Last year’s Galaxy S10 was a triumph of phone design, combining innovative features like an in-display fingerprint reader, reverse wireless charging, and tiny punch hole selfie cameras with a gorgeous, nearly bezel-free body. However, after missing out on a few features that found their way onto some of the S10's biggest competitors, it feels like Samsung is trying extra hard to ensure that doesn’t happen to the new Galaxy S20.
So this year across all three versions of the Galaxy S20, we’re getting 120Hz displays, 5G support, and what Samsung is calling the biggest camera upgrade since the Galaxy S7. But the downside is that it’s going to cost you because unlike last year, there’s no “budget” version of the Galaxy S20, and even between the three Galaxy S20 models, there are some very important distinctions you should know about.
Starting at $1,000, the standard Galaxy S20 is the least expensive of the three. It features a 6.2-inch AMOLED display with a refresh rate that goes up to 120Hz, and like every version of the Galaxy S20, it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chip, 12GB of RAM, 128GB of base storage, and a microSD card slot. However, it’s important to note that the S20 only supports sub 6Ghz 5G, which right now, is only really used by T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G service. (AT&T and Verizon have plans to add 6Ghz coverage to their 5G networks, but it’s not available yet). That means some carriers like Verizon won’t even carry the vanilla S20 in stores, at least at launch.
The Galaxy S20 also has a pretty decent-sized 4,000 mAh battery, and like the Galaxy S10, you still get wireless and reverse wireless charging, an in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, and stereo speakers. Unfortunately, it seems the Galaxy S10 will be the last Samsung flagship to have a headphone jack, so on the S20 you’ll have to switch to wireless headphones or carry a dongle around.
Also, as a small bonus for people who aren’t fans of the Samsung’s rounded screens, the standard S20 features a nearly flat screen that’s closer to the old Galaxy S10e than the curvier Galaxy S10+.
As for its camera, the S20 and S20+ get a 10-MP camera in front, and three rear cameras: a 12-MP wide-angle camera, a 12-MP ultra-wide camera, and a 64-MP telephoto camera. The purpose of that high-resolution telephoto camera is that by combining the camera’s sensor and using techniques like image stacking and sensor cropping, Samsung claims the S20 and S20+ offer a 3x lossless zoom that goes all the way up to a 30x digital zoom.
But more importantly, the camera sensors used in the S20 are significantly larger than before, resulting in individual pixels that are 1.8 microns in size on the S20's primary wide-angle camera, compared to the 1.4 micron pixels used on the Galaxy S10's camera. Those larger pixels should allow the S20 to gather more light, resulting in brighter and sharper images, particularly in low-light scenarios.
Additionally, to help you take advantage of all those rear cameras, Samsung created a new Single Take photo mode that captures pics and videos using all of the S20's rear cams at the same time for up to 10 seconds. Then, once you’re done recording, the phone will provide you with a variety of clips and images for you to choose between.
While it’s not quite the full multi-camera experience offered on the iPhone 11 thanks to Filmic’s new DoubleTake app, it’s incredibly easy to use, and should be a helpful tool for anyone looking to improve their social media game. And for the filmmaker’s out there, the S20 can even record 8K video at 24 fps, while being able to save 8K still frames in the middle of recording.
Moving on to the $1,200 Galaxy S20+, you get the same basic package but with a 6.7-inch AMOLED screen instead and support for both sub 6Ghz 5G and mmWave 5G, which means this the S20+ should work on AT&T’s and Verizon’s current 5G networks. As for Sprint’s 2.5GHz 5G service, Sprint says it will offer a custom versions of the Galaxy S20 designed to work on Sprint’s mid-band 5G network.
The S20+ also includes a couple of other small improvements including a larger 4,500 mAh battery, an optional upgrade to 512GB of built-in storage, and a 3D time-of-flight sensor that works with things like Samsung’s AR Doodles or its measurement app to help more accurately identify the shape and size of nearby objects.
Finally, there’s the $1,400 Galaxy S20 Ultra, which feels like Samsung’s attempt to upstage every other flagship phone on the market. Like the S20 and S20+, the S20 Ultra has 120Hz screen, except that this time, its screen measures in at a massive 6.9-inches. It’s powered by a huge 5,000mAh battery, and instead of having a 64-MP primary camera, you get a huge 108-MP wide-angle camera that combines nine pixels into one big pixel for even better image quality.
But the most impressive thing about the S20 Ultra is its ridiculously named 100x Space zoom that combines a 48-MP sensor with a 4x optical zoom and some nifty software tricks to create a 10X lossless zoom that goes all the way up to 100x when you factor in the phone’s digital zoom.
While we haven’t had a chance to really test that zoom out yet, the S20 Ultra’s 10x lossless zoom puts it on the same level as the Huawei P30 Pro (though the Huawei features a slightly more powerful 5x optical zoom), and is capable of letting you see signs at the end of the street quite easily. Meanwhile, the rest of the smartphone world generally tops out with 2x or 3x optical zooms, and that’s it. It’s damn impressive, though because Samsung is using a mirror similar to a periscope to bend light into the S20 Ultra’s body, it results in a super thick camera module as well. In fact, compared to the other versions of the S20, between its 6.9-inch screen and boxy camera module, the S20 Ultra feels like it belongs in an entirely different weight class.
Going back to the S20's 12GB of RAM. Recently, a lot of people have begun to balk at the fact that their phone often has the same amount or more memory than their laptop. So on the S20, Samsung decided to take advantage of all that RAM by creating an AI-powered app management tool that allows the phone to keep up to five games suspended in memory, so you can switch between work and play without having to constantly reload your games.
Meanwhile, the S20's 120Hz feels like Samsung’s attempt to one-up the 90HZ screens on phones like the OnePlus 7T/7 Pro and the Google Pixel 4, and it is. But at the same time, it’s not quite as impressive as it could be. That’s because the S20's 120Hz mode only works when the phone is set to Full HD+ resolution. If you activate the S20's full 3200 x 1440 WQHD+ resolution, Samsung forces the screen back to 60Hz mode, ostensibly to prevent the phone from killing its battery too quickly.
And as usual, on top of all these fancy new components, the Galaxy S20 also comes with some new tricks and features including 240Hz touch response, Samsung Quick Share (which is basically Apple’s AirDrop for modern Galaxy phones), and a Music Share mode that allows multiple Galaxy phones to share the same Bluetooth connection, so you can DJ music in the car or on a BT speaker without unpairing and repairing multiple devices.
All told, the Galaxy S20 feels like a tour de force for Samsung. Giving every phone 5G support (even if it’s different flavors of 5G) should go a long way towards making 5G adoption a lot less painful. But the big concern is that with the “cheapest” Galaxy S20 starting at $1,000, Samsung could be pricing itself into a tight corner, especially for people who live in areas that might not get access to 5G cell networks anytime soon.
The Galaxy S20 family will be available for pre-order starting on February 21st, with official sales beginning on March 6th, and will come in four colors (depending on the model): Cloud Pink, Cloud Blue, Cosmic Gray, and Cosmic Black.
[Update 3:00 PM] While it won’t be available at launch, Verizon says it’s working with Samsung to create a special version of the standard Galaxy S20 salted for Q2 2020 that can tap into Verizon’s mmWave 5G network and Verizon’s forthcoming low-band 5G service.