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The Samsung Galaxy S20+, S20 Ultra Exynos & Snapdragon Review: Megalomania Devices – AnandTech

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It’s been a long couple of weeks, but the wait is now finally over. Today we’re ready to go on a deep dive into Samsung’s most important phones of 2020; the new Galaxy S20 series represents a huge jump for the Korean company, and also for the wider smartphone industry. The new devices have a lot of brand-new features premiering for the first time in mainstream flagship devices, and some cutting-edge capabilities that are outright new to the industry as a whole.

The S20 series are probably best defined by their picture capturing capabilities, offering a slew of new camera hardware that represents Samsung’s most ambitious smartphone camera update ever. From a “periscope” design telephoto lens with 4x optical magnification and up to a quoted 100x digital magnification, to a new and humongous 108MP main camera sensor with a brand-new pixel array setup, the new Galaxy S20 Ultra is definitely an exotic device when it comes to its photography features. The new Galaxy S20+ also sees some massive new upgrades, ranging from a new, larger main camera sensor, to the innovative use of a 64MP wide-angle module that allows for high magnification hybrid crop-zooming. Overall it too is a big step-up in the camera department and certainly shouldn’t be overshadowed by its Ultra sibling. The phones are not only the first smartphones able to capture 8K video – but they’re also amongst the first consumer grade hardware out on the market with the capability, which is certainly an eye-catching feature.

The new S20 series are also among the first devices to come with the latest generation of processors on the market, pioneering the usage of the new Snapdragon 865 as well as the new Exynos 990 SoCs. In recent years, it’s always been a contentious topic for Samsung’s flagship phones as the company continues to dual-source the SoCs powering its devices – with some years the differences between the two variants being larger than one would hope for. We have both chipset variants of the Galaxy S20 Ultra as well as an Exynos variant of the S20+ for today’s review, and we’ll be uncovering all the differences between the models.

Let’s go over the specifications and the designs in more detail:

Samsung Galaxy S20 Series
 Galaxy S20Galaxy S20+Galaxy S20 Ultra
SoC(North America, China, Japan)

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 
1x Cortex-A77 @ 2.84GHz
3x Cortex-A77 @ 2.42GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.80GHz

Adreno 640 @ 587MHz

(Europe & Rest of World)

Samsung Exynos 990
2x Exynos M5 @ 2.73GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.50GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 2.00GHz

Mali G77MP11 @ 800 MHz

Display6.2-inch
3200 x 1440 (20:9)
6.7-inch
3200 x 1440 (20:9)
6.9-inch
3200 x 1440 (20:9)
SAMOLED
HDR10+
1200nits peak brightness

120Hz Refresh Rate (@FHD+ software rendering)

Dimensions151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm
163 grams
161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8 mm
187 grams
166.9 x 76.0 x 8.8 mm
220 grams
RAM8 GB (LTE)
12 GB (5G)
8 GB (LTE)
12 GB (5G)
12 / 16 GB
NAND
Storage
5G = 128 GB

LTE = 128 GB + mSD

5G = 128-512 GB

LTE = 128 GB + mSD

16 GB model = 512 GB

12 GB = 128 or 256 GB
+ microSD

Battery4000mAh (15.4Wh) typ.

3880mAh (14.93Wh) rated

4500mAh (17.32Wh) typ.

4370mAh (16.82Wh) rated

5000mAh (19.25Wh) typ.

4855mAh (18.69Wh) rated

15W Wireless Charging
25W
Fast Charging
45W
Super Fast Charging
Front Camera10MP
4K video recording
F/2.2, 80-degree
40MP
4K video recording
F/2.2, 80-degree
Primary Rear Camera79° Wide Angle
12MP 1.8µm Dual Pixel PDAF
79° Wide Angle
108MP 0.8µm DP-PDAF

3×3 Pixel Binning to 12MP
8K24 Video Recording

fixed f/1.8 optics
OIS, auto HDR, LED flash
4K60, 1080p240, 720p960 high-speed recording
Secondary
Rear Camera
76° Wide Angle
(Cropping / digital zooming telephoto)
64MP 0.8µm

F/2.0 optics, OIS

8K24 Video Recording

24° Telephoto
(5x optical magnification)
48MP 0.8µm

2×2 Pixel Binning to 12MP
F/3.5 prism optics, OIS

Tertiary
Rear Camera
120° Ultra-Wide Angle
12MP 1.4µm f/2.2
Extra
Camera
Time of Flight (ToF) 3D Sensor
4G / 5G
Modem
Snapdragon 5G – Snapdragon Modem X55  (Discrete)

(LTE Category 24/22)
DL = 2500 Mbps – 7x20MHz CA, 1024-QAM
UL = 316 Mbps 3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave*)
DL = 7000 Mbps
UL = 3000 Mbps

*Depending on region and model

Exynos 5G – Exynos Modem 5123 (Discrete)

(LTE Category 24/22)
DL = 3000 Mbps 8x20MHz CA 1024-QAM
UL = 422 Mbps ?x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

(5G NR Sub-6)
DL = 5100 Mbps

Exynos 4G – Exynos Modem 5213 (Discrete)

(LTE Category 24/22)

DL = 3000 Mbps 8x20MHz CA 1024-QAM

UL = 422 Mbps ?x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

SIM SizeNanoSIM + eSIM
Wireless802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax 2×2 MU-MIMO,
BT 5.0 LE, NFC, GPS/Glonass/Galileo/BDS
ConnectivityUSB Type-C
no 3.5mm headset
Special FeaturesUnder-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
(Qualcomm QC 2.0, Adaptive Fast Charging, USB-PD),
reverse wireless charging (WPC & PMA),

IP68 water resistance

Launch OSAndroid 10 with Samsung OneUI 2.0
Launch Prices128GB 5G:
$999 / 999€ / £899
128GB 5G:
$1199 / 1099€ / £999

512GB 5G:
$1299 / 1249€ / n/a £

128GB 5G:
$1399 / 1349€ / £1199

512GB 5G:
$1499 / 1549€ / £1399

4G variants for 100€ / 100£ cheaper
available only in certain markets
5G only
 

Hardware-wise, the new S20 series essentially checks all the boxes that you’d expect (or could ask for) in a 2020 phone. The new Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 both bring lots of performance to the table, and probably the most talked about aspect of the new generation is their ability to support new 5G networks. In most developed countries with early 5G deployments, the S20 series are indeed positioned as 5G devices – and technically their naming scheme contains the 5G moniker, such as the “Galaxy S20+ 5G” or the “Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G”, including our review devices today.

Samsung however still offers 4G variants of the phones in some countries where 5G rollout is slow – these still feature the newest SoCs and their 5G capable modems, however they lack the corresponding 5G RF hardware needed to enable that radio connectivity. The silver lining here is that these 4G models do come at a cheaper price than the 5G variants – essentially matching the pricing of the S10 series in their respective configurations.

The US in particular gets the most capable and connectivity-rich models of the S20 series; it’s currently the only market where the new phones will be launching with mmWave capabilities – at least at this point in time. It’s to be noted, however, that mmWave connectivity is currently only available on the S20+ and S20 Ultra, as Samsung’s been quoted to say that the smaller S20 didn’t have sufficient internal space to house the new mmWave modules from Qualcomm. A special variant of the S20 with mmWave is said to follow up on Verizon in a few months.

