Samsung Galaxy S20 Review
For most people, the Samsung Galaxy S20 is still one of the best Android phone available right now. Especially with the cheaper prices around. However, I would seriously consider the Galaxy S20 FE which has a Snapdragon 865 and better battery life, along with superior performance. There's also the OnePlus 8T which has a similarly ace display and the Pixel 5 if you're looking for something even smaller.
- Lovely screen
- A perfect size
- Huge camera improvements over the S10
- The fingerprint scanner is poor
- 120Hz refresh rate drains battery
- It looks just like every other Samsung phone
- Review Price: £799
- CPU: Snapdragon 865/Exynos 990
- Memory: 8/12GB RAM
- Battery capacity: 4000mAh
- Interface: OneUI 2.0
- Audio: no headphone jack
- 5G? Yes - 4G/5G options
- Display: 6.2-inch 120Hz OLED QHD+
The Samsung Galaxy S20 has been one of our favourite Android phones throughout 2020, especially if you’ve been after a device that isn’t huge.
While it’s a great Android phone, there are very few surprises here. It looks like a Samsung flagship, takes the kind of photos you expect from a Samsung flagship and has the same software as any other Samsung flagship. That’s not a bad thing, but there isn’t much here to bring in new fans.
However, with our reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra on their way and the cheaper Samsung Galaxy FE available now, the S20 might not quite as tempting now as it was on release.
However, it’s still a great device that can be had for less than it was at launch. Read our for our full in-depth Galaxy S20 review.
Related: Best Android phone
Screen – Its 120Hz refresh rate ensures it runs super-smooth
Displays on Samsung’s flagship have long been considered the best, and with the Galaxy S20, the company adds a much-requested feature: a 120Hz refresh rate.
This means the slightly curved 6.2-inch OLED panel will refresh 120 times a second, rather than the 60 times a second you’ll find on pretty much every other 2019 handset. The result? Everything just feels far smoother, which gives the impression the phone is faster. This feature isn’t necessarily new – the OnePlus 7T Pro had a 90Hz display in 2019 – but it’s welcome, and it elevates the panel to the next level.
There is a catch with the 120Hz display, though: it will only work when the screen resolution is set to FHD and it won’t be on by default. If you want to use the S20’s QHD+ resolution to its full, you’ll need to dial things back to 60Hz. This is a shame since it means you’ll have to decide whether you plump for resolution or speed, sacrificing one of the phone’s features in the process.
In real-world use, I can’t see anyone being disappointed when it’s set to FHD+ resolution. Everything remains sharp, colours pop without being overly rich, and blacks are perfectly deep. Like all Samsung screens, it’s truly a pleasure to use.
The reason for locking out 120Hz and QHD+ at the same time? The likelihood is it’s battery related. You’ll experience a notable drop in endurance with the smoother mode enabled – and even though I’m happy to take the hit, some may prefer to leave it set to 60Hz to get a few more hours of screen-on time.
The camera cutout remains, but it now mirrors the more inconspicuous design seen first on the Note 10. I didn’t find that the notch got in the way at all, whether watching videos or playing games. Most apps are now better accustomed to deal with the cutout – for example, you can force apps such as Netflix to cover the entire panel.
Camera – A huge improvement over the Galaxy S10
The camera is one the big focuses here. Even though it’s the Galaxy S20 Ultra that benefits from the fancy new additions (108-megapixel main sensor, 100x zoom, 40-megapixel selfie), the S20 offers a significant upgrade. I prefer the photos and shooting experience here anyway as S20 Ultra struggles with a load of focus issues. These were fixed on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
There are three main rear cameras: a wide 12-megapixel with an f/1.8 lens and OIS; an ultra-wide 12-megapixel; and a 64-megapixel telephoto with an f/2.0 lens and OIS. Samsung says the sensor on that main 12-megapixel camera has been completely rebuilt, with its bigger pixels allowing in more light.
The most important thing for anyone upgrading from last year’s Galaxy S10 is that the resulting snaps are a huge leap forward. Samsung’s camera offering had stagnated for years, with the same sensor repeatedly used in its handsets. With the S20, the company kicks things up a gear.
