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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