The spec list is long and complex, but a few highlights are that the new phones now come with 12GB of RAM for the 5G models, with that going up to a massive 16GB for the 512GB Galaxy S20 Ultra. 128GB remains the minimum storage configuration, and the phones come with UFS 3.0-type storage chips, promising top of the line performance. The microSD slot also survives – which might be a boon for those wanting to record 8K video, because at 1GB/minute, it’s a storage killer.

At the front of the new devices, we see a new design language dictating the new form-factor and aesthetics of the series. Centre-stage we find Samsung’s newest generation AMOLED screens. Compared to the S10 series, things have been elongated to a new, taller 20:9 aspect ratio, with the phones now all seeing a notable lengthening of their dimensions by a couple of millimeters.

The display resolution is still 1440p – 3040×1440 to be exact – and unlike the Note10 series, the smaller S20 doesn’t see a downgrade to a 1080p panel, to which I’ve breathed a sigh of relief.  What does make the S20 series’ screen super special though is their support of a high 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung didn’t just aim to match the 90Hz capabilities of the 2019 competitors, but to one-up them. It’s an amazing feature that really stands out for the S20s, giving one a sense of fluidity and smoothness that usually reserved just for special gaming devices.

Samsung has also redesigned their hole-punch camera. The new design language had already been introduced in the Note10 series, but the S20 phones further reduce the size of the camera cut-out. Comparing the S20+ to last year’s S10+, the difference is quite striking. The reduced footprint also reduces the thickness of the notification bar, which had been quite thick on the S10 series, further expanding the usable screen estate of the phones. I think, barring an actual see-through-screen front camera design, it’s as sleek a design as we’re going to get until that technology is ready for prime-time.

Part of the screen’s design, but also of the wider language of the phone, is the reduced curvature of the display. Curved screens have been a main-stay for Samsung flagship phones since the Galaxy S8, but over the years the company has refined the designs for better usability. This year, the S20 series sees the largest regression of the display curvature to date, with a much-reduced radius that doesn’t go nearly as far to the sides of the phones as its predecessors. What you end up with is the flattest screen from a Galaxy S phone in recent years, without actually going fully flat.

While the front curvature has been reduced, the back curvature has been expanded. In this respect the phone has more in common with the Galaxy S10 5G than the regular S10 series, as it adopts the same, much narrower side-frame aesthetic. The rest of the side of the phone is covered by the curved back glass panel – and I have to say that this is probably one of my favorite design features of the S20+, as it lends it some incredible ergonomics that allow it an in-hand feel that’s much narrower than what you’d expect from the phone. It’s only 0.4mm narrower than the S10+, but it just feels that much better in hand thanks to the new curves.

It’s to be noted that the curved back glass sides aren’t just done for aesthetics, but also serve as a technical enabler for the mmWave modules which sit on the inside of the phone (two modules facing the lateral sides, one facing the back). Had the metal frame been wider, as in classical phone designs, these would have a harder time transmitting and receiving such high-frequency signals in an optimal manner.

On the back of the phone there’s obviously the new camera designs – we’ll go into the technical details of the new cameras in a dedicated page later in the article. I’ll also talk about the S20 Ultra more extensively in just a bit, but first I wanted to give my opinion on the S20+.

Having used the phone for a couple of weeks now, I’ve gotten used to the new camera position. It’s a departure from the classical center-camera positioning we’ve been used to in Galaxy S phones ever since the first model 10 years ago, but it’s become a technical necessity given the more complex camera systems out there and the better internal component space management it allows. It’s a bigger camera bump as that of the S10 series – and yes, it now causes the phone to no longer be stable on a flat surface, with it now wobbling when pressing the left side of the screen. Other phones out there have had this characteristic for years (Looking at you, iPhones), so it’s just something that one has to accept and live with.

A few other details of the S20 series’ design include changes in their finish. I do like that we once again have a black variant that’s actually fully black, including the metal frame. One aspect that I think Samsung missed the mark on was that they did not adopt a matte / frosted back glass option. Such designs have been slowly introduced by vendors since 2018, and last year was most notably made mainstream by Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro series. The Galaxy S20s still being the same glossy finger-print magnets in contrast feels a bit dated.

Another change is in the audio department. The new center front-facing camera design means that the earpiece speaker has to undergo a bit of an internal redesign. The S20 here is a ton louder than its predecessor, to the point that I find that the earpiece speaker is now louder than the main speaker. We’ll be going over the audio quality changes later on in the article, but it’s probably one of the more striking differences you’ll notice compared to the S10 series. The main bottom speaker remains similar to the S10.

And course, the S20 series no longer come with 3.5mm headphone jacks. I think I’ve riled on the topic enough over the years, but least to say I’m very disappointed by Samsung for this anti-consumer choice. Sony notably tracked back on their decision to deprecate the headphone jack, bringing it back on the new Xperia 1 II – so maybe there’s some hope Samsung might do the same, as long as there’s sufficient negative feedback from users.

Of course, the flagship entry in the 2020 Galaxy line-up is the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung here literally supersized the design, making a much larger and heftier version that goes beyond what the “regular” plus models offer. While the S20+ fits in the same form-factor as the S10+, the S20 Ultra is clearly a bigger phone, more in line with the behemoth that was the rare S10 5G.

The biggest differences in the design aren’t found in the front of the phone – here the Ultra essentially just looks the same as the other two S20 devices and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart other than their size. Turn it around though, and you’ll see the Ultra’s enormous camera housing that is very distinct from any other phone on the market.

The first thing you’ll notice when handling the Ultra, beyond it having a larger footprint, is that it’s clearly a thicker phone. It’s 1mm thicker than the S20+, which is a 12.8% increase and is very noticeable. The sides of the phones are still curved as on the S20+, however the curve is now deeper, and the metal frame on the side of the phone is a sliver thicker than on the smaller variants.

The ergonomics are still good for a phone of this size, but of course, you’ll need to be used to having a phone this size.

Another aspect where the S20 Ultra just outsizes the S20+ is in terms of weight. At 220g, the phone is much closer in weight to an iPhone Max than it is the lighter, 187g S20+. With the weight does come a larger battery, which is now 5000mAh (typical capacity), an 11% increase over the S20+’s 4500mAh capacity.

Then there’s the camera bump of the Ultra. There’s no better word to describe it other than “enormous”. The problem here isn’t that Samsung had to extend the camera housing thickness in order to integrate the complex camera modules and optics which the Ultra offers, but that they did so in what I find to be a very boring and ugly manner.

Most notably, the rim of the camera housing is just a raised metal element that protrudes out, which is in contrast to the curved design of the rest of the phone. Samsung probably decided that leaving such a big protrusion doesn’t look so good, so they added in another step in the frame between the glass back and the full protrusion – best way to describe it is that it looks like a gasket. The whole thing just looks very cheap and doesn’t compare to the filleted glass design from Apple or even the filleted “gasket” that Huawei uses in the recently announced P40 Pro. My biggest pet peeve about Samsung’s design is that it’s super prone to collecting dust in the three grooves around the camera – both of my S20 Ultras are full of it right now as I’m writing this. It feels like a rushed design with very little manufacturing refinement.

