By releasing a third version for its S20 range, Samsung wanted to offer the ultimate smartphone, with features that could rival those of entry-level Chromebooks and PCs. But this smartphone does so much that its price explodes while the uses will often be less advanced than what it is capable of.
If our colleague from IDG, who performed the test, had to give a rating to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, it would give it five stars without hesitation based on its components and capabilities. The 6.9-inch screen is very bright and the experience is most fluid when the refresh rate of 120 Hz is activated.
The 40-megapixel front camera is much more discreet than the S10. RAM (12 GB LPDDR5), storage (128 GB basic) and processor (Snapdragon 865) are the fastest you can find in a smartphone, and the 5,000 mAh battery lasts all day and recharges quickly. And for the tester, the Space Zoom 100X camera performs better than any other telephoto lens it has used.
But if our colleague had to rate the S20 Ultra for its ease of use and cost, he would give it a maximum of 2 stars (hence a final rating of 3.5 stars). At a price that can make Apple blush (1087 € HT, or 1359 € TTC), the S20 Ultra is much too expensive for most people.
Everything seems extreme in this smartphone, especially its size. Samsung’s drive to build the ultimate device has created a great smartphone that goes far beyond what most people need.
Large, heavy and annoying
For several generations now, Samsung has established that its “plus” phones are essentially larger versions of the base models and with better cameras. On paper, this is also true for the S20 Ultra, but going far beyond an oversized Galaxy S20 +.
Hard to ignore the weight of the S20 Ultra. At 222 grams, it is significantly heavier than the S20 + (188g) and the S10 5G (198g). It remains a little lighter than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which weighs 226 grams, but it doesn’t feel once in hand. The latest Samsung smartphone is weighed down with its raised cameras in the upper left corner and therefore requires a slightly different grip.
Forget the idea of handling S20 Ultra with one hand. It was difficult enough to use the 6.8-inch screen of the Galaxy Note 10+, but the 6.9-inch screen of the S20 Ultra, associated with its weight and thickness of almost 9 mm, is just too heavy for one hand. These problems of handling and keeping the phone stable are detrimental to the user experience according to our colleague.
While giant geometric cameras are all the rage on the back of our smartphones, the S20 Ultra gives it almost comical proportions, with a protrusion that exceeds three millimeters at the back. It is so wide and occupies about an eighth of the rear case.
This giant bump in the camera also makes laying the S20 Ultra more delicate on a table. It is more wobbly than the S10 and the Pixel, and almost pushes the user to put the smartphone in a case…
Just like the Bixby button, fortunately permanently forgotten by Samsung, the jack plug was also removed, which was expected since the Note 10+ was also lacking last year. Samsung offers a pair of USB-C headphones in the box and sells a set of Galaxy Buds + Bluetooth headphones for 170 euros.
Samsung has delivered its most impressive display to date for the S20 product line, according to the tester. The eccentric position of the front camera on the S10 product line has been refocused on the S20. The image quality is impressive in clarity at 1440p and remains pleased with the default resolution of 1080p.
Our colleague was able to manually adjust the screen up to 650 nits of brightness, and he reached 1,350 nits in automatic brightness mode. Its ability to automatically switch from weak light to strong light is excellent. The colors are bright without being too saturated, the whites are natural and the blacks are deep.
The screen of the S20 Ultra is no longer as curved as the previous Infinity screens. This is difficult to see without placing it next to a note 10 or an S10, but it is much “flatter” than those of previous generations (but much more curved than that of the S10e).
This is a good thing for our colleague since it reduces accidental contact with the palm of the hand. What the journalist prefers in front of the “cascading” displays pushed by Oppo and Vivo.
For its S20 family, Samsung has again opted for an on-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. This implementation is much better than that present on the S10. The position of the scanner is higher on the screen and the target is a little larger, no need to modify the grip or flex the thumb to touch it. It is still slower than the S9 hardware sensor, despite increased precision.
The best screen function of the S20 is actually disabled by default. It is not the WQHD 1440p resolution but the frequency of 120 Hz, twice as fast as the standard 60 Hz. In comparison, the scrolling, the animation, and the game are ultra-fluid, which is well worth reducing the battery life.
However, when compared to the Pixel 4’s smooth 90 Hz display, the difference is far from obvious. Samsung could easily get away with this lower frequency, save some of the battery and still offer its 1440p resolution. But as it stands, the 120 Hz setting is only available with Full HD 1080p resolution. A quick refresh with WQHD would have been nice, especially on a screen of this size. Our colleague remains hopeful that Samsung will unlock this feature with a future update.
Speed to spare
Galaxy phones are quite fast since the arrival of the Snapdragon 820 processor in the Galaxy S7, but the Snapdragon 865 of the S20 line is on another level. The phones equipped with the Snapdragon 855 Plus processor had already crossed the threshold of 10,000 in the PCMark Work 2.0 ranking, the S20 crushes expectations with a score of 12,350.
If the increase in speed is significant, the credit does not go solely to Qualcomm. Samsung uses completely new RAM modules inside the S20, and each phone is equipped with at least 12 GB of LPDDR5 memory. In addition, it is possible to keep three applications open for faster switching, which makes it possible to launch games with a very long start-up time in the blink of an eye.
Even the SSD has improved. The basic capacity (128 GB) is once again, twice as high as the Pixel and the iPhone. But Samsung now uses UFS 3.0 storage on all S20 models. While it’s not as fast as the UFS 3.1 storage that will likely debut with the Galaxy Note 20, it’s a nice step up from the S10, and it even outperforms other UFS 3.0 phones:
S20 (UFS 3.0)
- Sequential read: 1,592.46 MBps
- Sequential write: 662.75 MBps
- Random read: 45,172.27 IOPS
- Random write: 33,764.08 IOPS
S10 (UFS 2.1)
- Sequential read: 802.13 MBps
- Sequential write: 188.34 MBps
- Random read: 34,612.61 IOPS
- Random write: 7,383.57 IOPS
OnePlus 7T (UFS 3.0)
- Sequential read: 1,436.19 MBps
- Sequential write: 210.4 MBps
- Random read: 44,158.73 IOPS
- Random write: 7,189 IOPS
By adding the power of the chip, RAM and storage, we get a real smartphone monster that is faster than most Chromebooks and can even compete with some PCs. It is so powerful that Samsung could probably rest on its laurels for the next two generations and continue to keep pace with its competitors.