/Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S20 review

Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S20 review


Samsung Galaxy S20 two-minute takeaway

The Samsung Galaxy S20 is the brand’s ‘baseline’ phone for 2020 – taking its place as the cheapest in the range but bringing 5G speeds, a 64MP camera and improved battery life.

If you want to experience everything fresh that Samsung has to offer as cheaply as possible, this is your new starting point. But that’s cheaper, not cheap.

It has a 6.2-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate, triple-lens rear camera with new zoom levels and 8K video recording, and 5G that’s fast (though potentially not as fast as on the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra).

We tested the Galaxy S20’s triple-lens camera for an hour and came away impressed with three things. Firstly, Samsung has boosted the individual pixel size from 1.4 microns on the S10 to 1.8, and, second, the camera sensors themselves are larger – all of them. 

Samsung says night-time photos will be clearer in what it calls the biggest overall upgrade to its phone cameras since the Galaxy S7 in 2016. That’s a bold claim.

Third, the telephoto lens jumps from 12MP on the Galaxy S10 to 64MP (though individual pixels are smaller here, so it may not change that much compared to what the numbers suggest) and it brings 3x optical and 30x digital zoom to the table.

The ultra-wide lens decreases in megapixels – 16MP to 12MP – but increases in microns and sensor size, which should prove to be more important. Every camera is better on paper, though not as dramatically upgraded as on the S20 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S20 is the first phone we’ve tested that records 8K video, which seems like overkill – until, that is, you realize that this gives you much more scope to crop in and edit without sacrificing detail, even if you’re only outputting to 4K and 1080p. 

That’s great news for content creators – although 8K is stuck at 24fps, and Samsung’s advanced Steady Stabilization doesn’t apply to 8K or 4K video, so you won’t get buttery-smooth videos.

Powering all of this is a new speedy 7nm chipset, 12GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage – and unlike the basic variant of the Note 10, the S20 has a microSD card slot for expandable storage should you run out of space. 

Its 4,000mAh battery seems beefy enough, but we’re interested in seeing how much 5G hogs our battery life over a day. 

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The expanded capacity has had one negative consequence already: 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 has a lot of things going for it: a sizable screen with a fast refresh rate, a new triple-lens camera with a lot of promise, and solid specs headlined by faster 5G speeds. 

But it may fall into the trap of being neither affordable nor the best of the new Galaxies. Its price hike will be a turn-off for some, while others with a substantial budget will look to the S20 Plus and Ultra for their fast 5G peak speeds and, in the case of the Ultra, a much better camera.

Want to find out more about how we found the phone? Read on below:

 Samsung Galaxy S20 release date and price 

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

Brace yourself: you’re going to pay more for the Galaxy S20 than last year’s flagship Samsung phone due to its 5G upgrade, bigger camera sensors and larger 6.2-inch 120Hz display.

In the US and UK, the Galaxy S20 price is $999 / £799 with 128GB of storage – if you want 512GB of storage, you’ll have to buy the S20 Plus or Ultra. 

This new price means that, in at least one region, 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, although Apple’s phone has a smaller 5.8-inch display and that price gets you just 64GB of storage.

We don’t have an official Australia launch price, or prices for other regions just yet, but we do know the Samsung Galaxy S20 release date: Friday, March 6 in the US, and Friday, March 13 in the UK. 

We’ll add release dates and pricing for other regions when they become official.

Bigger display, smaller in the hand

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S20 has a 6.2-inch display, offering exactly 0.1-inch more screen real estate than last year’s 6.1-inch S10. It doesn’t dramatically change the overall size of the phone, and its max resolution remains the same as 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 – giving power users and option if they want to push things harder.

Here’s another reason to keep the screen locked to 1080p: the new 120Hz refresh rate isn’t WQHD+-compatible, and the jump from 60Hz to 120Hz is significant in offering a more fluid experience when gaming or surfing the web, as we’ve seen on the ASUS ROG 2 and Razer Phone 2, even if this phone has to be in 1080. 

The S20 has also improved touch-sensitivity to 240Hz to make games more responsive, by sensing your finger brushes on the screen at a much higher rate than previously.