One other difference I noticed is in the speaker audio quality. The S20 Ultra does sound fuller and a bit less high pitched, probably due to the larger internal reverberation space of the design. It’s the better sounding phone of the S20 series.

Whether the S20 Ultra can justify its existence will largely depend on how its special camera hardware will be able to differentiate itself from the S20 and S20+. In terms of design, other than it being a big phone, I do think Samsung somewhat missed the mark with the camera housing. A filleted edge of the camera protrusion could have done wonders, so hopefully it’s something that the company will look into for future designs.

We’ve covered the Snapdragon 865 extensively over the last few months, and more recently did a performance preview of the chip on the Galaxy S20 Ultra:

It’s safe to say that Qualcomm managed to beat our expectations in terms of power efficiency improvements. Which is something we’ll go over in more detail in this piece as well.

At the heart of the Snapdragon 865 we find Arm’s newest Cortex-A77 CPU cores. The new microarchitecture is said to bring a 20-25% IPC improvement over its predecessors, and that’s where the new SoC derives most of its performance improvements from, as the clock frequencies of the cores are identical to that of last year’s Snapdragon 855.


Snapdragon 865 CPU Topology

One aspect where Qualcomm did improve the design is in doubling the shared L3 cache of the CPU cluster, going from 2MB to 4MB. Not only does this further improve the performance of the CPUs by allowing for more data to be cached on-chip, but Qualcomm has explained that one of the primary reasons for this was to also improve power efficiency of the SoC by reducing how often the SoC has to access the DRAM, which is a relatively power-expensive operation.

The chip still has a 3MB system level cache that serves the various IP blocks on the SoC – it’s again meant to not only improve performance but also improve power efficiency as it avoids external memory accesses. The memory subsystem here is smart and detects when to bypass this cache when there’s latency-sensitive workloads, and in general we’ll see some massive memory subsystem improvements on the part of the Snapdragon 865 in a later dedicated section.

All the CPUs being in the same cluster and cache hierarchy means that the core-to-core latencies are relatively uniform, only differing based on their frequencies and lower level cache access latencies. It’s not too much of an exciting metric here, but it’s important context to have as we’ll consider the Exynos 990’s CPU topology in just a bit.

Again, we’ve covered the Snapdragon 865 quite extensively in the above linked articles so I recommend reading them again for other details on other parts of the new chip, such as the new ISP, DSP, and GPU details. However, one aspect that’s very defining for the flagship Qualcomm chipset this year is that the company is separating the modem from the SoC – essentially making the SoC just an application processor for this generation.

The external nature of the X55 modem has a few implications: first of all, there’s an additional component on the motherboard which vendors will have to make space for, which means additional cost. Secondly, there’s the big question of how power efficiency will be affected by the external modem. We’ve seen Apple devices perform excellently over the years while never having an integrated modem, and I feel like the Snapdragon 865 and X55 also fall into this classification, as I haven’t seen any major differences in efficiency due to the external nature of the modem.

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While we’ve received a lot of information on the Snapdragon 865 over the last few months due to Qualcomm’s openness and willingness to share details with the public, until now we’ve known almost nothing about the new Exynos 990. Samsung LSI’s newest flagship processors was announced way back in October, but we had to be patient and await commercial devices before we could get any concrete details on the chip’s makings. What we do know is that the new chip employs a new generation M5 CPU microarchitecture, upgrades the mid-cores to Cortex-A76 designs, and employs a new Mali-G77 GPU, all manufactured on a 7nm 7LPP process that uses EUV lithography.

An Exynos 9820 Retrospective


Exynos 9820 CPU Topology

Before we get into the Exynos 990 itself, I want to do a quick retrospective on last’s year’s flagship Samsung SoC, the Exynos 9820, both to catch up on things we’ve learned since the Galaxy S10 launch, and to illustrate how the Exynos 990 has changed things.

The first thing to note on the Exynos 9820 is that Samsung’s custom CPU cores reside in a completely different cluster than Arm’s cores – both being interconnected and being cache coherent only via Samsung’s Coherent Interconnect. My more recently written core-to-core latency test demonstrates this topology difference as the latencies between CPUs on the different cores is significantly higher than what we see on the cores within the Arm cluster, and higher than what we saw on the Snapdragon 865 on the previous page.

The second correction is that the M4 cores didn’t just have 512KB L2 caches, but rather 1MB. This wasn’t very visible in the latency tests due to issues with the microarchitecture which we’ll revisit in a later page as well.

The weird cache behavior that we originally reported on in the bandwidth figures of the A75 cores last year ended up being a side-effect of a 2MB last-level cache on the SoC. This SLC acts the same as the 3MB SLC on the Snapdragon 865 and allows for efficient caching of various memory accesses of the SoC IP blocks, saving power for the system.

Enter the Exynos 990


Exynos 990 CPU Topology

Where the Exynos 990 differs from the Exynos 9820 is in a few areas. First off, let’s focus on the Arm cluster. Here Samsung has finally donned the small A55 cores with private, 64KB L2 caches. This was notoriously missing from both the Exynos 9810 and Exynos 9820’s A55 cores, which lead them to be less performant and seemingly less efficient than their counterparts on the Snapdragon SoCs. The 64KB L2 caches here are still only half of the 128KB that we find on the Snapdragon 865, so Samsung continues to be extremely conservative in the cache configuration of the Arm CPUs. The new small cores see a slight clock frequency upgrade, going up to 2GHz this time around.

The middle cores see an upgrade from Arm Cortex-A75s to Cortex-A76s, while also getting a frequency lift from 2.3GHz up to 2.5GHz. This is actually a massive performance boost of 38% to 50% depending on the workload, and essentially serve as the Exynos 990’s workhorses for the vast majority of tasks. The L2 caches are still configured at 256KB per core, and the shared L3 of the Arm cluster remains at a more conservative 1MB.

On the big core side, we see the evolution of the microarchitecture from the M4 cores, codenamed Cheetah, to the newer M5 cores, codenamed Lion. Whilst Samsung has kept the maximum clock frequencies unchanged at 2.73GHz, they did promise a 20% uplift, which should mostly come from IPC improvements.

The biggest externally observable change is the fact that these new cores no longer have private L2 caches for themselves, but rather now come with a shared L2 of 2MB. That’s actually quite the huge microarchitectural design change in an era where we’re used designs actually introducing private L2 caches. The topology change can be evidenced by the drastic reduction in the core-to-core latencies between the two M5 cores compared to the M4 counterparts in the previous generation, as the coherency now happens at a lower cache level that’s closer to the CPUs.

The Exynos 990 is manufactured on Samsung’s 7LPP node, which uses EUV lithography. It’s actually not the first chip on the process, as that title goes to the Exynos 9825 found in the Note10 series last year. However if TechInsight’s reporting is accurate, it seems that the that the Exynos 990 is the first chip to be actually designed with the full 7LPP PDK rather than being just a relaxed conversion of the design to another process (The 9825 is functionally identical to the 9820, and it seems this also applies to its lithography implementation).

