By this point, there isn't a whole lot about the Galaxy S20 that we haven't covered. There are three variants this year — the regular S20, the S20+, and a new Ultra with a 108MP camera — and all three models feature a stunning new 120Hz AMOLED panel and upgrades across the board.
But that's not all to the story. Samsung sells two variants of its flagship: a Snapdragon 865 model for North America and select global markets like China and Korea, and an in-house Exynos 990 version everywhere else. There are key differences between the two models, and in the past, the Exynos designs didn't quite measure up to what Qualcomm offered.
Battery life, in particular, has been a significant issue with Exynos-powered phones. That was the case with the Exynos Galaxy S9+, and while the Exynos 9820-powered Galaxy S10+ fixed the issue to an extent, it still lagged behind Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855.
I've been using the Exynos 990-powered Galaxy S20 for just over a month now, and here's what you need to know about what Samsung has to offer in global markets.
At a glance
Bottom line: With an incredible 120Hz display, the latest internal hardware, faultless cameras, and all-day battery life, the Galaxy S20 raises the bar for flagships. It is one of the very few phones you can still use one-handed, and if you want a compact phone that doesn't miss out on any of the extras, the Galaxy S20 is the default option in 2020.
- Exemplary 120Hz AMOLED display
- Compact size
- Rock-solid performance
- Incredible cameras
- All-day battery life
- No 3.5mm jack
- Fingerprint sensor is still slow
- No secure face unlock
- Exynos 990 has its share of issues
Samsung Galaxy S20 Compact design that doesn't miss out on anything
Samsung has iterated on its Infinity Display aesthetic over the last three years. The Galaxy S20 is the most refined take yet, with the phone featuring razor-thin bezels on all sides. Incredibly, Samsung has managed to cram a phone with a 6.1-inch screen in a chassis that's 151.7mm tall and 69.1mm wide. To put things into some perspective, the Galaxy S7 edge had a 5.5-inch panel and was just 0.8mm shorter and a full 3.5mm wider.
There's a pin-hole camera at the front, and the fact that it's centered this time around makes it easier to ignore. While there are no significant changes on the design front, Samsung made a lot of minor tweaks, and they go a long way in making the Galaxy S20 a more refined product. One of those changes is the dual-curved screen. The curves on either side are less pronounced from previous years, and that makes the S20 easier to hold and use.
The Galaxy S20 is a perfect size — all other phones seem too big and unwieldy now.
The Galaxy S20 is 1.8mm taller than last year's Galaxy S10, but it is 1.3mm narrower. And at 163g, the phone is lightweight enough that you don't notice the heft. For context, the S20+ is 23g heavier, and the S20 Ultra is a full 53g heavier than the regular S20. The phone is astonishingly light, considering it has a 4000mAh battery under the hood.
After using it for a month, all other phones in the market seem too wide and unwieldy. Samsung did a fantastic job with the proportions of the Galaxy S20, and this is just about as compact as phones are going to get in 2020. If you have smaller hands or are looking for a high-end phone that you can use one-handed, the Galaxy S20 is the only option left.
The power and volume buttons are on the right, and they're easily accessible and tactile. There's a narrow slit above the pin-hole camera cutout for the earpiece that also doubles as the secondary speaker. The primary speaker sits at the bottom next to the USB-C charging port.
Like previous years, there's a MicroSD slot that can take in an S.D. card up to 1TB. And the Exynos variant of the S20 comes with a dual SIM card tray by default, giving you the ability to use two SIM cards on the same phone. The S20 uses a hybrid SIM slot, meaning you can either have a MicroSD card or a secondary SIM, but not both.
The main omission this time is the 3.5mm jack. That was always going to be the case once Samsung ditched the jack on the Note 10 series last year, and if you want to plug in, you'll have to go with what L.G. is offering or use a dongle. The industry has irreversibly switched to wireless audio, and there are fewer and fewer options these days for wired audio fans.
