So, I Pre-Ordered a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

As usual, Samsung is issuing the first major new smartphone models of the year, and I’m once again jumping on the treadmill. Here we go again.

The goal, as always for me, is to figure out whether Samsung has finally caught up with the best smartphone camera systems in the market, a milestone it has always missed, though recent efforts have come close. This year’s entries, however, in particular the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, which has the best camera specs on paper, arrive at an auspicious time: Last Fall, Apple inexplicably launched itself into the camera quality upper-tier with its new iPhones, embarrassing Google, in particular.

And really, it’s all up in the air right now. I happen to prefer the recent Huawei flagships when it comes to camera quality—I still take a P30 Pro with me when it matters—but that firm’s troubles with the U.S. have undermined its viability here. Google, a long-time leader in this arena, coughed up a hairball in late 2019 when it went with two lenses instead of three, leaving its users without an ultra-wide option. And Apple. How can we explain Apple? It was a distant non-contender until this past year, but now it’s absolutely in the running.

This left Samsung—which still sells more smartphones than any other firm despite Huawei’s 2019 surge and Apple’s fourth-quarter sales heroics—in a tough spot. Its recent flagships take great pictures … sometimes. And not always in all conditions. So while I was impressed with some of the photos my Note 10+ took, many left me flat. It just isn’t as reliable and consistent as my Huawei and Google handsets, despite having some advantages over both.

Anyway. Samsung announced the Galaxy S20 line in February, and it allowed customers at that time to “reserve” a spot in a non-existent line so that they could preorder a device starting today. The real point of that reservation was so that we could see how the pricing would break down. And while these new handsets, in particular the new Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, are quite expensive, Samsung is offering tremendous trade-in values for current customers, and it is handing out hundreds of dollars in credit so that they can also pick up Samsung accessories for free at the time of purchase.

As you may recall, I recently revisited the Google Pixel 3a XL, but that came about because I had pulled a few unused phones out of a drawer and started charging them and updating them, and I was struck anew by the incredible quality of the Note 10+ display. At that time, I figured I could reevaluate some of the 2019 flagships I was no longer using to see how they stood up to the Pixel 4 XL I normally use (and, truth be told, am generally underwhelmed by, aside from the camera). I originally intended to start with the Note 10+, but ended up going with the Pixel 3a XL for a variety of reasons.

There’s a side-story to the Note, too. My wife is currently using a Samsung Galaxy S8+, and while it’s still working OK for the most part, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, and it’s been experiencing some slowdowns and glitches. She’s already reset it once, but the cycle is repeating, and she asked me about the Note 10+ a few months back. I told her to wait for the new Galaxy S20 announcements, figuring that she could get one of those, or the Note, whichever made more sense.

This is all a long explanation for why I just spent about $1400, of course.

I’m going to evaluate the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, especially it’s camera. And while there is a small chance that this thing will so completely blow me away that I’ll switch, I don’t honestly see that happening. The more likely outcome is that I’ll pass this phone along to my wife when I’m done testing it. Or that I’ll return it and she can have the Note 10+.

But the Samsung trade-in and special offer values are rather incredible. A 128 GB Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G costs $1399.99 at launch, but Samsung is offering $700 for the Note 10+, dropping the price to about $700. The company is also handing out $200 in Samsung credit, which allowed me to grab a set of Galaxy Buds+ wireless earbuds and a case for the new phone, for free.

Granted, you can also save hundreds of dollars by waiting: Samsung’s phones are infamous for regular price drops and sales, and in a few months, I have no doubt that the pre-trade pricing will hit or even fall below $1000 for this model. But I think it makes sense to jump now and see how it goes.

In case it’s not obvious, I went with the most expensive model because of its camera system, which includes a 108 MP wide-angle camera lens, a 48 MP telephoto lens, and a 12 MP ultra-wide lens, plus a 3D time-of-flight sensor and a 40 MP front-facing camera. It features 10x optical zoom (really hybrid) and 100x digital zoom.

Those are ludicrous specs, but we’ll need to see how this performs in the real world before we get too excited. As always, I am hopeful but realistic. And for once, I’ll pay attention to the early reviews. This is too much money to waste.