Samsung describes the 7LPP process as having 7% higher performance than its 8LPP node, which should also manifest itself as a power reduction of a design at otherwise equal frequency. Comparing the voltage curves of one of our S20 Exynos 990 units to the S10 unit last year, we see that there are some differences, but these are somewhat lackluster in the end. First of all it’s to be noted that the bins of our Exynos 990 units are seemingly bad this year, and I’ve seen that most units out there are in the same classification or even worse, pointing to the possibility of bad yields for the chip.

The A55 cores do clock slightly higher this generation, but at the peak frequencies the voltages still remain very high. At more medium frequencies we do however see improvements of up to around -43mV. The A76 cores can’t really be compared to the A75 cores of the previous generation due to their different microarchitectures, but also here we see the voltage curves being lower than on the 9820 even though the binning of our 990 units here are quite worse.

Finally, the M5’s core voltages are extremely disappointing. Not only are there no improvements at equal frequency to the M4 cores on 8nm, but there’s actually a degradation in the frequency scaling: the new Lion cores require higher voltages to reach the same frequencies. Peak voltages at 2.73GHz have gone up from 1068mV to 1118mV in our review sample units between the M4 and M5, meaning the new microarchitecture just scales worse in frequency. This all doesn’t bode all to well for power efficiency of the new design.

Samsung’s own scheduler and CPU characterization is very clear on the power and efficiency curves: throughout its performance scaling, the M5 cores are notably less efficient than the Cortex-A76 cores on the same SoC. We also note that the A55 data this year seemingly looks more realistic than what we’ve encountered on the Exynos 9820’s drivers last year.

The most striking differences in the power data from Samsung is the static leakage characteristics of the A76 and M5 cores. At an equal 1050mV voltage (2.5GHz on the A76, 2.6GHz on the M5), the Arm cores are characterized as leaking 78mW statically while the M5 cores use up 297mW. Static leakage is roughly corresponding to die area of the block – last year’s M4 cores were 3.72x larger than the A75 cores, and the static leakage difference here on the Exynos 990 is 3.8x, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this also ends up being the difference in area between the two CPU types.

One odd mechanism that Samsung had introduced in the Exynos 9820 was a more complex scheduler that differentiated power models based on the running ISA of the application. It tracked 32 and 64-bit apps separately and made scheduler decisions based on the microarchitectural performance and power characteristics of the different CPUs on the different execution modes.

This is said to help power efficiency, mostly by scheduling things more often onto the Arm middle cores which seemingly have a better 32-bit execution efficiency.

I was curious and I tried this out on the Exynos 990, comparing the relative differences in performance and efficiency between the M5 cores and the A76 cores. In the aggregate figures of SPECint2006, I unfortunately didn’t see any big difference at all in the execution modes. However individual subtests such as 456.hmmer, which are mostly execution bound, saw large advantages on the A76 cores, actually outperforming the M5 cores with a score of 13.53 vs 12.83 while using only half the energy. So in that regard, Samsung’s scheduling methodology makes a lot of sense. 400.perbench was another case of the A76 cores outperforming the M5 cores in 32-bit mode, using less than half the power. However, any more memory intensive workloads heavily favored the M5 cores, probably due to the stark differences in cache sizes. While I’m sure Samsung’s ISA based scheduling model reduces power, I do have to wonder what the absolute performance impact is in terms of using this mechanism.

Also unrelated to the whole ISA scheduling mechanism, I think this is the first time we’ve ever published benchmark numbers on the differences between AArch32 and AArch64 execution modes. The AArch64 performs significantly better due to it having more architectural registers available and being able to execute out-of-order code more efficiently, along with some ISA instruction improvements. Whilst there’s a power increase in this mode, we’re seeing much better efficiency as the performance improvements are greater. It’s also a good reason as to why the wider ecosystem is shifting to deprecate 32-bit on Arm.

It’s also to be noted that the M5 Lion core will be Samsung’s last commercial custom CPU design, as the design team had been disbanded back in October, and most employees by now have found new homes at different companies. I’ll be coming back to this decision in the context of the wider competitive landscape after we dissect the M5’s performance and efficiency.

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On the memory subsystem side, there’s quite a few big changes for both the Snapdragon 865 as well as the Exynos 990, as these are the first commercial SoCs on the market using LPDDR5. Qualcomm especially is said to have made huge progress in its memory subsystem, and we’re now able to verify the initially promissing results we saw on the QRD865 back in December with a production device.

And indeed, the news keeps on getting better for Qualcomm, as the new Galaxy S20 showcases even better memory results than we had measured on the reference device. The improvements over the Snapdragon 855 are just enormous and Qualcomm not only manages to catch up but very much now is able to beat the Exynos chips in terms of memory subsystem performance.

Arm very famously quotes that an improvement of 5ns in memory latency corresponds to an increase of around 1% in performance. And if that’s the case, Qualcomm will have had a ~12% improvement in CPU performance just by virtue of the new memory controller and SoC memory subsystem design. Our structural estimate in the memory latency falls in around 106 vs 124ns – most of the improvement seems to be due to how Qualcomm is now handling accesses to the DRAM chips themselves, previously attributing the bad latencies on the Snapdragon 855 due to power management mechanisms.

Samsung’s Exynos 990 also improves in memory latency compared to the Exynos 9820, but by a smaller margin than what the Snapdragon 865 was able to achieve. All latency patterns here are still clearly worse than the Qualcomm chip, and there’s some oddities in the results. Let’s zoom in into a logarithmic graph:

 

Comparing the Exynos 990 results vs the Exynos 9820, it’s now quite visible that the L2 cache has increased dramatically in size, similar to what we’ve described on the previous page, corresponding to the doubling of the available cache to a core from 1MB to 2MB. Samsung’s cores still have some advantages, for example they’re still on a 3-cycle L1 latency design whereas the Arm cores make due with 4-cycle accesses, however in other regards, the design just falls apart.

The TLB issues that we had described last year in the M4 are still very much present in the M5 core, which results in some absurd results such as random accesses over a 2MB region being actually faster than at 1MB. Cache-line accesses with TLB miss penalties now actually have lower access latencies in the L3 than in the L2 regions, and I have no idea what’s happening in the 16-64MB region in that test as it behaves worse than the 9820.

Examining the A76 cores of the Exynos 990, we see a much cleaner set of results more akin to what you’d expect to see from a CPU. Here we also see the 2MB SLC cache hierarchy in the 1-3MB region, meaning the Arm core cluster does have access to this cache, with the M5 cores bypassing it for better latency. Last year I had noted that the A76’s prefetchers had seen some massive improvements, and this is again evident here in the result sets of the two CPUs on the same chip as the middle cores actually handle some access patterns better than the M5 cores.

Samsung has had large issues with its memory subsystem ever since the M3 design, and unfortunately it seems they never addressed them, even with the more recent M5 core.

