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.

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  • crimson117 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    $1400 is absurd. There's no way they're worth more than twice as much as a brand new S10. Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Probably one of the reasons Samsung still continues to sell the S10 series. They're really excellent value right now, and you're not missing out on too much. Reply
  • cha0z_ - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    You are literally getting just one more year of software support going for s10 series... samsung software support policy is abysmal with less than two years of real support and from there just security. I got both iphone 11 pro max and exynos note 9, if I put aside the cr*ppy 9810 - it will not receive even the oneUI 2.1 as an update, while samsung will soon release it for s10 line. Enough said, note 9 is year and a half old.

    How can you recommend someone 1000 euro or 1400 euro phone if it will be supported for 1.5 years and from there 1.5 more security updates next to apple with 5 years FULL support with major, minor, day one, betas + security update for old iphones like 4s and 5 (2011 and 2012 respectably)?
    Reply
  • goatfajitas - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    You do realize the phone doesn't stop working when it doesn't get an OS update right? TBH, neither Android or IOS has added a whole lot in the past few years, its just a yearly cadence of very minor updates and not getting them means almost zero in actual use. Reply
  • Featherinmycap - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    I think there have been a lot of added features to IOS in the last 3 years that I use a great deal. Not saying that Android didnt already have some of these features, but for IOS users we got with IOS 11; a file manager (finally), Messages sync with iCloud, screen recording, useful improvements to Siri and ApplePay. IOS12; lots of performance improvements (lots), Screentime, Shortcuts (scripting), CarPlay, Animoji Memoji, Tracking prevention, IOS13; Single Sign on, external storage, Dark Mode, better support for keyboards, trackpads/mice, etc. Reply
  • Famorcan007 - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    I think it's because Android mostly has offered those features(file manager,screen recording, external storage,support for mice etc.) since way back compared to iOS' slow but steady trickle of features that's why iOS users feel every OS update is huge and significant. I'm using a Note 4(my backup device) right now to comment which doesn't feel too crippled compared to my Android 9 P20 pro. Reply
  • cha0z_ - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    Let's not find an excuse - software support is software support. Security is security - some of us keep all their personal info on their device (most of us) + bank accounts and whatnot, risking compromise on your phone is not that innocent compared to what was like back in the days. IOS adds rapidly more features for sure compared to android that recently starts to look more and more like IOS (and I personally totally don't like that), but still added some good stuff under the hood and some new features.

    It's not serious to sell 1400 euro phone that is supported for one year and a half. I own exynos note 9 - it's 1.5 years old and already samsung dropped the support, s10 line received oneUI 2.1, note 9 will not. How is that for my 1000 euro phone + double served with that cr*ppy exynos 9810 in it. Now it's in my GF and I am rolling iphone 11 pro max. I prefer android and love oneUI, but I am tired to be a second hand customer.
    Reply
  • s.yu - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    Don't know what you're talking about. My Note8 just got another update days ago, one that I preferred not to have because each update comes with a risk of bricking the device while potential changes to the UI are not always welcome either. I also got it ~30% off retail a few months after release, such has always been the state of Samsung, at least for S and Note.
    I'm no longer buying Samsung but the main reason is lack of the 3.5mm port, if I have to name another then it's between the questionable choice of telephoto in the smaller variants or the oversized device with a mediocre battery(I regard 5000mah to be mediocre for the size). I still do like the UI but I'm willing to look around.
    Reply
  • Psyside - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    "It's not serious to sell 1400 euro phone that is supported for one year and a half. I own exynos note 9 - it's 1.5 years old and already samsung dropped the support, s10 line received oneUI 2.1, note 9 will not. How is that for my 1000 euro phone"

    Very easy, with those "very old software features" Samsung can do what MAC can't, and don't get me start it on the utter crap IOS.

    Also don't spin it, Samsung offer 4 (four) years of security updates, so do your research before you type something.
    Reply
  • cha0z_ - Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - link

    fanboy. Security update hahahahah iphone 4s and 5 still receives security updates - 9 years old phone for 4s. What you will say now?
    iphone receive FULL support with MAJOR ios versions, updates, minor updates, BETA versions, DAY ONE as their newest and most expensive phone - for 5-6 years and you are talking about 4 years of security updates roflmao. Samsung released note 9 with android 8 when android 9 was already released from more than a months. Oooo, it's enough time, because you can dev your skin and features on top of the dev previews, especially the later ones that are closer to final (for the more tricky/deeply integrated code) - so no excuse for what they did. Basically they gave me one major update - android 10 as android 9 should had been on the note 9 from the start. Even if we count 2, how is that next to 5-6 versions of ios?

    And before you talk some more fanboy bs that never used recent years iphones - ios brings a lot more in every new versions (adding features that was missing for no reason, like external USB flash support, file browser for the files on the phone, etc) while android 10 brings you what? More lockdown ios style, iphones gestures and pixel device that is a cheap iphone wannabe.

    Because of people like you samsung don't want to change their software support policy. Why should they? It costs money or now you will start with the argument how the phone hardware is not supporting oneUI 2.1 (for the note 9 that is 1.5 years old, but will not receive it most likely ;) ). Or maybe android 11 will be too much for the phone, right? :D

    Also I agree - my note 9 can do more than my iphone 11 pro max, but everything that the phones do both (and that's 99.9% of what you will end up using constantly) - the iphone 11 pro max makes the exynos note 9 look like a total utter joke - faster, smoother with NOT A SINGLE frame drop no matter what you do, gaming is insanely good with surprise - NOT A SINGLE frame drop, battery life is x3 times better, apps have MORE features and runs super smooth and great, speakers destroys the note 9 one, camera too is times better, materials are a lot better too, faceid is super good and fast - feels like I don't have any security on - never failed or gave me any issue. Fun fact, note 9 came with fortnite and recommended as gaming phone for that game. My exynos variant can't run smoothly the game even with 30fps cap medium settings and !1080p! while iphone XS max runs it 60fps high 2688x1242 without a single frame drop. Same goes for the 11 pro max, obviously.

    As for ios - it improves massively and adds more and more missing features/drops restrictions with every version. ios 14 is already known to drop more. I prefer android, because I can do more + I love oneUI, but that doesn't change the fact that in my country I will receive exynos and 1.5 years of decent support. And in the end of the day - I spend my time in apps, not in the settings menu and apps on ios are better, with more features, smoother, a lot of them exclusive to the platform. Can you play dead cells on your android device? No? Yeah, the port is expected around the end of the year, I have it from June 2019. Full blown civilization 6 on your android device? Yeah, will never come, I have it and it's 1:1 port that runs great. Can go on and on and on. If you spend your time tweaking settings, options, UI - good for you, I spend my time in games and apps.
    Reply

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