Haven’t you heard? 20 is the new 11 – the basic Galaxy S20 is Samsung’s best-value flagship yet
Pros Cheaper, but just as formidableCamera is impressive120Hz is buttery smoothCons Unnecessary design changesCamera lacks 100x ‘Space Zoom’120Hz setting considerably reduces battery life
With the predictability of the setting sun, the changing tides and the ongoing Fast and the Furious movie franchise, Samsung’s new S-series family of smartphones have arrived in shops as the new year begins to find its footing.
Of course, these new flagships can’t bend like the Galaxy Z Flip – unless you try very hard and don’t care about your warranty – but the basic Galaxy S20 costs the same as last year’s Galaxy S10. That makes it the cheapest of Samsung’s recent batch of phones, yet you might also be surprised to learn that it’s just as formidable.
Still, this is mildly upsetting because it means there’s no low-cost ‘e’ variant this year – last year’s S10e was my preferred choice of last year’s lineup, and was eventually crowned Expert Reviews’ favourite phone of 2019. So either there isn’t as much of a focus on the low-end anymore, or Samsung has simply renamed the three models and put the prices up.
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That’s a debate to be held for another time, and I’m pretty impressed with all of the new stuff Samsung has brought to the table this year. These new phones feel like much more of an upgrade than ever before and since the Galaxy S20 is the cheapest of the bunch, it earns my recommendation more so than the rest.
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: What you need to know
My introduction says it all really, but the Galaxy S20 is the “entry-level” model, if you haven’t already figured that out by now. Based on that description alone, you might expect this to be a drastically pared-down approach compared to the rest of the range, but that’s not really the case in this instance.
Instead, If you directly compare with the next phone along the price spectrum – the Galaxy S20 Plus – then you might spot that the experience remains largely the same. Aside from the size and battery differences – as well as an option for 4G – the Galaxy S20 uses a near-identical combination of internal components. That’s the new Exynos 990 processor, 8GB or 12GB of RAM and 128GB of expandable storage, if you weren’t aware.
Both phones also benefit from the new 120Hz screen – which is a first for Samsung – and have an identical camera arrangement. This means you have a 12MP (f/1.8) main camera at your disposal, along with a 12MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide and 64MP (f/3.5) telephoto sensor. All of the phones are capable of 8K video recording, although the keen-eyed might have noticed that the S20 and S20 Plus don’t use the S20 Ultra’s 108MP camera, and neither are capable of 100x zoom – instead ‘only’ zooming up to 30x.
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Price and competition
But, of course, the regular Galaxy S20 doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as what Samsung is charging for the S20 Ultra. SIM-free, the 4G variant of the Galaxy S20 is £500 cheaper than the Ultra, costing a comparatively paltry £800. If you want to upgrade to the 5G supported version – with 12GB of RAM instead of 8GB – then expect to pay an extra £100 for the privilege. Both the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra come with 5G as standard.
That price hardly comes as a shock, especially as it costs roughly the same as its flagship competition. The Galaxy S20’s main rival is the iPhone 11, which starts at £729. This is for the 64GB model, however – the 128GB version costs £779. It’s also worth noting that the iPhone 11 doesn’t support microSD expansion, and the Samsung does.
However, if you’ve spent your wages on multiple packs of toilet rolls, and you don’t mind using something a bit older, then last year’s Galaxy S10 has since dropped in price to around £670. Or there’s always the more recent S10 Lite if you prefer a Snapdragon 855 powering things.
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Design and key features
Just like last year’s models, I actually prefer the smaller versions of Samsung’s handsets, as I feel they fit more comfortably in the hand. That’s not to say that the S20’s screen is small, however: 6.2in is still big enough to watch any Netflix TV show without having to push the screen up against your eyeballs.
Alas, Samsung seems to have taken a pared-down approach when it comes to the Galaxy S20’s design. In an era of foldable phones, the S20 lineup looks rather utilitarian in comparison, with the usual chrome-tinted edges – which still look nice by the way – and pearlescent finishes on the rear glass panel failing to offer anything particularly new or groundbreaking.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a high-priced smartphone that’s worthy of admiration, but the design changes are relatively minor. For instance, you might have spotted that the small pinhole notch, which houses the 10MP selfie camera, has moved to the top-centre portion of the screen. I actually much prefer last year’s neatly-situated placement in the top-right corner, although the notch is noticeably smaller this year.
