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- The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is a powerful flagship phone with a big gorgeous screen, a fast processor, and an impressive camera that can take sharp photos with up to a 30x zoom.
- We tested the S20 Plus to see if its advanced camera and high-end specs justify its sky-high cost of $1,200, and we found its price to be the only real downside.
- If it weren’t so expensive, it’d be a no-brainer to recommend, but these days, you can get great phones for $600 or less.
- However, if you can get a good trade-in deal, you upgrade your phone every year anyway, or you are the kind of person who holds on to their phone for three to five years, it is still worth buying.
- If you end up buying an S20, you can check out our guide to the best Galaxy S20 cases, and if you want to see more options before you buy, you can read our guide to the best smartphones and the best cheap smartphones.
Samsung’s latest flagship smartphones are finally available to buy in stores and online. Although the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the top-of-the-line model with its 100x zoom capabilities and impressive camera array (108-megapixel, 48-megapixel, and 12-megapixel cameras), the standard S20 and S20 Plus are not to be overlooked.
The only real downside to these phones is their price. The standard S20 costs $1,000, the S20 Plus costs $1,200, and the S20 Ultra costs $1,400. In this day and age, you can get an excellent budget phone for $500 or less. Although you won’t get quite the same level of high-end specs — especially when it comes to camera tech — you can get a phone, like the $500 OnePlus 7T, that’s just as powerful.
For most people, these $1,000+ flagship phones aren’t worth the cost anymore. I say this as an iPhone 11 Pro owner and serial tech nerd who can only buy the latest and great flagship products because I’m a super user and a sucker for top-of-the-line gadgets.
That said, if you’re like me and you can’t live without the newest flagship phone and you can get a great trade-in deal, the price can go down by up to $700. You’ll only get that good of a trade-in deal if you have a very new phone like the iPhone 11 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10. One-year-old phone models like the S10 will get you $600 off, which is also a decent deal for annual upgraders.
I’ve been testing the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus for a few days now to see if it’s really worth the money, and for most, the answer is no, but for power users and photography buffs who really want to have a high-end smartphone, it is a solid option.
If you are the kind of person who holds on to your phone for three to five years, it is worth it to pay more for a new phone that will last you a long time and still perform well.
- Screen: 6.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 5G octa-core 2.84GHz processor
- RAM: 12GB of RAM
- Storage: 128GB internal memory, which is expandable up to 1TB via a microSD card
- Rear cameras: 12-megapixel wide, 64-megapixel telephoto, 12-megapixel ultra-wide rear cameras
- Front camera: 10-megapixel camera
- Operating System: Android 10 OS
- Water resistance: IP68 rating (it can be submerged in 4.92 feet of water for up to 30 minutes)
- Security: Ultrasonic fingerprint ID and facial recognition
- Battery: 4,500 milliampere hours, which lasts approximately a day and a half, depending on usage
- Charging tech: Wireless and Fast Charging
- Warranty: 1-year warranty
Design and screen
Like most recent smartphones, the Galaxy S20 Plus has a sleek design with glass panels on the front and back. This makes for a beautiful yet fragile phone that is prone to picking up fingerprints. We highly recommend that you pick up one of the S20 cases we highlight in our buying guide to protect your phone from any damage.
You can get it in several gorgeous colors, including Cosmic Black, Cloud Blue, Aura Blue, Cosmic Gray, and Cloud Pink. We got the Cosmic Black model as our review unit, and it looks super cool. Although I’m personally a fan of the Aura Blue, the fact that you need a case more or less negates the issue of color choice (unless you get a clear case).
It’s a tall skinny phone, so even though it is large and my hands are fairly small, I found it comfortable to hold. It can be awkward to navigate with one hand, given the great distance between the top and bottom of the device.
The phone itself is beautiful with its 6.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen. The screen takes up the whole front of the device, so you get a whole lot of screen without any interruptions (beyond the tiny dot of the selfie camera at the top). It also has a 120Hz refresh rate, so the screen is extra responsive without any lag or delays.
Powering that screen at that refresh rate does kill battery life, though, so unless you’re playing mobile games that need it, I recommend disabling this mode to conserve battery life. Weirdly, you can’t have both the refresh rate and the pixel resolution set the max simultaneously, either, so if you want the faster refresh, you have to bring the resolution down to Full HD.
