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Samsung’s Galaxy Book two-in-one provides a surprisingly potent combination of price, performance, and battery life, all wrapped up behind an excellent Samsung AMOLED display with HDR.
Samsung’s Galaxy Book is a 2-in-1 12-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard that gets pretty much everything you care about right. Its price, performance, and battery life are all among the best we’ve tested.
Adam Patrick MurrayPrice: Galaxy Book’s value proposition
While some competing 2-in-1 products we’ve reviewed cost upwards of $1,400, the version of the Samsung Galaxy Book we tested ships for $1,300. The price includes 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, plus optional LTE connectivity via Verizon. A more full-featured version starts with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. There’s also a microSD card slot that accepts cards up to 256GB. Inside you’ll find 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 4.1 BLE.
Adam Patrick Murray
The Galaxy Book’s beautiful Super AMOLED display is definitely a selling point.
I expected the Galaxy Book to lean a bit more upon Samsung’s legacy of quality Android tablets, however. It’s no crime to exclude a physical Windows button, as the Galaxy Book does. I was a bit surprised, though, to discover that the screen bezel was a bit on the chunky side. The Galaxy Book’s dimensions are fine: 11.47 x 7.87 x 0.29 inches, and just over 2.5 pounds with the keyboard attached, or about 2.78 pounds if you add the small, cellular-style USB-C power charger. Still, the tablet felt somewhat awkward to hold in the hand.
Adam Patrick Murray
Though the Surface Pro 4 (bottom) is thicker than the Galaxy Book, it weighs slightly less when you attach both keyboards.Features: A mobile pedigree, for better and for worse
Unfortunately, buying a Galaxy Book brings up a new consideration for many: what USB standard your peripherals use. Samsung has committed wholeheartedly to USB-C, with a pair of ports than can be used for charging or for peripherals. That’s fine for phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, which use USB-C for charging but rarely connect to a wired USB device. The PC ecosystem encompasses a vast number of legacy devices, however, and you undoubtedly own some pre-USB-C device that you’ll want to connect to the Galaxy Book. At least Samsung was somewhat merciful: There’s a traditional headphone jack.
Adam Patrick Murray
One of these things is not like the other.
Samsung clearly tapped its mobile team in other aspects of the design. Some people simply love taking photos with a tablet’s rear camera, and Samsung’s high-quality 13MP part should serve you well. Photos were sharp and bright, although the tablet can take seconds to focus. A more mundane 5MP camera sits up front.
Adam Patrick Murray
The S-Pen may be a bit less ergonomic than other styluses, but you don’t have to charge it, either.
The new S-Pen can sense 4,000 levels of pressure, a distinction I’ve never felt was particularly important for the average user. Interestingly, the S-Pen also allows you to ink a broader stroke by angling the pen’s nib against the keyboard, like a pencil. Compared to the Surface Pen, Apple Pencil, and others, however, the S-Pen is skinnier and a bit less comfortable to hold, with a single button and no eraser function. It doesn’t require charging, however, which is a plus.Keyboard: the Book’s foldable keyboard doesn’t suck
Samsung’s Galaxy Book connects to the keyboard with just a single strip along its edge. The hold is so secure that I was genuinely worried I’d rip the keyboard while trying to disconnect it. Others, like the one for Microsoft’s Surface Pro, use a similar strip, plus a second that together form the keyboard’s hinge. Without that second strip, the Book’s keyboard lies flat.
Most two-in-one tablets also provide a kickstand-like part that folds out from the rear of the tablet. The Galaxy Book does not, instead requiring you to fold the cover into one of four positions to recline it at a specific angle. If you need it (I did), a cheat sheet of sorts is printed on the cover. What elevates the Book’s foldable cover over others I’ve used is its magnetic edge, which matches up with magnets along the tablet’s backside. When you fold the cover to the appropriate position, the two strips grab each other securely.
Adam Patrick Murray
Magnetic strips inside the Galaxy Book keyboard cover connect to similar strips inside the tablet, helping to steady it at different positions.
Unfortunately, however, Samsung’s Galaxy Book is primarily a desktop machine. While on your lap, the Galaxy Book’s keyboard secures the tablet as well as any I’ve tried. Still, though I found one keyboard position that worked for lap typing, everything felt wobbly and uncertain.
Adam Patrick Murray
Thought the keyboard sits flat, it’s not that uncomfortable.Performance: Galaxy Book is among the best
The Galaxy Book performed impressively well for a 2-in-1. A fair number of hybrid and convertible laptops use Core m chips—solid performers, but not on a level with Intel’s mainstream Core processors. Because it’s equipped with a dual-core 15-watt processor, Samsung’s Galaxy Book can get away with including a Core i5 chip instead of a Core i7. The Galaxy Book’s processor also belongs to the current 7th-generation line of Core CPUs, so you’ll see a slight boost in performance over systems still equipped with 6th-generation Skylake parts.
The Galaxy Book shapes up well against some higher-profile hybrids, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet, the HP Elite x2, and the much more expensive Microsoft Surface tablets. It also holds its own against convertibles with weaker hardware, like the Dell XPS 2-in-1. When pitted against similarly equipped devices, it offers equal or slightly better performance.
IDG IDG IDG
With Maxon’s CineBench benchmark, which renders a static 3D scene, the Galaxy Book’s processor struggles a bit. Though the benchmark provides a single-thread test, we use its multithreaded test to tax the processor thoroughly for the few minutes it takes the test to run. In this pure CPU test, the Galaxy Book holds its own among its Core i5-equipped peers.
Handbrake uses the tablet’s processor to transcode video files into different formats. Our benchmark involves taking a large 30GB MKV file and converting it into a smaller MP4 using the software’s Android Tablet preset. Here, we want the fastest processing time possible. While laptops in this class aren’t expected to be fast, Samsung’s Galaxy Book still trails its peers by a small amount. Note the that the Surface Pro 4, another tablet laptop, is faster by about 10 minutes.
Finally, there’s battery life, always a critical metric for a portable device. We set the screen to generate a consistent level of light (between 250-260 nits), adjust the volume to 50 percent while earbuds are plugged in, then loop a 4K video in Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the battery expires. It’s a good test to measure real-world battery performance. With a runtime of over ten hours on a 40 watt-hour battery, the Galaxy Book is a winner.
IDGBundled apps: Samsung’s apps are hit-and-miss
Like its phones, Samsung couldn’t resist bundling its own apps, which provide alternatives to the way Windows works. Duplicating functionality that exists elsewhere works only if you improve upon it, though, and Samsung’s record there is spotty.
For instance, instead of Windows Hello capabilities, Samsung offers this solution: Download the Samsung Flow app (if you own a Galaxy S6 smartphone or a more recent model) and connect the Book to the phone via Bluetooth. You can then lock your PC while leaving your phone unlocked, tap the phone to the NFC sensor on the keyboard, and then scan your finger on the phone’s fingerprint sensor. If everything goes well, your PC will unlock in a snap. By that time, though, you could have typed in a Windows password.
