Galaxy S20 Ultra review: something to prove


Galaxy S20 Ultra review: something to prove What you are looking at here, is the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. And, there's a lot going on. It is big, it has 5G,108 megapixel camera, four other cameras, a massive screen, a high refresh rate, a1399 dollar starting price.
Galaxy S20 Ultra review: something to prove


It's just a lot. (drum beat) If there's a spec that you can think of for a phone, this phone istrying to beat that spec. The S20 Ultra goes big, I mean you know, literallybig, look at the phone. And looking at it I think onething is blindingly obvious.

Samsung feels like ithas something to prove. Let's see if it can. The best word that I can come up with to describe the S20 Ultra is, imposing. It has this giant, giant camera bump on the back which sometimescan be a problem on a table.

But look, the thing lookslike a Galaxy phone overall. Just kind of taken to the limit. It is as large and nearly as heavy as pretty much any phonethat I've ever used. It's a monolith.


It sees your puny attemptsat using a phone one handed and it laughs at you. Now the main reason this phone is as big as it is is so that you can have this screen which is6.9 inches diagonally. And because this screen doesn't have a face unlock sensor on it, it can cover nearly theentire front of the phone.
Now I figured that I'd be annoyed at having to go back to anin-screen fingerprint sensor instead of face unlock,but I really wasn't

Galaxy S20 Ultra review: something to prove

The sensor is fast andaccurate enough for me, so I've got no complaints. But the real reason Ithink that this screen shows that Samsung has something to prove with the S20 Ultra, is theyfinally added the option to switch it to 120 hertz refresh rate. Now, it comes outta the box at 60 hertz to save battery but I hopped into settings and turned it on right away and never looked back because I think it has enough battery life to handle it. And 120 hertz really does make scrolling and screen animationslook better and smoother.

Samsung even says thatit stopped bothering with any variable refresh rate based on the contentof the screen nonsense. It's just locked to 120. Oh, by the way, youcan't have both 120 hertz and the phone's maximum3200 by 1440 resolution. But, I think the trade for 1080 by 2300 to get 120 hertz is totally worth it.


And of course, the screen looks great. Looks great indoors, outdoors, at different angles, with HDR content. Samsung knows how to do this by now, it's very good at it. And again, because it's nearlyseven inches diagonally, it looks good 'cause it's just huge. But, look. Samsung has already donethe make the phone bigger than everybody else thing. That's not actually whatthe S20 Ultra is about. It's about being bigger inevery way, not just size.

And there is no better place to start talking about what that means, than to just jump right into the biggest number of all, the 108 megapixel camera.

(relaxing music) So let's just get into it. If you count the depth sensor, there are five cameras on this phone. And three of them have justsilly megapixel counts. The selfie camera is 40 megapixels. The telephoto is 48, the regular wide angle is 108 megapixels. The only camera that isn't out of bounds megapixel wise is the ultrawide which is 12 megapixels.

But the S20 goes further than that. So similar to what Huaweidid on it's phones, the telephoto lens here actually hits a prism and a mirror and redirects the light across the body of the phone into the sensor, like a periscope.


It means that the phone can get real optical zoom all the way up to 4x, and something really good up to 10x. Then there's this thing that Samsung calls Space Zoom, which pushes the zoom all the way out to 100x. That's one of the reasons that Samsung went with a 48 megapixelcamera on the telephoto, so that it has more pixels to choose from when it starts cropping in.

It also does this thing whereit takes multiple photos to help get data fromall the sensors to help. So how does all that tech work? Well I tested this zoomagainst the iPhone 11 Pro, and the Pixel 4 XL, bothwhich have telephoto lenses.