The bigger design change is at the back, where Samsung has switched to a rectangular camera housing. The three camera modules and the LED flash are housed in the island, and Samsung has used the same design language not just on the Galaxy S20 series but on its entire 2020 portfolio. The new color options give the S20 a much-needed visual refresh, and the Cloud Blue option I'm using has an iridescent finish that shows up under light. While it's not as flamboyant as the Galaxy Note 10, it does look premium.
Samsung Galaxy S20 The best display you'll find on any phone
Samsung missed out on the 90Hz refresh rate movement last year, but it more than made up for it with the 120Hz panel on the Galaxy S20. I'm not going to bury the lede here: the Galaxy S20 has the best display you'll find on any phone today. It doesn't matter if you're in the market for an Android flagship or an iPhone, there isn't a phone that comes close to what Samsung is offering here.
This isn't new: Samsung Display somehow manages to deliver panels with better brightness and more vibrant colors year after year. The 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel on the Galaxy S20 has a resolution of 3200 x 1440, and you get HDR10+. But the highlight of the show is the 120Hz refresh rate — once you make the switch and see just how fluid the display is on the S20, you will not want to go back to a 60Hz panel.
Switching to a 120Hz refresh rate was the best decision Samsung has taken in a long time.
That said, 120Hz mode only works when the screen resolution is set to FHD+, but that's an easy decision to make. You're not going to see any difference in day-to-day use between FHD+ and QHD+, so it isn't a huge trade-off. The 120Hz panel provides a level of immediacy that you just don't get on a 60Hz screen, and it puts the Galaxy S20 in an entirely different league from its predecessors. The vibrant panel combined with stereo sound makes the Galaxy S20 particularly well-suited for streaming content from the likes of Netflix, Prime Video, and YouTube.
Using the phone at 120Hz mode puts an additional strain on the battery — that's one of the reasons why Samsung is limiting the mode to FHD+ — but the battery life on my S20 has been pretty decent over the course of the month. More on that later.
Like previous Galaxy flagships, you get a wealth of customization options with regards to the display, including adjusting the color balance, font scaling, blue light filter, and a robust Always On Display. The one downside on the display side of things is the in-display fingerprint reader. Samsung is using the same Qualcomm ultrasonic module as last year, and it isn't quite as fast as some of the optical solutions in the market today. Unlocking the S20 takes half a second, and in this particular area, the phone lags behind its rivals.
By switching to a 120Hz panel, Samsung is extending its lead in the display category. If you want a vibrant screen with silky smooth interactions and HDR10+ playback, the Galaxy S20 is the obvious choice.
Samsung Galaxy S20 The latest tech you can buy today
Samsung made considerable gains on the hardware side of things this year. The Exynos 990 is built on a brand-new 7nm node, bringing much-needed efficiency gains. While that's welcome news, the chipset doesn't have an integrated modem, and Samsung is instead adding cellular connectivity via a dedicated 5G modem.
|Specs||Samsung Galaxy S20|
|Software||One UI 2.0 based on Android 10|
|Display||6.2-inch (3200x1440) 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED|
|Chipset||2.73GHz Exynos 990|
|Rear Camera 1||12MP ƒ/1.8 (primary)|
|Rear Camera 2||64MP ƒ/2.0 (telephoto)|
|Rear Camera 3||12MP ƒ/2.2 (wide-angle)|
|Front Camera 1||10MP ƒ/2.2|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ax, BT5.0, NFC|
|Battery||4000mAh | 25W|
|Colors||Cloud White, Cloud Blue, Cloud Pink, Cosmic Grey, Aura Red|
|Dimensions||151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm|
The Exynos 990 variant of the Galaxy S20 is available in both 4G and 5G configurations, and Samsung sells both options in the U.K. The main thing to note here is that the 4G variant comes with 8GB of RAM. In contrast, the 5G variant has 12GB of RAM as standard. The storage options are unchanged: the base model has 128GB of UFS 3.0 storage, and there's a 512GB option available.
