OPINION: Samsung has launched three new flagship “Galaxy S” smartphones: the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The new phones will cost $1499, $1899 and $2199 respectively. I got to spend some time with each of the devices at an early briefing, and my verdict is a predictable one: These are good phones.
Admittedly, it’s a slightly dull verdict. But that’s because they’re slightly dull phones. But “dull” in a good way.
Samsung has improved the Galaxy S device in all the areas you’d expect – camera performance, screen quality, battery life and 5G (except the entry-level Galaxy S20) – and the result is three smartphones that, I expect, will be very popular with customers.
Samsung also announced the definitely-not-dull Galaxy Z Flip. This is Samsung’s new clamshell foldable phone that is bonkers. More on this below.
Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra
2020’s crop of Galaxy S smartphones will appeal to a lot of people. They’re gorgeously slim devices, with pin-sharp and nearly edge-to-edge immersive 3200×1440 OLED displays.
And while Samsung may not be the unchallenged leader of the Android smartphone world any longer, the S20s come with a few features that help it stand out in a crowded market. 8K video, 100X and Single Take are three new features you’ll be seeing a lot of in the coming weeks as Samsung gets aggressive with its S20 advertising campaign.
But I’m here to tell you not to believe the hype. Well, not all of it anyway. Yes, the 8K video and 100X zoom that the Ultra boasts are features that no other smartphone can claim to have. Whether said features are any good or not is debatable.
No normal person has an 8K screen to watch the videos on and probably won’t for several years, by which time the S20 Ultra will be gathering dust in a drawer somewhere. And the 100X zoom is, er, not really fit for purpose either (see below).
Single Take, on the other hand, is a feature that Samsung gets right. It’s a feature that “lets you stay in the moment, while you capture the moment.” The S20 uses AI to capture several photos and videos with the press of a button. Then end result is a variety of separate cropped and wide-angled photos and videos all captured at the same time.
Samsung has recognised that the majority of people want a killer camera in their “lifestyle” phone. And, as you’d expect, this year’s S20s deliver that.
The areas where Samsung has focused its efforts with the three S20s won’t come as a surprise. They all provide decent wide-angle zoom, good low-light performance and traditionally strong zoom credentials.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra will grab most of the headlines with its 100X zoom claim. That it’s a bit of a lie, though. The Ultra’s optical zoom is only 10X. Which means the rest is made up from digital zoom – 10x optical zoom multiplied by 10x digital zoom – which isn’t really a thing.
So yes, “super resolution zoom,” as Samsung is calling it, is capable of taking images at 100X. The photos are terrible, though. And trying to keep a steady hand when zoomed in at 100X is impossible, which makes the pictures even more blurry.
From my limited time with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, I found it impossible to get a decent photo with the zoom set to over 50x.
That said, the rest of the camera performance is still very good. From my short time with the devices, I was impressed with the detail and clarity of the images. However, I was disappointed that there wasn’t one “killer” improvement from last year’s year’s high-end devices.
S20 and S20+ camera setup:
12-megapixel main camera lens (79-degree)
12-megapixel wide-angle lens (120-degree)
64-megapixel telephoto lens (up to 30X zoom)
DepthVision Camera (S20+ only).
Galaxy S20 Ultra:
108-megapixel main camera lens (79-degree)
12-megapixel wide-angle lens (120-degree)
48-megapixel telephoto lens (up to 100X zoom)
The phones measure in with 6.2-, 6.7- and 6.9-inch displays, making them slightly bigger than last year’s Galaxy S devices.
Users won’t notice the size difference though, as Samsung has made the devices taller while minimising the bezel around the screen. The end result is three devices with impressively-big screens that still fit comfortably in your hand.
The big feature here is the 120Hz refresh rate. It’s ridiculously high-specced. To put that into context, your 4K TV at home deems 60Hz the correct refresh rate for live sports. 120Hz is next-level. Superfluous for the majority of smartphone tasks, barring gaming.
So it’s good news (for your battery life) that Samsung runs the phones at 60Hz as default, letting users opt for 120Hz on-demand.
These new devices look great too…from the front. The back of the S20s is a different story.
The problem is created by the device’s camera set up. It looks like an afterthought rather than the result of a serious design process by adults. And while the Galaxy S20 and S20+ arguably get away with it, the S20 Ultra definitely does not. Its four rear-facing cameras sit noticeably proud from the rest of the device. You’ll laugh when you see it, I promise.
Good news. The Galaxy S20+ and S20 Ultra are 5G-ready. The most affordable device, the S20, will only be 4G-compatible here in New Zealand.
Is this a big deal? Not really. 5G is still a long way from being a proper thing over here and probably won’t be for the majority of this device’s two- to three-year lifespan.
Annoyingly, none of the S20s we get here in New Zealand will feature the full-fat Snapdragon 865 processors that the US and other regions will have. Our Galaxy S20s will feature Samsung’s own Exynos chipsets.
Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure yet. Samsung’s Exynos are, usually, still very good. However, previous comparisons of Samsung Galaxy phones with Exynos chipset have revealed slighter worse battery performance and slower day-to-day operational speeds. So it’s something to consider.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Samsung also debuted the Galaxy Z Flip. This is Samsung’s new foldable device that, unlike last year’s fold, looks like it could be popular.
The main difference between this year’s Samsung foldable and last year’s is the clamshell design that resembles a retro pocket mirror. It’s cute.
Inside the device is a 22:9 ratio 6.7″ Dynamic AMOLED 1080 x 2636 display. The phone also has a secondary 1.1″ Super AMOLED display that lets users see notifications when folded.
The Z Flip will launch with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, and is powered by a Snapdragon 865 chipset (not confirmed in NZ yet) and will only support 4G.
Annoyingly, Samsung wasn’t as keen to share any more information about this new device other than it has been “built to last” and it can withstand 200,000 folds – which translates into 182 folds per day over three years. More than enough.
There is no New Zealand pricing for the Galaxy Z Flip yet. However, it will be launching in the US next month with an RRP of US$1380 (NZ$2,155).
I’d love to tell you more about the new foldable, but Samsung only let me spend a couple of minutes with the new device and weren’t prepared to share any other official Z Flip specs. Make of that what you will.