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Samsung Galaxy S20 hands-on: Out-featuring the competition
Update, February 21, 2020 (10:00 AM ET): Today is the big day! Starting now, you can pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra. The device is available from multiple retailers and carriers. Below you’ll find links to the most popular ones, but it might be worth checking out our pricing hub to find the best deal for you. Happy shopping!
Original article, February 11, 2020 (02:00 PM ET): If you flip over the new Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphone and compare it to the Apple iPhone 11 Pro or Google Pixel 4, you’ll see the exact same thing on the back of all three: A crazy-big camera module with multiple lenses peering at you. Samsung’s fresh family of phones follows the same path set by its main competitors, Apple and Google, and makes some huge promises along the way.
The Samsung Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra are the latest generation of flagships from the Korean company and showcase powerful cameras. In fact, Samsung said it completely reimagined the camera system in a bid to entice consumers to upgrade from older Galaxy phones. Are these and the bountiful other features enough to lure people away from Apple and Google? We think so.
Playing it (too) safe
As expected, the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra are fine, fine pieces of kit. And yet, the company crafted high-quality hardware that is … somehow kind of boring. Perhaps Samsung has said all it wants to say when it comes to design, though I’d argue there are still plenty of ways to make smartphones stand out. Instead, the S20 family feels more sedated than its predecessors, and, as a result is lacking some soul.
There are phone designs out there that make you say “pizzow” in your head because they are so new and unique. The S20 family sadly does not do that, at least not for me. This is not to say they are ugly or even plebeian. I simply think Samsung dialed its Design-O-Meter from 9.2 back down to 7.6. Why do I say this?
The Galaxy S8/S9 and S10 families had distinctively shaped glass and the sleek metal frames to match. Sure the sides felt a little sharp against your skin, but the look was worth the slight discomfort. Samsung flattened out the glass of the S20 family just a bit, and took the edge-y feeling of the frame away. My guess is this helped create space internally for the larger batteries.
The hardware is easy to hold and feels good in your hand, but doesn't quite have that visual panache to excite the soul.
The result is a phone that’s easy to hold and feels good in your hand, but doesn’t quite have the visual panache for which I long. The colors don’t help. The Ultra is available in (boring) black and, uh, gray. It’s not an attractive gray, it’s a glossy, flat gray that you’d see coating a budget Toyota. The pink and blue shades for the S20 and S20 Plus aren’t anything to write home about, either. I’d much prefer to see a white model. The materials, however, are exquisite and the build quality is top notch. Did we mention the IP68 protection against dust and water? Yeah, these are tightly made phones.
Then there’s the camera module. Like the modules of the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4, it’s ugly as sin. A large black rectangle, the module unabashedly juts from the rear surface. The raised plateau means the phone will never rest flat on a table or desk unless in a case. I get that the space is needed to make the camera magic happen, I just wish there was another way.
Things to like: the aluminum frame, USB-C, strong buttons, and no Bixby key. Things to dislike: no headphone jack, breakability.
Samsung said its goal was to craft the best phone display ever, and my eyes believe it. You have three Dynamic AMOLED panels at 6.2, 6.7, and 6.9 inches for the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra, respectively. Quad HD+ resolution is standard across the board, as is 120Hz for smooth on-screen motion. Pixel density is a satisfying 563ppi, 525ppi, and 511ppi for the small, medium, and large phones. Most importantly, the display panels are certified HDR10+ for the best possible contrast and color.
They look frickin’ amazing. Seriously, the screens just pop out at you. Apps, photos, web pages, and video content dazzled, particularly when you match up with HDR1o+ compatible programming. These are displays I can’t wait to test with my favorite movies and TV series from Netflix and Disney Plus.
Picture me this
As with last year’s Galaxy S10 family, the camera arrangements of the S20 family vary a little from device to device. The basics are the same, but you have different resolutions available the more money you are willing to spend.
Thankfully, the S20 and the S20 Plus have almost the same camera configurations. That means a 12MP main camera at f/1.8, a 64MP telephoto camera at f/2, a 12MP wide-angle camera at f/2.2, and a 10MP selfie camera at f/2.2. This is the basic standard-zoom-wide deal we’ve seen from flagships (including iPhone 11, but not Pixel 4) the last year or so. The S20 Plus adds a time-of-flight depth camera for improved portrait shots.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is, well, ultra when it comes to the camera. The main shooter captures 108MP at f/1.8. This is important: it has a really large 1/1.33 sensor, which lets it capture huge amounts of light. Shots taken with this camera are binned down by a factor of nine (nona-binning) to 12MP each, but the full resolution is available should you want it. The telephoto camera snaps 48MP shots at f/3.5, the ultra-wide snaps 12MP shots at f/2.2, and the selfie camera snaps 40MP shots (binned to 10MP) at f/2.2.
Space Zoom is a thing that Samsung created for the S20 line and it’s something. If you’re wondering, for example, why the Ultra’s telephoto camera has a slow aperture of f/3.5, it’s because the company pulled a Huawei and put a prism in there. This allowed Samsung to deliver more optical zoom.