Underneath the screen, there’s an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, so you can unlock the phone quickly and easily with your finger. Alternatively, the S20 Plus has facial recognition tech so you can just look at your phone to unlock it. I set up both options on the phone in less than 5 minutes. Either method of unlocking the phone is super easy to use. With these unlocking features, security is a big concern.
According to reports, like the S10, Samsung is using a less-secure version of facial unlock, which can be easily fooled. And, the novel ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is still unproven. We will continue to monitor this and report back in a future update, but to date, we have not heard of major security breaches of Samsung’s fingerprint and facial unlocking features.
The S20 Plus has the same IP68 water- and dust-resistance rating as most other flagship phones. Essentially, that means it can be submerged in 4.92 feet of water for up to 30 minutes and it will survive rain, a drop in the bathtub, a spill in the sink, or any other minor aquatic incident. We dunked it in a sink full of water for 30 minutes to test its water resistance, and it survived the trip.
Performance and battery life
The S20 Plus is powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 5G octa-core 2.84GHz processor and 12GB of RAM. In real-world terms, that means it’s a fast, capable phone that can handle all common tasks with ease and speed. The 12GB of RAM essentially keeps all your apps running in the background so you can quickly pull them back up without annoying load times.
We did a few benchmark tests to see how the S20 Plus compares to phones in a variety of price ranges. According to Geekbench, higher scores indicate higher performance levels. Here are the results:
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus ($1,200): single-core score of 772 and a multi-core score of 3,318
- iPhone 11 Pro ($1,000): single-core score of 1,333 and a multi-core score of 3,473
- Samsung Galaxy S10e ($600): single-core score of 729 and a multi-core score of 2,582
- OnePlus 7 Pro ($500): single-core score of 746 and a multi-core score of 2,516
- Google Pixel 3a ($350): single-core score of 345 and a multi-core score of 1,254
- Nokia 7.2 ($350): single-core score of 325 and a multi-core score of 1,460
- Samsung Galaxy A50 ($275): single-core score of 307 and a multi-core score of 1,210
Based on these results, the iPhone 11 Pro offers slightly better performance. That said, you really won’t much real-world difference — I certainly didn’t. Both the iPhone 11 Pro and the S20 Plus handled every task I threw at them with ease.
What’s perhaps more interesting is how close the S10e, OnePlus 7 Pro, and S20 Plus’ scores are, given just how much cheaper the S10e and OnePlus 7 Pro are. Phones that cost less than $400 are far less powerful, but also did quite well considering the price discrepancy.
In terms of storage, the S20 Plus comes with a minimum of 128GB of memory, which is more than enough for most people. It’s also expandable up to 1TB with a microSD card, so there’s absolutely no reason to spend more on the 512GB version.
The 4,500 milliampere-hour battery easily lasted a day and a half. I did everything I normally do — watched shows on Netflix, checked Twitter obsessively, read news, texted friends, and took tons of photos for this review — and the battery just wouldn’t drain. I did not enable the 120Hz screen refresh rate, though, and if I had, I expect the battery wouldn’t have lasted as long. I will test the phone on the 120Hz setting soon and report back on how it affects battery life. Most people won’t need to enable the higher refresh rate, anyway unless they’re avid mobile gamers.
The S20 Plus supports fast wireless charging and extra fast charging when it’s plugged in. The phone juiced up quickly from 27% to 73% in about 20 minutes and was fully charged in about 30-40 minutes.
There’s one feature this phone has that, for now, we will briefly touch on, and that’s 5G. The S20 phones are some of the few 5G-capable devices you can buy right now. 5G is the next-generation cellular network that will not only provide faster speeds (imagine downloading multiple Netflix movies in mere seconds) but support future tech like autonomous cars. If you’re an early adopter, this will appeal to you, but for everyone else, this shouldn’t be the main selling feature. 5G is very much in its infancy; it isn’t widespread nor is it reliable. We will continue to test this phone as 5G continues to roll out across the US and report our findings in a future update.
The Galaxy S20 Plus has a boatload of cameras on the back, including a 12-megapixel wide-angle, a 64-megapixel telephoto, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle rear camera. There’s also a 10-megapixel selfie camera on the front of the device.
You can easily toggle between the lenses by tapping the three small “tree” icons in the camera app. The one with three trees gives you the ultra-wide angle, the one in the middle with two trees gives you the normal wide-angle, and the one on the far right with the single tree (or perhaps, leaf?) icon gives you the telephoto lens at 3x zoom, which you can then zoom in further up to 30x.