Adam Patrick Murray
Underneath this Samsung Galaxy S6 is an NFC chip, which must be tapped with the phone to enable its fingerprint reader.
When it doesn’t work, it seems superfluous. Case in point: Samsung Notes, a preloaded Galaxy Book app which serves as a hybrid of Google Keep and OneNote. A more useful alternative is Samsung Recovery, which can be used to back up data, restore a previous recovery point, or return to the original factory image.
Adam Patrick Murray
Smart Select allows you to do three things of note. The first, selecting a region of the screen reproduces the Windows 10 Snipping Tool, which you can share or save to your hard drive. But you can also take that area you’ve highlighted and extract the text, which can be rather handy when used with a photo of a document. Finally, there’s the GIF creator.
IDGConclusion: the Galaxy Book is worth a look
Samsung’s Galaxy Book touches all the bases of what makes a solid Windows tablet: a sharp display, very good performance, and excellent battery life, all for a reasonable price. As for Samsung’s choice of USB-C—a port expander or dongle might not be the most convenient option, but it will carry you through. Eventually, you’ll begin shifting your own personal ecosystem to the newer connectivity format.
The keyboard matters, though. I still prefer the more rigid keyboards of the Microsoft Surface lineup, and I think you will too.
Samsung does a good job of mitigating the inconveniences, however, and the 2-in-1’s value is unquestionable. Right now, the Galaxy Book is among the best two-in-one devices on the market.
You're reading Samsung Galaxy Book Review: An Excellent 2
Great all-round performance
Samsung has refined and tweaked the Galaxy Book Flex experience to become the most complete convertible laptop you can buy. You’ll need deep pockets, though.
Samsung is primarily known for its phones and TVs, but it’s become clear that the company wants to become one of the default laptop manufacturers. A string of 2023 releases included the Galaxy Book Flex, a high-end convertible with built-in S-Pen. Our 9/10 review put it at the top of our best 2-in-1 chart, where it has stayed for many months.
Now, Samsung is back with a second generation, adding Tiger Lake processors, 5G and an extra camera to the mix. This is the same laptop that launched as the Galaxy Book Flex 5G back in September 2023, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the S21 range in January that the device made its way to these shores.
Despite demand for affordable laptops hitting unprecedented levels in the past year, Samsung has opted for the opposite approach. The Galaxy Book Flex 2 is even more expensive than the original, a device that was already out of many people’s budget. At this price point, very few compromises will be tolerated.Design and build
The Galaxy Book Flex 2 is undoubtedly a high-end device, but that’s not immediately clear from the design. An aluminium build is pretty typical of modern laptops, but the Royal Silver finish doesn’t scream premium in the same way a MacBook Pro does. I did prefer the standout Royal Blue colour scheme on the original model, but that’s not available here. Still, this minimalist design might not be a bad thing for a £1,649 device that’s likely to be used in public.
The 13.3in display (which we’ll talk about in detail later) is housed within some impressively narrow bezels, although these are unchanged from the regular model. Here, you’ll find the same 720p webcam as last year – it’s fine for occasional video calls but nothing more, and still doesn’t support face unlock. I had hoped that Samsung would prioritise the quality of its webcam this year, although the company has added a second 13Mp snapper above the keyboard. This is designed to be used as a rear camera in tablet mode, and offers far better clarity and dynamic range. I still wouldn’t recommend using this for anything beyond the odd photo for reference, but it would have been nice to see the same quality of sensor used in the webcam.
As with the previous model, the Flex 2 has a 360-degree hinge, allowing it to be used in ‘tent’ mode and as a tablet of sorts. Windows 10 still doesn’t feel optimised for touch input, although the hinge is much stronger and less wobbly than before.
That keyboard I alluded to earlier has had a nice upgrade. It offers significantly more travel and a more convincing typing experience than its predecessor, despite being unchanged aesthetically. The keys are backlit, although there doesn’t appear to be a way to customise the brightness level.
It includes the same fingerprint sensor as before, which remains easy to enrol and near-faultless in its unlocking of the device. However, one minor criticism of the keyboard is that the function keys don’t work with a single tap – you’ll instead have to hold down the ‘Fn’ key at the same time. I couldn’t find a way to turn this off in settings. The trackpad is slightly taller and narrower than the original, but still feels cramped at times. If you plan on using the device long-term, I’d recommend connecting a separate mouse.
Another area which has seen significant changes is ports. While many manufacturers are choosing to remove them in the quest for ultra-thin and light devices, the Flex 2 is proof that you can retain a full range of connectivity options without compromising on a premium design. Samsung has dropped one of the USB-C ports from the original model, but replaced it with a full-size HDMI and USB-A. The latter’s absence was one of the most annoying things about the original Flex, so I’m delighted to see it here. You still get a 3.5mm headphone jack and SIM card tray too, which is now 5G enabled.
It’s clear Samsung wants the Flex 2 to be used for consuming content as well as productivity, making speakers of paramount importance. A continued partnership with AKG meant audio was always going to be a strong point, although there’s a noticeable improvement to bass and clarity here.Screen and S-Pen
The Flex 2’s design prioritises functionality over looks, but the same can’t be said of the display. The 13.3in Full HD OLED (or QLED, as Samsung calls it) touchscreen is a joy to use, offering full support for the sRGB colour gamut. You could be forgiven for expecting higher than the 1920×1080 resolution at this price point, but the rich, vivid viewing experience more than makes up for it. It’s particularly noticeable when watching TV or other multimedia content, where the colours really pop. Samsung allows you to tailor this to your liking with a choice of six presets, but I was more than happy to stick with the default ‘Auto’ setting.
The screen also gets impressively bright – I recorded 426 nits at 100% brightness, while a Samsung-specific ‘Outdoor+’ mode boosts this to an incredible 600 nits. The settings menu warns you that the latter will drain the battery very quickly, but it’s a nice option to call on in direct sunlight.
Samsung has moved the S-Pen to the front of the device (or the top when in tablet mode), but its functionality is largely unchanged. It connects instantly via Bluetooth, offering the same 4096 levels of touch sensitivity that the stylus has become known for. Removing the S-Pen from its slot opens a Galaxy Note-style menu, with options to create notes, capture the screen and create live messages. I typically used it instead of the touchpad at times for a more precise touch and noticed almost no input delay. I still prefer the chunkier S-Pen you’ll find with the Tab S7+, but it’s a real bonus to have such a capable stylus built into the device.Hardware and performance
Still, it offered stellar all-round performance, handling complex web browsing, multitasking and photo editing with ease. The device isn’t pitched as a gaming machine, but I’d be surprised to see it falter in that area.
This strong performance has contributed to the Flex 2’s inclusion in Intel’s Evo Platform, a new category of premium thin and light laptops. To qualify, eligible devices must be running Intel’s latest chips, wake from sleep in less than a second and offer nine hours of usage from a single charge. It also needs to have Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6 support, with the Flex 2 ticking all these boxes.
