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Samsung Galaxy S20 review

The Samsung Galaxy S20 is a powerful flagship phone with a smooth 120Hz display, 5G and advanced cameras in a compact design

Samsung Galaxy S20 review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S20 offers a smooth 120Hz display, improved cameras and 5G in a fairly compact design, but the battery life could be better.

For

  • Improved camera with 3x lossless zoom
  • Single Take camera mode is fun
  • Display has 120Hz refresh rate
  • Compact design

Against

  • Battery life is relatively short
  • Camera can overly smooth faces

The Samsung Galaxy S20 is the Android flagship for people who actually like smaller phones. Thanks to its 6.2-inch display, the S20 is easy to use with one hand, and yet this compact device packs quite a punch. However, the price is not small at $999. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 Specs

OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.2 inches
Screen resolution: QHD+ (563 ppi)
Refresh rate: 120Hz
Processor: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 128GB + microSD
Battery: 4,000 mAh
Battery life: 9 hours 31 mins
Rear cameras: 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP telephoto
Video: Up to 8K resolution at 24 fps
Front cameras: 10MP
Size: 5.9 x 3 x 0.31 inches
Weight: 5.7 ounces

Just like its bigger and even pricier brothers, the Galaxy S20 gives you a fluid 120Hz display, powerful new camera system with improved zoom and 5G speeds. However, the battery life isn't the best.

If you want a bigger 6.7-inch screen, check out our Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review; it's our favorite of the three new Galaxy S20 phones. And if you want a more powerful 10x lossless zoom and monster 6.9-inch screen, check out our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review.

Some may prefer the OnePlus 8 Pro, which offers a bigger display than the Galaxy S20 and longer battery life for $899. But as you'll see in our full Galaxy S20 review, we really this phone because of what Samsung packed into such a sleek package. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Price and release date

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: back

(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S20 had a release date of March 6. The Galaxy S20 costs $999 and comes with 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage standard. You can’t opt for a model with more RAM or storage but you can add up to 1TB of storage via the phone’s microSD card slot.

The Galaxy S20 is available through all major carriers, including a model that supports Verizon's mmWave 5G network. 

Anyone interested in snapping up one of Samsung's latest flagships for the least expense possible should have a look at the best Galaxy S20 deals out there before pulling the trigger. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Design

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: design

(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S20 doesn’t look radically different from the Galaxy S10, but there are some welcome refinements. The cutout for the front camera is smaller this time around, and it’s placed in the top center of the display instead of on the right side, so it’s less of a distraction. In addition, the display has less of a curve to it, which I appreciate because there’s less of a chance of accidental touches when you’re just shifting the phone in your hands.

I feel like it’s not a huge deal at this stage, but it’s definitely notable that the Samsung Galaxy S20 does not include a headphone jack. This is the first Galaxy S flagship phone missing this feature, so you’ll probably want check out our best wireless earbuds and best wireless headphones recommendations. If you want to keep it in the brand family, check out the new Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, which promise 11 hours of battery life.

Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S20’s color options are not exciting, but at least there's some variety. In the U.S you'll find three Galaxy S20 colors in Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue and Cloud Pink. I’m partial to the lighter Cloud Blue, just because it looks and feels new. I would have liked to see something more captivating, like the Aura Glow finish that we saw in our Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Cameras

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Rear cameras

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung had fallen behind Apple and Google in photo quality, but the Galaxy S20 looks to beat the competition with bigger sensors, a bigger zoom and new features that make it easier to shoot and share.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 has a triple rear camera that starts with a 12-MP wide sensor that’s 1.8 microns. The telephoto lens uses a 64MP sensor that’s 0.8 microns and the 12MP ultra-wide camera uses a 1.4-micron sensor.

Why am I rattling off all these numbers? Well, the larger the sensor, the more light it lets in, which should result in brighter and sharper images. By comparison, the Galaxy S10’s wide-angle, telephoto and ultra-wide cameras were 1.4, 1 and 1 microns, respectively. So at least two of the lenses are significantly larger. 