The second key takeaway is just how bright, vivid and colourful outdoor and well-lit shots are. Without feeling oversaturated or fake, the photos are gloriously punchy, especially when compared to those produced by rival phones such as the Google Pixel 4 and Apple iPhone 11. This is still the case when compared to the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12.
Samsung has also seemingly altered its post-processing. No longer are reds and greens neon, with nature shots in particular feeling more lifelike. Images still display more sharpening than I like, giving buildings a hit of extra detail that isn’t to my taste. However, if you regularly run your photos through a sharpening tool before you upload to Instagram then you’ll probably appreciate the changes.
Low-light shots, too, are also noticeably better than anything I’ve seen from a Samsung phone before, even if the Pixel 5 still does a consistently better job at exposing correctly and getting the most detail out of night and bar shots. I’d avoid the Night mode completely, though: it adds a harsh yellow tinge to snaps. You’ll get better results using the natural skill of the sensor.
So, how does it compare to the S20 Ultra? In terms of zooming, the Ultra is king: anything up to 10x is far sharper, thanks to the dedicated zoom glass on the pricier device. However, the S20’s ability to focus is far nippier, plus the smaller sensor means that, overall, images will be crisper, without that blurry banding we’ve seen on the Ultra’s pics.
All Galaxy S20 variants suffer from over-smoothing on portrait shots, with the texture on faces lost. But as with the extra sharpening, this won’t be an issue for some – but it’s not for me.
Video is another plus: 8K recording is present (using the tele sensor), although you’ll likely have no way to playback that footage. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive feature for a small phone such as the S20 to boast and the results are strong.
Related: Best camera phone
Design – Better-looking than the Ultra, but the Galaxy S20 design needs a refresh
Samsung hasn’t delivered a huge redesign of its flagship “S” handsets in several years – and, visually, the entire S20 series looks very much like handsets that have come before.
But it’s difficult to see where any changes could be made. The front is just a big screen; the back is glass, with a smattering of curves that help the S20 nestle comfortably in your hand.
Having used all three Galaxy S20 models, I think the regular S20’s strongest attribute is just how good it feels to use. This, for me, is the perfect size for a phone. It’s small enough to use with one hand, yet packs a display that’s big enough for watching the odd YouTube clip or Netflix episode. Everything just feels right, from the narrow overall body to its minimal weight.
Glass covers the front and the rear of the device, and there’s quite a distinctive new camera layout on the back. It’s less intrusive than the one on the Ultra – there’s a far smaller sensor here and no periscope lens – and it adds an extra quirk to the design.
With phones such as the Oppo Find X2 Pro offering leather-back options, the design of the Galaxy S20 feels, well, a bit safe. The colour options lack any uniqueness, and the smudge-prone back is a step-backwards when we have phones such as the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro with their matte finishes. I just think Samsung could have done more.
One notable omission is a 3.5mm headphone port. The Galaxy S20 is the first S-series flagship to ditch it – while this has become the norm on flagships from Apple and OnePlus, Samsung has been late to join that party. You do get an “okay” pair of AKG-branded USB-C buds in the box, and Samsung has recently updated its true wireless headphone offering with the Galaxy Buds Plus.
Thankfully, the phone retains its microSD slot and IP68 rating.
Performance and specs – The Galaxy S20 is fast and offers the smoothest Android experience around
Like its pricier sibling, the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the Galaxy S20 is impressive when it comes to specs. High-end internals range from the latest chips and type of RAM to support for the latest USB-C power delivery standards.
Interestingly, Samsung does offer a model of the Galaxy S20 without 5G (and slightly less RAM). This costs roughly £100/$100 less and is a good option if you have no interest in 5G if it isn’t available in your area yet, or simply because you want to save a bit of cash.
Powering my European Galaxy S20 device is the Exynos 990 7nm chipset; US devices will get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865. I’m not a huge fan of the split chipset approach since in previous years the Snapdragon version has performed better and offered improved battery life.
It also features 12GB of LPDDR-5 RAM – and a clever software trick lets you force up to three apps to constantly stay in the RAM, meaning they won’t require you to keep restarting them every few hours. This is ideal if you play a specific game multiple times a day, for example, and it takes a long time to load up each go.