Samsung has also added 5G to its laptop line for the very first time, but the relatively limited rollout of the technology meant I wasn’t able to test this for myself. Still, it does mean the device is well future-proofed, making it a great portable productivity device for many years to come.Battery and charging
One of the key reasons for this is stellar battery life. The Flex 2 comes with the same 69.7Wh battery as its predecessor, but offers significantly more usage from a single charge. To help quantify this, I ran a 720p video loop test with the brightness set to 120 nits, to give an idea of the screen-on time you can expect. I recorded an extremely impressive 19 hours and 44 minutes before the device put itself to sleep. That’s among the highest figures we’ve ever had at Tech Advisor, and a full two hours longer than the original Flex.
However, there are a couple of caveats to be aware of here. Firstly, 120 nits really isn’t that bright – in a well-lit environment you’ll probably want it higher for a comfortable viewing experience. Playing the same video on loop, while useful, is also far from typical of everyday usage. It’s almost certain you won’t get that long before reaching for the charger, but a full work day should be well within reach.
Talking of charging, the Flex 2 comes with a 65W fast charger in the box. It connects via either of the USB-C ports (having one on either side is convenient), and I was able to get 42% charge back in just 30 minutes.
To help maintain battery health, Samsung has also included a ‘Battery life extender +’ feature in Settings. When turned on, the maximum your battery can charge to is 85%, which Samsung says will extend the physical life of the battery. It’s one of a few software tweaks dotted around Windows 10, but none have a big effect on the look and feel of the operating system.Price and value for money
Price is the big thing that counts against the Flex 2. It starts at an eye-watering £1,649 via the Samsung website and Amazon in the UK, with the i7 model I tested coming in at £1,849. The device is not currently available in the US.
While there are some clear upgrades over the original Flex, I was hoping for a price drop in order to make it more competitive. When you consider that many devices in our best laptop chart cost barely half the price of the Flex 2, it becomes much harder to justify.
However, O2 selling the Flex 2 on contract may help soften the blow. Plans start at £45.99 a month with £20 upfront for 1GB of 5G data. That’s still a significant investment, even if you do get AKG Y500 wireless headphones and 6 months’ free Disney+ at no extra cost.Verdict
The Flex 2 is arguably the most complete 2-in-1 laptop you can buy, but you’ll pay for the privilege – at least £1,649 to be exact. In exchange, you get a gorgeous 13.3in OLED display, excellent performance and truly outstanding battery life. The new secondary camera adds versatility to the tablet mode, while the addition of a USB-A and full-size HDMI port is much welcomed. You also get Samsung’s signature built-in S-Pen, while the new hinge is far sturdier than last year’s model.
Aside from the rather boring Royal Silver colour scheme and a slightly clunky trackpad, there’s really not much to complain about here. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive – that alone makes the Flex 2 much more difficult to recommend.
Check out how we test laptops for more information on what goes into one of our reviews.Specs Samsung Galaxy Book Flex 2: Specs
11th-gen Intel Core i5/i7 processor
Intel Iris Xe graphics
13.3in FHD QLED Display (1920 x 1080) with Touch Screen Panel
69.7Wh battery with 65W USB-C fast charging
2x USB-C ports (1 Thunderbolt), 1x USB-A, 1x HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack
The best Android tablets
Samsung Chromebook Pro review
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: This is not a laptop
Samsung just recently announced its latest convertible-styled Chromebooks, which now offer support for full blown Android apps – opening a gate that was once closed to them, so it’s especially intriguing how things have turned out. Now that by itself should make anyone question Samsung’s decision to launch its new Galaxy Tab S3, which comes almost two years after its predecessor. In that time, we’ve seen a radical shift in how consumers perceive tablets.
The Tab S3 is competing against other Windows 10 tablets and convertibles in the same price bracket, as well as these cheap Chromebooks and Apple’s iPad Pro tablets. So, do we really need another high-end Android tablet? Find out in our full Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review!
The biggest change to the display, however, is that it now features high dynamic range – that fancy HDR tech allows it to adjust details, contrast, and color saturation to give videos more of that cinematic vividness. From what we saw in our demo time during MWC 2023, it looked really great in how the contrast in the shadows were adjusted to draw out more details in the scene. However, it’s something you’ll witness with content produced in HDR – so existing videos without HDR won’t necessarily see improvements.
The quad speakers deliver crisp-sounding audio perfect for videos
That being said, there’s no arguing that the Tab S3 is remarkable for media consumption, since it’s been bred for that purpose. In complementing the HDR-enabled display, Samsung pairs the experience with quad speakers; two sets of speakers positioned on both edges of the tablet in landscape. They’re tuned by AKG by Harman, delivering crisp-sounding audio perfect for videos – giving it the necessary stereo effect. But despite reaching a top output of 75.4 dB, it doesn’t sound more potent than the speakers in the iPad Pro.
Indeed, the Tab S3 handles most of the basic functions of a tablet, but it still stumbles when trying to juggle around more processor-intensive stuff. We see it happen when using Nougat’s baked-in side-by-side multitasking, as there are still some instances when it freezes momentarily. Most actions result in fluid movements, like surfing the web or using the S Pen in a painting app, but there are still times when hiccups do occur with the performance. It’s not frequent, thankfully, but that does make us wonder if it’s the software that’s the culprit.
The benchmark tests reveal it’s very much a powerhouse, in the elite class as you’d expect, rivaling the scores achieved by today’s top-end smartphones. One area that Samsung places a lot of emphasis on is gaming, thanks in part to the Vulkan graphics API engine – allowing it to deliver a solid gaming experience. The emphasis on gaming is especially noticeable in Samsung’s Game Launcher, which dishes up tools that allow gamers to do things like record their footage; without impacting its graphics processing performance in the process.
Aside from a few aesthetic changes to the design of the tablet, such as its quad speakers, everything else is pretty much in its usual position. Just like before, the power button and volume keys are located along the right edge of the tablet, along with the microSD card slot. Around the bottom, we have a 3.5 mm headphone jack with the newer USB Type-C connection port, which is positioned offset from the center.
Samsung has increased the battery capacity to a 6,000 mAh cell, up from its predecessor capacity of 5,870 mAh. That’s a very miniscule upgrade, which results in barely any difference with its battery life performance on a real-world basis. It’s average to say the least, which means that it’s something that would benefit from nightly charges.
Battery life on the Tab S3 is average, to say the least
In our benchmark testing, it topped out at 6 hours and 41 minutes with web surfing – while video watching lasted a minute more at 6 hours and 42 minutes. That’s really nothing worth bragging about, since they’re very average in comparison to other devices we’ve tested. However, it’s at least speedy enough with its recharging via its fast charging technology, taking only a mere 168 minutes to fully charge. That’s impressive given the capacity we’re dealing with, as most smartphones can take nearly the same time to accomplish.
Owners of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones will be able to continue having access to certain things on their phones while using the Tab S3, thanks in part to Samsung Flow, which allows us to share files wirelessly with the phone – and even respond to message and view notifications. We actually prefer using the old SideSync app, which essentially virtualizes the phone in all of its glory on the tablet. You basically have a window that displays the contents of the phone, so you can do things like send text messages, receive phone calls, and much more!
