The best isn’t cheap, but the S20 Ultra is worth the $1,400.
The new Galaxy S20
- Hardware and design
- The S20 Ultra is a huge upgrade
- All-change with the cameras
- Specs and features
- 5G for everyone
- An eye-watering price
A new year brings a huge upgrade to Samsung’s Galaxy S range, with a boost in the naming, and the price tag, as well. The Galaxy S20 and S20+ are the successors to last year’s Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, while the Galaxy S20 Ultra is Samsung’s offering to those who want everything in their phone.
The upgrade to the Galaxy S family isn’t superficial though — these phones feature huge upgrades across the board, and are already candidates for phones of the year. With big screens pushing the boundaries of what’s comfortable, batteries that should power you for days, and cameras that are huge leaps from the last generation, there’s a lot to unpack with the new Galaxy S20 family.
Here’s how it all comes together in the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra.
There’s a Galaxy S20 for everyone
Much like the Galaxy S10 family last year, there are three phones in the S20 line, but they aren’t direct successors. There’s no low-cost ‘e’ variant this year (yet), and the base Galaxy S20 is a flagship worthy contendor in its own right.
The three models are designed to offer choice at a variety of price points and different screen sizes. All three feature the same metal and glass design that Samsung has been refining with its most recent flagship devices, and although the glass looks and feels the same as before, it’s been upgraded to Corning Gorilla Glass 6 on both sides.
The three screens showcase Samsung’s prowess in packing in even more display without huge upgrades to the sizes of the phones surrounding them. The Galaxy S20 screen measures in at 6.2 inches, while the Galaxy S20+ measures in at 6.7 inches. Both are about 10g heavier than their predecessors, but still feel extremely comfortable in the hand.
Samsung is known for making the best screens on a smartphone and the Galaxy S20 family continues this trend, with Samsung finally matching and surpassing the competition with the new 120Hz refresh rate across all three models. It makes every bit of motion on the screen feel incredibly smooth and is 50% faster than most current phones that have a 90Hz refresh rate.
There is a caveat though: To use the 120Hz refresh rate on each phone you have to drop the displays down to FHD+ (1080p) resolution. For the most part, you can’t tell the difference between FHD+ and QHD+ (1440p), but we’d have liked Samsung to include a middle-ground here. Ultimately though, we’ll take the higher refresh rate and smooth scrolling experience over higher resolution and that’s how the Galaxy S20 comes out of the box.
Look at any of these phones dead-on and you might struggle to spot them as the Galaxy S20 family. There’s only a single front facing camera this year — compared to a double selfie camera on the Galaxy S10+ — and it’s been moved to the center beneath a display cut-out that adds symmetry and a seamless feel to the design.
It’s on the rear where you’ll find the most noticeable difference thanks to the huge camera bump on all three devices. The camera is clad in black, even on the colored versions, which makes them stand out from the crowd. I don’t mind the black camera bump, but would have loved for Samsung to color match them.
The bumps make the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ slightly larger, but it’s on the Galaxy S20 Ultra where the bump really stands out, alongside the rest of the phone.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is a huge upgrade
The Galaxy S20 Ultra reminds me of the old Samsung Mega phones, which were ginormous and heavy. The S20 Ultra is both of these things, thanks to a 6.9-inch screen. It’s only 0.2-inches bigger than the Galaxy S20+, but it’s 5mm taller and 2mm wider. The width isn’t a problem but the extra height makes an already big phone even bigger.
The bigger screen has its uses in gaming and for viewing even more on your phone, but the S20 Ultra pushes the boundaries and makes for an incredibly large phone.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra pushes the boundaries which makes it an incredibly large phone
The first thing you’ll notice is the thickness and the weight. The Galaxy S20 Ultra weighs in at 220g, which makes it 18% heavier than the Galaxy S20+ and 12% heavier than the Galaxy Note 10+. The latter was already a big phone — and one I found too large for my needs — and the Galaxy S20 Ultra makes it feel positively normal by comparison.
Then there’s the thickness. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is about 10% thicker than both the Note 10+ and the Galaxy S20+, and you can feel every bit of it. Like past phones, chances are most people will adapt to the size of the S20 Ultra, but there’s no denying it’s a chunky phone.
