Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: The successor to last year's top-of-the-line phone is the middle child this time around, but loses none of its appeal. In fact, with a more manageable size and weight, plus a superb primary camera that's sure to improve with updates, the Galaxy S20+ could be the best phone of 2020.
The best phone display I've ever seen
Classic Samsung design and build quality
Incredible specs and performance
Cameras are a joy to use
Outstanding battery life
In-display fingerprint sensor is too slow
Camera paints over facial detail
8K video has little practical value
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If the Galaxy S20 Ultra is too much of a good thing, the Galaxy S20+ is just the right amount of goodness. Or greatness. It's the best phone I've used in a long time, and will hopefully get better with a few camera-tweaking updates sure to come in the next few months.
It also surprised me — I've had access to all three Galaxy S20 phones for nearly two weeks now, and where I thought I'd immediately gravitate to the inimitable camera of the S20 Ultra, or the perfect-in-the-hand size of the Galaxy S20, it's the Goldilocks-just-right middle ground of the S20+ that I think will appeal to most people this year.
Let's get into it.
This review was written using a Samsung Galaxy S20+ loaner provided by Samsung Canada. It was used on the TELUS network for seven days, and had build G986WLU1ATBN the entire time.
Samsung Galaxy S20+ Price & availabililty
The Samsung Galaxy S20+ was released on March 6, 2020 and cost $1199, sitting in between the $999 Galaxy S20 and the $1399 Galaxy S20 Ultra. After its release, it was quickly discounted, dropping as low as $899 during sales holidays like Prime Day and Black Friday. It's now possible to get it from Samsung (opens in new tab) for around $915, though it has been discontinued and may not be easy to find.
On January 14, 2021, Samsung introduced the successor to the Galaxy S20+, the Galaxy S21+. It offers modest upgrades from the Galaxy S20+, including a faster Snapdragon 888 processor and a brighter OLED display, but reduces the amount of RAM to 8GB and drops the screen resolution to 1080p.
Samsung Galaxy S20+ What is this middle child, anyway?
Let's get the differences out of the way first: the Galaxy S20 Plus, or S20+ for brevity's sake, is the middle child in this year's early spring Samsung line-up. It's a bit thinner, a lot shorter, a bit narrower, and a lot lighter than the Galaxy S20 Ultra, with a far less pronounced camera module at the back.
The specs are also slightly slimmed down — it has the same Snapdragon 865, 12GB of RAM, and either 128GB or 512GB of storage, but there's no option to supersize the memory to 16GB like there is on the Ultra. The battery's a huge-but-not-so-ultra 4500mAh, and it only supports 25W charging (though the difference from 45W is negligible) and its display is a respectable 6.7 inches compared to the 6.9 inches on the Ultra.
The main difference is with the camera: the S20+ and its smaller counterpart, the S20, share basically identical camera setups, with a 12MP primary sensor that is physically smaller than the massive 108MP part on the Ultra; and there's a 64MP sensor used for telephoto shots, which lacks the Ultra's periscope zoom lens. The front-facing camera is also a smaller and less-dense 10MP.
For $1200, the Galaxy S20+ is still a $200 premium over last year's S10+, but it does appear like you get a lot more for your equivalent bucks. But as you'll see throughout this review, after having used both the S20+ and S20 Ultra, I can safely say the former is a better phone for most people.
Samsung Galaxy S20+ The display is perfect
I came to the Galaxy S20+ straight from using the S20 Ultra for a few days, so it felt like shedding an extra layer of skin. Lighter and more manageable, I've come to terms with the fact that while still a big phone, it's extremely well balanced and easy to hold and navigate with one hand. Samsung's done what it can to alter its One UI 2 software to be one hand-friendly, and that definitely comes across here.
The first thing I did after setting up the S20+ was enable 120Hz on the gorgeous 6.7-inch AMOLED display, which feels like the absolute best of all worlds — beautiful colors, perfect viewing angles, incredible 240Hz touch response, and dazzling fluidity — and change the navigation settings from Samsung's traditional three buttons to its interpretation of Google's gesture system that debuted with Android 10.
On a Snapdragon 865 and 12GB of RAM, this phone flies, though that's no surprise. What is surprising is just how impactful the switch to 120Hz really is: after a while it starts to fade into the background, but blends into a subtle ruining of any phone that isn't set to a high refresh rate. That it doesn't come enabled out of the box is disappointing; it feels like Samsung is leaning away from one of its best features.
Of course, the reason it's not enabled by default is concern for battery life — there's a reported 25% hit when it's turned on. But as you'll see later on, I've enjoyed 120Hz since day one with the S20+ and have been extremely pleased. If you're buying the phone, I'd highly recommend trying both and seeing whether your usage allows you to maintain a high-refresh rate because it's absolutely worth it.
Samsung Galaxy S20+ This is a Samsung phone, for better or worse
Samsung made a bunch of good design decisions around the Galaxy S20 series — especially the smaller two models. The pinhole front camera is now centered, which provides much-needed symmetry and balance, and the hole is now tiny enough that it's barely noticeable in daily use. While I miss the wallpaper potential of the much larger right-oriented solution, this is far more elegant.
