but its thickness and heft make it feel like a tank. Speaking of heft, this is dancing on the line of being too heavy. At 222g or just under half of a pound, the device is something you’ll feel anytime you take it out of your pocket. Since switching to it, I’ve noticed that I feel a significant difference in weight when I pick up any other smartphone. It’s not really an issue, though, as much as it is a very noticeable observation. The thickness, rather, is what I feel some people might have a problem with. The Galaxy S20 Ultra makes for a noticeable bulge in your pocket, and its camera bump is absolutely huge. Sitting on a table, the phone rocks more than any other device I’ve tested in recent memory and, more notably, produces an extremely loud noise when it vibrates.

Like the other Galaxy S20 devices, the Ultra is slippery just because it’s made from glass and, because of the bezels are so thin, there are touch issues from time to time. Really, this is a device you  should own a case for. Though that’s also true because it costs so much.

The port situation is going to be fine for some users too, but less than ideal for others. There’s a USB-C port in the center of the bottom for charging and also for audio output. There’s no headphone jack here and that’s a shame considering how much room Samsung has to work with inside of this phone, but at this point that port is just dead on flagship devices and we have to accept that.

There’s also a SIM tray up top that includes a microSD card slot, and there are only two physical buttons too. Thee “side key” defaults to turning the screen on/off and triggering Bixby, but it can also open the camera with a double-tap. Its functionality can also be changed in the settings.

The “base” model Galaxy S20 Ultra also ships with 128GB of storage and 12GB of RAM, just like the S20 and S20+. Those are excellent specs and help make a fast smartphone, but I can’t help feeling like Samsung should have used a 256GB chip in the Ultra instead of 128GB. After all, this is a really expensive phone! 512GB is the next step up, but even the upgrade to 16GB of RAM doesn’t justify $1,600 in my opinion.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra, when looking at its hardware, is not for everyone. It’s a mammoth of a phone that will sometimes feel cumbersome. However, for content creators or those running a business on the go, the bigger battery and extra screen real estate will come in handy! It’s really just a matter of personal preference.

What really annoys me about it, though, is that it’s just boring to look at. Nothing about the Ultra looks visually interesting. There’s a slab of glass on the back that comes in either a black or dull grey color, neither of which has any flair whatsoever. It’s mind-boggling to me that here we have a device that’s clearly meant for content creators and the most hardcore Samsung fans, yet there’s absolutely nothing visually exciting about the device.

Display |

Monstrous, but in a good way

The display on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is, as mentioned, huge. The 6.9-inch panel has slim bezels all-around and offers plenty of real-estate for anything you’ll want to do. You’ll either love the size or hate it, but you’ll have a tough time saying it’s not fully featured.

As usual for a Samsung Super AMOLED panel, the S20 Ultra’s display is very bright with vivid colors and deep blacks. It simply looks great for everything from media to simply scrolling through social media. What really makes this display shine, though, is its 120Hz refresh rate. It’s disabled by default, but once you turn it on you’ll immediately notice the smoother scrolling it offers up. It really changes how you look at a smartphone display and after using it, you’ll have trouble going back to a 60Hz panel. This is especially true if you’re playing games that take advantage of the faster refresh rate too.

Something that’s been frustrating some Galaxy S20 Ultra buyers, though, is that Samsung is blocking the ability to use that display to its maximum potential. The 6.9-inch display is WQHD+ or 3200×1440. However, through software, you can only use 120Hz at 1920×1080. In practice, I can’t say I really notice a difference between 1080 and 1400 on this display, but it’s still a little odd and frustrating. Should it stop you from buying the phone? Absolutely not. Also of note, Samsung has a punch-hole selfie camera. The 40MP sensor is pretty good! I’m not much of a selfie person, but the test shots I’ve taken are sharp with good colors. What’s most important to me personally is that the punch-hole is housed in the center of the display rather than the sides.

Software |

Predictably perfect performance

Samsung’s software has been getting better and better over the years, and on the S20 Ultra we’ve got One UI 2.1 which is based on Android 10. Our regular Galaxy S20/+ review dives into the software more heavily, but on the S20 Ultra, I’d rather focus on performance. The long story short, though, is that the software on the S20 Ultra is fairly clean, relatively polished, but also sometimes a bit frustrating.

  • Samsung Galaxy S20/+ Review

How’s the performance, though? The Galaxy S20 Ultra is based on a Snapdragon 865 with 12GB of RAM and UFS 3.0 storage. Those specs make for an incredibly fast smartphone that is essentially free of performance issues.

Plus, this is just the base model! If you really want to go all out, there’s an upgraded Galaxy S20 Ultra that costs an extra $200 and delivers 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. That model will really be able to take advantage of the “lock in memory” feature that keeps apps running at all times too.

Battery Life |

5,000 mAh. Enough said.

Packed inside of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is a 5,000 mAh battery. Even with a 6.9-inch display and power-hungry specs, battery life is stellar.

In my daily usage on the S20 Ultra, I was easily and consistently able to end a 14 hour day with 40% of my battery remaining if not more. That’s just on average use with plenty of social media, a bit of web browsing, and some casual games too. That usually accounted for about 4-5 hours of screen on time as well. One day in particular, I also managed a little over 6 hours of screen time, but still left 35% of the battery remaining.

Your results may vary, of course, depending on networks and what apps you use. But for the vast majority of people, this is an all-day Smartphone and for some people, it might even be a two-day device.

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