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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  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    No, there's no software application notion of displaying something at a given refresh rate - things just render as fast as possible unless. 3D games might have an FPS cap, but that's not refresh rate. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    this is what I mean.

    "If you can run a game at 100 frames per second, you may see a tangible benefit from playing it on a monitor that can refresh that many times per second. But if you’re watching a movie at a classic 24 FPS (frames per second), a higher refresh rate monitor won’t make any difference."

    here: https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/do-you-nee...

    IOW, unless the processor sending either video or coded application images does so 120 per second, all the 120hz screen does is re-scan each image multiple times. how can the refresh rate create modified images, between those sent by the processor? or do 90/120hz screens do just that?

    do you disagree with that author?
    Reply
  • krazyfrog - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    The screen refreshes at a set rate regardless of the content being sent to it. In this case, it always refreshes at 120Hz. If the content is in 24fps, each frame of the video persists for 5 refreshes of the display. To the eye, it looks no different than watching the same 24fps video on a 60Hz display. Reply
  • surt - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Not true. It does not look the same to your eye, and the difference is the latency from the time that information is ready to display to the time it reaches your eye. The 120hz display will show that transition from e.g. the 23rd to the 24th frame significantly faster. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    " It does not look the same to your eye"

    that's a may be. years ago I worked in a manufacturing plant, no windows and only florescent lights. one of the guys I worked with wore glasses that looked like very weak sunglasses, but no prescription. I asked him about them and he said his eye doctor prescribed them for his constant headaches. turns out that some folks rectify the 60hz flash of florescent light, and it hurts. the same phenomenon would occur with monitors. if you're not among the rectifiers, it's hard to see how you would see different at 120hz.
    Reply
  • surt - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    And yet, it's not hard to see at all. Response tests are undeniable. People's reactions are unquestionably faster on 120hz. Whether you notice the difference or not, it exists. Reply
  • surt - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    It matters to any game. If your game updates at 30fps, the 120hz display will get that information to your eye a fraction faster than the 60hz display, because the 'time to next frame' + 'time to display next frame' is always smaller on the 120hz. Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Great review, thanks Andrei! Question: just how much power draw does the 5G modem add, especially the mm ones for us in the US? Along those lines, can the 5G function disabled in software, so not just deselected, but actually shut off? I imagine that the phone hunting for mm connectivity when it's not there could eat quite a bit of battery life. Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    I don't even have 5G coverage here so I wouldn't know!

    Yes, 5G can be disabled in the options. I would assume that actually shuts off the extra RF. Similarly, I don't know how the mmWave antenna power management works.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Thanks for the reply! mm 5G coverage is supposedly "available" in some places here in the US, but I don't believe the carriers here have set up anywhere near enough cells for it to be viable. Plus, even if I'd get Gb download rates, they still have caps on their plans, unless one shells out for the premium unlimited ones. And those make the 20 Ultra's price tag look like a bargain (: Reply

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