There still aren’t enough tablet-optimized apps on Android yet
The biggest flaw with the software in our opinion, which is a big deal breaker when you think about it, is how the platform lacks optimized apps meant to be used on tablets. We’re not even talking about third party apps here, just because some of the native apps still don’t support landscape orientation – so it’s an annoyance that forces us to place it in portrait.
Going back to third party apps, this is the disparity that allows the iPad Pro to expose Android’s weakness. There are a handful of popular apps that still don’t properly adjust dynamically in landscape, like Instagram for example. Due to this lack of tablet optimized apps, it really doesn’t help out the tablet’s cause – making it feel like we’re dealing with a very huge phone, as opposed to a tablet. And when you consider that some Chromebooks now offer support for Android apps, it lessens the value of owning an Android tablet nowadays.
Another quarter, another superphone. This time it’s the Google Samsung Galaxy Nexus, with its pimped out 4.6” 1280×720 Super AMOLED display and the tasty Ice Cream Sandwich update to Android. How does it stack up to the recent competition, you might wonder, read on to find out!
I’ve had this shiny device in my hands for a little over a week now and find myself somewhat disappointed. To give you context, I had been the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy S2 up until Wednesday last week and passed that down my family tree. I’m kind of regretting that decision.The Hardware
There is no question that the Galaxy Nexus possesses what can only be described as an amazing screen. It’s bright, vivid, and sharp as they come. However, for those of us who are highly aware of the pentile layout’s shortcomings, it is not perfect. If you have no idea what pentile is, the image below might help clear things up. Essentially, the pentile matrix is a different way of arranging the sub-pixel types and is easier to mass produce. Unfortunately, a downside is that it can create visual artifacts that are unpleasant. The resolution is so high on the Nexus that it is hard to see these artifacts, but they do nevertheless exist if you look close enough.
The speed of the Nexus is one of my main gripes. It sports a 1.2GHz TI OMAP processor along with a PowerVR SGX540 GPU. These are both sub-par when compared to the specs of the Samsung Galaxy S2. As a result one might expect a minor speed decrease. However, the higher resolution of the Nexus actually means that the GPU needs to drive more than twice as many pixels. Let me be clear – the Samsung Galaxy S2 is butter smooth. The Galaxy Nexus is NOT. It stutters and it lags, it takes too long to load contacts and web browsing can be slow if the page is large.
The camera is also not that great. The zero shutter lag is a nice touch, but it’s hard to take a sharp photo – you need to hold it perfectly still. The flash also produces unnatural colors – every person I’ve photographed in low light ended up looking a sickly alien green! Comparing this camera to the SGS2, there is no contest. The SGS2 produces beautiful images, sharp, colorful, and the flash does a good job. Keep the S2 if you have one!
The loudspeaker is too soft, but otherwise sounds good. Call quality has been just fine, and I feel like I’ve been experiencing less missed calls than with my S2.
Battery life has been decent – better than my SGS2, but not amazing. Basically, I need to have it plugged into the car charger when I drive around during the working week otherwise it might not make it to the end of the day. However, I make close to 2 hours of calls daily, use the navigation constantly, have it syncing to 5 email accounts and browse the web on it in the morning. All things considered, even when I don’t have access to a charger during the day it usually holds up pretty well.The Software
The Ice Cream Sandwich update has been a long time coming. It brings together many of the new features Google developed for their tablet OS, Honeycomb, and unifies the OS under one banner. Ice Cream Sandwich is the best part of the Galaxy Nexus. It’s pretty, it works well, and it makes the whole experience feel far more polished. It’s the little things, like an old-school television CRT switch-off animation when you power off the phone. Or the full-screen high resolution image of a person when you make or receive a call from them.
From a functionality perspective, it sometimes seems a case of two steps forward, one step back. Certain useful features that should be there are not there. For example, something simple like a number auto-complete when you type a number into the keypad is missing (this could have been a vanilla Android thing, correct me if I’m wrong).
A few little bits under the hood:
– The battery app within settings gives you a good idea as to what’s causing battery drain. Unsurprisingly the bulk is eaten up by that enormous screen, followed by voice calls.
– There’s a cool data usage management app within settings that lets you set a warning limit and a hard limit on data usage for your mobile. A great feature for those of us who don’t have unlimited data.Conclusion
If you have the Samsung Galaxy S2 and have been thinking about “upgrading”, don’t. If you have anything else, you could do worse than to consider an upgrade. However, my feeling is that the next wave of smartphones is only just around the corner. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an SGS3 or a newer, better HTC phone near the end of Q1 next year. If you can’t wait, however, this is definitely not a bad phone. It has its shortcomings, but it’s built well, looks good, and if you’re a little patient it should do you just fine!
JJ runs a company that specialises in IT Support and cloud IT Solutions in Australia. He also moonlights as a tech blogger.
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The Samsung Galaxy Gear is an interesting device, but it works with only three smartphones – yet won’t act as a true replacement for any of them – and is expensive at £299. There are some gimmicky features, such as the Camera and Music Controller apps, while S Voice and Voice Memo are in their element here (even though talking into a smartwatch feels weird). The Pedometer, Walk Workout and S Trainer apps will appeal to fitness fans, getting them up on their feet even if the number of steps taken and calories burned is overestimated. Proper email support is a glaring ommission, it shouldn’t be so difficult to set an alarm, and the device is far too bulky and heavy to be comfortable – at least in this reviewer’s opinion. But as an early device and an example of what’s to come, the Samsung Galaxy Gear is a good first attempt for Samsung.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear is a smartwatch compatible with only the Galaxy Note 3, S4 and S4 Mini. These are all are popular smartphones, but does the £299you have to shell out for the Galaxy gear smartwatch improve your experience of using a Samsung smartphone? We find out. (Also see: Best smartwatches.)
When many people consider the concept of a smartwatch, they think of it as a tiny smartphone that you wear on your arm. That’s not entirely true. While the Galaxy Gear does indeed let you conduct telephone calls and use its S Voice voice assistant to send text messages, it can handle few of the internet-connected tasks for which we routinely use our smartphones. You can’t browse the web and, although you can download apps, software designed for the Galaxy Gear is limited both in number and functionality. And while Mail/Gmail and social-media alerts are supported to the extent that the Galaxy Gear can let you know you have a new message or notification but not who it is from, read or reply to it, these are switched off by default. Our review unit was loaned by eBuyer.
See also: Samsung Gear 2 review: Classy Tizen smartwatch is too expensive.
So what can you do on the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch? You can initiate and answer telephone calls, regardless of how bizarre you look speaking into a watch; send and receive complete texts without relying on predefined templates; take still images and 720p video from the awkwardly placed 1.9Mp camera; create voice memos up to five minutes in length; make use of a Pedometer, Samsung’s Walk Workout and S Trainer apps to help you get into shape; play music stored on your paired smartphone; check the weather forecast and your calendar appointments for the day; and download certain apps.
You can also see at a glance the time and date – let’s not forget a smartwatch is a wristwatch first, and clever second.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Design and build
The Samsung Galaxy Gear is very big and heavy, at 56.6×36.8×11.1mm and 73.8g, and not particularly well suited to a female arm. But its bulk isn’t necessarily a bad thing: there’s no chance you’ll forget it’s there and not use it, and you’ll know the second you lose the device.
