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Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip: Which Samsung phone should you buy?

Samsung has not one, but two $1,400 phones in its lineup. Should you go with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip?

Published onMay 16, 2021

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip clam profile

Paying several hundred dollars, or even over $1,000, is a lot of scratch for a cellphone. In fact, some think it’s too much. For that kind of money you could buy a solid laptop, a decent camera, a good 4K TV, or make one monthly lease payment on a Porsche 911. Unbelievably, there are more than a few phones available in the market that cost around $1,000. Two such devices with high visibility right now are the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Z Flip. These two devices couldn’t be more different. Where the S20 Ultra is a giant, feature-packed slab, the Z Flip is a compact, tech-filled foldable.

It may be akin to comparing oranges with grapefruit, but if you have around to spend on a phone either the Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip could find a home in your pocket.

Which should you buy? We have a few ideas.

See: Galaxy S20 Ultra review | Galaxy Z Flip review

S20 Ultra or Z Flip: Hardware

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip clam perspective

They’re actually not as different as you might think; Samsung did make them both. First, what sets them apart.

The S20 Ultra is a monolithic piece of hardware. It’s one of the biggest-ever devices from Samsung in terms of sheer size and weight. The excellent display has nearly no bezels at all, but the camera module on the back is plateau-like in nature. It’s a cumbersome phone to hold and use, and strains the dimensions of your pockets. The S20 Ultra is also exceedingly well made and feels as tough as a tank.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera modile profile times square

The Z Flip stands as tall as the S20 Ultra when open, but folds into a half-sized square that’s easy to tote anywhere. Its screen is slightly smaller and has thicker bezels, but is still quite good. The camera module is practically flush with the rear surface. Given its slimmer waistline and lower weight, the Z Flip is much easier to manage when using it. The flipping action does slow some things down, but it’s so much more comfortable in your pocket. Some might find the plastic frame isn’t as confidence inspiring as the aluminum of the S20 Ultra.

Samsung put the SIM card tray in the top edge of the S20 Ultra and on the left edge of the Z Flip. The S20 Ultra supports microSD memory cards and the Z Flip does not. Samsung gave the S20 Ultra an under-the-display fingerprint reader that isn’t great. The Z Flip’s side-mounted reader is fast and accurate. Where the larger flagship is IP68 rated for protection against liquid and dirt, the foldable is vulnerable. The S20 Ultra has 5G,  and while the standard the Z Flip does not, Samsung did release a version of the phone with 5G hardware later.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip quarter fold

As far as similarities go, there are plenty. The S20 Ultra and Z Flip have shared DNA, and the general look and feel of the phones are obviously related. Both phones rely on USB-C and have downward-firing speakers. You’ll find the volume toggle high on the right edge of each device, as well as the screen lock / power button. Neither has a Bixby key. Each display has a centered punch-hole selfie camera.

Components: Night and day

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip rear panels

While there are plenty of outward similarities between the S20 Ultra and Z Flip, once you dive under the skin you’ll find they are incredibly different.

Samsung bestowed the S20 Ultra with a 6.9-inch Quad HD+ screen with a 120Hz refresh rate option. The Z Flip’s screen measures 6.7 inches and stops at Full HD+ resolution at 60Hz. Of course, the Z Flip’s screen bends in half. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, the newest flagship mobile processor, powers the S20 Ultra with the help of 12GB of RAM. A Snapdragon 855 Plus provides the Z Flip with its oomph and it has 8GB of RAM. The S20 Ultra is a performance beast, while the Z Flip is merely good. If you get the Z Flip 5G, you do get a performance boost with the Snapdragon 865 Plus chip inside.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra on the boardwalk

Battery life? There’s no comparison. The S20 Ultra packs a 5,000mAh battery that’s nearly impossible to kill. Moreover, it supports 45W wired charging and 25W wireless charging for rapid top-ups. The Z Flip’s 3,300mAh battery is split into two, with one cell in each half of the phone. It gets you through a day, but just barely. It chargers at slower rates: 15W wired charging and just 9W wireless charging. The S20 Ultra’s battery is 50% bigger and charges to 100% more rapidly than the Z Flip’s battery.

Battery life? There's no comparison. Same goes for the camera. The S20 Ultra has the Z Flip outgunned.

