(Pocket-lint) - Of all the Samsung S20 devices, the middle model, the S20+, is likely to be the big seller. Sure, everyone will want the specs of the S20 Ultra, but it's going to be out of reach for some because of the price, or because it'll just be too big for many.
The Samsung Galaxy S20+ is essentially the same device as the Galaxy S20, but with a few minor tweaks. Importantly, it has that added screen space that is proving popular. But does it find itself overshadowed by the S20 Ultra, or does the S20+ stand its ground?
A new look for Samsung?
- Dimensions: 161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8mm / Weight: 186g
- IP68 water- and dust-resistant protection
- Colours: Grey, Blue, Black
Samsung introduced the Galaxy S20 devices, saying that this was the start of the next 10 years of innovation. From a design point of view, the new stand-out highlight is the camera module on the back, made obvious rather than hidden.
A raised black square, it houses the quad-camera system and all the sensors that the S20+ is equipped with. Strangely, we don't find it as offensive as we first thought we might. In fact, compared to the S20 Ultra, the S20+ looks a little pedestrian. At least the S20+ fills the spaces in that camera unit, something that the smaller S20 doesn't - that model has a blank space, which might look a little entry-level to some.
As for the rest of the phone, not much really changes from the previous Samsung Galaxy S10+. There's curved corners, curves to the edge of the display, and a nice overall build with water/dust-resistance.
There's no 3.5mm headphone socket this time around, just a single USB Type-C connection on the bottom of the phone, while the fingerprint scanner sits under the display. That scanner performs very much as it did before - it is fine most of the time, but nowhere near as convenient as the Pixel 4's face unlocking, and prone to being a little temperamental.
The range of colours spans grey, blue and black and we're sure there will be more in the future. The grey and black are a fingerprint magnet due to the darker finishes, but it's also a flatter effect than the blue model, which has a deeper shimmer to it, catching the light for a nice pearlescent effect.
Size-wise, we also think the Samsung Galaxy S20+ will be popular. It's slightly taller than the Galaxy S10+, but has a larger display with a less obtrusive front camera cut-out.
Display sweet spot
- 6.7-inch AMOLED, 3200 x 1440 resolution (524ppi)
- 120Hz at 1080p, 60Hz at 1440p
- HDR10+ support
Expanding a little over the Galaxy S10+ of 2019, the S20+ gives you a little more space to play, although it's a shift in aspect ratio, pushing the bezels back a little.
Samsung uses a punch-hole camera again, but this time it's just a single camera in the centre of the display and it's smaller. While some might think they are missing out on the second lens, you're really not - the small intrusion on the display is better overall.
Samsung's addition to this device - and indeed the whole family of S20 phones - is a faster refresh rate. There's now the option for 120Hz, but this is only available at Full HD+ resolution. If you choose to use the Quad HD+ resolution, things revert to 60Hz. That might feel like a trade-off between resolution of refresh rate - but for many people, they probably won't notice either.
Sure, a faster refresh rate can mean smoother graphics, when the app supports it - and a growing number of games do, but we've not found that to be a huge difference in the experience. It may well be that some people see this better than others, as that's certainly true of resolution. You can see the difference in fine detail when you set the phone to its highest resolution, but it's so slight it really doesn't matter.
Ultimately, there's no point in chasing specs that really don't impact hugely on the experience and leaving the phone on its default setting - which is 1080p and 60Hz - means you'll get better battery life. However, if you have especially keen vision, you might decide on the opposite. One thing is for sure: we've not found 1080p at 60Hz a disadvantage when gaming. And that's what we consider the most demanding use of our device.
Like the S20 Ultra, the S20+ isn't a phone that's great for anyone with polarising glasses as the display colour looks all blotchy through those glasses. That's a marked change from previous years.
A new set of cameras
- Main camera: 12-megapixel, 1.8µm pixel size, f/1.8 aperture, optical stabilisation (OIS)
- Zoom: 64MP, 0.8µm, f/2.0, OIS, 3x optical / 30x digital zoom
- Ultra-wide: 12MP, 1.4µm, f/2.2
- DepthVision sensor
There's a quad camera system on the Galaxy S20+, adding a DepthVision sensor over the smaller Galaxy S20. The contribution of such sensors is open to some questioning - in many cases they don't add much to the experience. We've tried covering the sensor and found it will still give you the depth effects, so it's hard to see it as an essential.
The main camera has a 12-megapixel sensor, an entirely different system to the 108-megapixel sensor of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, using a different philosophy. While the Ultra will use pixel combining to give you a 12-megapixel photo, the S20+ will just use the full sensor. It has larger pixels (at 1.8µm) which is comparatively large compared to many rivals.
What it suffers from is the same shallow depth of field that you find on the S20 Ultra. That means it's not good for macro photos because you don't get very much in focus when you get too close to the subject - you'll have blurry edges to the subject.
When you step back that natural shallow depth means that it can take some decent portraits, separating foreground and background using that aperture rather than via a software-applied bokeh mode. In that sense, the S20+ main camera works rather well.
It's at its best in bigger landscapes, offering pop and detail - and in many cases it compares favourably with the S20 Ultra main camera. We've taken comparison shots where the S20+ wins on detail at the 12-megapixel level. Naturally, when you use the 108-megapixel option on the S20 Ultra there's a lot more detail to crop into, but we still question why you'd need that unless you seriously want large images at the end of it.
