For many people around the world, Samsung and Android are ubiquitous, working hand in hand to create some of the most powerful devices on the market today. There are millions of users who look forward to upgrading to the newest Samsung phone every year, whether it’s a dramatic redesign or a simple spec bump. If you were to ask Samsung, the Galaxy S20 series represents a major evolution in their flagship series—thus the need to leap from the S10 name to the S20. Upon closer inspection, however, things aren’t nearly so simple. The S20 series is one of our top picks for anyone looking to pick up a new phone in 2020, but with some serious caveats along the way.
Like last year, Samsung offers the Galaxy S20 in three different tiers: the vanilla S20, the S20 Plus, and the S20 Ultra. The latter two phones are relatively similar, with the primary difference in devices being two different screen sizes. The S20 Ultra also includes a larger screen, but adds in additional camera modules, including the ability to take 108MP photos and a 100X zoom option. The Ultra is its own beast, however, so we’ll just be focusing on the S20 and the S20 Plus. Generally speaking, the S20 Ultra’s massive $1,399 price tag makes it difficult to consider, even next to the relatively expensive S20 and S20 Plus.
Despite the leap in numbers in the name, the S20 actually looks a lot like the S10 before it, while also drawing design trends from the Galaxy Nota: 10 released last summer. The S20 moves the hole punch in the screen from the corner into the middle of the display, as it previously did on last year’s Nota:, while keeping the fingerprint sensor under the front of the screen. It’s actually the screen that represents the largest change in design from 2019 to 2020: with a new refresh rate of 120Hz, high-refresh screens have finally hit the big time. This is a feature we’ve seen roll out on devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro and the Google Pixel 4 but with its inclusion in the S20, more people than ever before are going to experience smoother scrolling and a full evolution in how snappy the S20 feels.
Outside of the 120Hz refresh rate, Samsung continues to offer the best screens on the market today. They’re sharp and vivid, with options to scale back the oversaturated colors Samsung has become known for. The “smaller” S20 still uses a 6.2″ display, while the S20 Plus bumps the real estate to 6.7″, with both screens offering a 1440p resolution. Make no mistake—these are big phones, regardless of which model you get.
Unfortunately, there is one other design trend Samsung brought to this phone from the Nota: 10: the removal of the headphone jack. Fans of wired headphones, your number is officially up. Outside of budget phones and a few spare Android manufacturers, it seems like the future truly is wireless, whether we like it or not.
Inside the phone, the S20 line features all the standard 2020 specs most expect. Powered by the new 5G-equipped Snapdragon 865, the phone is a performance beast, without any slowdown or lag in regular use. That’s backed up with a base storage of 128GB (expandable by microSD cards), 12GB of RAM, IP68 water resistance, and improved fast wireless charging. These are powerful phones, but thankfully, those specs don’t manage to make a huge dent in battery drain. Even with the faster refresh rate, both models offer strong battery life, largely thanks to the 4000mAh and 4500mAh batteries found in the S20 and S20 Plus, respectively.
Samsung is heavily promoting the camera on all three S20 models, but as always, they don’t quite measure up to the competition in day-to-day performance. Both the S20 and S20+ include a 12MP ultrawide sensor, a 12MP wide-angle sensor, and a 64MP telephoto sensor, while the S20 Plus throws in an additional DepthVision lens for assisting with portrait mode. Since its launch, the primary critique surrounding the camera has been its tendency to oversoften faces, leading to photos that look blurry and unrealistic, lacking the tactile feel of photos you’d expect from the iPhone 11 or Google’s Pixel series.
Some quirks aside, these cameras aren’t bad. If you switch to Pro mode, you can get some fantastic shots that go toe-to-toe with any other smartphone camera on the market today, but leaving the camera in Auto mode restrains your phone from taking the best photos it can.
Like most Samsung devices, there’s plenty of features and software tweaks to uncover when using the phone. The devices run Samsung’s latest software, One UI, on top of Android 10. One UI is designed to make it easier to use large displays on phones by offering large headers and pushing content down the display. It looks great, and it’s easily Samsung’s best software experience yet. Unfortunately, while Samsung has gotten much better at pushing out security updates on time, they have yet to match the software support supplied by Apple and Google.
Ultimately, the Galaxy S20 represents a fairly minor upgrade cycle, no matter what Samsung chooses to market about the phone. 5G’s rollout will be slow and filled with many of the same issues as 4G’s rollout nearly a decade ago, and while the S20 series is clearly the nicest hardware Samsung has ever designed, at the end of the day, they’re very similar to last year’s S10 series. For the asking price, it’s a tough buy, especially if you’re still on an S10 or even an S9. But if you’re on an older phone and you’re looking to stick or switch to Samsung, it’s hard to beat the S20 right now.
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