Let’s talk about money. More specifically, let’s talk about the cost of things. A few years ago, the price of flagship smartphones exceeded the $ 1,000 threshold, largely because of the cost of screen technology. It’s a difficult calculation, but it’s the price of innovation.
The rising cost of smartphones is widely regarded as a major factor contributing to the decline in smartphone sales. The phones have gotten better and last longer, and with four-figure prices, users are much less forced to upgrade every two years or so.
Samsung knows this as well as anyone. In addition to its usual line of low-cost phones, the company has gone to great lengths to offer “flagship low-cost products,” a relatively new category that seeks to strike a balance between high-end features and less impressive components, such as first via the S10e and now its new lite devices.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is definitely not that. It is a picture of the opulence of smartphones in a time of declining smartphone sales. This is another new level in the company’s flagship line (s) of smartphones designed to restore Samsung’s place at the forefront of mobile technology, while appealing to those who have a little money to spend to perpetuate their devices.
“A little more” being defined here as starting at $ 1,399. Or $ 1,599, if, for example, you feel more comfortable after your tax returns and want to upgrade to 512 GB from the default 128 GB. As for what high-end means these days, that too has changed. Samsung was ahead of the curve by introducing several 5G phones last year. At the time, handsets were, of course, confined to the next level, due to both the cost of equipment and the general lack of global coverage.
For 2020, this is 5G at all levels, on all S20 models, so the Ultra kitchen sink must find ways to stand out from the S20 + more. There are a few key areas in which the Ultra stands out. The first and most immediate is size. With the price increases, the other thing you can count on, like the watch movement, is bigger screens. The good news is that Samsung’s hardware advancements have kept the footprint roughly the size of the latest generation of devices.
Samsung continues to impress on this front, this time sliding a spacious 6.9-inch screen into a 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm; compare that to the 162.6 x 77.1 x 7.9 mm on the 6.7-inch S10 5G. The thick profile is almost certainly due to a larger battery. The 4,500 mAh found on last year’s device and this year’s S20 + are upgraded to 5,000 mAh.
Samsung remains cautious with its own expected battery life, due to power-hungry features like the large AMOLED with 120Hz refresh rate and 5G radio. The company rates the phone as “all day battery”. It’s a pretty nebulous phrase, all things considered. I suspect there is still research to be done on the negative impact of next generation radios on battery life. With the default settings enabled (and little or no 5G, due at least a little to some network issues), I found that I had about 28 hours in total on a charge.
This certainly qualifies for the brand “all day”, although it is a little disappointing given the huge size of the battery. But it should definitely make you spend a day, then a few, without any problems. The other good news about this is the ultra-fast charging if you use the included wall adapter. I was able to go from zero to fully charged in just under an hour.
The design language is pretty much the same on the three S20s, and honestly, largely unchanged from last year’s model, though Samsung switched to a punched camera (40 generous megapixels for selfies) before. Turn it over and the biggest difference is immediately apparent. Finally, the camera module of the Ultra is ultra. There are four cameras on the back, in a lip that occupies about one sixth of the total surface of the phone.
The S20 + is more than enough 12MP, 64MP telephoto, 12MP ultra wide and the flight time of the sensor has been increased to a main 108MP, 48MP 10x telephoto, 12MP ultra wide and flight time. ToF, please, is missing from the older S20, bringing an extra feeling of depth for bokeh effects and fun tricks like 3D scanning. We also have the feeling that Samsung is laying the foundations for an even stronger game in the AR world, going beyond the current selection of AR emoji. However, as with the rest of the industry, general implementation is still slow.
The most important thing here – figuratively and literally – is the telephoto lens. The camera has a folded telephoto lens, which is essentially turned sideways to accommodate the form factor. The camera is capable of a solid 10x hybrid zoom. By using a combination of hardware and software, the company is able to achieve the “spatial zoom” 100x compared to the max 30x of other models. It is impressive all around, but it is important to note that claims of “loss without loss” only extend up to 10 times.
Beyond that, things start to get worse. And honestly, by the time you hit 100x, things start to look like a Monet digital painting. You can usually distinguish objects, but in most cases, it’s probably not something you’re going to rush to share on Instagram. For things like bleeding seats at concerts or sporting events, however, sometimes it is enough to remember that you are there.
Honestly, however, I think Samsung is laying the groundwork for future updates, as is the case with the ToF sensor. It’s easy to imagine how a 100x zoom coupled with future imaging AI could lead to pretty impressive telephoto shots, without the need for an external optical lens. For now, however, it looks more like a novelty. Honestly, a number of upgrades from the S20 + look a bit like an excess, and only the true enthusiast should go hand in hand with the Ultra.
My only momentary hesitation in recommending one of the lower level devices over the Ultra is what happens to the battery life when you go below 5000 mAh. The 120 Hz screen is great for things like gaming, but for most users, I recommend keeping it turned off most of the time. This should save you a few hours of extra life, going to 120 Hz if necessary and 60 hours the rest of the time.
Ditto for the 108 megapixel camera. For most photos, it makes sense to use pixel grouping, which allows a small 12-megapixel shot, but lets in a lot more light per pixel. The photos are brighter and sharper and the phone does better in low light. Also, the picture isn’t huge – I forgot to change the setting for a few photos and didn’t realize how massive they were before I sent them.
The best new photo feature, however, isn’t hardware at all. I have long postulated that the key to a good imaging function is simplicity. The cameras are improving and offering more features for those who want to take more professional photos on their mobile devices. It’s great, and if you’re Google, it means the legendary Annie Leibovitz will show up at your launch event and sing the praises of your device.
But unless something doesn’t work, it won’t be of use to the majority of consumers. The single shot is a smart addition to the camera’s default settings that takes a bunch of different types of photos at once (provided you can stay still for 10 seconds). You get Live Focus, Timelapse and Ultra-Wide at the same time. The camera records everything in the roll, where you can choose the best image. It’s a larger file, but not huge in the grand scheme of things. For those who don’t want to be a digital hoarder, you can always just enter and delete them manually.
The biggest updates in the S20 range look like a solution for the future. Things like 5G zoom, 100x zoom, and 8K video recording don’t always make much sense at the time of writing, but much of Samsung’s biggest pieces have been centered on the output in front of the curve. With 5G, for example, there are still barriers to coverage, but with users holding their handsets longer, it’s almost certain that next-generation wireless technology will be ubiquitous before the time is right for many users to upgrade.
As it stands, however, charging $ 1,399 and more for the Ultra is a fairly difficult question. Fortunately, however, Samsung has more than enough options for users looking for something a little cheaper. This is a list which now includes the S10 Lite range and recently reduced standard S10 devices. Features like 100x, on the other hand, are new, but it’s hard to justify the premium.