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Conversation 25 comments

  • johnh3

    21 February, 2020 - 9:49 am

    <p>Im very interested in the S20 Ultra and how the camera performs, but its a very big phone. </p><p>So I want to try it in stores first and not to pre-order.</p><p><br></p><p>And its other interesting phones in the pipeline. LG will show some devices soon. Sony got a live stream event on february 24 to (Sony Xperia 5 Plus possible) And the rumours suggest that they have a big upgrade for their camera system to. </p><p><br></p><p>So I will wait for proper reviews, not just some short hand videos on Youtube for all before I make up my mind.</p><p><br></p>

    • t-b.c

      21 February, 2020 - 10:21 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#522324">In reply to johnh3:</a></em></blockquote><p>Sounds wise to wait if you are not completely sold on Samsung. Like Paul, I've pre-ordered the S20 Ultra but I did so because it can shoot 8K video. </p>

      • johnh3

        21 February, 2020 - 10:29 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#522339">In reply to t-b.c:</a></em></blockquote><blockquote><em>Yes and here in Sweden we not get a special pre-order deal or stuff bundled with the new S20 series as last year with the S10. A strange decision by Samsung.</em></blockquote><blockquote>So thats one reason I will wait for Pauls and other sites camera reviews.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><p><br></p>

    • MikeCerm

      21 February, 2020 - 6:04 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#522324">In reply to johnh3:</a></em></blockquote><p>It's a big phone, for sure, but I have a Mi Max 3 that's actually a quite a bit bigger — about a centimeter taller and wider — and I honestly love the size. I used to like putting my phone down and picking up a Nexus 7 or an iPad mini for relaxing and reading on the couch, but a truly huge phone totally eliminates the need for a second device.</p><p><br></p><p>Kind of. I actually do have a Pixel 3a that I use as a phone, but mostly just for the camera. By today's standards, it's about as small a phone as you can buy, and you know what? I still can't <em>comfortably </em>use it with one hand. I remember when 4.3" screens were considered huge, and I wish I could get a phone that small today. Something iPhone SE sized, but without the huge top and bottom bezels and running Android would be incredible. But since I find that even the smallest phones today must be used with two hands, then you might as well go huge. </p>

      • johnh3

        22 February, 2020 - 11:38 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#522477">In reply to MikeCerm:</a></em></blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>Yes but I thinking more that a compact phone are more easy to carry around in general. All jackets dont have huge pockets etc..</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>In my home I dont mind a gigantic phone. But then I got my iPad in any case. So I prefeer a slightly smaller phone with a good camera. Sony Xperia 5 are one example. Or iPhone 11 Pro. And maybe the upcoming iPhone that suppose to come in a month.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>Im sure S20 Ultra will have a impressing camera. But a mobile device are more than only the camera.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><p><br></p>

  • jeff.bane

    21 February, 2020 - 10:00 am

    <p>I am confident this is money well spent. Not meant as an insult at all, but you're the biggest phone camera critic I follow and I'll look forward to one of the few honest articles about this camera.</p>

    • ejuly

      Premium Member
      21 February, 2020 - 3:35 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#522327">In reply to Jeff.Bane:</a></em></blockquote><p>I agree with Jeff,</p><p>Outside of blind camera tests I trust PT.</p>

