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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  • Danish_92 - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    why are these big brands suddenly focusing on big cameras?
  • surt - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    I'd say they're focusing on camera GPU performance, which are the two areas of the phone where performance is not yet 'good enough'. Everything else just ... works.
  • s.yu - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    They're focusing on anything that makes a selling point that people could care about. They also focused on the haptic motors and most mid-high tier phones should vibrate better than those 3-4 years ago.
  • watzupken - Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - link

    Big brands are focusing on big cameras because they see Chinese phones, in particular Huawei, making a lot of waves in this area. Since it is very difficult to differentiate their products especially for Android phones, thus, whatever seems to rock with the consumer, every manufacturer will double down on the same features. First it was SOC, then they start spamming ram, follow by cameras, higher screen to body ratio, and now high refresh rate screen. You can tell Samsung is purely focusing on these areas I have mentioned as well.
  • colonelclaw - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    A slightly unfortunate time to launch such an expensive product. I don't know about you all, but right now I'm saving every penny I can.
  • peevee - Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - link

    "Why Samsung is able to call this a 3x telephoto module is that when cropping a 1:1 12MP picture out of it, it does end up at a 3x magnification in relation to the main camera sensor."

    3x magnification by the sensor would crop 8 out of 9 pixels. For 64MP original, it would be 7.1MP, not 12.
  • flyingpants265 - Thursday, April 9, 2020 - link

    No front speakers = no buy.

    Crappy smartphone OS with no proper multitasking, on a phone with 16 gigs of RAM = no buy.

    Can't turn off Google phoning home in software = no buy.

    $999 = DEFINITELY no buy. Pay about $300 for a used S10. Don't be a sucker.
  • StrangerGuy - Thursday, April 9, 2020 - link

    I just ordered a brand new SD845 Note 9 for $350 to replace my current Exynos Note 9 with OLED black banding issues out-of-warranty. Replacing the screen aftermarket would cost $250 alone.

    Anyway, I have no idea why anybody would want to pay $1000+ of IQ deficiency taxes for the current breed of half-baked Samsung phones. Even their home appliances and TVs are also rubbish in terms of value per dollar.
  • helloworld_chip - Sunday, April 12, 2020 - link

    Do we have 990 kirin 5G GPU efficiency data for comparison? Would be glad to see if it also shows big efficiency improvements over the 4G version.
  • snarfbot - Sunday, April 12, 2020 - link

    How does the 855+ stack up

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