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From the Editor's Desk: The Galaxy S20 Ultra's impossibly high bar

Galaxy S20 Ultra
Galaxy S20 Ultra (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

I'm old enough to remember when the four-figure smartphone was an anomaly, back in the heady days of the Galaxy Note 9. Now, at the high end, it's increasingly the norm. Look no further than the $1,400 Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, with its comma-wielding asking price, for a curious case study on the sky-high expectations for such a device.

As reviews — including our own — have started to trickle out over the past few days, a consensus has started to emerge: the S20 Ultra is a great phone which nowhere near justifies its exorbitant price tag. When your starting price is so much higher than everyone else, your product needs to be damn near perfect. And the Galaxy S20 Ultra — again, while great — is not perfect. There are obvious flaws that the customer, nearly a grand and a half lighter for their S20 Ultra purchase, should not expect to see.

Galaxy S20 Ultra Battery

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

Outside of being an absolute unit of a phone, weighing in at 220 grams, it boasts a 120Hz display that you probably won't want to crank up to its full refresh rate because of its tendency to devour the phone's battery. Even at the standard 60Hz refresh rate, this 5G phone with a 5,000mAh battery delivers nowhere near the battery life of 4G phones from last year with lesser cells. That's to say nothing of the dubious value of 5G connectivity in general in many parts of the U.S. and other countries, the cost of that being baked into the Ultra's price tag.

Other issues? The fingerprint scanner is no better than last year's model, which was one of the weaker biometric systems of its generation. (This, of course, is something you notice every time you pick up your phone through what might turn out to be years of ownership.)

And to top it off, the Ultra's headline feature, its 108MP main camera, has its own issues. Autofocus is wonky, and our own Andrew Martonik has discovered issues with the steady video recording feature.

When you're being charged laptop money for a smartphone, it's not unreasonable to expect excellence.

Samsung is already promising a camera patch in future, acknowledging the issues reviewers have identified in recent days. But the phone itself is launching next week; early S20 Ultra adopters will likely face the same issues as reviewers — at least in the short term.

Some, including Android Police's David Ruddock, have argued that the S20 Ultra is simply too much phone — that it's collapsed under the weight of Samsung's ambition. It's an understandable point of view, though let's also remember this is the manufacturer of not one but two very expensive and ambitious foldable phones.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Series All Three

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Let's be clear: the Galaxy S20 Ultra is absolutely not a bad product. But when you're being charged laptop money for a smartphone, it's not unreasonable to expect excellence across the board. Samsung's new flagship, in its present form, has obvious foibles that cheaper (and arguably more balanced) handsets just don't have to deal with.

And with new phones from OnePlus and other rivals expected in the next couple of months, it'll be interesting to see just how long the Galaxy S20 Ultra can continue to demand top dollar for this not-quite-top-notch experience.

Other odds and ends this first day of March:

  • Our own Micheal Fisher (aka MrMobile) makes an excellent point on whether publications and creators should hold reviews and wait for the patch. And I agree with him that no, with phones going on sale in their current state, it's fair to review them as they are.
  • Many have been asking where our S20 and S20+ reviews are, since they're likely to be a better fit for the average consumer (and the average bank account). They're coming; stay tuned!
  • The LG V60 ThinQ 5G could be the antidote to perpetual smartphone price creep, with its promised sub-$1,000 pricing. I've used the LG Dual Screen with the G8X and it's a solid, if chunky proposition. Questions remain over camera quality though, especially without dedicated telephoto, as well as LG's dire software update track record.
  • Huawei's pushing ahead into its post-Google era. The challenges will be immense, particularly if the firm wants to win back carriers for its upcoming P40 series. The Mate XS looks neat though, I guess.
  • The new Wildfire R70, featuring Android 9 Pie and microUSB connectivity in the year two thousand and twenty, probably has little to do with HTC proper. (Phones like this tend to be farmed out to ODMs.) But the device's spec sheet is as baffling as it is depressing for those of us who remember the HTC glory days.
  • The situation around COVID-19 has become even more serious this past week, and it's clear this will be one of the defining stories of 2020. The obvious human tragedy should, of course, always be top of mind. It's also evident that the coronavirus will touch every aspect of the tech industry, as Harish explained in his recent write-up — from the factories that build phones and other electronics to the travel and logistics involved with bringing them to market. The obvious question for everyone launching a phone in the next few months: How can you still manufacture, launch and support your products? Also expect continuing event and trade show cancellations to introduce their own challenges, and alter the cadence of Android launches for the remainder of the year.

