The S20 and S20+ are so incredibly similar that the choice between the two comes down to size preference. Especially if you are in no rush to hop on the 5G early-adopter bandwagon since the vanilla S20 is available in a 4G configuration and an incomplete 5G one (Sub-6 only).
Similarly, if you are not a photography buff, or the type of person to always go for the best out there, the S20 Ultra isn’t the sensible choice.
Samsung Galaxy S20
- Body: 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm, 163g; curved Gorilla Glass 6 front and back, metal frame; IP68 rating; Cosmic Grey, Cloud Blue, Cloud Pink, Cloud White, Aura Red color schemes.
- Screen: 6.2″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 1440x3200px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 563ppi; 120Hz refresh rate, 240Hz touch sensing; HDR10+ support.
- Chipset (market dependent): Exynos 990 (7nm+): Octa-core (2×2.73 GHz Mongoose M5 & 2×2.50 GHz Cortex-A76 & 4×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55); Mali-G77 MP11. Snapdragon 865 (7nm+): Octa-core CPU (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 585 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 585); Adreno 640 GPU.
- Memory: 8GB RAM, 128GB built-in UFS 3.0 storage, shared microSD slot.
- OS/Software: Android 10, One UI 2.1.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 12MP, 1/1.76″ sensor, 1.8µm pixel size, 26mm equiv., f/1.8 aperture, PDAF, OIS. Telephoto: 64MP, 1/1.72″, 0.8µm, f/2.0, PDAF, OIS, 3x hybrid optical zoom. Ultra wide angle: 12MP, 1/2.6″, 1.4µm, f/2.2, fixed focus.
- Front camera: 10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.2″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF.
- Video recording: Rear camera: 8K 4320p@24fps, 4K 2160p@30/60fps, FullHD 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps. Front camera: 4K 2160p@30/60fps, FullHD 1080p@30/60fps.
- Battery: 4,000mAh, 25W fast charging support over Power Delivery 3.0 (25W charger supplied in the box).
- Misc: Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W; Power bank/Reverse wireless charging 9W; Ultra-sonic under-display fingerprint reader; NFC; FM radio (USA & Canada only); Stereo loudspeakers; Samsung DeX support (desktop experience).
The S20 Ultra has been getting all the attention lately. It’s inevitable – Samsung announces a new flagship lineup, and not long after, tech blogs are all preoccupied with picking apart the very best in the new litter. That comes with some unfortunate consequences like inflated focus on a particular device that is either too extravagant or expensive to be a viable option for the average buyer. Yes, we are referring to both the ever-growing average price point of modern flagships and the disproportionate attention towards the S20 Ultra gets.
Well, we are about the fix the latter point by turning our attention to the Galaxy S20 instead – a great compact phone for those of you looking to downsize.
Samsung Galaxy S20 in official photos
Armed with that in mind, join us on the following pages as we take a deeper look at the vanilla Samsung Galaxy S20. Most of our findings for it will apply to its bigger S20+ sibling as well.
First, we’ll take a few brief moments to unbox the S20. The packaging is a standard affair – a perfectly sturdy, two-piece box with a nifty cradle inside. Unfortunately, you don’t get a case with the S20. On the flip side, you do get the same 25W PD, PPS-enabled charger. The exact same one, like with the S20+ and S20 Ultra. The PPS part is rather important,so definitely hold on to the wall adapter. Plus, since it is Power Delivery and uses a Type-C interface, it is pretty versatile, as far as current device charging trends go.
You also get a nice, thick Type-C to Type-C cable. We should stick to using it as well since not all Type-C cables are created equal, both in actual conductor quality and current rating, as well as internal circuitry (e-marking and such).
Last, but not least, Samsung also throws in a pair of Type-C AKG earbuds. Nothing too fancy, but definitely well made.
Refinement has pretty much been the name of the game in camp Samsung, as far back as the Galaxy S8. That flagship, in a broad sense, introduced the curvy design and footprint the Korean giant has been refining and experimenting with over the last few years. With only a few notable deviations, here and there, of course. The Galaxy S20 is not one of them, though. There is no major redesign to speak of here, apart perhaps from the new bigger camera bump. And out of the entire family, that is the least pronounced on the entry-level S20. All the other changes to the familiar body shape and overall silhouette are minor and aren’t really debuting on the S20.
Left: Samsung Galaxy S20 • Right: Samsung Galaxy Note10
Quickly looking back at the Galaxy S10 and S9, that precedes it, we can easily spot a steady vertical expansion of the display, accompanied by a reduction in the top and bottom chins, or bezels, if you prefer that term.
With the S20, the panel looks almost pushed-up flush with the top of the device. Combined with the center-positioned and narrower punch hole for the selfie camera and the overall taller 20:9 aspect ratio, it all makes for a slicker, more futuristic, and somehow more symmetric look.
Having less empty space on the bottom chin can be troublesome from an ergonomic standpoint, since it means less space for thumb-resting and more heavy-lifting for the palm rejection algorithms. However, we didn’t find that to be much of a concern on the Galaxy S20, in large part owing to Samsung’s increased attention to UI placement, introduced with OneUI 2.0.
Left: Samsung Galaxy Note10 • Right: Samsung Galaxy S20
While still on the topic of the front and its ergonomics, we feel like we need to bring-up another subtle but important tweak Samsung implemented. Namely, a slight decrease in both the intensity and the surface area of the curved display part, compared to previous Galaxy S generations. While that might sound counter-intuitive at first, since it makes the effect of the curved display a lot less striking, it goes a long way in improving actual handling and swiping over said curved areas. These are no longer at a weird angle and often burrowed within your palm. Which, in turn, makes for less accidental touches and inputs.
Top: Samsung Galaxy Note10+ • Middle: Samsung Galaxy S20 • Bottom: Samsung Galaxy S10+
On the flip side, both literally and as a juxtaposition of this reduced “flamboyance” of the curved display, for lack of a better word, the S20 has a slightly tweaked back glass and metal frame. This is yet another change that is hard to catch without actually looking at a few of Samsung’s recent devices side by side, but the short version is that the S20 line uses the new curvier and thinner approach, as seen on the Galaxy Note10.