And for fun, I threwin the Sony RX100 VII. The Pixel 4 XL maxes at 8x zoom, so I just compared it at that level and I used a tripodfor all of these photos that you're looking at. I think the RX100 wins, but you know, it's a stand alone cameraso of course it's gonna. When you just look at the phones, the S20 Ultra embarrasses the iPhone, and I think it edges out the Pixel 4 too. So far so good, but whatabout this Space Zoom thing? Well, you can impress your friends with little whoa moments by zooming all the way into 100x, but truthfully,

I think they look like splotchymesses at that zoom level. I was able to get some fairly nice stuff at 30x, usually by propping the phone on something stable.


But, it still looks likea phone photo to me. Okay, but what about just regular, plain old, non-zoom photos? Well, Samsung is doing someweird tech stuff here too. So, by default the 108 megapixel sensor makes 12 megapixel imagesbecause the hardware automatically combines ninepixels into one big pixel.

It's a process called binning. And combined, those binned pixels are about as big aswhat they would've been on a lower megapixel sensor. Which does help this camera avoid some of the usual problems that you get with high megapixel sensors. Like bad low light, and noise. It mostly works. See, in order to makeall of this pixel binning stuff happen, Samsung still hasto do a lot in the software. Now, generally I think theS20 wants to smooth out lighting especially on faces, it wants to keep things bright, and it wants to shifttowards less red tones. And those are often reallygood instincts for photos. So, for example, I think theshot of Alex looks great. And this purple plant thing, it's intense in just the right way. But then, Samsung sometimes steers the S20's tuning just a little too far.

So, compared to the iPhone, or the Pixel, this photo of me is just plain over smoothed and over brightened. It is actually super weird. As soon as the S20 camera sees a face, it brings up the shadows too much it smooths skin too much,and it tries way too hard to adjust the white balanceand often gets it wrong. Turn your head 45 degrees where it doesn't see a face, and it's fine. Turn on pro mode, and it's fine again.

Turn on Bixby Scene Optimizer, and well, okay Bixbymakes it worse, but still. In a lot of lighting conditions I got good photos of faces but in challenging conditions it got rough. Samsung tells me thatit's looking into it, but there's no setting that you can change to change the default behavior of what this thing does with faces.


The weirdest part though, none of this applies to the selfie camera. Which is great. Now Samsung also let's you take full on, 108 megapixel photos, and there's yet more cameratech involved in this like re mosaicing but the bottom line is you need a lot of lightto get a decent photo at that resolution.

And even then, my 108 megapixel photos were noisy enough in the finedetails when I cropped in, that I never really saw the point. Now, when it comes to low light photos, Samsung is doing better than it ever has, partly because thesensors are so big here. But it still has a lot of work to do to catch up to the Pixel 4. And on portrait, again,better than it ever has, but it still has a lot of work to do to catch up to the iPhone. The selfie camera though,which is 40 megapixels, is my favorite cameraon this entire phone.


It doesn't do the same badover smoothing on faces, I just really like it. Finally, I hate to tell you this, but as usual with every phone that we try, the ultra wide camera is the worst of the three cameras in terms of quality. Things kinda just get over sharpened as a result of a meh sensor. I guess the iPhone kindof beats the S20 here, but nothing is really good. Now as for video, the headline feature is that you can shoot and edit in 8K, and I dunno,

I think that's kinda gimmicky but I do like that you canpull a still photo out. More important to me isthe slightly improved video stabilization 'causeI have pretty shaky hands, but you should knowthat that still doesn't work in 4K and definitely not in 8K. Last and you know what,definitely not least, is I saw this thinghunting for focus a lot. Especially when I was shooting video. I also really like this new feature called single take which does as many of Samsung's weirdocamera modes as possible in one long shot. It's fun, but

 I wouldn't depend on it for anything important 'cause the quality is like, not that good. So, that's a lot. It's a lot of camera which makes sense 'cause this camera bump is so huge right? I mean, okay. Where do I think it all lands? Well, I think Samsung has a little bit more work to do on it's photo algorithms. I think it's gonna take a minute for them to learn how totake all of these huge megapixel counts andturn them into something that really works in every single context. Especially with faces. (relaxing music) Now the S20 phones are the very first main stream 5G phones.

