Ranging from $1,000 to $1,600, available March 6th
Samsung has announced its latest flagship phones: the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra. Technically, Samsung is appending “5G” to the names of those phones, as each one will support 5G in the US and other select markets. They’ll be available on March 6th with prices ranging from $999.99 to $1,599.99, and preorders begin on February 21st.
I briefly tried out all three versions last week, and my first impression is that Samsung wants to make sure there’s no spec that isn’t maxed out: the screens have high 120Hz refresh rates and are bigger than ever, the data comes in at 5G speeds, the cameras zoom farther and rack up megapixels in the hundreds, and even the batteries are bigger.
If you’re trying to make sense of the differences between the three phones, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that, at a high level, all you need to know is that although they mostly share the same guts, there’s a good / better / best cadence to them. The 6.2-inch S20 lacks mmWave 5G and has the lowest-end camera array of the three. The 6.7-inch S20 Plus adds mmWave and better cameras. And finally, the S20 Ultra is unabashedly huge at 6.9 inches with a camera system that’s as big and complex as nearly any other you can find on a phone.
After a couple of years of other Android phone makers nipping at Samsung’s heels, the S20 lineup is the company’s statement for 2020 that it can still make the best Android phones. Though Samsung will tell you the name jumped from S10 to S20 because it represents a “new foundation,” what it really means is that Samsung is doing whatever it can to make you pay attention to these phones.
That’s probably because once you absorb their impressive specs, these look, feel, and act exactly like the Samsung Galaxy phones you’re already familiar with. Build quality is excellent, the screens are vibrant and massive, and the glass on the back picks up fingerprints like it’s a crime lab investigator.
The new design elements are minor: the h*** punch for the selfie camera has been reduced and moved to the center, the camera bump has been extended into a rectangle to accommodate even more cameras, and the headphone jack is gone, making 2020 the first year when every major flagship phone from Samsung won’t have one.
Have you seen a Samsung phone in the past couple of years? If you have, you know what the Galaxy S20 phones look like: big screens, tiny bezels, and a metal rail sandwiched between two pieces of glass. The screens may be a little less aggressive at curving around the left and right of the phone, but if so, it’s a subtle difference. You can get them in a few colors, but unfortunately, the only one that’s available in “cloud pink” is the regular S20.
Each phone has an OLED HDR+ display that supports a 120Hz refresh rate. Interestingly, Samsung says it isn’t bothering trying to dynamically adjust that rate depending on what the screen is doing. It’s just a switch between 60Hz and 120Hz. The company claimed to me that setting it to the higher rate would only cause a 10 percent dip in battery life.
Though these phones will make 5G finally mainstream in the US, I don’t think that’s their most important feature — with apologies to the industrial 5G hype complex. Instead, Samsung is taking a big swing with the camera systems on these phones. Where Apple and Google have been talking up their computational photography chops, Samsung is doing what Samsung does best: throwing more hardware at the problem.
That’s not to say that Samsung hasn’t updated its software for better image processing — it may well have. Based on just a short time with the phones, I can’t really judge that. What I can do is attempt to explain the complicated matrix of camera specs on these phones, all of which are slightly different from one another.
At a high level, what the table above means is that Samsung is making a big bet on high megapixel counts. If you take a look at the S20 Plus and Ultra, you’ll see sensors of 48, 64, and 108 megapixels. All of these cameras will default to taking 12-megapixel photos by default, though you can go up to the full count if you like.
Historically, if you saw a phone camera with some outsized number of megapixels, that was a very bad sign. It meant that instead of tuning the software to make great photos, its maker threw megapixels at the problem and hoped people would be snowed by the big number on the spec sheet.
Samsung’s contention is that it’s able to use a combination of those sensors, the chips that control them, and its own software to make those high-megapixel sensors do things that other smartphones can’t, like zoom in up to 100 times when taking a photo.