Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review: Too much more for most

I feel like I need to give Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra two scores. If I’m reviewing it solely on the merits of its components and what it can do, it’s easily a five-star device, with only the smallest of perceptible flaws.

The 6.9-inch display is remarkably bright and incredibly smooth when the 120Hz refresh rate is switched on, and the 40MP hole-punch selfie camera is much more discreet than it was on the S10. The RAM, storage, and processor are all the fastest you can get in a smartphone, and the 5,000mAh battery both lasts all day and fills up incredibly quickly. And yes, the 100X Space Zoom camera is cooler than any other telephoto lens I’ve used.

galaxy s20 ultra name Christopher Hebert/IDG

You won’t find the S20 Ultra name anywhere on the phone, but everyone will know what it is.

But if I were to score the Galaxy S20 Ultra on usability and cost, I’d give it closer to 2 stars (hence the 3.5-star final score). Even if our review model didn’t start at $1,400, a price high enough to make Apple blush, the Galaxy S20 Ultra would still be far too much phone for most people. Everything feels extreme, especially its size. Samsung’s push to make the ultimate device has created a gorgeous and awe-inspiring superphone that is far beyond what most people need. Or even want. (Curious about the lower-cost S20 models? Check out our comparison of the Samsung Galaxy S20 vs. the S20+.)

Big, heavy, and awkward

For several generations now, Samsung has established that its “plus” phones are essentially larger versions of base models with better cameras. On paper, that’s true of the S20 Ultra as well, but in reality, it’s much more than a super-sized Galaxy S20+.

I don’t usually spend much time thinking about the weight of my phone, but it’s hard to ignore the S20 Ultra’s mass. At 222 grams, it’s significantly heavier than S20+ (188g) and the S10 5G (198g). It’s actually a bit lighter than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which clocks in at 226 grams, but you wouldn’t know it from holding it. With such a massive camera bump in the top left corner, the S20 Ultra is both top-heavy and side-heavy, so it requires a slightly different grip, lest it slide and slip out of your hands.

galaxy s20 ultra bottom Christopher Hebert/IDG

The S20 Ultra’s USB-C port is finally perfectly centered on the bottom edge.

You can forget about one-handed operation. While the new, higher placement of the in-display fingerprint sensor has drastically improved the accuracy and reliability of the scanner when picking it up and unlocking with my thumb, the size of the S20 Ultra makes it difficult to do much else without using all 10 of my fingers. It was hard enough to use the 6.8-inch display on the Note 10+, but the S20 Ultra’s 6.9-inch screen, coupled with the weight and near-9mm thickness, is simply too much for one hand to bear.

The S20 Ultra is the only phone I’ve used that I could actually feel sliding down my hand as I held it. It’s a weird phenomenon, caused by a…

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