It’s Galaxy Note season and this year the best one is the Ultra. Samsung‘s mixed things up a bit atop the lineup and the one you want in 2020 is the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. We have it right here.
Last year, in a one-off effort, Samsung put out the Note10 and Note10 Plus – a relatively closely-specced pair where size was really the key factor for picking one over the other. Not so this time around. The Note 20 Ultra and Note20 are both big and feature parity is out the door – in a similar fashion to how the S20 Ultra is above and beyond the S20+, only even more so.
Pounding on the Note20 in absentia isn’t what we’re here for and we’ll deal with its shortcomings and limitations when one shows up at our doorstep. For now, let’s focus on the Ultra.
First appearing on the other S20 Ultra, the oversized camera hump makes a return on the Note 20 Ultra. Most of the bits inside are the same, including the main 108MP cam and the 12MP ultra wide. But the periscope telephoto that’s in part responsible for the sheer size of the assembly is now 12MP, swapping out the 48MP unit of the S-series phone – we’ll have to see about that.
Galaxy family shot: S20 Ultra • Note20 Ultra • Note10 Plus
The display is a nice marriage of Note-style geometry with some high refresh rate coming in from the S20s, now supposedly made even better with an adaptive refresh rate adjustment. Oh, and spoiler – it’s the brightest AMOLED screen we’ve seen to date.
The S Pen is here, of course, now relocated to the left side. It’s improved too, getting a 9ms latency (down more than 4 times compared to the Note10), system-wide Air actions, and a Notes app to make you forget Google Keep.
All this comes in a redesigned package featuring a stainless steel midframe where once was aluminum and the brand new Gorilla Glass 7 (aka Victus) for improved durability. For improved looks, the matte finish on the back will ward off fingerprints, though only the Mystic Bronze color option gets that treatment, sadly. The Mystic Black is all shiny.
Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support)
Bixby natural language commands and dictation
Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified)
Ultra Wideband (UWB) support
Li-Ion 4500 mAh, non-removable
Fast charging 25W
USB Power Delivery 3.0
Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W
Reverse wireless charging 4.5W
Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White
0.57 W/kg (head) 1.02 W/kg (body)
0.32 W/kg (head) 1.47 W/kg (body)
Some other points on that list raise questions, however. Like the battery capacity that’s less than on the S20 Ultra, and the axing of the 45-watt charging support. The increasing gap between the Snapdragon and Exynos platforms is another less than ideal reality that users in half the world need to come to terms with.
Speaking of, we’ll be reviewing the Exynos version of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, in 5G spec. That’s one of few times you’ll hear 5G mentioned in the review, however, as we’ll be dropping it for the sake of brevity.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra unboxing
A rather typical Samsung presentation, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra‘s two-piece black cardboard box features the S Pen printed on the lid. A slightly glossy ‘N20’ contrasts against the matte material while the side edges of the top surface have striped patterns to allude to the curved display inside.
As part of the package, you’d be getting a 25-watt charger that adheres to USB PowerDelivery with the PPS bit of the standard supported as well. A USB-C-to-C cable is included, naturally. A pair of AKG-branded in-ear headphones are in there too, if you’re not getting a pair of Galaxy Buds Live as part of some pre-order bundle.
This being a review unit and not strictly a retail-ready package, it was missing the usual spare S Pen tips and the tool for replacing them. Different sizes of tips for the earbuds were nowhere to be found either. We can’t imagine Samsung‘s skipping either of these things and commercially available units will likely have them.
If you want the ultimate smartphone with a stylus available now, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has no competition even at its steep price of $1300/€1300, it’s simple as that. If you’re willing to compromise in one direction or another, a world of options opens up to you.
If you’re dead set on the S Pen, but the Ultra is too expensive, you have a couple of options – a plain Note 20 or a Note10 Plus. The newer model will get you a next-gen processor and camera setup as well as longer software support. It will come in at $1000/€1000, however, and you won’t be getting a high refresh rate display in the process, and we’re not yet ready to forgive it for its plastic back either.
The Note10+ is glass on both sides all right, and while it too refreshes at 60Hz, at least it’s got the 1440p resolution unlike the Note 20. The Note10 Plus is, admittedly, a generation behind in camera technology, but it still has an easily good enough tri-set. Best bit about it is the price, though that does vary wildly from region to region – a little over half the Note 20 Ultra in Europe at about €800, but a less enticing $1100 in the US. It’s actually more expensive than the Note20 in India at current rates, so that’s easily settled there.
Pick a Note: 20 Ultra or 10 Plus
If, on the other hand, the S Pen is little more than a nice-to-have to you and you’re willing to sacrifice that, but want to keep the camera system, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is just the one for you. If you’re in Europe that is – while the S20U is a good €250-300 less than the N20U there, for some reason it is $100 more in the US and about the same price as the Note in India. A minor hit in battery life is also part of the deal in the Eurozone, but it’s hardly consequential and you’ll probably live just fine with the S20 Ultra’s ‘only’ 1200nits of peak brightness instead of the Note’s 1500nits.
That’s just the Samsungs, though. Oppo will sell you a Find X2 Pro for €1100 through official channels and a case could be made it’s the better deal. It’s a different camera system on the Oppo with its own pros and cons, but it’s a very capable one nonetheless and offers similar coverage, plus the all-important (if only to select few) autofocus on the ultra wide cam. It’s mostly a tie in battery life with the Find charging twice as fast. The Find’s display is nearly as good as the Note’s too – arguably even better in a way because it can run in 1440p at 120Hz. You’ll be sacrificing memory expansion (is it an issue with 256GB of base storage on the Oppo?) and the selfie cam tops out at 1080p30 which could be limiting if you’re one to vlog.
Another entrant from China is the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro – since Xiaomi’s Ultra isn’t leaving its home market. We’re seeing deals for the Mi 10 Pro for as low as €800, and the €500 that you’ll get to keep in your pocket can justify a lot of trade-offs – not that you’d have to make a ton. The Mi’s display isn’t quite up there with the Note’s but refreshes at a sensible 90Hz and is as bright as a Galaxy from the spring. A true quad-cam setup can give the Note 20 Ultra a hard time in most conditions, but this one too is underpowered on the selfie video front. Perhaps the Mi’s biggest downside is the lack of an IP68 rating.
If you’re eyeing the Note 20 Ultra for its zoom power, maybe Huawei could interest you in a P40 Pro+ that can do 10x optically (sort of). That one has no Google services and no stereo speakers, yet is even pricier, though at this point does an extra €100 really count? It matches the Note 20 Ultra for selfie video capture, for a change, adding 3D face mapping in the process. Battery life is a toss up, the display is very good on the Huawei if not quite as good and the 990 Kirin is a bit behind the 990 Exynos. But 10x zoom, though. Okay, 8.5x, technically, but still 8.5>5.
With the bulk of smartphones at most price points, some careful examination is needed to establish if they are a good deal or if the competition offers better bang for your buck. It’s rarely so when it comes to Galaxy Notes thanks to the lineup’s practically exclusive feature set – yes, the S Pen is a big chunk of that, but it’s about the entire full-featured package. Taking that a level up to Ultra in 2020, the concept of value-oriented deal almost becomes irrelevant.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is not twice as good a smartphone as the Note10+ that you can find for half its price in some parts of the world. Dropping this much money on a phone in these… unusual times is irresponsible. This phone or that phone will give you 90% of the experience at 60% of the price – or randomly cooked-up numbers of the sort. The Note 20 Ultra itself isn’t perfect, not to mention it’s even less perfect in half of the world.
Perhaps all of that is true. But the Note 20 Ultra is the most complete Galaxy and very likely the most complete smartphone you can buy right now. If your latest bank statement signs off on it, so do we.
The best display on the market.
Surprisingly good battery life for the display/battery combo.
S Pen is a joy to use, wireless DeX is a nice addition.
Incredibly versatile and well-performing camera system.
The camera bump could be unsightly depending on who you ask.
Performance divide between versions, Exynos variant isn’t up to the same standard.
Charging speed is not competitive.
Either 120Hz or 1440p, why not both? Also Adaptive refresh rate mode has a questionable effectiveness.
Ultra – that’s where you end up when you one-up your usual Plus. In other words, Samsung‘s outdone itself this year and has gone above and beyond its S20+ to give us the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Leading the spring-time roster this year, the Ultra marks a shift compared to the 2019 lineup. Where last year we had the similar in most ways S10 and S10+, and then the S10e positioned below them, this time around there’s a model above the mainstream S20 and S20+ – the new moniker makes all the sense then.
And it’s ultra alright. Sure, it’s got an even bigger display and packs a larger battery with faster charging than the other S20s, plus you can have it with up to a ridiculous 16GB of RAM, while the non-Ultras top out at a modest 12GB. But that’s not it.
It’s the camera – likely the most extraordinarily all-out setup we’ve seen to date. The primary cam uses a sizeable 108MP sensor which combines 9 tiny pixels into one big one with processing designed to make use of the extra data being gathered – Nonacell as Samsung calls it.
Then there’s the telephoto shooter – it’s got an unmatched combination of a big 48MP imager and a periscope lens offering 4x optical zoom over the main. Samsung has ‘100X space zoom’ branding on the back of the phone and we’ll be sure to check by just how much it misses the moon, but in any case it’s a spectacularly impressive tele camera on paper.
The ultra wide isn’t quite there. While it is a new unit with a big sensor and large pixels, it’s still missing a vital part of what makes a truly good camera – autofocus.
Over on the front, there’s yet another ultra camera touch – Samsung‘s fitted a 40MP selfie module to set it apart from the so familiar 10MP units on the regular S20s. It’s going to be one lengthy camera section.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
Body: 166.9×76.0x8.8mm, 222g (220g for the non-5G); curved Gorilla Glass 6 front and back, metal frame; IP68 rating; Cosmic Grey, Cosmic Black color schemes.
Front camera: 40 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 0.7µm, 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: 5,000mAh, 45W 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).
Mind you, we’re reviewing the 5G version of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, while an LTE-only variant will apparently also be in existence. It’s not a hugely important distinction for the purposes of this review, as we have little along the lines of 5G networks in our neck of the woods anyway. We’ll be omitting the ‘5G’ for the remainder of the article. Another clarification due here is that we’re reviewing the Exynos version of the handset, as is typically the case.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G unboxing
The Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G ships in what’s become the standard Samsung box for high-end models – black, not very flashy at all. The visuals have changed slightly and now there’s an outline of the phone on the lid, with the ‘S20‘ so big it spills over to the sides.
Inside, there are few surprises. You get the 25W charger as opposed to the 45W one, even though the phone supports the higher wattage, and there’s a USB-C cable to complete the link. The pair of AKG branded earbuds ending in a USB-C connector are also a familiar sight from the Note10 bundle. Perhaps the only slightly unusual bit is the clear silicone case you’ll find in the paper sleeve you need to pry out of the lid of the box.