Likewise, rather than placing the three rear cameras in a neat vertical strip like last year, the Galaxy S20’s trio of cameras are instead squished into an upright oblong in the top left corner of the phone. It’s certainly not as brutish as the S20 Ultra and its gigantic telephoto zoom sensor, but I still wouldn’t say it’s particularly nice to look at.
The regular Galaxy S20 is the only phone in the lineup to launch with colour choices that aren’t just boring black. In the UK, the Galaxy S20 comes in three different colour schemes; ‘Cosmic Grey’, ‘Cloud Pink’ and ‘Cloud Blue’ (which is the one I was sent for review).
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Display
As before, the Galaxy S20 uses one of Samsung’s own Dynamic AMOLED panels, which has a native resolution of 3,200 x 1,400 (Quad HD+) but can be dipped down to FHD+ or HD+ in the phone’s display settings if you want to squeeze out a bit more battery life.
The big new addition, however, is that this is a 120Hz screen, which is a first for Samsung. This higher refresh rate (double the usual 60Hz) means that your social media scrolling will feel more fluid and responsive than ever. Samsung also mentions the benefits when it comes to gaming, but when most games on the Play Store are capped at less than 60fps, any advantage here is mostly theoretical. That is, of course, unless Samsung launches its own games on the Galaxy Store at uncapped frame rates. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you can’t enable the 120Hz setting at the phone’s native screen resolution, only at FHD+ or below.
Still, this silky-smooth screen will be for nothing if the quality of the display isn’t up to scratch. According to my tests using a display colourimeter, the Galaxy S20’s Dynamic AMOLED screen covered 94% of the sRGB colour gamut, with an overall volume of 96% and an average Delta E of 2.64 in the phone’s ‘Natural’ display profile.
In testing, I found this to be the most colour accurate of the three screen profiles at my disposal, although it suffered from noticeably oversaturated red tones and undersaturated pink and purple tones, so it isn’t perfect. However, you can rest assured that the screen has a pin-sharp contrast ratio of Infinity:1 and it’s also capable of reaching a blinding maximum brightness of 748cd/m2.
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Performance and battery life
The S20 family is powered by Samsung’s newest homebrew Exynos 990 processor. This is a 7nm, octa-core chipset with a maximum clock speed of 2.73GHz and is similar in architecture to last year’s Exynos 9820. In other regions, outside of European and Asian markets, the Galaxy S20 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865.
The Galaxy S20 also comes in either 8GB or 12GB of RAM variants, with the option to pay a little more for 5G connectivity. There’s no choice when it comes to storage, but the 128GB of onboard space can at least be upgraded up to a further 1TB via microSD if required.
As you might expect – or hope, given the price – the Galaxy S20 storms through our usual suite of performance benchmarks. It doesn’t quite match the superior levels of performance we’ve seen from the iPhone 11’s A13 Bionic chipset in the past, but it’s certainly fast enough that you shouldn’t have to worry about a sluggish experience, no matter which application you decide to throw at it. As Android handsets go, it’s as good as it gets.
As I mentioned earlier, there are added benefits when it comes to the S20’s silky-smooth 120Hz screen, and that’s in high frame rate gaming. Of course, games on the Play Store have to support this boosted refresh rate – the list is increasing as more high-refresh phones are announced – but if you do happen to find something that isn’t locked to 60fps, then you’re in for a real treat:
The Galaxy S20 also gets things right when it comes to battery life, provided you make sure to choose the right settings. Fully draining the 4,000mAh battery from full in our video rundown test, I found that the Galaxy S20 lasted 18hrs 28mins before needing to recharge, which is rather good considering this was performed at the phone’s default WQHD+ screen resolution – although only at 60Hz.
Oddly, if you stick with the same refresh rate but drop the resolution down to FHD+, you won’t notice much of a change. Where you will find a drastic difference, however, is if you decide to switch on the 120Hz setting, which negatively affected the S20’s battery life by roughly five hours in my testing.
