The Samsung Galaxy S20+ ($1,199 and up) is the best phone right now for the upcoming 5G transition. All of the Galaxy S20 models have class-leading features. Their Snapdragon 865 processors are the fastest in the Android world, and they power butter-smooth 120Hz screens that make it hard to go back to jittery 60Hz displays. Their multi-camera systems have better zoom than competing US phones, and they have generally solid battery life. The question is which one to choose; the answer is the S20+.
The middle child of three new Samsung phones, the S20+ has all of the multi-band 5G power of the $1,499 Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, but without that phone’s gigantic size, price, or camera focus problems. The $999 S20 is even less expensive and one-hand-friendly, but it lacks high-band 5G. That makes the Galaxy S20+ the happy medium in the series, as well as our Editors’ Choice for premium smartphones.
Design: All Pluses
The Galaxy S20+ is a big phone. At 6.4 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches (HWD), it feels large in the hand, but it probably won’t poke out of your pocket. Samsung focused on increasing height rather than width for usability, and as a result the phone is taller than the Galaxy S10+, but fortunately not wider; it doesn’t reach the hand-busting 3-inch width of the Galaxy S20 Ultra or the iPhone 11 Pro Max. At 6.56 ounces, it’s pretty heavy, but once again it doesn’t feel nearly as heavy as the 7.76-ounce Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Comparing all three Galaxy S20 models (as well as my own Galaxy S10e), the S20 feels like a modern phone. The S20+ feels like a big modern phone. The S20 Ultra, especially with its super-large camera setup, feels like something else.
The dedicated Bixby button on the side of the S10 series is gone; now Bixby is a long press of the power button, which is on the right side of the phone with the volume rocker (and which you can disable). On the back, there’s a camera/microphone patch with six elements: the four cameras (wide, regular, 3x zoom, and time-of-flight), the flash, and a microphone. Like other S20s, the S20+ has no headphone jack on the bottom, but it ships with a set of AKG-branded USB-C earbuds.
There’s no more Bixby button.
The screen is a 6.7-inch, 3,120-by-1,440 AMOLED panel. The screens on the three new S20 models are all the same resolution, which means they get denser and even better to look at as the sizes go down. They’re 14 percent brighter than last year’s displays, according to DisplayMate Labs, and you can definitely see the difference between this and a Galaxy S10e.
The phone should stay in its new 120Hz, 1080p screen mode, though. The 120Hz refresh rate makes scrolling noticeably smoother and improves the phone experience all around. If you’re concerned about the 1080p resolution, I didn’t find it to be a problem, but remember that the pixels get tighter as the screen size gets smaller, so this phone is a better bet to use that resolution than the Ultra is.
Also like the Ultra, the Galaxy S20+ still relies on Qualcomm’s first-generation in-display fingerprint sensor. In my experience, this sensor requires a clear, direct press on its relatively limited target area—not ideal, as there’s no tactile guide as to where to press. But it’s not a deal breaker, and you can also use face unlock, PIN, or password.
I rarely comment on phone colors, but the Best Buy-exclusive deep blue color on my S20+ is absolutely killer. It shimmers under the glass, creating slight rainbows in the things it’s reflecting in my home office. It also comes in black, gray, and a gray-blue called Cloud Blue.
Alas, there’s also no headphone jack.
Power: Plenty of It
The Galaxy S20+ benchmarks exactly like the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The default configuration has a 2.84GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, 12GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage (107GB of which available); there’s also a 512GB version for $150 more. If you don’t want to pay that difference right now, you can put a microSD card in the phone later, but you can’t use that card to store 8K video recordings.
The Snapdragon 865 delivers about 20-percent better CPU and GPU performance than last year’s 855. You probably won’t feel that. Rather, the new chipset is there to enable distinct new capabilities—that 120Hz screen, 8K video recording, the multi-frame camera night mode, and 5G, for example. It does so with aplomb. On our GFXBench graphics benchmarks, the phone was able to hit 60 or 120fps depending on screen mode, as long as the scene being rendered wasn’t too strenuous. We have a full benchmark story looking at the Galaxy S20 Ultra; the S20+, as I said, is about the same.
Also like the S20 Ultra, the S20+ runs Android 10 with Samsung’s OneUI 2.0 skin over it. Samsung’s version of Android isn’t very Google-centric, and it’s going to have a ton of bloatware if you buy it from a carrier. There’s a huge amount of settings and confusing optional features. There are some things to like, though, such as a system-wide dark mode, a focus mode that blocks distracting apps, and a Link to Windows/Your Phone feature that lets you manage notifications and cut and paste text and images from your Windows PC.
