The Samsung Galaxy S20 phones were unveiled about a month ago, and we covered that event along with the new Z Flip foldable phone. But as we promised, we took a deeper look into the coveted Galaxy S 20 , S20+ and the phone that had people really talking, the giant , imposing statement piece that is the Galaxy S20 Ultra. And we’ll say this right now. Is this phone impressive? Yes. Is it pulling no punches and likely to wow most people who use it? Definitely yes. But despite easily being the most spec-heavy phone in the world right now, the S20 Ultra is also somehow a bit of a let-down, and that speaks volumes about where the world is right now as far as smartphones are concerned.
Now we’ll be talking about the regular S20 and S20 plus in later features, but as I said before, the reason why this phone calls for so much attention is because it’s made to. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is Samsung being the most well, Samsung that they’ve ever been in a while now. It’s big, uncompromising and impressive in more ways than most of us can count. If it were a person, it would be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or anyone else that you think is as big or larger than life as he is. And of course that’s what this phone is meant to be. You see in the early days of the smartphone wars Samsung differentiated themselves by cramming as much crazy stuff into a phone as possible, whether or not it really worked or served a purpose or not (just take a look at the Galaxy S4) , but after some time they realised if they really wanted to dominate the high end of smartphones and beat especially Apple they had to actually become more like them in a sense, less over-the-top craziness and more sophistication in their devices. Samsung went from being the pretty-boy college kid with all the tricks to his more suave older brother that wears a suit and tie (even if he secretly had all the tricks too). The S20 Ultra though is the best of both approaches, being aesthetically impressive and beautiful to look at, easy enough to use and powerful for those who need the power. It’s packing arguably the best display on the planet, running at 120Hz(a seeming attack on last year’s OnePlus 7 Pro) a sleek glass body, storage and RAM options that would make your PC jealous, 5G in all it’s overachieving glory and a camera array that leaves you no option but to scrutinize it because it prominently pokes out of the back of the phone. Pack that into the phone’s large 6.9-inch display and you have a phone that’s definitely trying to please everyone, but also simultaneously challenges them as well. When you’re using the S20 ,you’re likely to try watching more movies on it, playing more games, taking more professional looking photos (this one might not go as well as you think, but we’ll get into that later) and even getting into some semi creative work that you would rather do on your PC. The phone essentially pushes you to do better, or do more, and that’s definitely it’s greatest strength.
So, if the S20 Ultra pushes you to do more and is the culmination of 10 years of Galaxy flagships each with their own unique approach, then why is it that some reviewers seem to have a problem with it. I mean the phone seems perfect, right? Well….no. You see besides the fact that no phone is perfect anyway, the S20 Ultra does actually have areas where it falls short, and these are the things that put it in people’s bad books. And first on that list is the camera. Now let’s get this clear, smartphone cameras have gotten more complex over the years. Once upon a time it used to be all about megapixels and the camera with more of those was the better one, then software enhancements came in, along with image stabilization and colour reproduction and so on and so forth and in the end we got ourselves here where picking the best camera is as hard as picking the best smartphone as everyone has their specific preference and taste. But even with all that being said, the S20 Ultra’s camera is both a) very impressive and b) in need of a lot of fixing. You see the Ultra has a 108 Megapixel main sensor, along with a 48 MP telephoto camera and 12 MP Wide angle sensor. What does this all mean? Well for starters, Samsung definitely wanted to remind Huawei it can make bigger, better camera sensors, and it’s 30x optical zoom is proof of this. It also wanted to catch up to Apple and Google’s camera prowess, especially since Apple which it had caught up to recently levelled up to directly compete with Google’s Pixel Cameras. And unfortunately, this effort hasn’t quite worked…yet. You see for whatever reason Samsung seemingly forgot that with powerful new hardware sensor comes a lot of required software optimisation too, which Samsung didn’t perfect apparently, and now you have an amazing but buggy camera on the Ultra that has tons of autofocus issues. And that’s of course had anyone aiming to buy this phone for the camera on doubt mode. Now Samsung has already said it’s pushing out a software update to fix this but, well, this is a USD $1400 phone.
Having these kinds of issues right out of the gate shouldn’t be an option anyway, and there’s really no escaping that. Then there’s the headphone jack. Now don’t get us wrong, anyone who can buy this phone definitely has the money to buy even the most expensive wireless headphones on this planet ,but in a phone that could squeeze more RAM into it than it will likely ever need, omitting the headphone jack does feel a little…stingy no? That one is more subjective, but what hasn’t been subjective is the simple fact that when it comes down to it, the S20 Ultra’s biggest drawback and criticism is simply….every other flagship out there. We live in a world with the iPhone 11 Pro , an upcoming OnePlus 8, an admirable Sony Xperia 1 II , and not to mention the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 plus that even Samsung themselves admit are still worthwhile flagship devices, being put into official support programs similar to Apple’s for older iPhones that promise them updates and new features at least for the foreseeable year. And even the S10 plus has the advantage of a headphone jack and 1TB version that the S10 doesn’t have, even if it’s a better phone in almost every other way. But the thing is, almost everyone is sure it’s not $400-$600 better than all the other phones I just mentioned, and that makes people frown on it a little. The S20 Ultra is a perfect representation of the fact that we’ve reached peak smartphone, where we’re impressed but not enough to all want to buy the phone, where word like “reasonable” and “worthwhile” creep into a smartphone shopping segment where more expensive usually meant better, where we can all love the phone, but love it from afar it , because if you have a fairly recent flagship with you you’re probably just fine. That’s the world we live in now, and it’s definitely not a bad thing. In fact, it only leaves me more curious to see how the future of the smartphone will continue to pan out, whether it be more conservative or otherwise.