The Snapdragon 865 here is quite straightforward. The biggest difference to the 855, besides the improved DRAM latency, is the doubling of the L3 from 2 to 4MB which is also immediately visible. It still pales in comparison to the Apple A13’s cache hierarchy, but we do hope that the Arm vendors will be able to catch up in the next few years.

While we’ve roughly covered the specifications of the Snapdragon 865 and the new Exynos 990, what really matters is how the two chips compare in their performance and power efficiency. The Arm Cortex-A77 cores in the Snapdragon already had impressed quite a lot thanks to their microarchitectural advances, and Qualcomm’s implementation on TSMC’s N7P node beat our expectations in terms of power efficiency. Samsung’s 7LPP process node remains a wildcard, but we’ve already hinted in previous preview articles that the Exynos 990 and the M5 cores are very much lagging behind. Let’s take a deep dive into the performance detailed performance figures on SPEC2006 and dissect the microarchitectural characteristics of the two chips:

Starting off in SPECint2006, we’re already seeing some quite contrasting results between the two variants of the Galaxy S20. When it comes to performance, there’s a clear leadership on the part of the Snapdragon 865 with much larger generational improvements than what we see from the part of the Exynos 990 and its M5 cores.

What’s quite outstanding here for the Qualcomm chip is the energy efficiency improvements of the CPU. Arm notably had told us that the A77 CPU cores would improve performance in relation to the A76 cores by consuming more power – with energy efficiency between the two designs essentially being similar. That’s actually not what is happening here as the Snapdragon 865 not only uses less energy than its predecessor, but it outright uses less power as well.

I was quite perplexed by this, however there’s the difference of process nodes that might come into play. TSMC’s N7P process node might be quite a lot better than it’s N7 node, so it’s probably better to compare the generational CPU upgrades between the A76 and A77 cores when comparing the HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G, which is manufactured on the N7+ node. That chip indeed showcases better power efficiency when compared to the N7 Snapdragon 855 and Kirin 990 4G – an improvement of around 15% on average. In this comparison, the Snapdragon 865’s situation makes a lot more sense as it more closely matches the A77’s predictions.

429.mcf’s score on the Snapdragon 865 is excellent and shows a 68% improvement over the Snapdragon 855, showcasing the much-improved memory subsystem of Qualcomm’s new flagship.

The Exynos 990 also showcases good performance improvements, although less than what we see on the Snapdragon. One very weird result Is the score on 403.gcc where the new chip is actually slower than its predecessor. I did discover some weird compiler regressions, but even when using the same set, the new chip continued to be slower than its predecessor in this test, which is worrying.

What’s really bad though, is the power and energy consumption. Energy consumption is pretty much flat versus the Exynos 9820 – sometimes a bit better, sometimes a bit worse. The problem with this is that the power consumption has actually gone up by an equal amount to the performance improvements, which given a new microarchitecture and process node isn’t something what you want to see. Apple has shown that high power usage cores are usable in smartphones, but only as long as their performance is equally high, resulting in high energy efficiency for workloads. That doesn’t not seem to be the case for the Exynos 990 as its performance is lagging behind.

The results for SPECfp2006 also paint a similar picture. The Snapdragon 865 here performs excellently, showcasing some very large improvements in performance for some workloads, all whilst reducing the energy consumption in relation to the Snapdragon 855.

The Exynos 990 on the other hand continues to be mixed in its results. There are performance improvements here as well, but they come at a cost of much higher power consumption which in some cases outweigh the performance increases. Some tests such as 447.dealII and 470.lbm even see 30-40% energy efficiency regressions, which is extremely bad. 433.milc seems to really like the M5’s microarchitectural changes as it’s posting over double the performance of the M4 – while “only” increasing power by 50%.

In the overall results, the new Snapdragon 865 improves upon the Snapdragon 855 by 30% – a quite significant margin. Samsung’s Exynos 990 outperforms the Exynos 9820 by 17% in the integer suite, and a larger 36% in the FP suite, however still falls behind the Snapdragon 865 by 11 and 3%.

The performance differences aren’t that big an issue, the elephant in the room is the fact that the Exynos chip here requires double the energy to achieve slightly lower performance to its competitor. That’s massively disappointing and quite worrying for the Exynos 990 based Galaxy S20’s.

I had mentioned that the 7LPP process is quite a wildcard in the comparisons here. Luckily, I’ve been able to get my hands on a Snapdragon 765G, another SoC that’s manufactured on Samsung’s EUV process. It’s also quite a nice comparison as we’re able to compare that chip’s performance A76 cores at 2.4GHz to the middle A76 cores of the Exynos 990 which run at 2.5GHz. Performance and power between the two chips here pretty much match each other, and a clearly worse than other TSMC A76-based SoCs, especially the Kirin 990’s. The only conclusion here is that Samsung’s 7LPP node is quite behind TSMC’s N7/N7P/N7+ nodes when it comes to power efficiency – anywhere from 20 to 30%.

Unfortunately for Samsung LSI and the SARC design team, even if we accounted for such a process node difference, the M5 cores would still be far behind the A77 cores of the Snapdragon 865. Samsung’s CPU microarchitecture weaknesses are just too great, and the M5 just seemed a step sideways in terms of performance and efficiency improvements, still not fixing to what to me seemed like some obvious problems with the design. We don’t have public die shots of the S865 and E990 yet, but I’m willing to bet that the M5 cores end up at least 3x the size of the A77 designs. Together with the 2x efficiency disadvantage, and the 10% performance deficit, that’s a PPA disadvantage of 6-7x, which is just untenable. Samsung’s M6 core design was pretty much completed and said to be an SMT design, which again in my view just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever in the mobile space as it just goes against the notion of heterogenous CPU SoC designs that we have nowadays.

It’s always unfortunate to lose a CPU design team in the industry – but in my view it was inevitable given the direction things were going. Qualcomm had stopped their custom CPU efforts several years ago, with the Snapdragon 820 being the last such SoC with a fully custom microarchitecture. They had noted that their designs were quite far behind Arm’s Cortex cores when it came to efficiency, and that it was better to just use those in the mobile products, which ended up being quite the wise decision as the following Snapdragon SoC generations were all great. Meanwhile it feels like SLSI squandered 5 years in the SoC market with handicapped products that didn’t deliver on their goals, with the Exynos 9810 and now the Exynos 990 being quite the large disasters.

The silver lining here is that I expect future Exynos SoCs to be massively more competitive. Next year’s design should employ Arm’s Cortex-A78 cores, so expect roughly a 15% IPC improvement over the A77, and Samsung should be able to reach the 3GHz mark in terms of frequencies. Hopefully all that saved die space can be invested back into caches, maybe we’ll finally see an 8MB L3 to compete with Apple?

The Snapdragon 865 A77 cores look pretty amazing. Sure, there’s a still a performance gap to Apple’s A13 CPU cores, but the Arm cores are also significantly more efficient now- at least closing the gap with Apple on that metric. Arm is now heavily invested in designing larger high-performance cores, being now supported by all the Arm server and hyperscale vendors. Expectations are big for the new Arm v9 generation of microarchitectures in 2022, the roadmap of which probably also played a large factor into Samsung’s custom CPU development cancellation.

