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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  • iphonebestgamephone - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    Oh and what does a pro like you use?
  • sanjeev.k - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Hi Andrei,
    Thanks for your detailed review. Any change Anandtech will be reviewing the note 20 later in the year (as Anandtech have not reviewed the note xx series past few years) ?

    Reliable leaker @IceUniverse hints that Note series will implement an optimised solution for 120 Hz refresh rate - so I am assuming that to mean that power inefficiency issues at 120 hz refresh rate will be fixed in the note series.
    If you are going to review the Note series, at least we will know whats the improvement like as compared to Galaxy S series. Then I can decide if I want to import the Snapdragon 865 Note series or import S20 865 series and bear with the 120 Hz power consumption issue
  • abufrejoval - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    I bought the first Galaxy Note for its size: My hands are much more capable than my eyes up close. I stuck around for the Note 3 and then abandoned the brand as they went off into Absurdistan with too much glass and metal replacing replaceable batteries (both Notes still work today with 2nd and 3rd sets of batteries).

    But I’ve always longed to see another feature become mainstream usable, that these Notes started, albeit with serious functional limitations: Desktop or docking mode.

    The Note 2 dock also worked with the Note 3 and it was the first that I tried to use for extra light business travel with a foldable BT keyboard even a BT mouse on an HDMI connected big screen. Mixed DPI support wasn’t quite up to snuff, even with custom ROMs that added Ethernet connectivity (security constraints mandated that in some cases).

    In terms of computing power everything since the 820 has been enough for me in mobile use: If I really want to crunch numbers, I use HPC servers which I access via SSH, RDP or VNC and gaming is much more fun with an RTX 2080ti.

    Phones as a VR headset replacement died far too quickly for my taste, my Le Max2 with its Le VR “luxury cardboard” companion still works pretty well, certainly for 3D movies.

    So, the only reason I would even remotely consider buying one of these overpowered smartphones is if they could do double-duty as mid-line laptop replacements. Unless Corona’ed I switch countries every week and taking a €1200 smartphone instead of a €1200 laptop along for the ride, while enjoying a 43”@4k desktop in both offices has a great appeal, especially since RAM (16GB), storage (500GB) and compute power are similar enough to satisfy me.

    I need both to handle the typical office/productivity stuff, surfing and the ability to access the big systems, be they compute farms or GeForce Now if I am in need for a monster kill. Yes, I love to be able to even run a Docker container in case I want to code something on the quick and up to chroot() that works pretty well with Android’s Linux kernel, even if it’s not quite as podman ready as the laptop.

    Last Samsung I got was a Tab S5e a month ago and its DEX qualities are really much improved. It has perhaps 25% of the power and capacity of these phones (at 50% price) but shows what could obviously be done here. Yet I see no mention of DEX on the S20 and I fear that Samsung’s product management is…

    The mere existence and perseverance of Exynos SoCs and rounded display edges prove that these people must be insane: Very sad, when you consider what the hardware could actually do!
    In the mean-time I am holding on to a very nice OnePlus 5 as daily driver, lovingly protected with a silicon sleeve that sports an elevated ridge around a flat display thus kept from drop’s harm with grip and buffer space. When I take it out for a bit of soap and water treatment, it looks like new.

    Chassis materials, colors, design, finger tip smudges? I couldn’t care less and the Note 1-3 removable plastic covers were plain perfect for longevity and flexibility.
  • Rorange68 - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Great review.. somehow I haven’t seen these in the past but will watch for them now. Quick question... the chart on the first page shows all of the versions with dual sims.. a nano and esim. I was thinking of going for the Exynos because it’s been the only one listed as having dual sims but given the issues with 5g compatibility and the review you give it that seems like a really bad idea But if they all have dual sim it would make it a lot easier to leave my 10+ and get the 20+ or even splurge on the ultra on the chance they improve some of it via software updates.
  • Rorange68 - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    *5g comparability between for the Exxon’s version and US carriers
  • MarcSant - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Outstanding! The Anandtech articles are simple the best, the definitive tech guide for all tech lovers. Keep up with the high level of these tech articles that in my opinion are the "must go" for all people that are interested in buy a gadget and see the "behind scenes" information that manufactures will not tell you.
  • airdrifting - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    No thanks on overpriced, never last, slow update, buggy software Korean garbage.
  • surt - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Do they have a reputation for not lasting? I'm considering this for an upgrade from my Galaxy S6 which is still working fine but I'd like a better camera.
  • airdrifting - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    I haven't tried the newer ones, but I owned Galaxy S1, Galaxy S3, LG G2 and G3, none lasted 2 years (G2 being the best one imo.). I switched to Oneplus after that. Oneplus 3T lasted almost 3 years, now I am rocking a Oneplus 7 which I paid $400 for on eBay.
  • shabby - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    Lol how about you get a newer phone before bashing it.

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