Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus hands-on: You’ll want the big one

This year Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked gave us a couple surprises. Some pleasant. Others, less so.

We were excited to see the new Galaxy Z Flip, which was teased at the Oscars a few nights ago, and we expected to see a Galaxy S20 lineup to succeed the Galaxy S10. We didn’t expect smaller phones to become a lesser priority, however, especially with the release of Galaxy S10e last year.

This year Samsung’s taking a different tact, showing us that the big phones are the best phones. It’s not all bad news, though.

Display quality and refresh rate

At first glance, the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus look much like their predecessors, the Galaxy S10 and 10 Plus, aside from a smaller hole-punch for the front-facing camera. The punch has moved to the top-center of the device, as opposed to the corner. Both have bright AMOLED displays with the same QHD+ resolution as the S10’s, and an ultrasonic fingerprint reader underneath.

Look at the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus a bit closer, however, and you’ll see that the displays are slightly larger than their predecessors. There is a tenth of an inch increase for the S20, and a 0.3-inch increase on the S20 Plus.

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Flick around the OS and you’ll notice the most important difference — the snappy 120Hz refresh rate. This provides a smoother scrolling experience and more fluid transitions navigating through the phone. Most devices on the market use a 60Hz refresh rate, including the iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, but devices like the OnePlus 7T and Pixel 4 have 90Hz refresh rates, while only a few phones, like the Razer Phone 2, serve up 120Hz.

The experience is noticeably different in everyday use, and will make an even bigger impact on gaming with titles that support rates higher than 60Hz, of which there are a decent amount — around 200 in the Google Play Store.

The addition of 5G surprisingly doesn’t add to the thickness of these devices, but the camera hump is another story.

Camera features and quality

Samsung, like every manufacturer, is growing the camera module. Instead of adding cameras, one of the sensors has grown quite a bit, too.

For the first time, we have a distinction between the Plus model’s camera and the regular Galaxy S device. Similar to Samsung’s approach with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus, the S20 Plus adds a fourth camera for depth sensing. The Depth Vision camera should help with Live Focus portrait shots, as well as 3D scanning features.

Aside from this, the camera arrangement is the same on the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus. Both have 10MP front-facing cameras, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, 12MP wide-angle main sensor, and a 64MP telephoto lens, which is capable of 3× optical zoom and 30× digital.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus John Velasco / Digital Trends

Samsung’s bolstered its optical stabilization, which now includes movement mitigation for anti-roll in addition to the previous up-down and side-to-side control. This, coupled with A.I. stabilization, makeup a feature the company’s calling Space Zoom. This is what facilitates the smooth image capture in 30× zoom. It’s something you can see working plainly when zoomed in, and helps keep blur out of your shots.

Taking excellent photos in situations we couldn’t previously is a solid addition to Samsung’s already impressive foundation, as is the improved night mode – something Samsung hasn’t done well in the past. We’re also happy to see a fun new feature, Single Take, added to the mix.

Single Take is somewhat similar to Live Photos on iPhone, in the that it’s capturing content before and after the shutter click. However, instead of producing a short video clip and one still photo, as Apple does, you can end up with up to 14 pieces of content from one moment. Which media clips is up to the S20’s A.I. which uses scene optimization we’ve seen in previous Galaxy S devices to help parse out some content for you. This can include ultra-wide-angle shots, telephoto crops, Live Focus portraits, or even videos depending on what the A.I. “sees.”

 

For instance, if you’re taking a photo of a big building or landscape, you’ll likely get a shot from the ultra-wide-angle camera. Meanwhile, a shot of a friend’s face should trigger a portrait photo. It’d be nice to have more input on what’s pulled out in each situation, but the feature’s spontaneity can be its own reward.

Finally, there’s a new mode called Night Hyper Lapse, which is meant to give those long, streaking trails of light in dynamic night scenes with moving objects.