The particular variant of the Galaxy S20 that I'm using is limited to 4G connectivity. Still, because there's no onboard modem with the Exynos 990, Samsung is relying on its Exynos Modem 5123 just as it does on the 5G variants of the S20 series. The only difference here is that the 5G bands are disabled on the modem.
If you think all of that sounds needlessly complicated, you're not wrong. Samsung and Qualcomm are both using external modems this year, and the result is more power-hungry devices. Even on a device that connects to just 4G networks — like the one I'm using — Samsung is using a dedicated 5G modem because there's no way to connect to cellular networks without it. The last four years have seen a massive change in the silicon industry as mobile SoCs became more powerful and efficient at the same time, but in 2020 it feels like chip vendors have taken a step backward.
Let's talk about the positives instead: the Galaxy S20 is one of the first phones in the world to feature LPDDR5 RAM. It's one of those features that don't make a noticeable difference in day-to-day use right now, but that could change a year or two down the line. You also get the extras that befit a Samsung flagship, including IP68 dust and water resistance, Gorilla Glass 6 protection at the front and back, NFC with Samsung Pay, and an F.M. radio tuner.
Yes, the Exynos 990 is better than in previous years. No, it still isn't as good as what Qualcomm is offering.
As for the internal hardware itself, the Exynos 990 features two in-house Mongoose M5 cores at 2.73GHz that do the heavy lifting, and there are two Cortex A76 cores at 2.50GHz and four A55 cores at 2.0GHz. The A76 cores aren't the latest available — Qualcomm is using the A77 cores in its chipset — but in day-to-day use, you won't notice any difference.
There's no lag or stutter, and the chipset handles everything you throw at it with ease. That said, I tested my Exynos 990-powered S20 against my colleagues' Snapdragon 865 version, and while Samsung made a lot of decent upgrades this year, it still doesn't measure up to what Qualcomm is offering.
The Exynos 990 is particularly bad at gaming. The Mali G77 GPU just doesn't deliver the same level of sustained performance as the Adreno 650 on the Snapdragon 865. If you play a lot of visually-intensive games, you will notice the phone heating up and frame rates plunging after 30 minutes.
So for another year running, the Exynos version that Samsung sells in most global markets isn't quite on the same level as the phone that's available in the U.S. and Korea. Samsung is unique in its strategy to dual-source its chipsets, and while the company says it does so to ensure it has adequate supply, it does feel like Exynos buyers are getting short-changed here.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Battery that lasts all day
The biggest issue with Samsung's flagship Exynos designs in the past was battery life. For whatever reason, Samsung just hasn't managed to deliver the same battery longevity figures as Qualcomm, and that has been a continual issue for customers that picked up the Exynos variants of the Galaxy S9 and S10 series.
But first, some numbers: the regular Galaxy S20 has a 4000mAh battery, and has 25W fast charging. The charger bundled in the box works over 25W USB PD, and it also has PPS. There's 15W wireless charging, and like last year, you get Wireless PowerShare — the ability to wirelessly charge other devices like the Galaxy Buds or Galaxy Watch at 9W. It takes just over an hour to fully charge the battery from zero using the bundled wall plug, and you'll get a 60% charge in 32 minutes.
Battery life is better than previous years, but still not on par with what Qualcomm is offering.
Samsung has made some gains in this area this year, and I consistently got a day's worth of usage out of my Galaxy S20 with the screen at 120Hz throughout. Screen-on-time hovered around the five-hour mark on most days, with usage spread across 12 to 14 hours before the battery fell below 10%. There never was a time when I was anxious about the battery not lasting the entirety of the day, and battery life, in general, has been better than what I got on the Galaxy S9+ and S10+.
Having said that, the battery life from the Exynos 990 version of the Galaxy S20 is still not on par with its Qualcomm counterpart. The Snapdragon 865 variant continues to lead the way in this category, and the Exynos 990 just isn't in the same league when it comes to performance-per-watt figures, a good measure of just how efficient a chipset is in real-world conditions.
