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At the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco this afternoon, Samsung unveiled its newest flagship series: Galaxy S20. Like S-series lineups before it, the S20 is a showcase of the company’s technological innovations, which this time around include a powerful eight-core processor, a display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and across-the-board 5G compatibility.
Preorders go live this week ahead of a March 6 ship date. Here’s what you need to know.
Samsung stuck with tradition in announcing three phones today, not one: the Galaxy S20, the Galaxy S20+, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Sadly missing in action is a low-end “e” model, like the S10e — that experiment appears to have begun and ended last February.
The Galaxy S20 and S20 feature aluminum frames and bezel-to-bezel screens, as well as new adhesive glass — Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6, to be exact — that’s extraordinarily light and thin. (The S20 and S20+ clock in at 0.36 pounds and 0.41 pounds, respectively; the S20 Ultra, which trades that aluminum for stainless steel, weighs 0.49 pounds.) They’re IP68 rated to withstand exposure to water 1.5 meters deep for up to half an hour, and Corning claims the display glass can withstand up to 15 consecutive drops from 1 meter onto rough surfaces and that it’s two times stronger than the S9 and S10 series’ Gorilla Glass 5.
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The S20 series’ top and bottom bezels are a tad narrower than last time around, mostly to make way for an ambient light sensor and an earpiece speaker. (The S20 measures 29 x 63.7 x 3 inches, while the S20+ measures 27.2 x 59.7 x 3 inches.) Perhaps more noticeable is the 6-millimeter hole-shaped cutout in the top center, machined to precisely fit the front-facing camera. Samsung calls the design “Infinity-O,” and it made its debut on the S10 series and midrange Galaxy A8 series phones, which launched in 2019. On the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra, the hole-punch cutout is a perfect circle that measures about half the circumference of the Galaxy S10 series’ cutout.
Here’s how the display sizes and resolutions break down:
- Galaxy S20: 6.2 inches, 3,040 by 1,440 pixels (542 PPI)
- Galaxy S20+: 6.7 inches, 3,040 by 1,440 pixels (502 PPI)
- Galaxy S20 Ultra: 6.9 inches, 3,040 x 1,440 pixels (487 PPI)
The Galaxy S20’s HDR-compatible, Dynamic AMOLED screen is a tad taller than that of the S10, which measures 6.1 inches diagonally — the result of a taller 20:9 aspect ratio — and it’s almost imperceptibly blurrier at about 542 pixels per inch (compared with the S10’s 550 PPI) owing to the unchanged 3,040 by 1,440 pixels resolution. On the subject of the display, which supports 16 million colors at 100% color volume, it curves around the lips of either edge, as does the S20+’s and S20 Ultra’s. Noteworthy is the refresh rate: It’s 120Hz, double the refresh rate of the S10 series and on even keel with the Razer Phone 2 and the Asus ROG Phone 2.
A 120Hz fresh rate will translate to improved overall responsiveness — at least in theory. Anecdotally, scrolling through apps and pinching-to-zoom on webpages feels smoother on high-refresh-rate phones. But there’s a trade-off on the S20 series — switching to 120Hz sets the display resolution to 2,400 x 1,080. Expect icons and graphics to look slightly out of focus.
Both the Galaxy S20 and S20+ have a Qualcomm-supplied 3D Sonic Sensor ultrasonic fingerprint sensor embedded beneath their display glass. They work as you’d expect — placing a digit on the highlighted portion unlocks the phone — but the tech is said to be faster than rival solutions and more secure to boot, with FIDO Alliance Biometric Component certification. We’re hopeful the performance bit is true, given that the S10 series’ fingerprint sensors were criticized for their sluggishness.
You’ll find a vertically aligned camera module and an LED flash around the back of the S20 and S20+, a perpendicular contrast to the Galaxy S10 series’ horizontal camera module. Exclusive to the S20+ and S20 Ultra is a 3D Depth Camera, a time-of-flight sensor that resolves distance based on the speed of light by measuring the time it takes for photons to pass between the sensor and a subject. Like the range-based imaging system on the Galaxy S10 5G and Note10+, it’s used with Samsung’s Live focus video and Quick Measure features, letting you blur out the background in real time as you take a video; swap between foreground and background focus; or judge the width, height, area, volume, and more when an object is in the frame.