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Cameras
Finally, let’s discuss the Galaxy S20’s new camera capabilities. As it’s the cheapest of the three phones, the Galaxy S20 actually loses the fourth depth-sensing unit found on the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra, but I mostly find these to be pointless additions anyway. The other three cameras are exactly the same as the rest of the S20 Plus’ arrangement; there’s a 12MP (f/1.8) camera, 12MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide and a 64MP (f/3.5) telephoto zoom sensor.
So, how do these cameras stack up against the very best in the business? Well, when you consider the regular iPhone 11 only has two cameras – lacking the telephoto zoom option of the Samsung – then you wouldn’t be remiss for thinking the Galaxy S20 already has it beat before you even press the shutter.
Because, as it turns out, while the Galaxy S20’s suite of cameras excel in a few areas, they don’t quite match the sheer excellence of the iPhone 11’s image and video captures. While I was self-isolating due to the ongoing coronavirus threat, I snapped a few gloomy scenes of London from my balcony and I found that the Galaxy S20 did a better job at suppressing visual noise, with slightly more contrast than its Apple rival.
However, pictures looked a touch candy-coloured for my liking, and the iPhone 11 did a better job at capturing more neutral-looking images. The S20 was also insistent on overexposing most images. The differences between the two are night and day as soon as the light begins to fade, too: the S20 looks drab when placed side-by-side with the positively vibrant images from the iPhone 11.
The differences are more slight when you compare the wide-angle images, however. Both pictures are filled with detail, although they both struggle a bit when it comes to distortion in the far corners of the frame.
Where Samsung really comes into its own, however, is in the S20’s zooming capabilities, with what it calls ‘Space Zoom’. This is a silly marketing phrase, of course, but the S20 is capable of using a combination of optical and AI-digital techniques to magnify up to 30x. For the record, the much more expensive Galaxy S20 Ultra is capable of delivering 100x zoom.
The resulting images at maximum zoom are a bit mixed, but there’s no denying that this tech is quite impressive. I can’t see there being many use cases for zooming that far into the frame – you certainly won’t be putting the pictures on a cushion at Snappy Snaps – but when you consider that the iPhone 11 doesn’t zoom at all, the advantage goes to Samsung here.
Where Samsung really begins to falter is in video recording features. The Samsung Galaxy S20 has the ability to record in 8K resolution – a first for smartphones – although this isn’t stabilised in any way whatsoever, and you need an 8K TV to view the footage in its original resolution anyway. If you want to stabilise your footage, you have to dip the resolution down to 4K at 30fps, which is a shame because the iPhone 11 can record at 60fps at 4K fully-stabilised, which I much prefer.
Of course, the Samsung is currently unmatched when it comes to sheer detail capture at 8K, but when the resulting footage is a shaky mess, it’s simply not pleasant to watch – a tripod or gimbal is absolutely essential in this instance.
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Verdict
The arrival of the Galaxy S20 in shops ushers in the beginning of smartphone launch season, and with the Novel Coronavirus outbreak looming large across the industry, by sheer coincidence Samsung may have won big by being one of the first out of the gate.
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It’s a good thing that the Galaxy S20 is one of Samsung’s most fully-featured flagship launches, then. It may be the cheapest of Samsung’s newborn trio, but it offers much the same experience as the S20 Ultra with a £500 saving. Of course, Apple’s iPhone 11 is still the better purchase and it’s also slightly cheaper if you don’t need oodles of storage space, but the Galaxy S20 remains a superb choice if you’d rather stick with the familiarity of Android.
|Samsung Galaxy S20 specifications|
|Processor||Octa-core Samsung Exynos 990 (2×2.73GHz, 2×2.5GHz, 4x2GHz)|
|RAM||8GB and 12GB|
|Screen resolution||3,200 x 1,440|
|Screen type||Dynamic AMOLED|
|Front camera||10MP (f/2.2)|
|Rear camera||12MP (f/1.8), 64MP telephoto (f/2.0), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2)|
|Dust and water resistance||IP68|
|3.5mm headphone jack||No|
|USB connection type||USB Type-C|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||microSD (up to 1TB)|
|Cellular data||4G and 5G models|
|Dual SIM||Yes (shared with microSD)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||152 x 69 x 7.9mm|
|Operating system||Android 10 (One UI 2)|