Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G First Impressions

Posted on March 2, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 19 Comments

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G is as expected, a huge slab of glass with an obnoxiously large camera sensor on the back. Of course, my coming decision on this handset will be based semi-exclusively on the quality of that camera, though for now, I’ll just focus on my first impressions.

It’s big. Not as big compared to other handsets, as some early reviews suggested, however. And in taking out my other large recent handsets, like the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Samsung Note 10+, I can see that the S20 Ultra is approximately the same size as both and is, in fact, only a hair taller than the Note 10+. The biggest difference, of course, is the display: Where the Note 10+ provides a 6.8-inch display in a 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9 mm body, the S20 Ultra ships with a slightly bigger 6.9-inch unit in its 166.9 x 76.0 x 8.8 mm frame.

That said, the S20 Ultra is notably heftier: It weighs in at 220 grams, compared to 196 grams for the Note 10+, and I assume a lot of that has to do with the batteries: 5000 mAh for the S20 Ultra vs. 4300 for the Note 10+, the latter of which also provides an S Pen. That said, the weight is noticeable, but the S20 Ultra seems dense in a good way, and not like a brick.

There are two major form factor changes since the Note 10+. Samsung moved the volume buttons and power button to the right side, from the left, which is good news: That layout is more common and preferred. And the display is no longer curved, as was the case with the past several Samsung flagships. I think that was a smart move: Curved displays are hard to protect with cases, and are thus easier to damage, and they’re prone to mis-taps and swipes.

That display is gorgeous, as I’ve come to expect from Samsung, which describes it as an HDR10+ certified Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display, with a resolution of 3200 x 1440 and a pixel density of 511 ppi, both of which are improvements over the Note 10+ (3040 x 1440 at 498 ppi). The big news here is its 120 Hz refresh rate, though my understanding is that this is only possible if you set the display to 1080p. I will test this.

Samsung’s onboarding experience is only slightly different than the stock Android setup wizard, and I opted for facial recognition to see whether this process has improved since the Note 10+. Samsung’s UI remains one of the more attractive Android skins, and while some of the navigation and gestures are different, I’m familiar enough that I was able to jump right in without any confusion.

As one expects of Samsung, there are a lot of additional apps installed by default, including four Microsoft apps (LinkedIn, Office, OneDrive, and Outlook), about a dozen largely redundant Samsung apps (Internet, My Files, SmartThings, and many others), plus Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube Music.

The big question here, of course, is the camera system.

On paper, it sounds impressive. The Galaxy S20 5G provides a quad-camera system with a 12 MP ultra-wide lens, a 108 MP wide-angle lens, a 48 MP telephoto lens with 10x hybrid zoom and digital zoom up to 100x, and a depth-vision lens. There’s also a 40 MP selfie camera.

I’ve only done the most basic of tests, but the early results suggest some nice improvements. A few shots, inside and out, all look nice.

And it appears that the S20 Ultra 5G can shoot shots at up to about 10X that may rival the quality I’ve seen with the Huawei P30 Pro.

Dog, ultra-wide

Dog, wide (1X)

Dog, 5X zoom

After that, the image quality gets mucky, like a watercolor painting, and your natural hand shake exaggerates through the viewfinder, making most long zoom shots pointless without a tripod.

Outdoor, ultra-wide (.5X)

Outdoor, wide (1X)

Outdoor, 10X

Outdoor, 30X

Outdoor, 100X

A lot more testing is required, of course.

In addition to the handset itself, the box includes a power charger and USB-C cord, plus a basic set of headphones. Samsung also through a USB-C-to-USB-A dongle in the box, because I asked for it, but the case I ordered has yet to ship, let alone arrive.

More soon.

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Comments (24)

24 responses to “Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G First Impressions”

  1. red77star

    Overpriced, crappy Android OS ruined by even worse Samsung and other Software you cannot remove without jail breaking device, and 5G ---> all the reasons not to get this.

    Buying new smart phone is waste of money, real waste of money. I would never pay more than $200 for a phone.

    This price hijacking started by Apple followed by Samsung and others and it is nothing but f. bullshit.

    Personally, f. them all.

  2. wright_is

    I have one question, coming back to Samsung for the first time, since the S3, can you fully deactivate Bixby? I always deactivate the Google Assistant on my phones and will want to disable Bixby as well.

    • Paul Thurrott

      The Bixby feed thing to the left of Home is gone, and replaced by a new Samsung Daily feed that is more like the Google feed and can be completely disabled (but not replaced by another feed). There's no Bixby button, and you can change the side key press and hold action to display the power off menu instead of Bixby. (A double press opens camera, not Bixby, by default.) Bixby routines are available, but avoidable, and it can be completely disabled. I mean, it's early ... but Bixby is certainly not front and center in any way.
  3. bhatech

    Not sure if you are already aware, but if you go to Settings-Navigation bar. You can select full gestures and there you have option to select either Samsung or native Android 10 gestures.

    Commenting since you said it's different to Android 10 but can get used to. Generally I set it to Android 10 gestures so that it's the same on my pixel and Samsung devices.

