When you flip the new Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphone over and compare it to the Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro or Google’s Pixel 4, you’ll see precisely the same thing on the back of all three: A crazy, large camera module with multiple lenses looking at you. Samsung’s fresh range of phones follows the same path taken by its main competitors, Apple and Google, and makes some big promises along the way. This is our Samsung Galaxy S20 Review.
The Samsung Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra are the latest generation of flagships of the Korean company and show powerful cameras. Samsung said it completely redesigned the camera system in an attempt to entice consumers to upgrade from older Galaxy phones. Are these and the abundant other features enough to lure people away from Apple and Google? We think so.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Review: Design
As expected, the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra are beautiful, exquisite pieces of kit. And yet, the company made of high-quality hardware that is somehow kind of boring. Maybe Samsung has said everything it wants when it comes to design, although I would argue that there are several ways to make smartphones stand out. Instead, the S20 series feels more numb than its predecessors, and as a result, it lacks some soul.
Unfortunately, the S20 family doesn’t do that, at least not for me. That doesn’t mean they are ugly or even plebeian. The Galaxy S8/S9 and S10 series had a distinct shape of a glass and the matching slim metal frames. The sides certainly felt a bit sharp against your skin, but the appearance was worth the slight discomfort. Samsung squeezed the glass of the S20 family a bit flat and took away the edge-y feeling of the frame. I think this helped to create space for the larger batteries.
This blue baby may be the smallest of the S20 line, but it’s just a hair bigger than last year’s Galaxy S10 and Note 10. It’s the same width as the Pixel 4, but it’s bigger. We have a handy size chart that helps to show how the profile of the phone builds up, but what it doesn’t show is how the curved sides of the front and back glass make the phone feel so thin in the hand, despite holding a 4,000mAh battery.
This is the only S20 I can comfortably use with one hand – although you’ll want to use two hands for more than one-word SMS responses. I also recommend a case, because glass back + sweaty palms = shattered phones and hearts. I’m also a big fan of the power of the PopSocket, especially if you intend to use your phone with one hand most of the time as I do.
Samsung consolidated the buttons this year, by placing all the buttons on the right side of the screen and combining the Bixby and power buttons. This is great news on all fronts, especially because you don’t have to press the buttons anymore when taking a screenshot; all you have to do is press the on/off button and the volume button.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Review: Display
Samsung said the initiative was to make the best phone display ever, and my eyes believe that. You have three Dynamic AMOLED panels at 6.2, 6.7, and 6.9-inch for the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra, respectively. Quad HD+ (1440p) resolution is standard across all the models, as is 120Hz for smooth on-screen motion. Pixel density is a satisfactory 563ppi, 525ppi, and 511ppi for the small, medium, and large phones. Most importantly, the display panels are certified with HDR10+ for the best possible contrast and color.
The S20 has the smallest screen of the three models, which means it has the highest pixels per inch and looks – at least in my eyes – the best. The colors are vivid, the screen is easy to read in direct sunlight like I did a few hours last week, and 120Hz is smooth as silk when you browse the menus and browse through your Twitter feed. 120Hz doubles the rate your phone refreshes what’s on the screen, and because it redraws the screen twice as often, the movement seems more natural and fluid.
Although the screen isn’t turned on by default for a small battery boost – and frankly, the screen still looks better than the Pixel 4 at 60Hz – it’s something you’ll notice almost instantly when you turn it on and never want to turn it off again. That butter-soft experience is a much bigger addiction than using the phone at full 1440p resolution, and you have to choose one or the other because when you go to WQHD, it kicks you back to 60Hz. The difference between 1080p and 1440p is not always noticeable, but you will see 120Hz much more often.
The screen still has a perforator, but I find it much more centered on the screen than stuck in the right corner. The centered cutout fits more apps and more wallpapers this way, and the distance between the status bar at the top is less because the hole punch itself is smaller than last year.