Indoors under normal lighting conditions, the Galaxy S20 captured a more delicious looking shot of these cookies. You can make out the nooks and crannies — and fudge in the dark chocolate cookies — although Samsung had some help from its AI Scene Optimizer mode that automatically recognizes food.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 doesn’t have the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s monster 100x Space Zoom, but it does have a more powerful zoom than the Galaxy S10. The Hybrid Optic Zoom goes up to 3x, which is supposed to be lossless zoom, and the digital zoom goes up to 30x. As you get closer to 30x the camera view gets shaky, but overall this is an improvement on the 2x zoom in the Galaxy S10.

In our first zoom test of the Chrysler building from a few blocks away, the Galaxy S20, captured a darker but crisper image than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. There's a bit more noise in the iPhone's shot. 

I noticed a more dramatic difference when we set the zoom on both phones to 10x, which is digital zoom. You can make out more detail in the building and the windows in the Galaxy S20's photo. With the iPhone 11 Pro Max, you can tell that it's a zoom photo, but with the Samsung phone you're just closer to the subject.

The Samsung Galaxy S20's cameras didn't shine in all situations. With this flower close-up I'd give the edge to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which shows more gradations of color and delivers and overall brighter image. However, the S20's photo provides more detail in the center of the flower.

I also give the edge to the iPhone 11 Pro Max over the Samsung Galaxy S20 in this portrait. My face is brighter and pops more in the S20's pic, but the iPhone does a better job rendering the lines in my shirt and the texture in my jacket, details that get lost in the S20's photo.

If you look closely, the Galaxy S20 also has trouble with the light behind my head in Live Focus mode, as it seems to dig into the sides of my head.

So how about Night mode? The Galaxy S20 did a pretty good job capturing this scene in almost complete darkness. You can make out the gold USS Enterprise in the foreground more clearly than you can in the iPhone 11 Pro Max's photo. However, the overall image is brighter from the iPhone, as it's easier to see the desk, the pedestal for the space ship and objects in the background.

My favorite Samsung Galaxy S20 camera feature is Single Take. When you press the shutter button in this mode, the phone takes a series of photos while also recording 10 seconds of video. The phone then gives you a gallery of results, including an AI Best moment, and ultra-wide shot, a Live Focus (portrait mode) pic, as well as a fast forward video that’s great for social and the original video. 

Single Take on the Galaxy S20

Single Take on the Galaxy S20 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy S20 is a beast on the video front, as it can record 8K video at up to 24 frames per second. You’ll also be able to cast videos to Samsung 8K QLED TVs -- if you can afford one -- and take 33MP photos from 8K videos you might want to share.

 I'll update this Galaxy S20 review with my impressions once we can access an 8K monitor, but I can say the footage looked very crisp on my MacBook Pro's Retina Display. I could easily make out the gradations in bark in the surrounding trees and even fine details in a man's blue hoodie 50 feet away.

The Samsung Galaxy S20’s front camera uses a 10MP sensor that’s 1.22 microns and a f/2.2 aperture. That’s the same resolution and size as the S10’s front camera but that camera had a f/1.9 aperture. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 front camera

(Image credit: Future)

A selfie I took with the front camera made my face look a little too smooth, an issue we also found with the Galaxy S20 Plus. At least the Galaxy S20 did a fine job capturing the dots in my shirt and my hair. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Display

Samsung Galaxy S20 display

(Image credit: Future)

While a fast processor helps, the refresh rate of the display can make a phone feel smoother in everyday operation, whether you’re scrolling through webpages or playing games. The Samsung Galaxy S20’s 6.2-inch OLED display has 120Hz refresh rate, which is double the 60Hz rate on the Galaxy S10 and higher than the 90Hz screen on the OnePlus 7T.

Another plus? The Samsung Galaxy S20 sports a new 240Hz touch sensor that’s supposed to be more responsive. In our testing, the Galaxy S20's 120Hz mode did feel smoother when using Chrome and the Twitter app. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 display 120Hz

(Image credit: Future)

When using the phone during our hands-on time, the Galaxy S20 felt pretty fluid, and you can easily toggle between 60Hz and 120Hz in the display settings menu. The bad news is that selecting 120Hz dials the resolution down from quad HD to full HD.