The Galaxy Gear is well made, with a sturdy stainless steel body, rigid (non-replaceable) rubber strap and metal clasp. You wouldn’t expect anything less at this price. It has a stylish design, with smooth, rounded edges, and four tiny screws at each corner of the screen. There’s no Samsung logo on display, although a camera jutting out the side of the strap is a wart-like blemish on the overall effect.
The Galaxy Gear gets extra points in the weightlifting department. Okay, so it’s only 73.8g, but this thing feels heavy on your arm. Its presence is always felt, and that isn’t something you get used to over time.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Setup and battery life
Setting up the Galaxy Gear is pretty straightforward. Embedded in its charging cradle is an NFC chip that allows you to download to your handset (we used the Samsung Galaxy S4) the Gear Manager app. We had to detach our Mophie battery case to make the connection, but pairing is thereafter conducted over Bluetooth 4.0.
Bluetooth was once considered a chief culprit of battery drain, but the latest specification is optimised for energy efficiency and range. While the Galaxy Gear dropped the connection to our smartphone when we popped it into our bag and walked into another room, this wasn’t a frequent occurence during our testing. It was also able to automatically reconnect to the handset when back in range, unless we had specifically prevented this in the settings.
We didn’t see a significant decrease in the battery life of our Samsung Galaxy S4 courtesy of this always-on Bluetooth connection, although the Galaxy Gear has itself been criticised for its short runtime. Samsung claims it will last 150 hours on standby, or 25 hours with ‘typical’ use. That sounds very much on the low side in our experience, given that we had 50 percent of the battery remaining after 24 hours of reasonably heavy use. So just as you might charge your smartphone every night, you’ll need to get used to taking off and charging your smartwatch at least every other day, or daily if you don’t want to risk getting caught out. A Micro-USB mains charger is supplied in the box.
Having paired the smartwatch and smartphone we waited a few minutes for the Galaxy Gear to download an update; it was then ready to go.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Gestures and navigation
It took only a short while to get used to navigating the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The screen isn’t as responsive as those found on Samsung’s smartphones, but the longer you spend playing with the device the easier it becomes.
The touchscreen is activated either by a single press of the solitary power button on the device’s side (a double-press by default invokes S Voice, but can be customised to launch your choice of app) or, when the Galaxy Gear feels like playing along, lifting your arm (you can specify which is your preferred arm for wearing the watch). Besides the time and date this home screen can also offer the temperature and weather; quick-access links to the Camera-, S Voice- and Settings apps; the number of steps you’ve taken that day; or your next Calendar appointment. Alternatively, you can display only the time, or opt for either of two styles of analogue clocks.
You can swipe down from the top of the home screen to access the camera, swipe up from the bottom to access the Dialler, and right or left to get to Notifications, S Voice, Voice Memo, Gallery, Media Controller, Pedometer, Settings, Apps, Logs and Contacts. Within each menu item you can tap on actions to select them, and use the drop-down menu at the top right of certain screens to access further options. Dragging down from the top of the screen returns you to the previous one.
A double-tap brings up brightness and volume settings and the battery status, while a double-tap and hold invokes the Recent Apps menu.
Pleasingly, with all this touching and swiping going on, the Galaxy Gear smartwatch is very good at repelling greasy fingerprints.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: A proper watch
The Samsung Galaxy Gear almost gets top marks for its watch-like capabilities. It tells you at a glance the time and date, and its use of a 1.63in (320×320) Super AMOLED touchscreen display with customisable background colours means you have this information at arm’s length whether it’s pitch-black or you’re squinting to see with that overbearing sunshine we so rarely get in England. Note that you can also invoke an Outdoor mode (accessible from the power-off menu), that temporarily increases the screen’s brightness.
There are also Timer and Stopwatch apps, a nod to this smartwatch’s secondary function as a fitness tracker. Had Samsung made it a little easier to find the Alarm app (you have to call up S Voice and say “Show alarm”) we might have got somewhere on the exercise front, rather than snoozing in bed. Annoyingly, when you set an alarm on your smartphone you don’t also get the wake-up call on your smartwatch.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Texts, calls and email
The Galaxy Gear instantly alerts you to new text messages, provided you aren’t using your smartphone when they arrive, and you can use S Voice rather than a templated message to quickly send a reply. It would be virtually impossible to type in a message on such a small screen, although this option may still be preferable in certain situations if it were available. Received messages are then archived within the Notifications app, although it isn’t possible to check your sent messages from the smartwatch.
Conducting a phone call over the Galaxy Gear is a bizarre experience. When you receive an incoming call both your smartphone and smartwatch will ring, and it’s up to you to choose on which device you answer it. If you like you can answer it on your smartwatch and then divert the call to your smartphone – perhaps you might demand some privacy, given that the recipient will in essence be on speakerphone – but it’s fiddly to do so while holding a conversation. You can also put the caller on mute or bring up the keypad, as you would on a smartphone.
Talking into a smartwatch both looks and feels odd and, although the Galaxy Gear’s sound quality is adequate (with dual mics for noise cancellation), there was a noticeable lag between what was said to the Galaxy Gear and those words being heard on the other end of the line.
The Contacts app within the Galaxy Gear’s smartwatch makes it easy to quickly contact anyone stored in your Google contacts, but with a smartphone within Bluetooth range it’s difficult to imagine why you might instead use the Galaxy Gear. Missed-call alerts can also be offered by the device.
Email is a sore point for this smartwatch: it is able to inform you of a new Gmail message on your smartphone, but you can’t see who it’s from, read its contents or send a reply. Email notifcations are also switched off by default, and to turn them on you’ll need to launch the Gear Manager app on your smartphone rather than tweak this setting on the smartwatch itself.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: S Voice
S Voice is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri, a voice-activated assistant that can do such things as search online to find answers to your questions, text or call a friend, and add appointments to your calendar. It’s used to great effect on the Samsung Galaxy Gear, allowing you to speak aloud replies to messages without needing to pick up your phone or send a preset message. Its use is slightly more limited on the Galaxy Gear than it is the S4, given the lack of a web browser, but it can still send text messages, make calls, add events and tasks, set up to three alarms, open the Camera app and reveal the weather in a particular city.
The Voice Memo app also makes use of the Galaxy Gear’s built-in mic, letting you make notes of up to five minutes in duration, which is a better solution than trying to accurately type on a tiny screen.
The Galaxy Gear had no problem understanding our voice, and the amount of lag as it tried to work out what to do with our audible instructions was bearable.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: A fitness tracker
The Samsung Galaxy Gear is not only a smartwatch but a fitness tracker. Its Pedometer app works in conjunction with the S Health app on the Samsung Galaxy S4 to count your steps and track your health. Its accuracy is questionable, given that we managed to walk nine steps sitting at our desk, but that’s neither here nor there if it motivates you to get off your bum and do some exercise.
