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Event Coverage

Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra hands-on: Gorgeous screen and 100x zoom

By Koh Wanzi - 5 Mar 2020

Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra hands-on: Gorgeous screen and 100x zoom

Note: This article was first published on 12 February 2020 and is republished today because the phone goes on sale tomorrow (6 March 2020).

Samsung Galaxy S20

A new decade for Galaxy

Samsung today announced the next generation of Galaxy devices, all of which sport improved cameras and better displays. This year, there are three flavours of Galaxy, comprising the Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra. Samsung's naming convention is also making a huge jump forward this year – while the new phones are the successor to last year's S10 devices, they're called the S20 instead, the better to commemorate the brand new decade. 

Here's another fun fact – the number 20 also puts Samsung ahead of Apple, which released the iPhone 11 series last year, because everyone knows that bigger is better. The leaks, as it turns out, were spot on. 

Samsung Galaxy S20

But the question now is whether the S20 phones represent the huge generational leap that their name suggests. We've been stuck with pretty iterative upgrades on flagship devices for a few years now, with phones debuting improvements like better cameras and larger screens while still delivering largely similar designs and experiences.

At first glance, my answer is no. The Galaxy S20 is simply a better Galaxy S10, but that doesn't mean it still isn't a very good phone. The specs are certainly impressive, particularly the cameras, which Samsung appears to be focusing on this year. 

Here's an overview of their specifications:

  Galaxy S20 Galaxy S20+ Galaxy S20 Ultra
Display
  • 6.2-inch 3,200 x 1,440-pixel QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x (563ppi)
  • HDR10+ certified
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 6.7-inch 3,200 x 1,440-pixel QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x (525ppi)
  • HDR10+ certified
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 6.9-inch 3,200 x 1,440-pixel QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x (511ppi)
  • HDR10+ certified
  • 120Hz refresh rate
Processor 7nm 64-bit octa-core Exynos 990 (2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2.0GHz)/ Snapdragon 865 (2.8GHz + 2.4GHz + 1.8GHz) 7nm 64-bit octa-core Exynos 990 (2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2.0GHz)/ Snapdragon 865 (2.8GHz + 2.4GHz + 1.8GHz) 7nm 64-bit octa-core Exynos 990 (2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2.0GHz)/ Snapdragon 865 (2.8GHz + 2.4GHz + 1.8GHz)
Memory

5G

  • 12GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • microSD slot (up to 1TB)

LTE

  • 8GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • microSD slot (up to 1TB)

5G

  • 12GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB/256GB/512GB internal storage
  • microSD slot (up to 1TB)

LTE

  • 8GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • microSD slot (up to 1TB)

5G/LTE

  • 16GB LPDDR5 RAM with 512GB internal storage
  • 12GB of RAM with 128GB/256GB internal storage
  • microSD slot (up to 1TB)
Camera

Rear: 12MP, 120°, f/2.2 (ultra-wide)

12MP, 79°, f/1.8, OIS (wide-angle)

64MP, 76°, f/2.0, OIS (telephoto)

Front: 10MP, 80°, f/2.2

  • Space Zoom
  • Hybrid optical zoom 3x
  • Super resolution zoom 30x

 

Rear: 12MP, 120°, f/2.2 (ultra-wide)

12MP, 79°, f/1.8, OIS (wide-angle)

64MP, 76°, f/2.0, OIS (telephoto)

Front: 10MP, 80°, f/2.2

  • DepthVision
  • Space Zoom
  • Hybrid optical zoom 3x
  • Super resolution zoom 30x

Rear: 12MP, 120°, f/2.2 (ultra-wide)

108MP, 79°, f/1.8, OIS (wide-angle)

48MP, 24°, f/3.5, OIS (telephoto)

Front: 40MP, 80°, f/2.2

  • DepthVision
  • Space Zoom
  • Hybrid optical zoom 10x
  • Super resolution zoom 100x
Battery
  • 4,000mAh
  • 25W fast charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 25W fast charging
  • 5,000mAh
  • 45W fast charging
Dimensions
  • 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm
  • 163g
  • 161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8mm
  • 186g
  • 166.9 x 76 x 8.8mm
  • 220g

All the phones also have IP68 water and dust resistance, which means they can be submerged in water at up to 1.5m and for 30 minutes.

Samsung Galaxy S20

More importantly, they're 5G-ready as well, featuring support for non-standalone (NSA) 5G. Samsung is releasing both 5G and LTE variants of the Galaxy S20 and S20+ however, and it is reserving the higher memory and storage configurations for the 5G models, no doubt in an attempt to encourage more people to buy them. We've yet to see widespread rollout of 5G networks yet, so folks will likely still need some encouragement to get onto the bandwagon.

There will be both single and dual SIM models as well, where the microSD card slot on the latter doubles as a nano SIM slot. 

In addition, there's no longer a so-called entry level 'e' model as with the S10e. The Galaxy S20 and S20+ are very similar, with the main differences being screen size, storage and battery capacity, and the availability of the DepthVision camera. The latter was first introduced on the Galaxy Note10+, and it comprises a standalone camera sensor and an infrared light sensor that can be used to calculate Time of Flight. This helps the phone pick out the edges of objects and distinguish them from their surroundings, which comes in handy for AR and 3D applications.

Samsung Galaxy S20

All three phones also share very similar displays, and the biggest upgrade is their support for a higher 120Hz refresh rate. And while the phone will run at this refresh rate regardless of screen brightness, unlike on the Google Pixel 4, there are still some caveats. For instance, it's not supported at the maximum resolution of 3,200 x 1,440 pixels, and you'll have to lower the resolution to 2,400 x 1,080 pixels to run the display at 120Hz. These resolutions are shared across all three devices, and they all have the same 20:9 aspect ratio.