    • wright_is

      In reply to bhatech:

      What is the difference? I only know the Huawei gestures, swipe from left or right to go back, swipe from the bottom for the app tray and swipe from the bottom to the middle of the screen for the task manager. My wife's Galaxy S10 seems to use the same gestures as the Huawei system.

  4. JWayneG

    To be able to make out the license plate on that jeep (if not being obscured by the bike rack) from that distance is impressive to me. Not saying it's producing anything close to a beautifully crisp photo, but still....

  5. rmlounsbury

    This is the first year I've decided to get off the annual upgrade cycle and ride a phone for awhile. Since we aren't getting major leaps forward on processor front and the biggest difference between generations anymore is crisper screens, different finger print methodologies, more RAM, and camera upgrades there is less incentive to upgrade regularly.

    Especially as the new normal for phone prices has nosed above $1000 which is nuts unless you are buying a new laptop. You can just wait a year and wait for the previous gen devices to go on fire sale and you can grab one for up to 50% off it's launch price.

    I'm going to experiment with a Galaxy Note 9 and use that until August 2021 which is when it should stop receiving security updates. I was able to pick one up in mint condition for $400 which which is $599 off it's launch price. Of course, you have to be okay with not getting anymore OS updates (Android 10 + Samsung One UI 2.0 is the end of the line for the Note 9) and just getting security updates on a quarterly basis (I believe the Note 9 still gets monthly updates) until sometime 2021. But the hardware itself is still solid SD 845 vs. the Note 10's 855. Aside from security updates there isn't a strong case to upgrade to the Note 10+ if you are a Note fan. Especially given the in screen fingerprint sensor wasn't great on the Note 10. You have an extra bonus of no hole punch screen as well.

    But if I can get 2 years of life out of a device that is 1.5 years old that costs 40% of it's launch price this might be the new way forward for me. If I can hang onto this device until the holiday season of 2021 I can probably end up getting the Note 20 on fire sale and start the cycle over. The two biggest factors is how long Samsung keeps pushing security updates for the Note 9 and whether or not Android rot starts to eat into the Note 9's performance.

    • RobertJasiek

      In reply to rmlounsbury:

      As an excuse "at least less than $1000 per year", such calculations yield an expense of $100 ~ 500 per year for a smartphone. Still crazy I say. My PC incl. monitor comes down to ca. $60 per year because its life is limited by the weakest part of its hardware (10 years expected) but not limited by OS / security updates.

      • rmlounsbury

        In reply to RobertJasiek:

        Well, if you are specifically referring to a desktop computer I don't think you can make a direct comparison. There is a cost to the scaling down of components to fit something the size of a modern smartphone. So I expect that device will cost more than a desktop PC.

        But, the bigger point I'm making is that mobile devices have matured and don't see the major leaps in performance between generations like they used to. They should get a longer support cycle not just to diffuse the price of a mobile phone but to also cut down on the waste.

        For me the monthly cost of playing the mobile phone lease game finally ticked high enough with the latest generation phones that I've decided to get off the train. Especially given that the biggest advance in the latest generation of phones are the cameras and 5G (and 5G for most doesn't have enough coverage to merit the upgrade).

    • wright_is

      In reply to rmlounsbury:

      I've always replace my phones on a 2 - 3 year cycle. My current Mate 10 Pro is now just over 2 years old, but because of the embargo, I'm unsure how the updates are going to be, going forward.

  6. rm

    I am guessing you have to be very steady with the camera at 100X zoom!

  7. ronh

    Hey Paul,

    Regarding the 5 outdoor photos..

    Are they 5 different pictures or different zoom levels of the same picture? (I assume 5 pics)

    On the car close up (100X), did the camera give you indication that it was able to obtain focus on the car?

    Were you just hand holding or did you stabilize the camera in any way?


  8. wunderbar

    The dog is giving you the "what are you doing?" stare and I love it.

  9. lilmoe

    This is the start of a new, niche, smartphone category --> component cost be damned, here's everything tech allows in this form factor, but you'll have to pay. Not for everyone for sure, but there WILL be a market. This is exciting because this will enable more research for tech to make it down to the "mainstream" flagships.

    Samsung has the opportunity to render all point-and-shoot cameras obsolete.

    I wish they went with a 48mp main camera sensor instead of 108 though, since it's virtually impossible for such tiny lenses (comparatively) to render anything close to that, while making it much easier for the image processor to produce high quality 12mp images. Not sure if the reason has to do with the Bayer filter arrangement for pixel binning....

    While I strongly disagree with any setiment that Samsung's processing of images is inferior to any other smartphone OEM in HDR/Night modes, I believe they should seriously think about a joint venture with a known camera maker like Fuji/Canon for their color science. Samsung's hardware with Fuji's colors would be the end of 1" sensor cameras. This is also an oppurtunity for proper camera OEMs to get in on smartphone photography.

  10. eric_rasmussen

    The photo quality is better than I expected, based on early reports. That's good.

    The price is pretty high, at $1400. I could build a fairly powerful gaming PC for that price. That's bad.

    I don't feel like the S20 is $1000 better than the Pixel 3a I currently own. Google has won me over with this Pixel device, so I'll probably hang onto it until there is a Pixel 5a. ?

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