As for the handsets’ bottom portions, present and accounted for are a USB Type-C port, a loudspeaker (which works in tandem with the earpiece to deliver stereo sound), and a microphone, but not a 3.5mm headphone jack. The S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra are the first S-series phones to ship without audio ports (and they likely won’t be the last). Making matters worse, there isn’t a Type-C-to-3.5mm adapter in the box, so you’ll have to make do with the included Type-C AKG earphones if you have nothing on hand but analog headphones.
Analog jacks aren’t the only victim of this year’s nipping and tucking. Absent is the Bixby key, a button on a number of Galaxy-branded devices that triggers Samsung’s homegrown AI assistant by default. On the S10 series, it sat next to the power button on the left side, opposite a right-aligned power button and a volume rocker. The power button and volume rocker haven’t gone anywhere on the S20 series, but they’re the only physical keys in sight.
Photography and speakers
Samsung’s flagships have long ranked among heavyweights like the Pixel and the iPhone on the photography front, and the company is looking to cement its dominance with the Galaxy S20 series. Here’s how it breaks down between models:
- Samsung S20: 12-megapixel (wide), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)
- Samsung S20+: 12-megapixel (wide), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 3D Depth Camera
- Samsung S20 Ultra: 108-megapixel (wide), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 3D Depth Camera
The S20 series’ cameras feature the same variable aperture tech found on the S9 and S10 series. A tiny contracting and expanding motor switches between f/1.5, a lower aperture better suited to dim lighting, and f/2.4, the default setting.
Elsewhere, the zoom has improved. Both the S20 and S20+ boast 3x hybrid optical zoom (3x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom), while the S20 Ultra bumps things up to a whopping 10x. Samsung’s calling the S20 Ultra’s zoom Space Zoom, and it says the periscopic lens delivers up to 10x optical zoom and 100x zoom overall when combined with “AI-powered” 10x digital zoom.
The S20 and S20+ have 64-megapixel telephoto lenses, up substantially from the S10’s and S10+’s 12-megapixel lenses. As for the S20 Ultra camera’s 108-megapixel resolution, it’s matched only by Xiaomi’s recently released CC9 Pro, which features an identical 1/1.33-inch sensor — Samsung’s ISOCELL Bright HMX. (Samsung and Xiaomi designed the sensor together, in point of fact.) Samsung says it captures several lower-resolution shots that combine nine pixels into one by default (for an effective 12 megapixels), and that there’s an option to shoot in the full 108-megapixel resolution for those who wish to do so.
Hardware is nothing without great software, and the S20 series appears to have it in spades.
The camera app’s Automatic mode flips to the f/1.5 aperture automatically when the ambient lighting dips below a certain level, and an AI-powered scene detection feature — Scene Optimizer — tweaks color settings like contrast and white balance and enables HDR based on the landscapes, people, animals, and objects in-frame. (It’ll even recommend switching to the ultrawide angle lens when appropriate, as well as to modes fine-tuned for food photos, selfies, panoramas, and more.) There’s a faster and more accurate version of Samsung’s Dual Pixel focusing technology and multiframe noise reduction. And as with the S9 and S10, the S20 series improves image crispness by capturing a multi-image burst shot, dividing it into separate and distinct sets, and generating a composite picture.
In addition, there’s Single Take, which takes pictures and videos — live focus, cropped, ultra-wide, and more — as you pan around an environment and curates the best of the bunch. (It also works for selfies.) Best Shot takes a photo autonomously when the Galaxy S20 detects it’s properly lined up, complementing a multi-capture feature that snaps photos using multiple sensors simultaneously.
There’s a bevy of bokeh effects in what Samsung’s calling Artistic Live Focus, which blurs the background while maintaining foreground focus, including Color Point (it drains color from the blurred background, turning it black and white), Mono (it makes the entire picture black and white), and Side Light (it adds a virtual light source off-camera). There’s also Ultra Bright Night, an improvement upon the Galaxy S10’s Bright Night (a take on Google’s Night Sight and Huawei’s Night Mode) that combines multiple shots from the primary, telephoto, or front-facing camera to enhance the quality of pictures in “very dark” conditions.
Samsung last year opened up the Galaxy Camera software development kit, enabling developers to make custom photography plugins and apps for the S20 series. And every handset in the Galaxy S20 series has an “Instagram Mode” co-developed by Facebook, which allows you to launch into Stories, editing, and other features quickly.