I'm also so, so thankful that Samsung solved whatever design problem that forced it to put the power button on the left side of the Galaxy Note 10 series. I'm not trying to discriminate against lefties — my brother's a leftie and he's great — but I never did quite get used to it. Samsung also came to its senses and combined the power button with the Bixby button — or what's left of it — in the Galaxy S20 series. While I encourage anyone to immediately disable Bixby and remap it to something else, at least this solution is tolerable.
There's no headphone jack, which sucks, but I haven't carried a pair of wired headphones since the first OnePlus Bullets Wireless were released, and have since moved on to something better. In fact, I've been using the Galaxy Buds+ alongside the S20+ since I unboxed it and the pair is, to put it succinctly, delightful.
The phone is slippery, so I'd recommend a good case for it — I love this year's crop of first-party options from Samsung, if you're in the market for one — but the good news is that, even with a case, it doesn't feel thick or unmanageable.
That's the predominant feeling I had using the Galaxy S20+ — the ergonomics are outstanding. It's slim and light and well-balanced, and the only criticism I'd make is that, now that the power button is back on the right side where it belongs, I feel like the volume keys are a bit too high up. Given that this 21:9 aspect ratio phone is already so tall (this is less of a problem on the smaller S20), I would have liked to see both buttons shift down a few millimeters. It would be a compromise: the power button would be a bit harder to reach, but the volume keys, which I use much more often, would be less of a reach.
Samsung Galaxy S20+ Can't quite put my finger on it
Before we get into the camera, I want to mention the one, and truly only one, pain point I have with the Galaxy S20 series: its fingerprint sensor. It's not bad per se, not in the way that the Nokia 9's in-display sensor was basically unusable, but it's just slow and tedious enough that I feel it on a day-to-day basis.
When I went to Qualcomm's Tech Summit back in December, the company was demoing the second generation of its ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, a much larger and faster part that maintains the 3D-texture-reading security of the original. In my naivety, I was certain Samsung would find a way to include that upgraded sensor in the Galaxy S20, as it always seems to have access to Qualcomm's first batch of new Snapdragon SoCs.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite ready for commercial use, and Android Central has learned that Samsung did consider swapping out the first-generation Qualcomm sensor for a more mature, but slightly less secure, optical sensor — the type found on most phones today.
I guess Samsung figured continuity wouldn't hurt it too much, but I disagree: coming from the Pixel 4's ultrafast and super reliable face unlock, and before that the OnePlus 7T's incredible in-display optical sensor, I feel like Samsung missed out on really fixing, once and for all, its biometric inferiority. I can understand the reasoning, but I don't necessarily agree with it.
On the other hand, Samsung redeemed itself in the haptics department. The vibration motor in the Galaxy S20+ is identical to the one found in the Note 10 series, which were the first Samsung phones to include high-quality haptic engines and to utilize them properly across the operating system. Not only does the S20+ produce powerful vibrations for phone calls and notifications — you're not going to miss an incoming phone call when this is on a desk in the other room — but the motor is capable of subtle and granular feedback, too, for situations like typing.
Given that I'm the kind of person who will disable vibrations entirely on a phone with a poor quality vibration motor, I am deeply appreciative that Samsung is finally taking it seriously.
Samsung Galaxy S20+ The cameras
The camera is the most important feature of this phone and, for most people, for any phone.
Most people reading this review will want to know whether A) the Galaxy S20+ takes photos as good or better than the gargantuan Galaxy S20 Ultra, and B) whether the Galaxy S20+ stands up to phones like the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro.
The short answer is that, for the most part, the Galaxy S20+ is a big upgrade over previous Galaxy phones, including the S10 series, primarily because the main 12MP sensor is just so much larger. It's not quite the massive 70% jump we saw from the Galaxy S10+ to the Ultra, but the S20+ is still a comfortable 28% beefier than last year's model.
So that's where we begin. Photos taken with the Galaxy S20+ during the day are as good as ever, with lots of detail and exceptional balance preservation of shadow detail and highlights, thanks to Samsung's excellent if slightly-overbearing HDR.
Unlike the S20 Ultra, the S20+'s primary sensor is much more traditional — there's no pixel binning going on here. The 12 million pixels that make up the sensor are just bigger than what we found on previous Galaxy phones, and that means they let in more light. Samsung's also taking advantage of many of the Snapdragon 865's own improvements around post-processing, resulting in less noise in low-light conditions and, theoretically, more detail preservation indoors under artificial light.
Galaxy S20+ (top left) | Galaxy S20 Ultra (top right) | Pixel 4 (bottom left) | iPhone 11 Pro (bottom right)
The reality is a bit mixed: outdoor shots from the main sensor are superb, and the dual pixel autofocus capabilities built into the IMX555 sensor allow the S20+ to avoid the focus hunting that we've seen on the Ultra. The smaller sensor size also results in less natural bokeh and a wider plane of focus on a foreground subject, producing photos that look a lot more like traditional phone photos — for better or worse.
My major bugbear, though, is something that's affected every Galaxy phone since I can remember: Samsung smooths facial detail to a stupefying degree, resulting in photos of people that look soft, artificial, and often downright unusable. I suspect the company does this to minimize grain in less-than-ideal lighting environments, but I'll take pockmarks over a painting any day of the week.