We know the hearing about an increased screen size might be worrying for some (there’s pent up demand for smaller one-hand-friendly phones), and we have good news and bad news about that. Firstly the good news: the Samsung Galaxy S20 is thinner than the S10. The new phone has grown taller instead of wider, with a 20:9 aspect ratio.

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

Here’s the bad news: there’s no Galaxy S10e sequel (the cheapest, smallest of the S20 range in 2019) to offer those with smaller hands a 5.8-inch display size. 

The Galaxy S20 is the smallest of Samsung’s S phones for 2020, and while we appreciate the smaller front-facing camera punchole and return of HDR10+ in the screen to deliver more dynamic color reproduction during movie watching, a bit of screen size diversity would be even more welcome. 

The Samsung Galaxy S20 sports a familiar look: two pieces of glass sandwiching an aluminum frame. There’s still a curve to the right and left edges of the screen, but it’s not as pronounced as on the S10, which may mean fewer accidental presses along the edges of the display.

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Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)
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Samsung Galaxy S20

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Samsung Galaxy S20

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Samsung Galaxy S20

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There are going to be three Galaxy S20 colors: Cloud Blue, Cloud Pink and Cosmic Gray, and the hues are rather tame compared to all of the options we got for the S10 series. 

The Cosmic Black color is reserved for the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra, though availability of all colors can vary by region. You may not see all of the colors in your country, and Samsung usually adds new colors as time goes on.

A true camera upgrade

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S20 is poised to offer the biggest year-over-year camera upgrade since the Galaxy S7 replaced the S6, and that has a lot to do with the fact that all three rear cameras offer larger sensors. 

They’re arguably the most important hardware factor governing image quality given the fact that camera smartphones sport tiny sensors.

A quick note here: it’s best if you ignore the plethora of number-heavy camera specs, and instead consider what they mean in terms of the photos you can capture. Otherwise the S20 cameras could look like a downgrade, and that’s far from the case.

Here’s what we mean: 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 depending on lighting conditions (f/1.5 pulls in more light for improved low-light shots). 

But Samsung has increased the size of individual pixels from 1.4 microns to 1.8 microns. Combined with the larger sensor, you’ll capture more detail and light on the Galaxy S20.

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The same goes for the new 64MP telephoto camera, which looks like a big upgrade over last year’s 12MP telephoto camera. 

It is, but here the individual pixels are smaller, while the aperture is wider (f/2.0 instead of f/2.4 – smaller numbers are better). 

Again, it’s a net plus overall and we also get a 3x lossless zoom and 10x digital zoom thanks to the new telephoto camera specs.

The Galaxy S20’s 12MP ultra-wide camera has changed the least, but it too has a bigger sensor, larger pixels (1.4 microns over last year’s 1 micron), and the same f/2.2 aperture. That should make your ultra-wide photos a lot better, even if the S10 had a 16MP ultra-wide camera.

We’re going to have to test this triple-lens rear camera setup a lot more during our full review process, but we already know that the Galaxy S20 won’t be quite as powerful as the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which has four cameras on back, a 108MP main senor, and 10x optical/100x digital zoom.

The Galaxy S20 breaks new ground with the introduction of 8K video recording and anti-roll correction (up to 60 degrees) as part of its Super Steady stabilization feature. 

Just don’t expect to be able to 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).

8K recording, limited to 24fps, has one big benefit: you’ll be able to crop and edit videos without sacrificing quality if you export to 4K or 1080p. 

But it’s still in its infancy on smartphones, and we still imagine that most people will shoot in 4K, where you can get more control over frames per second, 20x video zoom (8K is stuck at 6x zoom), and files that are smaller (8K footage will eat about 600MBs per minute in the HEVC format).

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

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 in order to capture a variety of photos and videos. It answers that question ‘Should I take photos or a video?’ with ‘Why not take both?’ 

You end up with photos, ultra-wides, portraits, hyperlapse video, regular video, and so on. When testing ‘single-take mode’, it kept us out of the settings menus and more engaged in the lovely thing we were trying to snap. 