Let’s face it, if you’re considering spending $1400/€1350 on a phone, you’re probably not driven entirely by reason. Impulsive and/or compulsive buyers as we may be ourselves, the numbers in that first sentence still command some deliberation, even in a money-is-no-object context.
The way we see it, that much cash buys you a Galaxy Z Flip and the flippy Samsung will certainly catch more jealous stares than the ultra Samsung. The Flip is more fragile, it has a much less impressive camera setup and a plebeian 60Hz display (which is also kinda plastic), and not a whiff of 5G. But which one is cooler though?
Funnily enough, for S20 Ultra money you can get almost two Galaxy Note10s in Europe, though that doesn’t seem to be the case in other places. Still, if you do the sane thing and opt for a single Note, maybe even a Plus, you stand to save a lot wherever in the world you are and gain an S Pen in the process. However, Note10s only zoom half the way the Ultra can, and S20s can refresh their displays twice as many times a second as Note10s do.
Or maybe get an iPhone, that’s always an option. A sensible 256GB 11 Pro Max will leave you with $150 in the bank if you’re in the US and save you all the trouble of having to figure out when you’ll be recording with which camera on the Ultra – the iPhone can record with all of them at the same time. Of course, the Ultra’s 4x and 120Hz trump cards remain. There’s a tiny caveat that with Apple’s pricing, the iPhone will actually cost a few dozen Euros more around here, and a cool 30% more in India. So if you’re in India, get the Ultra over the iPhone, obviously.
Seriously, though, the regular Galaxy S20s that we’re still waiting to get our hands on, could end up being the best value S20. Latest chipsets, 120Hz screens too, interesting cameras in their own right, easily more pocketable than the Ultra even if you go for the Plus, and available in moderately interesting colors.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is not without potential. But the overenthusiastic marketing and the sheer size of that camera bump had us expecting the next big thing – instead, space zoom it isn’t and Nonacell is nona-mazing, at least for now.
Yes, the periscope telephoto is great and it’s superior in every way to that other similar periscope telephoto that came a year earlier, but we are a year later now and that’s expected. Yes, the Ultra’s got a big-sensor primary camera which could probably do great things eventually but we didn’t see magic over the past couple of weeks. Yes, it’s the best display Samsung‘s put out, but why can’t we get the refresh rate and the resolution all at the same time? Hmm…
At the Ultra’s asking price, you deserve to be spoiled, and you deserve to be getting magic. And since that’s apparently not the case, we’d advise you to check out the more affordable Galaxy S20s this spring. And, if you think you could keep your sharp fingernails away from it, might as well consider the Z Flip.
Big, bright and beautiful 120Hz AMOLED display.
The great periscope telephoto cam offers versatile zoom options.
The new gen chipset is a solid upgrade performance-wise.
Stereo speakers are nice and loud.
Charging is very fast.
Underwhelming battery life with 120Hz refresh rate.
108MP Nonacell camera fails to live up to the hype.
‘Space zoom 100x’ is just for marketing.
Fingerprint sensor performance is way behind the competition.
The Galaxy A-series have grown so much in the last couple of years and Samsung is keeping the family afloat with a couple of successful models despite the fierce Chinese competition in the mid-range. Well, it appears that the Galaxy A lineup is mature enough to introduce a flagship smartphone of its own – the Galaxy A90.
What makes a flagship device flagship-worthy? Good screen, performance, cameras and features are all integral part of a true flagship device and the Galaxy A90 appears to have most of them in its checklist. So in a sense, it’s a flagship Galaxy A smartphone by mid-range standards.
Of course, Samsung isn’t trying to sell you a flagship phone with the Galaxy A90 but instead, it’s trying to bring 5G to the masses. As of now, not many SoCs support 5G and all of them are high-end chips so the best way to do it is to put one of them in a ready and somewhat successful mid-range formula – in this case the Snapdragon 855 in a Galaxy A70.
As you go across the specs sheet real quick, you will see that the Galaxy A70 is an almost identical device to the Galaxy A90 5G. The only difference is in the chipset and the main camera – the Galaxy A90 gets the popular 48MP sensor while the A70 settles for the 32MP one.
Samsung Galaxy A90 specs
Body: Gorilla Glass 6 front and back panel, aluminum side frame
Screen: 6.7″ Super AMOLED, 1080x2400px resolution, 393 ppi.
But we can’t shake off the feeling that the it’s a bit early for this phone. The 5G adoption is too small for now and anyone looking to be an early adopter will be aiming for the premium segment anyway. And besides, the Galaxy S10 is selling for roughly the same price, which is a true flagship phone, minus the 5G.
Expectedly, there’s virtually no difference between the Galaxy A70 and A90 in terms of design. Since the screen measures 6.7″ in diagonal, it’s easy to assume that it’s unwieldy, to say the least. It’s one of the biggest Galaxies around so users will small hands will struggle.
The curved back and the thin side bezels do help with the overall handling while the top and the bottom bezels are considerably slim too. It does give the impression of a high-end smartphone when looking at it from the front.
Interestingly, the Galaxy A90 uses glass for its back instead of plastic like its cheaper sibling, the Galaxy A70. The glass panel features geometric patterns giving it a more distinct look and the available colors are Black and White. The patterns themselves do look a lot different from what we’ve seen before.
The glass back is also a home to the triple-camera setup tucked away in the upper-left corner. It’s vertically stacked but the bump isn’t as prominent as one would expect. Perhaps it’s because the Galaxy A90‘s chassis is 0.5mm thicker than the A70’s making the camera bulge less prominent.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any information regarding the device’s frame but since Samsung didn’t say anything specific about it, we’d assume it’s plastic.
Hardware and features
This is not the first smartphone we’ve seen with Snapdragon 855 so we know what to expect in terms of performance. The SoC is paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage as a base offering and you can upgrade to the 8GB/128GB configuration. Strangely, microSD card support applies only to the 6GB model. The modem inside is Qualcomm’s X50, which is also found on the range-topping Galaxy S10 5G.
The device is built around a 6.7-inch Super AMOLED panel with a U-shaped notch. An extra tall 20:9 aspect ratio (1080 x 2400px resolution) makes the phone ideal for videos, web browsing and multi-tasking. It’s just a few pixels shy of the 21:9 cinematic experience offered on some phones.
On the camera front, we’ve got a 48MP main one with a rather small f/2.0 aperture and PDAF, 8MP ultra wide-angle lens with f/2.2 and a 5MP depth sensor. The notch houses a 32MP shooter and just like the main one, it supports native quad-pixel technology and outputs 8MP images.
This is one of the few Samsung devices with the 48MP sensor and our two main complaints are the narrow f/2.0 opening of the lens – rarely can you find even a midranger with a smaller than f/2.0 aperture – and the lack of OIS. The exact same camera can be found on the Galaxy A80.
Then again, the more advanced ISP on the Snapdragon 855 chipset could mean some minor improvements here and there. Speaking of the Snapdragon 855, it brings a couple of camera-related features that are only available on the Galaxy flagship handsets. Thus, the Galaxy A90 can shoot Super Steady videos (like the S10s and the Note10s), makes use of the Scene Optimizer and Flaw Detector. Of course, 2160p video recording in 30fps is also possible.
Additionally, for the first time, Samsung is bringing DeX support for its mid-range A-series with the Galaxy A90. Most probably hardware limitations have kept the PC-like experience away from the series but with the Snapdragon 855, DeX is now available over the USB-C connector.
While on the subject of connectors, the Galaxy A90 seems to be missing the 3.5mm audio jack from the equation. Strangely, the Galaxy A70 has one.
Lastly, the whole hardware sips from a generous 4,500 mAh battery supporting 25W fast charging in compliance with the Power Delivery standard. But don’t hold your breath for that one because the Galaxy A70’s charging times were far from the ones we got when testing the Galaxy Note10+.
Battery life should be stellar, given that the Snapdragon 855 has proven to be a remarkably efficient SoC and should be in the same ballpark as the Galaxy A70. However, when 5G is involved, since the Snapdragon 855 doesn’t have an integrated modem, the X50 is expected to draw more power too.
As we already pointed out, Samsung isn’t aiming at the premium-seeking users with the Galaxy A90 but instead, it tries to deliver a semi-flagship experience with 5G connectivity at a more reasonable price point, as far as 5G phones go. It’s by far the cheapest 5G option out there and it’s already out in Korea for roughly €685.
The price is surely steep and it begs the question of how bad you want to be an early 5G adopter? For the same price (even a few bucks less), you can snatch a full-fledged flagship like the Samsung Galaxy S10 or the considerably cheaper S10e. Of course, both are limited to 4G support and have considerably smaller screens. If 5G and big screen are a necessity for you, the A90 is the only option you have and that’s what Samsung is aiming for.
The confirmation comes from Samsung’s biggest mobile experience store in India, courtesy of an inquiry from Android Authority and a separate reaffirmation from Sammobile. The Opera House store in Bengaluru has said that it will start sales of the devices from January 29th, as stock won’t reach India until the week after the launch. It also says it has begun taking preorders with an ₹2000 ($27) deposit, in return for which it will keep customers updated on availability via WhatsApp. Those leaving a deposit will not need to decide which variant they want until the official announcement. After all, technically, these devices “don’t exist” yet.
The store also confirmed that Indian devices will be powered by the still-unannounced Exynos 2100 chipset, rather than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 believed to be under the hood in some other markets. They also confirmed the colors seen in teaser videos – gray, pink, purple, and white for the Galaxy S21, pink, purple, silver, and black for the Galaxy S21 Plus, and silver or black for the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Yesterday, we got our first look at what’s believed to be the camera array for the range, suggesting a main sensor at 12MP, along with a 12MP ultra-wide lens and a 64MP telephoto lens. The Ultra has a quad-array with 108MP main shooter, 12MP Ultra Wide lens and not one, but two telephoto lens, one of which offers up to 10x optical zoom, the other 3x zoom. One thing that hasn’t been confirmed or denied is the rumor that Samsung won’t be bundling a charger with this year’s flagships, at least in some countries. That’s a surprise yet to come.
In an unexpected turn of events, a regional branch of Samsung revealed the launch date for the Galaxy S21 series before any announcement from its global offices. More specifically, Samsung India confirmed the company’s next-gen flagship series will be debuting on January 14th. It did so in quite a casual statement issued to Android Authority earlier today.
We followed up with Samsung’s local offices and had a company official confirm the development. Not only that, but they actually said Samsung Experience Stores in India are already accepting Galaxy S21 pre-orders in exchange for a token advance fee of Rs. 2,000 (just over $27).
Is Samsung India jumping the gun with these Galaxy S21 pre-bookings?
If that sounds a bit premature, that’s probably because it is. Because it seems these early pre-bookings are completely blind, i.e. they are not accompanied by any concrete pricing or availability details. Yet with Samsung now confirming our October scoop by announcing a definitive Galaxy S21 launch date that falls in the first half of January, those who pre-book them today might already have their new Android flagships by the end of the same month.
