Review

Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ hands-on: Effortlessly exceptional

It’s our favorite time of the year when we get to go hands-on with Samsung’s latest flagship smartphones. We’re in San Francisco today for the Unpacked event and got the opportunity to spend some time with two of the three new smartphones that Samsung has just launched. Exactly what do they offer and are they any good? That’s what this Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ hands-on aims to answer.

Design

The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ are a symbol of Samsung’s relentless pursuit of larger displays and smaller bezels. It’s certainly impressive how Samsung is capable of stretching those boundaries while retaining the familiar silhouette of its flagship lineups. Despite their larger sizes, you won’t be confusing these devices for a Galaxy Note handset. They distinctly belong to the Galaxy S series, with some new design elements that are representative of where Galaxy phone design will go from here.

Flagship phones these days are nothing more than slabs of metal and glass. This is true for the Galaxy S20 as well and the way it feels in the hand certainly makes it worth every dollar that Samsung is charging for it. This isn’t surprising. Samsung has distilled the premium look and feel for its flagships down to an exact science, it’s something that it reproduces without fail every year and never comes up short.

The differentiating design elements include the hardware buttons, all of which are positioned on the right frame. There’s no dedicated Bixby key, which was to be expected, and there’s no headphone jack at the bottom either. The most striking design change is at the back for the new camera module. It’s now vertically aligned, a change from Samsung’s signature horizontal placement, and it’s quite likely that this is how it’s going to be from here on out. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about shifting the placement, it’s just that now the Galaxy S20 series looks like just about every other Android phone from the back.

Display

The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ have a 6.2-inch and 6.7-inch Quad HD+ display respectively. While not completely flat, the panels have much more subtle curves than we’ve seen on Samsung’s earlier handsets. It’s a slight tweak that Samsung has made with the new lineup and in the short time that we had with the device, it didn’t really feel like something that will bother a lot of people. Most won’t even notice it at all.

What’s new this time around is that the panel has a 120Hz refresh rate. You notice it instantly, the smoothness in animations and the overall fluidity of the UI. It looks great and will definitely prove to be useful when playing fast-paced games. It does lock the resolution at FHD+ at 120Hz, though, so stick with the standard 60Hz if you want to take full advantage of the Quad HD+ resolution. The quality appeared to be exceptional which is what you’d expect from the AMOLED display of a Samsung flagship. There’s a centered punch hole at the top for the selfie camera, a welcome change from the rather odd positioning on the Galaxy S10.

There’s an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor embedded in the display. Samsung wouldn’t exactly call it a “second-generation” sensor, but we were told that improvements have been made and that the sensor itself has been repositioned. The reluctance to call it second generation suggests that the rumors about significantly improved sensor hardware may not be true after all. We’ll see just how improved the sensor is on the Galaxy S20 compared to the Galaxy S10 in our full review.

Software

The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ come with Android 10 out of the box with One UI 2.1. All of the features that you expect from One UI 2.0 are present on board. Samsung is introducing a couple of new features with the Galaxy S20 lineup. Quick Share is one of them. It lets you easily share files with up to five people in your vicinity at the same time.

It also gives you the ability to extend your paired Bluetooth connection. For example, if your phone is connected to the stereo in your car through Bluetooth, you don’t need to disconnect it in order to let a friend play music. You can let them connect to the stereo through your device’s Bluetooth connection and play tracks using their own phone. Again, something that we’ll test once we review the phone, but this feature sounds pretty useful.

Samsung has also worked with Google to exclusively integrate Google Duo within its own UX. It will be possible to make Duo calls using the native dialer app. Duo will also make it possible to make video calls in Full HD quality with up to 8 people.

Camera

Now, this is the fun part. The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ have exactly the same camera system with just one exception. The Galaxy S20+ has a ToF sensor for enhanced AR experiences. Other than that, both devices have a 12-megapixel f/1.8 OIS primary camera, a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide camera and a 64-megapixel f/2.0 OIS telephoto camera.

Samsung is using all new camera hardware for these devices and makes some interesting claims. Both have 3x “hybrid optic zoom,” which, in theory, utilizes optical zoom, digital zoom, and software tweaks to allow for increased zoom without significant quality degradation. It doesn’t end here.

There’s Super Resolution Zoom up to 30X which Samsung is officially calling Space Zoom. It essentially combines hybrid optic zoom and AI-powered digital zoom to achieve 30x magnification. There were limited opportunities to test the zoom capabilities in the controlled environment so we’ll definitely put it through its paces in our review. The concept is interesting, though, and does provide Samsung with plenty of fuel for its marketing campaigns.

Samsung has backed up all of this hardware with some excellent new software features. Single Take is a new feature that takes the pain out of deciding whether you should grab a quick video of a moment you want to capture or just take a photo instead. The AI-powered feature uses all of the different cameras on the device to capture the scene in multiple ways. It will automatically capture the scene cropped, in Live Focus (bokeh) and ultra wide, take videos and even boomerangs of the scene. This is something that a lot of users are really going to like because it does work very well.

The entire Galaxy S20 series is capable of recording 8K video at 24 frames per second. It’s even possible to capture 33MP high-res photos from an 8K video. Samsung has also brought back Pro mode for video, meaning that you can now control things like aperture and exposure when capturing videos, which was possible on earlier Galaxy flagships until Android Pie came along. There’s some real substance in the camera improvements that Samsung has introduced with the Galaxy S20 and we can’t wait to put them through their paces in our review.

Battery and Charging

Naturally, a couple of hours with the device weren’t enough to form an opinion about the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+’s longevity. They should be able to last you through the day, though, seeing as how they have a 4,000mAh and 4,500mAh battery respectively. 25W fast wired charging is supported and both devices ship with a compatible charger in the box.

Additional features like Wireless PowerShare are also present, which will allow you to wirelessly charge compatible devices using the Galaxy S20’s battery. It’s a pretty handy feature if you need to give your Galaxy Watch Active 2 some juice when there’s no power socket nearby.

Conclusion

Samsung’s aim with the Galaxy S20 lineup is to offer something for all customers across the entire flagship spectrum. So it has stuffed the new models with the latest in mobile technology while leaving enough of a gap between the models so that they don’t end up cannibalizing each other’s sales.

In our preliminary assessment of both devices, we find that no significant improvements have been made just for the sake of making improvements. Samsung has made calculated changes to appeal to a need in the market. Customers are obsessed with phones that help them stay on top of their Instagram game. The Galaxy S20/S20+ are more than capable of helping them do that. All of the other evolutionary improvements just show that Samsung can pump out seemingly exceptional flagships without breaking a sweat.

Stay tuned for our full review of the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+. We should have it up for you in the next couple of weeks, along with a review of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Also check out our hands-on experience with the Galaxy S20 Ultra here.

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dagger1
dagger1

Except customers who want an audio jack

pmenzies
pmenzies

I must say that the 3 x optical zoom is a bit of a dissapointment. For me the camera would be the most interesting feature

djcbs
djcbs

“Samsung’s aim with the Galaxy S20 lineup is to offer something for all customers across the entire flagship spectrum.”

In which case THEY FAILED.
Because flagship customers who want normally sized phones WITH basic features like a headphone jack, have no phone to buy. They offer 2 phones (the S20 and S20+) and a tablet (the S20 Ultra). People without Freudian complexes who just want a good normal phone and useful features will not fine one in the S20 line.

dagger1
dagger1

Tottally agree. The lack of audio jack is a deal breaker for me. If no manufacturer has waterproof flagships with that feature next year I might consider the next S iteration (that will also be deemed “perfect” and “game changing” here)