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6 key Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra features that elevate its performance — and price

The latest high-end smartphones are packed with an enormous number of features and clever hardware to justify their increasingly high prices. The aptly-named Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is a perfect example, with a 108MP camera and up to 16GB of RAM, and cutting edge gadgets like the Galaxy Note S20 push further still.

But do you need such absurdly high-end hardware? Or will a cheaper phone satisfy your needs? Let’s take a look at the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s features and see if they’re worth the price.

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120Hz refresh rate screen

The refresh rate of a screen measures how often the display updates each second. Most phones have a screen that refreshes at 60Hz, or 60 frames per second. Devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro and Google Pixel 4 have higher, 90Hz refresh rates. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra takes things up a level to 120Hz.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra hands-on front of phone
John Velasco / Digital Trends

A higher refresh rate means less blur in quick motions, so you may notice a difference in how smooth the screen looks when swiping and scrolling. Side by side with a 60Hz screen, the difference will be apparent. A smoother feel in itself isn’t enough to justify the higher refresh rate, however, because it also puts greater demand on processing power and the battery.

This feature has swept in on a wave of gaming phones, where you’ll see the most benefit. If you have a mobile game at a high frame rate, a high refresh rate can result in less blur to the image and better response times to your input.

10× optical zoom camera

Smartphone cameras have improved rapidly over the last few years, but Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra takes photography to new heights. It boasts a triple lens setup that combines a 108-megapixel lens with a 48-megapixel telephoto lens and a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens.

One of the headline features is the incredible zoom level the S20 Ultra offers. It supports 10× optical zoom and 100× digital zoom. That’s insane.

Taking a photo with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
John Velasco / Digital Trends

We’ve witnessed incredible zoom levels in phones from Huawei and Oppo, but the S20 Ultra takes things further. Do you need to be able to zoom in to this degree?

In a word, no. We’ve found the 2× optical zoom on the iPhone 11 Pro or Google’s Pixel 4 is enough for most situations, whether you want to zoom in on the stage when you’re at the back of a crowd, or crop out some foreground for a better shot. Check out our latest camera shootout to learn why.

Bottom line, having the option to zoom in this far and get a decent shot is cool, especially if you’re some kind of spy. But it’s way beyond the needs of most people.

12GB of RAM

Apps and games on your phone are loaded into RAM, or Random Access Memory. When you return to an app or game in RAM, it will load more quickly than if you had to start it up from scratch. All the apps you’ve run will stay there until your RAM fills up and has to bump something.

With more RAM, you can have more processes running at once, so big multitaskers who like to jump in and out of multiple apps will enjoy a lot of RAM. It’s tricky to say how much RAM your smartphone needs, but 12GB is a lot for a mobile device.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra held in hand
John Velasco / Digital Trends

The RAM in smartphones and tablets has soared in recent years. In 2014, 2GB of RAM was standard in the top phones. By 2017, that had climbed to 4GB. Just three years later, Samsung has tripled that.

The downside is that extra RAM places a slightly higher demand on your battery. In fact, the RAM in your phone will drain the same amount of power whether you use it all or not. Realistically, 8GB is a generous amount for most people today, so 12GB seems like overkill. Unless you’re a big gamer, in which case the option to keep games in RAM, so you can pick up where you left off, will make this a very attractive feature.

5G connectivity

The potential benefits of 5G are exciting, but right now it’s largely unrealized potential. Most people don’t live in an area with 5G coverage yet. While 5G is starting to roll out, it’s limited to a handful of cities, and it’s expensive. Don’t be fooled by rebadged 4G networks like AT&T’s 5GE. Real 5G networks are still being built, and even in the handful of cities where you can find them right now, coverage is very localized and limited.

Having said that, 5G connectivity is a great future-proof feature to have in your next phone. If you plan to rock the S20 Ultra for the next two years or longer, then you may be glad of the 5G support. If you live in a rural area, this is unlikely to be a feature that you’ll benefit from for quite some time, but city dwellers should be thinking about it.

Fast 45W charging

The standard 25W charger in the box with your Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra will charge up the enormous battery quickly, but you have the option to upgrade to a 45W charger. Samsung offers a 45W charger for $50, but you can snag one from other companies for less. Just make sure it supports USB-C Power Delivery standard.

We have a roundup of fast chargers, with a few 45W or higher options on it. Whether it’s worthwhile depends on your charging habits. If you plug in or use a wireless charging pad overnight, fast charging won’t make much difference to you.

If the Note 10 Plus is anything to go by, then the difference in how long it takes to charge from 15% or below can be counted in minutes. But batteries slow the charging rate down as they fill up. The 45W charger does prove handy when you’re running low and want a quick top up rather than a full charge.

8K video recording

This jump in video quality is pronounced — we’re talking four times the pixels of 4K. Chances are good you don’t have an 8K TV yet and you probably won’t for a while, but they are starting to hit the market so this could be another good future-proofing feature.

We’re likely to see a few phones with 8K video support this year, because it’s one of the features supported by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor. Apart from the fact you may not have anything to view 8K footage on yet, recording video at this resolution takes up massive amounts of storage, so it’s definitely not for everyone.

It’s worth noting, however, that the 8K video you shoot with the S20 Ultra can also be used to create high resolution photos, so early 8K adopters and photographers or videographers may well be interested in this feature.

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