Galaxy S20 Series: Impressions

For the past several years, Samsung has religiously updated its flagship Galaxy S series early on in the year. Like clockwork, the model number has gone up by one numeric increment. Last year Samsung released the Galaxy S 10 range. This year Samsung have thrown the numeric sequencing by the way side. Instead they hope to capitalise on the significance of 2020 and the freshness that a new decade brings. In this article let’s explore each of the three new models in the Galaxy S20 range.

Galaxy S20

The entry level model in the S20 range, can hardly be described as entry level. With a starting price of £899/$999, this exceeds the price of Apple’s entry level model in the iPhone 11 range by £200/$300. This is very much premium flagship pricing but thankfully, the specs also reflect the price.

Image courtesy of Samsung.

Display:

  • 6.2 inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 3200 x 1440, 566 ppi
  • 120hz refesh rate at 1080p, HDR video, Gorilla Glass 6, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor

Processor, Performance and Connectivity:

  • Snapdragon 865 CPU
  • Adreno 650 GPU
  • 12GB RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Suport for micro SDXC card up to 1TB
  • Android 10 with Samsung One UI
  • 5G Support, Bluetooth 5.0, Wifi 11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
  • NFC and ANT+
  • USB C and wireless charging.

Camera:

  • Triple rear camera
  • Main camera with 12MP, OIS
  • Telephoto camera with 64MP, OIS
  • Ultra wide camera with 12MP and autofocus
  • Front facing camera with 10MP and HDR support.
  • Video in up to 8K (24fps), 4K (60fps) and 1080p (240fps).
  • 3x Optical Zoom with 30x Digital Zoom.

Battery:

  • 4000 mAh
  • Lithium Polymer
  • Quick Charge 2.0 support
  • Inductive witless charging and reverse wireless charging

Additional Features:

2D Face unlock, Ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint reader.

This is a really compelling set of hardware specifications and features. I think the feature that will be most immediately noticeable to users upgrading from older models in the Galaxy range, is the 120hz display. Now this isn’t the first phone to ship with a 120Hz display but it will probably be the first one to ship in a sizeable volume. If you haven’t used a device with a 120hz display, it isn’t easy to describe to you how much nicer it is. Content looks smoother, apps feel more responsive and it just feels modern. It’s hard to go back to a device with a 60hz display after using a high refresh rate screen like this. This is definitely not an entry level phone by any means.

Galaxy S20 +

Historically, the plus versions of the Galaxy S range were considered the premium, absolute ‘best’ phone available in Samsung’s offering (until subsequent note models ship in autumn). This year that changes and the plus model is instead the middle child. Sitting between the ‘entry level’ S20 and the aptly named, ultra flagship ‘S20 Ultra’. Let’s take a look at the full specs and features and see what the + gets you compared to the standard S20.

Galaxy S20+ with quad camera system. Image courtesy of Samsung.

Display:

  • 6.7 inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 3200 x 1440, 524 ppi
  • 120hz refesh rate at 1080p, HDR video, Gorilla Glass 6, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor

Processor, Performance and Connectivity:

  • Snapdragon 865 CPU
  • Adreno 650 GPU
  • 12GB RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Suport for micro SDXC card up to 1TB
  • Android 10 with Samsung One UI
  • 5G with support for MM wave, Bluetooth 5.0, Wifi 11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
  • NFC and ANT+
  • USB C and wireless charging.

Camera:

  • Quad camera system
  • 12MP main camera with OIS
  • 64MP telephoto camera with OIS
  • 12MP ultra wide camera with autofocus
  • 0.3MP VGA Time of flight camera
  • 10MP front camera with HDR
  • Video in up to 8K (24fps), 4K (60fps) and 1080p (240fps).
  • 3x Optical Zoom with 30x Digital Zoom.

Battery:

  • 4500 mAh
  • Lithium Polymer
  • Quick Charge 2.0 support
  • Inductive witless charging and reverse wireless charging

Additional Features:

2D Face unlock, Ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint reader.

The S20+ will cost you £999/$1199. That’s an additional £100 in the U.K. or an additional $200 in the US. What does that extra chunk of change actually get you over and above the standard S20? It really comes down to four features. A larger 6.7 inch display compared with a 6.2 inch on the S20. You’ll also get a larger 4500mAh battery compared with 4000mAh and an additional camera. The S20+ includes a time of flight camera for improved depth mapping for portrait photography and 3D image capture.

