We got our hands on the new Samsung Galaxy S20-series, which is comprised of three models, the Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra a trio of phones that have a shared technological foundation, but scale in size and camera capabilities for a maximum market footprint at the high-end.
The brand name change is smart and reflects a step function in technical capabilities for both the network support (5G) and camera hardware which has been dramatically updated since last year.
Image quality, both on-screen and as captured by the camera, is a central theme of the Galaxy S20, as Samsung agrees that the camera is the primary reason why people upgrade at that price point."THE CAMERA IS THE PRIMARY REASON WHY PEOPLE UPGRADE"
The 120Hz display is pushing the boundaries of what we’re used to with Galaxy phones and allows the Samsung Display subsidiary company to up the ante on that front.
With impeccable image quality and a slew of display innovations last year, that was a logical move that increases the perception of speed and smoothness in the user interface.
Last year, you had to buy a “Gaming Phone” to get a 120Hz display. In 2020 everyone can enjoy that kind of experience.
Galaxy S20 Ultra: A Powerful Camera System
At the very top, the Galaxy S20 Ultra features a huge 108MP camera sensor that will take photography to the next level.
While progress had previously been made in HDR photography, phones such as the Xiaomi Note 10 Pro (Late 2019) equipped with a Samsung 108MP camera sensor showed that new levels of details could be reached, even in tricky low-light situations. The megapixel war is back, and consumers will reap the benefits.
This new sensor also has a higher maximum ISO, which will help Samsung in many low-light and HDR situations. The company had done an impressive job of extracting every bit of performance of the Galaxy S9/S10 camera platform, but this is next-level stuff.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 series benefits from increased computational image processing speed from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor (U.S handsets). Samsung might probably use its Exynos processor in other regions but have not communicated about this today.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra also gets a 48MP “Periscope lens” telephoto camera, which you can use to snap pictures with unbelievable details. We know from testing other zoom cameras such as the P30 Pro zoom that taking ultra-long zoom photos can be a form of entertainment in itself.
Introduced in 2019 by competitors like Oppo (10X optical zoom) and Huawei, periscope lenses have proven to work very well at long distances.
For short-range zoom, the Galaxy S20 utilizes the primary’s sensor higher resolution to zoom with “sensor cropping,” a classic and proven technique that we think might yield better photos for low-light + zoom.
The S20 and S20+ rely even more on sensor cropping and that’s a new way of doing things. We’re really curious to see how that will affect the zoom performance, but based on paper specs, we would expect something equal or slightly better than the 54mm zoom camera of the S10+.
Overall, the Galaxy S20 and S20+ have comparable camera performance to one another and look excellent on paper, but the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the model that maxes out everything from an imagery perspective.
All Galaxy S20 Phones Are 5G
Samsung’s new Galaxy S phones support 5G out of the box, but there are some nuances that you should be aware of.
The Galaxy S20 only supports sub-6 (6 GHz and lower bands), while the S20+ and S20 Ultra support sub-6 and mmWave, which is more future-proof. Different carriers in the USA have focused on one or the other, and this may impact which phones those carriers will focus on.
Sub-6 has better coverage and can be deployed more rapidly, as T-Mobile and OnePlus had recently shown us back in December 2019. We observed a ~40% average performance improvements on T-Mobile’s sub-6 roll out in Hawaii.
mmWave achieves much higher peak performance (we’ve seen handsets reach 2000Mbps in benchmarks), but you must be in near ideal conditions to achieve that, so the coverage is spottier.
In both cases, there is an opportunity to experience next-generation network benefits such as streaming or uploading 8K YouTube videos and enjoy the web with reduced latency to have a home-like experience.
Samsung has even partnered with Google to integrate Google Duo, the video-calling platform, directly into the Samsung Phone app.
In the future, carriers should support both forms of 5G and if you’re going to keep a handset for many years, 5G should be in your list of considerations because it is being deployed much faster than many predicted.
Exquisite design and display
Not surprisingly, the Galaxy S20 design looks beautiful in addition to being technically impressive. We will run the numbers later, but Samsung is able to pack a fantastic quantity of tech features in a minimal volume.
This year, Samsung has decided to keep the selfie camera design as low-key as possible, without trying to add a bokeh sensor. We predicted this in our Galaxy Fold review as the extra space occupied by dual-selfie cameras isn’t worth the aesthetic sacrifices.
The display looks beautiful and gets us one step closer to that perfect full-display experience that the whole industry has been trying to reach for more than a decade.
From the time we spent with the devices, we found the build quality to be impeccable, and the design is a gentle evolution of the Galaxy S10, with a slightly thicker chassis to accommodate the larger battery capacity.
The camera module in the back of the Galaxy S20 Ultra is massive, but Samsung has managed to come up with a design that scales very well from the S20 to S20 Ultra.
With 4000 mAh as the minimum battery size, going all the way to 5000 mAh (Ultra), it was probably a challenge to design the chassis. If you compare the Galaxy S10+ and S20+, the latter gets an additional 12.5% of battery capacity to 4500 mAh for a marginal increase of ~2.2% in overall chassis volume.
Plenty of Storage, Memory and Raw Power
All Galaxy S20 models will come with at least 12GB of RAM and a minimum of 128GB of storage, plus a MicroSD slot that can accommodate today’s largest memory card size of 1TB. Wealthy buyers can max out the memory and storage with a 16GB RAM / 512GB storage Galaxy S20 Ultra.
With camera capabilities such as 8K video recording and 108MP photos, storage does become more critical in the long-term management of a phone, and although cloud options do exist, they are also relatively expensive depending on the provider."COST PER GB IS A FORMIDABLE ADVANTAGE OVER IPHONE"
The storage options and the comparatively advantageous cost is one of Samsung’s most formidable price advantage when compared to Apple’s iPhone line of product that starts with 64 GB and much less memory.
For specific games, it should be able to max out the 120Hz display refresh rate and make the Galaxy S20 an excellent gaming platform as well. Actually, this processor can handle up to 144Hz displays.
The looks and the smarts
The new Samsung Galaxy S20 comes with the latest version of One UI, Samsung’s proprietary interface layer on top of Android.
While everyone has their favorite, One UI has made the headlines because it had successfully tackled several user-interface pain points introduced with using ever-larger (and taller) displays.
As an example of how Samsung tries to push the user experience to new levels, they’ve added a Single Take, Multiple Possibilities feature that lets a user record a short video of a scene.
Artificial intelligence then analyzes the footage and extracts a dozen of “key moments” videos and photos that can be immediately shared. We’re not sure how much people will use it, but it is the kind of innovation that pushes the boundaries and utilizes all the compute power we have in our pocket and purses.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 is shaping up to be everything we’ve been expecting, thanks to a copious amount of attention and leaks that have appeared in the last month.
We like the design, larger battery size, extreme performance, and display quality.
And more importantly, we’re looking forward to putting the camera to the test to see how much it has improved since the Galaxy Note 10, which is still in the Top 3 best mobile cameras today.