Samsung has missed a few numbers for the new Galaxy S20, which takes over from the 2019 Galaxy S10 flagship mantle. Although it might be a daunting leap, there’s good reason for it, because Samsung has packed a lot into it: it’s a huge improvement, particularly if you’re keen on getting the first 5 G phone.
The Galaxy S20 is smaller and simpler to manage than the Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy Galaxy S20 Ultra, but that doesn’t mean it’s a low-spec or cheap product. Here’s what you get: a 6.2-inch screen with a quick refresh rate of 120Hz, 5 G download speeds (where available), high-spec cameras on both sides of the handset, and a large battery to boot from.
This is the phone you need to get if you’re checking out the latest tech that Samsung has to offer, but you don’t want a huge screen, or a huge dent in your pocket. If you want more room or a 108MP camera, you could go for the Ultra, and stretch to the price tag, but the S20 would be the better option for most people to use on a daily basis.
In the smartphone is a powerful new chipset, either a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 or Exynos 990 (where you live will decide which one you’ll get) as well as either 8 GB or 12 GB of RAM, depending on whether you’re purchasing the 4G or 5G handset. And some people would only be able to purchase the 5G phone–you can read below to find out which models in your area are available.
The camera is another highlight of this phone, with Samsung boosting the rear array with lots of specs. All three main cameras have been improved (including increased pixel sizes to enhance photography during the night by letting more light in), and there are also a few software changes to boost the overall experience.
Compared to that of Galaxy S10 it has a better telephoto lens that allowing you to shoot high-quality 3x optical zoom shots or stretch all the way to a 30x digital zoom. The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a better camera overall, but most people will be more than satisfied with the shooter on this phone.
Another highlight of the Galaxy S20 is its 4,000mAh battery. It’s larger than the cell in the S10, and we’ve found the battery life to be strong with typical use – this phone isn’t going to last you much longer than one day of normal use, but what smartphone does?
The expanded capacity has had one negative consequence: it’s squeezed out the headphone jack. It’s the same story with the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra, and it’s the first time Samsung has dropped the feature from its S range.
The Galaxy S20 is missing some of the top-end features that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is showing off, but it’s more affordable, and easier to hold or store in your pocket, and while it may not be the most impressive device from Samsung in 2020, it’s a powerful phone that will more than satisfy most who buy it.
Design and display
The Samsung Galaxy S20 is a 6.2-inch display device that offers 0.1-inch more screen real estate than 2019’s 6.1-inch S10. It doesn’t dramatically change the overall size of the phone, and its max resolution remains the same as that of recent Samsung Galaxy S models at WQHD+ (3040 x 1440).
Samsung is still offering a default resolution of Full HD+ (2220 x 1080), which looks more than sharp enough for most tasks, and saves battery; you’ll need to head into the settings to switch to the higher resolution.
A big upgrade for the Galaxy S20 is the maximum 120Hz refresh-rate display. This is double the rate at which the display refreshes on most phones, including previous Samsung devices, and what it means in practice is smoother scrolling and animations.
This is particularly pertinent when you’re mobile gaming as it allows for a more immersive experience and could even give you the edge over an opponent, but it makes everyday things like scrolling through your social media feeds look smoother too.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this on a smartphone – both the Asus ROG Phone 2 and Razer Phone 2 feature similar tech – but this is arguably the first time we’ve seen it on a mainstream device.
The new 120Hz refresh rate isn’t WQHD+-compatible though meaning you have to pick whether you want the higher resolution display or the faster loading picture.
Touch-sensitivity is also upped, to 240Hz from 120Hz to make games more responsive, by sensing your finger brushes on the screen at a much higher rate than previously. This isn’t something we found noticeable when we were using the phone, but those more dedicated to their mobile gaming may find that it makes a difference.
We know an increase in screen size might be off-putting for some (there’s pent-up demand for smaller one-hand-friendly phones), and we have good news and bad news about that. First the good news: while the S20 is taller than the S10, it’s also a little narrower, with a 20:9 aspect ratio, and the screen is only marginally bigger.
Here’s the bad news: there’s no Galaxy S10e sequel (that was the smallest, and cheapest, of the S20 range) to offer those with smaller hands a 5.8-inch display size.
The S20 is as small as Samsung’s 2020 S phones get, and while we appreciate the smaller front-facing camera punchole and return of HDR10+ to the display for punchier and more detailed images when gaming and watching movies, a bit of screen size diversity would be even more welcome.
Samsung has made some important steps forward with the camera setup on the Galaxy S20 when you compare it to the Galaxy S10, but not all of the improvements are reflected in the stats you see in the spec list.
We think it’s best if you take the plethora of number-heavy camera specs with a pinch of salt, and instead consider what they mean in terms of the photos you can capture. Otherwise the S20 cameras could look like a downgrade compared to previous Samsung devices, and that’s far from the case.
The main camera, which remains 12MP, has an f/1.8 aperture. That’s theoretically inferior to the S10’s f/1.5 + f/2.4 dual aperture, which changes to suit the lighting conditions with the ‘wider’ f/1.5 setting pulling in more light for improved low-light shots.
However, Samsung has increased the size of individual pixels here, from 1.4 microns to 1.8 microns. Combined with the larger sensor, you should be able to capture more detail and more light with the Galaxy S20’s main snapper, and we found that to be the case when shooting in darker scenarios.
There’s also a new 64MP telephoto camera, which may sound like a huge upgrade over last year’s 12MP telephoto camera. Here the individual pixels are smaller than last year’s camera, but the megapixel count is far higher and the aperture is wider (f/2.0 instead of f/2.4 – smaller numbers are better).
