It’s not the phone in the series that gets all – if not much – of the attention, but Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy S20 phone offers virtually all the features of its larger, more expensive S20+ cousin, in a smaller, more pocket-able format with 95% feature parity at a lower cost.
For the last couple of days, I’ve been using the baby Galaxy S20 5G variant, and while I’ve had nowhere near enough time to formulate a review – or even contemplate how I’d write about one in such a review – the initial impressions I’ve had a certainly encouraging.
I was also quite fortunate to have the perfect environment in which to do a hands-on review; a weekend in Melbourne, attending the beautiful wedding of our editor Scott Plowman and his lovely (now) wife Lara. Congratulations guys, and thanks for providing the perfect backdrop for this review, and a great weekend!
I am, and have for some time now been, drawn to the smaller form-factor phones. In fact, I recall reviewing the Sony Xperia Z3 series and thinking that of the range – and there were three, if memory serves – the Xperia Z3 Compact was the pick of the bunch. Same internals, same camera, same experience but in a smaller phone that’s just so easy to carry around.
Of course in 2020 there’s compromises in any small phone. Smaller battery, smaller display, and – oftentimes – a somewhat reduced feature set, but in the case of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 at least, you really don’t have to miss out on much.
For starters, the battery is only 500mAh smaller than the S20+, and that’s offset – we’re told – by the smaller display. Yes, the display is a little smaller but the resolution the same, meaning you can fit exactly as much on the screen, its just slightly smaller (and I don’t mind this at all).
In fact that smaller display is perfect; it’s exactly the right size for one-handed operation, and typing with two hands works perfectly well, too (which has been challenging with smaller phones in the past, too).
The camera technology across the range doesn’t vary wildly; in fact, the Galaxy S20 – even in its most affordable variant – has the same cameras as the top of the range Galaxy S20+ with the exception of a ToF camera which most people probably won’t miss. For a $550 price difference, that feature parity is extremely welcome.
Sure, you don’t get the 100X Space Zoom feature from the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but you miss a few other things too – a giant phone, a huge price tag, and not much else. Considering that Galaxy S20 Ultra could set you back up to $2,249, saving $900 to get you 90% of the way there is a huge tick for Samsung’s strategy, if you ask me.
Opting for the Galaxy S20 over the larger Galaxy S20+, you keep all the other niceties, though:
- 120Hz display refresh rate option
- 12MP, F1.8 (79 deg) main camera
- 12MP F2.2 (120 deg) wide camera with OIS
- 64MP F2.0 (76 deg) telephoto camera with OIS
- Similar colour options – even a pink option
- eSIM and nanoSIM – you can use it as a dual-SIM phone
You also get the same software experience, same camera tech, same intelligent power saving etc etc. I could go on, but you get the idea – this is the same phone, minus a ToF lens in a smaller box, and that’s fantastic. Put simply, you barely miss anything.
I know I keep harping on about this, but after years of reviewing increasingly expensive smartphones, it’s great to see Samsung release a phone that, at it’s lowest price, has the same features as far more expensive models.
Yes, at $1,349, it’s still not cheap to get into a Galaxy S20 series phone of any variant. It’s still over $1,000 and for many, this is too much to spend on a smartphone especially if you’re someone that likes to churn every year, or even every two.
But, you pay for quality, and there’s no denying that Samsung does – on the whole – make a pretty good quality set of smartphones.
So what’s it like to use?
Excellent. Setup process was a breeze. Upgrading from last year’s Galaxy S10+, it was a case of connecting the cable between the two and allowing the Samsung Smart Switch software to do its thing. It feels as smooth as the streamlined Google setup process, bringing across Google accounts, apps (and data, in some cases only), photos, messages, call histories and more.
It was like pulling the hard drive out of an old PC and putting it in new hardware; almost everything was there, but most apps did not copy across their user data (which was a minor annoyance). This is where Google’s setup – including restoring from Drive-based backups, something Google does automatically in the background – comes ahead. You get your apps, but also quite often your app data, too.
That being said, the new phone was set up inside half an hour, and ready for use. Out of the box, it came with a 60% charge (give or take) which easily lasted the setup process and the rest of the afternoon.
Onboarding is easy – bring your data over, set up your biometrics, customise your launcher to make it yours, and then get on with your life.
Most of the experience using the Galaxy S20 5G – and, indeed, any phone – doesn’t vary. You use your own apps to do your own thing, and they work broadly the same way on every single phone.
So, in that, there’s nothing remarkable to say here.
However, there are some phone-specific things to know:
- Initial impressions of the battery life are fairly good. I’ve always thought – and perhaps it’s just me – Samsung’s phones did not have class-leading battery life, but as Samsung’s go, the S20 5G battery life is pretty good. Once I’ve had a few full days at work without setup and initial excitement use, we’ll see what the battery is really like.
- The camera setup seems to be pretty good, across day and night, up close and from afar. It doesn’t have the night photo prowess of the class-leading Huawei P30 Pro, but even after months, I don’t believe anything else comes close except Google’s Pixel 4 range.
- Bluetooth performance is excellent. I can’t recall a time I’ve walked further away from my phone and still had accessories working – Samsung’s Galaxy Watch works from the other end of the house, and my JBL earbuds do the same. This is impressive.
- There’s no headphone jack, for people who care about such things, but I can’t remember the last time I’d actually needed one. For those rare occasions, USB-C to 3.5mm adaptors exist.
As you can see in the samples I shot over the weekend, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 shoots bright, vivid, colourful photos across a range of settings, and it especially loves the bright colours of nature. The night photos are good, but not fantastic, but they’re certainly passable, even enjoyable, if not technically perfect.
At this stage, I’d like to see more of what the camera can do, but for the entry-level tier of Samsung’s top-shelf Galaxy S range, I’m impressed – and I think I should expect to be. Entry-level with a $1,349 starting price isn’t exactly bargain bin pricing.
Is there anything not to like? From my perspective with just a couple of days’ use, the answer is not really.
I haven’t really found anything manifestly wrong with the experience so far – the things that kill a phone experience for me are woeful battery, blurry camera, or stuttering software performance and none of those things seem to be present here.
Yes, at Scott’s wedding the phone battery was looking a little sad after about 8 hours off the charger, but bear in mind this involved shooting quite a few photos, and the venue didn’t have an awful lot of mobile coverage, meaning lots of hunting for signal – known to destroy even the largest of batteries.
Overall, I’m impressed, and after taking another week or two to see how it performs over a longer period, I’ll come back with a more fulsome review.