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Over the course of just a couple of years, Android leader Samsung released a whole bunch of top-of-the-line smartphones in their Galaxy S family, beginning with the S20.
After 2019’s lackluster S10 –which honestly just felt like Samsung ran out of things to improve on the award-winning S9 –the Android giant followed Apple’s footsteps and released the S20 line of smartphones as four separate models: The basic Samsung S20, the Samsung S20 Plus, the Samsung S20 Ultra, and the Samsung S20 FE.
While Apple has been doing this sort of thing since the early days of the iPhone, Samsung arguably executes it better by actually providing each model with unique features. Sure, the plus and the Ultra are ‘premium’ models, but that doesn’t mean the S20 and the S20 FE are bricks.
We tested out each phone on release, and here are our first impressions of the Samsung S20 family:
Samsung S20: Entry-Level Premium
Samsung’s Galaxy S series skipped S11-S19 in favor of S20, which makes sense because the other numbers would have sounded mildly ridiculous, but there’s also a good reason for it: the Samsung S20 is a massive upgrade from its already top-of-the-line S10.
The Samsung S20 is the company’s first 5G phone, but Samsung has made it affordable, with the basic S20’s moderately sized screen being easier to handle than its plus and Ultra siblings.
The Samsung S20’s 6.2 inch screen comes with a fast 120Hz refresh rate for a smoother interface, 5G-ready download speeds, a huge battery, and high-spec cameras in both the front and the back of the device.
Inside the Samsung S20 is a new and powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (or the comparably powerful Exynos 990, depending on your region) running on 8GB of RAM for the 4G version and 12GB of RAM for the 5G version.
Samsung’s S20 also upgrades its previously lackluster camera: they’ve increased both the specs and the number of lenses in the rear array, with all three cams boasting improved night-time photography and pixel sizes, not to mention a telephoto lens that allows for high-def 3x optical zoom that can be stretched out to 30x. The plus and the Ultra have higher specs on their cameras, but the Samsung S20’s cameras are more than enough for the casual user.
The Samsung S20 also uses state-of-the-art aluminum framing and the latest Gorilla Glass 6, so while damaging your smartphone is always something you want to avoid, the Samsung S20 at least is protected enough from any human id-10t issues.
The Samsung S20 also has a relatively large 4,000mAh battery, a complete upgrade from the S10’s 3,400mAh cell. The standby time for the Samsung S20 is at 78 hours, but that’s only if you don’t use it and data is turned off. In reality, it will probably last you around 10+ hours of regular use, much less if you’re playing games or videos, pretty standard for Samsung smartphones and still a cut above Apple.
Speaking of Apple, Samsung did copy their tech rivals step of taking out the headphone jack in favor of packing in more tech and battery capacity. It’s a regrettable loss, but what you get in return is more than enough to make up for it, and most of the best wireless headphones under $100 are pretty much compatible with Android.
Does the Samsung S20 have the same top-end features of the S20 Plus and the S20 Ultra? No, BUT you get a whole lot more for what you’re paying for, and while it’s not exactly the most advanced smartphone out there, it looks, feels, and performs like a premium model For a little less than a thousand dollars, it’s pretty much a steal.
Samsung S20 Plus: The Breakout Star
Right off the bat, we’re going to call it: the S20 Plus is the pound-for-pound best of the S20 family. It’s a perfect balance between premium features and a reasonable price, which means you pretty much get the best of all its S20 siblings, but with a price tag that’s easy to justify.
The Samsung S20 Plus has a larger display and a longer battery life than the Samsung S20, but it’s not as large, bulky, nor as expensive as the Ultra. It’s also probably this generation’s most advanced smartphone: with 5G being rolled out in the country and around the world, the Samsung S20 Plus is able to utilize the network fully with both sub-6 and mmWave frequencies. Without getting into too much technicalities, let’s just say: having both frequencies is great.
As for the camera, the Samsung S20 Plus takes its S20 younger brother’s already impressive specs and amps us the zoom and pixel size, rivaling that of DSLR cameras and even giving Apple’s legendary iPhone cameras a run for their money.
Now, while we did say that the Samsung S20 Plus’ price tag is reasonable, this doesn’t mean it’s cheap: it’s at the $1000 mark, but you’re getting a whole lot for it. Sure, you can get the slightly cheaper 4G models, but if you’re already spending that much on a smartphone, you ought to shell out a few extra hundred to get the top-shelf stuff.
Samsung S20 Ultra: When Bigger Doesn’t Always Mean Better
The Samsung S20 Ultra is the big brother of the S20 family: it’s large, in charge, with the most advanced features a 5G phone can have, and the very impressive camera specs. It also carries a hefty price tag that might not be the most justifiable if you’re not looking to have a pocket-sized supercomputer that doesn’t fold (the Samsung Z-Fold is another story).
Let’s start off with its screen: the Samsung S20 Ultra takes the Samsung S20’s already impressive 6-inch screen and takes it to 6.9-inches, making it even bigger than the standard Samsung Galaxy Note 20. It has next-gen fluid-scrolling technology that helps make the massive screen easier and smoother to use, and an impressive 5-camera array that can capture 108MP photos from the back, 40MP photos in the front, and 8K videos. It also boasts a dedicated 5G antenna that can download data 66 times faster than 4G LTE (depending on where you are and whether your carrier has 5G infrastructure for you to use).
But Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is the perfect poster child for the saying “bigger doesn’t always mean better”: while the cameras are impressive, they do have inconsistent autofocus and overexposure issues that prevent it from beating their competitors, both in its own S20 family and in the Apple camp. In fact, the basic Samsung S20 has better capabilities than the S20 Ultra.
Our advice? If you want a camera that has the same specs as the S20 Ultra but for slightly cheaper, just go for the Galaxy Note 20.
Samsung S20 FE (Fan Edition): Affordable Premium (At a Price)
Nicknamed the ‘Samsung S20 Lite’, the Samsung S20 FE (or Fan Edition) is the underdog of the S20 family. Smaller, with lighter specs, and a cheaper price tag, many people would easily dismiss the Samsung S20 FE as just another economic model for Samsung to peddle. Those people, however, would be wrong. The Samsung S20 FE is the most surprising entry to the S20 family, mostly because, for its economy price tag, it offers a lot of premium features.
Right off the bat, the Samsung S20 FE has pretty much the same features as the base Samsung S20, like a 6.1-inch screen, a 120Hz refresh rate, and a camera array, all for $100 cheaper. The Samsung S20 FE comes in a variety of colors, which is great for people looking to move away from Samsung’s trademark steel grey color schemes, but it might look ‘cheap’ for some. It’s a divisive issue that even we at Gearhint can’t seem to decide on.
One thing’s for sure: we’re not fans of the Samsung S20 FE’s lack of curves at the edges. This honestly reinforces the idea that the Samsung S20 FE really is the lesser of the S20 family. It also doesn’t have the same impressive battery life as its siblings. However, the Samsung S20 FE still retains a lot of premium features from the S20: camera capabilities, the ability to connect to Samsung’s best smart home gadgets, and many more.
But here’s the thing about the Samsung S20 FE: it’s tenacious. Sure, it doesn’t have an impressive battery life, but it can still last you half the day before having to charge, it has many of the camera features of the Samsung S20 base model, and its top-shelf processor keeps it in the competition, both with the rest of the S20 family and the economy iPhone models.