As with most phones, the zoom on here is only good quality until about 5x and then it starts to go downhill. While 10x still looks quite good, 30x will get you a grainy shot — even in full daylight. Still, it is impressive that a phone can get up to 30x zoom, and in full daylight, it’s not half bad. In the photo collage below, you can see the see how the clarity devolves after 10x, but is quite good up until then. Serious photographers may disregard the higher zooms, but for everyone else — when capturing the moment is more important than detail and clarity — these zooms are killer features. These pictures were taken in full daylight.
When the lighting conditions get tricky or the light is very low, 10x and 30x zoom look much more grainy. The photos in the collage below were taken in mixed indoor lighting, which proved tricky for the camera when it started to zoom in past 5x.
The 100x zoom on the S20 Ultra is even more impressive, though it’s also grainy. Most people won’t typically need more than 10x zoom, anyway, so it’s not a problem. All the photos I took with 3x zoom turned out to be absolutely gorgeous — especially when I was photographing food.
The ultra-wide-angle shots look great too, especially when you take dramatic photos of the cityscape or a lovely landscape. I took lots of lovely shots of the sights around our New York City office with the camera.
When it comes to Night mode, I was actually surprised that it wasn’t better. I’ve seen the Pixel 3a — a phone that costs just $400 — take great photos in absolute darkness. The $1,000 iPhone 11 Pro — which is also cheaper — does a great job in absolute darkness too.
The S20 Plus did OK in absolute darkness, but in a direct comparison with the iPhone 11 Pro, the resulting image just wasn’t as good. The colors were way off and it was grainer. However, in low-light, the S20 Plus did take great photos that were either on par or slightly better than those taken with the iPhone 11 Pro, depending on the lighting. In our test below, the Galaxy S20 Plus’ low-light photo had more realistic colors than the iPhone’s and it was a tad sharper.
You can see the results below in this photo collage. The top two photos were taken with the iPhone 11 Pro, and the bottom two were taken with the Galaxy S20 Plus. The photos on the left were taken in total darkness and the ones on the right were taken in low-light.
The phone also took a beautiful picture of my cat in very low-light conditions. The colors are absolutely oversaturated, but she looks great.
The Galaxy S20 Plus did struggle a bit in the twilight of 6 p.m. when confronted with the conflicting visual information of the darkening night sky and the bright neon signs and street lights.
The camera kept wanting to overexpose the shot taken below, and focusing on the street cart resulted in an image that was a bit too dark. To be fair, those kinds of lighting situations trip up most smartphone cameras, and the shot is still a nice one. The S20 Plus does have a Pro mode, too, so you can really play around with the settings to get the perfect shot if so inclined.
All in all, the Galaxy S20 takes beautiful pictures that are on par with every other major flagship phone. Its superpower is the ability to take great shots up to 10x zoom in ideal lighting conditions and up to 5x zoom in mixed lighting.
The bottom line
The Galaxy S20 Plus is an excellent phone with top-notch processing power, a gorgeous responsive screen, and impressive cameras that are capable of up to 30x zoom. If it weren’t for the high price, it’d be a no-brainer to recommend. However, because there are so many great phones that cost $600 or less these days, it’s hard to recommend you buy this phone unless you can get a great trade-in deal.
- Should you buy it? If you are the kind of person who upgrades every year to the latest and greatest Galaxy phone and you plan to trade your S10 in for that $600 discount, then yes. Those of you who hold on to your phones for three to five years can also buy this phone and know that it will last you for those five years. However, if neither of those situations apply to you, you’re probably better off saving your money and getting a different phone.
- What are your alternatives? If you want to save money, get a more affordable flagship like the iPhone 11 or OnePlus 7T. You can also get last year’s Galaxy S10 for a good price now that it’s been discounted. If you still want an S20, you can get the smaller, standard model instead of the Plus to save $200. The Google Pixel 4 and 3a are also good options that are cheaper, and you can get XL models if you prefer the larger screen. They may not be as flashy as the S20 Plus and they won’t zoom in quite as much, but they work just as well.
Pros: Fast processor, great cameras, up to 30x zoom, fast charging, wireless charging, long battery life, 120Hz screen refresh rate option, sharp screen, modern bezel-less design
Cons: Expensive when you can find alternatives for $600 or less
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