That's all for now. I'll catch you in a few more weeks!

Alex

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

26 Comments
  • I have ordered an S20 Ultra. However, each time I read this kind of articles, I'm in doubt... Should I spend so much money on a phone or should I cancel my pre-order and opt for a S20+? Are the differences between these 2 models really worth 500$ or would I just be ok with a S20+?... I feel lost.
  • I think the difference between the S20 Ultra ($1400?) and the S20+ ($1200) is about $200. If you want the larger phone and the better camera, it seems worth it to get what you really want. I went ahead and ordered an S20+ because I like the size better and I wanted a brighter colored phone.
  • These kinds of articles, while important, always scare buyers. It's almost as if they are telling you not to even bother with the device. If you want the latest and greatest then you know what you are getting into. At least, that is how I see it.
  • Thanks for your opinion. In fact, a few articles discuss about the S20 Ultra's (too) high price and that makes me wonder if I'm dumb spending so much money. It makes me feel guilty. Guilty pleasure lol.
  • I honestly think Samsung is indulging in price gouging. However, if you have plenty of money and would like one of these phones I don't see why you would need to feel guilty. If I had money to burn I'd get the S20+. The Ultra is just too big and heavy.
  • If you're spending this much is $200 more really this is much different? It looks too big and heavy for me. I'd get the S20 Plus, but when you're spending this much anyway.
  • Back in fall it was pixels time to milk the news cycle and now it's Ultra turn 😂
  • Almost like the news cycle is 'milked' by......news. Crazy
  • $1400.00+tax (Ultra) for a Whopping 2 years of software support coupled with it's other shortcomings. Lol 😂, Nope.
  • You make a valid point. Any phone at this price should get 3 years of support. PERIOD!
  • 3 years of Software support, 2 major updates ...... You have a point, but you missed on the specifics.
  • They are getting 3+ yrs of support. This is their baby and they are going to treat the folks who buy one appropriately.
  • No, it won't. If you think they'll do that, you're just setting yourself for disappointment. No OEM gives a sh*t about the user once they get its money. They do the bare minimum to keep you with their brand but they won't make it easy for you to keep phones indefinitely.
    And if they give you 2 years of updates, it's because European consumer laws force them to support phones for that period, otherwise you wouldn't get even that.
  • I was going to preorder the S20 ultra and ended up with the s20+ because of the price and I believe most of the photo benefits are for zooming more than 3x. More pixels have a tradeoff and I firmly believe that more camera tests will conclude the S20+ is actually better in some situations.
    Also, completely fair to review as is and update it later if things change.
    Last thought is that the phone is priced WAY too expensively but the deals mean you don't pay that price. It certainly is not worth $1400 but with 2x trade in value, $50 off bestbuy, and a $200 Samsung credit, that price seems fair. Apple on the other hand almost always costs the full price.
  • I agree most reviewers get hung up on the price but how many people are actually paying full price? I suspect very few and when you factor in the large trade in values Samsung is giving plus all the credits the real price of the phone comes down to normal ranges for a flagship phone
  • A friend of mine payed off his Note 10 Plus to trade it in. He thinks he's getting a good deal. I asked him if he would pay off his car so he can get a better deal on a new car with a better trade in value. He said no. I don't understand why people think a trade in actually lowers the price of the phone. Your current phone actually has value.
  • Apples cost full price but they also retain their value, unlike Android phones.
  • I ordered the S20 Ultra but only because of the massive trade ins Samsung is offering and the massive Samsung Credits. With my Note 10 Plus trade in and credits the phone only cost me 549 and for that price it's well worth it but only an idiot would pay the full retail price for it as no phone is worth that much money especially an Android one since they lose their value so quickly and updates are slow and loaded with bloat unless you get a Pixel which Google has dropped the ball on big time. My advice for someone who doesn't have a high value trade is to just wait a month or two and then pick one up for half off on Swappa. For instance the Note 10 Plus 256gb I'm trading in I got on Swappa 2 months after the Note 10 Plus was released for $650, just set a price alert and wait. Someone will be looking to dump their phone for quick cash and you can get a great deal.
  • Wrong. You paid $549 plus the value of your pretty new Note 10 Plus.
