For the better part of the last decade, Samsung has been dominating the smartphone market with it’s Galaxy S lineup of phones. For 2020 (and to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Galaxy phones), Samsung decided to make some small changes including the name structure with the Galaxy S20 series.

I’ve been using the Galaxy S20 Ultra for the past few weeks and while it has a few issues, it’s still a great phone.

Editor’s Note: While I tested the Galaxy S20 Ultra, it is virtually identical to the S20 and S20 Plus models, apart from screen size, battery, storage and price.

Design & Hardware

Samsung was one of the first manufacturers to introduce the idea of phablet (aka big phones) to consumers and no phones with big screen sizes are now the norm. It’s hard to find a phone that has a screen that is smaller than 5.5 or 5.8-inches in size.

Apple iPhone SE (2020) next to Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

From a hardware perspective, the Galaxy S20 Ultra looks and feels like a premium device with its metal and glass exterior. The S20 Ultra has a massive 6.9-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O Display with a resolution of 3200 x 1440 and has a 120Hz refresh rate.

Because of the S20 Ultra’s big screen and battery, the phone is massive. I’m used to having big phones but the S20 Ultra just feels a bit uncomfortable to hold in one hand. If I was to buy an S20 model outright, I’d probably choose the smaller S20+ or standard S20.

Going from the Pixel 4 XL with it’s 90Hz screen to the S20 Ultra’s 120Hz makes a big difference. Everything just feels much smoother when navigating the phone. One thing to note is that the 120Hz refresh rate is only available in the FHD+ screen resolution (2400 x 1080). At the WQHD+ resolution, you’re limited to 60Hz.

Just like other Android flagships today, the S20 Ultra has an in-display fingerprint sensor that works most of the time but I found myself using the face unlock instead because it’s much quicker.

Since the S20 Ultra or other S20 models don’t have a headphone jack, Samsung has included a pair of AKG USB-C wired earbuds in the box. With my S20 Ultra review unit, Samsung Canada was nice enough to send over their new Galaxy Buds+.

The Galaxy Buds+ offer up to 11 hours of music playback and the charging case can add an hour of playback time in just 3 mins. The case also has wireless charging. The Galaxy Buds+ do sound good and that’s partially thanks to the tuning by AKG.

While the Galaxy Buds+ don’t have Active Noise Cancelling, they do offer noise isolation to help block out some outside noise when listening to music or podcasts. There’s also Spotify integration to automatically launch the app but holding one of the earbuds down.

The Galaxy Buds+ retail for $199 CAD and come in Black, White and Blue colour options.

Powering the S20 Ultra is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor with 12GB of RAM. There’s also 128GB of storage with a microSD card slot for up to 1TB more. Thanks to that extra RAM, I had didn’t come across any slowdown issues when using the S20 Ultra and everything just felt quick.

That battery in the S20 Ultra is 5,000 mAh which easily lasted all day long. The device also comes with Wireless PowerShare (aka reverse wireless charging), Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 (up to 10W+ wireless charging) and 45W Super Fast Charging 2.0 (using the Samsung 45W charger sold separately for $64.99 CAD).

You should be able to get a full charge with the included 25W charger or separate Samsung 45W charger in an hour or so.

While the S20 series has 5G support, I didn’t use the phone on 5G networks because my carrier of choice (Freedom Mobile) hasn’t rolled out their 5G network. If I did use 5G with the S20 Ultra, then I’m sure that would drain the battery significantly.

If you purchase the S20 series from Rogers, Bell or Telus in Canada, you’ll be able to use the phones on their respective 5G networks.

The S20 Ultra is available in Cosmic Gray (which is what my review unit came in) and Cosmic Black (which is a Samsung Store Exclusive)

Canadian pricing for the S20 Ultra is below:

  • Galaxy S20 Ultra (128GB) – $1,769 CAD (normally $1,849 CAD)
  • Galaxy S20 Ultra (512GB) – $2,109 CAD

Note: As of writing this review on July 29th, 2020, Samsung has discounted the S20 Ultra 128GB and the S20 Ultra 512GB is sold out.

The Galaxy S20 series is available now from Samsung’s website, Bell, Rogers, Telus, Fido, Freedom Mobile, Virgin Mobile, SaskTel, Videotron and Koodo.

