Why Samsung's New 5G Galaxy 20 Smartphones Are Impressive

eWEEK NEW PRODUCT ANALYSIS: The most important news about the S20 5G series is that they introduce a new camera architecture that combines AI with Samsung’s largest-yet image sensor for markedly improved image quality. They also take 8K video.

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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—Samsung introduced its long-awaited 5G smartphones Feb. 11, and there’s a not-so-big surprise attached: They’ve been improved noticeably over the last release.

South Korea’s largest company unveiled three new Galaxy phones, and please note that the model numbers have skipped from “10” to “20.” No explanation of that was given—of course, there’s no explaining some marketing ideas.

The most important news about the S20 5G series is that they introduce a new camera architecture that combines AI with Samsung’s largest-yet image sensor for markedly improved image quality. They also take 8K video; nobody else does that at the moment.

AI at Work Inside the Camera

So how does artificial intelligence work inside a camera? Glad you asked, since AI is present now in a growing number of apps of all kinds. One example from Samsung: If you’re shooting in low light conditions, the AI will kick in and not only adjust the lighting to improve the photo—like many 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.

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. Please 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 optimum performance. The base model S20 carries 5G connectivity but no mmwave option.

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. These new 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.

“As we enter this new decade, 5G will completely change how we communicate and how we experience the world around us,” T.M. Roh, Samsung’s President and Head of Mobile Communications Business, said in a media advisory.

Lots of Details on Features

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

  • Details in high-end clarity: With a larger image sensor available on the Galaxy S20 series, camera resolution is significantly increased, for more detailed images with added flexibility for editing, cropping, and zooming. S20 and S20+ have a 64MP camera. S20 Ultra has 108MP camera.
  • Larger sensors take in more light, so users get rich image quality, even in low-light situations. The S20 Ultra takes things a step further with the option to shift dynamically between a high-resolution 108MP mode and a 12MP mode, thanks to non a-binning technology which combines nine pixels into one at the sensor level.
  • Zoom capability: With the Galaxy S20’s Space Zoom technology, 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 step up to 100x Space Zoom, with the new-gen folded lens on the S20 Ultra with 10xHybrid Optic Zoom.
  • Single take, multiple possibilities: Single Take lets you stay in the moment, while you capture the moment. Thanks to its AI camera technologies, the Galaxy S20 can capture a number of photos and videos, such as live focus, cropped, ultra wide and more to capture the moment.
  • Pro-grade filming capability: The Galaxy S20 offers 8K video shooting, so users can capture video in true-to-life color and quality. When done shooting, stream your video to an 8K TV and enjoy a best-in-class viewing experience or grab a still from an 8K video and turn it into a high-res photo. Samsung claims that even the bumpiest videos look like they were shot using an action cam, due to Super Steady and its anti-rolling stabilization and AI motion analysis.

Other features:

  • Music: Samsung has created a new integration between Spotify and Bixby Routines. With Music Share, a user can extend his/her paired Bluetooth connection to a car stereo or speaker via their device, so they and a friend can take turns DJ-ing during a road trip or party—for one example of an interesting use case.
  • Video chat on Google Duo: Video chats are more easily handled on the Galaxy S20, Samsung said. With 5G, the Galaxy S20 enhances the video-chatting experience through a deep integration with Google Duo, bringing new Duo features to Galaxy S20. Now, from the dialer, users can tap Duo to start a video call and enjoy, for the first time, full HD quality. Google Duo is compatible across operating systems, so users are not limited to whom they can video chat. Users can fit the entire family in the frame, using the wide lens; and talk to up to eight friends at once, Samsung said.
  • YouTube on 5G: Users can share 8K videos with the world faster and better. Samsung partnered with YouTube, so users can upload their 8K videos directly to YouTube—and with integrated 5G capabilities, they can experience ultra-fast upload speeds.
  • Entertainment: Taking advantage of the Galaxy S20’s pro-grade camera, Netflix and Samsung are now working together to put the Galaxy S20 in the hands of renowned directors to capture bonus content based on popular Netflix Originals. Users can also discover Netflix's content through an improved integration with Galaxy devices, enabling ease of content discovery and accessibility via Samsung Daily, Bixby and Finder.
  • Gaming: The Galaxy S20 series takes mobile gaming to the next level. With a 120Hz display, you’ll have the ability to experience incredibly smooth gaming. Later this spring, Samsung partner, Microsoft, will launch its popular “Forza Street” in the Galaxy Store, marking the first time the game is coming to mobile. The Galaxy S20 combines a fast processor, 12 GB of RAM, audio tuned by AKG and a game booster working in the background to optimize settings for peak performance, Samsung claims.

Basic Specs

  • S20 display 6.2 inches; 3200 x 1440 pixels
  • S20+: 6.7 inches
  • S20Ultra: 6.9 inches
  • Camera 12 MP (Triple camera) 10 MP front.
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 8GB RAM.
  • Storage 128GB, microSDXC.
  • Battery 4000 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,” longtime industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights told eWEEK. Here are his initial reactions to the new set of smartphones:

On the Galaxy S20 lineup:

“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.”

On the Galaxy Z Flip (introduced Feb. 11)

“Experience matters in foldables, and this technically is Samsung's third foldable, with two versions of the Fold before the Flip. I like that Samsung didn't skimp on technical specifications like the Moto Razr did with its lower-end CPU and GPU. I'm am OK with the lack of 5G, because I just don't think it would fit and would drain too much battery. 

“The folding mechanism feels solid. I am sure Samsung learned a lot from the Fold with its three-stage sweep design and glass cover versus plastic. While the company won't definitively say how much more resilient the glass cover is versus plastic, I am told it's very high. While I believe users can accomplish more with the Fold, it's also a lot larger. Samsung is targeting a different audience, which is smart. I believe the Flip will be a market success. assuming there aren't any reliability gotchas.”

Availability

Starting on March 6, the Galaxy S20 5G series will be widely available in carrier and Unlocked by Samsung versions at carrier and retail outlets nationwide. Pricing starts at $999.99 for Galaxy S20 5G, $1,199.99 for Galaxy S20+ 5G and $1,399.99 for Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G for both carrier and unlocked versions. 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

Pre-orders for the Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra begin Feb. 21. Between Feb. 21 and March 5, consumers who pre-order can get a $100 Samsung credit with a Galaxy S20, $150 Samsung credit with a Galaxy S20+ or $200 Samsung credit with a Galaxy S20 Ultra.

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...