The one thing iPhone 12 should steal from Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Best camera phone: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The new iPhone 12 promises plenty of welcome upgrades, from 5G connectivity and a faster A14 Bionic processor to longer battery life. But there's one feature I want Apple to steal from the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Space Zoom.

Before you write this off as a gimmick, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra's zoom really impressed me when I was testing Samsung's new phone Over the course of two weeks. The telephoto lens has an optical zoom rating of 5x and it boasts a digital zoom all the way up to 50x. 

By comparison, the current iPhone 11 Pro has a 2x telephoto zoom and 10x digital zoom, and rumor has it that the iPhone 12 Pro will max out with a 3x optical zoom. There haven't been any credible rumors about the digital zoom for this flagship.

If these leaks are true, Samsung should have a big advantage on the camera front. Just look how closely I could zoom in on the above sign in front of a fish market from across a highway. It's so good that it's scary.

Snagging the 50x zoom shot proved tricky, as this zoom level introduced a fair amount of camera shake. But the 10x and 20x zoom shots delivered remarkable results. 

Here's another example of Space Zoom in action, as you'll see in the gallery below. I zoomed in on a tree from the complete opposite side of the yard. As I zoomed in, I could make out the details in the bark as well as the hanging flower baskets, wind chime and bird house. 

Since the iPhone 11 Pro Max maxes out at 10x digital zoom, I put it up against the hybrid zoom on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra at a nearby park. 

As you can see in this photo of a stream, Samsung's camera delivers a much sharper image. The iPhone's result is fuzzier, which is to be expected. The Note 20's image isn't perfect, as it blows out some of the highlights illuminated by the sun, but overall it's clearly the superior shot.

The process of zooming on the Note 20 Ultra is pretty smooth as well. You just press the zoom button and it jumps you to 5x, and from there you can choose 10x, 20x or 50x. Or you can dial it back to 4x. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 camera space zoom

(Image credit: Future)

In July we heard that Apple could be lining up periscope zoom lens suppliers — for 2022. So that means we shouldn't expect a powerful optical zoom for the iPhone 12 and maybe not even the iPhone 13. I hope these reports prove untrue, because now that I've tried the Space Zoom on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra I don't want to give it up.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • Samos
    I'd much rather have a high quality 3x portrait lens than a 5x/10x super zoom. For everyday photography a 3x would be much more useful. I don't find the 2x on my current Galaxy S9+ as useful as I'd hoped, for portrait shots it's often not close enough, and the standard 1x camera lens digitally cropped is often better that the 2x, especially in low light situations. I'm hoping the 3x with a decent lens and sensor will solve this issue. A 5x/10x would be a 'nice to have' but not in preference to a high quality 3x.