The Galaxy S20 has one of the brightest and most colorful displays we've ever tested. The OLED display registered a very high 857 nits of average brightness, which is even brighter than the beaming 752-nit iPhone 11 Pro. 

The S20's panel also hit an impressive 162.5% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, cimpared to just 83% for the iPhone 11 Pro. The only area where the iPhone edges out this Galaxy is with color accuracy; the S20 turned in a Delta-E score of 0.37 (where 0 is a perfect score), compared to 0.27 to the iPhone 11 Pro. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Performance

As the first phone with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor, the Samsung Galaxy S20 should provide speed aplenty, especially since it’s paired with a robust 12GB of RAM. Samsung is giving you control over how you use this memory, too, as you can assign up to three apps to be stored directly in RAM. The result should be near-instant load times for resource-intensive apps and games.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 comes with 128GB of storage and there isn’t a 512GB model as there is with the Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra. Fortunately, you can add up to 1 TB of storage via the microSD card slot.

The Galaxy S20 performed very well in various benchmarks, including Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance. The S20 hit 3,147 on the multi-core portion of the test, which is the best score we've every seen on an Android phone. The iPhone 11 Pro's A13 Bionic processor scored an even higher 3,509, so Apple maintains its lead for now. 

On the GFXBench graphics test (Aztec Ruins Vulkan test off-screen), the Galaxy S20 reached 1,319 frames (21 frames per second), which beats the OnePlus 7T (1,169). The iPhone 11 Pro notched a higher 2,174 frames or 33.8 fps.

To test the Galaxy S20's real-world performance, we transcoded a 4K video to 1080p after applying an effect and transition in Adobe Rush. The Galaxy S20 took 1 minute and 15 seconds, which is an improvement on the Galaxy Note 10's time of 1:34. The iPhone 11 Pro needed only 46 seconds.

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S20 supports 5G networks, so you should be able to enjoy faster speeds for surfing the web and downloading content on the go. However, at launch, the S20 wasn't available on Verizon’s 5G network. That's because, unlike the larger S20 Plus and Ultra variants, the 6.2-inch S20 normally lacks millimeter-wave connectivity, and Verizon's 5G infrastructure is exclusively millimeter wave, for the time being.

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G T-Mobile

(Image credit: Future)

Fortunately, Verizon and Samsung are finally addressing that oversight. On June 4, a special edition of the S20 will arrive on Big Red with millimeter-wave support intact, for the same $999 price. It will also run on Verizon's long-range, low-band network, when that goes live later in 2020.

In my initial Galaxy S20 speed tests over T-Mobile's network, I saw very good performance in some locations and poor performance in other spots. For example, in central New Jersey the Galaxy S20 hit downloads as high as 183 Mbps, but in New York City the phone notched as low as 5.2 Mbps with a 5G icon showing. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Battery life and charging

Samsung Galaxy S20 charging

(Image credit: Future)

Given its 5G connectivity and 120Hz display, the Samsung Galaxy S20 will need a beefy battery to get you through the day. And Samsung has answered the call with a 4,000 mAh battery in this phone. The Galaxy S10 had a 3,400 mAh battery, so this is a fairly big jump.

Unfortunately, the Galaxy S20 endured an average of just 9 hours and 31 minutes while set to the 60Hz mode across two sessions of Tom's Guide's custom battery test, where devices repeatedly load web pages over T-Mobile's network until they run out of battery.

The phones with the best battery life last 11 to 12 hours. The Galaxy S20 Plus lasted a decent 10 hours and 31 minutes and the the Galaxy S20 Ultra hit an epic 12:03.

How does the regular S20 compare to similarly-priced flagships? The iPhone 11 Pro lasted 10 hours and 24 minutes on the same test, and last year's Galaxy S10 managed 10 hours and 19 minutes. The iPhone 11, which costs $300 less than the Galaxy S20, fared even better than both, at 11 hours and 16 minutes.