Perhaps the most significant difference though is support for MM Wave 5G. In non tech speak, MM Wave is the true 5G experience. It offers superior data speeds by tapping into mid band and low band radio frequencies. You won’t find this on the S20 which supports only the high radio frequency of 5G. High frequency 5G still offers improvements over 4G LTE but the difference won’t be as noticeable. It’s worth keeping in mind that 5G coverage is not particularly wide spread in any country right now. At best you’ll get support for the high frequency 5G. MM wave 5G is so infrequently available that it doesn’t offer any real benefit to have it on board the S20+ right now. Expect that to change over the next 3–4 years…..but by then you might well have chosen to upgrade your phone.

Galaxy S20 Ultra

So here is the real story in the S20 series. For the first time, Samsung has introduced an ultra premium version of its flagship Galaxy phone. The Galaxy S20 ultra is according to Samsung, designed to push the envelope as far as possible. Offer the absolute best in class mobile technology available. Let us start by taking a look at features and specs.

Galaxy S20 Ultra in cosmic black. – Image courtesy of Samsung.

Display:

  • 6.9 inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 3200 x 1440, 509 ppi
  • 120hz refesh rate at 1080p, HDR video, Gorilla Glass 6, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor

Processor, Performance and Connectivity:

  • Snapdragon 865 CPU
  • Adreno 650 GPU
  • 12GB RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Suport for micro SDXC card up to 1TB
  • Android 10 with Samsung One UI
  • 5G with support for MM wave, Bluetooth 5.0, Wifi 11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
  • NFC and ANT+
  • USB C and wireless charging.

Camera:

  • Quad Camera System
  • 108MP Main Camera with OIS
  • 48MP Telephoto Camera with OIS
  • 12MP Ultra-wide Camera with autofocus
  • 0.3MO VGA Time of flight Camera
  • 40MP Front facing Camera with HDR
  • Video in up to 8K (24fps), 4K (60fps) and 1080p (240fps).
  • 10x Optical Zoom with 100x Digital Zoom.

Battery:

  • 5000 mAh
  • Lithium Polymer
  • Quick Charge 2.0 support
  • Inductive witless charging and reverse wireless charging

Additional Features:

2D Face unlock, Ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint reader.

The S20 Ultra isn’t messing around. It packs some real punch on the hardware front. At £1199/$1399 it ought to. So as before, what does the additional cost compared to the S20+ get you? First up is an even larger, 6.9 inch display. The screen is huge for a phone. By comparison an iPad Mini features a 7.9 inch display. This really is the limit that I think most people will find acceptable in a mobile phone (until foldable really get going). Clearly this screen size won’t be suitable for everyone and whilst the screen is gorgeous, for some people the sheer size will be a turn off.

Whilst there are some welcome enhancements such as an even larger 5000 mAh battery on board, the key selling point is most definitely the camera. Samsung has packed a 108 megapixel main camera on board. Crucially the sensor is large (by smartphone standards) and with larger pixels to allow more light in. This should result in truly remarkable clarity and detail in photos and supreme low light performance. What is particularly impressive is the 10X optical zoom. This combines with up to 100X digital zoom! Samsung offered an impressive demo on stage showcasing the full potential of what they call ‘Space Zoom’. The 100X zoom was able to focus on Alcatraz island from the opposite side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It really is an impressive feat for a phone.

For lovers of selfies, the front facing camera is 40 megapixel sensor with larger pixels. You can expect to be able to take stunning and sharp selfies, perfect for your social media feed of choice. As with the S20+ you’ll also find a time of flight sensor on board for enhanced depth mapping and 3D image capture. The camera package on the S20 Ultra truly is compelling. Samsung have gone all out to offer what they believe is the best camera system on a phone.

*When the S20 range ships in the U.K. on March 13th, I’ll follow up this article with some photo samples.

Summary

I think if Samsung had only shipped the S20 and S20+, it might have been a bit of a boring release. The upgrades to the standard models are predictable for the most part. That isn’t a reflection on Samsung, but more a sign of a maturing smartphone market. Most flagship devices will ship with a 120Hz display and 5G this year. Some phones shipped with one or both of these features at the end of last year. The S20 Ultra though pushes the Galaxy S series forward in a meaningful way. More and more of us are consuming visual content, rejecting FaceBook for Instagram and TikTok for example. It makes sense that Samsung has doubled down on the features that matter most to many of us. Camera, Display, Battery and Performance.

If you want a superb smartphone but don’t want to go too crazy on price, the standard S20 will be a great choice. If you’re considering spending more for the S20+ though, I’d honestly skip it and get the S20 Ultra. Once you’re at this price point, an extra £100-200 starts to become less relevant, particularly on instalment plans. All in all, I think Samsung did a really good job with the S20 range and I think they’ll have the work cut out for them to top it later this year with the rumoured Note 20. Let’s wait and see.

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