There have been a few before, but they've never been the default and with the S20 line they are. Now you should knowthat only the S20 Ultra and the S20 Plus supportthe super high speed millimeter wave-5G thatyou can really only get at like a few street corners. But, all of them supportthe slightly slower, but much more widespread mid band 5G. So, okay, here's the stateof 5G in New York City. On T-Mobile's mid band, I was able to pull anywhere from like 45 down, which is not much faster than LTE, up to 120 megs per secondin a pretty good spot.


That's real fast. But it's not as fast as what I could get on Verizon's millimeter wave, where I saw downloadspeeds hit over 1300 Mbps. Which is incredible. I got that on one street corner,if I held my phone right, and I didn't turn my body around.

And I didn't walk half a block away. And if I was lucky because sometimes it would drop down toLTE anyway in that spot. Yeah, that's 5G for ya. It's just not fully ready yet. Don't buy this phone justbecause it's a 5G phone. In fact, don't buy any phonejust because it's a 5G phone.

(upbeat music) Samsung always boaststhe best possible specs for an Android phone on the Galaxy S line, and this year is no different. But what is different this year, is that I think a couple of those specs could actually matter for people. I'm not talking about theSnapdragon 865 processor, which obviously is fastbut it's not in a way that I think people are reallygonna notice over the 855. What I mean are things like the battery. It's 5000 milliamps here, which is huge and has let me run a fullday with very heavy use. I've done it several times now. 5G might bring that battery life down a tick, but I was clearing six hours of screen time with 120hertz refresh rate turned on.

The RAM matters too, you get 12 or 16 gigs of RAM depending on which model you buy and that means that apps close less often in the background and you can even pin apps to memory which means that Android won't be able toclose them in the background. This might seem like aweird power user feature, but let's be honest this isa weird power user phone.

Samsung is also sticking to it's guns by offering expandable storage and it's not keeping the headphone jack. And it is okay to be sad about that, don't let anybody tell you different. The other side of performance is software, and for the most partSamsung is doing a solid job with One UI on top of Android 10.

I still like it, but Samsung is starting to Samsung it up a littlebit with feature creep. Everything that it'sever made is still here, and too much of it issitting in the settings tray and it's ready to confuse you. There's Quick Share,which is like Air Drop but only for Galaxy phones. There's Link Share, whichlet's you throw stuff online for a private linkfor people to download for a day or two.

There's Music Share,which let's other people with Galaxy phones play their music on the Bluetooth device that's paired to your Galaxy phone. But it's not as weird as Samsung Daily which sits next to the home screen and just doesn't really offeruseful cards for anything. Or, as weird as Bixby which sits under a long press of the power button and it's still just Bixby.

Overall, the experience onthe S20 Ultra is quite good, but it takes a day ortwo of dismissing prompts and turning off stuff that you don't want. Which is super annoying. So, Galaxy S20 Ultra. Did Samsung prove that it could make the best screen on a smart phone? Yes it did. Well, yes it did but that doesn't mean that your city or your carrier has it.


Did Samsung prove that it could throw every single performance spec possible into a single phone? I mean, obviously it did. This is Samsung. But the biggest thingthat Samsung had to prove is that it could stay in the camera fight and do so with bigmegapixel sensors and zoom. And I think on zoom, Samsung has proved that it's hardware can beat Google and Apple at around 8x,but it's not magic enough to get something great beyond that. I'm more worried about how the camera treats faces though,because I think Samsung is still Samsungin' up alittle bit too much there.

Mostly though, Samsungproved that when it wants to it can still go all out with the phone. I mean, they did call this the Ultra, which is another way of saying a lot. And yeah, this phone is a lot. (evil laugh) That was dumb. A lot of phone, lots ofphone, so many phone. Phones on phones. Mega phone. Mega phone, it's loud right. Huh? Thanks for watching. Like and subscribe.

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