After the S20 completed those tests, we went back and ran two more, now with the device's refresh rate set to 120Hz. This time, the phone only averaged 8 hours and 4 minutes of runtime — nearly an hour and a half less than it managed when operating at 60Hz.

Power users or those especially concerned about their device lasting a day or more on a charge will want to have a look at the Galaxy S20 Plus or Galaxy S20 Ultra instead. But with those devices demanding a $200 and $400 premium over the standard S20, respectively, that peace of mind won't come cheap.

The Galaxy S20 comes with a 25-watt charging adapter in box that can take the device from empty to 53 percent in a half hour. It also supports 15-watt wireless charging with compatible stands.

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Software

The Samsung Galaxy S20 comes with Samsung’s new One UI 2 software, which streamlines the interface to make it easier to jump into your favorite apps, change settings and more. This rides on top of Android 10, which includes great new features like Smart Reply, a dark mode and better privacy controls. 

Samsung is also trying to build better experiences into the Galaxy S20, starting with Google Duo integration. Google’s answer to FaceTime, this video chat app is built right into the phone dialer and contacts apps, and you can video chat with up to 8 people. Plus, you can video chat in full HD for the first time.

I conducted a Google Duo video call with my colleague, Adam, and I appreciated that I could start the video call right from the phone app. He said I looked pretty clear coming through his Pixel 4, and his face and voice were both clear on my end after some initial buffering.

Other software features include Music Share for sharing out your Bluetooth connection to your car (so someone else can control the playlist for a while) and Spotify integration with Bixby routines, so the Samsung Galaxy S20 will recommend playlists based on your preference and even the moment of the day.

Galaxy S30/S21: Should you wait?

The Galaxy S30/Galaxy S21 is on the horizon, which should deliver faster performance and a 120Hz display that's dynamic to save battery life. The latter feature is already available on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The next Galaxy S phone may also feature a camera under the display to deliver a true full-screen experience. But the Galaxy S21 likely won't launch until February at the earliest. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Verdict

Galaxy S20 (left) and Galaxy S20 Plus (right)

Galaxy S20 (left) and Galaxy S20 Plus (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At $999, the Samsung Galaxy S20 isn’t cheap, but it is the most affordable Galaxy S20 phone. It’s also the most compact phone in Samsung’s flagship lineup, making it the best choice for those looking for an Android device that won’t bulge out of their pockets or require two hands to operate. The star of the show is the new camera, which impresses with new features like Single Take and a more powerful zoom.

The biggest reason not to get the Galaxy S20 is its battery life. It's runtime is about an hour behind the iPhone 11 Pro, and that delta increases nearly 2.5 hours with the S20's 120Hz display mode enabled. 

Overall, our top pick among Samsung's new Android phones is the Galaxy S20 Plus, because it offers a larger display and longer endurance. But for that you'll have to step up to $1,199. If you prefer a smaller device, you should be very pleased with the regular Galaxy S20.

  • Giroro
    I wonder what company is going to win all the users who only bought Galaxy because they wanted to get a competitively-priced flagship phone that could charge and play music at the same time.

    Samsung doesn't have Apples brand loyalty, and their phones sold in spite of their difficult-to-hold curved screens and gimmicky ad-heavy "features" and overall inferior android experience, not because of them.

    I'm an S9 user, and I would rather spend $1000+ on brand-new S7 over the "everything I hate about the S9, exept worse and also the most important feature is gone" S20.
    Reply
  • HoppyBarzed
    Does the S20 Ultra support dual nano-sim?
    Reply
  • Paradroid888
    Big thanks to Toms Guide for those battery tests. I found a deal on an S10+ and was waiting on the S20 numbers before deciding which to buy.

    Its a surprise the S20 does so badly because the battery is nearly as big as the S10+, but the screen is smaller and the processor is meant to be more power efficiency. So unless they’ve got a big software issue it can only be the 5G modem.
    Reply