  • wolters

    Premium Member
    21 February, 2020 - 10:11 am

    <p><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Its recent flagships take great pictures … sometimes. And not always in all conditions. So while I was impressed with some of the photos my Note 10+ took, many left me flat.</strong></p><p><br></p><p>Like you, camera is my most important feature. I've owned nothing but a Note or a Pixel since I left my beloved Windows Phone in 2015 (with a short detour to the underrated Moto Z Force Droid.) I get a Note in August and by October, I am using a Pixel. The camera is just that much better and most importantly, consistent. Like you said, SOMETIMES. Daytime photos on my Note 10+ were awesome. Darker conditions, not so much. Selfies seemed washed out…Live Focus was good but not as great as Pixel Portrait mode. And it seemed like any movement, especially in darker conditions, were blurry. </p><p><br></p><p>I want to LOVE the Note 10+…the screen is simply amazing and actually better and easier on my eyes compared to my Pixel 4 XL. I love the stylus…I find the edge screen useful so I can be nearly 100% widgets on my home screens. Dex is nice to have. This phone is a as close to a full computer in my pocket. </p><p><br></p><p>And I love their accessory ecosystem…I think the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is the best smartwatch for Android Phones…Galaxy Buds are pretty nice…the charging pads for both phone and watch are convenient. I love my Gear 360 camera (that only works on a Samsung Phone)…and I use a Tab S6 Tablet. Sure, all of these can be used on any Android phone but works a little more seamlessly on a Samsung Phone. </p><p><br></p><p>I am tempted to do the trade on my Note 10+ for the S20 Ultra. I will lose the stylus but if the cameras live up to the hype, I don't think I'll regret it. As optimistic as I am in general, I am a little concerned the S20 Ultra will not live up to the promise. </p>

  • beckerrt

    Premium Member
    21 February, 2020 - 10:16 am

    <p>Hey Paul,</p><p><br></p><p>Will you be writing up a full review, or just focusing on the camera? This thing is a beast, looking forward to hearing how it goes. Any interest in the Z Flip? </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      22 February, 2020 - 7:45 am

      Not sure yet, but most likely on the review. No interest in the Z Flip at the moment, but perhaps a future generation version.

  • mtalinm

    21 February, 2020 - 10:19 am

    <p>Still loving my Fold after 4 months!</p>

    • BrianEricFord

      21 February, 2020 - 11:59 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#522337">In reply to mtalinm:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>i’d tell myself that too if i dropped that much cash on an experiment.</p>

  • lilmoe

    21 February, 2020 - 11:19 am

    <p>I honestly find your comments and opinion about Samsung's cameras in their S/Note series rather interesting, to say the least.</p><p>I've compared the Note 9 (not even the latest) to the iPhone 11 and Pixel 4, and the Note noticeably delivers higher quality images, even in night mode. The photo characteristics are different, yes, but that's personal taste, which matters little to a generation that applies filters to everything posted online. If anything, the brighter, livelier images from Galaxies have an edge over anything else out there after the filters are applied.</p><p><br></p><p>Galaxies have always won in blind tests. Consumers have always tended to prefer their images over others. As a popular example, you can watch MKBHD's showdown of smartphone cameras. Both two winners were Galaxies (despite how offended he was by the result, with a bad explanation as to why). This is consistent with many other showdowns on the internet.</p><p><br></p><p>I find this disparity rather confusing… Why reviewers don't share the same opinion as consumers is beyond me. Is it because Samsung is well known for delivering what people want? I don't know. At least I like that approach better than Apple's "we know better than you" or Google's "we'll charge you a premium for low-end hardware because our software rocks" approach…</p>

  • bassoprofundo

    Premium Member
    21 February, 2020 - 11:31 am

    <p>I've had every S series and Note flagship since the Note 5, and this time, I just don't think I can do it. Even with trading my N10+, that's still $700 out of pocket, and for what? </p><p><br></p><p>the sweet new camera, yes… but also 22g heavier, no S-Pen, 128gb less onboard storage, a 0.1" bigger screen that I can't use in 120hz mode unless I downscale, a chipset with a separate 5g modem that's going to chomp battery like crazy (likely offsetting the battery increase) and provides connectivity I can't yet use</p><p><br></p><p>By all accounts, I'd actually lose more than I gain AND would pay for the privilege. Even with the camera, I just can't believe that Samsung's software is actually going to keep up with the hardware here. Is it not the software "smarts" holding them back at this point anyway? Ugh… I know this is a whole lot of #firstworldproblems, but still… Looking forward to your review.</p>

    • bassoprofundo

      Premium Member
      21 February, 2020 - 11:36 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#522360">In reply to bassoprofundo:</a></em></blockquote><p>Side note… the one thing that <em>would</em> get me to upgrade? A better $#@$ fingerprint sensor… I thought I was fine with it on the S10/N10+ but I'm not. It's frequently the source of my phonicidal thoughts…</p>