Finally, Samsung Foundry here clearly is at least a year or more behind TSMC in terms of process technology. Unfortunately, we don’t know how that side of the formula will play out – but I expect TSMC to dominate Samsung in terms of 5nm density, I just hope that the power efficiency differences won’t be as drastic. 

Although the peak CPU performance of the two Galaxy S20 SoCs isn’t all that different, what also matters is how the software decides to use that computing power. We’ve seen in the past that the DVFS and scheduler settings can have a very big impact on everyday performance of a device, sometimes even more so than the actual hardware. We’ve already quickly visited the Snapdragon 865 in the Galaxy S20 Ultra a few weeks ago, and we were very impressed by the performance and efficiency of the device. Now what remains to be seen how the Exynos 990 variant of the phone behaves.

Also at play here is the phone’s 120Hz display refresh mode. Samsung gives the option to choose between 60Hz and 120Hz in the display settings, with the latter naturally giving you more fluidity in applications. Beyond that, there’s also the matter of the device’s battery modes, in particular the difference between the default “Optimized” and “Performance” modes.

On past Samsung devices we’ve always tested the phones in their performance modes, as I hadn’t really noted much of a battery life difference between the two modes – and naturally we want to experience the full performance of a flagship device anyhow. This is still valid for the Snapdragon 865 Galaxy S20s, however the Exynos 990’s Performance mode is behaving weirdly and incurs quite a large power penalty, to the point that I would strongly recommend against using it. So the most practical comparisons for most people will be the Snapdragon Performance mode figures (P) against the default Exynos figures, at least for the S20 and at least for the current firmware versions.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Web Browsing 2.0

Starting off in the web browsing test in PCMark, there’s a very clear performance difference between the two phones, however this isn’t just because the Exynos 990 somehow sucks, but because there’s a weird software configuration on the S20 Ultra.



Exynos 990 – Galaxy S20 Ultra 120Hz vs Galaxy S20+ 120Hz

Oddly enough the web browsing test is the most sensitive to a DVFS, scheduler, or Android task management setting difference between the Exynos S20 Ultra and the S20+. The latter here performs significantly better for some reason.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Video Editing

In the video editing test, the differences are minor, and in general the 120Hz results of the phones are clearly different to the 60Hz results. The test is generally V-sync limited here and isn’t all that representative of workloads anymore as most phones ace it nowadays. It’s again the Exynos in the 60Hz Performance mode which stands out of the crowd, getting better scores due to its extremely aggressive scheduling.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Writing 2.0

The Writing subtest is amongst the most important in the suite and most representative of everyday performance. Here the Snapdragon 865 is ahead of the Exynos by a good margin, and falls in line with the best scores we saw on the QRD865 in Performance mode. The Exynos, generationally, is also posting a good improvement over the Exynos 9820 of the Galaxy S10.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Photo Editing 2.0

It seems SLSI has finally resolved their performance issues of their Renderscript drivers – either that, or the new Mali-G77 GPU is doing significantly better than the G76 in these workloads. Both variants of the S20 phones here clearly ends up with top performance scores, leading the pack ahead of all other Android devices.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Data Manipulation

In the Data Manipulation test, the scores are again quite good for both variants of the phone, however the Snapdragon 865 model does lead here, especially in the 120Hz mode. In fact, in this test it fares quite a lot better than the QRD865.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Performance

In the overall scores, both variants of the S20 Ultra are top performers. As a reminder, the Exynos 990 S20+ fared a bit better than our Ultra unit for some reason, but we’re opting to show the two Ultra scores here for best apples-to-apples between phones.

Web Benchmarks

Speedometer 2.0 - OS WebView

In Speedometer 2.0, performance of the Exynos 990 chip isn’t all that much better than its predecessor, only sporting 12% increase. The Snapdragon variant on the other hand is 31% ahead of its S10 sibling, also posting notably better than what we had measured on the QRD865. It’s still far away from what Apple’s microarchitectures are able to achieve – the combination of strong CPUs along with better optimized browser JS engines is key to the iPhone performance.

WebXPRT 3 - OS WebView

In WebXPRT, the situation again favors the Snapdragon 865 variant of the phone by 17%.

JetStream 2 - OS Webview

Finally, in JetStream 2, the extend its lead to 24% which is quite large. Samsung’s custom CPU cores are particularly weak here and that’s likely due to the high instruction throughput of the test. I had found out their microarchitecture is quite weak with larger code sizes, for example unrolling loops will greatly handicap the performance of the Exynos CPUs whilst the Arm cores essentially see no big differences.

Performance Verdict: Both Winners, 120Hz Overshadows SoC Differences

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed with either variant of the S20. Both phones felt faster than Snapdragon 855 devices, the Snapdragon 865 variant of the S20 Ultra was just a little faster than the Exynos 990 variant.

The biggest improvement is user experience though it’s the 120Hz display mode. It’s just a fantastic addition to the phones, and really makes scrolling content that much more fluid. Along with the 240Hz touch input sampling rate of the phones makes these by far the most responsive and smooth experiences you can get on a mobile phone today.

The new SoC generations also bring with them new AI capabilities, however things are quite different in terms of their capabilities. We saw the Snapdragon 865 add to the table a whole lot of new Tensor core performance which should accelerate ML workloads, but the software still plays a big role in being able to extract that capability out of the hardware.

Samsung’s Exynos 990 is quite odd here in this regard, the company quoted the SoC’s NPU and DSP being able to deliver a 10TOPs but it’s not clear how this figure is broken down. SLSI has also been able to take advantage of the new Mali-G77 GPU and its ML abilities, exposing them through NNAPI.

We’re skipping AIMark for today’s test as the benchmark couldn’t support hardware acceleration for either device, lacking updated support for neither Qualcomm’s or SLSI’s ML SDK’s. We thus fall back to AIBenchmark 3, which uses NNAPI acceleration.

AIBenchmark 3

AIBenchmark takes a different approach to benchmarking. Here the test uses the hardware agnostic NNAPI in order to accelerate inferencing, meaning it doesn’t use any proprietary aspects of a given hardware except for the drivers that actually enable the abstraction between software and hardware. This approach is more apples-to-apples, but also means that we can’t do cross-platform comparisons, like testing iPhones.

We’re publishing one-shot inference times. The difference here to sustained performance inference times is that these figures have more timing overhead on the part of the software stack from initializing the test to actually executing the computation.

AIBenchmark 3 – NNAPI CPU

We’re segregating the AIBenchmark scores by execution block, starting off with the regular CPU workloads that simply use TensorFlow libraries and do not attempt to run on specialized hardware blocks.

AIBenchmark 3 - 1 - The Life - CPU/FP AIBenchmark 3 - 2 - Zoo - CPU/FP AIBenchmark 3 - 3 - Pioneers - CPU/INT AIBenchmark 3 - 4 - Let's Play - CPU/FP AIBenchmark 3 - 7 - Ms. Universe - CPU/FP AIBenchmark 3 - 7 - Ms. Universe - CPU/INT AIBenchmark 3 - 8 - Blur iT! - CPU/FP

In the purely CPU accelerated workloads, we’re seeing both phones performing very well, but the Snapdragon 865’s A77 cores here are evidently in the lead by a good margin. It’s to be noted that the scores are also updated for the S10 phones – I noted a big performance boost with the Android 10 updates and the newer NNAPI versions of the test.

