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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  • toyeboy89 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    I'm really amazed in the fact that the iPhone XR is still beating snapdragon 865 in GFXBench in both peak and sustained performance. I am hoping the OnePlus 8 has better sustained performance.
  • TMCThomas - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Amazing review! Always wait for this one before getting a new samsung. And I won't be getting any of the s20 phones. For me the kind of feel like "beta" phones. The 120hz which is not quite ready for 1440p yet, the underutilized 108mp camera, the space zoom which is blurry, the camera hole still being there the big camera bump and so on. I think all these features and more could be way more refined with the next galaxy s which I'll be waiting for. Also the poor exynos 990 performance especially the GPU part is just unacceptable to me. Especially with it probably being a lot better next year, so I'll skip this year
  • wheeliebin - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Thanks Andrei, really good review!

    I have read many users complain about extra crazy post-processing on the S10/S20 series when there is a face detected in the frame. i.e. the phone will apply an aggressive 'smooth skin' filter that you can't disable unless you shoot RAW. I was hoping that your review might touch on this however there were no people in your example shots so perhaps you didn't get a chance to experience the problem. I wonder if you have heard of this issue and can replicate it yourself with the S20 range?
  • anonomouse - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Hi Andrei, did you also run the bandwidth and MLP sweeps from previous reviews? Last year you noted the Snapdragon 855/A76 had peculiar behavior in the L1, and it would be also interesting to see if there are any MLP changes in both the SD865 and the Exynos.
  • anonomouse - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Also, any idea why the new scores for these in 403.gcc seems to be worse than their previous generation products? In particular the score for the SD865 in these S20s is substantially worse than the SD865 score from the QRD preview article.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Yes I know. I don't know why that happens. I also got a V60 now and the scores there are higher, I'm wondering if there's something with Samsungs shared libraries.
  • anonomouse - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    What type of compile flags are used for these binaries? Are they the same for all of the tested binaries (or even same binary on each given platform)? Are LTO or PGO used (and if not why not)?

    I'm also not convinced of this statement from the article:

    "I had mentioned that the 7LPP process is quite a wildcard in the comparisons here. Luckily, I’ve been able to get my hands on a Snapdragon 765G, another SoC that’s manufactured on Samsung’s EUV process. It’s also quite a nice comparison as we’re able to compare that chip’s performance A76 cores at 2.4GHz to the middle A76 cores of the Exynos 990 which run at 2.5GHz. Performance and power between the two chips here pretty much match each other, and a clearly worse than other TSMC A76-based SoCs, especially the Kirin 990’s. The only conclusion here is that Samsung’s 7LPP node is quite behind TSMC’s N7/N7P/N7+ nodes when it comes to power efficiency – anywhere from 20 to 30%."

    Both the energy consumed and the performance scores for both of these A76's seem to also very closely track the "mid" 2.43Ghz A76's on the TSMC-fabbed SD855 - all of which have similar L2's and similar frequencies, but possibly differ significantly (to the point of being suboptimal on latency) on the memory hierarchy and SoC beyond that - which greatly affects many of the SPEC workloads. All of these may also have implementation targets. Given this, is it really conclusive that the Samsung process is truly 20-30% worse in energy efficiency? Granted, things will probably not look pretty next year when TSMC is on a true 5nm and Samsung is not.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    The test is just -Ofast without any other addition. LTO wasn't/isn't in a good state on the Android NDK - it's something to look into in maybe a new binary revision.

    As for the 855 figures, well, that's also on an earlier 7nm. HiSilicon did a lot better in terms of they physical implementation. If not against N7, 7LPP clearly has a disadvantage against N7P/N7+.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    I'll add them in, that test takes a whole day and I needed the phones doing battery tests and other stuff.
  • dad_at - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Again, your S10+ Exynos results in pc mark are false as of 2020. In performance mode I easily get 9500 work 2.0 overall, about 9600 in browser bench, 21K in photo editing. PC mark in general is inconsistent, irrelevant benchmark, not representative of actual performance in daily usage. The same about these ancient SPEC synthetics. No one uses these for performance evaluation now.

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