      • IanYates82

        Premium Member
        21 February, 2020 - 7:35 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#522363">In reply to bassoprofundo:</a></em></blockquote><p>Agree on the fingerprint sensor. </p><p>I loved the simplicity of it on my S8. With the case cut out for it I could always find it no effort. </p><p>I rely on the face and location unlock mostly now because the fingerprint sensor is too irritating to use. </p>

    • wolters

      Premium Member
      21 February, 2020 - 11:48 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#522360">In reply to bassoprofundo:</a></em></blockquote><p>See my reply below…I am not all that optimistic about the S20 Ultra being the "best camera ever." I've been tempted to start my pre-order with my $700 trade in of the Note 10+ but might wait to see if it is truly better. I am just preparing to be let down. </p><p><br></p><p>About the fingerprint sensor…have you taken the screen protector off? I found that it did make it a lot more responsive. </p>

      • bassoprofundo

        Premium Member
        21 February, 2020 - 12:18 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#522366">In reply to wolters:</a></em></blockquote><p>I have no doubt you're right about the protector and probably will take it off soon. I had an initial "scare" when the phone slipped out of my pocket into the gears of my recliner, and the protector saved my bacon there, so I've been more reticent than usual to take it off. I'm getting annoyed looking at and feeling the nicks the accident left behind anyway.</p>

  • rmlounsbury

    Premium Member
    21 February, 2020 - 1:07 pm

    <p>I may consider getting back onto the Samsung bandwagon. Samsung does offer the most incredible deals at launch for old devices and credits towards accessories. Though my days of jumping onto the newest device every year might be coming to an end which does blunt the trade-in idea. </p><p><br></p><p>But with the dramatic improvements in Microsoft Launcher and Your Phone it makes Android more interesting for the Microsoft guy. I also do miss the Samsung mobile screens as Paul points out. There is just something about their panels that seems a step above everyone else.</p>

  • Elan Gabriel

    21 February, 2020 - 1:27 pm

    <p>It'll be a great phone by the end of 2021, when the price is around $500. <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">$1400 US before tax for a[ny] phone is ridiculous. For each his own, and I guess Paul can justify it as it "for work", but there's hardly any innovation there. If you care about photography so much, just get a DSLR. For the kids in playground/day hike/food plate – any phone from the last 4 years will be just as good.</span></p>

  • orbsitron

    21 February, 2020 - 3:28 pm

    <p>I had a Galaxy S8 for years. It's images were grainy and colors were very muted. So I ended up with blurry or noisy images that were dull.</p><p><br></p><p>Last fall I purchased an iPhone 11 Pro and the photos I take are absolutely stunning! They still have more noise than a similar shot in similar lighting with my SLR (other than truly low-light conditions in which case the iPhone is _incredible_). </p><p><br></p><p>The photos from the iPhone 11 Pro are so good I now only take out my SLR for situations that call for significant, &gt;2x zoom (ie: a hike) or for the most vivid shots possible (ie: a family event and wanting the best shots of my kids). Other than that, the iPhone does a fantastic job.</p><p><br></p><p>I'm super excited to see what Apple does over the next couple of years here!</p>

  • ponsaelius

    21 February, 2020 - 6:45 pm

    <p>I owned a Samsung device once. I could never really like it because of all the crapware you could never uninstall. The hardware is usually brilliant but the rest always put me off.</p>

    • IanYates82

      Premium Member
      21 February, 2020 - 7:33 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#522492">In reply to ponsaelius:</a></em></blockquote><p>I have a galaxy S10 (using it right now) </p><p><br></p><p>I don't see any crapware at all during any regular use. I have the MS Launcher running, SwiftKey keyboard, etc. It might as well be any brand of phone. </p><p>Is it that if I don't switch launchers I see more junk or something? </p>

  • anderb

    Premium Member
    21 February, 2020 - 7:25 pm

    <p>$1400 for ads in the dialer? No thanks.</p>


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