Software

On the software side of things, the S20 Ultra is running Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI 2.0 (formerly Samsung Experience) on top. While Samsung’s skin has been given a fresh coat of paint, it’s still mostly the same experience as featured on past Samsung devices.

Samsung One UI 2.0 brings a number of features including:

  • Navigation Gestures, which is based on Android 10’s gesture system.
  • Built-in Screen Recorder
  • Improved Face Recognition
  • Dark Mode (with scheduling options)
  • Digital Wellness
  • Smaller Notification pop-ups

In addition to the tweaks to the UI, the S20 Ultra comes pre-installed with the usual set of Samsung apps (such as Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health SmartThings and more) as well as some Microsoft apps like LinkedIn, OneDrive and Outlook. Even though Microsoft apps are pre-installed, you can easily uninstall/disable them.

Overall, I like using Samsung One UI but I much prefer using Google’s Pixel launcher or Action Launcher on my Android devices.

Camera

The camera on Samsung’s Galaxy S device has been a strong point and that mostly holds true with the S20 Ultra. The phone has a total of four cameras on the back comprising of a 12MP Ultra-Wide, 108MP Wide-Angle, 48MP Telephoto and a DepthVision sensor.

On the front, you have a 40MP lens for selfies and for face unlock. One of the features that Samsung is really touting on the S20 Ultra is the 100x Space Zoom, which sounds cool but is very gimmicky.

The 100x Space Zoom using a combination of 10x Hybrid Optical Zoom and 100x Super Resolution Zoom (aka Digital Zoom). While it might help you take photos of faraway objects or locations, the results aren’t that great. Photos that were taken with the 100x Space Zoom are blurry and make it hard to see.

Using the S20 Ultra’s ultra-wide was a lot of fun to use because it could capture a lot more in a single frame, which should make it perfect for group photos. The S20 Ultra does also have a 108MP option but I didn’t find myself using it that often because the file sizes would be much bigger. And if you’re sharing photos from the S20 Ultra on social media like Instagram or Twitter, both will compress your photos to some degree.

In the camera app, you have the option of going between, 0.5x, 1.0x, 2.0x, 4.0x, 10x, 30x and 100x zoom levels but realistically I was mostly using the 0.5x (which is the ultra-wide) and the 10x. I hardly ever went past 10x since the phone has a 5x optical zoom.

The camera app on the S20 Ultra is very easy to use, with the ability to switch between modes. Those modes include:

  • Single Take
  • Photo
  • Video
  • More
    • Pro
    • Panorama
    • Food
    • Night
    • Live Focus
    • Live Focus Video
    • Pro Video
    • Super Slow-Mo
    • Slow Motion
    • Hyperlapse

The nice thing about the app is that you can drag some of the modes from the more section into the main tabs to swipe between them.

For those who have the Galaxy S10 or Note10 series, Samsung has rolled out a software update a few months ago that adds features like Single Take, Night Mode, Night Hyperlapse and Pro Video. Meaning you won’t have to upgrade to the S20 series to get these camera features.

Photos that were taken on the S20 Ultra look great, with quite a bit of detail and colour that pops. Thanks to the included Night Mode, the S20 Ultra takes some great low-light photos and you can also choose different zoom levels to get photos of the night sky or the moon. I was using the Pro mode a few times to take some nighttime photos.

You can shoot up to 8K video on the S20 Ultra but I didn’t find myself using it that often because I don’t have an 8K TV to watch the content. I was mostly shooting video in 4K at 60 fps which unlike the Note10+ last year, the S20 Ultra can shoot this resolution in HDR and with video stabilization on.

Videos look great and feel very life-like with rich colours and details are shown. There’s even a Pro Video mode to take things to the next level.

Final Thoughts

Samsung has done a great job this year with their Galaxy S20 Ultra. It builds upon past Galaxy S devices but has some issues like it being an absolutely huge phone, a high price tag and the 100x Space Zoom feature being kind of useless.

Pros

  • Excellent 120Hz display
  • Long battery life
  • Quick performance thanks to 12GB of RAM
  • Great camera with good video and low-light performance
  • Large storage options plus a microSD card slot
  • 5G support

Cons

  • Most expensive model in the S20 family
  • The in-display fingerprint sensor doesn’t work all the time
  • The phone is enormous in size
  • 100x Space Zoom is gimmicky

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