The S20 and S20 Plus can deliver 3x optical zoom and then 30x hybrid zoom, which is a blend of optical and digital cropping. This is why the megapixel count is so high for the telephoto cameras. The Ultra can support 4x optical zoom, with 10x lossless zoom and up to 100x hybrid zoom. That’s insanity right there. We have yet to test this feature, but we can’t wait to crank up the zoom when using the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Single Take basically uses all the phone's photo modes at once to capture a range of content.
The other big software addition is called Single Take mode. Single Take basically uses all the tools — AI best moment, ultra wide, live focus, AI filter, smart crop, video forward and backwards, fast forward, original video — at once to capture a range of content. Shoot one 10-second video clip and the software generates all these segments automatically. You can then share the different pieces of content wherever you wish. Single Take is available from the front camera, too. The package for a single take of Single Take all together is about 55MB, according to Samsung.
It’s a neat idea that we look forward to testing.
8K is the way
The Samsung Galaxy S20 range is one of the first to offer 8K video capture. This is a huge leap, and one that’s enabled by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor under the hood. Most people don’t have 8K TVs yet. Heck, many people still don’t have 4K TVs yet. Even so, 8K is the future spec for content and Samsung is happy to tack it to the S20’s feature list. Apple and Google don’t offer this and likely won’t until September or October the earliest.
Samsung claims the S20 has pro-grade videography powers. It includes a super-steady mode for shake-free video, as well as a new night hyperlapse feature for crystal clear nighttime time-shift videos. Importantly, you can change the resolution for sharing. 8K video can be down-converted to 4K or Full HD for pushing to other devices, while retaining the original resolution. (You can stream 8K content directly to compatible Samsung 8K TVs.) On-device clip trimming is available, and you can take an 8K video snap to spit out a 33MP photo taken from a video still.
Will the 8K video be any good? We will be sure to assess it in our full review. Either way, neither the iPhone nor the Pixel is 8K capable.
5G, gaming, and music
All three phones support 5G and 4G networks. While the S20 is sub-6GHz only, the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra support both sub-6GHz and mmWave. This is an important factor that determines which carriers will sell the phones. In addition to the raw 5G capabilities, the phones handle both non-stand alone (NSA) 5G (requires 4G for uploads) and stand alone (SA) 5G (can do uploads via 5G), as well as DSS, and FDD/TDD.
Samsung says it will support Google Duo as the native video chat client in the phones’ dialer app. The 5G connection will support Full HD video chatting with other Duo devices.
Samsung may have beaten gaming phones at their own game. Did we mention that the phones all support 120Hz displays? Beyond that, the displays support 240Hz touch response. This makes the S20 line fantastic gaming hardware. There’s also a new gaming function that allows you to keep up to five apps/games suspended in RAM ready to go at a moment’s notice. Samsung says this cuts down or eliminates load times when resuming games and reduces lag during gameplay.
Wanna rock some tunes? Samsung has a new way to share. A feature called … wait for it … Music Share helps with what Samsung calls the “Bluetooth dilemma.” You know the drill. You’re driving and your phone is connected to your car via Bluetooth. Your passenger has a killer playlist on his/her phone, but you’d have to unpair your phone and allow your friend to pair to the car to get it to play. With Music Share, you can essentially do pass-through Bluetooth connections, meaning the friend would be able to connect to the car’s Bluetooth through your Galaxy S20. This feature will work with smart speakers, too. We didn’t get to test it but will surely give it a listen once we’re able.
The phones have big batteries (unlike the Pixel 4). The S20 has a 4,000mAh battery, the S20 Plus as a 4,500mAh battery, and the S20 Ultra has a whopping 5,000mAh battery. Samsung claims these all support more than a full day of use, even with the screen operating at 120Hz. This basically puts the phones on equal footing with the iPhone 11 Pro, and ahead of the Pixel 4 family.
As for charging, all the phones support 25W wired and wireless charging and ship with 25W chargers. The S20 Ultra supports 45W charging, but the higher-rate charger costs extra (seriously, Samsung?!?)
Samsung Galaxy S20 series: Pricing and availability
The Samsung Galaxy S20, with 12GB RAM and 128GB of storage, will cost $999. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, with 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, will cost $1,199. A 512GB variant will be available for $1,299.
Finally, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, with 12GB RAM and 128GB, will go for an eye-watering $1,399. A 16GB/512GB variant will be available for $1,499.
The phones are now available for pre-order from Samsung.com and go on sale in select markets March 6. You can also check out our Galaxy S20 deals and availability page for more information.
I believe Samsung has crafted winning devices. The price premium is likely thanks to the 5G radios built into each. Every phone maker will charge more for 5G this year, and Samsung happens to be first out the door with its devices. The cameras appear to be worth the upgrade, though whether or not people can afford these phones will be dependent on carrier monthly pricing plans.
What do you think? Do you like the Samsung Galaxy S20 series? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.