Feb 29th, 2020

At a price tag of $1,400+ is the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra worth it?

That’s a question tech bloggers are tackling with mixed results. The overwhelming majority are finding reasons you shouldn’t buy the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and while those arguments have some merit, I have a much different point of view. I bought the Galaxy S20 Ultra myself (two of them actually) and I’m excited to share my reasons for declaring the Galaxy S20 Ultra as totally worth buying.

The “Ridiculous” Price

There is no denying that the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is expensive – that’s a fair point. But Ultra critics cherry-pick specs by pointing out “comparable devices” for half the price or less:

  • The S20 Ultra has a periscope optical zoom but so does the Huawei P30 Pro ($700) and Oppo Reno 10X Zoom ($630) for half the price
  • The S20 Ultra has a 5,000 mAh battery but so does the Moto G7 Power ($175), Zenfone 6 ($750), and Nubia Red Magic 3 ($540)

Yes, you can find S20 Ultra specs and features on other much cheaper devices, but put the entire S20 Ultra spec sheet side-by-side with any phone on the market and it’s easy to understand why it costs so much more. There isn’t a single area in which Samsung skimps on specs. There is no weak point.

It’s important to distinguish between budget phones, value phones, flagship phones, and premium phones. Different devices target different types of customers at different price points. The S20 Ultra is intentionally expensive but if you want the top of the line smartphone, care about photo and video quality, and can afford $1,400 – you’re not going to find a better device.

This is the exact same reason that MKBHD spent $42,399 on a Mac Pro with zero regrets. And it’s why YouTubers like Austin Evans insist you should “Stop buying expensive smartphones” and then confirm the $1,400 Ultra is worthy of the price tag:

You’ll always pay a premium for the best of the best. In this case, the S20 Ultra is the best of the best. It might not be the best value, but that’s not what makes something “worth it”. If the $1,400 doesn’t make you flinch and you’re mostly interested in buying the absolute best phone with the best camera? The S20 Ultra is worth it.

The DSLR Replacement

I’ve been waiting for an Android device to replace my DSLR since I blogged about the original Samsung Galaxy Camera way back in 2012. That article started off with this very telling sentence: “On a scale from 1 to Awesome, I rate the Samsung Galaxy Camera a 12.”

The Samsung Galaxy Camera wasn’t an Android phone but a camera running Android.

It was discontinued after 2 years but not long after they filled the gap between DSLRs and Smartphones with the likes of the Galaxy K Zoom:

Unfortunately, that experiment didn’t fare too well, either.

Let me be clear: I understand that smartphones won’t replace the quality of a DSLR and that’s not what I’m expecting. What I’m suggesting is that – as a person who loves traveling and taking photos and videos, I want a smartphone that makes me feel good about leaving my DSLR at home. I want to do away with the burden of lugging around a bulky camera and be happy with the single electronic device that I always carry with me everywhere I go. Better the camera, the happier I am.

To that end, no device outperforms the Galaxy S20 Ultra. If you’re like me and love your DSLR but find yourself leaving it at home because it seems like more trouble than it’s worth? Yes, the S20 Ultra is worth it. Especially considering the cost of a DSLR.

The 100X Space Zoom Fake News Gimmick

Samsung is catching a lot of heat for the marketing behind the Galaxy S20 Ultra camera specs. The biggest complaint is surrounding the “100X Space Zoom” which is supposed to “change photography forever”.

Does the name overhype the feature? Perhaps… but maybe that’s just good marketing. Or consider that maybe it’s called Space Zoom because the images look like they came from a satellite or a Google Earth screenshot.

The feature is supposed to be more fun than useful and this is clearly illustrated in Samsung’s own ads for the Galaxy S20 Ultra:

See the guy in the hot air balloon? Kinda sorta. That’s the point. The Galaxy S20 Ultra 100X Zoom allows you to see something you normally would never be able to see and capture it if you’d like. If anything, it’s a pretty good replacement for a pair of binoculars.

Unfortunately, sensationalism goes both ways and many news outlets (including the Wall Street Journal) are covering the S20 Ultra as a privacy-invading tool for creepers. And while you’re at it turn off that rap music and get off my lawn? Sheesh.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra has icons for each zoom level:

  • It has true 4X Optical Zoom
  • It has 10X Hybrid Zoom (optical + software magic)
  • Up to 30X Zoom still looks pretty darn good
  • At 100X Space Zoom it’s mostly blurry blobs

The bottom line is that the Galaxy S20 beats every other smartphone’s zoom by a landslide. Even Dieter Bohn from the Verge claims that it “embarrasses the iPhone”:

His complaints about 100X Space Zoom are spot on. They might not be something you use for social media shots or YouTube vlogs, but it’s a powerful and fun tool to have at your disposal. I don’t think it’s the type of thing you use with specific moments in mind, but instead, you have it in your arsenal for when those unpredictable moments arise.

It’s Too Damn Big & Ugly!

The Galaxy S20 Ultra is gigantic! The phone has a 6.9-inch screen and weighs nearly half a pound. This is a fact and a legitimate complaint from which we can’t escape. Simply put, if you hate large devices, the Galaxy S20 Ultra isn’t worth it for you. For me, the pros outweigh this con.

The screen is gorgeous but critics have also complained that it only comes in two boring color options: black or grey. On top of that, the rear of the device doesn’t exactly turn heads. I’d argue that 99% of users will slap a case on the phone, rendering the color limitations meaningless. More importantly you’ll be protecting the Ultra from the inevitable falls when you fumble and bumble and ultimately drop it on the ground… it’s going to happen, accept it. But in this case the $1,400+ spent is for the specs and camera features, not it’s sleek and sexy design.

Although this “it’s too big” criticism has the most merit, it’s one of the tradeoffs that come with the territory. When it comes to stuffing all the highest-end specs into one device you either go big or go home. That’s up to you.

No 3.5mm Headset Jack?

The lack of a 3.5mm headset jack might be a deal-breaker for you. I was the same way for a long time but recently jumped ship. Three months ago I got fed up with the wires and upgraded:

I couldn’t be happier. My only complaint is the QC35 MicroUSB charging port is not Type-C, forcing me to carry around an extra charging cable or dongle. The growing pains of technological progress can be annoying but it’s usually for the better, and in this case, I’d urge you to make the leap. I don’t think you’ll look back.

If you’re in the 3.5mm tribe then perhaps this is a deal-breaker for you. And that’s fine. But if the fact that you don’t own Bluetooth headphones is what’s holding you back, consider that Samsung is offering free Galaxy Buds with the purchase of the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

The Bottom Line

The $1,400 price tag makes the Galaxy S20 Ultra seem stupid for anyone focused on value. For half the price you can find a smartphone that’s almost as good in nearly every category: nice screen, great camera, large battery, plenty of storage, yada yada yada. But the Galaxy S20 Ultra isn’t for people seeking the best value. It’s for people seeking the best.

The zoom features blow every other smartphone camera out of the water and when comparing basic photo/video quality, the S20 Ultra fares well against the perennial favorites (iPhone & Pixel). In perhaps the most critical and thorough look at the S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max, you’ll see it holds up very well in side-by-side examples:

The world of smartphones is crowded and the outstanding value offered in mid-range devices has made things seem a bit boring at times. Phones like the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy S20 Ultra are re-imagining what a smartphone can be and re-energizing consumers, including me.

If you love tech, you’re in the market for a new phone, and you want to take the best photos and videos possible: the Galaxy S20 Ultra is definitely worth it. Even at $1,400 bucks.