As for the S20 series’ front-facing cameras, the S20 and S20+ have a single Sony IMX 374 10-megapixel shooter — a slight downgrade in the latter’s case. The S10+ had dual sensors that captured wide-angle selfies and ostensibly delivered better bokeh in Live Focus portraits. On the other hand, the S20 Ultra packs a 40-megapixel Wide Front camera that’s able to record footage at 4K and 60 frames per second.
All of them benefit from Samsung’s new Smart selfie angle feature, which taps AI to detect the number of people in-frame and switch to an appropriate angle.
On the subject of video, the S20 series can record clips at up to 8K at 30 frames per second (or 4K at 60 frames per second) and optionally in HDR10+ (with 10-bit color), though you’ll need an HDR-compatible display to fully appreciate the latter. (Thanks to a partnership with Google, 8K clips can be uploaded directly to YouTube.) Super Slow-Mo is present too — the G20 series shoots clips at a blistering 960 frames per second at up to 1080p, as with the S10 series.
In cases where you need a shot steadier than what the S20 series’ optical image stabilization can provide alone, there’s Super Steady 2.0, which Samsung is positioning as a “professional-level” setting that can hold its own against action cams like GoPro’s Hero 7. That’s thanks in part to sophisticated electronic stabilization algorithms fine-tuned over the course of months, as well as AI motion analysis.
All three phones in the S20 series — the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra 5G — play stereo sound through the earpiece and a bottom-firing loudspeaker. They’re both tuned by AKG Acoustics and support the Direct Stream Digital (DSD) format (64/128) and Dolby’s Atmos 3D simulated surround sound technology in supported apps.
And thanks to an ongoing collaboration with Spotify, the Z Flip’s default keyboard lets you quickly search and share songs, albums, and playlists from Spotify via a generated link, and Samsung’s clock app lets you choose a song to wake up to. And the S20 series’ Music Share feature extends the Bluetooth connection to a car radio or speaker.
Connectivity and processor
The beating heart of the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra is one of two chips: Samsung’s Exynos 990 or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865. Samsung detailed the Exynos 990 variants at today’s event, but some territories — likely North America, Latin America, Hong Kong, China, and Japan — will get a Snapdragon-based model.
On the Wi-Fi connectivity side, the S20 series supports the standards you’d expect in flagship 2020 smartphones — namely Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (Wi-Fi 6) and Bluetooth 5.1. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 models benefit from the FastConnect 6800 Wi-Fi chip, which can deliver Wi-Fi 6 speeds nearing 1.8Gbps while including Super Wide Band voice over Bluetooth for higher-quality audio communications and 75% improved power efficiency. Plus, there’s Samsung’s software-based Intelligent Wi-Fi feature, which jumps between LTE and wireless with the help of AI that recognizes when the phone’s in an enclosed location and when it’s on the move (like when you’re in a car or walking down the street).
It’s worth noting that only the S20+ and S20 Ultra support mmWave 5G connectivity in the U.S. The S20 supports sub-6HGz 5G networks exclusively — at least for now. Later this year, Verizon will introduce a version of the S20 that supports mmWave 5G.
As my colleague Jeremy Horwitz wrote in October 2019, when the Exynos 990 was officially announced, Samsung’s flagship chipset is built on the latest 7-nanometer process rather than the 980’s older 8-nanometer technology. It’s an eight-core design comprising two unnamed “powerful custom cores,” two high-performance Cortex-A76 cores, and four power-efficient Cortex-A55s — an upgrade from the 980’s twin Arm Cortex-A77s and six Cortex-A55s. And on the graphics front, the chipset packs a Valhall-based Mali-G77 GPU as opposed to the Exynos 980’s Mali-G76 GPU, which Samsung claims offers a 20% boost in graphics performance or power efficiency.
Also on tap with the Exynos 990 is a dual-core neural processing unit and improved digital signal processor can “perform over 10 trillion operations per second,” as well as an image signal processor that can concurrently process data from three image sensors. The 990 boasts LPDDR5 data rates of up to 5.5Gbps, and there’s a 120Hz refresh-rate display driver that’s meant to improve animations and reduce screen tearing. Plus, it’s designed to work together with Samsung’s Exynos Modem 5123, which can tap into both sub-6GHz and millimeter wave 5G networks and legacy 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.