Anyone who pays the aforementioned fee will be able to choose from any of the available models once the actual pre-orders open on January 14th before everyone else. Finally, Samsung India also revealed the color options for the entire flagship series, stating that the Galaxy S21 will be available in white, gray, pink, and purple, whereas the Galaxy S21+ will also be offered in purple and pink, in addition to black and silver. Those last two hues will be the only options presented to prospective Galaxy S21 Ultra buyers.
A 5.2-inch Super AMOLED display, 14nm Exynos chipset, a body made out of a glass/metal combo, IP68 certification, 16MP f/1.9 cameras front and back – it sure sounds like Samsung’s next flagship. Only it’s not the flagship we’re talking about, but the Galaxy A5 (2017) premium mid-ranger.
Of course, we are guilty of hand-picking that selection of specs to prove a point, and there are other fields in that spec sheet that would give away the A5’s lower position in the Galaxy universe. Display resolution is one (1080p), and the chipset is another (Exynos 7880). Even though it’s made on a cutting-edge 14nm fabrication process, it’s still only mainstream Cortex-A53 cores inside and not hard-hitting Mongooses or Kryos. And then the cameras lack OIS and 4K video recording, even if they both offer higher resolution than the Galaxy S7.
Connectivity: nano SIM (dual SIM version available); LTE (Cat. 6); Wi-Fi ac; Bluetooth 4.2; FM Radio; USB Type-C; 3.5mm jack
Misc: Fingerprint reader, IP68 certification for dust and water resistance, Samsung Pay
Somewhat expensive – the Galaxy S6 can be had for less, the S7 is slightly pricier, but will certainly dip in a couple of months when the S8 comes out.
Android is still Marshmallow, though an update is coming.
No 4K video recording at a price point, where you can find plenty of phones that support it.
It’s not exactly what you call a bargain, the A5 (2017), unfortunately. Its price tag makes a pretty solid case for the Galaxy S6, and why not even the S7 when the time is right? It’s also not looking good that Samsung is putting out a new premium product with good ol’ Marshmallow, and no shiny fresh Grace UX can make up for that.
None of that means we don’t like the premise of a premium full-featured (or thereabout) smartphone positioned a notch below the flagships – quite the opposite. We’ll be looking into just how much the A5 (2017) deserves its place in the world on the following pages, starting (not unusually) with a hardware overview.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) measures 146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm which is standard for a 5.2-inch phone – most other devices with the same diagonal are within a millimeter in each direction
As for weight, the A5 (2017) is on the heavy side of average. Its 157g aren’t really an issue, but the similarly sized Huawei P9, for example, tips the scales at just 144g. The brand new HTC U Play is even a notch lighter at 143g, though admittedly it is severely battery-deprived (2,500mAh).
If there’s one area where the Galaxy A5 (2017) can stand up to flagship-grade scrutiny it’s build and looks. To a non-discerning eye the A5 can easily pass for an S7 – the aluminum frame, the dual-glass sandwich, the shapes and proportions – it’s all top-shelf material.
What’s been missing on the A-series for a while now and hasn’t made an appearance on the Galaxy A5 (2017) either is a notification LED. That one seems to be a flagship-only feature as of late. The top bezel of the midranger does contain all the other usual stuff though – earpiece, proximity/ambient light sensors, and selfie camera.
More importantly, and unlike any previous non-flagship or non-rugged phone, the A-series for this year have IP68 certification for dust and water resistance.
We do tend to compare the Galaxy A5 (2017) to both the existing S7 and the projected S8 and while the S7 is so last year with its 3.5mm jack, the S8 may be one of the trendsetters to lose it. So there – the Galaxy A5 (2017) is on par with the current top model in this respect, and possibly better than the upcoming one.
The Galaxy A5 (2017)‘s wired interface is in fact more up-to-date than the current flagship S7. The Type-C USB port only made it on a Samsung phone with the Note7, but we all know how that ended. Other than a somewhat obscure C9 Pro, the A-series remain the only Samsung handsets with a Type-C port. Beat that, S7.
One odd design decision sees the loudspeaker placed on the right side of the phone, right above the power button. For ringtones that’s as good as any other position and in a way it’s better for video viewing when holding the display in landscape orientation than the prevalent bottom placement. There are no stereo speakers, but there aren’t any on Samsung flagships either. Not yet, at least.
As with a few other previous A-series models, the A5 (2017) has a couple of card slots. The one on the side accommodates one nanoSIM, while the slot on top takes a microSD card. The latter can also fit an additional nanoSIM card on dual SIM versions of the A5 (2017) and in this case the microSD slot remains available – it’s a dedicated solution and not a hybrid one and we can’t stress enough just how much we prefer it this way.
On the back, the S-series have been having all sorts of sensors, but not the A’s – it’s the bare minimum here with just the camera module and the LED flash.
Your palms will undoubtedly appreciate the curves on the back, which make the A5 a joy to handle. Some people tend to complain that glass is slippery, but we’ve had more issues in this respect with satin-finished aluminum on some phones, so it’s probably down to the individual’s skin properties. What’s not debatable is that on glass backs smudges reign.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) like all self-respecting Galaxies packs a Super AMOLED display. The A5 in particular is smack in the middle between the 4.7-inch A3 (2017) and the 5.7-inch A7 (2017) in terms of diagonal, and its 5.2-inch panel has FullHD resolution. That amounts to a 424ppi density but the Diamond Pixel arrangement makes that less sharp than a competing LCD with equal number of subpixels for each color. It’s still plenty sharp though.
The display can give you that AMOLED punch that’s become synonymous with the tech, at the expense of color accuracy. In Adaptive mode average DeltaE is 5.3 with Red waaay off at 11.2, but also quite inaccurate whites. Switch to basic mode, however, and you’re treated to an excellently calibrated display with an average DeltaE of just 2.0 and a maximum of 3.2. Cinema and Photo modes are somewhere in between – whatever floats your boat.
Maximum brightness is excellent, particularly if you engage the Auto mode, in which case the display gets a healthy boost in bright conditions. That said, last year’s model could pump out more nits in Auto mode. Even so, the A5 (2017)‘s numbers are right up there with the S7 flagship – excellent. Contrast is infinite, it’s Super AMOLED’s treat for you. With a minimum brightness of just 1.8 nits night-time scrolling sessions won’t strain your eyes either.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) max auto
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) max auto
Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017)
Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) max auto
Samsung Galaxy S7
Samsung Galaxy S7 max auto
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge max auto
Samsung Galaxy S6
Samsung Galaxy S6 max auto
Huawei Honor 8
Huawei Honor 8 (Max auto)
As for sunlight legibility, the AMOLED A5 for 2017 is on par with last year’s model, and slightly better than the A3 (2017), but none of them is a match for this or last year’s flagships. In fact, the A5 (2017) sunlight contrast ratio is virtually identical to the budget J7 (2016) – sounds great from that phone’s perspective, not as flattering from the A5’s. That said, only top-of-the-line LCD-equipped phones can post such results (the likes of the iPhone 7 and Xperia XZ), and it’s not them that the A5 is facing, pricey as it may be.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) is well-stocked on connectivity options. Samsung specifies Cat.6 LTE (300Mbps downlink, 50Mbps uplink), with a disclaimer that it may vary by region and carrier, and since the Exynos 7880 itself supports Cat.7 you may want to check locally if the 100Mbps DL speed is of such crucial importance to you (you know who you are).
There are single SIM and dual SIM versions, each of them with two card slots. In each case there’s a dedicated microSD slot as well – on single SIM models (such as the one we had) there’s no cutout for the second SIM in the top slot (presumably, no contacts and hardware, maybe?).
There is also dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.2 (but no detail on aptX for high-quality audio), NFC and MST (for Samsung Pay, where available), and an FM radio receiver. There is no IR transmitter, though.
A Type-C port is in charge of charging, but only adheres to USB 2.0 spec, so you’re limited to a ‘measly’ 480Mbps theoretical maximum transfer speeds. USB OTG is supported for attaching peripherals, but there’s no MHL support for wired video output. Thankfully, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) battery life
The Galaxy A5 (2017) is powered by a 3,000mAh battery – oh, look, it’s the same capacity as the Galaxy S7. And this one has fewer pixels to render, plus a chipset that should be more frugal than the thirsty flagship number-crunchers.
Well, indeed it is. The Galaxy A5 (2017) only fell short of the S7’s time in the voice call test, and just by an hour and a quarter. At close to 22h its result is still perfectly acceptable.
It gets better in the screen-on disciplines. It takes 14 and a half hours of our Wi-Fi web browsing test to deplete the A5’s battery – a remarkable feat, even if the smaller A3 (2017) does outlast it by an hour. The S7, on the other hand, can’t even make it to 10h.
In video playback the A5 crosses the 16-hour mark before calling it quits – another superb performance. The flagship is closer here, but still falls short by an hour and a half.
As for standby, we’ve tested the phone both with the Always On Display feature engaged and then turned off. While it does take a massive toll on standby time (and consequently on the overall endurance rating), you should bear in mind that our testing can’t account for the phone turning off the display completely when it’s in a pocket, for example. So, presumably, actual real-world standby with the AOD on should be much better.
The overall endurance rating of 95h is an excellent result and is a testament to the inherent benefits of having a 14nm chipset on board – be it an Exynos or a Snapdragon.
Remember the Note7? The Galaxy flagship phablet (that wasn’t meant to be) introduced a redesigned Samsung user interface called Grace UX. The Note7 being absent, the 2017 A-series are the only phones to come with the updated Android overlay out of the box, but it is also being seeded as we speak with the Nougat update for the S7 and S7 edge. Mind you, in the A5 (2017)‘s case it’s on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, though a bump to Android 7 is in the works.
This generation of A-series is the first to feature Always On Display (AOD). Three main views are available – Clock, Calendar and Image, with some customization available. Notifications from third-party apps show up (something that didn’t work when the S7 launched, but was added later).
The Always On Display dims when ambient light is low and will shut off when the Galaxy A5 is in your pocket. This saves energy, but you can be more explicit about it and put AOD on a schedule (or it may just be that you don’t like the extra light while you sleep).
The lockscreen can be secured with the fingerprint reader. It’s not the fastest we’ve seen, but it’s no slower than the readers that flagship Samsungs use.
The fingerprint reader can do more than that. Web sign-in remembers the passwords you use for sites and can automatically fill them in when you touch the fingerprint reader. You can also secure your Samsung account (more on that in a bit).
The Homescreen has the Briefing pane on the left (which you can disable) and supports themes and icon packs. More interestingly, it supports sort of a 3D Touch feature, not unlike the one found on the Google Pixel phones – you tap and hold on an app and a contextual menu appears. However, it offers just basic app handling actions and is not tied to the actual functionality of app.
