Note: This review was first published on 17 March 2020.
108 megapixels. Space Zoom. These phrases have been helping the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra hog the limelight from the moment the first image leaks of its substantial camera hump were published. The fact that my colleague Wanzi crafted two reviews - one of the phone and a separate one of its camera - in double quick time speaks volumes about our collective eagerness regarding these sensational features - not just leapfrogs of the competition, but perhaps even radical redefinitions of how smartphone cameras should work.
But what of the S20 and S20+, then? That they sound like mere iterations next to the Ultra is one thing, but would you be consigning yourself to past-generation technology by not ponying up the several-hundred extra buckaroos for an S20 Ultra?
In this article, we won't be rehashing the features of the S20 family, or talking about One UI. Instead, we'll be examining if they can earn their keep as the lower-cost members of the family. At the same time, it's worth checking out if users of the previous Galaxy S10 series should upgrade, and we've been given an S10+ to use as an example. So dive in with us to find out if the #FOMO is justified...
While the S20 family is packed to the gills with bleeding-edge tech, all of it is dressed in a design that's basically just a rectangle within another rectangle. That's as safe as you can get in 2020. No halo rings, no separated camera lenses - not even any gradients. It's not saying much that the "Cloud Blue" colourway on the S20 we were sent is the most visually interesting, while the Cosmic Gray (and Black) colourways have simply given up:
Like the S20 Ultra we reviewed previously, the build remains solid on the smaller S20 phones, but then I think this should be a basic expectation of a flagship-tier Samsung - or indeed, any phone costing north of S$1,000. Due to the solid build and well-specced batteries, the smaller S20, at 163 grams, is only 5 grams shy of the S20+ in weight.
One other little detail we also noticed is that there's a hole in the camera lens assembly for some sort of microphone...
...and this may not be a good idea, because it creates a weak spot in the glass where something sharp in a pocket or handbag might start a crack going. (Tempered glass is weakest at its edges.)
There's nothing much on the bottom to talk about (USB-C ports, speaker holes) and the top (SIM and microSD combination slots).
Now, my colleagues (and students) will tell you I'm an Android diehard. I munched popcorn while the world burned with all the "boba pearls" memes making fun of the 3-ring camera lens design on the iPhone 11 Pro models. But the S20's aesthetic - or lack of it - is, to me, a strike for Team Android. It sets the art of smartphone design back to when smartphones first existed (and, hey, the first smartphones were arguably more visually engaging to look at!)
Almost everyone I showed the S20 and S20+ to, whether from the iPhone or Android camps, agreed that if they did not already know anything about them, they would have given neither of them a second look were it not for the Samsung branding - and all wondered why the cheaper A-series midrange phones, with their "Glasstic" gradients, actually looked better than these so-called flagships.
I'm not asking for gaudy gradients or weird concentric rings, Samsung. We can leave these to the Chinese brands. But surely you can give us something befitting an industry leader in the next iteration of the S-series, yes?
Design Verdict: These are phones you buy for the technology... so just buy them for the technology. Come to think of it, the S10+ didn't look all that revolutionary, either... so let's move on to the next page.