Galaxy S20 Ultra drop test: Only the camera survives

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The Galaxy S20 Ultra is the largest and priciest of Samsung’s three new S20 phones, but it may not be the toughest. It has a massive 6.9-inch screen with curved edges and a giant camera module on the back that sticks out like a sore thumb. To find out how it holds up to everyday accidents, I subjected a brand new S20 Ultra to five drops from different heights onto the sidewalk.

Unlike last year’s Galaxy S10 Plus, which was available with a ceramic back, all three of this year’s S20 models have glass on either side. But the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the only one with Gorilla Glass 6 on both the front and back of the phone: The backs of the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus are covered in Gorilla Glass 5. They all come with a preinstalled screen protector, which I left on for the purpose of this drop test. 

S20 Ultra drop 1: Pocket height (3 feet), back side down  

I started off by dropping the S20 with the back of the phone facing down to determine how fragile the camera module is. 

The phone landed on its back as intended. It did a flip and ended up screen side-up. The screen, which I could see from where I was standing, survived without a scratch, but the back was already broken. 

Two of the four corners of the phone — likely where it hit first — were completely shattered with one long hairline fracture running from top to bottom. I could feel tiny glass particles come loose on my fingers as I assessed the damage. The only corner that didn’t break was the top left, the one closest to the camera. The camera module itself was intact with just two tiny dents on the side of the frame, roughly the size of a grain of sand. 

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The damage to the S20 Ultra after the first drop from hip height with the camera facing down. 


Angela Lang/CNET

I then opened the camera app on the phone and clicked through the three different lenses to test it out. The telephoto, wide-angle and ultra wide-angle lenses all checked out. 

S20 Ultra drop 2: Pocket height, screen side down

Next I dropped the phone from the same height (3 feet) with the screen facing down. Though the S20 Ultra landed face first as intended, it didn’t fall flat. The bottom left hand corner broke the fall and sustained most of the damage.

Even the screen protector wasn’t enough to keep the screen from breaking. It landed right on the tiny sliver of exposed glass between the edge of the screen protector and the metal frame, causing the glass around it to shatter. At least it prevented the break from spreading beyond the corner of the phone. The metal frame was also significantly beat up and dented at the corner. 

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The corner of the screen on the S20 Ultra cracked despite the screen protector.


Angela Lang/CNET

S20 Ultra drop 3: Eye level (5 ft), back side down 

At this point, the only part of this phone still intact was the camera module. To test how much more it could handle, I took it up to five feet and dropped it again with the camera module facing down. 

This time my aim was lacking. The side of the phone hit first and it eventually landed screen side up. The back had a new crack above the camera module and a few scrapes on the frame, but the glass on the camera was still intact. 

One more time…

I attempted the drop again and again it landed on its side, and this time there was no additional damage to the phone that I could see at first glance, so I went for it one last time to see if it would land on the back. 

Third time’s the charm

The phone landed nearly flat with the back facing down. All of the previous cracks had continued to grow and the back was completely shattered around the edges. It looked like it was framed in shards of glass that were coming loose under my fingers. The biggest shocker: Still not a crack on the camera. At least on the outside. On closer inspection I noticed a few specks inside the wide-angle lens. They were so microscopic that I easily could’ve missed them when I first opened the phone, and they could have nothing to do with the drops. 

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This is what the back of the S20 Ultra looked like after the fifth and final drop. 


Angela Lang/CNET

To test it out, I opened the camera app and clicked through the different lenses again. The camera had some autofocus issues, which again may not have been because of the drop, but otherwise it checked out and was still in working order. 

The break down 

The Galaxy S20 broke on the first fall and even the screen protector was no match against the rough sidewalk. If you’ve paid $1,400 (or more) for this phone, I implore you to put a case on it! The hero here was the camera, which I was expecting to be its Achilles heel, but it proved to be solid — at least during this very unscientific test. Your S20 Ultra camera may not be as lucky. 



Cnet

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