The notification area should be quite familiar as well. A line of quick toggles is available above the notifications. Pulling the shade further down reveals all toggles, a brightness slider and a handy search field (Google prefers to put the search field on the homescreen instead).
We like the idea of the Block notifications button, it allows you to quickly mute notifications from pushy apps (games are often guilty of crying for attention when you haven’t played them in a while). Still, we don’t like the aesthetics of it.
The app switcher is the usual rolodex, but unlike the A3 here it offers split-screen multitasking (standard on Nougat, but this is Samsung’s implementation in Marshmallow). The apps that can go in multi-window have an icon next to the X, and that’s one way of doing it – the other is to hold the task switcher capacitive key.
The App drawer has a search field that looks through the apps you have installed, but also suggests apps from Galaxy Apps (you can search the Play Store if you prefer).
Being a somewhat larger phone than the A3, the A5 also gets a one-handed operation mode. It’s part of the Advanced features menu where you can also enable other actions like double press on the Home button to launch the camera and screenshot capture with a palm swipe.
Secure folder creates a separate zone so sensitive files (photos, documents, etc.) and apps can be locked away from prying eyes. Once you enter the Secure folder, taking a photo with the camera or snapping a screenshot places the file in the Secure folder. To access those from the regular gallery, you’ll first have to move them.
The reason you want to secure your Samsung account with your fingerprint is that you get 15GB of cloud storage for free. Everything from contacts to photos can be synced and you get to choose which files are synced over LTE and which are left for when Wi-Fi is available (contacts, calendar and notes don’t use much data, but photos do).
The Galaxy A5 (2017)‘s primary camera is based on a 16MP sensor that sits behind a 27mm-equiv. lens with an f/1.9 aperture. It’s lost the optical stabilization, unfortunately – last year’s model had that. Autofocus is also contrast-detect only – or at least no phase detection is being advertised. There is a single-LED flash, but that’s been Samsung’s treatments of its flagships, so why should the A-series be any better.
The camera interface has not received substantial changes. Grace UX has brought only minor refinements like swipe gestures.
As usual for Samsung smartphones, you can launch the camera with a quick double press on the Home key. The viewfinder greets you with only a flash mode toggle and a shortcut to settings.
From here you can swipe down to switch between the front and rear cameras, which is much appreciated even if not very original (LG says hi!). Swiping to the left gives you a panel with color filters, while in the other pane you get access to the shooting modes.
That’s where HDR mode resides – there is no Auto HDR like on flagships and the HDR mode is a swipe and a tap away, instead of just a tap. A Pro mode is present too, though that’s clearly a huge overstatement – you get control over exposure compensation, ISO and white balance presents, plus a metering mode selector, but no manual focus and no manual shutter speed. We gather the ‘pro’ could pass for ‘program’, but not ‘professional’, really.
Image quality is quite good, with low noise and minimal signs of noise reduction. Colors are pleasingly vivid too, without being over the top – in this weather it’s mostly the iPhone graffiti in the second image that can testify to that, but it’s enough (also the Photo compare tool down below). Dynamic range is good, though in extreme cases like the 4th and 5th sample you’re bound to end up with blown highlights.
HDR needs to be engaged manually, there’s no Auto and certainly no live preview like on the flagships. In high-contrast scenarios you might be wise to take a shot in normal and HDR mode, just in case. It does what it promises without much drama – shadows get a modest boost, and some detail in the highlights is salvaged, adding up to a very natural-looking image. Some might prefer a little less subtlety here.
We’ve seen better panoramas than the ones coming out of the Galaxy A5 (2017), but then again, we’ve seen better weather too, though certainly not lately. Anyway, the A5’s panoramas are about 1,800px tall, detail is about average, and stitching is very good, of course provided there are no moving objects.
The selfie camera on the Galaxy A5 (2017) is another 16MP f/1.9 unit, though naturally not of the same caliber as the rear one with the same numbers. For one, the front-facer lacks autofocus, and you’d think that’s a non-issue for a cam used almost exclusively at arm’s length. It would have been, had the focus distance been tuned to arm’s length shooting, and that’s not the case.
Which is sad, because at the proper distance the results are superb, only that means just your face is in the frame, and presumes some serious interest in your pores. At arm’s length everything’s a blur.
The evenly matched pixel count prompted us to make a comparison between the front and rear cameras, and… well… makes you wonder just how crucial composition needs to be for it to make such a trade-off in quality worth it.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) captures video up to 1080p/30fps, so no 4K recording out of this one. We’ve sort of grown used to expecting a phone in this price range to be able to do it – damn you, OnePlus 3.
The A5’s videos are encoded with a 17Mbps bitrate, the usual number, while audio gets a generous 256Kbps, stereo.
The FullHD video output is good, with nice levels of detail and low noise. Colors are rendered quite well too, though once again you’re better off looking at the Video compare tool to get a better idea. Audio, by the way, is surprisingly clear, and it can’t be down to just the bitrate.
One thing is clear from this review – Samsung has got the alphabet wrong. A has never been as close to S as it is with the A (2017) series. The Galaxy A5 (2017) carries more than a passing resemblance to the reigning Galaxy S7 flagship – let’s just say that if the S7 were to stumble into the A5, they’d take a selfie together.
It’s hard to split the two for looks and build quality, and that includes the IP68 certification. Only now making it outside of a select group of flagship or rugged Samsungs, the dust and water proofing is shared across the entire ‘A’ lineup this year. Same for the Home button with a fingerprint reader, complete with Samsung Pay capabilities, but that’s old news – it was already available on last year’s As.
Another thing to trickle down into the upper midrange is the cutting-edge internals. The 14nm chipset at the heart of the A5 (2017) may not outperform the top-end silicon of the day, but its efficiency is immediately evident – the battery life of the A5 is just marvelous.
The 5.2-inch Super AMOLED display is equally great – gone are the days of dim AMOLEDs with colors all over the place. This one is bright, it can be accurate if you want it to be, and it is well visible in the sun. Flagships retain the QHD resolution as a trump card, but the A5 is perfectly okay with its FullHD.
16MP cameras front and back – we can see smiles lighting up the faces of Samsung’s marketing team. The front cam can be super-detailed, only you need to keep the phone a foot away from your face, and that barely fits our grown-up mugs. We don’t know about you, but that’s not how we like our selfies. The rear camera is a lot more balanced and a capable overall performer. Its images are detailed and exhibit mature detail rendering, pleasing colors, and dynamic range is quite wide.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) key test findings
Build quality and materials are flagship-grade (IP68 rating, too), but the glass back is inevitably prone to fingerprints.
The high-quality Super AMOLED display has excellent maximum brightness and infinite contrast and can put out punchy or spot-on colors depending on your preference. Sunlight legibility is not quite up there with the best, but it’s still better than any LCD.
Battery life is superb – the phone’s endurance rating is 95h, and it posted excellent numbers in all our individual tests.
Grace UX or TouchWiz, Samsung’s interface is functional and feature-rich, now also sleeker. It’s still based on Android Marshmallow, which is less than ideal in 2017.
The Exynos 7880 performs great if you take into account its efficiency. In absolute terms, it’s an average midrange SoC that’s not greatly suited to the most demanding tasks. Then again, Game launcher could help you alleviate that by lowering the resolution at which games are rendered so you get all the special effects.
The loudspeaker posts a Good rating for loudness, it’s nice and clear at maximum volume too.
Image quality from the main camera is good – there’s sufficient detail, colors are nicely saturated, and dynamic range is pretty wide.
1080p video quality is very good, so is the audio that accompanies it.
The 16MP selfie camera produces spectacular results, but its focus is fixed way too close, so you’re forced to choose between narrow coverage or images that are simply not in focus.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) may look like the (still) current flagship S7, but it is the S6 that it will give it the hardest time. The previous-gen top model boasts a higher-grade camera with 4K video recording and OIS, a higher-res display and a superior chipset. We’d even cautiously suggest that the much more versatile 5MP selfie shooter of the S6 wins over the 16MP one of the A5. The A5 (2017) fights back with its IP68 rating (the S6 carries none), a microSD slot, a FM radio and longer battery life, plus a Type-C port if that’s a decider for you.
Oh, we almost forgot – the S6 is one of the best choices if you want to take advantage of Samsung’s Gear VR platform. The A5 (2017) stays quietly in the corner when the big boys talk VR.
Then there are the other As from this year. Maybe you’re eyeing the A3 (2017) for its pocketability, just beware that it’s got a lower-res (and lower pixel density) display, a slower chipset, less RAM and storage and lower-res cameras. It does keep a lot of the important stuff like the microSD slot (though hybrid on the dual-SIM version), IP68 rating, and superb display and battery life. It’s also cheaper, duh.
Or, you could go one up and pick the 5.7-inch Galaxy A7 (2017) if that’s available near you. Much fewer trade-offs here – the hardware is almost identical, only you’d be paying a little more for a larger diagonal and more battery (so possibly better battery life). The one caveat – Samsung won’t be selling the A7 in Europe – a decision which is beyond us.
There’s yet another option that needs to be mentioned, and it’s none other than the Galaxy S7. Of course, it’s considerably more expensive right now, but it’s due for replacement in three months, so if you could wait, the S7 will certainly be a much better deal then. The A5 (2017) has nothing on the flagship – all the advantages over the S6 vanish (alright, there’s the FM radio), and the S7 is hands-down the better phone altogether.
The Xperia X Performance goes for Galaxy A5 (2017) money in most markets. It’s a model that’s close to being a year old if you count from the announcement or half that if you consider the actual launch.
The X Performance is among a select few devices to offer an IP68 rating for dust and water protection, so the A5 has found its match on this front. Not regarding battery life, though – the Sony is nowhere near. It does boast a Snapdragon 820 chipset, which it chooses not to use for UHD video, but its advantages for mobile gaming remain – it’s much better suited to the task than the A5’s Exynos 7880.
Huawei has a couple of phones to compete with the A5 (2017) for your affection. Another flagship due for replacement, the P9 is a bit pricier but has a lovely dual 12MP camera (color+monochrome) on its back and a more powerful chipset (that still doesn’t support 4K video recording, mind you). The A5 is dust and water resistant, though, and makes much better use of its 3,000mAh battery than the P9.
Going for the Huawei nova instead, you’d save a few notes, but still get a premium midranger – this one made of metal. Unlike the P9, the nova has a single rear camera (but then so does the A5), only it can record 4K video. Battery life isn’t half bad, but it’s no match for the marathon runner that the A5 is and the Samsung handset’s display is superior in all respects. Did we mention the A5’s IP68 rating? Well, now we have.
Priced identically to the Galaxy A5 (2017), the OnePlus 3T deserves a spot here. Sure, you can’t find it in a store, and claiming a warranty might be a minor pain in the…hassle, but it’s hard to beat it in bang-for-buck ratio. Packing one of the most powerful chipsets available, the 3T also comes with more RAM and storage. The latest from OnePlus packs 2x16MP cameras too, and both are arguably slightly better than the A5’s, plus the main one can capture 2160p video.
