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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  • iSeptimus - Sunday, April 12, 2020 - link

    They really don't. 2 years max on updates and the security patches only come out when it is critical after that.

    My Galaxy Fold only just got One UI 2.1 and Android 10. The most expensive phone they do and they are already slowing down updates for it. Samsung suck at software.
    Reply
  • MAGAover9000 - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    Sounds like a positive TBH. I hate some of the updates. Reply
  • Omega215D - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    That's for the maxed out S20 Ultra, what S10 are you comparing it to? There are the following additions to the S20 lineup: camera tech, 5G, battery capacities, mobile chipsets, display tech, etc. Now not everyone may find those attractive enough to jump on board that doesn't mean they have to buy the damn thing. Reply
  • Threska - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    5G is probably the biggest push for cost, since 5G phones usually run in the $1,000 range. Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    The Galaxy S20 and S20+ 4G variants have the same launch prices as S10 and S10+ - with the only caveat being that they're only available in certain markets, with the US missing from that list.

    So in that sense, the only thing you're paying extra for is the 5G.
    Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    "5G phones usually run in the $1,000 range"

    I still don't get why anyone would pay for "5G". mmWave is barely extant. Verizon, for one, adverts pump up use in football stadiums (if we ever have such), 'so it must be great for you' kind of thing. while sub6 is barely perceptibly different LTE. Why? If there's ever a true build out of mmWave, it'll be in suburban subdivisions with plenty of street lights, no longer the norm. In cities, you'll need some sort of '5G' wifi inside any kind of building with a (massive?) dish on the roof. Ah cannaw change da laws of physic, capn.
    Reply
  • shabby - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    We don't have a choice, Qualcomm is forcing it onto us. Reply
  • s.yu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Qualcomm's going with the flow of the industry, there's no way but forward ;)
    But anyway, the Luneburg lenses China Mobile showcased, if they're compatible with mmWave, and if they're even willing to sell them(the issue is cost and somehow they're able to make them much cheaper, cheap enough for civilian use), then they could drastically increase coverage at essentially the same power levels.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Yup, that's a lot to pay for something that you carry around on a daily basis and expose to the outdoor world including weather, impact, and theft. I know the TELCOs are hiding the cost inside monthly payments over the life of a contract so most buyers will not take note of the price over say an $800 dollar handset, but wow people are forking over a lot of their earnings just to carry around a status symbol that other people will stop caring about after a couple of months. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    "wow people are forking over a lot of their earnings just to carry around a status symbol"

    why does a Ferrari cost 3 times a Ford (not the GT, of course)? because the capital investment to make either is nearly the same, but spread out over a fraction of units. same with "5G" phones. the capital to make all those specialized bits and pieces, whether Samsung made or bought it, is about the same, but separate, from the capital to make a moto G6, etc. but far fewer units. unlike the march to LTE, "5G" is more likely to be a toddler's waddle. with sky high prices as an added benefit.

    there was a headline recently that the Swiss watch industry is on a ventilator, few have any need for such bling. can the bling smartphone be far behind? at least your scion can use that Patek Philippe in 50 years.
    Reply

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