Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra is a super-sized camera phone

Mala Bhargava | Updated on: Mar 31, 2020

Over-the-top specs and a bunch of occasional-use camera features set this phone apart — along with a high price tag

If you’ve had your eye on Samsung’s top-of-the-line smartphone, you will of course have to wait until these troubled times pass us by. But meanwhile, let’s get our minds off the dreaded virus and look forward to some future gadget shopping...

Samsung’s S20 Ultra is the one in this year’s line-up that dwarfs the other two just recently released. It’s larger by a big margin, has hardware specs that outdo its siblings, and is much more expensive. At a price of — sit down for this one — ₹99,890, it deserves a through going over before you consider buying it when we un-lockdown.

For some reason, Samsung has given up on the idea of an attractive design for this smartphone. Some call it understatedly elegant but I believe the choice of colours is a straight disappointment. It’s in a terminally dull clay grey or good old black instead of being in some spirit-lifting colour. There’s nothing on the glass back except for the Samsung logo and a startlingly huge camera compartment. Even though there is a slight metal rim around it and the clear case makes it recede a bit, I found myself terrified to put it down on surfaces for fear of scratching and damaging the glass over the lenses.

Going around to the front, you have glass that is only slightly curved and not to an obnoxiously extreme extent so at least accidental touches are minimised. And this is Samsung, so of course you have a beautiful screen. There’s barely a breath of bezels and there’s nothing interrupting the viewable area except a negligible dot in the top centre for the front camera. This is a big screen — 6.9 inches — so obviously the phone is huge and also heavy, made more chunky with a case on, so consider it only if you have nice strong big hands and know how to position yourself to hold it without getting repetitive stress injuries. Seriously, if you keep your thumb and fingers all stretched out to hold the phone for hours, good luck.

Smooth screen

The 3200×1440 AMOLED display is lovely to look at but also famous for its 120Hz refresh rate, meaning that it will be extremely smooth to use. To use this refresh rate you have to go into the display settings and select it, also dropping the resolution to 1920×1080. Luckily, it still looks great, specially with its signature live wallpapers that change colours while you look on, but some users will want both high resolution and a high refresh rate though it will mean battery takes a slight hit.

The S20 Ultra works on Android 10 with Samsung’s much-evolved and elegant OneUI 2.1, all of which works nicely. In India, we don’t get the Snapdragon 865 version with 5G, 16GB RAM and 512GB storage but the Exynos 990 with 12GB RAM and amazingly just 128GB storage, which should really be much more given the price of the phone. There is a memory card option, which at least is something.

The battery is 5,000mAh and you get a day out of it and some to spare, but there are power-hungry things to do on this phone, so it depends on what you do. The fast-charging brick you get with this phone is a 25W one, though it can work with a 45W charger as well. Again, with a phone this expensive, Samsung should have given that in the box. Wireless charging and power sharing is supported. And of course, the device is water and dust resistant. There’s no 3.5mm jack, which may be inconvenient for content creators and no dongle provided either. I must say though that the speakers on the phone sound really good and complement the screen well.


Most of the unique features on this phone have to do with the cameras. Moving on from mere 12MP lenses, the S20 Ultra has one that is 108MP on the primary wide angle sensor. This is not on by default: you’ll have to tap on the aspect ratio button on top in the camera app and select it from there. When you take a photo using this lens, you’ll be able to crop it later and still see clear details. But at this resolution, you’ll have to be in ideal light conditions. Anything less will get you blurriness. It’s a setting you won’t use all the time (also remember each file will be really large) and it’s one best handled by the pros.

Otherwise, using the primary in a more familiar megapixel count, you get nice detailed images, which you can control the output for very well with the Pro option if you like. Reviewers have complained rather a lot about the camera’s tendency to keep hunting focus and Samsung has had to issue a software update for this. I found it did definitely hunt more than usual and this may make photos you shoot in a hurry miss the mark and be blurry. But if you have the chance to hold still a moment and allow it to focus you’ll get stunning images. It’s just that the results are somewhat unpredictable.



Another big number on the cameras is the 100x zoom 48MP lens. When you tap on the telephoto lens it pops you straight into 5x zoom. You can take some good shots up to 10x, but beyond this it turns from a camera to binoculars, really, and that’s quite useful sometimes as it can be used to read things or spot something from far away. Noise gets in the way at this point but it’s sometimes enjoyable all the same. It isn’t a groundbreaking feature though and phones from Huawei have already demonstrated extreme zoom on a mobile phone. Being someone who can’t see too well, I have a field day with that zoom lens.

Another rather over-the-top camera feature is that you can record 8K video with this phone. There’s stabilisation and a live focus mode for both photos and video in dedicated modes and even an interesting feature to focus on the sound of the subject you’re shooting, but there’s nowhere to watch 8K video where you’ll be able to get the 8K advantage. Again, if you’re a content creator, this may well be exactly what you’re looking for. There’s a 12MP ultra-wide lens with less distortion than on previous Samsung phones, and a TOF sensor. All of these work really well in the right settings — you just need to be more than a casual photographer and know how to to choose what. The depth focus lens gets you the background blur or bokeh, but I found it’s best to let it do the job on its own. The selfie camera is rather nicer than usual.

All in all, while this is a very interesting phone with an exciting camera setup, there’s no breakthrough in photography here. It may just be that the S20 and S20+ make for better choices, being very capable and more holdable as well.

Price: ₹99,890

Pros: Stunning screen with high refresh rate, great performance and software experience, capable cameras used in ideal conditions, a lot of battery

Cons: Very expensive for what it brings, over-the-top camera specs, not very good in low light and indoors, only128GB, distressingly dull design, features that will not be used all the time

Published on March 31, 2020
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