You can swipe right or left within the Pedometer app to access the Walk Workout, which Samsung claims helps you to walk at a pace that more effectively burns calories, and the S Trainer, which offers 30-minute sessions that combine walking, fast walking and running to help improve your fitness, with haptic feedback used to set the pace.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Camera
An interesting feature is the 1.9Mp camera side-mounted on the Galaxy Gear’s strap; mostly because there is no good reason for its inclusion other than it sounds like a neat idea. You can switch between stills and video-recording (15 seconds at 720p, 30fps) modes, and make use of the Sound & Shot app to capture still images that include sound. The camera, fitted with a BSI sensor, lets you switch between Auto and Macro focus, and choose either a 1:1 (1392×1392) or 4:3 (1280×960) aspect ratio for your shots. A Signature option can flag those shots as captured by the Galaxy Gear, which you may find useful when they are automatically added to your paired smartphone’s Gallery. If you really wanted to you could then edit those shots on your smartphone.
The camera on this device was never intended to produce top-quality stills and video, although the quality is acceptable on such a small screen. However, it’s the odd placement of the camera on the side of your arm that makes this feature near-useless, and holding up your arm to take shots is a practice that’s prone to both camera wobble and making you look stupid. Trying to compose the shot onscreen is also very difficult unless you capture every image at an upward angle.
One thing this camera placement is good for is spying. You’d be surprised what you can get away with recording with your arm placed unassumingly on a desk, although the angle issue means you’ll mostly be looking at a collection of people’s bottoms.
There’s 4GB of flash storage inside the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which should hold a decent amount of low-resolution photos and video. A Gallery app also lets you view any footage or stills captured by the watch, but not items stored on your paired device.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Music Controller
Another intriguing but pretty much useless feature is the ability to remotely play songs stored on a paired smartphone. You’ll note that we said ‘stored’: the Galaxy Gear can’t access our extensive collection of audio stored in the cloud and accessed via Play Music (even when you tap the pin icon to download them to your phone), so instead we have access to all six tracks sideloaded on to the device.
We can see why this might be useful if you’re, say, lying in bed and want to play a track on your smartphone that’s on the table on the other side of the room, but remember that you need to be close enough to that device to not only be within Bluetooth range, but to hear the music playing. (You can adjust the smartphone’s media-playback volume from the Galaxy Gear itself.)
You can also see album art and skip between tracks, but if you have a lot of music stored on your smartphone there’s no menu from which you can quickly pick out a specific track.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Apps
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking smartwatch apps are the same as those designed for smartphones. For a start, there is no shortcut to the Google Play store – or any other content store – on the Galaxy Gear itself. To install apps on your smartwatch you will have to bring up the Gear Manager app on your smartphone, tap on Samsung Apps, and then choose from the limited number of available apps.
At the time of writing there were no more than 100 apps available for the Galaxy Gear, very few of which took our fancy. We tried the eBay app, but were disappointed to find all it could do was display notifications on the smartwatch – to make a bid or shop online you need to pick up your phone. Meanwhile, the Social Networking category lacks apps for the three big ones – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – and the Finance category had just one app.
Of the other apps that could be of interest there’s Feedly, Camera360, Evernote, Runtastic Pro, RunKeeper and RadiON, but also plenty of rubbish apps that let you, for example, shake a pair of dice or spin a virtual bottle.
As with an Android smartphone you can install apps from unknown services (disabled by default), but you’ll first need to check they are compatible with the Galaxy Gear.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Settings and customisation
There isn’t as much in the way of customisation as some Android users might expect. As we mentioned earlier, you can change the screen’s background colour and what’s displayed on the home screen. You can also specify the font size and whether the smartwatch should by default show the home- or last-viewed screen when the display is activated folllowing sleep. Following notification on the Galaxy Gear a Smart Relay feature can automatically open a text message when you pick up your handset. You can also choose between three ringtones and three notification tones, turn off touch sounds, and adjust the device’s volume, brightness, screen timeout and the intensity of its vibrations, but that’s about it.Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Security
The Galaxy Gear might be large and heavy enough that losing it would be something of a challenge, but even the most careful owner can occasionally be parted from their belongings. Samsung has included two features that address this concern, with one locking down the smartwatch should it go out of Bluetooth range of your phone, and the other aiming to reunite you with your paired handset should the other device in this relationship be misplaced.
An option within the Galaxy Gear’s Settings menu allows you to set up a pattern lock for the smartwatch. Rather than requiring you to tediously input your password each time you want to know the time, this security measure is activated only after your Galaxy Gear loses Bluetooth contact with its paired handset. Should someone attempt to pair it with another Galaxy device this patten lock aims to thwart their success.
Find My Phone is present within the Apps menu, which is handy if you put down and later can’t find your paired handset, provided it remains within Bluetooth range of the Galaxy Gear. Activating this app causes your smartphone to ring, even when it’s in silent mode.
There is also a Safety Assistance feature, which must be switched on and configured within the Gear Manager app. Once activated, three presses of the power button causes the Galaxy Gear to send a photo and your location to your emergency contact.Specs Samsung Galaxy Gear: Specs
1.63in Super AMOLED (320×320) touchscreen
4GB flash storage
1.9Mp camera with BSI sensor, autofocus and Sound & Shot
720p video recording at 30fps
two mics with noise cancellation
claimed battery life: 150 hours (standby), 25 hours (with typical use)
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is a big, ugly brick of a phone that does its best to make up for it in sheer specs. It almost succeeds too, with best-in-class display, phenomenal performance, and a compelling camera offering that’s let down only by its inconsistency. Factor in rubbish battery life on the Exynos variants available in the UK and Europe, and the S20 Ultra is really only for the specs-obsessed.
What to do with a phone like the Galaxy S20 Ultra? Samsung’s biggest phone yet is a specs monster that cranks everything up to 11 – and camera zoom all the way to 100. But all that power comes at a price – both literal and metaphorical.
While fantastic in many circumstances, the camera setup has some obvious weak points that make photo quality inconsistent, and battery life on the international model is poor despite a huge cell. Samsung is asking you to compromise on size, design, battery, and price all for the sake of souped up specs and a camera that still just isn’t the best around. That’s a trade-off I don’t think many people would – or should – make.Price and availability: How much!?
It probably goes without saying, but the S20 Ultra isn’t cheap. Starting at £1,199/ $1,399 for 128GB storage and jumping up to £1,399/$1,599 for 512GB it actually costs even more than Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Flip foldable at full spec, and is cheaper only than the Galaxy Fold out of the Korean giant’s current lineup.
You might be more tempted by the regular S20 or S20+. They start from £799/$999 and £999/$1,199 respectively, and offer almost all the same specs as the Ultra in smaller form factors – it’s only really in the camera where the Ultra pulls apart.
Depending on spec the Ultra is actually pricier than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which starts from £1,149/$1,099 (though with only 64GB storage) and is comfortably more than almost every Android rival. And with top spec flagships from other brands available for hundreds less, Samsung has an even harder time than ever convincing people to pay its premium.
