The Galaxy S20 series has made quite a splash in International markets. According to Samsung, it starts a whole new generation of phones (and hence the jump from S10 to S20 directly). The Indian version might not seem as radical though, with no 5G, reduced RAM and sans the dramatic price jump, but it still packs in quite the punch. The S20 Ultra has been getting all the hype, but the S20 and S20+ are no slouches either and with a starting price of INR 66,999, feel like a steal deal compared to the iPhone 11 family. I’ve been using the S20 ever since it reached India and I have a few thoughts about the phone. Note that, almost all of what I’m sharing here is also applicable to the S20+, and if you’re confused between the two, I’ll point out the differences as and when necessary. With that, let’s dive into the review.
Galaxy S20 Build and Design: Understated, yet Brilliant
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t like the S20 family’s design when these phones were announced. The plain glossy back just felt bland in comparison to all the snazzy gradients and patterns we’ve been getting recently, and the drab color options didn’t help the cause either. All of that changed when I first unboxed the S20. Trust me, pictures definitely don’t do it justice. The Cloud Blue variant that I have, looks amazing in the hand, and the paint job, although lacking any gradients, still feels classy and premium. The asymmetrical rectangular camera module does take some time getting used to and I would have liked a matte finish back, to keep it from smudging. But other than that, there’s very little to complain about with the S20’s design.
The S20 surprised me by how compact and light it is. I can’t even remember the last phone I could use single-handed with such ease. Also, unlike the S10 and Note10 (review) series, Samsung has finally decided to place the power button, right where it should be. The earpiece still doubles up as a secondary speaker, although the headphone jack is now gone (Fun fact: That means the S10 series (review) is the only ‘expensive’ phone that you can buy if you absolutely need a 3.5mm jack). The phone is still waterproof with IP68 rating, there’s still room for expandable storage and both the front and back have Gorilla Glass 6 protection. Samsung has further trimmed down on the bezels at the front, and the displays themselves are now very slightly curved into the sides. They still feel equally immersive and the flatter edges just make for a better gestures experience.
Galaxy S20 Display and Multimedia: Best you can get
Samsung is already famous for making the best mobile displays but this year might be their biggest leap in terms of display updates. Starting off with the screen, it’s a 6.2-inch (6.7 inch on the S20+) Super AMOLED panel, with QHD+ resolution (1440×3200) and a slightly taller 20:9 aspect ratio. The screen is super-bright, the colors are punchier than ever, and the HDR10+ support means media consumption on this screen is a treat. The central selfie camera punch-hole is the least intrusive kind, and the stereo speaker setup delivers great audio, albeit it’s very bottom heavy and still can’t match the richness of iPhone speakers. The leap that I was talking about comes with the screen refresh rates though. The S20 series comes with buttery smooth 120Hz refresh rate screens. That, along with the 240Hz touch sampling rate, means not only your phone is twice as quick to register and respond to your touches, it is also twice as smoother in your day-to-day activities. This doesn’t apply to your multimedia content or gaming, but everything else, be it app opening/closing animations, swiping actions or just scrolling through menus, feels instantaneous and extra smooth, something which couldn’t be said about any of the previous Samsung flagships. The higher refresh rate is only available at FHD+ resolution as of now, but it’s definitely a no-brainer choosing this over QHD+ at 60Hz. To wrap up the multimedia performance, you do get AKG-tuned Type-C earphones in the box, and the audio output is good enough, thanks in-part to the built-in Dolby Atmos.