It’s a positive result overall, allowing for 3x lossless zoom that’s the best we’ve seen on a smartphone so far. There’s also 30x digital zoom if you need it, and while this isn’t lossless we found it to be useful in some scenarios.
If you need the ultimate in zoom capability the Galaxy S20 Ultra comes with a game-changing 100x zoom, but it’s unlikely that you’ll find much use for that in everyday shooting, and we found 30x to be more than enough.
The Galaxy S20’s 12MP ultra-wide camera has changed the least compared to the S10 – the f/2.2 aperture is the same, but it has a smaller sensor with larger pixels (1.4 microns over last year’s 1 micron). That makes your ultra-wide photos a touch better, even if the S10 had a 16MP ultra-wide camera.
We found all the cameras to work brilliantly well, and if you’re shooting in the automatic mode you’re sure to be impressed with the results. You can see some of the shots we’ve taken below:
The Galaxy S20 Plus and Ultra both have a time of flight sensor that is missing from this phone. Even without it, the S20 is well capable of taking some fantastic-looking photos.
The S20 range also breaks new ground with the introduction of 8K video recording, and anti-roll correction (up to 60 degrees) as part of Samsung’s Super Steady stabilization feature.
You can’t, however, use both this higher resolution and Samsung’s advanced stabilization tech at the same time – Super Steady is still strictly a 1080p affair (it doesn’t even work in 4K).
While 8K recording is limited to 24fps, it has one big benefit: you’re able to crop and edit videos without sacrificing quality if you’re exporting to 4K or 1080p.
8K is a feature that’s still in its infancy on smartphones, and we imagine that most people will be happy shooting at 4K or below, where you get more control over frames per second, 20x video zoom (8K is stuck at 6x zoom), and smaller files (8K footage will eat about 600MBs per minute in the HEVC format).
If you do decide to shoot in 8K, you can hit the camera button when you’re recording to take a 33MP still image. This should be useful if you want a high-quality snap while you’re already filming video.
Samsung’s robust-yet-easy-to-use camera app continues to be the best among smartphones, thanks to new and returning features. We continue to like the fact that you can swipe anywhere on the screen to flip between the front and back cameras, make a hand gesture to trigger the selfie camera timer, and double-press the physical lock button to blindly launch the camera app.
New here is Single Take mode, which cycles through all three rear cameras over the course of 10 seconds to capture a variety of photos and videos. It answers the ‘Should I take photos or a video?’ dilemma with ‘Why not take both?’
You end up with photos, ultra-wides, portraits, hyperlapse video, regular video, and so on, and we’re big fans of this feature – not every shot or clip is perfect, but it kept us out of the settings menus and more engaged with what we were trying to snap, and it changed the way we shot photos.
Performance and software
The Galaxy S20 is powered by one of two different chipsets, and where you live will decide which version you’re getting. If you’re in the US you’ll get Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 865 chipset, while those around the rest of the world get Samsung’s similarly high-end Exynos 990.
This review is based on our time with the Exynos 990 version of the phone. We’ve yet to fully test the Snapdragon 865 version of the S20, but we have tested the Galaxy S20 Plus running that chip and we had no complaints.
As to the Exynos 990-powered S20, we’ve experienced outstanding performance throughout our testing. It’s powerful enough to do everything we need it to, whether that’s playing games or loading apps quickly.
On Geekbench 5, the Exynos 990 version of the phone averaged a multi-core score of 2699. That’s quite a bit below the Exynos 990 Galaxy S20 Plus, which scored 3034, and the Snapdragon 865-powered S20 Ultra, which scored 3286.
The S20 is scoring far higher than the S10 5G from 2019, which returned an average result of 2197, and the OnePlus 7T Pro, which scored 2584. These scores won’t mean a lot for the average user, but it’s a positive result for the Galaxy S20, and we found that it was reflected in day to day use.
The 5G variant of the phone we tested comes with 12GB of RAM. It may be that some tasks will run a little slower on the 4G version, as that only has 8GB of RAM, but plenty of flagships ‘only’ offer 8GB, and we’d still expect strong performance from that phone.
Samsung Galaxy S20 release date and price
Brace yourself: you’re going to pay more for the Galaxy S20 than the Galaxy S10 due to its 5G upgrade, improved cameras and larger 6.2-inch 120Hz display.
In the US, UK and Australia the Galaxy S20 5G price is $999 / £899 / AU$1,499 for the version with 128GB of storage and 12GB of RAM. You can add extra storage with a microSD card up to 1TB, but if you want 256GB or 512GB of internal storage you’ll have to buy the S20 Ultra.
The phone is also available in a 4G version in some markets, including the UK, Australia and UAE, priced at £799 / AU$1,349 / AED 3,199 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Those in the US are only able to get the 5G variant.
That 4G phone aside, the addition of 5G means you’re paying more for this year’s base model than for the base-model S10. In the US at least,, the flagship inherits the Galaxy S10 Plus launch price – $100 more than the base-model S10. It also matches the $999 iPhone 11 Pro launch cost in the US, although Apple’s phone has a smaller 5.8-inch display, and that price gets you just 64GB of storage.
You can buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 now in the US, UK and Australia.
If there’s one thing we know about 5G it’s that the super-fast internet technology is a battery hog, and with that in mind Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S20 with a 4,000mAh power pack, a notable increase over the 3,400mAh capacity on the S10.
That’s certainly paid off, as we’ve found the Galaxy S20 to have solid battery life that will easily see you through a full day of typical use – in fact we’d often get home after a day of what we’d consider to be fairly heavy use to find the phone still had 20% or so left in the tank.