In low-light the S20+ performs well with the new night mode. This has to be manually selected, but you'll get a prompt when it's dark enough. There's also a night mode included with Samsung's scene optimisation mode that can be toggled on, so it's a little more automatic, but it's not quite as good as the manual selection.
The scene optimiser does also get a little carried away, creating these idealised versions of what you're looking at - green grass is boosted, blue skies pop. On the whole it's a nice enough effect, but it's not strictly accurate. There's some HDR blooming that happens here, where edges can get a slight outline in white as a result of the phone's processing. That will only really concern pixel peepers or those creating large prints or the like - for social media and viewing on your phone it doesn't really matter.
The ultra-wide camera is a star, great in tight space or to give a sense of expansiveness when you're taking landscapes.
At the opposite end of the scale, the telephoto lens gives you the chance to zoom in a little closer. It's billed as 3x Hybrid Optic and it's actually 3x optical, using artificial intelligence (AI) and cropping into the 64-megapixel sensor to digitally zoom beyond that.
It goes on to offer 30x digital zoom, although the quality at the far end isn't great. This is one area where the S20+ lags behind the S20 Ultra's more advanced system - at 10x zoom, there's noticeable difference in quality, so if zoom is the most important thing for you, then the S20 Ultra might be a preferable device.
That 64-megapixel sensor is also used for 8K video capture, although it still feels it's a little early to be talking about 8K when the market it so young. We're sure future devices will really offer a better 8K experience, but if you want to start sharing 8K on YouTube then you can.
The front camera sits at 10-megapixels and on the whole we like the performance, although it's not quite as adept at finding an edge and giving you background blur as something like the Google Pixel 4. We like the effects you can apply, but again, this is another area where we don't see any downside compared to the S20 Ultra - on the whole, the images are just as good.
- Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865, 12GB RAM
- 128/512GB storage + microSD expansion
- 4,500mAh battery
- 5G connectivity
In the UK and Europe you'll be getting the Exynos 990 version of this phone (as reviewed here), with 12GB of RAM. There may be some regional differences, however, with the US getting the Snapdragon 865 version - which is usually the case with Samsung phones.
The difference between the versions of the phones doesn't seem to impact so much on the power and performance, but in the battery life, with some tests suggesting that the Snapdragon version will last longer than the Exynos. That's something we can't verify with only one hardware version in hand.
However, we've found the 4500mAh battery in the S20+ to last pretty well. There's definitely a learning curve on these devices where the first five or so days aren't great, before the phone settles in and starts to give a much better overall performance. We've found it will last through most days - and it seems to do better than the S20 Ultra, which is probably down to it having less work in supporting the cameras.
We've reached the end of light days with over 50 per cent battery remaining in some cases, but once you fire up something like Call of Duty Mobile you'll see a much greater impact on the battery life. That's usually the case with these intensive games, but overall we feel the Galaxy S20+ is reasonable in its performance.
There's also no lack of power: this phone is fast and smooth with everything happening at pace, which is exactly what you'd expect from a flagship phone. In the UK the S20+ only comes as a 5G phone and that does mean that it's more expensive than the phone it replaces - and quite a jump in price from the smaller S20, which offers a 4G option.
- Google Android 10 operating system
- Samsung One UI 2.0 user interface
For a number of iterations we've maintained that Samsung is generally the best at the full Android makeover. That comes from experience and refinement, and no one really packs in as much functionality as Samsung. While companies like Huawei or Xiaomi offer similar deep customisations, Samsung's take has always been more refined, less full of bloat and more pleasurable to live with.
It is, again, a slick and fast experience moving around the S20+, but there's a wealth of features to explore, something we've broken down in detail in our tips and tricks coverage.
There's no longer a Bixby button on Samsung's devices, instead the side bottom button can be remapped to other functions. That's useful as you can change it to your preferences - and if you want to avoid Bixby voice assistant then you can.
By default there's a "Samsung Daily" screen off to the left of the home page. This used to be called Bixby Home and it's still just a dump of stuff from elsewhere without any sort of meaning. We wish Samsung would just abandon this idea and let us have something like Google Discover there instead.
Samsung offers alternatives to Google's apps but in many cases they're unnecessary. If you're deep in the Google ecosystem there's no advantage to using Samsung's calendar, for example, when Google's app is better. The same goes for the keyboard - but these are minor problems as these apps are easy to swap to your preference.
There's some preinstalled bloat, but not a huge amount: most you can opt out of when you setup the phone, so although it's not a clean Android experience, we still think it's more refined than some of the fully-skinned alternatives.
There's a lot to love in the Samsung Galaxy S20+. It's the ideal size of phone for many people, with Samsung pushing the bezels back to give plenty of screen space. The front camera doesn't intrude on the experience much, while the selection of cameras on the back offer versatility and plenty of fun.
It's the flagship update that logically follows the Galaxy S10+, but in this case Samsung is packing in 5G technology whether you want it or not - and that inflates the price. At the same time, the S20+ makes a good showing for itself against the S20 Ultra: this phone feels a little more purposeful, avoiding the oversell of the camera functions that the Ultra suffers.
Samsung has been making great phones for a long time and the Galaxy S20+ follows along where you expect it to go. The affordability of the Galaxy S20 might attract some, but for many the S20+ is going to be the flagship experience to aim for.
This article was originally published 11 February 2020 and has been updated to reflect its full review status
Alternatives to consider
Oppo Find X2 Pro
Oppo's Find X2 is more expensive than the Samsung, but it feels like an accomplished alternative. The software isn't quite as refined, but there's a great display, great battery life and great cameras around the back too.