Galaxy S20 Cameras: Great, If You Hate Selfies
Samsung has been making good camera phones for a while, but it somehow never could deliver the outright best mobile camera. With the S20 series though, Samsung has given it their best shot yet. The primary camera here is still a 12MP sensor, although the actual pixel size has grown to a massive 1.8µm, which means that despite coming with a slightly smaller aperture (f/1.8 vs f/1.5) than the S10 series, the S20 should be able to capture a lot more light and details. There’s also a 12MP ultra-wide but the star of the show here is the 64MP ‘Telephoto’ lens, which can give you 3x Hybrid Optical zoom and up-to 30x digital zoom. Technically it’s hardly a 1.1x optical zoom and the zoom here is being achieved mostly by cropping in using the high megapixel count of the sensor. The telephoto and the main camera both support OIS and there’s also the option for software derived ‘Super Steady’ video at 1080p resolution. Talking about video resolutions, the S20 can record 8K video too, although the frame rate is capped at 24fps. It’s a technological marvel for sure, but right now it isn’t going to make a huge difference. The 8K video is super crisp as expected, but there are hardly any 8K screens around where you can actually savor all those extra pixels, and the file sizes of 8K videos are gargantuan.
As for the selfies, we get a 10MP single shooter, same as on the S10, and this is one of the most disappointing aspects of the phone. The camera seems to do pretty well while recording selfie videos and even live focus (bokeh mode) videos. But the images that I’m getting out of it, are pretty basic. The dynamic range is all right, the colors are accurate but at least 7/10 times, the images look very soft and especially the faces in the image look terrible. Here are some selfie samples:
Coming to the rear cameras though, the images are generally great. The dynamic range is good, there’s enough contrast and the colors look vibrant. If you prefer natural looking images, the S20 might not be the best pick for you, but if you need social media ready pics straight out of your camera, this is it. The zoom camera on the S20 worked better than I expected, and although the 30x jargon is a stretch, you can get quite usable shots at up-to 10x zoom.
The best thing about the whole camera experience though is the color science and overall consistency between the three lenses has been worked out to perfection. Samsung’s image processing algorithms have improved by a huge margin. Yes there are specific scenarios when an iPhone or a Pixel would give you better looking shots, but overall 9/10 times you’re going to be really happy with the camera performance here. Also worth mentioning, the video recording here is arguably the best you can get on an Android right now.
I also did a video review of the S20’s camera and a comparison against the S10 Lite’s setup. Check it out for a shot-by-shot explanation of the S20’s camera performance.
Galaxy S20 Performance, Battery: We Need To Talk
The entire S20 family comes in one memory variant only: 8GB RAM coupled with 128GB of internal storage. The RAM used here is the latest LPDDR5 standard and the storage itself is UFS 3.0 kind, meaning you get the fastest possible read and write speeds, theoretically. But remember the title of this review, the “fatal flaw”? Well that comes now. The Indian (and European) variant of the S20 series comes with Samsung’s own Exynos 990 chipset, instead of the Snapdragon 865. Now on paper, the 990 is quite a capable chipset, built on 7nm EUV process, packing in the Mali G77 GPU; and almost matching the 865 in synthetic benchmarks. But Exynos processors have traditionally never been able to match their Snapdragon counterparts, and this year isn’t no different. I mean, the phone does perform well for most of the part. Day to day performance is breezy, there is no problem in keeping apps in memory and you can run the heaviest of games on high settings. It’s probably the smoothest running Samsung phone ever, thanks to the 120Hz screen too. But where the 990 falls behind is when the going gets really tough. E.g. while playing PUBG for over an hour, the phone starts to drop frames quite often and it struggles to maintain even 50fps of game-play, let alone a constant 60 (which btw, is easily done on the SD865 touting Realme X50 Pro). Furthermore, I noticed that while driving, when I’m using Navigation AND playing songs using Bluetooth, the phone gets considerably hot and shows clear signs of struggle.
Now what this means is that the battery life on the phone also suffers, and you’ll hardly get more than 5 hours of SOT here. This is with the screen set to 120Hz and you can obviously extend the battery life by about 10-15% with the screen on 60Hz. But that’s its main selling feature and if you’re buying a 70K phone, you shouldn’t be making such compromises just to keep your phone alive. It’s generally a known fact that Samsung flagships don’t give you the best of battery lives but what sucks is that the Qualcomm variants do a lot better in this regard, and the terrible battery life that we’re used to from Samsung flagships is mostly due to their Exynos chipsets. Case in point, the Galaxy S10 Lite (SD855) gives a lot better battery life than the Note10 Lite (Exynos 9810), even with the exact same battery capacity, screen size etc (Watch Battery Test).