These fast internals, paired with the smooth 120Hz display, make for a phone that’s speedy in just about every way. Is that a surprise? Not really. Performance across even mid-range Android handsets is great these days. It’s about whether such performance continues 12-18 months down the line. Hopefully, the S20 will be better in this regard than previous entries in the series.
You’ll notice extra smoothness in games such as Alto’s Odyssey, which make the most of the 120Hz display – these really do look great. The improved 240Hz sampling rate also helps responsiveness in games that require a deft touch.
For those interested in the benchmark scores for the S20, see the table below. We’ve compared the device to some of the other flagship phones that come packing differing chipsets. The jump over last year’s devices isn’t huge, but benchmark data should always be taken with a pinch of salt. This new chip adds many extras that aren’t related to performance, such as support for 8K video and 5G.
|Geekbench 5 dual-core||Geekbench 5 dual-core||AnTuTu|
|Samsung Galaxy S20||919||2765||487,678|
|Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra||890||2679||484,448|
|Huawei Mate 30 Pro||749||2910||452,421|
|iPhone 11 Pro||1334||3552||558,778|
|OnePlus 7T Pro||745||2672||471,814|
The S20 isn’t all sweet-smelling roses, though. Audio from the speakers is tinny and muffled, and call quality isn’t up there with the best. I’m also not a fan of the optical in-display fingerprint scanner Samsung includes: it’s slow, takes a good few attempts to register my finger, and falls short of the physical sensors of a few years ago. At least there’s a rudimentary face-unlock system that allows access to the device far quicker.
Battery life – A mixed bag, but very fast charging
If you’ve read our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review then you’ll know we weren’t that impressed with its battery life, especially when you consider the size of the phone. I’m a little more accepting of the middling endurance of the S20 since smaller phones have smaller batteries (4000mAh here vs 5000mAh on the Ultra).
The issue is that 120Hz display. I managed 90-120 minutes less screen-on time with this option enabled during my week with the phone than when it was set to 60Hz (about four hours). Keep things at 60Hz and FHD+ and you’ll easily make it through the day without much fuss.
At least Samsung offers plenty of ways of stretching out that battery life. You can alter resolution, hamper the performance, turn off the non-essential functions; plus there are various battery-saver modes, each of which can be customised. Of course, none of this is ideal and is no replacement for actual great battery life – but that’s the price you pay for a display of this type.
When you’re not using the screen, battery performance is better. An hour of music streaming consumed less juice than the Pixel 4 XL while leaving the phone unplugged overnight saw a drop of just 5% – pretty good for an Android phone.
And when you do come to charge the phone the included 25w charger will take you from 0-100% in about 65 minutes. This increases to 90 minutes if you’re using a slower charger from an older Samsung phone or a generic PD charger and about 3 hours if you’re charging wirelessly. This might not be as fast as the Oppo Find X2 Pro which can get a full charge in 40 minutes, but it’s a big improvement nevertheless.
Software – Samsung’s One UI 2.1 is its best software yet
Once a reason to avoid Samsung phones, the One UI 2.1 Android here is the most complete and reliable skin yet to grace an S-series flagship. However, it isn’t Android as Google intended. This is very much Samsung’s software, with its own payment service, duplicate apps aplenty and password manager. If you want to avoid Google services completely then that is possible.
But in truth, there are more features here than you’ll see with most other Android UIs. DeX, for instance, allows you to use your phone on a Mac or PC or even a monitor.
There’s also a dark mode that works system-wide, across all supported apps, plus the ability to connect two Bluetooth devices at the same time; plus there are some great multi-tasking tools, popping apps out into separate windows, for example.
Bixby remains, although Samsung no longer forces it down your throat in the same way it has done in previous years. There’s no dedicated button for it and you can disable it popping up when you press down the lock key. The Bixby home screen has been ditched for Samsung Daily – a sort of equally useless panel of random integrations that can easily be disabled.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S20?
For most people, the Samsung Galaxy S20 is still one of the best Android phone available right now. Especially with the cheaper prices around.
However, I would seriously consider the Galaxy S20 FE which has a Snapdragon 865 and better battery life, along with superior performance. There’s also the OnePlus 8T which has a similarly ace display and the Pixel 5 if you’re looking for something even smaller.
- Check out our reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
How we test phones
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.