Thanks to ultra-dense 1024-QAM signal encoding and 8-carrier aggregation, Samsung quotes the Modem 5123’s theoretical download maximum download speeds at 3Gbps on 4G networks, 5.1Gbps peak speeds on sub-6GHz 5G networks, or 7.35Gbps from mmWave 5G.
Qualcomm is billing the Snapdragon 865, which was unveiled during the company’s annual Tech Summit last December, as “the world’s most advanced 5G platform.” To this end, it packs all of the chipmaker’s latest wireless and processor components, including a new 2.84GHz Kryo 585 CPU, Adreno 650 GPU, fifth-generation AI engine, and Spectra 480 image signal processor (ISP).
The aforementioned Spectra 480 ISP promises up to 2 gigapixels per second of processing speed for dramatically higher-resolution photography and videography, as well as support for 200-megapixel still photos (roughly twice the Snapdragon 855’s upper limits) and 8K video capture. The GPU improvements — which are equally tangible — include between 20% and 100% improved graphics performance compared with the Snapdragon 855. At 90Hz screen refresh rates, Qualcomm says the GPU achieves a 35% power efficiency improvement over the prior chip.
On the AI front, the fifth-generation AI Engine inside the 865 — Hexagon 698 — delivers 15 trillion operations per second (twice that of Qualcomm’s fourth-generation processor) with 35% superior power-efficiency. And using the Snapdragon X55 modem and RF System, the 865 supports global 5G roaming and multi-SIM devices including both millimeter-wave and sub-6GHz frequencies, with peak 5G speeds of up to 7.5Gbps.
Battery life, memory, and storage
So clearly the Galaxy S20 series packs a processing punch, but what about the battery life? That depends on the model. Fortunately, all three smartphones support Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging tech and Fast Wireless Charging, and both the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ ship with 25W fast chargers in the box. (Galaxy S20 Ultra owners get a speedier 45W charger, which Samsung claims can fully recharge the battery in 74 minutes flat — it’s calling this Super Fast Charging.)
Snapdragon variants have the advantage of hardware acceleration for H.265 and VP9 codecs, which improves power efficiency by 7 times compared with the Snapdragon 845 and reduces power consumption during video recording by 30%. And all S20 models boast Samsung’s Adaptive Power Saving tech, which optimizes battery performance based on app use.
Here’s the capacities of each phone:
- Galaxy S20: 4,000mAh (up from the S10’s 3,100mAh)
- Galaxy S20+: 4,500mAh (up from the S10+’s 3,400mAh)
- Galaxy S20 Ultra: 5,100mAh
One reason for the larger batteries is the Galaxy S20 series wireless power-sharing feature — PowerShare — which lets you use the S20, S20+, or S20 Ultra to recharge Qi accessories by placing them on the flat portion of the phones’ rear covers (below the camera).
While all three phones in the S10 series are endowed with PowerShare, they don’t share RAM and storage configurations. See below:
- Galaxy S20: 12GB RAM (8GB in some regions), 128GB/256GB storage (expandable up to 1TB via microSD)
- Galaxy S20+: 12GB RAM (8GB in some regions), 128GB/256GB/512GB storage (expandable up to 1TB via microSD)
- Galaxy S20 Ultra: 12GB/16GB RAM, 128GB/256GB/512GB storage (expandable up to 1TB via microSD)
Like the Galaxy S10 series before it, the Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra run One UI 2.1, Samsung’s redesigned overlay atop Android 10.
Samsung teamed up with Google to optimize Google Duo video calls on the S20 series, the companies said — you’re able to chat with up to eight friends at a time in 1080p quality. Samsung and Netflix collaborated on exclusive content for S20 users, which is accessible through the Samsung Daily app and Bixby as well as Finder. Later this spring, Microsoft will launch a Forza series spinoff — Forza Street — in the Galaxy Store.
The Galaxy S20 series is also the first non-Google device to support Live Caption, which uses a combination of three AI models to transcribe speech from any media in real time.
OneUI 2.1 brings with it quality-of-life improvements like a screen recorder with controls that let you adjust the resolution, record external and internal microphone audio, and more, in addition to an enhanced dark that works with a wider selection of apps and time-based triggers. In other news, One UI 2.1 adopts the iOS-like navigation gestures introduced in Android 10, including a one-handed mode that can be accessed with a swipe down on the gesture bar.