The change is two-fold. For one, compared to the S10m the exposed part of the metal frame on the S20 is noticeably thinner. This is most apparent in the area where the power button and volume rocker are housed since that part of the bezel had to be widened a bit. All that extra space on the sides gets taken up by a wider and more aggressive curve on the back glass.
Thankfully, this doesn’t have any major effect on handling. That is to say, Gorilla Glass is just as slippery and prone to smudges. The curvature, itself, doesn’t really help with grip from a flat surface, but once in hand, it fits very snug.
Speaking of dimensions, the Galaxy S20 might trick the eye into seeing a thinner profile, but at 7.9mm thick, it is not that different from most of its siblings. The same goes for weight, with the S20 tipping the scale at 163 grams. For reference, the Samsung Galaxy Note10 weighs in at 168 grams and has almost identical dimensions to the Galaxy S20 – 151 x 71.8 x 7.9 mm on the Note10 and 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm for the S20.
Left: Samsung Galaxy S20 • Right: Samsung Galaxy Note10
As far as weight goes, we really can’t complain, seeing how the S20 packs 4,000 mAh worth of battery, alongside pretty-much all the flagship internals of its siblings, minus a 5G antenna setup. Just a couple of years ago, the Galaxy S9 had to be both thicker at 8.5mm and weigh the same to just cram 3,000 mAh. Granted, it had a noticeably smaller footprint at 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm.
Left: Samsung Galaxy S20 • Right: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
This leads us to a broader point about the Galaxy S20 and phones in general. They are getting bigger and bigger and specifically taller, in most cases. Like we already mentioned, the S20 is pretty much identical in size to the Note10. And while the jump from an S10 (149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8 mm, 157 grams) to the new S20 might not be extreme, people on a two-year update cycle, hopping-over from a Galaxy S9 (147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm, 163 grams), will feel an extra bulge in their pockets.
What we are getting at here is that the Galaxy S20 is only a “compact” flagship in the context of its two siblings and the current state of the industry and 2020 trends.
You can consider that the S20 is a true flagship that fits pretty-much everything its bigger sibling S20+ has in a smaller body, without skimping on important details. From a simply exterior standpoint, beyond the identical design, you also get the same IP68 dust/water resistance rating. The same stereo speaker setup. And on the inside, things like the big battery, we already mentioned, 15W Qi fast charging, and FM radio, NFC, and a full array of sensors. All things that could have easily been compromised on in the name of shrinking the S20 further. And speaking of feature parity across the S20 family, that’s just scratching the surface.
Before we move on to tests, a few quick words on controls are in order. Nothing major has changed in this department. The power button and volume rocker on the right-hand side and an empty bezel on the opposite end. Bottom-firing speaker on the bottom, which is accompanied by the amplified earpiece to achieve stereo output. Next to that – a Type-c connector and behind it – a fully-featured, fast USB 3.2 connection. On the top bezel – your typical dual Nano-SIM card tray, with one of the slots doubling as a caddy for a microSD card.
The under-display fingerprint reader is the same as on the Note 10 and the S10 before that. It’s made by Qualcomm and still uses ultrasonic technology, instead of the faster optical alternative which the competitors use. Its accuracy is far from stellar, and we think it doesn’t deliver a user experience fitting for a flagship phone.
Last and probably least, since we are sure it is going to come up, there is no status LED on the Galaxy S20. Instead, Samsung expects users to rely on ambient display.
6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display
Samsung’s current display technology branding hardly rolls off the tongue. Still, that’s about the only bad thing we can say about Dynamic AMOLED 2X as a whole and the incredibly crisp 6.2-inch unit found in the Galaxy S20. With a native resolution of 1440 x 3200 pixels, just like its bigger siblings and the smallest diagonal, it is technically the sharpest of the bunch, at around 563 ppi. Not that a few integer points of difference can really make any difference at this resolution and size, but we still like pointing this out.
The spotlight feature of this new generation of OLED panels is, of course, the 120Hz refresh rate. A feature that Samsung could have easily gotten away with skipping on the vanilla S20. But we are so glad this isn’t the case. If you haven’t experienced anything beyond 60Hz on a display yet, then 120Hz will feel like a major shift it perceived speed and performance. Honestly, it’s hard to go back.
As the Settings menu would be quick to tell you, a higher refresh rate does put a bigger strain on the battery. You can read more about that in the battery section of the review. That’s probably the reasoning behind Samsung’s rather infamous decision of disabling 120Hz at the full 1440 x 3200-pixel resolution of the phone. There are rumors that the limitation will be lifted with an update at some point, but that won’t make using the mode any less straining on the hardware. Plus, honestly, the FullHD+ mode, which is Samsung’s default setting, looks perfectly sharp enough. But we digress.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G (Max Auto)||0||894||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S10 (Max Auto)||0||820||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S20 (Max Auto)||0||814||∞|
|Apple iPhone 11 Pro||0||805||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy Note10 (Max Auto)||0||789||∞|
|OnePlus 7T (Max Auto)||0||743||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S9 (Max Auto)||0||658||∞|
|Huawei P30 Pro (Max Auto)||0||605||∞|
|Xiaomi Mi Note 10 (Max Auto)||0||597||∞|
|Realme X50 Pro sRGB||0||592||∞|
|Huawei P30 Pro||0||571||∞|
|Realme X50 Pro DCI-P3||0||519||∞|
|Xiaomi Mi Note 10||0||427||∞|
|Google Pixel 4||0||423||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G||0||398||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S20||0||397||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S10||0||396||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S9||0||370||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy Note10||0||366||∞|
As far as performance on the Dynamic AMOLED 2X goes, Samsung has managed, yet again, to push another small, incremental, generational increase in numbers. The S20 didn’t quite reach the impressive 894 nits of its S20 Ultra, and it maxed out at 814 nits. This figure was achieved in the default Vivid color mode, with automatic brightness enabled and in very bright ambient light.