AIBenchmark 3 – NNAPI INT8

AIBenchmark 3 - 1 - The Life - INT8 AIBenchmark 3 - 2 - Zoo - Int8 AIBenchmark 3 - 3 - Pioneers - INT8 AIBenchmark 3 - 5 - Masterpiece - INT8 AIBenchmark 3 - 6 - Cartoons - INT8

Integer ML workloads on both phones is good, but because the Snapdragon 865 leverages the Hexagon DSP cores for such workload types, it’s much in lead ahead of the Exynos 990 S20. This latter variant however also showcases some very big performance improvements compared to its predecessor. I still think that Samsung here is only exposing the GPU of the SoC for NNAPI, but because of the new microarchitecture being able to accelerate ML workloads, we’re seeing a big performance improvement compared to the Exynos 9820.

AIBenchmark 3 – NNAPI FP16

AIBenchmark 3 - 1 - The Life - FP16 AIBenchmark 3 - 2 - Zoo - FP16 AIBenchmark 3 - 3 - Pioneers - FP16 AIBenchmark 3 - 5 - Masterpiece - FP16 AIBenchmark 3 - 6 - Cartoons - FP16 AIBenchmark 3 - 9 - Berlin Driving - FP16 AIBenchmark 3 - 10 - WESPE-dn - FP16

In FP16 workloads, the Exynos 990’s GPU actually manages to more often outperform the Snapdragon 865’s Adreno unit. In workloads that allow it, HiSilicon’s NPU still is far in the lead in workloads as it support FP16 acceleration which isn’t present on either the Snapdragon or Exynos SoCs – both falling back to their GPUs.

AIBenchmark 3 – NNAPI FP32

AIBenchmark 3 - 10 - WESPE-dn - FP32

Finally, FP32 also again uses the GPU of each SoC, and again the Exynos 990 presents quite a large performance lead ahead of the Snapdragon 865 unit.

It’s certainly encouraging to see the Samsung SoC keep up with the Snapdragon variant of the S20, pointing out that other vendors now finally are paying better attention to their ML capabilities. We don’t know much at all about the DSP or the NPU of the Exynos 990 as Samsung’s EDEN AI SDK is still not public – I hope that they finally open up more and allow third-party developers to take advantage of the available hardware.

Moving on, it’s time to talk about the GPUs of the systems. The Snapdragon 865’s Adreno 650 is a microarchitectural successor to last year’s Adreno 640, increasing the ALUs and ROPs by 50%. Frequency remains the same at 587MHz, and the company promises a 25% performance boost.

The Exynos 990 is more drastic in its GPU changes. Here we see for the first time a chip using Arm’s new Valhall GPU architecture, in the form of the Mali-G77. We’ve discussed the GPU in detail in the deep dive article last year, so be sure to read about the details of the new design there. Samsung LSI employed an 11-core configuration in the new chip, 1 less core than last year’s G76MP12. This is compensated by clocking the design higher at up to 800MHz, up from 702MHz. The higher clock speed does however cost some additional voltage to reach, with the Exynos 990 now peaking at 712mV compared to the 662mV of the previous iteration, although both designs should be clearly operating at lower than nominal voltages of the process nodes.

Beyond the new GPU hardware, it’s also important to note the new chips are the first of their kind to support LPDDR5, which should bring some good efficiency upgrades to bandwidth hungry tasks such as 3D rendering on a GPU.

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Physics

Starting off with 3DMark Physics, which is actually a CPU test in a GPU thermally constrained scenario, we see both phones doing well. The Exynos 990 here likely schedules things more onto the A76 cores, and that’s why performance is less than that of the Snapdragon 865 which here takes the leadership position in the benchmark. Throttling isn’t very prevalent on either device, but for some reason the Exynos Ultra device throttled more than the S20+.

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Graphics

Moving onto the graphics subtest, we’re seeing an extremely stark contrast in scores. The Exynos 990 is able to keep up with the Snapdragon 865’s peak performance figures, however once throttling kicks in, the scores quickly fall down to more moderate figures. The Exynos S20 Ultra’s performance here is again quite puzzling as to why it’s so much worse than the S20+ – both phones didn’t seem to behave very differently in their thermal behavior, so that’s super weird. The performance deficit here is gigantic, with the phone only sustaining 28% of its peak performance.

Meanwhile the Snapdragon S20 Ultra doesn’t throttle here at all, and that is absolutely not normal – this is not a chip that is somehow super-efficient or has amazing cooling. Over the years I’ve encountered a lot of such odd results with Snapdragon phones in this benchmark, but this time around I’ve had enough of the weird behavior and I do think there’s some low-level cheating going on. The phone will actually start heating up a lot more than under other workloads, up to the point that the test will actually crash. I don’t understand how that’s possible that this happens only in one benchmark but not others, and the most logical (and likely) explanation is that there’s some benchmark detection going on. Again, I’ve only ever encountered this issue on Snapdragon phones in this test (and we’re also using a custom APK), so it’s super suspicious, but we’re just short of finding the smoking gun that this is some malicious behavior. In any case, please disregard the results as they’re not representative of real behavior.

A few weeks ago, Basemark had finally released their new Basemark GPU version 1.2, which now included some bug fixes in the workloads as well as an iOS variant of the test, finally enabling cross-platform testing for mobile devices. After some internal validations, I’ve deemed it worthy to be added to our GPU suite. I’m using a custom mode at 1440p at medium settings to have it be a little more stressing in terms of the workload.

Basemark GPU 1.2 - Medium 1440p - Off-Screen / Blit

In this new test, we see relatively familiar scaling results, with things being quite on par between the Snapdragon and Exynos SoCs when it comes to their peak performance figures. It’s to be noted just how far ahead Apple’s GPUs are in this test, essentially posting figures almost 2 generations ahead.

Throttling on the Snapdragon 865 S20 Ultra is ok, only losing 22% at thermal equilibrium. The Exynos 990 S20+  was more disappointing, with performance barely better than that of the S10+ last year. The Exynos S20 Ultra again behaved very differently and for some odd reason throttled even more, actually ending up noticeable slower than last year’s model. At only 31% of peak performance, that’s some atrocious performance degradation, probably amongst the worst we’ve ever seen.

GFXBench Aztec Ruins - High - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen

Moving onto GFXBench, we arrive on a familiar playing field. Peak performance of the two chips is identical, however the Exynos chip throttles significantly more. The sustained performance results here are horrible for the Exynos 990 as it’s faring worse than what we had measured on the Exynos 9820 in the S10+.