The A5 has its strengths – the 32GB of memory may look modest next to OnePlus’ 64GB or 128GB (has anyone actually gotten one of those), but a 256GB microSD card can easily dwarf that, as the 3T offers no option for expansion. Perhaps you’re tired of reading about the A5’s water-resistance and excellent battery life, but that’s only because no other phone manages to match it on both of those counts, most not even on one. The OnePlus 3T certainly can’t.
Going through the numbers that define the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) it’s all too easy to focus on the negative stuff. No 2160p video recording. £400/€430. Android 6.0.1. Even that name is a bit too much – A5 (2017).
Those numbers can easily be countered with a few others that ring much more nicely, but let’s not get so hung up on the digits. The facts are that the Galaxy A5 (2017) is beautifully-built; it will live through a downpour; it packs a screen that’s only bested by flagships, and has battery life to spare. Of course, it’s not ideal, and it’s not cheap, but you’re also unlikely to find a better match for the description in the previous sentence. Well, not unless you dig even deeper into your pocket.
One of the first phones with five cameras on board and, several months after the announcement, still the only one with four on the back – it’s the Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018). We set out to discover how well the impressive specsheet translates into real world performance.
Sitting on top of the ever-confusing Galaxy A-series, the A9 leaves no doubt it’s the best-equipped of the bunch. Of course, it’s got more cameras than any other – it adds a telephoto module to the A7’s regular/wide/depth configuration. There’s ‘only’ a single cam on the front – the 24MP selfie shooter doesn’t get a depth sensor of its own.
It’s not just the camera count that sets the A9 apart from the rest of the 2018 midrange Galaxy models – it’s also got the most powerful chipset. Its Snapdragon 660 outclasses the Exynos chipsets of its lesser brethren and only falls short of the recently announced A8s (which lacks a year designation, so it doesn’t really count).
The largest display of the A-series is also to be found on the A9 (2018), its 6.3-inch diagonal only bested by that pesky A8s that came out as we were doing the A9’s review, so we had to reword stuff here and there. Anyway, the A9 (2018) feature set continues with more RAM than you could possibly need, 128GB of storage that you can also expand with a dedicated microSD slot, and ample battery capacity complete with Samsung’s sort-of fast charging – yup, the A9’s spec sheet has all the right boxes checked.
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) specs
Body: Glass back, metal frame; 162.5 x 77 x 7.8mm, 183g; Caviar Black, Lemonade Blue and Bubblegum Pink color schemes;
Memory: 6GB/8GB (market dependent) of RAM, 128GB of storage; dedicated microSD slot for expansion.
Battery: 3,800 mAh Li-Po (sealed); Samsung Adaptive Fast charging.
Connectivity: Dual SIM; LTE Cat. 9 (450Mbps download/50Mbps upload); USB 2.0 Type-C port; Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0; FM radio.
Misc: Rear-mounted fingerprint reader; Samsung Pay; single speaker on the bottom; 3.5mm jack.
Well, we would have preferred Android Pie instead of last year’s Oreo, but in a world where the Note9 doesn’t have v9.0 of the OS yet, and the S9 only got it as a post-Christmas present, we didn’t actually expect it of the A9, of all models.
And while we usually avoid thinking in price-vs-performance terms before evaluating a phone on its merits, the number Samsung is asking for the Galaxy A9 (2018) raised a few eyebrows around the office as soon as the phone got in through the door. We’ll be quick to go over the lab test results, but not before we have a look at the A9’s design.
Design and 360-degree spin
The Galaxy A9 (2018) is immediately recognizeable – after all, there’s no other smartphone with 4 cameras on the back, as we established. The quad-cam array is positioned in the top left corner and is remarkably less intrusive than we would have thought – or is it just us getting used to multi-camera setups?
The four modules are arranged in a row, instead of a 2×2 square and it’s perhaps this setup that makes them less in-your-face. It also helps that they all peek at you from one shared window instead of, say, Huawei’s 2+1 configuration on the P20 Pro. Even so, Samsung didn’t find room in there for the flash and it’s outside of the camera cluster.
Instead of the Galaxy A7 (2018)’s one-off side-mounted fingerprint reader, the one on the A9 is placed more conventionally on the back. If you’re switching from a smaller phone, this reader may seem a bit high, but if you’re coming from another 6+-inch phone it’s exactly where you’d expect it to be. A word of praise to Samsung for having no text other than the company logo to spoil the look of the back.
The front is very clean too – the 6.3-inch Super AMOLED takes center stage, naturally, with thin sides and meatier, though not excessive, top and bottom bezels. Samsung still calls it Infinity Display even though it’s less ‘infinity’ than on the S9s and the Note9s of this world. Some folks will prefer it that way – if you’re into large screens, but like them flat, the A9’s the way to go in Samsung’s lineup.
The top bezel houses the usual elements you’d expect to find there. The earpiece is in the middle, the selfie camera is to its right, while the ambient light and proximity sensors share a cutout on the left. There’s nothing below the display.
The Galaxy A9 (2018)‘s frame is made of metal, keeping together the glass sandwich. Down on the bottom, there’s a USB-C port (we still can’t forgive Samsung for pairing the A7 with a microUSB port in 2018), a good old 3.5mm jack, the single loudspeaker, and the primary mic.
Up top you’ll find the secondary mic pinhole and the card slot. That card slot is our favorite type – it takes two nanoSIMs and a microSD card, so you’re not forced to choose between dual SIM versatility and extra storage.
Samsung’s messed things up a bit with the control scheme on the A9 (2018) and moved the volume rocker to the right, above the power button. It used to be a given that your Samsung will come with a power-on-the-right-volume-on-the-left setup, but that’s no longer the case. There still is a button on the left of the A9 – that one’s for Bixby. Even though we find the arrangement unorthodox for a Galaxy, we had no issues with actually using the buttons, so the above are just pointless musings. The click action is good too.
The Galaxy A9 (2018) measures 162.5x77x7.8mm, which is about right for its display size. The 6.4-inch Note9, in fact, has a marginally smaller footprint, but its curved screen helps with the numbers. And then the A9 is actually a full millimeter thinner than the flagship. The A9 (2018) is also reasonably light for the combination of display size and battery capacity, and its 183g won’t be a burden on your jeans pocket.
A large-screened smartphone with upper mid-range internals and a bunch of cameras – who else makes those? Practically everyone, though as we’ve established, not one of them can beat the Galaxy A9 (2018) for the sheer number of its rear cameras. Then again, having many cameras on board hasn’t translated into great image quality for the Galaxy, so let’s explore what other options you can get for the same amount of cash.
OnePlus 6T • Xiaomi Pocophone F1 • Huawei P20 Pro • Samsung Galaxy S9+
The OnePlus 6T is the first that comes to mind. Just like the A9, it has one useless camera on the back, but the one that it does use, it uses a whole lot better than the Galaxy. It’s also got a more powerful high-end chipset and overall more streamlined software experience.
The Pocophone F1 caused quite the stir and for a reason – it packs some flagship-grade internals at a fraction of a flagship’s price. It’s also a lot cheaper than the A9, and it also has the Snapdragon 845 of the OP6T, which easily beats the A9’s 660. And the Pocophone isn’t really behind this particular Galaxy in any meaningful way either.
Now, if you want some of that actual flagship feel, the Huawei P20 Pro can be had for about as much as the Galaxy A9 (2018), and it is a superior phone all around, particularly in the camera department where the A9’s chops lie on paper.
The curious thing, however, is that you could be getting a better phone while remaining loyal to Samsung and without spending much more than you’d shell for the A9. The Galaxy S9+ is a couple of months from its due replacement and depending on where you are, deals are to be scored any day now.
Conceptually, the Galaxy A9 (2018) shows the direction the industry is headed – single device, all the cameras. In practice, however, it’s precisely these cameras that let it down. Of course, we can’t expect Samsung to make a better cameraphone in the midrange than its current top models, but the A9’s image and video quality is as if it’s coming from another era and it’s not the future we are talking about.
Which is sad, because it’s otherwise a capable phone. All the rest of the important stuff is there – a high-quality display, battery life to spare, a powerful chipset, more RAM and storage than you know what to do with – these are all covered. You know, except for the camera.
The prohibitively high price doesn’t help its case either. We’d understand it if there were no major dealbreakers, but with a camera like this, it’s not really so, is it?
Let’s put it this way – if you’re after the bragging rights for having the world’s only quad-rear-cam phone, well, the Galaxy A9 (2018) is the rather obvious choice. But if you are after taking nice pictures with your phone regardless of the number of cameras it has – well, there are better options out there.
Excellent display all around.
Very good battery life.
Powerful chipset, a ton of RAM, boatloads of storage and a dedicated microSD slot – it’s hard to beat the A9 when it comes to the essentials.
Really disappointing image quality, particularly for a phone that’s advertised for its camera prowess.
Old OS version, Pie update is going to take a while if it arrives at all.
If 2019 taught us anything it’s that Samsung‘s A-series span pretty much the entire spectrum of feature sets and price brackets short of a true flagship. The 2020 roster is only beginning to unfold and the company kicked things off by adding 1s to product names in the mid-tier – thus the Galaxy A51 was born.
That 1 means a lot when you look at the A51 and A50 side by side. For starters, there’s 1 more camera on the new model – a close-focusing 5MP shooter. The chipset is also “1” better – the A51 is powered by the Exynos 9611 as opposed to the 9610 in last year’s phone. And then a 0.1-inch increase in screen diagonal continues the theme albeit at a lower order of magnitude.
Let’s put our lame attempts at numerology to the side, and mention the other upgrades that the Galaxy A51 brings – almost exclusively in the camera system. There’s a 48MP Quad Bayer primary unit now replacing the 25MP conventional module of the A50 and the ultra wide-angle cam’s sensor has grown in pixel count – it now stands at 12MP as opposed to the A50’s 8MP, still with 123-degree coverage.
And you be the judge if this counts as an upgrade, but the selfie camera now sits in a cutout in the top center of the display, unlike the A50’s notch. Infinity-O replaces Infinity-U. The camera itself should, indeed, qualify as an upgrade – a 32MP Quad Bayer unit where the A50’s 25MP snapper used to sit.
Samsung Galaxy A51 specs
Body: Glass front (Gorilla Glass 3), polycarbonate back and frame.
Screen: 6.5-inch Super AMOLED, 20:9, FHD+ (1080x2400px), 405ppi.
Misc: Under-display fingerprint reader, single bottom-firing loudspeaker.
Samsung Galaxy A51 unboxing
There’s no ‘New year, new me’ when it comes to the A-series presentation and the Galaxy A51 arrives in a familiar white box with a glossy print of the phone on top, a cutout with the model numbers helping identify what’s inside.