Video features and quality

Moving on to video, Samsung’s has added 8K video capture to test your phone’s storage limits. Each file is saved in 4GB segments, but thankfully there’s no time limit on recording, so you won’t be interrupted in the moment. Even better, you can easily downgrade video quality on your saved clips for the sake of sharing or pull 33MP stills from the footage.

Those familiar with shooting 4K on proper standalone video cameras know how useful it can be to pull high-quality photos out of video after the fact, and it’s exciting to not have to choose between taking a photo or a video when the moment strikes.

Of course, few displays can actually show 8K video, but Samsung does have a solution. 8K content can be cast from the phone to 2019 and 2020 Samsung QLED 8K TVs.

Performance and 5G support

As you can expect from Samsung’s flagships, the internals are stacked. You’ll be served 12GB RAM and either Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor, or the Exynos 990, depending on the region. Both the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus offer 128GB storage with expandable memory, but only the Plus has a 512GB option. 

While the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra support mmWave and Sub-6 frequencies, the regular S20 only has the latter.

As mentioned, all of the S20s have 5G support, but while the S20 Plus and S20 Ultra support mmWave and Sub-6 frequencies, the regular S20 has only the latter. That’s a bummer for those who prefer a smaller phone, as the entire point of getting a 5G phone right now is to future-proof your device for the proliferation of 5G in the coming years. If you have a Galaxy S20, you’ll be missing out on what’s currently the fastest 5G frequency.

Left to right: Galaxy S20 Plus, Galaxy S20 Ultra, Galaxy S20 John Velasco / Digital Trends

No  matter which S20 you choose, you get a little more juice to handle the added power consumption of 5G. The Galaxy S20 has a battery bump to 4,000mAh from 3,400 on the S10, and the S20 Plus jumps up to 4,500mAh from the S10 Plus’s 4,100mAh juice pack. The 45-watt charging capability of Samsung’s Super Fast charging is reserved for the S20 Ultra only.

Samsung Experiences and improved gaming

Only a few software nuances can be found in the Samsung Experience on the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus. First is the integration of Google Duo into the native dialer and contacts app. This can also make video calls at 1080p resolution.

Next is a feature called Music Share — another Galaxy exclusive, unfortunately, Music Share can pass the metaphorical aux cord to your friends Galaxy device, so you don’t have to disconnect from a Bluetooth speaker and go through all the pairing and re-pairing to listen to music from a different phone. This handy, and something I could see myself and others using a lot. Well, if we all had Galaxy S devices.

Gamers can force certain apps to stay in RAM. That keeps games in the phones recent memory.

Gaming on the S20 and S20 Plus should be a great experience thanks to the 120Hz display. The added RAM helps, too, and gamers can force certain apps to stay in RAM. That keeps games in the phones recent memory so users can leave a game and pick up exactly where they left off.

A partnership with Microsoft will bring the company’s popular racing game Forza Street to the Galaxy Store, its first appearance on mobile phones.

Price and availability

The Galaxy S20 retails for $1,000, while the Plus starts at $1,200. Both come in cosmic black, cosmic gray, and cloud blue. Pre-orders for the two phones start on Feb 21, with a March 6 release date. Those who pre-order will get $100 and $150 off the S20 and S20 Plus, respectively.

Conclusion

The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus are flagship phones with flagships specs that, for the first time, fully embrace 5G. Unfortunately, only one of the two is anywhere near future proof for 5G — the Galaxy S20 Plus, particularly, as it has the most widely used 5G frequency as well as the fastest, while the S20 only has the former.

That makes the smaller Galaxy S20 a pretty tough sell.

Otherwise, stepping up the optical zoom with better stabilization and a massive sensor should bring Samsung back up front in the U.S. smartphone camera market, if only for a little while. Support for 8K content capture brings the Galaxy S20 line’s video capabilities to the fore.

Just be ready to shell out some cash. The Galaxy S20 Plus is the one you’ll really want and, at $1,200, it doesn’t come cheap.

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