Tech review: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

The title of ‘camera phone king’ rotates regularly between Apple, Huawei and Samsung (with occasional incursions by Google’s Pixel range). But as of this month, Samsung is back on top.

‘ve been using the manufacturer’s Galaxy S20 Ultra for the best part of a week and it’s noticeably a cut above on some of its camera functions.

It’s most obvious on the S20 Ultra’s zoom. Frankly, it’s amazing. I brought the phone to north-west Mayo to test it. There was a storm. I pointed it at a lighthouse (Eagle Island) about a mile from the shore and zoomed the video in to its maximum (20x). It did an astonishing job.

‘Fine,’ you’ll say. ‘But what about in comparison to others, like Huawei’s P30 Pro or Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro?’

At the extreme end, it’s better than those two. In other words, it has a much better, clearer, higher-resolution image when pushed to its maximum zoom.

There’s one particular reason for this. The S20 Ultra has a much bigger camera sensor in it. As in, it’s twice the size (1/1.33 inches) of the sensor in almost any other flagship smartphone and not far off the sensor size in highly rated semi-professional pocket cameras like Sony’s RX100 series.

In layman’s terms, that means that it can do much more with the actual image. The resolution can be better. It can pick out more details in low light. And its zoom can reach much further.

All of this is evident with the S20 Ultra. If you pick its 108-megapixel camera mode setting, for example, you can make separate photos of tiny parts of the original photo without too much blurring or noise.

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Over the weekend, I tested it directly against both the P30 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro. While there’s little to separate the three for close shots, wide-angle photos or for portrait shots, there’s no question of which is better for video flexibility and telephoto.

So is this perfect? No. I have no idea why Samsung let the zoom go to 100x – an obscene range even for a high-end DSLR camera.

It simply doesn’t work. Above 50x or 60x, the photos are mushy, with individual details fuzzed out to oblivion. Yet 50x is still an incredible zoom range, clearly better than anything else out there. So why promise 100x? Was it just too irresistible a number for marketing purposes?

It’s also not quite as good at stabilised video as the iPhone 11 Pro. I’ve done some testing around this and Apple’s device is still slightly superior for smooth footage.

The S20 Ultra records video at 8K too, but I’m not going to waste your time going through that experience. It’s irrelevant to 99.9pc of anyone who buys this phone in 2020 (and to 98pc of anyone who buys it next year, come to that). Not only does no one have an 8K television, but the file sizes for 30-second clips will be too ridiculously high for anyone but professional videographers.

The camera isn’t the only feature that the S20 Ultra excels at. While I’ll reserve discussion of these for my complete review later on, I’ll briefly mention its display and battery life as absolute stand-out features. The 6.9-inch screen renders at either 60hz (default) or 120hz. At the higher setting, the motion when scrolling or flicking is ridiculously smooth and buttery. The battery, at 5,000mAh, is also the best on the current flagship market.

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This is guaranteed to last you a full day, almost no matter how heavily you use it.

Otherwise, its design is fairly unremarkable – it’s a large black slab, almost identical in looks to every other large flat slab.

Even still, this is now the top camera phone you can get. Now we wait for Huawei next month and its P40 Pro launch.

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