Battery-wise, the S20+’s 4,500mAh cell sits right between the S20 Ultra’s 5,000mAh and the S20’s 4,000mAh, as you’d expect. On our Wi-Fi video rundown test with the screen set to full brightness, I got 11 hours, 11 minutes in HD 120Hz mode, and 13 hours, 13 minutes in WQHD 60Hz mode. That’s about one hour more of screen-on time in 120Hz mode than with the S20, and two hours more in 60Hz mode. There’s a similar difference between the S20+ and the S20 Ultra, with the Ultra’s battery life being longer.
The S20+, like all of its peers, comes with a 22-watt fast charger that gets the phone to 41 percent in 20 minutes, and 100 percent in 70 minutes. Using Samsung’s 45-watt “super-fast” charger didn’t seem to make any difference at all, to the point that I’m pretty sure that the 45W charging software isn’t turned on in the phone. Hopefully an update will fix that.
The phone also has wireless charging and reverse charging, which lets you charge watches and earbuds on the back of the phone. Wireless charging is slow, but wireless charging is always slow.
5G: We Go Low, We Also Go High
The Galaxy S20+ and S20 Ultra are the most advanced 5G phones in the US at the moment. They’re the only phones able to handle the entire layer cake of 5G frequencies—low, middle, and high—including reusing 4G frequencies through dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS).
The small Galaxy S20, on AT&T and T-Mobile/Sprint, gives up high-band millimeter-wave, which has very little coverage right now but delivers awesome speed and will expand over the next three years. (Verizon plans to have a mmWave version of the small phone later in Q2.)
The Galaxy S20+ has the same 5G hardware as the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but I found that it performed slightly better on Verizon’s 5G network than the Ultra did. It was a slight difference, but a repeatable one. At a Verizon 5G site in Astoria, NY, I got a maximum speed of 1.25Gbps with both phones, but the Galaxy S20+ held onto 5G signal 10-20 feet farther away than the S20 Ultra did.
Why? I suspect it’s because of the death grip I have to hold the Ultra in. It’s just so big and heavy that I’m unconsciously white-knuckling the thing while I’m walking down the street, and that can slightly impact performance and range. Or it could be some quirk of software. I’m not sure.
I expect to see the same advantage on AT&T high-band 5G, which I tested on the Ultra in Manhattan. I can’t get to Manhattan right now because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
The small S20 lacks the “5G+” technology that gets these amazing speeds
The Galaxy S20+ has all of the 5G pluses that the Ultra does, but it also has one minus: Like the S20 Ultra, it hasn’t received a software update needed to accelerate T-Mobile low-band 5G performance. That update, currently available in the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren, helps make 5G slightly faster than 4G LTE in many areas, as opposed to sometimes slower. The latest rumors I’ve heard are that the update is coming in April.
Otherwise, I tested the S20+ on Sprint’s 5G and on Verizon and AT&T 4G. I didn’t see a convincing difference between the S20+ and the larger model on those technologies. All of the S20s are state-of-the-art here.
Sprint’s 5G, which will soon become the New T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G, pretty much doubles Sprint’s 4G speeds in New York right now, and will probably have better performance once New T-Mobile starts using more of its available spectrum.
The phone supports Wi-Fi 6, and I got effectively the same performance as I did on the Ultra and the S20; that’s not a differentiator. Wi-Fi 6, like 5G, hasn’t shown much effect in our tests right now but will become increasingly useful as time goes on, especially if it’s implemented on public hotspots. (The technology helps crowded Wi-Fi networks perform better.) Once again like 5G, it’s an investment in the long-term future of your phone’s performance. Bluetooth and NFC are here too, of course.
The Galaxy S20+ camera goes to 30x.
Camera: Better Than the Ultra
The Galaxy S20+ has three main cameras. There’s a 12-megapixel, wide-angle unit; a 12-megapixel main camera; and a 64-megapixel 3x zoom lens. On the front, there’s a 10-megapixel unit. Samsung says that it uses multi-frame “space zoom” to achieve up to 30x zoom, but the longer I’ve spent with all of these devices, the more it just feels like digital zoom in a pretty outfit.
The cameras, in general, are all better than the ones on last year’s Galaxy S10 series. In good light, images seemed a little clearer than on the Galaxy S10e, with better contrast and deeper blacks.
The Galaxy S10e is fine, but the Galaxy S20+ refines the image with better blacks.