Our test pattern is standardized at 75% screen area utilization. With a smaller white pattern, the S20 display can probably reach more than 1000 nits.
Disabling auto brightness and going with 100% on Vivid instead, only nets around 397 nits. Just in case you were wondering, setting the color mode to Natural, lowers the maximum brightness slightly (30 nits or so).
Speaking of color modes, the Natural moe is what you definitely want if you are after the most accurate DCI-P3 pallet. At a 100% brightness, in this mode, the S20 managed an average deltaE of 2 and a maximum of just 3.3. That is considered color-accurate. In Vivid mode, which is what most users will likely favor, due to the familiar and desirable OLED “pop,” the S20 managed an average deltaE of 4.9 and a maximum of 11.2. The latter attributed to an over-saturated red channel. Again, it might be wrong from a color-grading perspective, but it just appeals to most of us better. The S20 does also offer manual white point adjustment, but you probably can’t do any better than the Natural profile even if you tried.
All that brightness, technically infinite contrast and color-prowess are put to good use with HDR10+ support. This hardly comes as a surprise on a top-dog flagship from Samsung. HDR support here is as real as they come. Also, there are no concerns regarding content availability, Widevine levels, and the like. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube – they all work great with the S20 detecting the HDR stream and adjusting accordingly.
Speaking of the general multimedia experience, the only thing we found slightly distracting at times, jumping from one service to another, was the different way some of the apps handled expanding and cropping the content to the entire display. Notably, Netflix insists on treating the area where the selfie cut out is as a taskbar and not expanding over it. YouTube does the opposite. This can be tweaked if it bothers you. As for which one is better, it all comes down to personal preference, but you have to work around the cut-out both figuratively and literally one way or another.
Samsung Galaxy S20 battery life
The Samsung Galaxy S20 packs a pretty beefy 4,000 mAh battery compared to past Samsung flagships. A rather impressive boost, if we make a direct comparison to the Galaxy S9, with its 3,000 mAh, and the S10, at 3,400 mAh.
We went into the battery test with a sort of mixed feelings and expectations, though, mainly because the Exynos chipset uses a less-efficient external Exynos Modem 5123 even for our LTE-only review unit.
The actual numbers we got out of the Galaxy S20 are a mixed bag. With a combined endurance score of 78 hours, the S20 falls in line with its S10 and S9 predecessors. That, however, isn’t really the bar to strive towards. And that’s especially considering the increased battery capacity.
While standby numbers aren’t extremely bad, call endurance is the thing really dragging the S20 battery life down. As for Wi-Fi web browsing and offline video watching – things really aren’t that bad, with solid numbers across the board. This particular S20 scorecard can be viewed as a good thing, especially if, like many modern users, your particular usage pattern does not include that many calls. In fact, this seems like the perfect opportunity to remind you of a much-ignored tool on out site, which you can use to tune-in your usage and get more accurate, personal battery numbers for devices we review.
Bumping the refresh rate up to the new 120Hz setting takes its toll on the battery even more. Frankly, we expected even worse degradation. What this means in practice is that you should be able to comfortably go through a lengthy high refresh rate gaming session on a single charge, or, alternatively, a day of regular use (fingers-crossed).
The S20 does do its best to redeem the imperfect battery endurance situation with an array of charging options, as well as improved speeds. Just like its two bigger siblings, it ships with a 25W, Type-C, Power Delivery charger, right in the box. Like we already mentioned in the unboxing section, this fairly versatile charger does differ from most mass-market options with the support of PPS, so you should probably hold on to it for the best results.
For actual charging speeds, we tested the S20 from a fully-depleted off state, for the best possible charging scenario. In just 10 minutes, it managed to pump 23% of juice inside the 4,000 mAh pack. The half-hour mark had 55% in the tank, with a full top-off taking just around or a couple of minutes over an hour. Pretty neat.
In case you don’t have your S20 charger with you for some reason, it is also great to know that Samsung’s old Adaptive Fast Charging adaptors still work with the S20 at their full capacity. That is to say, right around 12W. The S20 still says it is charging fast with one of these attached, but ideally, you would still be better off with a higher wattage Power Delivery source. Even one without PPS.
The final option for charging the phone is Qi/PMA wireless charging at up to 15W. And the S20 is even kind enough to act as a power bank for reverse charging – wirelessly, for accessories like the Galaxy Buds and wired for anything else, at up to 9W of output.
Just like its two bigger siblings, the vanilla Galaxy S20 has a stereo speaker setup. It is what you call a hybrid one, with the earpiece doubling as one of the channels. Even so, the overall loundess it is impressive both in terms of loudness and its frequency response curve.
Thanks to our new test and the accompanying widget, you can hear and judge for yourself. The vanilla S20 managed to score just a tab below the S20 Ultra in terms of loudness, but still within the “Very Good” grade. Makes sense, even just considering the bigger body of the Ultra. It’s an upgrade over the Galaxy Note10 as well and manages to be a bit louder than the iPhone 11 Pro.
In terms of frequency response, the S20 expectedly comes quite close to the S20 Ultra. Since we already mentioned Apple’s flagship, it is worth noting that its sound reproduction is noticeably different, with better bass reproduction probably standing out as a prominent point.
Frankly, we’re not exactly sure where Samsung is going with this new-found numbering convention of its. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter all that much, since OneUI has maintained a pretty impressive level of consistency. Even the “major” redesign that 2.0 brought about remained mostly familiar in terms of general layout and even muscle-memory friendly. It just polished everything up nicely, all the while bumping the UI size up just a slight bit, for extra comfort.
All of this is very much true for OneUI 2.1. The decimal version change, as you can imagine, translates into very slight actual UI changes. Honestly, the most major tweaks we noticed are an extra-large Dark mode setting, now on the top of the Display setting menu and a quick shortcut to the power menu in the quick toggles area.