And inside, sure enough, you’ll find the Galaxy A51. Besides the phone, you’ll be getting a 15W power adapter – the tried and tested QC2.0-based Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging unit, plus a USB-A-to-C cable to complete the link. A basic set of earbuds is also part of the bundle, but there’s no protective case – other makers take the exact opposite approach, and we’d probably pick a case instead of a headset, but to each their own.
The Galaxy A51 and A71 that got announced at the start of the year usher in Samsung‘s new language when it comes to rear camera design. Like it or not, oversized rectangular clusters in the top left corner that group all shooters under the same roof is how the company’s phones will adapt to the ever growing number of modules. The Galaxy A51 we have here, packs a total of four cameras on its back.
The assembly is raised by about a millimeter, but that doesn’t make it particularly prone to wobbling, if that’s a concern to you. The flash also found room with the cameras, and with a fingerprint reader missing on the back, the camera bump is the one thing that breaks the back panel’s continuity.
Samsung designers figured an accent is then in order, and spiced things up with a rather unique finish. A seemingly arbitrary diagonal line separates a fine-striped bottom part from the solid top, while another diagonal line divides the back into a darker and a lighter portion. The two diagonals intersect, forming an ‘X’ of sorts with four different resulting quadrants.
And that’s before the phone starts playing with light. Our Prism Crush Black review unit explodes in an entire rainbow of colors if you look at it under the right angle. Going by the official renders, we can see a hint of that rainbow regardless of the colorway. We do like the look, though if it were up to us, we’d pick one of the brighter colors.
For all its good looks, the Galaxy A51‘s back panel is made of plastic, so we wouldn’t trust it to be too durable – a sheet of Gorilla Glass would have inspired a bit more confidence. The front does get some of Corning’s 3rd-gen glass, so at least your display should be safer.
It’s an Infinity-O panel that sits on the A51‘s front, meaning a mostly bezelless and notchless display, but with a tiny circular cutout for the selfie cam. It’s a look that we’re familiar with from the Note10s of this world and it’s apparently another one of the company’s signature touches for the time being.
As for the bezels, the A51 is a noticeable step up from the A50, with the chin now being a lot thinner. The top and the sides are even slimmer, but more importantly they’re the same thickness too, which should please those of you that pay attention to small details. As was the case with the A50, the Galaxy A51 has a slit up top for the earpiece, carved into the glass.
The phone’s frame is made of plastic, same as last year, and much like the A50, the A51‘s physical buttons are all on the right – what was the point of the whole ‘buttons on the left’ switcheroo we saw on the Note10? The buttons themselves have decent travel, but they do click a bit less satisfyingly if you press them off-center.
On the left side of the phone, way up towards the top, you’ll find the card tray. On our dual SIM review unit, it’ll take two nano SIMs and a microSD all at the same time so you don’t have to pick between extra storage and an extra SIM.
Down on the bottom, there’s the USB-C port in the center. A headphone jack sits on one side, the loudspeaker and the primary mic on the other. Up top there’s another mic and that’s about it.
The Galaxy A51 measures 158.5×73.6×7.9mm and weighs 172g making it one of the more pocketable offerings in the segment. It’s thinner and narrower than the Realme X2 and competing Xiaomis (the Mi 9T and Redmi Note 8 Pro, to name a couple) and it’s also lighter while still packing a 4,000mAh battery. It is, in fact, surprisingly slim and light in the hand.
6.5-inch Infinity-O Super AMOLED
The Galaxy A51 has a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with 1080 by 2400 pixels in a tall-for-a-Samsung 20:9 aspect ratio. It’s an Infinity-O panel, meaning it’s got a punch hole for the selfie camera, as opposed to a notch of any sort or shape. The A51 and A71 were the first non-flagships in the company’s lineup to adopt that approach, with the Lite S10 and Note10 following.
Infinity-O or otherwise, it’s still a Samsung OLED display and behaves in much the same way we’ve come to expect from those. We measured a maximum brightness of 636nits when the Adaptive brightness toggle was engaged and 413nits if you take over control of the slider. Minimum brightness was 1.8nits.
Samsung Galaxy A51
Samsung Galaxy A51 (Max Auto)
Samsung Galaxy A50
Samsung Galaxy A50 (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Mi 9T
Xiaomi Mi 9T (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Redmi K30
Xiaomi Redmi K30 (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro (Max Auto)
Nokia 7.2 (Max Auto)
Motorola Moto G8 Plus
Motorola Moto G8 Plus (Max Auto)
Color rendition is handled familiarly – the Natural/Vivid approach Samsung introduced recently. Natural aims to reproduce sRGB content truthfully, and we measured a very good average deltaE of 1.8, though 100% Green was particularly off with a deviation of 5.4.
The Vivid mode offers a 5-position cool-to-warm slider, and we were particularly impressed with the spot-on whites and grays at the warmest setting, which yielded an overall average deltaE of 2.7 when examining color swatches against their DCI-P3 targets. The mid-point on the slider will get you slightly worse average deltaE of 3.3 and not as accurate whites – moderately shifted towards blue to the tune of a deltaE of 4.
Samsung Galaxy A51 battery life
The Galaxy A51 has a 4,000mAh battery inside, same capacity as the model it replaces and pretty much par for the course in the segment. Despite using the same chipset, the A51 does come with a slightly larger display and a different OS, so we expected at least some difference in the battery life, and indeed that’s what we got.
We clocked 13 and a half hours on the web over Wi-Fi, a full hour more than what the A50 managed. Then again, we’re witnessing an hour and a half drop in video playback to 14:22h – still a respectable number. The 22-hour call time isn’t spectacular, but it’ll do. In the end, the Galaxy A51‘s overall Endurance rating adds up to 86 hours.
Using the supplied adapter, the Galaxy A51 charges from flat to full in 2:14h, which won’t win it any contests, but is fairly decent. At the 30-minute mark, we were looking at 35%, and that too isn’t praiseworthy.
Next up – testing the quality of the output through the audio jack. The Samsung Galaxy A51 put in a spirited performance with an active external amplifier, getting top marks while maintaining downright impressive loudness.
The volume remained high with headphones, and we got a bit of extra distortion and a moderate amount of stereo crosstalk. All things considered, it’s an excellent showing by the mid-ranger, though.
IMD + Noise
Samsung Galaxy A51
Samsung Galaxy A51 (headphones)
Samsung Galaxy M30s
Samsung Galaxy M30s (headphones)
Redmi Note 8
Redmi Note 8 (headphones)
Motorola Moto G8 Plus
Motorola Moto G8 Plus (headphones)
Realme X2 (headphones)
Android 10 and One UI 2 out of the box
The Galaxy A51 is one of the first Samsung phones to boot Android 10 out of the box, complete with the latest custom One UI 2.0. It’s nice to see that new models are launching with their software already up to date, as opposed to having to wait several months for an OTA.
We’ve already seen the 10/2.0 combo on several flagship Galaxies, where it arrived as an update. On top of that, the second version of One UI isn’t all that different from the original, save for the new take on gesture navigation. Even so, the A51‘s build comes with a small surprise – you get Edge screen.
Previously reserved for the flagships where they would go together with the curved edge displays, the Edge screen set of features have made their way to the mostly flat-screened Galaxy A51. Edge panels is a well-known, long-standing feature that 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 – it’s a feature that can light up different types of peripheral glow for notifications, and as you’ve probably guessed, there are tons of options and styles to choose from.
Gesture navigation is also available, and you get to pick between the One UI 2 set of actions or go back to the One UI 1 way of doing things. The former is similar to the current native Android 10 approach with a swipe-in from the sides for ‘Back’ and swipe-up from the bottom for Home or task switcher. The old way is by swiping up from three separate areas on the bottom that do what the on-screen buttons before them used to do. If you can’t be bothered with gesturess, the conventional onscreen nav bar remains an option too.
Other cool recent developments have made their way to the A51, including Dark mode. It skins UI elements in black and shades of dark gray and also invokes the dark modes of supported apps, which include the in-house ones as well as the Google suite (not Maps, though, not yet).
Biometrics on the Galaxy A51 include an optical fingerprint reader and basic camera-only face detection. The fingerprint reader experience is trouble-free, with the usual multi-step setup feeling a bit tedious but rewarding when it comes to accuracy afterwards.
It’s not the fastest of sensors and feels more like Samsung‘s ultra-sonic units in the flagships as opposed to a good, nearly-instant optical one, and the laggy animation doesn’t help with perceived speed, but it’s mostly a usable reader that doesn’t get in the way.
Other than that, the Galaxy A51‘s UI is One UI as we’ve come to enjoy. The shift of actionable UI elements towards the bottom for easier reach has been widely praised, and we’re also digging the iconography.
The Galaxy A51 is powered by the in-house Exynos 9611 chipset – a minor refresh on the 9610 found in last year’s model, and a refresh that only addresses high-res camera support. In fact, we did see an uptick in performance on the M30s, which uses the 9611 too, so there’s probably more than meets the eye in the specsheets.
Anyway, this particular Exynos is built on a 10nm process and packs an octa-core CPU in a classic 2×4 configuration – 4×2.3GHz Cortex-A73 & 4×1.7GHz Cortex-A53. The GPU is Mali-G72 MP3. Three RAM/storage versions are in existence – 4/64GB, 4/128GB, and 6/128GB, with our review unit being the mid spec.
In our benchmarking session, the Galaxy A51 proved it’s not up to the standard set by competitors in the price range. The Snapdragon 730 present in the Realme X2 and the Xiaomi Mi 9T is significantly more powerful in all applications, be it CPU- or GPU-intense. The Huawei Nova 5T that relies on the once flagship Kirin 980 SoC is in a class of its own, yet fits the budget. The A51 is keeping company to the Nokia 7.2 in terms of CPU performance, but even that ancient Snapdragon 660 in the 7.2 has better graphics than the Galaxy.
GSM / HSPA / LTE
2019, December 12
Available. Released 2019, December 16
158.5 x 73.6 x 7.9 mm (6.24 x 2.90 x 0.31 in)
172 g (6.07 oz)
Glass front (Gorilla Glass 3), plastic back, plastic frame
Single SIM (Nano-SIM) or Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)
Samsung‘s never going to have it easy in the midrange, with great value handsets coming from the likes of Xiaomi and Realme. The brand image is one thing, but can the Galaxy A51 stand up to the competition for the brand-agnostic buyer?
At €300, the Realme X2 is some 10-15% cheaper than the Galaxy A51‘s €340-ish for a matching 128GB storage level, though the Realme will come with twice as much RAM (8GB vs. 4GB). The Realme has a vastly more powerful chipset across the board and delivers longer battery life. The A51‘s ultra-wide and macro cameras are better, while the X2’s main shooter makes a compelling case for itself, and there aren’t bad displays between these two. We’d call the Realme a winner here, if you don’t mind that people around the table may need some explaining where your phone comes from.
