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Samsung Galaxy S20 getting last-minute upgrade that owners will love

From left to right: Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S20 isn't on sale yet, but those of us who have been fortunate enough to go hands on with Samsung's upcoming flagship tend to share a common complaint. The 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED display that is supposed to set a new standard for smartphone screens comes with a frustrating compromise.

Yes, the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra can all display content at 120Hz, making for animations twice as smooth as those on conventional displays. However, the panels cannot run at that refresh rate and their maximum native resolution of 3200x1440 at the same time.

If you want 120Hz, you have to knock the detail down to full HD. That means text and graphics will look blurrier than they ought to. And because these screens are quite large — especially if you opt for the gargantuan 6.9-inch S20 Ultra — you will probably notice a difference compared to quad HD.

Now of course, Samsung made the decision to force users to choose between prioritizing refresh rate or quality to conserve battery life. However, that's a call that should really be left up to the individual spending up to $1,400 on one of these smartphones. Thankfully, a rumor from frequent Samsung leaker Ice Universe on Twitter claims the company will address this in a post-release update, where users will have the ability to select a 120Hz, quad-HD resolution if they like, and play fast and loose with that precious battery life.

A screenshot included in the tweet shows three options: High (for 120Hz at all times), Dynamic (for automatic switching between 60Hz and 120Hz to preserve battery life when necessary) and Standard (for 60Hz at all times). What you won't see here is that aforementioned 120Hz, quad-HD option, though Ice Universe has indicated that such an option "can be selected."

Ultimately, a dynamic setting would be nice to see, because 120Hz at all times is probably overkill. Even the Pixel 4, which offers a 90Hz panel, doesn't provide that option, and you have to head into Android's developer menu to force it indefinitely. That said, it's a bit surprising Samsung isn't offering 90Hz as a compromise; for smoother animations on the Galaxy S20, it's either 120Hz or 60Hz — all or nothing, even though most people would probably be satisfied with a middle ground.

Some have asked whether Galaxy S20 owners really need a 120Hz, quad HD setting, and to that I'd argue nobody really needs any of these things. You could simply spend less than half of what the cheapest Galaxy S20 costs and get a Pixel 3a with a 60Hz screen at full HD resolution and a processor that is fast enough for most things, but slow when taking pictures and playing games. If you're eyeing a Galaxy S20, you're already flirting with excess.

But at the end of the day, if Samsung wasn't comfortable with the knock-on effects of energy consumption from running a quad-HD panel at 120Hz, then it shouldn't have bumped up the refresh rate. Or it should have, but stopped at 90Hz, not 120Hz. Or it should have swapped in a full-HD screen in lieu of a quad-HD one. These phones are expensive for good reasons; if we can accept that, then we should also be able to give those fortunate enough to buy them the freedom to make their own decisions.

So I commend Samsung for evidently rethinking its philosophy around the S20's displays. Since the very inception of Google's mobile OS, the advantage of buying one of the best Android phones over a comparable iPhone has always been choice: choice in price, choice in features and choice in design. More choice should always be welcomed. Although we won't know for a while whether this update is the real deal, Ice Universe's tweet at least gives prospective S20 buyers something to look forward to.