That extra thickness and weight is somewhat justified thanks to the huge upgrades in the Galaxy S20 cameras, especially with the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
All-new cameras promise big things
It’s been a long time coming, but Samsung has finally delivered the big camera overhaul we’ve been asking for. The Galaxy S20 and S20+ are worthy upgrades over last year’s flagship range, and the S20 Ultra camera bumps things up so much you could say its extraterrestrial.
Let’s kick things off with the S20 and S20+, which both feature all-new 12MP cameras. While the number of megapixels has stayed the same, Samsung has made the sensor bigger and the optics better. The pixels are almost 30% larger, which lets in a lot more light. Samsung has also dropped the variable aperture in favor of a static f/1.8 aperture, which will ultimately deliver better consistency across all of your photos.
The improvement isn’t just in the sensor, however, as Samsung has outfitted both of these devices with a 64MP telephoto lens, which now offers 3X “lossless” zoom and can zoom up to 30x if that takes your fancy. As you might expect, the quality begins to drop after you hit 10x zoom, but you probably won’t need it.
Until its troubles with the U.S. government saw it added to the entity list last year, I was a huge fan of Huawei phones and used them daily. One of the principal reasons was the zoom in the camera, and I’m super stoked that Samsung has finally bought zoom to the Galaxy S20 family in a big way, especially with the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
When you look at the Ultra, you see one of the few areas it differs from the rest of the family. Samsung’s big flagship features a big camera in so many ways, with the 12MP main sensor from its siblings replaced by a monstrous 108MP lens.
While you can take images at the full 108MP resolution, by default the phone uses nona-binning, which combines 9 pixels at 0.8µm pixel size to create 1 super pixel at 2.4µm pixel size, to take 12MP photos. As a result, low light images should be much better thanks to that impressively large pixel size.
The changes aren’t just in the main sensor on the Ultra, as the telephoto camera is a slightly lower-resolution 48MP sensor, but the really impressive part is the camera arrangement. Samsung has positioned the camera sesnor horizontally in the phone with a prism positioned in front to make the most out of the space it has inside the phone.
As a result, the Galaxy S20 Ultra offers 10X lossless zoom and up to a whopping 100X zoom. Of course, photos aren’t usable at 100X but some of the photos captured at 30-40X — such as buildings out of a plane window — were seriously impressive.
All three phones also feature an all-new 12MP ultra-wide camera. While it is a slight downgrade in total resolution (from 16MP), it has 40% larger pixels in the process meaning it should be even more capable in low light. Samsung already had a pretty good ultra-wide camera in its phones and it’s nice to see it wasn’t left out of the upgrade party, even if it hasn’t had as big an upgrade.
The improvements in the camera are also prevalent in the software features. The Galaxy S20 family can all now shoot 8K video, and you can also capture a 33MP still image directly from the phone while shooting 8K video. After you’ve captured this footage, you can also trim and edit the 8K video natively using the device itself, share it directly to a Samsung 8K TV, or upload to YouTube natively in 8K directly from the phone.
Single take is a seriously impressive feat from Samsung
One of the reasons Samsung has likely maximized the amount of RAM is the new Single Take feature, which allows you to shoot with all the lenses at once. Fire up the camera, pan around capturing whatever you want for 10 seconds, and the camera will use AI to capture anywhere from 4-14 pictures and videos at once.
The phone rapidly processes all of these shots and presents which one it thinks is best, while also saving all of them in the gallery so you can pick the shot you want. It’s a great feature and seriously impressive that Samsung has been able to do all of this processing directly on the Galaxy S20.
All the Galaxy S20 other specs and changes
Given all the other improvements in the Galaxy S20 family, it’s probably obvious by now that they feature the latest internals as well.
To ensure these phones last for a full day if not much longer, Samsung has equipped them with huge batteries: 4,000, 4,500 and 5,000mAh as you go up in size. Add in efficiencies offered by the latest internals, and even with the added drain of 5G and those insane cameras, these devices should survive anything you throw at them.