Xiaomi’s lineup is particularly tough to navigate, with numerous mid-tier models available, but certainly not all of them everywhere. A Mi 9T is a reasonably global player (known in some markets as Redmi K20), and it retails for about as much as the Galaxy A51 for comparable storage tiers. The Galaxy walks into this underpowered again, with the Xiaomi packing a brawnier chipset and Infinity-O as it may be, the A51‘s display still has a hole in it, unlike the Xiaomi with its retractable selfie cam. The 9T/K20 also has a telephoto camera, to which the Galaxy has no answer. Again, it’s only the brand that can have you going Galaxy instead of Mi.
A Huawei Nova 5T (or its Honor 20 cousin) could be a viable option in the Galaxy A51‘s price bracket if you want some of that Huawei goodness from the pre-trade war times when Huaweis had Google support. The Kirin 980 inside the Nova is a proper beast compared to the Exynos in the Samsung, while battery life is comparable between the two phones, but we’d pick the A51 when it comes to displays.
Realme X2 • Xiaomi Mi 9T • Huawei nova 5T
The Galaxy A51 offers a sensible package of features and performs well in most key areas. It’s one of the lightest handsets in the segment while still having a big display and doesn’t sacrifice battery life in the process. Typically for a Samsung, the A51‘s display leaves little to complain about too. A thorough upgrade in the camera department means good daylight photos from all cameras, with particularly great portraits and a ‘macro’ cam that’s hard to beat. The up to date software at launch, complete with added features which used to be reserved for the flagships until only recently, rounds up a compelling list of pros.
The thing is, though, competitors have all these boxes checked too, and then some. Pretty much every phone for the money will come with a more powerful chipset, and you’ll especially appreciate it if you’re into gaming, but future-proofing is also a valid concern. Samsung‘s not too keen on making its midranger cameras shoot too great in the dark, while others don’t necessarily pull their punches quite as much.
More importantly, key rivals come at a lower price, with few objective trade-offs. With that in mind, we can’t wholeheartedly recommend the Galaxy A51 at the current price. If you absolutely must have a Samsung (which is a sentiment we can understand), this one isn’t bad to spend the brand-related premium on. A carrier subsidy could also sweeten the Galaxy deal, and that you may not be able to get on the Xiaomis and Realmes of the world. But if we are buying at full retail price, our money wouldn’t be on the A51 judging strictly on its merits.
Compact and light for the display size and battery capacity, standout design.
Dependable battery life, reasonably fast charging.
Super AMOLED display that’s plenty bright and good with colors.
Superb portraits, better than average closeups, generally good daylight image quality from all cameras.
Android 10 out of the box, One UI 2 has plenty going for it.
Chipset isn’t as powerful as what the competition has to offer.
Camera performance is lacking in low light.
No video stabilization in 4K, no 60fps mode in 1080p.
The Galaxy A refresh has begun and the A51 and A71 are headliners of this new generation. Punch-hole appears to be the buzzword in this new series, though you should expect updated chipsets and cameras as well. And the Galaxy A71 has all these, topped with new Android and One UI.
Indeed, the Galaxy A71 seems to be packing just enough to warrant its upgrade status over the A70 – a smaller notch, a newer chip, a higher-res and higher-count camera setup, and newer Android and One launcher.
On the other hand, Glasstic is still the way forward for the Galaxy A lineup, and waterproofing is still not in the cards. The large 4,500 mAh battery and fast charging are going nowhere, so that’s good.
The Snapdragon 730 has become somewhat of a celebrity in the midrange and the new Galaxy A71 has it, so as far as gaming – Samsung has you covered. Then the 64MP camera, which seems to be the next big thing, is now on the A71, too. Oh, and a macro snapper, one of the hottest features right now (not), is now part of the A71 as well.
Samsung Galaxy A71 specs
Body: Glass front (Gorilla Glass 3), polycarbonate back and frame.
Screen: 6.7-inch Super AMOLED, 20:9, FHD+ (1080x2400px), 393ppi.
Misc: Under-display fingerprint reader, single bottom-firing loudspeaker.
We do appreciate the smaller notch on the AMOLED screen, but an HDR10 certification would have made the upgrade far more meaningful than a handful of pixels. Then, that Snapdragon could have been the 730G model, too. And that macro camera – without autofocus it’s useless and we won’t get tired of saying that.
Good or bad, we won’t know until we unbox that Galaxy A71, so here we go.
Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy A71
The Galaxy A71 comes in a compact paper box, but it’s full of stuff. In addition to the phone itself, you will also find a 25W charger, a USB-C-to-C cable, and a pair of in-ear Samsung headphones with a mic.
The A70 was the first Galaxy to use a USB-PD charger and it’s going to stick around, apparently. If you are looking for the SIM ejection pin, look no further than the box cover – just flip it and you’ll see it on the inside.
A large phone with an ample screen and slim profile – that’s what the Galaxy A71 is all about. Indeed, it has the biggest screen a modern Galaxy can offer these days, and the minimum of notches – the punch-hole kind.
The Samsung Galaxy A71 is yet another “Glasstic” phone and that’s easy to decipher – it’s made of both glass and plastic that looks like glass. The 6.7″ Super AMOLED has Gorilla Glass 3 protection – hence the glass part, while the thin frame and dazzling back are made of nicely polished plastic.
The AMOLED panel is probably the same we saw on the Galaxy A70 – a 6.7″ in diagonal with extended 1080p resolution and rounder corners. But instead of droplet-shaped cutout for the front camera, the 32MP selfie shooter now sits into a punch-hole.
The Gorilla Glass 3 is mostly flat though it ends very subtly on a cool 2.5D edge and thus avoids feeling sharp when handled. The ambient light sensor is behind the screen, while the earpiece grille is so thin – etched between the frame and the screen, so it’s almost invisible.
There is no notification LED around, but the Galaxy A71 supports Always-On Display. The cost is reduced battery life, of course.
An optical fingerprint sensor placed under the screen takes care of your security and privacy. It’s neither the fastest around nor the more accurate. And on top of these – the software implementation is far from peachy. Sure, usable it is, but far, far from perfect.
The back is where you will find trendy curves, but also the must-have originality that by today’s standards means unique hues and patterns mostly. Oh, and camera decks, of course – ever since Apple went completely asymmetrical with the iPhone 11s – all bets are off now and Samsung seems to be very comfortable with that.
So, the Prism Crush Black model we have here is, well, crushingly beautiful. The rear panel looks like glass, feels like glass, and shines like glass, meaning it can certainly fool everyone. It has this subtle stripe pattern that’s disturbed only by a few diagonal lines. So far, so good. But wait until it captures some light and then you’ll be treated to a captivating blast of colors and shades. It’s a stunning view for sure!
The rear camera design is new to this generation and apparently once you go in berserk camera mode – you can get away with anything. All four snappers – main, ultrawide, macro, and depth – are placed on this black deck, as well as the LED flash. The setup is bulging a little bit, and it is also the only exterior element you’ll find metal on – a tiny aluminum frame keeps the camera glass safe.
The Galaxy A71 has a glossy plastic frame, quite thin and somewhat grippy despite the excessive polish. On its left you will find a tri-card tray for two SIMs and a memory card, on the right are the volume and power keys, and the bottom has the audio jack, USB-C port, the mouthpiece and the speaker.
The new Galaxy A71 is indeed a big smartphone but it manages to stay quite slim and lightweight (by today’s standards). The A71 is just 7mm thin and weighs 179g, making it a hair thinner and lighter than the A70!
It is a pleasure to hold, handle, and use as a daily driver – its frame provides just enough grip to make it secure in hand, while the slim profile helps in keeping it pocket and one-hand friendly, believe it or not. It lacks ingress protection, but other than that – the A71 is a very well-built smartphone, beautiful and easily likable.
One big display, but no HDR
The Samsung Galaxy A71 has the same screen as the Galaxy A70’s but the notch is a bit different. While the A70 had the 2019’s waterdrop-shaped cutout, the A71 joins the ’20 trend with a punch-hole for the selfie camera. Sure, it’s not as small as the one on Note10 Lite, but it’s a hole alright.
Super AMOLED eye-candy – A71, S10 Lite, Note10 Lite
So, the Super AMOLED screen is 6.7″ in diagonal, with rounder corners and punch-hole for the front camera. It has a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 pixels that makes for a 20:9 aspect ratio and 393ppi density. The display is protected by a Gorilla Glass 3 piece for some extra peace of mind.
The screen omits HDR10 certification and thus you won’t be able to enjoy premium HDR content over at Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, or similar streaming services. The only app that allows for HDR streaming is YouTube and we noticed the brightness boost when playing such clips, but we are not sure exactly what type of HDR is that.
Having said that, the screen does very well when it comes to brightness. Maxing out the brightness scrubber we measured 410 nits, while the Adaptive Brightness can give you an additional kick up to 515 nits.
We also measured a minimum brightness of 1.7nits – an excellent result.
Samsung Galaxy A71
Samsung Galaxy A71 (Max Auto)
Samsung Galaxy A51
Samsung Galaxy A51 (Max Auto)
Realme X2 Pro
Realme X2 Pro (Max Auto)
Xiaomi K20 Pro/Mi 9T Pro
Xiaomi K20 Pro/Mi 9T Pro (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Redmi K30
Xiaomi Redmi K30 (Max Auto)
Samsung Galaxy A70
Samsung Galaxy A70 (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro (Max Auto)
As it usually happens with Samsung’s Super AMOLEDs, the one on the Galaxy A71 is capable of accurately reproducing different color spaces depending on content and selected display mode. The Natural screen mode stays accurate to sRGB with an average DeltaE of 1.7, while Vivid adheres to the DCI-P3 color space with an average DeltaE of 3.3 (though by opting for Warmer White Balance you can lower it down to 2.7). No other screen modes are available.
The Galaxy A71 has the same large battery as the A70 – it’s a 4,500 mAh Li-Ion cell. The phone supports fast charging and it comes bundled with the appropriate 25W plug. Using the charger, you will be able to replenish about 51% of its empty battery in half an hour, and it takes 81 minutes for a full charge.
The results from our battery life test are in and the Samsung Galaxy A71 scored an excellent mark! The phone lasted north of 13 hours on our web browsing test, more than 17 hours when playing videos, and 30+ hours on 3G talks. Finally, when we added the very good standby performance, we got an overall Endurance Rating of 102 hours.
When it comes to the output through the 3.5mm jack, the Samsung Galaxy A71 is a solid performer. When hooked to an active external amplifier it reproduced the test track perfectly at volume levels well above the average.
Headphones brought a moderate increase in stereo crosstalk and a tiny bit of intermodulation distortion, but no other damage whatsoever. Audiophiles should rest assured – the Galaxy A71 will play your tracks the way they were meant to sound.
