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Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Review: Impressive Camera Specs Don't Justify the Price

Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Review

Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Review: Impressive Camera Specs Don't Justify the Price. Excellent camera features aren't quite enough to overcome an awkward design, questionable battery performance and a sky-high price. Cheaper Galaxy S20 models will have broader appeal.

There's no denying that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is something bold. Something special. It exists to show off its camera features. There's the 108-megapixel sensor, capturing scenes for detailed crop-ins that invariably make you say "wow!" Then there's the 100x zoom lens that reveals lettering, faces and architectural details you can't see from afar with the naked eye. And the beautiful 40-megapixel selfie camera that won't spare your feelings when you turn off beauty mode.

The most advanced (and expensive) new flagship undeniably pushes boundaries. Samsung wants you to see these photos and crave this phone. Facing the iPhone 11 Pro, Pixel 4 and Huawei Mate 30, the world's largest phone-maker is playing to win. Does it succeed? Yes… and also no.

On paper, the S20 Ultra is unbeatable. It has that insanely colorful 6.9-inch edge-to-edge display. An enormous 5,000-mAh battery. Plus all the waterproofing, fast charging and reverse wireless charging you'd expect from a top-tier Samsung phone.

But in my real-world tests, the Ultra doesn't play like the all-around superstar I want it to be, especially for $1,400 (£1,199, AU$1,999). Its photography is mostly superb, but unignorable hardware and software drawbacks dampen my enthusiasm for the device as a whole.

I never got over my distaste for its thick, heavy design. And I can't ignore its uneven battery performance, especially when the superfast screen refresh option -- which makes scrolling, animations and some content liquid-smooth -- appears to slash battery reserves.

Despite the S20 Ultra's camera prowess, I find myself reaching for the more refined Galaxy Note 10 Plus and more interesting Galaxy Z Flip foldable phone. For me, the Ultra is simply less fun to use.

Here's another conundrum. Without being able to fully test the S20 Ultra side-by-side with the cheaper, smaller Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus, it's hard to say which one is the "best" overall. Samsung sent journalists the S20 Ultra for review first, leading with its priciest model. The three phones share core software and hardware, but they have different camera specs and battery reserves.

At the time of writing this review, the S20 and Plus are still days away from going on sale. I can't yet speak to how performance compares, but I can say that the S20 Ultra leaves the door open for the standard Galaxy S20 ($999) or S20 Plus ($1,199) to be the smarter buy for most.

Comparisons with the other S20s and with top rivals such as the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Google Pixel 4 XL are still to come. For now, I'll leave you with my Galaxy S20 Ultra highs and lows. If you're on the fence about buying Samsung's priciest model, my advice is this: wait. The best S20 for you may not be quite so Ultra.

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