OneUI 2.0 brought in gesture navigation options for Samsung devices. There are a few different variations to choose from – the newer method has a swipe-in from the sides act as ‘Back’ and a swipe up from the bottom take you Home. You can also choose to swipe up from the left, middle, and right sides of the bottom of the screen to mimic the respective buttons that would have otherwise been there with traditional navigation. Which, by the way, is still an option you can opt for if you prefer the old-school nav bar better. The latter does feature a quick keyboard swap shortcut, which is missing from the gesture schemes.
Biometric security on the S20 comes in one of two variants – fingerprint authentication and facial recognition. We mentioned our subpar experience with the ultrasonic fingerprint reader, but let’s just say that it if doesn’t work for you, the face recognition will offer a more convenient (if not as secure) access to your home screen.
The basics of the UI are the same as on any other Samsung rocking One UI 2 and very similar to One UI One ones. We couldn’t help but notice the recent relocation of the all-important option of having the brightness slider visible on the first pull of the notification shade to the ‘Quick panel layout’ menu inside the toggle settings. The brightness settings screen remains unused as seen on the last screenshot below.
Gone are the days of good multi-window UI with Android Pie ruining it for everybody by requiring extra taps for something that used to take a long press on the task switcher button. Anyway, Samsung’s trying to find a working solution and between v2.0 and v2.1 has relocated the menu next to the app icon you need to tap anyway – it’s on the bottom of the screen in the previous version of the UI. Neither is great.
‘Edge panels’ is a well-known, long-standing feature that’s gotten a minor redesign for the S20s, getting more rounded corners, but it still offers the same functionality. It gives you quick access to apps, actions, tools, etc. with a single swipe from the side. You can choose which side the handle is located on, as well as adjust its position along the edge of the phone. In the Edge screen sub-menu, you will also find Edge lighting – a feature that can light up the outline of the UI in an ever-growing selection of glow types to gently alert you of any new notifications.
Some small changes in software include the addition of Google Duo to the Phone app, letting you initiate video calls straight from the dialer. Quick Share is Samsung’s latest name for the company’s sharing solution based around Bluetooth for device discovery and Wi-Fi direct for actual data transfer that works with Samsungs only (all the way to the Note 3 we had on hand, where it’s called Quick Connect).
One of the more intriguing ‘sharing’ options brought by the S20 is Music share. Enabled by Bluetooth 5, it lets you connect the S20 to a BT speaker and use the phone as a hub for other phones to connect to the speaker. Yet another example of a feature that could have easily slipped under the radar on the vanilla S20, but Samsung went the extra mile to include it as well. To reiterate – great job on the feature parity.
As per the typical Samsung flagship setup, the S20 is available in two distinct chipset flavors – one courtesy of the Korean giant, while the other – a Qualcomm product. The latter is most commonly found in the US, while the former gets the Global badge and worldwide availability. In this particular case, just like its bigger siblings, the vanilla S20 comes equipped with either an Exynos 990 chipset or a Snapdragon 865. Both made on an efficient 7nm+ process, but, on the flip side, both also hooked-up to external cellular modems and lacking internal ones.
This does hurt battery efficiency quite a bit. The unit we ended up testing has the Exynos 990. We would have loved to check out the Snapdragon 865 instead, but it seems that we will have to wait for another day. That doesn’t mean, however, that the particular Exynos 990 setup inside this Galaxy S20 is boring since it is identical to the one inside the S20 Ultra, we already rested. The similarities are there and overwhelming, but there is the small matter of the particular modem setup, since, unlike the S20+ and the S20 Ultra, the regular S20 is not available in a “true” 5G version. Meaning Sub6 support only and no mmWave. There is also a 4G-only S20 version. This definitely raises questions as to its network modem and antenna setup.
We did quite a bit of snooping around on that front, and frankly, the clues were already there, but we can now say with a fair amount of confidence that the Galaxy S20 is equipped with the exact same Exynos Modem 5123, as found in the S20+ and S20 Ultra. The modem is very-much capable of full-featured 5G, but disassembling the S20 reveals that it is definitely lacking some of the bulky and expensive 5G antenna hardware. In other words, Samsung’s approach to delivering a 4G-only Galaxy S20, with an Exynos 990, was to use the same modem, just for its 4G LTE connectivity. Definitely a sensible approach in terms of overall development costs, but not really ideal, given the lower power efficiency of an external modem solution. Which, in the particular case of the LTE S20 we are testing, is devoid of the potential 5G benefits. That being said, we can only assume that using the Exynos Modem 5123 in LTE mode, as opposed to 5G mode is a less power-hungry setup. But, even so, we can’t help but feel a little annoyed that from an internal engineering standpoint, this solution is not the optimal one in power or space efficiency.
The flip side to that argument is that you are still getting the cream of the crop of Exynos chipsets right now in every Galaxy S20. If Samsung had, say, decided to step down to the Exynos 980 instead, for the sake of its integrated modem, it would also mean stepping down to slower LPDDR4X RAM speeds, a noticeably less-potent GPU (Mali G76 MP5, instead of the Mali G77 MP11) and forego the two customized high-performance Exynos M5 cores, clocked at 2.73GHz. Just to name a few potential compromises. Make of that as you will.
One thing that needs to be noted, though, is that the Galaxy S20 has a tendency to get toasty under load. A bit toastier than its S20 Ultra sibling, which isn’t exactly cool under pressure either. Not a huge surprise, considering the size difference.
Running a throttling test on the S20 showed that its throttling behavior is far from the worst we have seen and follows a gradual and controlled decline. Remember, every passively-cooled smartphone will eventually thermal-throttle. What separates the overachievers from the rest is how gradual that effect is going to be on frequencies and, conversely, things like real-world gaming experience during prolonged sessions. We have little beef with the S20 in this regard. Samsung did its best to cool its internals within the given size limitations, which also meant driving away a bit more heat from the components and to the surface of the unit. The unfortunate consequence being hotter hands.
