Every year, the expectations of Samsung’s Galaxy S series are huge, with the South Korean manufacturer being known for the quality of its devices, both hardware, and software. Many of the features and components that Samsung chooses for these phones are a true example for the entire industry, so the launch of the new Galaxy S20 series has been expected by many potential customers, but also fans of the tech industry. We had to test Galaxy S20+, the “average” model of the range, which remains a “flagship” in the true sense of the word and which is probably the most suitable model to buy this year, if you want a premium phone.
Samsung Galaxy S20+: simplistic design
Samsung is accustomed to making some of the most “beautiful” smartphones on the market, with sleek design lines and generally without a “cockpit” for the camera. The Galaxy S20+ tries to stay true to the “classic” design style of the company, but it also goes in a few new directions. From the front, it is very similar to a Galaxy Note10, the shape of the screen is already a true symbol of Samsung smartphones. However, the differences appear as soon as you look more closely.
The Power and Volume buttons have been moved from left to right, a very good choice, which is easier to access by most users. Then, the screen is no longer so curved on the sides, something many users were expecting from Samsung. There is still a slight curvature, but this is very subtle and does not affect the use from any position, thus eliminating accidental touch. Now that many smartphones in the market are taking a sideways curb, Samsung seems to be moving away from this trend and users are the ones to win.
But the back is the strangest on this phone. Indeed, there are not many things you can do to decorate the back of a phone, but some companies may not even offer anything lower than previous models. In the case of the S20+ series, Samsung chose some colors that were not very pleasant. In this case, the color Cosmic Gray, or as I like to call it “Gray Rat”, turns the phone from expensive jewelry into a very simplistic piece of glass and metal. The camera module doesn’t help much either, as it is in a black protruding rectangle. Its dimensions are not necessarily out of the ordinary but a protective case could solve this problem.
Compared to last year’s generation, the Galaxy S20+ lost its headphone jack, which is not surprising, given that the same decision was made for the Galaxy Note10 models. And as with the Note models, the S20+ seems to be more “compact” than the screen size suggests. At 6.7″, you would expect a huge phone, but the fact that it is narrower than other phones and that it is still quite thin, without a very curved screen, ensures a good grip in the hand. The consequence is that the screen is very high, making it harder to reach the top if you use it with one hand.
Samsung Galaxy S20+: an excellent screen, but not perfect
The camera cutout is subtle at the top, the dimensions are generous, and for the first time, it can be configured to operate at 120Hz, for increased fluidity in its use.
Of course, when you set the phone to operate at 120Hz, you sacrifice autonomy and even the displayed resolution, but the gain in fluidity and speed is tangible. If there’s a very good reason to upgrade to this phone from an older generation, that’s the screen. It is difficult to explain in a text and to be shown in a video clip, but each animation and each transition is twice as fast as on a standard 60Hz screen phone.
Unfortunately, Samsung does not fully trust its phones and their new capabilities. As with its flagship Galaxy S6 generation, the phone is not factory-configured to run at either the maximum resolution or the maximum screen frequency. Out of the box, it runs at Full HD resolution at 60Hz, the user having to manually configure the resolution or frequency in the settings menu. Probably Samsung relies on the fact that many potential customers will not use these features, as they are energy-hog features, and without them, users will be more satisfied when it comes to autonomy.
First of all, it is disappointing that the screen cannot operate at 120Hz on the maximum screen resolution, QHD. Samsung has limited this feature because it probably consumes battery at an even more alarming rate. Second, when the phone is set to 120Hz, the frequency remains locked to this value, without variations. Other companies have found more elegant solutions such as variable frequencies depending on the content displayed. If a video clip is played on a Pixel 4, for example, the frequency drops from 90 to 60 Hz. Also in games without high-frequency support.
Including Apple, iPad Pro tablets and Apple Watch 5 have variable screen refresh rates to save battery power, the frequency can drop dynamically to 1Hz when there is no movement on the screen. Such a solution would have ensured better autonomy and probably the possibility of using 120Hz in QHD. Maybe we’ll see something similar on the next generation of Galaxy S, or Note20.
Samsung Galaxy S20+: one of the best performing phones on the market
You can see with the naked eye that the Galaxy S20+ is very fast. The 120Hz screen is very important in this regard, but it is not the only factor. Samsung has set up this model in Europe with its new Exynos 990 chipset, a top model, comparable in performance to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865. In fact, the Qualcomm model is found on S20 phones launched in the US, South Korea, and China and offers a similar performance, perhaps slightly higher.
However, in daily use, the performance difference between the two variants of the Galaxy S20 is zero, or negligible. Even with a slightly weaker chipset, the Galaxy S20 is far more powerful than most smartphones on the market.