Thankfully, the charging speeds have improved since last year and the S20 now comes with 25 Watt ‘Superfast Charging’. It isn’t as fast as the name suggests though, and there are many cheaper phones which can put Samsung’s charging to shame. Still, the S20 takes a respectable 1hr 10mins to charge from 0-100% and a 30 minute top-up can give you around 50-55% charge. Overall, the battery performance of this phone is one thing that doesn’t make you feel delighted about using this phone, and I solely blame Samsung’s processor choice for it.
Galaxy S20 Software, User Experience: Mixed Bag
The Galaxy S20 comes with the latest Android 10 and Samsung’s own OneUI 2.1 on top. There’s a host of features that Samsung has thrown in. You get the usual Link to Windows, Samsung Pay, Wireless PowerShare, Screen Recorder etc. Some new features that Samsung has introduced this time around is the Music Share feature, which enables you to stream music through somebody else’s connected Bluetooth device. Except for that, the software experience is pretty good, you get lots of customization features from themes to icon packs, you get to choose between Android 10-style gestures or Samsung’s own gestures. Overall, I think OneUI is one of the best-looking, well optimized custom skins, save for the OxygenOS maybe.
A few more things I want to point out about the S20. Firstly, the haptic feedback on it is amazing. It’s very easy to overlook such an ‘inconsequential’ feature, but in real-life usage, the accurate and sharp haptic feedback makes a world of difference, and definitely adds on to the ‘flagship’ experience. What doesn’t feel good though, is the biometric unlocking speeds on the S20. Samsung’s face unlock process is probably the slowest in the industry right now, and the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is painstakingly unreliable too. I wish they had gone for an optical fingerprint scanner, or just increased the size of the current scanner. Right now, you need to be absolutely spot-on with your finger placement for it to work, and it still takes about an entire second to let you into the phone.
I used the phone with a single Airtel SIM and the call quality, network reception was as good as it can get on Airtel, which isn’t saying much. The WiFi connection strength and Bluetooth connections were pretty solid and I had no issues with connectivity overall.
Galaxy S20 Verdict: Worth Your Money?
The Galaxy S20 is a well-built premium phone boasting of all the right features. It’s lightweight, waterproof, has a gorgeous display, super smooth 120Hz experience and a flagship camera, atleast on the back. There are some shortcomings, the selfie camera disappoints, the battery life isn’t great and the biometrics might irritate you at times. Comparing it to the Galaxy S10 series, the overall experience feels quite similar, with the S20 facing the same issues as the S10 did. That being said, It’s still one of the most satisfying all-round phone that you can buy right now and with a starting price of Rs 66,999, it’s not even a wallet-killer like the iPhone 11 series. I could recommend this phone just for that gorgeous display and the super-silky 120Hz experience. If you’re just looking for a phone with the best performance and cameras don’t mean a lot to you, you might want to wait for the OnePlus 8 series or go for one of the budget flagship options. If this phone came with a SD865, I’d have had no second thoughts about calling it the best Android phone (or phone, period) to buy in 2020. But sadly, that’s not the case. Sigh. Next Year, Maybe?
Samsung Galaxy S2066,999
Value For Money8.5/10
What Is Good?
- Compact and Lightweight
- Gorgeous Display for Multimedia
- 120Hz Refresh Rate is Amazing
- Rear Cameras are quite Good
- Haptics are Amazing
- IP68 Protection
What Is Bad?
- Exynos Processor struggles with consistency
- Battery Life isn't Great
- No Headphone Jack
- Selfie Camera is finicky
- Slowest Fingerprint scanner
- Unreliable Face Unlock