A brand new triple camera setup
As the proverbial “runt” of the S20 family, the vanilla model, naturally, has to settle with the smallest camera count of the bunch. Its setup consists of two 12MP snappers and a 64MP one. That being said, the S20+ only adds a “DepthVision Camera” on top of that, with the sole purpose of improving portrait shots and bokeh performance. We would consider the latter nice to have, rather than a major upgrade. So, unless the S20 Ultra is on the table at all, you can definitely curb your fear of missing out, seeing how the S20 really doesn’t skimp on anything important the camera department.
Looking at this new camera setup on a surface level doesn’t really excite all that much. Comparing it to Samsung’s last generation array in something like the Galaxy Note10, a bump in the telephoto resolution does stand out, but also the decrease in the megapixel count for the ultrawide and the absence of Samsung’s signature dual aperture tech for the 12MP main snapper.
Of course, we need to look a bit deeper than that to notice the upgrades in this new generation camera. Starting with the main Samsung S5K2LD 12MP sensor, behind an f/1.8 aperture lens. What you get with this snapper are nice and big 1.8µm pixels, adding up to a 1/1.76″ sensor. Quite a decent upgrade over the last generation 1.4µm pixels and type 1/2.55″ sensor. And in terms of other extras, this new SAMSUNG ISOCELL sensor still has Dual Pixel PDAF tech and OIS.
The 12MP, f/2.2, Samsung S5K2LA ultrawide camera has also grown in size for this generation of Samsung flagships. A pixel size of 1.4µm doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as the one on the main camera, but compared to the Galaxy Note10 and its 1.0µm, it still constitutes a big upgrade. Just like last year, the ultrawide is the S20’s first choice when it comes to capturing its rather impressive Super Steady video. But, more on that later.
Finally moving on to what is likely the most interesting new addition to the S20 and one already striking-up controversy left and right due to Samsung’s marketing, as well as a bit of confusion. The 64MP, f/2.0 Samsung Bright S5KGW2 sensor, with its 1/1.72″ size and 0.8µm pixels is the hardware behind Samsung’s “3x hybrid optical zoom” marketing for the S20. Sounds good enough on the surface, but as it turns out, the actual optical zoom level the lens provides is practically insignificant, compared to the main 12MP camera. This means that Samsung is using cropping, combined with some advanced processing algorithms, to pull off its “hybrid optical zoom”, up to an impressive-sounding 30x magnification. Using “optical” in the name is hence technically correct, but understandably a bit deceitful. Even so, like the saying goes – if it works, it is not stupid. So, we definitely approached the zooming capabilities on the S20 with an open mind, giving the tech the benefit of the doubt in our tests. Plus, the Samsung Bright S5KGW2 does sound interesting with its OIS.
Camera hardware, experience and features
Before we move on actual camera and video samples and quality discussions, we want to mention a few things regarding the current state of Samsung’s camera interface. Honestly, it has been a rather mixed bag for us. One the one hand, certain things have definitely been simplified, like the removal of manual HDR toggles from the main UI. Instead, it’s either AutoHDR or nothing.
On the other hand, the camera UI still feels a bit cluttered and clunky in many areas. For instance, the quick aspect toggle on the left-hand side, not only switches between the already rather confusing 4:3, 1:1, 16:9 and Full modes, but in the particular case of the S20, you can also select a 64MP mode from here. The latter flips over from the main 12MP camera to using the new 64MP camera for stills. A great feature, but probably one that could have been positioned a bit better. And in video capture mode this menu is equally as confusing, offering options for – 1:1, 16:9, Full and then 16:9 8K, with no actual indication of what resolution the other modes are using. Again, not a major deal and we do understand why Samsung decided to do things this way, but we still find mixing aspects and resolutions in a single toggle an imperfect solution. Plus, things get more confusing still when you add zooming into the mix, but more on that in a bit.
What we will say about Samsung’s actual zooming controls is that while these do end up having a few confusing aspects to them, their overall execution is clean and makes sense, for the most part. You get convenient toggles for zoom levels on the right, with the maximum level depending on your current shooting mode. Stills can go up to 30x in regular mode and 10x in night mode and video goes up to 12x. Of course, since Samsung is achieving this zoom via cropping, any setting in between these levels is also possible, works just as well and can be achieved by pinch zooming the UI.
Beyond the main camera UI, there is the settings menu, which is pretty well laid out. Nothing really stands out as being confusing or hard to understand. The more advanced and some times experimental things, like HDR10+ video capture are confined within their own Advanced menu, which is a nice touch. The Zoom-in mic is enabled by default.
Video resolution selectors are pretty intuitive and generally do a decent job of disabling options that are not available in a given moment. For example, neither the 64MP camera or the ultrawide can capture video at 60 fps. Hence, when you switch to the ultrawide, the 4K and FullHD 60fps options in the resolution selector menu get grayed-out. By the same logic, if you first go into settings and select a 60-fps capture mode, the zoom toggles get disabled. This is done since the S20 uses its main 12MP camera to shoot regular videos, but flips over to the 64MP one if you want to do a zoom-in video or 8K.
There is a workaround if you really want to capture zoom videos at 60fps. You need to select a 30fps mode first, then zoom in and then go in the settings again and flip over to 60fps. The camera will actually remember your zoom settings across most settings changes. Hence, you will end up with a zoomed-in 60fps mode, but it will be cropped from the main 12MP camera and the results look quite disappointing. Still, if you really want to, the option is kind of there.
Super Steady video capture is only available at FullHD resolution, which is no surprise. That is also the case on the S20 Ultra. What is surprising to see on the S20, in particular, is that unlike the ultra, which uses the ultrawide for both Super Steady zoom levels, the vanilla S20 actually leverages its regular camera for the zoom mode. Hence, you still get the benefits of autofocus from it.