So to sum it up, the Exynos 990 is better than its predecessors, and if you're switching from the Exynos 9810-based S9 or the Exynos 9820-based S10, you will see better battery life. It isn't the same as what you get from the Qualcomm version of the S20, and that once again calls into question Samsung's decision to use an inferior chipset in global markets.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Cameras that are much better than last year
The Galaxy S20 has a 12MP f/1.8 primary lens (Samsung S5K2LD) joined by a 64MP zoom lens with 3z hybrid optical zoom and 30x digital zoom, and a 12MP wide-angle lens. Both the primary and telephoto lenses feature OIS, and the Galaxy S20 is the first phone in the world to offer 8K video recording at 24fps. Samsung is positioning video recording as a differentiator this year, with the S20 picking up a host of updates in this area, including Super Steady video.
The S20 is missing the ToF camera from the S20+, but other than that, both phones feature the same lenses. It's great to see that Samsung didn't omit any camera features from the smaller model, and that means you get the same great lenses as the larger S20+ but in a form factor that's conducive to one-handed use.
The camera interface has picked up a subtle refresh, and it's easier to rearrange camera modes to your liking now. You can toggle between the three lenses from the viewfinder, and there are the usual toggles for beautifying effects, timer, flash, motion photo, and auto HDR.
The 12MP shooter takes fantastic photos in any lighting condition, but you'd expect that from a $1,000 phone. Photos still have a slightly oversaturated look, but it has been dialed back from previous years. The scene optimizer makes a difference when shooting outdoors, adding more dynamic range, and increasing the highlights to create striking photos.
The ultra-wide lens is better than last year, and while it doesn't have the same dynamic range as the main 12MP lens, colors don't look washed out anymore. The most interesting lens on the S20 has to be the 64MP telephoto module with its 30x digital zoom. You're not going to get usable shots at 30x (as you can see above), but at 3x and even 10x, the camera does a great job preserving detail.
The S20 also fares very well in low-light scenarios, producing shots with plenty of detail and minimal noise. The dedicated Night mode boosts exposure levels, leading to more vibrant shots. The ultra-wide lens also holds up well in low-light conditions, and the S20 is leagues ahead of the S10 and Note 10 in this regard. The 64MP zoom lens delivers usable shots up to 10x at night, but you do miss out on detail.
Finally, the Galaxy S20 is the first Samsung phone I used that could take decent photos from the front camera. Selfies from the 10MP shooter didn't look too muddy, and Live Focus works astonishingly well. There are a few instances where edge detection was off, but for the most part, the front camera on the S20 is reliable.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Cleaner software with a lot of Samsung extras
Samsung's refinements with the Galaxy S20 series extend to the software front as well. One UI 2.1 isn't any different from the 2.0 refresh that rolled out at the end of last year, but key additions like system-wide dark mode make using the phone that much better.
Samsung is also offering more choice on the navigation front. You get to choose between the legacy navigation keys if you don't want to switch to full-screen gestures, but if you're ready to make the move, you can choose from Samsung's take or the default Android 10 option. Samsung's gestures include swiping up from three designated zones at the bottom of the screen to go back, home, and access the recents pane.
One UI 2.1 is Samsung's most refined interface yet, and there's a laundry list of new features on offer.
It is a novel take on gesture navigation, but I prefer Android 10's implementation. The point here is that you can choose whatever option you want — provided you're using Samsung's default launcher. Switch to something like Action Launcher or Nova, and you won't be able to use Android 10's navigation gestures.
Annoyances from previous years are back: the S20 comes with a lot of Microsoft apps installed out of the box. If you use LinkedIn or the Office suite a lot, then you might even like the fact that they're available out of the box. But if you're like me and pray at the altar of Google, then it's easy to disable or uninstall everything.
As is the case with every new Galaxy release, there's a host of new software features. Samsung is finally introducing the ability to lock an app in memory, a feature that has been available on most Chinese ROMs for two years now. You can only lock one app for now, but it is better than nothing. Another nifty addition is the integration of Google Duo into the dialer, making it easier to video call your contacts. There's also a native screen recorder now, and mainstays like Dual Messenger are back.
