Product Review: Samsung Galaxy S20 5G

eWEEK MOBILE PRODUCT REVIEW: The sleek new smartphone does everything, does it better than “well” and is set up for 5G when it becomes the standard in the next few years.

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After spending three months with the new Samsung Galaxy 20 Ultra 5G smartphone and getting to know it pretty well, I have to say I'm right there with AndroidAuthority: “What (in the heck) more could you want?”

“In the heck” is my addition to their headline. This sleek device does everything, does it better than “well” and does it better than just about any comparable device you will find. It has the finest camera available today (with onboard AI and 20X zoom capability), its battery lasts a full eight hours under normal circumstances (meaning only a few hours of gaming and movie-watching), and its power source and storage are top-notch.

It feels solid in your hand, although a tad on the heavy side—but that's the way it is with quality phones, and it's certainly not a detriment to using it. It's pretty close to being a perfect smartphone. That's the framework for this review; now we'll fill in some details.

Three Sizes From Which to Choose

South Korea’s largest company is marketing three versions of the Galaxy 20: small, medium and large. All three phones—the S20 (6.2 inches top to bottom), S20+ (6.7 inches) and S20 Ultra (6.9 inches)—are 5G-enabled, but there is a distinction. Note that the S20+ and S20 Ultra are equipped for both regular 5G and millimeter wave (mmwave), and of course, buyers pay extra for that flexibility. This 5G/mmwave capability enables the phone to automatically find the best connectivity at the time and location it’s being used for optimal performance. The base model S20 carries 5G connectivity but no mmwave option.

The most important feature about the S20 5G series is that Samsung introduced a new camera architecture that combines AI with its largest-yet image sensor for noticeably improved image quality. The S20 also takes 8K video, and it's ahead of the curve on that score, too.

So how does artificial intelligence work inside a camera? Glad you asked, since AI is used now in a growing number of apps of all kinds. One example: If you’re shooting in low light conditions, the AI will kick in and not only adjust the lighting to improve the photo—like some other phones do—but it can go further by taking attributes of different shots and combining the best ones into a single high-quality final result. And it all happens automatically; more details are included below.

The S20 does much more of the thinking that needs to be done when setting up and photographing a scene. If its human owner isn't happy with the results, he or she can adjust the controls until he or she is content.

One of my favorite features on the S20 has to do with my profession: journalism. The phone comes with a voice-to-text transcription app that really works well—I'd guess it gets about 90% to 95% of the words it hears spelled correctly, which is outstanding. For reporters like me, lawyers taking depositions—for anybody recording people's voices for the record—this is a wonderful perk. The app doesn't have to learn your accent or vocal style; it just understands. That's another example of how IT has advanced in just the last few years.

S20 Will Be Ready for 5G When You'll Need It

Potential buyers also need to know that 5G technology actually does work, is very fast and provides the network bandwidth proponents say it will. But the ubiquitous coverage promised by carriers is still years away. This is why today’s devices are also tied to the 4G LTE networks provided by their carriers, because when there’s no 5G signal available, they can still operate using LTE. The S20 phones also have this capability. But S20 owners of all models will be ahead of the curve when 5G becomes more a utility than a novelty.

More details on the new camera, which is becoming more and more of a differentiator among smartphones:

  • Details in high-end clarity: With a larger image lens (Samsung calls it an image sensor) available on all the Galaxy S20 phones, camera resolution is significantly increased for more detailed images with added flexibility for editing, cropping and zooming. The S20 and S20+ have a 64MP camera. The S20 Ultra has a 108MP camera.
  • Larger sensors take in more light, so you get excellent image quality, even in low light. The S20 Ultra takes things a step further with the option to shift dynamically between a high-resolution 108MP mode and a 12MP mode.
  • Zoom capability: With the S20’s Space Zoom, even when you are far away, you can zoom in very close. Use up to 30x zoom on the Galaxy S20 and S20+ with Space Zoom, the AI-based Super Resolution Zoom or the 100x Space Zoom, with the new-gen folded lens on the S20 Ultra with 10xHybrid Optic Zoom. All very cool to test out.
  • Pro-grade filming capability: The Galaxy S20 offers 8K video shooting, so users can capture true-to-life color and quality. Even the bumpy videos look like they were shot using an action cam, thanks to Super Steady and its anti-rolling stabilization and AI motion analysis.

Basic Specs

  • S20 display: 6.2 inches; 3,200 x 1,440 pixels
  • S20+: 6.7 inches
  • S20 Ultra: 6.9 inches
  • Camera: 12MP (triple camera), 10MP front
  • Hardware: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 8GB RAM
  • Storage: 128GB, microSDXC; 256GB maximum storage
  • Battery: 4,000 mAh
  • OS: Android 10; Samsung One UI

Analyst: This Is the First 5G ‘World-Phone’

“I have covered many Samsung events over the past decade, and I believe this was one of the biggest and I believe most impactful,” Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights told eWEEK. Here are his reactions to the new set of smartphones:

  • “Samsung has always leaned into ‘bigger and better,’ and I believe the Galaxy S20 5G represents this, in particular, the Ultra version. In terms of flagships, the Ultra piles on with the best camera with 100X Space Zoom, 10X hybrid optical zoom, 108MP still resolution, 8K video resolution, and ‘ganging’ pixels to improve clarity and improve light.”
  • “While the 120Hz display isn't always on to save battery life, I believe it makes a substantial improvement in the gaming experience. Finally, the S20 is the first phone to support all the important 5G flavors (mmWave/Sub6/NSA/SA) in what I consider the first 5G ‘world-phone,’ so there's really no reason consumers should feel they need to sit on the sidelines.”
  • “I believe the S20 will create a new ‘super-cycle’ for Samsung and sell better than the last three Galaxy models.”

Pricing and Availability

The Galaxy S20 5G actually is pretty price-competitive when you consider all the new value you get with it. Pricing starts at $999.99 for Galaxy S20 5G, $1,199.99 for the Galaxy S20+ 5G and $1,399.99 for Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G for both carrier and unlocked versions. The Galaxy S20 5G series will be available in various colors:

  • Galaxy S20: Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue, Cloud Pink
  • Galaxy S20+: Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue, Cosmic Black
  • Galaxy S20 Ultra: Cosmic Gray, Cosmic Black

For more information and technical specifications, go here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...