The Galaxy S20’s 12MP ultra-wide sensor has changed the least, but also has a larger sensor, larger pixels (1.4 microns compared to last year’s 1 micron), and the similar f/2.2 aperture. That should make your ultra-wide images a lot better, even if the Galaxy S10 had a 16MP ultra-wide camera. We will have to test this triple-lens rear camera setup a lot more during our full review process. Still, we already know that the Galaxy S20 will not be as powerful as the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which has four rear cameras, a 108MP primary sensor, and 10x optical/100x digital zoom (only in S20 Ultra).
The Galaxy S20 sets the bar with the introduction of 8K video capture and anti-roll correction (up to 60 degrees) as part of the Super Steady stabilization function. Just do not expect to be able to use both this higher resolution and Samsung’s advanced stabilization technology at the same time. In essence, Super Steady is still strictly a 1080p feature (it does not even work in 4K). 8K recording, limited to 24fps, has one significant advantage: you can crop and edit videos without sacrificing quality when you export to 4K (Ultra-HD) or 1080p (Full-HD).
But it’s still fancy on smartphones, and we can still imagine that most people record in 4K, giving you more control over frames per second, 20x video zoom (8K is fixed at 6x zoom), and files that are smaller (8K images eat about 600MB per minute in HEVC format). If you decide to shoot in 8K, you can press the camera button during shooting to instantly take a 33MP photo. This should be useful for the shots you want to consider when you are already filming videos, and it can be an indispensable addition for some people.
The S20 is magnitudes better than the S10 for dimmers indoors and night shots outdoors, but I’ll tell you right now that just like Night Sight on the Pixel 4, you don’t want to use Samsung’s night mode without a tripod. It just takes too long to avoid moving your hand and blurring the shot. The S20 lets in a lot more light, but the tendency to try and illuminate at night leads to overshooting and blurring, so plan your photos carefully and consider shooting in Pro mode instead of Auto mode.
One area where the S20 has a clear edge over the Pixel is the GIF’s, which is a weird thing to say, but I like to take them with me during fireworks and the like. While Google Photos, you can’t use more than about 40 images to create an animation, but with Samsung’s Gallery app, you can convert a 100-frame burst shot into a 640×480 GIF. You can even control the speed and add stickers, text, and emoji to the gif as you create it. Is this a total recess feature? Yes, but it really is a nice niche feature.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Review: Performance
As the first phone with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor, the Samsung Galaxy S20 should offer a speed of plenty, especially as it is paired with a robust 12 GB RAM. Samsung gives you control over how you use this memory, as you can assign up to three apps that are stored directly in the RAM. As a result, load times for resource-intensive apps and games should be available almost immediately. The Samsung Galaxy S20 comes with 128 GB of storage and there is no 512 GB model like the Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra. Fortunately, you can add up to 1TB of storage via the microSD card slot.
The Galaxy S20 performed very well in several benchmarks, including the Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance. The S20 achieved 3,147 on the multi-core part of the test, which is the best score we have ever seen on an Android phone. The iPhone 11 Pro’s A13 Bionic processor scored an even higher 3,509, so Apple will maintain its lead for the time being.
On the GFXBench graphics test (Aztec Ruins Vulkan test off-screen) the Galaxy S20 reached 1,319 frames (21 frames per second), which is better than the OnePlus 7T (1,169). The iPhone 11 Pro recorded higher 2,174 frames or 33.8 fps.
The software on the S20 is largely the same as One UI 2 on the Note 10 and S10 – the menus and Samsung apps are usually designed to prevent you from reaching the top of the extra high displays, we finally have a system-wide dark mode that affects both regular apps and system apps, and Android 10 brought more granular permission checks to us so we can try to limit the amount of location and tracking data an app collects about us. For the Galaxy S20, we have a small amount of pre-installed apps – Facebook, a quartet of Microsoft apps, a few carrier apps, and a dozen non-essential Samsung apps.
Of the most notable improvements made this year, one that is much more needed on Samsung’s less powerful phones is the ability to pin three apps to memory and prevent the phone from ever killing them. I did this right away with YouTube Music, to make sure nothing would stray from my slot. The S20 is the first non-Pixel phone that comes with Live Transcribe and Live Caption, which is excellent news from an accessibility point of view but will rarely be used by the average user.