- AnTuTu v8: 470.962
- GeekBench 5: Single-Core: 909 / Multi-Core: 2,753
- 3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme Volcano: 6.298
- PCMark: 11,492
One thing we noticed during intense use is that it gets very hot, maybe even hotter than other models launched lately. The phone didn’t seem to be throttling, despite the high temperature, but it is likely that in the long run, if you play a 3D game in a longer session, you may experience a drop in performance. However, this did not happen in our tests.
Samsung Galaxy S20+: Good sound, medium footprint, and well-developed software
It is almost impossible for a top-notch phone not to provide quality sound playback, so Samsung is not disappointing in this regard. Playback on the phone’s speakers is strong and clear even at high volume, while the AKG headphones in the package are some of the best found in the phone’s packages. Of course, they are on USB-C, so they can only be used on a smartphone of this type. For headphones with jack, it is necessary to buy a dongle, which is not included in the package.
But when it comes to the fingerprint sensor, Samsung has not yet been able to correct past issues. At least not completely. There is some improvement over the sensor on the Galaxy S10 and Note10, but the ultrasonic technology is the same and has the same limitations. First, it is significantly slower than the optical one. Secondly, it requires a firmer push both when registering the fingerprint and unlocking it. The alternative would be facial unlocking, but this is done with the front camera and is not as secure as devices with dedicated hardware like Note9/S9 that had iris or iPhone and Huawei Mate 20 and 30 Pro readers that have infrared and point projectors for 3D facial recognition.
Also in the hardware chapter comes the vibration motor, which has been significantly improved compared to previous generations. It is much more subtle when it comes to haptic feedback, now comparable to what Apple offers on its 6S phones up to now. The virtual button press actions give the feeling of physical pressing, not a simple vibration. This capability will not significantly improve the user experience but is welcome.
The pre-installed software is version 2.1 of the One UI, the new Samsung interface, applied over Android 10. It comes with all the benefits of Android 10 such as gesture navigation, dark mode, battery consumption optimization and features such as video screen recording, as well as Samsung capabilities such as the “Edge” menu on the right, which can provide shortcuts to contacts, applications, and various functions. At the design level, One UI 2.1 is similar to One UI 1 and One UI 2.0 which are already found on Galaxy S10, Note 9 and Note10.
Samsung Galaxy S20+: Medium range, fast charging
Despite a generous battery size, the Galaxy S20+ is by no means a champion in terms of autonomy. In fact, this is a “one-day” phone. So keep the battery if you want to make the most of the capabilities you pay for when you buy the phone. With the screen set to 120Hz and normal use for 4-5 hours with the screen on, you arrive home at night with the phone almost off. If you reduce the frequency of the screen, it will have an additional 10-20 percent at the end of the day, but not enough to last all day long.
Fortunately, the charge is pretty fast. The phone comes with a 25W adapter in the package and supports charging speeds up to 45W with an adapter that can be purchased separately. Of course, there is no need to buy or use the original Samsung adapters, as the Galaxy S20 series is compatible with the USB Power Delivery standard, so any such charger will quickly charge the phone, an advantage over devices with proprietary charging systems.
As in the past, the Galaxy S20+ also benefits from bilateral wireless charging. This method of charging is slower, but convenient for those who already have Qi chargers on the desk. But the most advantageous will be the customers who also have wireless charging headsets, like the new Galaxy Buds+, which can be charged directly from the phone.
Galaxy S20+: A subtle upgrade to the camera, 8K shooting
Unlike the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which comes with an almost completely different camera system than it used to be in the past, the Galaxy S20 and S20+ are a bit more conservative. This does not mean, however, that it offers a performance below expectations or lower than the competition. Not nearly. Galaxy S20+, with 12-megapixel cameras for the main and ultra-wide cameras and 64 megapixels for zoom. As a result, this is one of the best performing phones on the market for photos.
The main camera no longer integrates a variable aperture, but all photos in natural light are very clear, focused well and quickly, but also detailed, even with a natural color balance. Gone are the times when Samsung emphasized colors over limits or exposed too much. From time to time you may come across a more “burned” photo, but generally, the frames made with the main camera are very good.
In night mode, the results are very good, in tune with those produced by the competition, but the experience of getting a picture is weaker than on other phones. Samsung seems to calculate the shutter speed differently from other companies, which is generally significantly higher. For a photo that requires a shutter speed of 2 or 3 seconds on a Huawei or iPhone, Samsung asks you to stay still for 4 or 6 seconds. We were able to replicate this behavior almost every time. Also, the pictures taken on the Samsung Galaxy S20+ at night seem brighter and therefore less natural. This can be solved by a software update if Samsung wants to improve this feature.