We’ll have a lot more to say about the Samsung Galaxy S20 cameras in our full review when we’ve had more time to try out the various features, but we’ll leave it at that for now – okay one more: you’ll be able to easily clip 33MP photos from video, which should prove handy.

5G as standard

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S20 is the best first chance for mainstream consumers to get 5G on their smartphone. Only 1% of smartphones shipped in 2019 were 5G phones, and most were expensive variants of 4G flagships. 

The S20 is a flagship phone and yet still 5G-enabled by default, and its download speeds will hover around 200Mbps on average, 6x greater than 4G speeds in some parts of the world.

That does, of course, depend on 5G being available in your area, but with the Galaxy S20 Samsung is baking in a future-proofed connection for many.

There’s an important distinction between the 5G capabilities of the Galaxy S20 on one hand, and the S20 Plus and Ultra on the other. While all three support the low-to-mid-band sub-6 technology, only the Plus and Ultra have mmWave antennas, which pull down much faster speeds. 

Though the range of mmWave is very limited, we were already getting 1.4Gbps in May 2019, when we tested mmWave 5G in Chicago on Verizon’s newly rolled-out 5G network.

So the S20 will be fast, but its bigger siblings will be faster – that is, if your carrier even supports mmWave. 

Sub-6 speeds should be good enough for most people, except Verizon customers, as it’s an mmWave-exclusive carrier – the base S20 won’t be sold at Verizon stores for this reason. 

The S20 will also come in a 4G variant, but only in select countries, including the UK.

Better battery, (too) high spec?

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

If there’s one more thing we know about 5G, it’s that the new tech is a battery hog. So Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S20 with a 4,000mAh battery, a nice boost from the 3,400mAh capacity on the S10. 

The rest of the internal specs include a 7nm chipset, 12GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage, with a microSD card slot for expanding that by up to 1TB. 

In terms of how the phone is to use, the Samsung Galaxy S20 is firmly in that ‘too much power for most people to use’ category, with the new Snapdragon 865 chip (in the US) and Samsung’s own next-gen Exynos 990 chipset in the rest of the world variants.

This is backed up by 12GB – yes, 12GB – of RAM, which is something that even power users would struggle to max out day to day. 

In our shorter preview time with the phone we didn’t notice any lag or bouncing between apps, and while we weren’t able to benchmark these early models we’re fully expecting them to be iPhone-rivalling at the very least.

Samsung’s ‘Super Fast’ charging returns on the S20 line (we first saw it on the Note 10) and you get a 25W charger in the box.

It’s also compatible with wireless charging, up to 15W, and you can wirelessly charge other Qi-chargeable devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Buds and the new Samsung Galaxy Buds+, on the back of the handset.

We haven’t gotten a full grasp of what’s new in the One UI 2.0 interface, but we did see that the new software has Google Duo video calls integrated directly in the Dialer app. You’ll be able to make Full HD video calls and chat with up to eight people, according to Samsung.

Early verdict

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S20 is going to do more to usher in the 5G era than any smartphone before it, but there’s more to this year’s upgrade than really fast download speeds. 

Its triple-lens camera, with a 64MP telephoto lens at 3x optical/30x digital zoom, is the real star, and the feature that will have you yearning to buy the S20 if you’re on anything older than the still-formidable S10 – and, perhaps, even if you have that phone. 

This is the phone Samsung needed to fend off Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro camera advancements… and it’s raised the price accordingly to try and achieve that.

5G and better technology add to that surcharge too – and there’s no cheaper S20e to bail you out here, as there was a surprise Galaxy S10e a year ago. Instead, the S10 series just got a price drop, meaning last year’s phones serve as your best option if you’re on a budget. 

The S20 Plus and Ultra are on the other end of the spectrum, offering even faster 5G than the S20 and, in the case of the Ultra, a better camera system, for wild new prices. 

The S20 therefore sits in the middle of the S10 / S20 range, positioned for consumers who want something fresh, but who don’t want to break the bank, and it remains to be seen whether this works for or against it.

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