Samsung Galaxy S20

While the drop in resolution isn't that noticeable, I imagine this is something that would appeal more to serious mobile gamers who demand a more fluid experience. The higher refresh rate is pretty obvious and everything feels a lot smoother, even when it comes to simply scrolling through an article or pulling down the notification shade. Samsung is also explicitly going after gamers, upgrading its display with a 240Hz touch sensor for lower touch latency and a more responsive experience.

Samsung Galaxy S20

The display is quite simply excellent, featuring bright and vivid colours that pop. The hole-punch camera has been shrunk down drastically and moved to the centre, and I appreciate the newfound sense of symmetry and the less intrusive nature of the smaller camera. There's an ever so slight curve at the edge of the display, but nothing as aggressive as what you see on the Note10

But that aside, the S20 doesn't look that different from the S10, featuring a similar metal frame and back that curves inward. They feel very alike in hand, down to their shiny glass backs, which are still huge fingerprint magnets. The biggest difference would be the rear camera bump, which is now an oblong, vertical rectangle instead of a horizontal bar.

Samsung Galaxy S10 vs S20

The new camera module evokes the bulky, square camera module on phones like the Google Pixel 4 and iPhone 11. Flagship devices can look really alike these days, and the design of the camera module has arguably become one of the most defining features of each phone. Despite their other outward similarities, there's no mistaking the S10 for the S20, and I personally prefer the vertical orientation of the camera bump.

Overall, build quality on the S20 is top-notch, and the fit and finish of the entire phone is impeccable. 

 

About that giant camera bump on the Galaxy S20 Ultra...

The Galaxy S20 Ultra takes things up several notches with ultra high-end specifications, including a whopping 16GB of RAM – more than some PCs have – and a 108MP camera. Samsung and Xiaomi first introduced the sensor late last year, and we first saw it on the Xiaomi Mi Note 10.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

The large 1/1.33-inch sensor, also known as the Samsung ISOCELL Bright HMX, can absorb more light in poorly lit settings. Some variant of Samsung's pixel-merging Tetracell technology, now referred to as nona-binning because it works by binning nine pixels together, also allows it to combine light information as one big pixel to create a 12MP image. This means better low-light performance, but also the possibility of sharper images at lower resolutions.

The ability to shoot 12MP images also helps you save storage space, since you don't always need the full 108MP for every shot.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Another highlight of the camera is its support for AI-powered 100x Space Zoom. This sounds very similar to Super Res Zoom on the Pixel 4, and it works by taking multiple images and then combining them to reduce noise. In comparison, the Galaxy S20 and S20+ only support up to 30x super resolution zoom, but both are a combination of optical and digital zoom.

The S20 Ultra utilises a periscope-like folded zoom lens to achieve a longer focal length, which is how it's able to deliver such a long zoom. It sits prominently below the other three lenses, and it's partly why the camera module on the S20 Ultra is so much larger. Samsung is the first to deliver on 100x zoom, beating the Huawei P30 Pro which capped out at 50x. 

The company had a demo of the feature, where the 100x zoom was able to pick out a pin stuck on a globe some distance away. The resulting picture appeared quite blurry though, and still required a tripod to avoid blurring the final image, so I don't expect most people will end up using it regularly. That said, it's possible that Samsung could further improve the results with future software updates.

Galaxy S20 Space Zoom

Finally, Samsung is really leaning into software features to bolster its camera as well. A new addition called Single Take can throw up suggestions for photos and videos you take. It's pretty nifty actually, especially when applied to video, as the software will pick out objects that might possibly make a good picture, apply filters to it, and also create boomerang videos. Samsung says it can make up to 14 such suggestions, comprising 10 pictures and four videos - all snapped at one go.

Then there's its Pro Mode, which exists for both photos and video. This exposes options you'd be likely to get on a DSLR, including adjustments for aperture, white balance, autofocus, and exposure. There are various other shooting modes available too, including Live Focus, Super Slow-Mo, Slow Motion, and Hyperlapse.

 

Final thoughts

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

The new S20 phones are shaping up to be very capable phones, even if they don't deliver anything super groundbreaking outside of the camera capabilities. As before, they're iterative upgrades on their predecessors, but they come with vital quality of life improvements, such as the higher refresh rate and more responsive display and smaller hole-punch camera. They're not life-changing, but they do matter, and of course Samsung has continued to improve the camera while still creating one of the sleekest-looking Android phones around.

5G support is here too, and I like that it's part of the core feature set of all the phones and wasn't spun out as a separate model like the S10 or Note10 5G. Finally, 5G adoption feels closer than ever, no longer seeming like some sort of an afterthought and relegated to a niche variant of a particular phone.

And then there's the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is an absolute beast of a phone with more memory than most people will need. The Cosmic Black model is gorgeous, especially since the silver frame has been replaced with a black one for an even more stealthy look.

Come 6 March, the Galaxy S20 series will be available in the following US pricing and colour options:-

  • Galaxy S20 5G - US$999 | Cosmic Grey, Cloud Blue, and Cloud Pink
  • Galaxy S20+ 5G - US$1,199 | US$Cosmic Grey, Cloud Blue, and Cosmic Black
  • Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G - US$1,399 | Cosmic Grey and Cosmic Black

The Cloud Blue colour is particularly stunning, I must say, a light pastel shade that's almost dreamy.

Watch out for more details and reporting as we cover the local availability updates and other new experiences as we get cosy with the Galaxy S20 series.

 

Read next (1): Samsung Galaxy S20 full review

Read next (2): Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera review

Read next (3): The best telco price plans with the Samsung Galaxy S20 series

Read next (4): Samsung Galaxy S20 series local pricing and availability