Dual Bluetooth comes back from the S10 series, allowing you to play music on two different Bluetooth devices at the same time. I find this more useful than the new Music Share feature which allows your S20 to essentially act as the DJ, building up a playlist of music from your and your friends’ phones.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Review: 5G Support
The Galaxy S20 is the first option for consumers to get 5G on their smartphones. Only 1% of the smartphones shipped for 2020 were 5G phones, and most were expensive variants of the 4G flagship. The S20 is a flagship phone, and still, 5G approved, and download speeds will average around 200Mbps, 6x over 4G speeds in some parts of the world.
That depends, of course, on the availability of 5G in your area, but with the Galaxy S20, Samsung is baking in a future-proof connection for many. There is an essential distinction between the 5G capabilities of the Galaxy S20, on the one hand, and the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra on the other hand. While all three support the low-to-mid-band sub-6 tech, only the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra have mmWave antennas, which offer much higher speeds.
Although the range of mmWave is minimal, we already got 1.4Gbps in May for 2020, when we tested mmWave 5G in Chicago on Verizon’s newly deployed 5G network. So the Galaxy S20 will be fast, but its bigger brothers will be faster – that is, if your carrier supports mmWave. Sub-6 speeds will be good enough for maximum people, except for Verizon customers, because it’s a mmWave-exclusive carrier – the base Galaxy S20 won’t be sold in Verizon stores for this reason. The S20 will also be delivered in a 4G variant, but only in certain countries, including the UK.
If there’s one more thing we know about 5G tech, it’s that the new technology is a battery eater. For example, Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S20 with a 4,000mAh battery, a nice boost to the 3,400mAh capacity on the S10. The rest of the internal specifications include a 7nm chipset, 12GB RAM, and 128GB of internal storage, with a micro-SD slot to expand that by up to 1TB. When it comes to using the phone, the Samsung Galaxy S20 is firmly in that ‘too much power for most people’ category, with the new Snapdragon’s 865 chip (in the US) and Samsung’s next-gen Exynos 990 chipset for the rest of the world.
In other words, that capacity is more than enough to help you through the average day. In fact, on the default settings – 1080p 60Hz screen, auto-brightness, mostly indoors with Wi-Fi and LTE – I have 11 hours of screen time on a single charge, including 3.5 hours of reading and three hours of Disney Emoji Blitz gameplay. Even with 120Hz on, you can expect at least four hours of screen time at maximum brightness outdoors.
12GB supports this – yes, 12GB – of RAM, something that even power users could try out every day with difficulty. In our shorter preview time with the device, we didn’t notice any delay or bounce between the apps, and although we weren’t able to benchmark these early models, we expect them to be at least iPhone-rivalling. Samsung’s ‘Super Fast’ charging comes back on the S20 line (we saw it for the first time on the Note 10) and you get a 25W charger in the box.
It is also compatible with wireless charging, up to 15W, and you can charge other Qi rechargeable devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds and the new Samsung Galaxy Buds+, wirelessly on the back of the handset. We haven’t entirely understood what’s new in the One UI 2.0 interface yet. Still, we did see that the original software has integrated Google Duo video calls directly into the Dialer app. You can make Full HD video calls and chat with up to eight people, according to Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Review: Conclusion
Purely from a value point of view, the Galaxy S20 is the clear winner of the series. For at least 200 dollars less than the other models, you get the same good camera experience, the same excellent performance, clear Samsung software, a more pixel-dense screen, and a reasonably large phone that actually fits in a woman’s hand and in some jean pockets. Oh, and you get real colors instead of boring black and gray.
Even against the latest from Google and Apple, the Samsung Galaxy S20 stands up and then some. The battery runs around the Pixel, it has the best screen in the industry, and unlike the iPhone 11, it has sub-6 5G for you to take advantage in one-two years when the networks are actually built up enough to take advantage of it.
With the brightest 120Hz display, decent battery life, and top-of-the-line performance, Samsung makes a flagship that actually justifies its premium price without being too full of itself or overcrowded to keep it comfortable.
- Improved camera with 3x zoom
- Single Take camera mode is fun
- The display has 120Hz refresh rate
- Compact design
- Slow fingerprint sensor
- The camera can overly smooth faces