Finishing some of the advanced settings options off, we have a nifty interface to fine tune the overall selfie skin tone you would like to see from the 10MP front snapper. You also ger more than a few additional shooting modes, hidden away under “More” in the camera UI, by default. You can freely pick and rearrange the options in this menu as you see fit.
Single Take is a new feature, which is great if you find all these camera options a bit overwhelming or too much for your taste. What it does is actually capture both photo and short clips from all of the phone’s cameras simultaneously, all the while encouraging you to try different angles and pan around. After that, you get an Ai-curated album full of the best shots out of the bunch from the different cameras, including some stylized ones, animated gifs and short videos. It works surprisingly well and is naturally best suited for capturing dynamic moments and subjects that move around, like kids and pets or even both together. We kind of get why Samsung has found a place for Single Take on the main camera mode selector.
If you just want a short clip with your stills, the much simpler Motion photo is still present. So are filters, for that extra flare. The camera app actually includes a nifty feature for creating custom filters, based on the look of any photo you feed into the algorithm. Not a bad idea.
Of course, a full-featured Beauty mode is also present, with all the Sims-like sliders your heart desires.
And to spice up your videos in particular, Samsung has some of its older generation headlining features, or gimmicks, depending on how you look at things still present. Like the ability to craft and overlay an animated avatar in AR mode or simply draw something that maintains its place within the frame.
12MP Main camera quality
Kicking things off with the 12MP primary camera of the Galaxy S20, we find an all-round competent flagship snapper. Not that we expected anything less from Samsung.
Resolved detail is on point, so is noise suppression. Auto HDR is kicking in just right and helping with things like the sky. Although, we do wish Samsung had tuned it to recover shadows just a bit more aggressively. While definitely a bit on the “sharper” side, as per Samsung tradition, the S20 definitely does not go overboard in terms of processing. We would definitely call it mature, especially in scenes with plenty of light and easily recognizable subjects, so the scene detection AI can really do its thing. Colors have a bit of extra “pop”, for the lack of a better word, here and there, but are never really oversaturated. Samsung has definitely honed their particular photo look that appeals to its customers over the years and is not really doing any drastic changes to it.
In fact, while shooting samples with the Galaxy S20, we also went the extra mile and brought the Galaxy S20 Ultra along with us for comparisons, to see just how much of the camera experience you are theoretically missing out on, going for the cheaper flagship. We also took some shots with the Galaxy Note10, as a representative of Samsung’s 2019 flagship camera setup. Here you can see their 12MP main camera stills in action, keeping in mind that the S20 Ultra uses its new nona-cell 108MP snapper to capture these.
The Galaxy S20‘s photos are almost indistinguishable from those by the Note10. And while the S20 Ultra has some different processing, the colors there are identical as well – some details are rendered better by the S20 while other are captured better by the S20 Ultra so this comparison is really a tie.
But taking photos of buildings on a bright sunny day is hardly a challenge for any modern smartphone, let alone these flagships.
12MP Ultrawide camera quality
So let’s see how the ultrawide camera performs. The Samsung S5K2LA ISOCELL sensor, behind an f/2.2 lens, is shared across the S20 family, all the way to the Ultra.
As you can expect, performance is shared as well. It is definitely not the most impressive ultrawide we have seen to date but is still solid. In relative terms, of course. That is to say, you will still notice a distinct lack of detail throughout the shot and a fairly good, but not great dynamic range. That’s just how things generally are with ultra wides right now.
Colors are nice and punchy, which we do like. Also, the camera software does a pretty decent job of correcting for barrel distortion out of the box. If you are willing to sacrifice a bit of the frame, there is a toggle in the settings to get even straighter lines. Some shots did end up a bit too noisy for our taste, which seems to be the result of the noise suppression algorithms and some sharpening. It’s nothing too disappointing though.
And once again, here are the same shots captured with the S20 Ultra and the Note10 for comparison.
The Galaxy S20‘s ultra-wide camera produces sharper images than the Note 10’s, with less noise, better geometric adjustment and less purple fringing in the extreme corners (though the fringing is not thoroughly absent either).
The Galaxy Note10 is rocking a different ultrawide, with a higher 16MP resolution, but smaller pixels, at 1.0µm , compared to 1.4µm in the S20 and S20 Ultra. Just so you don’t have to look that up.
64MP Telephoto camera quality
Like we already mentioned, the Samsung Bright S5KGW2, 64MP, ISOCELL snapper is probably the most intriguing of the bunch of cameras on the Galaxy S20. Hopefully, we already addressed the whole “telephoto” and “hybrid optical” zoom situation enough in the previous camera section. Optical zoom-wise, if you do the math, the difference between the focal length of the 64MP camera and the main camera’s works out to just 1.07x. So much for optical zooming. What they are clearly doing is cropping either the full 64MP image or reducing the active capturing area of the sensor. Either way, if they are not upscaling to a higher resolution after that, we can agree they are providing a lossless zoom.
Before we get to zoom samples, though, let’s just take a step back and examine the 64MP camera in its full native resolution. Shooting in 64MP sounds counter-intuitive because we’ve kind of gotten used to seeing a Bayer pixel arrangement on the currently popular 48MP and 64MP sensors. This one, however, is RGB and hence should have no issues with shooting in its full native resolution.
Surprisingly enough though, not only can you do so on the Galaxy S20, but the camera app actually actively encourages you to do so with on-screen prompts to switch over to 64MP and get more detail in the shot.
Honestly, we were skeptical at first too, but the 64MP snapper in its native mode produces some really impressive shots in daylight conditions. Perhaps just a bit noisier and slightly more processed than what you get with the 12MP main camera, also with just a tad narrower dynamic range, but definitely impressive.
The 64MP snapper starts sounding even more impressive when you realize it is actually both the backbone behind the S20’s zooming functionality and its 8K video capture. It raises the question as to why Samsung even bothered to include the 12MP main camera in the first place since the 64MP one is such a heavy lifter. Well, as good as the 64MP snapper is, it really isn’t on the same level as the main camera and definitely starts to struggle in sub-optimal light conditions. The focusing, in particular, takes a hit in low light.
