First impressions – Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Seeing the big picture

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Today’s the day the world at large gets its hands on Samsung’s Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Pro and Galaxy S20 Ultra. Here at Stuff, we got our hands on the big fella, the Galaxy S20 Ultra. And, after fiddling around with a couple of hours (our longest time with the handset so far), here’s what we think. Pending the final review in a week or so, obviously.

Taking the weight

Samsung’s newest smartphone isn’t going to win any (more) design awards. You’ve seen the Galaxy S8 and onwards, so you know what to expect. There are clean lines and a deep black screen to look forward to. The glass feels somehow smoother and harder than you’d think and there’s a subdued metal rim around the edge of the device. It’s… well, it’s a Samsung flagship device.

The differences? The large camera bump is a new thing. It’s not called a massive bulge for nothing. Samsung’s new camera tech and the deceptively large (6.9in? Seriously? It doesn’t feel that large) screen might have something to do with the extra weight that drags at your pocket. That much glass is a little scary, so we’re glad of the included screen protector and thicker-than-usual clear case that ships with it. Even if the bugger is a mission to take off again.

Early verdict: The design’s not going to surprise you. The bulge, however, will

All-powerful

What we haven’t had time to test at all is the phone’s power. Because… well, that takes time. There are apps to install and traps to set for the processor and all manner of horrible pitfalls to set up — like trying to run everything on the phone at once.

But, based on the few hours of time we’ve had with the phone, it’s a distant technological relative of Matthew Wilder. Why? Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a its stride, at least when it comes to processor slowdown. The humongous Exynos 990 and 12GB of RAM in our 128GB review unit sees to that. And if you’ve got the 512GB storage option (and enough money to pay for the bloody thing), you can look forward to 16GB of RAM. That’s four times more than you’ll find in an entry-level laptop in this country.

Which also means it’s rather bloody speedy when you’re using DeX, another thing we attempted in the first few hours. Connecting it to a 2016 MacBook Pro, there’s no noticeable lag when transferring files. Initial setup of the software and connection to another machine is mighty breezy as well.

The phone does get a little warm when in use, particularly when shooting video or taking those wonderful 108MP images Samsung’s punting at present.

Early verdict: We’re not expecting a single issue, power-wise.

Detail oriented

The camera was the obvious candidate for some early testing. Samsung claims it’ll shoot at 100x and that’s an accurate claim, if a little more finicky to pull off than we’d like. A tripod is essential (we used a DJI Osmo Mobile 3 to stabilise things but it didn’t really help), as well as something interesting to take photos of. Space nerds’ll probably be thrilled but we have to give the 100x claims a further test. Shooting competent stuff handheld is unlikely, though. Very unlikely.

That’s because Samsung’s 100x zoom is mostly handled by software. The best zoom level you’ll get handheld is Samsung’s 4x option, responsible for the image of the Fett above. There’s no serious degradation of the image unless you get close enough for the pixels to start merging. That point is further off than you’d think, too

The portion of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra we were actually impressed with on short notice is the 108MP camera — which has to be selected. It’s not on by default, because the images it takes are massive. In the range of 30-40MB, which is what we’d expect from a 12000 x 9000 image. Samsung’s software lets you zoom in on this gigantic image, define an area and them take a smaller image using the bigger one — essentially letting you turn one massive panorama into a selection of highlights for Instagram. Provided you’re somewhere attractive and not taking quick and dirty photos in a parking lot, that is.

The level of detail of the 108MP sensor is high and focus is surprisingly broad, particularly after Samsung’s first software update — which addresses some camera teething issues — is downloaded and applied. That upgrade is about 400MB and should probably be the first thing you do with the phone.

Early verdict: Samsung’s camera has some serious potential, but way more testing is needed.

Initial verdict: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 128GB

Samsung’s made a very, very powerful phone here. It’s also made some pretty extraordinary claims about the handset’s camera and those require extraordinary testing. Right now, the 100x zoom isn’t impressive at all but the huge sensor and Samsung’s software features (as well as Single Take, an intelligent camera mode that does everything at the same time) are looking positive. But because these phones start at R27,000 — that’s not a small amount of money to spend on a smartphone — we’re going to be extra-thorough on this one. Looks out for a full review here on Stuff in about a week.

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