To be blunt, at this price point this phone either needs to be damn near perfect, or it needs to excel so fantastically in one or two areas that it justifies the omissions elsewhere. The S20 Ultra just isn’t quite there.Design and build: Chief of chonk
The first thing you need to know about the S20 Ultra is that it’s big. Like, really big. A heckin’ chonker of a phone.
You might like big phones. You might be used to an S9+ or S10+, or maybe even one of Samsung’s Note phones. This is bigger than any of them.
And not just in terms of the gargantuan 6.9in display, interrupted only by a hole-punch camera, now smaller and central . I mean sure, that’s an enormous screen (bigger even than the 6.8in panel in last year’s Note 10+) but razor thin bezels take the edge off – literally – and the decision to cut the curves and return to flatter edges keeps the big display easy to use.
The problem is more that the S20 Ultra is thick. And heavy. It feels out of proportion, especially compared to the sleeker S20 and S20+, and unbalanced thanks to the sheer weight of the camera module at one end.
And we’ve got to talk about that camera module. Setting aside the specs for now, the Ultra’s quad camera setup is an eyesore. It takes up a huge chunk of the phone’s rear, sticks out a mile, and the decision to plaster ‘Space Zoom 100x’ on the back of a £1400 phone is almost unconscionable.
Despite being so large there apparently still wasn’t space for a headphone jack, which has been squeezed out across the S20 line. The dedicated Bixby button is gone too, though by default a long press on the power button now activates him instead – something you can change, fortunately.
Throw in the fact that the only colours available on the Ultra model are grey or black – despite flashier finishes being available on the cheaper models – and it’s clear that this phone is an almost pure expression of form over function. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done – but is just getting the job done enough at this price?Camera: Too much but never enough
Let’s talk camera. This is clearly where Samsung’s focus lies, as it’s just about the only area where the Ultra’s specs diverge in a big way from the other S20 phones.
At the heart of the rear setup is a 108Mp f/1.8 (dropping the variable aperture tech Samsung has used for the last couple of years) shooter that serves as the main lens. By default shots aren’t taken at 108Mp, but instead the phone uses pixel binning to combine nine pixels into one (‘nona-binning’ in Samsung’s terminology) to generate crisper, more detailed 12Mp photos with enhanced dynamic range.
Photos are, broadly speaking, great. Between the high pixel count and the sheer size of the sensor, the Ultra’s camera can produce phenomenal levels of detail and deep, vivid colour without veering too far into the over-saturated aesthetic you’d get from the likes of Huawei (though I’d still tone the saturation down a touch if I could).
If you prefer you can switch to taking full 108Mp shots. These take a second to process, so run a little slower, and file sizes range from 30-50MB per shot. It’s a credit to Samsung’s pixel-binning tech that for the most part you won’t be able to tell the difference though, and the main benefit to the high-res photos is the freedom to crop in without losing much crispness or detail – not something you’re likely to need too often. The downside is that the dynamic range is definitely worse in the 108Mp photos, so in most cases I’d recommend sticking to standard shooting.
That 108Mp main sensor is joined by a 12Mp ultra-wide that holds its own surprisingly well against the main lens, together with a depth sensor and arguably the phone’s main selling point: a 48Mp telephoto lens.
If you’re in the US this may be the first super-zoom smartphone you’ve been able to pick up, though those of us elsewhere in the world have seen similar tech already in the Huawei P30 Pro or Oppo Reno 10x Zoom last year.
Like those two phones before, Samsung’s ‘Space Zoom 100x’ actually hinges on a 5x telephoto, which can be cranked up to 100x thanks to extra digital zoom. This is, to be blunt, a shameless gimmick. You do not need 100x zoom and you will not like the photos you take at 100x zoom, not least because without a tripod your hands will never be steady enough to get the shot you want.
Still, as tech gimmicks go it remains a very impressive one, and the 100x max zoom does surpass Huawei and Oppo’s previous limits. And at 5x zoom the lens excels – there’s some loss of vibrancy and colour depth (to be expected with an aperture of f/3.5) and it struggles a little with moving targets like animals, but the detail it can capture is remarkable.
So the S20 Ultra camera is great. When it works.
You may have heard that early samples of the phone had a few photographic flaws, which actually caused me to delay publishing this review while Samsung got me a new handset with a patch that fixed a few.
First up, you can discard any reports of aggressive skin smoothing – this was clearly a software issue, and the patch fixes it entirely, so by the time you get the phone it shouldn’t be a problem.
The other common problem was with the autofocus, and I have more mixed news there. At first the autofocus was incredibly slow, sometimes taking a few seconds to find a focal point. It’s sped up, and is now only slightly sluggish, but pretty much as you’d expect.
Unfortunately, the fix highlights one flaw that Samsung can’t really fix: this is a rubbish camera for macro photography. This is likely a result of the move to the larger 108Mp sensor, which introduces a natural bokeh effect. That’s very welcome most of the time, but the naturally shallow depth of field means photos of close subjects tend to look soft compared to the usual flat focus other phones produce.
You might think you don’t often take close-ups, but the problem isn’t restricted to super-close macro photos – even photographing a plate of food for Instagram tends to leave bits of it in focus and other parts fuzzy. I’d expect more from a phone this price, and I imagine many others would too.
Other camera tricks are fine if not remarkable. Night mode is improved by the larger sensor, but Samsung’s algorithm game is still behind Apple and Google’s, especially when it comes to handling mixed light sources, so the results are good but still not the best around despite the hardware improvements, especially when it comes to white balance. The option to do night-time hyperlapses is also a fun tool that few of us will ever use more than once.
Single Take is a handy feature for the indecisive among us, letting you capture up to 10 seconds and then using an algorithm to generate a few short videos and photos from different lenses, in theory getting the best moments all at once. It actually works very well, with one caveat: it slaps some aggressive stock music on top of all of your videos, getting in the way of any audio you might have actually wanted to capture.
Fortunately the S20 Ultra is better on regular video, shooting 4K at 60fps and even 8K at 30fps. You almost certainly don’t need to shoot in 8K (the file sizes are monstrous, and what are you even going to watch it back on?) but the fact that a phone can do it, and do it pretty well, remains mind blowing. I can’t show you though, because YouTube won’t let me upload an 8K video sample anyway – yet further proof that the rest of the tech world just isn’t there yet.
You can also jump directly between the front and back cameras while shooting video (though not 8K, to be clear) letting you seamlessly jump between filming yourself and something else – a vlogger’s dream no doubt.
As for that selfie camera, there’s just the one, but it’s an f/2.2 40Mp sensor (a big jump from the 10Mp on the other S20s). Samsung still cheats a bit by letting you switch between ‘regular’ and ‘wide’ within the camera app, but this is really just a choice between using the full lens and a cropped version.
Either way, shots look great (besides suffering the same skin softening problems as the rear camera). There’s a narrower colour range than from the rear lenses, but impressive detail – though we’re surely hitting the upper limit for selfie cameras here, as no-one needs to see my close-up pores in any more detail than this.Display: Big and beautiful
If the camera is the biggest draw in the S20 Ultra, the display is a close second.
