Hands-On With the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra

The 5G future is ready for consumers with Samsung's new phone lineup

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Samsung's new S20 lineup
Samsung Galaxy S20, S20 Ultra, and S20+.

Lifewire / David Kukin

Samsung has officially announced its brand new smartphone lineup for the year at Samsung Unpacked earlier today with the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra. All three are 5G-capable, representing the first time the company’s entire lineup has supported 5G (only certain models of the S10 and Note10+ did last year). 

According to Samsung, the three new devices skip the “S11” moniker as a way of showing the leap forward they represent in terms of innovation and technology. I went hands-on with all three of the newly announced devices and spent a fair bit of time playing with their new camera features. Read on to see what I thought.

Refinements To An Already Elegant Design and Features 

The S20 lineup is a continuation of the design trends we’ve seen from Samsung over the course of the past year. You have three phones of varying sizes that focus on minimizing the bezels with the classic Infinity-O display, multiple rear camera sensors, and a sleek glass-and-metal back that conforms to your hand. All three models look good, and are available in a variety of colors including pink, blue, black, and gray, though some of these options might be limited depending on the model and storage configuration. 

Galaxy S20 in pink
The Galaxy S20 is available in a variety of color options including Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue, and Cloud Pink. Lifewire / David Kukin

In hand, I found the S20 and S20+ the most comfortable to use. That’s unsurprising since they’re both fairly similar in size, with the S20 boasting a 6.2-inch screen and the S20+ with a 6.7-inch display. However, there are some subtle differences between the two. The S20+ may have a bigger screen, but it’s a bit larger measuring 6.4 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighing 6.6 grams. By contrast, the S20 comes in at 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.7 ounces. Also notable, the S20 only has a triple camera array on the rear, while the S20+ has quadruple cameras and a camera module that protrudes a bit more from the device so you won’t be able to quite lay it flat down on the table. 

S20+ in hand
The S20+ is bigger than the smaller S20, but still fits in your hand pretty well. Lifewire / David Kukin

However, neither are a match for the chunky S20 Ultra with its 6.9-inch display. Measuring 6.6 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches and weighing a hefty 7.8 ounces, it has a much bigger footprint both in your pocket and your hand. There’s a noticeable bulge from the quadruple cameras and generally speaking, it’s not a phone that’s very easy to use with one hand. If that’s important to you, you may want to stick to the smaller S20.

As far as screens go, all three phones have gorgeous Quad HD panels with Samsung’s Infinity-O design to accommodate the selfie camera. These are all dynamic AMOLED displays that are certified for HDR10+. That means you get rich, saturated colors, high brightness, and dense, inky blacks. I didn’t get the chance to watch any media, but color reproduction and viewing angles looked great, and you shouldn’t have any problem using these phones outdoors under direct sunlight.  

Another nice addition to the feature set is the 120Hz refresh rate on all the panels, giving you smoother scrolling and gameplay (augmented by a 240Hz touch sensor). I didn’t get the chance to fire up any games, but scrolling around, multitasking between apps, and navigating menus felt smoother and more responsive than other phones I’ve used. 

Crisp Quad HD display
All three phones have a dynamic Quad HD AMOLED display with bright colors and great viewing angles. Lifewire / David Kukin

Other bells and whistles include an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor under the screen and face recognition technology in addition to the standard set of unlocking options. The headphone jack has met its final end, however, and you will only find a USB-C charging port on the bottom of all three devices. There’s IP68 waterproofing as with previous devices. 

A Camera Powerhouse with AI Enhancements 

Where Samsung is really trying to differentiate among its lineup is with camera performance. With consumers holding onto phones longer and longer, up to 26 months in many cases, the company hopes that improving camera capability will be what makes the new S20s stand out from the rest of the crowd. Having used them, I can safely say they succeeded. 

Snapping with the S20
The S20 takes great snaps in all light settings, but Samsung says it should excel in low-light. Lifewire / David Kukin

The S20 comes with a triple rear camera array with a 12MP primary camera, a 64MP telephoto sensor, and a 12MP ultra-wide sensor. The S20+ has a similar setup, except it adds a depth sensor. Otherwise, both devices share the dual 10MP front cameras, hybrid 3x optical zoom, and “Super Resolution Zoom” up to 30x. The S20 Ultra takes things even further. Its standard sensor is an eye-watering 108MP main sensor, a 48MP telephoto sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor, and a unique folded lens. The main sensor can take in three times more light than the S10 and uses Nona Binning to combine 9 pixels into one at the sensor level, turning 108Mp into 12MP for ultra low-light shots. 

All three phones are camera powerhouses, with the higher megapixel counts letting them take in more light for sharper images in low-light settings. The demo area we tested them in was fairly well lit, so we couldn’t judge low-light capabilities too well, but all the sample shots we took were crisp, with accurate color reproduction, no noticeable blur or noise, and fine detail. The selfie cameras on all three phones were solid, with the S20 and S20+ boasting 10MP sensors and the Ultra a 40MP sensor. The sample shots I took were sharp, and there was no loss of detail, but it did make my skin look unusually pale (though that could have been a consequence of the lighting). 

S20 Ultra quad array
The quad camera setup on the S20 Ultra takes up considerable space despite the folded lens. Lifewire / David Kukin

Overall, I expect image quality to be a solid improvement over last year’s S10 series, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but the real selling point is going to be Samsung’s new Hybrid Optic Zoom. Both the S20 and S20+ are now capable of 3x lossless zoom and 30x maximum zoom with their AI-powered Space Zoom feature (digital zoom). The Ultra takes it even further with an incredible 10x lossless zoom and 100x Space Zoom. I spent some time playing with the zoom on all three phones, and came away generally impressed. The lossless zoom works great, losing no quality as you zoom in close. 