The S20+ really steps ahead of last year’s Galaxy devices at night. There’s an adjustable multi-frame night made, which you can set to take shots for up to 10 seconds and then combine the images into a brighter image. The approach isn’t great for moving subjects, but it works wonders with still scenes.
The Galaxy S20+’s night shot is distinctly brighter than the S10e’s was.
The physical 3x zoom lens, meanwhile, is a distinct improvement over last year’s 2x; unlike the 3x on the OnePlus 7T versus the 2x on the OnePlus 7 Pro, it’s just as sharp, and it’s more zoom. At 4x, you can definitely tell the difference between this and a 2x-based phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.
The Galaxy S20+ image, at 4x and at night, is noticeably better than the Galaxy Note 10+.
So how much zoom do you expect to use? Out and about, I rarely went to more than 5x. Maybe at concerts, I appreciated 10x. The Galaxy S20+ matches the Ultra, which costs $300 more, at 3x or 4x, and beats last year’s phones in terms of zoom sharpness. At 5x in good light, the Ultra looks a little sharper. At 10x, the difference is somewhat noticeable, and at 30x it’s quite noticeable. (The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 100x zoom mode is a useless gimmick.) I don’t think the difference is worth $300, even if Samsung fixes the Ultra’s focus problems.
1x shots on the S20+ “64MP” camera and the S20 Ultra “108MP” camera look very similar in 12MP mode
At 3x, it’s hard to tell the difference between the S20+ and the S20 Ultra
At 10x, the difference becomes clearer
At 30x, neither camera looks great
The S20+ cameras are otherwise superior to the Ultra’s. The major difference is that the S20+ (and the S20) do not have the infuriating focus-hunting problem I experienced on the Ultra. They lock in quickly, as accurately as any other leading smartphone. That’s a major, key difference and a big reason why I recommend these phones over the Ultra.
Night mode is more usable here than on the Galaxy S20 Ultra
Low-light performance is as good as the Ultra, and sometimes better. It’s also considerably better than the Galaxy S10. Some of the difference, I suspect, is in software, as the Ultra tends to over-brighten some night scenes. There is an especially noticeable difference in low-light photos taken with the front-facing cameras.
The Ultra’s front-facing camera made my face look gray in low light
I feel like the S20 Ultra over-brightens this scene
In identical circumstances, the S20+ would sometimes choose a shorter night mode exposure than the Ultra—four seconds instead of five—making it more convenient to take pictures.
Like with the Ultra’s 108-megapixel mode, I’m unimpressed with the S20+’s 64-megapixel mode. While the goal here is to let you crop and zoom after the fact, a zoomed-in 64MP picture seems less sharp than a 12MP picture taken with the dedicated 3x lens, and colors are a bit odd.
8K video, on the other hand, continues to wow (and has less focus hunting than on the Ultra). The goal of recording 8K video isn’t really to output 8K; it’s to have the freedom to pan and zoom after the fact when you’re outputting to 4K or 1080p. Right now, the Galaxy S20s are the only phones in the US able to capture 8K video.
Now, the S20 Ultra’s problems might still be solvable with a software update, which we are still waiting for. But why wait? Buy the S20+ instead, pay less, and don’t worry.
Comparisons and Conclusions
At $1,199 (or more), the Samsung Galaxy S20+ is an expensive phone. It’s the same price as the iPhone 11 Pro Max. But it offers much more than the iPhone does, including a super-high-resolution or 120Hz display; longer battery life; a better camera zoom; 8K video; and especially, all the forms of 5G that US carriers will deliver this year.
There are three Galaxy S20 models—we like the middle one best
There are less expensive alternatives. The smaller S20 costs $999. You give up a bit of battery life and high-band 5G (except on Verizon), but you keep the screen, camera, and low-to-mid-band 5G capabilities. If you’re on T-Mobile and looking for a big phone, the OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren costs $900, also has a high refresh rate display, and has better T-Mobile low-band 5G performance, along with mid-band. Sprint’s $840 OnePlus 7 5G is similar, although it only has mid-band 5G.
There will be more phones this year that will support the full range of 5G technologies. I have high hopes for the OnePlus 8, the upcoming Motorola flagship, and of course the iPhone 12.
At the moment, though, the Galaxy S20+ is your best two-to-three-year investment in a phone. That’s important: We shouldn’t just be thinking of the networks we have right now, but what the situation will be 18 months from now. The Galaxy S20+ sets you up to succeed in the multi-band 5G future.