  • Aside the price tag, the color selection of the Ultra is my largest complaint. I've never had to order a skin for a phone ever. And the fact I've had to do that for this beast is ridiculous. They nailed it with Note 10 colors then dropped the ball on this one.
  • For $1,400, I expect absolute perfection. The fact that the S20 Ultra is only an okay phone for that price tag is not good at all. I absolutely refuse to pay top dollar for cameras that take photos that look like they come from the S7 edge and sucking away battery life because of a refresh rate that isn't necessary in a phone and to power a 5G modem that also is not necessary at this point. Hard pass, Samsung. I'm going to look at OnePlus later this year and hoping they come out with a great device for the right price.
  • I'm just going with the flow..
    Been android since HTC Evo4G wimax... eVOLte. Lg g3, g4, v30..
    Things are good. I like my tab4 (picked up for my phantom 3 a couple years ago and now has one UI) but this will be my first Samsung cell phone ever. I'm all in. Every spec they offered. I have 30 day widow w Sprint.. More if I need.. For better or worse been with them the past 17yrs so, a little effort with customer service can get you a good deal or if need be return.. If this thing is "terrible" than I'll be the first to jump.
    BUT I have a feeling in a few months it will settle in to a wonderful device. It has tons of potential to do so much more than nitpicking about camera systems. Real gaming, real productivity, laptop replacement in some business or creative environment. Can 3d scan an object and be the computer to run the 3d printer to build object. Lots going on here.
    New RAM Speed no one is mentioning.
    Refresh rate for touch sensitivity is double any other phone. (I didn't say screen refresh) touch tech. These are all really important things. With Android platform, XDA and Gcam.. (if they add wide angle cam finally to pixel 5.. We all benefit from what they have done. . GCAM). So I hope phones like my soon to be s20 ultra will get to benefit greatly from all the love that will be developed. Because the hardware is solid, people will tinker and perfect. This phone is for Android power users right..? Well like most "first" in Android world, some of us have to give them love so we can keep pushing forward. I'm excited for my overpriced tech.. I think it's going to work out just fine in the long run.
  • I preordered the S20 Ultra, then cancelled the next day. I decided my mint Note 8 is good for a couple of more years... It holds up great, as a flagship phone is intended to do. There is no good reason to frequently upgrade great phones. Probably the cheapest you could get away with upgrading over ten years is about $5000-$6000....and that's insane for a phone. You can't drive a phone, nor can you live in it lmao. And yes, I love my Bowers and Wilkins corded P9 headphones at home. Another truth is that 5G has been falsely sold as something that will replace 4G. 5G can't physically be everywhere like 4G, so stop selling me on a couple of Mainstreets in major downtown cities where I can get extreme 5G speeds. What really matters WiFi 6, which the S20 phones have. I like all the leading S20 specs, but that camera is sold on false pretenses too, like 100x zoom BS and 108MP photos that normally geted binned down to smaller sizes. But it is funny in 2020 that cameras on phones are such important part of cell phone reviews. Lol, what a difference 20 years makes. I agree with the tone of all the S20 reviews... They can't expect significant sales at their price points for phones that aren't quite perfect... I expect perfection for $2100 Canadian. My own prediction is Samsung will panick and discount the S20 lineup quickly, no later than their Note 20 release... More likely in three months... Time is money and those phones can't sit on shelves unsold. What will make me upgrade? Significantly better real optical zoom/camera in phones, the new Bluetooth standard, 120Hz screen in higher resolutions, bigger battery, and a better starting price. Mark my words, Samsung bet too high on day one pricing. I can afford it, but I refuse to pay that much for a phone. Only fools preorder any phone. More people are waiting a year to buy flagship phones. The S20 tech will trickle down to their mid range phones in a few years, and that will be good news for the masses.
  • Odd article. Are MacBook Pros absolutely perfect? No. People shouldn't expect perfection no matter the price. It's a top tier phone, expect to pay top tier prices. Besides it'll be forgotten about in 4-5 months when the Note 20 is released.
  • My S10+ fingerprint scanner works perfectly. I ordered the Ultra, cant wait. I love the fingerprint scanner. Dont get how some people that review these phones have issues. I have no problem at all, its fast and accurate.
  • for $1400 it needs to last 7 days between charges with heavy use,otherwise,it is extremely overpriced.