The ultra-wide camera is especially problematic in night mode, which usually requires even 8 seconds of exposure to make a frame, which can eventually move out or without too much detail. But it is not the fault of the software, but of the hardware. The ultra-wide lens is significantly weaker for capturing details than the others, and most reflections of the lights in the form of a “lens flare” can be noticed.
The zoom camera isn’t exactly “top” either, as Samsung made a small compromise on this. In an attempt to include shooting at 8K resolution and a zoom greater than 2x in the past, the company chose a 64-megapixel zoom sensor. This is a lower quality one, and the results are not exactly impressive. Yes, the 2, 3 or 4x zoom photos are still pretty good, but the zoom is not optical. It works in a hybrid and crop mode on the 64-megapixel sensor, which means that the details are not rendered very well. The zoom camera can also be used as a wide camera for 64-megapixel photos, but the quality of these images is far below the quality achieved by the main camera in terms of dynamic range and image noise. Fortunately, there are not many reasons to shoot at this resolution.
The third function that you can do exclusively with the 64-megapixel camera is shooting at 8K resolution. Because the 12-megapixel sensor doesn’t have enough resolution for such shooting (at least 33 megapixels are needed), Samsung has turned to this sensor, but the results are just that. And not necessarily because the sensor would not be good enough. 8K shooting is limited to 24fps, and offers very good quality but only in static frames. When moving, the so-called jelly effect (rolling shutter) appears, and the framerate is quite small, and shaking can be observed between the frames. CMOS sensors during shooting capture the image from top to bottom, in this case, 24 times per second. Thus, due to the speed limitation of both the sensor and the processor, which has to encode a huge amount of data every second (24 images each at 7,680 x 4,320 pixels resolution), the frame is deformed, and the movement seems somewhat shaken when you put these limitations together. The focal length in 8K is less wide because the recording is done on the center of the 64-megapixel sensor for the required resolution, thus equivalent to a 2x (~50mm) zoom.
It is impressive that a 1,000 euro phone can shoot in 8K resolution, but for now we don’t need it because of the lack of compatible displays and their price, and the image quality, although good in predominantly static frames, is lower than 4K shooting or 1080p in dynamic frames. You won’t be able to use 8K to shoot something fast, and you probably won’t want that either. Films take up a lot of space, and editing them requires a lot of processing power, while exporting could take up to four times as much as 4K clips. The only advantage would be the ability to recapture certain sequences at a lower resolution.
Samsung still sets the factory phone for 1080p shooting, as this is the only way that offers all the technological advantages of the software: Super Steady stabilization, focus tracking on the subject, etc. Not even in 4K resolution these functions are all available. However, in 4K you can shoot with any of the cameras at 60 frames per second, including the front one, a capability that will give users more flexibility in choosing frames.
A final criticism of the Galaxy S20+ would be the camera application that seems to have become more difficult to use since with One UI 2. You only have a few basic functions on the main menu bar, the rest of the functions being “stacked” in the section “more”. Of course, you can edit that menu to include the functions you want, but many of them could be merged. For example, a separate menu for Slow Motion and Super Slow Motion is not required, the two modes can be switched with a button once you select the Slow Motion menu. As with Live Focus, which has separate menus for shooting.
The camera application should be significantly changed in the following software versions, with an emphasis on ease of use. Too many functions thrown away just confuse users and make them not use them because of the cumbersome interface.
Samsung Galaxy S20+: Conclusions
If we were to choose a model from the Galaxy S20 family, we would choose the “plus” option because it has just about everything you could want from a modern phone. We would even go for the 4G connectivity model since the extra 100 euros for 5G are not justified in 2020 and probably won’t be a year or two from now.
The adoption of 5G networks is slow among operators, and higher transfer speeds will not ensure a better user experience. 5G on phones is not a big need now, nor will it be in the near future, the advantages over 4G being minimal.
The fact that Samsung could not optimize energy consumption efficiently for 120Hz operation is the most disappointing thing, as users have to choose between increased fluidity or better autonomy.
The standard S20 model seems to be an equally good choice for those who want a more compact phone, which is truly usable with one hand. The hardware differences between these models are the 3D TOF camera, which does not seem to do anything concrete on the S20+, but also the smaller screen and battery. Probably the autonomy is similar or maybe a little weaker on the standard S20, but we can’t confirm, since we didn’t have it for testing.
For those who are undecided between the S20+ and S20 Ultra, our advice would be to go for the “plus” option. Both are just as efficient, and the cameras seem comparable in performance, even if the Ultra has a new 108-megapixel sensor, which theoretically should be superior. Zooming might be better, but not much, since 4x also uses hybrid and digital zoom software.