Design, Continued: An Ultra Mega Phone

Of course, the flagship entry in the 2020 Galaxy line-up is the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung here literally supersized the design, making a much larger and heftier version that goes beyond what the “regular” plus models offer. While the S20+ fits in the same form-factor as the S10+, the S20 Ultra is clearly a bigger phone, more in line with the behemoth that was the rare S10 5G.

The biggest differences in the design aren’t found in the front of the phone – here the Ultra essentially just looks the same as the other two S20 devices and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart other than their size. Turn it around though, and you’ll see the Ultra’s enormous camera housing that is very distinct from any other phone on the market.

The first thing you’ll notice when handling the Ultra, beyond it having a larger footprint, is that it’s clearly a thicker phone. It’s 1mm thicker than the S20+, which is a 12.8% increase and is very noticeable. The sides of the phones are still curved as on the S20+, however the curve is now deeper, and the metal frame on the side of the phone is a sliver thicker than on the smaller variants.

The ergonomics are still good for a phone of this size, but of course, you’ll need to be used to having a phone this size.

Another aspect where the S20 Ultra just outsizes the S20+ is in terms of weight. At 220g, the phone is much closer in weight to an iPhone Max than it is the lighter, 187g S20+. With the weight does come a larger battery, which is now 5000mAh (typical capacity), an 11% increase over the S20+’s 4500mAh capacity.

Then there’s the camera bump of the Ultra. There’s no better word to describe it other than "enormous". The problem here isn’t that Samsung had to extend the camera housing thickness in order to integrate the complex camera modules and optics which the Ultra offers, but that they did so in what I find to be a very boring and ugly manner.

Most notably, the rim of the camera housing is just a raised metal element that protrudes out, which is in contrast to the curved design of the rest of the phone. Samsung probably decided that leaving such a big protrusion doesn’t look so good, so they added in another step in the frame between the glass back and the full protrusion – best way to describe it is that it looks like a gasket. The whole thing just looks very cheap and doesn’t compare to the filleted glass design from Apple or even the filleted “gasket” that Huawei uses in the recently announced P40 Pro. My biggest pet peeve about Samsung’s design is that it’s super prone to collecting dust in the three grooves around the camera – both of my S20 Ultras are full of it right now as I’m writing this. It feels like a rushed design with very little manufacturing refinement.

One other difference I noticed is in the speaker audio quality. The S20 Ultra does sound fuller and a bit less high pitched, probably due to the larger internal reverberation space of the design. It’s the better sounding phone of the S20 series.

Whether the S20 Ultra can justify its existence will largely depend on how its special camera hardware will be able to differentiate itself from the S20 and S20+. In terms of design, other than it being a big phone, I do think Samsung somewhat missed the mark with the camera housing. A filleted edge of the camera protrusion could have done wonders, so hopefully it’s something that the company will look into for future designs.

Introduction & Design The Snapdragon 865 SoC: Beating Expectations
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  • airdrifting - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    I am actually a very forgiving person, I gave them 4 chances but they botched all. And then there was the Samsung Note catching fire left and right while Samsung PR was lying to cover up, that was the last straw for me. I was very skeptical when I switched to Oneplus, but I was very impressed with the build quality and speedy updates, the only weak point was the camera. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    Any thoughts as to why Huawei was having issues with the A77? Reply
  • BedfordTim - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    They say the battery life penalty means the extra performance isn't worth it. This fits with their energy use figures in the benchmarks which are very good. It also makes sense from a user perspective as the extra performance will not be noticeable in everyday use. Reply
  • iphonebestgamephone - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    How come qualcomm improved efficiency then? Its more like hisilicon had no time. Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    I don't think they had issue, they probably didn't have time. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    You're probably right.
    Any idea as to why they were running late this time? The arm update cadence has been reliably in May since at least the A72.
    Reply
  • ** A - R ** - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    Andrei,
    For storage benchmarks, how about this (cpdt) app ?

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com....
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    It's not useful - there's very different aspects of storage performance on Android that's not covered by these traditional tests. Reply
  • Arian_amg - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    Thanks for great reviews:)
    I waited for this one like hell... With these Corona situations it's hard to find entertaining content and as always you nailed it best chipset reviews I've ever seen most will getaway with some benchmark and thats it
    Im really looking forward for the dimensity 1000 and kirin 820 to get a proper understanding of new Valhalla cores with a proper node
    (btw do you agree with huawei that they said they didn't use a77 because it didn't reach a certain clock(I know it had much higher ipc than a76)?)
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    HiSilicon probably had less time to integrate the A77 and thus didn't reach good clocks. Reply

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