IMD + Noise
Samsung Galaxy A71
Samsung Galaxy A71 (headphones)
Samsung Galaxy A51
Samsung Galaxy A51 (headphones)
Redmi Note 8
Redmi Note 8 (headphones)
Motorola Moto G8 Plus
Motorola Moto G8 Plus (headphones)
Realme X2 (headphones)
The Galaxy A71 is a thoughtful refresh over the Galaxy A70 even though it won’t make any A70 owners jump ship, let alone those who bought the A70s. But it does pack more gaming punch and more camera pixels, so it does pass as an update.
The Galaxy A71 adopts the punch-hole notch design, but the actual hole is not as discrete as on the more expensive S and Note models. Still, it’s a statement for the premium status of the A-series as is the massive multi-camera setup on the back.
At the end of the day – the Galaxy A71 seems like a job well done and is an attractive and powerful smartphone worth buying. But the competition always has the last say.
And the competing offers are plenty. Take the Realme X2 Pro for example. It packs a similarly large Super AMOLED screen, but impresses with a mighty Snapdragon 855 chip and has a more meaningful telephoto snapper instead of a macro shooter. Its 6+64GB version (€389) is cheaper than the A71, while the 8+128GB is a close match (€439).
The Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro has a smaller 6.39″ Super AMOLED, but it is a cutout-free one. A flagship-grade Snapdragon 855 chip is in charge of everything, while its quad-camera, just like the Realme X2 Pro, has a zoom shooter instead of macro.
If we are to match the Galaxy A71 specs, we could look at the Redmi K30, which is a lot cheaper in markets where both A71 and K30 are officially available. The Redmi K30 has a dual punch-hole on its large 6.67″ screen, matches the Snapdragon 730 chip (well, its 730G actually), and has an identical 4-camera arrangement at the back. The K30 brags with an IPS LCD screen with 120Hz refresh rate though, and the benefits of that will be obvious in the day to day experience.
Or maybe, if €480 or so are too much for you, but Samsung is your preferred brand, maybe you can give the Galaxy A51 a chance. It’s at least €130 cheaper but still offers a 6.5″ Super AMOLED and the same camera experience on both ends. Performance is where the A51 loses to the A71, but if you are not an avid gamer then you won’t have a problem with that.
Realme X2 Pro • Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro • Xiaomi Redmi K30 • Samsung Galaxy A51
The Galaxy A71 is a tangible upgrade over the A70 – it has a smaller screen cutout, faster performance, better all-round camera, and newer Android and One UI. But like other Galaxy A phones to come before it, the A71 is neither cheap nor competitively priced.
With Xiaomi and Realme aggressively launching phones with flagship-grade specs, it’s a tough job being a mid-ranger these days. We do believe the A71 has a bright future though, as its price will soon go down, while many carriers will subsidize it enough to make it an attractive purchase.
The A71 is a slim and well-built phone
The large 6.7″ AMOLED is a treat for multimedia and gaming
The Snapdragon 730 is the smart mid-range choice and excels in any job
Excellent battery life
All-round camera setup with good image and video quality
Android 10, One UI 2
The screen is not HDR10-compliant
The macro camera is limiting and uninspiring in quality
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G (Max Auto)
Samsung Galaxy S10 (Max Auto)
Samsung Galaxy S20 (Max Auto)
Apple iPhone 11 Pro
Samsung Galaxy Note10 (Max Auto)
OnePlus 7T (Max Auto)
Samsung Galaxy S9 (Max Auto)
Huawei P30 Pro (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Mi Note 10 (Max Auto)
Realme X50 Pro sRGB
Huawei P30 Pro
Realme X50 Pro DCI-P3
Xiaomi Mi Note 10
Google Pixel 4
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
Samsung Galaxy S20
Samsung Galaxy S10
Samsung Galaxy S9
Samsung Galaxy Note10
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.
At this point, Samsung has already established that its 2019 A-series of smartphones will represent its entry-level and mid-range offerings. One of them is the Galaxy A20. Priced at under $200, is this worth considering given the competition. Find out in our full review.
Design and Construction
As stated in my hand-on and first impressions, the Galaxy A20 shares the design language of its other A-series siblings. The glossy polycarbonate material which Samsung calls Glastic (a plastic material which looks like glass) looks premium and classy, especially with its black color. If you don’t like black, it comes in red and blue as well.
At the front, we get a notch design that the company calls the Infinity-V display. This component houses the 8MP front camera while on top is the call speaker. Unfortunately, there’s no LED notification light here so you’ll have to check your phone now and then manually. Looking at the 6.4-inch screen, we get a pretty slim top and side bezels which look sexy; however, any thinner than that will not allow us to hold the phone more securely.
The right side houses the typical volume rocker and power button which are both clicky. Its placement is also just proper for my thumb to reach which is a plus.
Looking to the left will show you the lone tray that houses the Dual-SIM card slots and a dedicated micro SD card slot.
On top is the noise-canceling microphone while at the bottom are the 3.5mm audio port, primary microphone, loudspeaker, and a USB Type-C port. Props to Samsung for equipping the Galaxy A20 with a Type-C port as this delivers faster file transfer speeds than micro USB ones.
At the back are the dual 13MP and 5MP shooters with LED notification light. Right on the middle is an oblong-shaped fingerprint scanner with silver accents which always looks premium.
Holding the Galaxy A20 feels like you’re carrying any other Galaxy A-series smartphones thanks to its design, weight, and thickness. Just as any Glastic designs, it is always a problem for me when a phone has a glossy back since it is prone to fingerprint marks and smudges. Overall, it feels premium and durable, even for an entry-level device.
Display and Multimedia
This phone, despite its big size and Super AMOLED panel, only has an HD+ resolution which made me quite disappointed. I’m pretty used to the 1080p displays, so I know that looking at it is not the same as with other phones. Add to the fact that it only has a 269-pixel density which is relatively low.
Regardless, the viewing experience is still lovely with punchy colors, decent viewing angles, and slim bezels. I can also use the Galaxy A20 even under direct sunlight even at 80% brightness, so that’s a plus. Playing videos on Youtube and Netflix can only go up to 720p, so that’s a bummer.
Its audio is substandard which is pretty standard for smartphones given that it doesn’t have any bass. Don’t get me wrong though, it has loud and crisp sounds, but the main problem is the whole listening experience, so I suggest that you use earphones or any Bluetooth speakers as this device has a built-in Dolby Atmos feature.
OS, UI, and Apps
Running the Galaxy A20’s OS department is the Samsung OneUI based on Android 9 Pie. I like this interface more than the discontinued Samsung Experience UI mainly due to its simplicity. By default, it would look like that it has no app drawer; however, swiping up or down the home screen will reveal it. Pre-installed apps include the Samsung apps like the Galaxy Store, Samsung Notes, and Samsung Health. The device also has Spotify, Netflix, Office Mobile, OneDrive, LinkedIn, Samsung Members, Samsung 321, Smart Tutor, Facebook, and the default Google applications.
Out of its 32GB storage, this phone gets 23.1GB of free space which is plenty if you are an average user that regularly stores files like videos, music, documents, photos, and even games.
Running the camera department are the 13MP + 5MP dual rear cameras and a single 8MP front shooter. The interface is simple and pretty straightforward with the Settings, Flash, Timer, Resolution, and Effects located at the top while the modes such as Panorama, Pro, Live Focus, Photo, and Video (for the rear) placed below the display. You can also see that under Photo and Video, you can shoot with a great wide-angle lens.
First, the rear shooter provides an excellent quality of photos with decent sharpness and good color accuracy under sufficient natural lighting. For low-light shots, I find the images usable as the lights were not blown out with minimal noise. I advise that you shouldn’t use the wide-angle lens at night time as photos will be grainy and muddy.
For the selfie shooter, I can’t help but feel like the photos are too artificial in terms of the highlights even on right lighting conditions. At night time, the front lens finds it hard to recognize the details on my face like the redness of my nose and pimples.
The Galaxy A20 can record videos up to 1080p 30fps. I’m quite satisfied with the details and color accuracy of the video; however, it doesn’t have stabilization, so I suggest using a tripod when you want to shoot using this phone.
Performance and Benchmarks
Running the performance department is a Samsung Exynos 7884 chipset with a Mali-G71 MP2 GPU and 3GB of RAM. At first, I thought it was just a typo for the Exynos 7885 in which the Galaxy A8 (2018) series used, but it’s not. The performance is not that bad, but not great either. It’s smooth on basic navigations and quick when loading apps. However, I felt some delays and lags with its performance especially when I’m trying to search for something in its settings or the Google PlayStore. There are no significant issues like the phone stalling, so overall, it’s still decent. I also noticed that the fingerprint scanner is slow to unlock if the Galaxy A20’s display isn’t turned on. It would take approximately 1 to 2 seconds before it recognizes my fingerprint whereas when you press the power button first and do a scan, it will unlock at around 0.5 seconds.
Here are its benchmark scores:
Antutu v7 – 95,945
3D Mark – 520 (SSE – OpenGL ES 3.1), 599 (SSE – Vulkan)
Playing games such as Mobile Legends or PUBG Mobile are a breeze as it runs smoothly even at the highest settings. My problem with the former; however, is that it doesn’t have a high fps mode, so that’s quite a bummer. The phone builds up temperature around the camera area as you play for longer durations, but it won’t reach to uncomfortable levels.
Connectivity and Battery Life
The Galaxy A20 has the basic connectivity features such as 4G LTE, dual-SIM support, WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC. Checking out it sensors, though, shows that it doesn’t have a Light Sensor which helps in adapting the brightness level of the screen according to the external environment.
The phone carries a 4,000mAh battery with a 15W fast charging which is significant given that most of the smartphones under this price point don’t have this technology. Testing its battery life on PC Mark’s battery test yielded a time of 12 Hours and 16 Minutes while our video loop test (1080p movie, 50% sound, 50% brightness, airplane mode, w/ earphones) got around 23 Hours of playback which is excellent. When it comes to charging, it reached 100% in 1 Hour and 45 Minutes from 20% which is faster than other smartphones with the same or higher battery capacity.
The Samsung Galaxy A20 is a capable entry-level smartphone overall. It has a large display with decent performance, large RAM, great cameras, long battery life, and it also comes with a USB Type-C port with fast charging technology. In the end, I don’t like its fingerprint and smudge magnet design and HD+ resolution. It also has a weird fingerprint unlocking when the display is turned off, but, if you don’t mind these cons, then you can opt for this phone.
One big problem is that Samsung may have a hard time selling this device especially in terms of overall performance. Phones like the Realme 3 and Redmi Note 7 already dominates the below $200 price segment. With the Galaxy A20 sitting at under $200, the only fighting chance that it will have is its cameras and battery life. In the end, I won’t be suggesting this phone unless you are picky on the brand or if you are more into longer battery life and viewing experience.
Samsung Galaxy A20 specs :
6.4-inch HD+ (1560 x 720) Super AMOLED Infinity-V display, 268ppi