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The Galaxy S20 Ultra had one job — and Samsung screwed it up

samsung galaxy s20 ultra camera
(Image credit: Future)

When did it become acceptable for companies to expect us to pay good money for devices with fundamental flaws?

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is now the company’s third high-end smartphone in four years to arrive with significant issues either prior to launch or immediately following. In the case of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, it’s the phone’s much vaunted quadruple rear cameras. While those lenses produce some impressive shots, there are some equally maddening flaws with the S20 Ultra’s cameras — most notably issues with autofocusing when capturing both video and still images.

While the S20’s focusing issue is the worst since the Hubble telescope, at least this time it doesn’t appear to be  a hardware problem, and Samsung is promising a fix. However,  it’s unclear if that update will arrive before the new Galaxy S20 models arrive in stores March 6.

Samsung’s other oopsies in recent years have included the Galaxy Fold and its easy-to-damage folding screen and the Galaxy Note 7 and its explosive battery. (The latter problem appeared once the Note 7 was in shoppers’ hands and proved so significant that Samsung had to recall that phablet and ultimately scrap the entire release.)

The Galaxy Note 7 reminds us it could always be worse.

The Galaxy Note 7 reminds us it could always be worse. (Image credit: YouTube)

While Samsung has had its share of pricey products that shipped before they were ready, it isn’t the only company to make this mistake. Apple was able to make super-slim MacBooks when it debuted its butterfly keyboard in 2015. It’s just too bad that the keyboards could be undone by Cheeto dust. It was even worse that it took the company four years to come up with a viable solution in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Even now, the new keyboard isn’t yet on all the company’s laptops

What’s worse is that all of these products cost well north of $1,000. If I’m spending $150 on the Moto G7 Power, I can tolerate it if it’s less than perfect. (Not for nothing, but the G7 Power has the best phone battery life, outperforming even the S20 Ultra on our test.) But if I’m spending nearly ten times as much—or more—on a smartphone, such flaws are not as easily overlooked. Even more so when that smartphone is the flagship for your company. 

I get — and like — that Samsung is being very ambitious with both the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Fold, but when you have something that’s bound to garner all sorts of scrutiny, I find it surprising that these smartphones weren’t subjected to every test imaginable. Samsung had to know that reviewers were going to test the hell out of the S20 Ultra’s camera; are you telling me no one in the company bothered to check how fast this thing focuses?

Galaxy S20 Ultra

Samsung is promising a fix to the S20 Ultra's focusing flaws. (Image credit: Future)

Perhaps it’s that these companies test their products in sanitized, Star Trek-type environments. Unfortunately, most people treat their workspace more like Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park. 

Here’s a modest proposal: If you’re going to make a smartphone, laptop, or any other device with some awesome new feature—be it a camera, a folding screen, or a keyboard— and charge consumers thousands of dollars, better make sure it works first. 

Michael A. Prospero is the deputy editor at Tom’s Guide. He oversees the Homes, Smart Home, and Fitness/Wearables categories, but also tests out the latest standing desks, webcams, drones, and electric scooters. He has worked at Tom's Guide for many a year; before that, he was the Reviews Editor for Laptop Magazine, a reporter at Fast Company, and, many eons back, an intern at George magazine. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, electric scooter, or skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine, smoker, or pizza oven, to the delight or chagrin of his family.

  • Brendonoc
    Broken screen already?
    Saw this on a display model at at local retailer.