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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  • MAGAover9000 - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    I have the s10+. Fantastic device. Very happy Reply
  • id4andrei - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    No need for me to praise this review any longer. Still, I must nitpick. The 3dmark GPU test always has caveats in your reviews. Drop it if you feel it is detected by OEMs or it's a false GPU test like the physics one.

    On web tests. I read on wiki that JetStream is an Apple made test, literally. Wouldn't you say that's a big caveat when testing against ios? Similarly Speedometer is developed by the webkit team at Apple. With Android webview based on Blink, not webkit, wouldn't Android smartphones be at a disadvantage against iphones? I don't see Kraken(Firefox) or Octane(Google) being used.

    Kraken would actually be neutral to both. Other 3rd party tests might be Testdrive(Microsoft) or Basemark.
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    I don't think that the fact that the WebKit team made those tests is a valid argument against using them. You can go and read the source JS yourself if you wish, and they're industry accepted benchmarks. Both Kraken and Octane are ancient and outdated and we dropped them just like we dropped SunSpider of the early days. Reply
  • id4andrei - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Thank you for the prompt answer. Reply
  • s.yu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Thank you Andrei, again the most comprehensive and reliable set of samples anywhere!
    There seems to be considerable sample variation again (last time with Samsung was the main module since S9 with the variable aperture) in the UWA, S20+E and S20UE should have absolutely identical UWA performance but the S20UE seems to have far worse sagittal resolution than the S20+E, and Samsung's processing isn't that good in the first place, considering the 12MP 1.4μm could produce incredibly sharp pictures as that been the specs of the Pixels' main module for generations.
    I don't regret their switch to f/1.8 because the old module that went up to f/1.5 wasn't sharp wide open, especially in the corners, but a further two stops' variation to f/3.3 could be useful for more DoF in closeups provided inserting that physical aperture into the tiny module doesn't compromise the optical design otherwise.
    This time around the E seems to generally outperform the S, except in color as E doesn't seem to have proper color fidelity...almost as if chroma NR is set too high even in broad daylight, and the "hybridization" of the digital zoom, in which the E clearly uses a smaller portion from the periscope's readout than the S in the resulting merge. Speaking of the zoom, S20+ still performs slightly worse at 2x(16MP readout) than S10's native 12MP, though the difference is small and could be down to lens variation. Considering S10U's Z height, they could've easily fixed the S20U like Xiaomi, going 1/2.3" f/2 12MP with the 2x. Xiaomi used it despite a 4-1 bin, all the more reason to use it with a 9-1 bin. S20U's corner performance at 3x would also be much improved.
    Regarding the comparison with the Fuji though, I suspect your unit has trouble focusing to infinity correctly, because the train and forest samples show clear superiority of the Fuji's zoom. I especially recognize that kind of slight haziness as being very responsive to dehaze and low radius sharpening in LR and would result in far more detail with extraction in post. Also, with an ILC, there's always stopping down a little for more sharpness and more DoF.
    Regarding the full res modes, it's not worth storing 108MP of data with the CFA asking for a 9-1 bin, of course the 64MP would be better, without the RAW it's hard to say for sure, but the 64MP seems to be quad bayer.
    Reply
  • s.yu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    I don't agree with your remark about the night comparison with Mate30P though, the UWA is not "UW" so it has better image quality, that's true, and the night mode of the Mate30P is far superior, that's also true, but not auto mode, nor any aspect of the telephoto as it's clearly using a crop of the main for 3x. Samsung does attempt to use the 4x for telephoto and although there's a significant issue of chroma noise, it's far sharper than Mate30P's crop, with at least twice 3 times the effective resolution in night mode. With S20U you could also crop out a single shot 3-4x of similar brightness to the Mate30P crop, but it's just a crop.
    As for the potential of P40P surpassing S20U, that model operates on a 9.4MP crop by default, interpolated to 12.5MP which clearly has consequences. In daylight it's often a regression compared to P30P (much less match Mate30P), and in night shots using the current firmware it has severe color issues of rendering large portions of the scene as a crimson red, so it's hard to say at this point too.
    Reply
  • s.yu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Oh, there's exception of the Mate30P auto mode in the last sample, but the night mode isn't constantly superior either. Reply
  • RealBeast - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    I've been looking forward to getting one of these, not sure which yet. The fly in the ointment now is that I won't see my Mom (who gets my old S9+) until the Fall due to the whole COVID problem, not to mention less income. That will weigh heavily on sales of what is otherwise an amazing looking phone for me. Reply
  • 29a - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    How large are the picture file sizes created by this thing? Reply
  • BedfordTim - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    The same size as any other 12MP camera. They will depend on content, hdr, motion and compression options but I would expect about 36MB for a raw image and 8MB for a high quality jpeg. Reply

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