All three devices are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor, which should offer considerable efficiencies to help extend your battery life. All models come with 128GB of storage and 12GB of RAM, while you can also get 16GB of RAM as an optional extra with the S20 Ultra. There’s also a new mode that lets you freeze up to five apps in the RAM so they’re available to instantly use when you switch to them. This is particularly useful if you are a mobile gamer, or are constantly switching between the same few apps.
As you might expect, the usual suite of Galaxy features are also present. There’s IP68 dust and water resistance, a microSD card to expand the storage and reverse wireless charging. There’s no headphone jack — eh, it’s time to move on anyway — but it does come with wired USB-C AKG headphones in the box. All three support fast charging with a 25W wired charger in the box, while the S20 Ultra follows the Note 10+ in being compatible with a 45W charger. which can be purchased separately.
Although Samsung has made a ton of improvements in the Galaxy S20, one area that’s mostly untouched is the fingerprint sensor. Although it’s been repositioned slightly, the sensor is fundamentally the same one from the Galaxy S10, which was pretty bad. Given Qualcomm showed off huge upgrades in the second generation of the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, it’s a shame that Samsung didn’t include this in the Galaxy S20 range. We’re holding out hope that it’s magically better, but based on our initial time with it, the fingerprint sensor will likely be a big complaint with the Galaxy S20 family.
By partnering with Samsung, Google may establish Duo as Android’s answer to FaceTime.
Beyond the big changes, Samsung has clearly spent time refining the overall experience. All three phones run the One UI 2 update that’s been rolling out to the rest of Samsung’s lineups, and the overall software experience is one of polish. Samsung used to be lambasted for its software, but the latest version of One UI is clean, refined and quite pleasant to use.
One interesting addition to the software is native integration of Google Duo in the dialer and contacts. Quite frankly, it’s about time and Samsung is the answer to Google’s Duo problems. Duo as a service is pretty good, but barely anyone uses it. The solution? Preload it on millions of devices. In partnering with Samsung, Google has done just that and in doing so, it may have cemented Duo’s position as Android’s answer to FaceTime.
All three Galaxy S20 support 5G
The biggest buzzword in mobile this year is 5G, with every manufacturer and carrier looking to promote its 5G chops. Thanks to the Snapdragon 865 processor, which comes with a 5G modem, every U.S. version of the Galaxy S20 will support 5G. However, not all types of 5G are equal and the 5G offering differs across the Galaxy S20 lineup.
The Galaxy S20 only supports Sub-6 5G, while the S20+ and S20 Ultra support both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G. In the U.S., this means the regular Galaxy S20 won’t be available on Verizon, which doesn’t have a Sub-6 network, while all the other carriers should offer it. All major carriers should offer the S20+ and S20 Ultra, although again, Verizon, is the only carrier capable of maximizing the potential speeds of mmWave 5G right now.
Beyond the U.S., things get murky and the 5G landscape is so vast that it’s too hard to detail further. That said, however, most of the world is focusing on rolling out Sub-6 5G networks, and if you’re in a country with a current 5G network, or one launching in the near future, chances are you’ll have access to a 5G version of the Galaxy S20.
The Galaxy S20 comes at a price
Everything packed into the Galaxy S20 family doesn’t come cheap, and the latest internals and a bumper camera translate into a hefty price tag.
Much like the phones themselves, there’s a consistency in the pricing, as the Galaxy S20 costs $1,000 with the pricing rising by $200 as you go up the series, culminating at a starting price of $1,400 for the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Samsung already makes some of the best phones, and the Galaxy S20 family looks set to continue this.
If the base storage of 128GB isn’t enough for you, the 512GB version of the Galaxy S20+ will set you back $1,350, while if you want the 512GB version of the S20 Ultra, which also comes with 16GB of RAM, it will cost you $1,600.
The prices are high but the Galaxy S20 family is one of the biggest upgrades to Samsung’s Galaxy S lineup that I can remember. Whether it’s the ‘entry-level’ Galaxy S20, or the impressive upgrades in the Galaxy S20 Ultra, these phones set the benchmark for Android phones this year. Samsung already makes some of the best phones, and the Galaxy S20 family looks set to continue this.
If you want the best that Samsung has to offer right now, it will cost you. Looking at the phones and the benchmark they set however, it’s clear that you’re definitely getting value for money and, especially with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, you’re getting the best Android phone you can buy right now.
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