Samsung is doing a great job with updates, and it needs to continue that trend.
Another useful feature is Music Share, which lets your friends easily pair to Bluetooth speakers in your house. There's built-in caller I.D. and spam call protection, Live Caption is now integrated, and with Link to Windows, you can mirror notifications from your phone to your Windows P.C.
One of the biggest issues with Samsung's U.I. in the past was that it used to slow down noticeably after a few months. Samsung fixed a lot of those problems last year with One U.I., and I haven't seen any slowdowns whatsoever on my S20. When you're paying over $1,000 for a phone, you'd ideally want one that nails the basics, and that's absolutely the case here. The 120Hz panel, in conjunction with the optimized software, makes everything silky smooth.
Samsung is also doing a great job with software updates, rolling out monthly security patches and bug fixes every few weeks. You'd ideally want to get more than two platform updates when paying this much money for a phone, but it doesn't look like that particular issue will be addressed anytime soon.
Overall, One UI 2.1 is the best showing yet from Samsung. There's a ton of customization on offer, but you also have meaningful usability changes that make a real difference.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Should you buy it?
Samsung rolled out a lot of exciting new features this year, making the Galaxy S20 one of the best phones in the market. The 120Hz AMOLED panel in itself is worth the upgrade, and you're also getting robust internals, fantastic cameras, and decent battery life.
The Exynos 990-powered Galaxy S20 is still a great phone, and you'll like all the new features on offer.
In the U.K., Samsung is selling both the 4G and 5G variants of the Galaxy S20. The 4G option has 8GB of RAM and starts at £799 ($1,025), with the 5G model touting 12GB of RAM and retailing for £899 ($1,155). So it's down to you to decide if the £100 difference is worth it for the extra 4GB of RAM and 5G connectivity. E.E., Vodafone, and O2 have rolled out 5G in the U.K., but coverage is still extremely limited, and the S20 only works over Sub-6 and not mmWave. As for the difference in RAM, 8GB is more than good enough for Android, and you're not going to see any difference with the extra 4GB of memory.
If you're interested in future-proofing your investment, the 5G option makes that much more sense. But there's one more point to consider: there will be more energy-efficient 5G modems available by the time you're actually able to use 5G networks, so if you want to do the smart thing in 2020, save your £100 and get the 4G version of the Galaxy S20.
As for the Indian market, Samsung is once again being incredibly aggressive, with the base variant of the Galaxy S20 available for ₹66,999 ($930). Samsung is selling just the 4G variants in India, and you won't find an option with 5G connectivity in the country. That's a smart move from Samsung, as 5G networks aren't going live in India for the next two years, and the manufacturer is able to bring down the overall cost of the device by going the 4G-only route.
Yes, the Exynos 990 isn't as good as Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865, but in a lot of global markets, there's no choice — if you want to try out Samsung's latest phones, you will have to put up with the Exynos 990's annoyances. For what it's worth, it is a better showing than the last two years, and that makes it an easy recommendation if you're using the Galaxy S9 or an older phone and are looking to make the switch. There's a lot to like on the Galaxy S20, but the form factor is what sold it for me — there just isn't another high-end phone that's quite as compact.
Of course, if you don't want to shell out north of $1,000 to pick up a phone in 2020, your best option is still the OnePlus 7T. The phone has a 90Hz display, and the performance on offer makes it a downright steal for $600. It doesn't have the same camera quality, and it is quite bulky next to the Galaxy S20. There's no wireless charging or IP68 water resistance either, but you are getting great value here.
If you need all the extras, then you'll have to shell out the big bucks for the Galaxy S20.
The one to beat
The best for the rest of the world
With an incredible 120Hz display, the latest internal hardware, faultless cameras, and all-day battery life, the Galaxy S20 raises the bar for flagships. It is one of the very few phones you can still use one-handed, and if you want a compact phone that doesn't miss out on any of the extras, the Galaxy S20 is the default option in 2020.
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