However, once the zoom starts to reach 20x and 30x, there’s a noticeable drop in image quality with lots of graininess and noise. 100x on the Ultra reaches the limit of usability; it’s too zoomed in to be of much use and the detail loss renders everything to a blurry mess. Still, it’s impressive that the 30x and 100x zoom are even possible on mobile devices, let alone 10x lossless zoom on the Ultra. 

S20 Zoom
The S20 is capable of 30x zoom while the S20 Ultra can handle 100x and has a 10x optical zoom. Lifewire / David Kukin

Continuing its trend of pushing the envelope, Samsung hasn’t slacked when it comes to video capabilities. All three phones are capable of 8K video recording, a resolution that we’ve only just started to see on TVs. The video recording is incredibly sharp, benefiting from both the standard optical image stabilization, and the AI-enhanced Super Steady which Samsung says should allow the video to be as smooth as if it was on a gimbal. It can handle side-to-side motion of up to 60 degrees with its anti-rolling stabilization. If you have a compatible Samsung QLED 8K TV, you can stream your video directly to it, and Samsung has also partnered with YouTube so you can upload 8K videos. 

One of the niftiest features up Samsung’s sleeve is Single Take. Enabling this mode lets the phone utilize all its various cameras to take a set of 4-14 photos and videos at the same time. These include ultra-wide shots, cropped shots, short clips, and live focus. Once this is done, the phone uses AI to recommend the best shots and gathers all the pieces of content it took and puts them in a folder in your gallery. From there you can edit and share the content to social media. 

Single Take
Samsung's Single Take feature allows the phone to snap between 4-14 photos and videos with its various cameras, adding filters and effects and putting it all in a folder.  Lifewire / David Kukin

I played around with this feature the most, spending plenty of time in the demo area to record Single Takes of a man juggling. It worked really well despite the fast-moving juggling pins, capturing a variety of sharp photos and slick video clips without any blur or distortion. It also added filters to some shots. No compression is applied to the photos, though the video obviously isn’t being shot in 8K. Each Single Take should take up to 50-70MB of storage on your phone depending on the capture. You can also use it for the front-facing camera, but there you’re more limited in the type of shots the camera can take. 

Packed With The Latest and Greatest Hardware 

While it might seem like camera performance has all the focus, other hardware hasn’t been neglected. All three phones share a 7m, 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 865 processor (in the US). All models come with a base configuration of 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, while the S20+ has a 512GB storage option, and the S20 Ultra has a 16GB RAM and 512GB storage configuration. 

Home Screen S20
12GB of RAM in its starting configuration gives the S20 plenty of power for mutitasking and gaming. Lifewire / David Kukin

All of this amounts to plenty of power for multitasking, gaming, and any other tasks you could hope for. The storage should be sufficient for most of your needs, provided you’re not taking tons of 8K videos. But even then, you have a microSD card slot that can accommodate up to 1TB of additional storage. The higher RAM will come in handy for gaming, in particular, letting you force store up to 3-5 apps in RAM, allowing you to launch them faster and jump right back into games. The higher refresh rates on the display and touch sensors are particularly valuable in racing and FPS games. 

Battery life is also beefed up across the board. The S20 has a 4,000mAh cell, the S20+ is at 4,500mAh, and the S20 Ultra has the highest we’ve seen on a Samsung flagship with 5,000mAh. This is a good thing because the combination of the high-resolution screen and AI-enhanced camera features are likely going to be taxing. I didn’t have the time to do any rundown tests, but I’d expect that given average use (web browsing, some light gaming, music, etc.) you should be able to last a full day before needing to recharge. All three models support fast wireless charging and fast charging. A 25W charger is standard in the box for the S20 and S20+, the Ultra will give you the option for a 45W option. 

S20 Apps
The S20 lineup comes running Android 10 with all that entail. Lifewire / David Kukin

The Future is 5G 

We’ve talked a lot about camera and specs, but Samsung anticipates that it’s 5G that will pay dividends in the long run. The S20 will support sub-6 5G, while the S20+ and Ultra support sub-6 and mmWave. The company estimates that up to 18 percent of the phones sold in 2020 were 5G-capable, and with the S20 lineup fully supported, it’s likely to give them a leg up in sales. Expect to see more focus on these as carriers roll out their 5G networks. 

Other connectivity features are pretty standard, you have dual-band Wi-Fi, MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC. The phones come running Android 10 with all that entails, Samsung Knox’s security features, Samsung Pay, and a revamped One UI for one-handed use. 

S20 selfie
The Infinity-O display accommodates the selfie camera in the center. Lifewire / David Kukin

A Costly Endeavor  

Overall, the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra are three of the most capable 5G phones we’ve seen. They’re head and shoulders above the unwieldy Moto Z4 with its 5G mod in terms of specs, and they’re almost certain to outstrip Motorola in sales. Of course, this comes at a price. The base model of the S20 starts at $999, the S20+ reaches $1,199, and the S20 Ultra will hit your wallet the hardest at $1,399. Pre-orders on all three devices start February 21st, and if you pre-order before March 5th you’ll get a $100-200 Samsung credit depending on the device you buy. 

For those who find this too hard to stomach, you may want to consider picking up the S10 after February 11th; the entire line will get a $150 permanent price drop and some software features from the S20 will be rolled out to the S10. 

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