But back to zooming. Optical, hybrid or otherwise, the S20 has plenty of options and offers a surprisingly wide range of zoom levels. Of course, that is definitely not to say that the end results will be great across the entire range. Still, the options are there.
Like we already mentioned in the camera software section, Samsung did put some hard limits to the amount of zoom you can apply, depending on your shooting mode. Regular shots can go up to 30x on the S20, while night mode is capped at 10x and video goes up to 12x. Aside from the settings trick we already discussed, generally, this entire range is handled by cropping and manipulating parts of the 64MP frame. There are some presets, in case you are wondering (0.5x, 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 10x, 12x for video, 20x, 30x), but you can also pinch to zoom on any intermediate level.
In good light photos remain usable up until 10x, where they are good enough for use on social networks. For anything else, we would limit ourselves to 4x at the most. At the maximum 30x, the resulting shots are mostly good only for checking out remote objects. And that’s in great lighting conditions. If you want to see modern art interpretations of what the algorithm thinks is in the frame, flip on over to the low-light zoom section.
And, once again, for your quick and easy comparison convenience, we are including the same scenes, as captured by the 48MP periscope telephoto camera on the S20 Ultra and the 12MP one on the Galaxy Note10. Keep in mind that the former has a native optical zoom of 4x, which we conveniently matched up with one of the zoom levels of the S20 samples we took. The Note10, on the other hand, has a native optical zoom of 2x. There is a direct set of comparison shots for it, as well.
The 4x and the 30x photos by the Galaxy S20 Ultra are much sharper than the S20’s simply because the Ultra makes use of a real 4x telephoto lens whereas on the S20 crops the output from its 64MP camera with a meager 1.07 zoom.
The 2x comparison between the Galaxy S20 and the Note 10 surprisingly gives the upper hand to the S20 as the photos have more fine detail when inspected from up close. There is visible noise on its photos, though, whereas the Note10’s camera proficiently wipes any traces of it.
LaSt, but not least, before we move on the low-light samples and more comparisons with the S20 Ultra and Note10, we also shot out test patterns with the S20. Both using its main 12MP camera and the 64MP one.
Video capture quality
The Samsung Galaxy S20 is a pretty capable video capture device. Something understandably aggressively advertised by the Korean giant. Especially the 8K recording part.
Before we go into deeper detail about the S20’s 8K video recording, we should go over some of the capabilities and reiterate a few specifics of the S20 video capture in the lower resolutions.
The S20 offers a surprisingly versatile selection of recording options. First off, you can choose between two zoom levels in the UI, just like on the S20 Ultra.
Beyond the choice of which camera to use, you also get a fairly versatile set of recording resolutions. Besides the rather odd, 1:1 (1440 x 1440 pixels) and Full (2400 x 1080 pixels), there are also 720p@30fps, 1080p@30fps, 1080p@60fps, 2160p@30fps, 2160p@60fps and of, course – 8K, 4320p@24 fps. The latter merits some dedicated attention of its own.
By default, the S20 captures videos in AVC format, alongside a two-channel, AAC, 48 kHz audio stream. Pretty standard stuff. You can also opt to use the more efficient HEVC codec and save some space. The difference in quality between the two isn’t really noticeable without pixel-peeping, so doing so does make sense. Still, as per our usual practices, we opted to stick with the default MP4 container and AVC, plus AAC setup, to ensure the best possible results.
Dropping the resolution down to 1080p still left us with perfectly usable footage. Flagship-grade, if you prefer that designation. We also experimented with the two 60fps modes available. Those don’t really result in a doubling of the capture bit rate, though. Instead at 1080p, it goes from around 14Mbps to 21Mbps. 4K has it a bit better, with 30fps at around 38Mbps and 60fps at 69Mbps. Hence, you are still, technically, losing a bit of quality opting for the higher frame rate. But, it is hardly noticeable in practice and there is no other substitute for the effect. If that is what you are after.
The ultrawide can also switch between 1080p and 4K. It has no option for 60fps capture, which is traditionally the norm with ultrawide snappers. It seems these simply can’t be read from at such a high rate. The level of consistency in colors and general processing across the regular camera and the ultrawide is pretty impressive. The latter does appear to have a slightly narrower dynamic range and shows signs of corner softness. Even, so, the clips it produces are impressive.
Zoom video capture quality
Zoom video capture is definitely something you can do on the Galaxy S20. In fact, the zoom can go up to the impressive 12x. You also get the familiar set of presets, including 2x, 4x, 10x and 12x. Just like in photo mode, there is a “hidden” 3x preset as well, accessed by simply pressing the tree icon in the camera app. We really do wish Samsung organized these in a more coherent manner.
Then again, just like with stills, all of these video zoom levels are simply handled by the 64MP, technically telephoto snapper, via cropping and while making good use of both its OIS and some additional EIS stabilization. Especially at higher zoom levels.
Just like the ultrawide, the 64MP camera can’t really do 60fps capture. So, you are limited to 30fps, with the other options conveniently grayed-out in settings when you toggle a zoom mode. Another, less logical limitation, is that there is no apparent, easy way we managed to find to shoot “un-zoomed” 4K video via the 64MP camera as you can do with stills. The best you can do is to use just the tiniest bit of pinch zoom until you see the viewfinder flip from the 12MP camera to the 64MP one. Doing this, you still get a crop from the 64MP, so it’s not exactly what we are after.
Super steady video capture quality
Samsung has already chewed through a few iterations of its Super steady video technology and the improvements definitely show. What you end up is footage which is surprisingly visually-similar to what you’d get with a gimbal stabilizer, complete with plenty of “floaty” movement and the occasional controlled shift in framing.
