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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  • s.yu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Not just economy of scale, 5G has higher material cost even if cost per unit is the same, for example you easily need over a dozen antennas in a handset. Massive parallelism is fundamental for 5G. Reply
  • Peskarik - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Swiss watch industry consisted of a large number of small firms that bought in parts from China but marketed at premium price. These will not survive. Rolex/AP/Patek have queues years long, now they also stopped production, there is no excess supply, demand is still there just a bit dormant, especially Asian demand. They will be fine. Omega / Longines will survive due to lower price and high numbers produced. IMHO Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    "Swiss watch industry consisted of a large number of small firms that bought in parts from China but marketed at premium price."

    actually, most are required, by law, to buy Swiss. at least horological parts. of those brands, most are either owned by Swatch or buy movements (more or less complete) from Swatch. a few years ago the Swiss government, after Swatch had bought up ETA and other movement suppliers, allowed Swatch to cease supplying movements to the trade. rather a big stink ensued. last I checked, Swatch had in fact cease supplying.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, April 23, 2020 - link

    It baffles me that you used a capital S for, 'Swatch', yet didn't place any at the start of your sentences?! What the hell is happening to the English language? Reply
  • Peskarik - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    wait for corona to hit economy properly, maybe there will not be so much sales of 1000+ handsets Reply
  • Mgz - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    $1400 is absurd ofc, In Vietnam since we made them so price is more reasonable - but we do not have 5G yet and we have that inferior version Exynos :(
    S20 is 680$
    S20+ is 780$
    S20 Ultra is 930$
    Reply
  • s.yu - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    Haha, I just looked on Taobao and the price of the SK version is comparable while it's SD this generation.
    I sometimes wonder if the locals in SK could even get that Taobao price off contract.
    Reply
  • RoC_17 - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Not only is the price tag obsurd, also it's the performance disparities between Snapdragon and Exynos, and weighting that with the price tag is Idiocracy². Why would I buy the Exynos crap for the same price than the Snapdragon parts? I've been with Samsung for nearly 10 years for phones and tablets along, but that's it. That I'm European doesn't mean I am an idiot willing to throw my money out of the window. Reply
  • PallavM - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    It is for sure, if this is how much the 5G phones are gonna cost I'm happy with my 4G phone Reply
  • StrangerGuy - Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - link

    $1400? Geez, I thought $1100 for the Ultra here in Singapore was already stupid overpriced especially when all S20 variants here are only available in 128GB, and the Note 10+ 256GB is just $590. Reply

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