On the imaging front, the S20 Ultra has the Z Flip outgunned again. The S20 Ultra has a 108MP main camera, a periscoped telephoto camera, and a capable ultra wide-angle shooter. It can record 8K video. The Z Flip, on the other hand, has a pair of 12MP shooters with wide and ultra wide-angle lens options. I wouldn’t call the S20 Ultra’s camera perfect, but it is world class. The Z Flip’s camera is merely acceptable.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip unfolded screen 1

If you want to compare all the specs, here’s a look at how they stack up:

Samsung Galaxy S20 UltraSamsung Galaxy Z Flip
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED
3,200 x 1,440
20:9 ratio
120Hz refresh rate at 1080p
60Hz refresh rate at 1440p
HDR10+ certified
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
6.7-inch Infinity Flex Ultra-thin Glass display
Dynamic AMOLED

Secondary: 1.1-inch front display
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Fast wired and wireless charging
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
15W Wired charging
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
128 or 512GB
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
12 or 16GB
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
- Wide-angle: 108MP, 1/1.33", ƒ/1.8, .8µm
- Telephoto: 48MP, ƒ/3.5, .8µm
- Ultra-wide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm
- VGA time-of-flight sensor

Hybrid optical/digital zoom at 10x
Super Resolution at 100x

- 40MP sensor, ƒ/2.2, .7µm, AF
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Rear cameras:
- Wide-angle: 12MP dual pixel sensor, ƒ/ 1.8 aperture, Super Speed Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 1.4μm, 78-degree field-of-view
- Ultra-wide: 12MP ultra-wide, ƒ/ 2.2 aperture, 1.12μm, 123-degree field-of-view

Front camera:
- 10MP dual pixel sensor, ƒ/ 2.4 aperture, 1.22μm, 80-degree field-of-view
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 or Samsung Exynos 990
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, face unlock
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
One UI 2.1
Android 10
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
One UI 2.0
Android 10
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Black, Gray
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Mirror Black, Mirror Purple

Mirror Gold (select countries)
Dimension and weight
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Open: 167.9 x 73.6 x 7.2-6.9mm
Closed: 167.9 x 73.6 x 17.3-15.4mm

Experience: Work and play

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip on top

Everyday use of these phones is wholly different, for reasons that should be obvious.

The S20 is a stalwart, trustworthy partner that will get you through thick and thin. Want to power through some Fortnite? It has the frame rates to keep you battle ready. Need all-day battery life to push through a long day of meetings? The 5,000mAh cell has your back. Looking forward to sinking into your couch with the latest binge-worthy Netflix series? The HDR10-certified screen will show you all the glorious detail.

Bottom line, Samsung’s king-of-the-mountain smartphone does it all and then some.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra side profile

Conversely, the Z Flip feels like a weekend phone to me, something that is meant to be less intrusive as I move through my day. The folding nature of the form factor automatically makes the Z Flip more fun. It garners more attention from friends and family. This isn’t to say that it can’t work hard. The screen may not be quite as impressive, nor is the battery life, but the Z Flip still looks good and manages to push from breakfast to bedtime. The narrower aspect ratio does impact video playback a bit, as you’re more apt to see black bars on the sides of screen rather than full-screen content.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed the experience of using the Z Flip more than the S20 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip standing with city

The biggest difference in everyday usability may surprise you: It’s the always-on display. Samsung has done a great job of empowering the lock screen of the S20 Ultra and its brethren. In addition to the always-visible clock and notification tray, you can respond to incoming messages, adjust screen brightness, or toggle any of a several dozen controls. The Z Flip simply can’t match the S20 Ultra here with its tiny outer display. It shows the time, sure, and if you swipe it you can see basic notification icons, but that’s about it. If you want to do anything else, you have to open the phone up.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip time and camera macro

At the end of the day, I enjoy the experience of using the Z Flip more than the S20 Ultra, though I fear that’s mostly because it’s novel. It’s certainly more work to use the Z Flip, and it doesn’t perform at the same level as its similarly-priced kin.

S20 Ultra or Z Flip: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or Z Flip chomp

I’m an avid user of tablets. In fact, I use my tablet absolutely every day. It’s my favorite sit-on-the-couch device when I’m watching TV in the evenings. But I also use my tablet for work. I’ll tote the tablet into Manhattan for a day of meetings, rather than lug my heavier laptop. The tablet is lighter, faster at some tasks, and less cumbersome on the bus. There’s no doubt it’s more fun. My laptop, however, is certainly more powerful, and the multitasking afforded by the full operating system and the larger display is a productivity booster for sure.

Using the S20 Ultra is a lot like using a laptop, while the Z Flip is more like a tablet. Each has its pros and cons, and which I prefer at any given moment boils down to what I need. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. Which deserves your $1,400? Well . . .

Using the S20 Ultra is a lot like using a laptop, while the Z Flip is more like the tablet.

Buy the Galaxy S20 Ultra if camera and battery performance are your top purchasing criteria. There’s no question the S20 Ultra outperforms the Z Flip in these categories. The S20 Ultra is also better at gaming and productivity, such as multitasking and speeding through processor-intense tasks. Moreover, the presence of 5G means the S20 Ultra is more future-proof.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Buy the Galaxy Z Flip if you prefer form over function, or if you’re tired of slate-style smartphones. The Z Flip is undoubtedly unique and more fun. It covers the basics, such as screen quality and performance, and the folding form factor and overall slimmer profile make it a better pocket mate when on the go. You can also get the phone with 5G hardware, which also has a slightly faster processor.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G
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