The nice thing is you don’t have to record only with the default ultra-wide camera. There is a toggle to switch to the main camera too, where you even get auto focus. It’s inevitable that the field-of-view is slightly cropped as the SuperSteady mode relies on digital stabilization.
8K video capture quality
8K video recording across the Galaxy S20 family is definitely one of the spotlight features, as per Samsung PR. And PR plays an important role here as it’s probably the sole reason for this particular push to 8K. Before you light your torches and head to the comment section, with discussion about the usefulness of 8K in general, though, we should clarify that this is not what we are referring to here.
The 8K videos captured by the Galaxy S20 looks pretty great. In terms of overall quality and processing, there is no immediately apparent compromise to point out, compared to 4K capture. The dynamic range looks comparable, even if not exactly identical, which does make sense, considering that 8K footage comes from the 64MP camera, not the primary 12MP one.
There even seems to be a more fine detail in the 8K footage. However, that difference isn’t really earth-shattering. The more cinematic look, which comes about as an unintentional consequence of the 24fps cap of the 8K clips, does make for a slightly different look of pans and moving objects. So there is that.
But is 8K four times better than 4K as the difference in resolution suggests? Why isn’t it at least twice as good? Well, there really is no simple answer to that, unfortunately. Looking at the metadata in an S20 8K clip, a few things stand out. The resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixel is definitely there – it sounds amazing that a single frame has a resolution of 33MP.
Looking over at the actual bitrate of the video, we find it hovering just shy of the 80Mbps mark. Inspecting a 4K@30fps clip from the S20, also captured in HEVC gives us a bitrate of 22Mbps. So, quick napkin math – 8K is four times the number of pixels of 4K, plus accounting for the 6 frames per second, or so, less in the 8K feed, the bitrate multiplication numbers, actually, kind of check out. That being said, while there is no official goal or yardstick to aim for when it comes to video bitrates, 80Mbps still sounds a bit low for 8K. An estimate, courtesy of the folks at the 2019 8K Video Summit puts desirable bitrates at a minimum of 84Mbps and a recommendation of 120Mbps.
At the end of the day, however, none of these numbers strike as particularly outrageously bad or insufficient. The simple fact is that without a proper, functioning 8K screen, we can’t really say whether we are pushing against some limit of diminishing returns or not. Even the S20 family, with its PR focus on 8K doesn’t have native 8K displays to playback these 8K videos. Samsung’s current idea of how to make use of your 8K footage involves, ideally in their mind, shelling out for a Samsung 8K TV and then consuming the content locally.
To be fair, progress is progress and every step along the way is important. Plus, strides are already being made all around the place. For example, we had practically no issue uploading the S20 8K samples you YouTube and having these streamable to you.
But from a subjective point of view – 8K videos don’t look any different than 4K videos when played back on the phone’s screen. They don’t look any different when watched on a 1080p computer monitor either. The only difference comes through when you zoom in the video player but who does that? Not to mention that our computer coughed its lungs trying to playback the huge video file. So yes, we’re all in for progress and technical innovation but if you ask us, 8K videos are still a gimmick.
Samsung Galaxy S20 low-light video capture quality
Since we already went all-out for the camera section of the S20, we definitely couldn’t skip on some low-light video samples.
The Galaxy S20 definitely keeps its cool and produces pleasant results. There is no extra “magic” going on behind the scenes either to account for the lack of light. 4K video still leverages the main 12MP camera, while 8K switches to the 64MP one, for its extra resolution.
There are some notable differences between the clips produces from the two. The 8K footage seems to be a bit noisier and struggles slightly more with dynamic range, especially when both very bright light sources, like headlights, and very dark spots are present in the frame. The 64MP camera also seems to blow-out light sources a bit more. All of these are merely observations and minor nitpicks on what is otherwise impressive footage, through and through.
The Galaxy S20 positions itself as a compact flagship offering on the current smartphone scene. With the average screen size experiencing a steady growth spurt in recent years, like it or not, the S20 is what is now considered a pocket-friendly powerhouse.
The combination of the relatively compact size and the powerful internals means that it’s a hard task singling competing phones that match what the S20 offers. In fact, the only other compact phone that can rival it is perhaps the Apple iPhone 11 Pro. It delivers a comparable, even if vastly different user experience. It’s worth noting that the S20 has a bigger and faster display, a bigger battery, and more charging options (faster, too). On the flip side, though, the iPhone 11 Pro almost certainly outshines the S20 in the camera department and offers noticeably better battery life.
Delivering an industry-leading flagship user experience while juggling tech innovations, marketing strategy and pricing at the same time is a daunting task. It is no longer enough to put out a solid phone – you have to present it to the world just right and you have to price it accordingly. The S20 Ultra is a fine example where the overly-ambitious marketing and the eye-watering price tag resulted in a disappointment.
The S20 avoids that pitfall. Samsung’s marketing has been quite straightforward in describing the upgrades it brings and the phone manages to deliver a solid and consistent experience all at more palatable pricing. In fact, the exuberant pricing on the Ultra makes the S20 look a pretty good deal in comparison. Which may have been the strategy all along.
But even with all the clever marketing psychological tricks in the world, once you actually stop and think about it, EUR 900 is not cheap by any standard.
But when you consider that the Galaxy S20 delivers the same specs as the more expensive S20+ and that this price will inevitably go down in a few month’s time and we think it may very well be the best seller in the Galaxy S20 trio.
- Excellent build quality and bill of materials. IP68 rating.
- You get all the flagship features the S20+ has
- Familiar, yet modernized design and control layout.
- Superb 120Hz AMOLED display.
- Speedy charging solutions, incl. a 25W charger in the box
- Very good stereo speaker setup.
- Excellent flagship performance.
- Versatile triple camera setup, with impressive image quality and consistency.
- The fingerprint sensor performance is behind the competition.
- The S20 gets toasty under load but even then, CPU throtling is inevitable.
- Unimpressive battery endurance.
- Zoom camera is not as sharp as the S20 Ultra’s at 4x or 10x.