The camera app is a bit easier to use in OneUI 2.1, thanks to a streamlined design with a drag-and-drop gesture that puts photo and video modes at your fingertips. And thanks to Samsung’s ongoing partnership with Microsoft, the Gallery app now integrates with OneDrive.
In other improvements, non-app shortcuts can now be added to the lock screen, including for Do not disturb and the flashlight. OneUI 2.1 ships with the latest version of Google’s Digital Wellbeing, which features a focus mode that disables all notifications and apps so you can focus on work and other things. Plus, the revamped Device care section of the settings menu lets you decide when Wireless PowerShare should stop charging other devices.
All three handsets in the S20 series ship preloaded with a customized version of Adobe Premiere Rush, Adobe’s cross-platform video editing app for smartphones, tablets, and PCs. They’ve also got Quick Share, which lets you beam files to compatible Galaxy devices within range, and an improved default keyboard that recommends emojis and stickers based on the words you type.
One UI isn’t the S20 series’ only spotlight software feature. Bixby Vision — which taps computer vision to recognize and classify objects in photos, much like Google’s Google Lens and Amazon’s Flow — natively supports document scanning. And thanks to integrations with Vivino, Amazon, Nordstrom, Sephora, Cover Girl, and others (and Samsung’s data-sharing partnerships with FourSquare and Pinterest), it can scan barcodes and show relevant product listings, recommend wine, display the calorie counts of food, and let you virtually “try on” makeup products.
As for Bixby Voice, Samsung’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, it works just as it does on the S20 series — say “Hey, Bixby” or hold down the Bixby key to prime it for commands like “What’s the weather forecast?” and “Call John.” It supports more than 3,000 commands in all, including chained ones like “Open the gallery app in split-screen view and rotate misaligned photos” and “Play videos on a nearby TV.”
The newest incarnation of Bixby has better natural language processing, faster response times, and built-in noise reduction tech that together significantly enhance its phrase and word comprehension skills. And as of publication time, it’s conversant in eight languages, including English, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.
It’s also decently conversational. When you ask Bixby about upcoming concerts around New Year’s, for example, it’ll remember the date range and your preferences when looking for tickets in the future. And when you request that Bixby book a restaurant, it’ll infer the size of your party and the time based on past reservations and make recommendations based on your previous searches.
Bixby, like any modern voice assistant, recognizes requests to add items to your calendar, queue up tunes, place calls, and launch apps, and it can answer basic questions about sports scores, movie showtimes, business hours, and more. Additionally, thanks to newly released developer tools (Bixby Developer Studio, Bixby Templates, and Bixby Views) and a digital storefront (Bixby Marketplace), it supports a greater number of third-party apps and services than ever before.
Bixby also boasts Bixby Routines. Much like Alexa Routines and routines on the Google Assistant, Bixby offers preset and personalized routines, such as Driving and Before Bed routines, which can be customized based on your habits.
There’s good news on the DeX front: As with DeX on the Note10 and S10 series, it doesn’t require a dock — Samsung calls this Dex Lite. All you need is a USB Type-C-to-HDMI adapter; connecting it to an external display gets DeX up and running in a jiffy.
Like the Galaxy Tab S4 before it, the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra in DeX mode display a Windows-like interface, replete with resizeable windows, a dedicated taskbar, mouse and keyboard support, and shortcuts to files, the photo gallery, and settings. Samsung teamed up with Microsoft to optimize Office apps (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) for the interface, and with Epic Games to support Fortnite. Other partners include the New York Times, Deezer, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Citrix, VMWare, and Craigslist. Smartphone apps run in DeX, but Samsung makes no guarantees that they won’t misbehave.
Pricing and availability
In the U.S., only 5G-compatible variants of the S20 series will be available for purchase, but that won’t be the case elsewhere. 4G LTE versions of the S20 and S20+ will make their way to some markets in the coming weeks and months.
Here’s how the pricing breaks down:
- S20 5G: from $999
- S20+ 5G: from $1,199
- S20 Ultra: from $1,399
The S20 and S20+ will be available in Cosmic Gray, Cloud Pink, and Cloud Blue in the U.S. As for the S20 Ultra, it’ll come in Cosmic Gray and Cosmic Black. A special edition Olympic Games Athlete edition with a matte gold finish will be released to coincide with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
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