I’ve already mentioned the sheer size – 6.9in for the forgetful – but it’s a phenomenal display beyond that, and perhaps the best in any smartphone right now. The Super AMOLED panel caps out at 3200×1440, supports HDR10+, and can display at a refresh rate of 120Hz.
read our refresh rate explainer for a more detailed breakdown. A faster refresh rate means smoother scrolling, more fluid animations, and the potential for higher frame rates while gaming. Most phones have 60Hz displays, and a few – like the latest OnePlus models – have 90Hz. Samsung isn’t the first to add 120Hz (that was the Razer Phone) but it is the first to put such a fast display in a mainstream, non-gaming device.
The results speak for themselves, and the S20 Ultra is as beautiful from the front as it is an eyesore from behind. The panel here is bright and vivid, with deep contrast, excellent viewing angles, and all the benefits 120Hz brings. The choice to rein in the curved edges pays off too, increasing usability enormously while leaving just enough of a rounded edge to look the part.
The other major caveat is that the two top features – 3200×1440 resolution and 120Hz refresh rate – are incompatible. This is presumably in an effort to save the battery (more on that next) as both are major power draws, but if you crank up the refresh rate to full you’ll have to drop the resolution to 2400×1080, and vice versa.
Essentially you’ll have to choose between smoother animations or higher resolution imagery (or just drop both down to conserve power further). Either way you’re unlikely to be unhappy though, and while the option to combine the two might be appealing, the potentially battery impact would not be.Battery: Exynos strikes again
So yeah, let’s talk battery. It isn’t good, despite the generous 5,000mAh capacity.
It’s worth pointing out that I’ve been reviewing a model with Samsung’s own Exynos 990 processor. That’s what ships in most parts of the world, though the US and a select few other markets get S20 phones with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, and from talking to North American reviewers it sounds like those models might have better battery life.
As for mine, I’ve seen all-day battery life, but not by much. Most days I’ve used the S20 Ultra it’s been on about 20% when I go to bed, after anywhere between 3 and 5 hours of screen-on time. That’s fine, but it’s really the bare minimum for a new phone, and I worry that after 12+ months of use it might not make it to the end of the day any more.
The big caveat is that this is using the 120Hz refresh rate, and switching down to 60Hz (while leaving resolution down at FHD+, not max) does seem to help, though not by as much as you’d think – I’d estimate it saved me 10% or so across a full day’s use at most. That reinforces the sense that the issue here is less the display and more the power-hungry Exynos chipset – echoing similar issues with the S10 series.
Of course, some will say that if you care about battery you should turn down the refresh rate, lower the resolution, switch off 5G and more. Those trade-offs might be worth it for some, but for my part I think it defeats the point of spending over a grand on a top-of-the-line flagship if you then have to turn half the features off in order to keep it running.
It helps that charging is fast. Samsung ships a 25W wired USB-C charge with the Ultra, which was capable of taking my phone from empty to 56% in half an hour. It’s actually capable of charging even faster – 45W – but you’ll have to buy the more powerful charger separately. It’s also capable of 12W wireless charging – the same speed as last year’s S10 phones.5G: Future-proof
5G is one of the other headline features – it’s technically in the phone’s full name after all – though I’d still hesitate to consider 5G alone a reason to upgrade.
Our Exynos model only supports sub-6 frequencies – the type currently used in European infrastructure – though the US Snapdragon models also support mmWave, which makes them a bit more future-proof.
I’ve been testing the S20 Ultra with a Vodafone 5G SIM, and while 5G speeds are impressive coverage still isn’t widespread enough – even in central London, where our office is – so it remains a challenge to actually find a 5G connection.
That will improve of course, and so there’s an argument for getting a 5G phone now so that you’re ready for when the networks get better in a year or two’s time, especially since almost every new flagship this year will have 5G support.
Essentially, don’t count the 5G support against the Ultra even if you are a skeptic, but don’t think of it as a key reason to make the upgrade.Specs and performance: Ultra fast
As for the rest of the specs, they’re predictably monstrous. The aforementioned Exynos 990 (or Snapdragon 865) is joined by 12GB or 16GB of fast LPDDR5 RAM, and 128GB or 512GB of storage.
The phone is whip fast, and comfortably handles anything you can throw at it. That’s reflected in our benchmark scores too, which are among the fastest we’ve ever recorded – though I still can’t help but wonder if the Snapdragon variant would be that little bit faster.
The phone comes in single SIM and dual SIM variants, and each supports MicroSD cards up to 1TB. Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC round out the connectivity features, while from a security standpoint you get the same face unlock and ultrasonic under-display fingerprint scanner as in last year’s Samsung flagships.Software: Same ol’, same ol’
The S20 Ultra ships with Android 10 – the latest version of Google’s operating system – along with Samsung’s One UI 2.
After last year’s overhaul the company has been more conservative from a software standpoint this year, and the main additions are handy sharing features that will only work with other Samsung Galaxy users.
Quick Share is essentially AirDrop for Galaxy phones, while Music Sharing lets friends connect to your Bluetooth speaker through your phone without worrying about fiddly pairing processes, but both are exclusive to other recent Samsung devices, so they’ll only help if all your friends grab Samsung phones too.
Power users will enjoy a feature that lets you lock up to three (or five, on the higher RAM model) apps into memory so that they always open quickly, and right where you left them (as if I need anything to help me spend more time on Twitter). Most people won’t care, but then I guess this phone isn’t for most people anyway.
The only other major software addition is Spotify integration into Bixby routines, which is great news if you’re one of the three people who uses Bixby routines and also has a Spotify subscription.Verdict
The S20 Ultra is not a phone that most people should buy. It’s too expensive for most people to afford, too big for most people to want, and too ugly for the remaining few to ever want to show off.
Still, it’s a phone packed with technical achievements, not least in the camera, which at its best is capable of outclassing every competing flagship, even if it’s maddeningly inconsistent and struggles in closeups.
The 120Hz refresh rate is the crowning jewel to what might be the best display on a phone right now, but the hit to battery life makes it bittersweet – a problem exacerbated by Samsung’s continued insistence on shipping its inferior Exynos chipsets in handsets outside the US, leaving them with reduced battery life and hamstrung performance.
If the camera is the only thing you consider when buying a phone the S20 Ultra makes a compelling case for itself, but for everyone else it just goes a few compromises too far.Related stories for further reading Specs Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Specs
Android 10 with One UI
6.9in Wide Quad HD+ (3200×1440) Dynamic AMOLED 2X
120Hz refresh rate
Exynos 990 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 octa-core processor
128/512GB internal storage
microSD card slot (up to 1TB)
108Mp, f/1.8, OIS rear camera + 12Mp ultra wide, f/2.2 + 48Mp Tele, f/3.5 + depth sensor
40Mp, f/2.2 front camera
Embedded Ultrasonic Fingerprint scanner
2D Face Recognition
11ax dual-band Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX
5G NSA/SA/DSS over Sub-6 or Sub-6 & mmWave (Snapdragon only)
5000mAh non-removable battery
45W wired charging (25W charger included)
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
IP68 dust & waterproof rating
166.9 x 76.0 x 8.8mm
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