GFXBench Aztec High Offscreen Power Efficiency
(System Active Power)
 Mfc. ProcessFPSAvg. Power
(W)
Perf/W
Efficiency
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) WarmN7P26.143.836.82 fps/W
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) Cold / PeakN7P34.006.215.47 fps/W
Galaxy S20 Ultra (Snapdragon 865)N7P20.353.915.19 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) WarmN719.323.815.07 fps/W
Reno3 (Dimensity 1000L)N711.932.394.99 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) Cold / PeakN726.595.564.78 fps/W
Mate 30 Pro (Kirin 990 4G)N716.503.964.16 fps/W
Galaxy S20+ (Exynos 990)7LPP20.205.023.59 fps/W
Galaxy S10+ (Snapdragon 855)N716.174.693.44 fps/W
Galaxy S10+ (Exynos 9820)8LPP15.594.803.24 fps/W

Moving onto GFXBench, we arrive on a familiar playing field. Peak performance of the two chips is identical, however the Exynos chip throttles significantly more. The sustained performance results here are horrible for the Exynos 990 as it’s faring worse than what we had measured on the Exynos 9820 in the S10+.

Looking at the power measurements of Aztec high, there’s quite the big efficiency differences between the two SoCs. We had already noted that the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 had beat our expectations in terms of power efficiency here, sporting very big upgrades compared to the S855. The Exynos 990 on the other hand is quite disappointing in its advancements. It’s a bit better in terms of efficiency, due to it achieving higher performance, but it comes at a higher power cost.

GFXBench Aztec Ruins - Normal - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen

GFXBench Aztec Normal Offscreen Power Efficiency
(System Active Power)
 Mfc. ProcessFPSAvg. Power
(W)
Perf/W
Efficiency
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) WarmN7P73.274.0718.00 fps/W
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) Cold / PeakN7P91.626.0815.06 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) WarmN755.703.8814.35 fps/W
Galaxy S20 Ultra (Snapdragon 865)N7P54.093.9113.75 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) Cold / PeakN776.005.5913.59 fps/W
Reno3 (Dimensity 1000L)N727.842.1213.13 fps/W
Mate 30 Pro (Kirin 990 4G)N741.684.0110.39 fps/W
Galaxy S20+ (Exynos 990)7LPP49.414.8710.14 fps/W
Galaxy S10+ (Snapdragon 855)N740.634.149.81 fps/W
Galaxy S10+ (Exynos 9820)8LPP40.184.628.69 fps/W

We’re largely seeing the same scaling in Aztec Normal, with the Snapdragon variant leading in power efficiency by 35%.

GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 Off-screen

GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 Offscreen Power Efficiency
(System Active Power)
 Mfc. ProcessFPSAvg. Power
(W)
Perf/W
Efficiency
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) WarmN7P100.584.2123.89 fps/W
Galaxy S20 Ultra (Snapdragon 865)N7P88.934.2021.15 fps/W
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) Cold / PeakN7P123.546.0420.45 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) WarmN776.513.7920.18 fps/W
Reno3 (Dimensity 1000L)N755.482.9818.61 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) Cold / PeakN7103.835.9817.36 fps/W
Mate 30 Pro (Kirin 990 4G)N775.695.0415.01 fps/W
Galaxy S20+ (Exynos 990)7LPP85.665.9014.51 fps/W
Galaxy S10+ (Snapdragon 855)N770.674.8814.46 fps/W
Galaxy S10+ (Exynos 9820)8LPP68.875.1013.48 fps/W
Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon 845)10LPP61.165.0111.99 fps/W
Mate 20 Pro (Kirin 980)N754.544.5711.93 fps/W
Galaxy S9 (Exynos 9810)10LPP46.044.0811.28 fps/W
Galaxy S8 (Snapdragon 835)10LPE38.903.7910.26 fps/W
Galaxy S8 (Exynos 8895)10LPE42.497.355.78 fps/W

Manhattan 3.1 also isn’t kind to the Exynos S20. The worst figure here is the fact that these S20 variants are barely any faster than the S10 in their sustained performance figures, meaning there’s zero generational improvements.

GFXBench T-Rex 2.7 Off-screen

GFXBench T-Rex Offscreen Power Efficiency
(System Active Power)
 Mfc. ProcessFPSAvg. Power
(W)
Perf/W
Efficiency
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) WarmN7P289.034.7860.46 fps/W
iPhone 11 Pro (A13) Cold / PeakN7P328.905.9355.46 fps/W
Galaxy S20 Ultra (Snapdragon 865)N7P205.373.8353.30 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) WarmN7197.803.9550.07 fps/W
iPhone XS (A12) Cold / PeakN7271.866.1044.56 fps/W
Galaxy 10+ (Snapdragon 855)N7167.164.1040.70 fps/W
Reno3 (Dimensity 1000L)N7139.303.5739.01 fps/W
Galaxy S20+ (Exynos 990)7LPP199.615.6335.45 fps/W
Mate 30 Pro  (Kirin 990 4G)N7152.274.3435.08 fps/W
Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon 845)10LPP150.404.4234.00 fps/W
Galaxy 10+ (Exynos 9820)8LPP166.004.9633.40fps/W
Galaxy S9 (Exynos 9810)10LPP141.914.3432.67 fps/W
Galaxy S8 (Snapdragon 835)10LPE108.203.4531.31 fps/W
Mate 20 Pro (Kirin 980)N7135.754.6429.25 fps/W
Galaxy S8 (Exynos 8895)10LPE121.005.8620.65 fps/W

Finally, in T-Rex, things are again quite horrible for the Exynos chip. Sustained performance is a little over half the peak performance figures as the chip suffers from major thermal throttling. Looking at the power draw, we’re reaching an awful 5.63W which is notably worse than the Exynos 9820.

Meager 3D Upgrades – Horrible Exynos Experience

Neither the Snapdragon 865 nor the Exynos 990 variants of the S20 are particularly impressive when it comes to GPU performance.

Starting off with the Snapdragon 865, Qualcomm did excellent in terms of their power efficiency and managing to reduce total power consumption compared to the Snapdragon 855. However the chip is still being curb-stomped by last two generation of Apple SoCs, and there’s a lot of catching up to do in this regard.

From a device-standpoint, the Snapdragon S865 S20 barely performed any better than some of the more gaming optimized Snapdragon 855 devices from last year. The silver lining here is that both variants of the phones have outstandingly good thermal characteristics, and are usually not allowed to exceed around 42°C peak skin temperatures.

The Exynos 990 S20 variants are an outright disaster in their gaming performance. The best-case scenario here is that the new phones barely match last year’s Exynos 9820 in sustained performance, with the S20 Ultra behaving extra weirdly and sometimes falling even further behind in performance than that.

For attentive readers who noted the MediaTek Dimensity 1000L in the tables, that’s because I wanted to give some sort of notion of the Mali-G77 in a different SoC. That unfortunately didn’t help too much, as the performance points of the two chips are far too apart to come to any conclusion. What’s clear here is that SLSI clocked the GPU very high to match the peak performance figures of the Snapdragon 865, but it comes at the great cost of higher power consumption at those high frequencies.

The results of the Exynos 990 here reminded me of those of the Kirin 960 and Kirin 970 a few years back. Those parts also came out with some inexplicably horrible power figures, which I’ve since then heard that the matter was blamed on the use of beta GPU RTL as well as early process PDKs. Ultimately, whether it’s due to Samsung’s 7LPP process node or the implementation of the Mali-G77 GPU IP, the end result is that the Exynos 990 here just stinks, and those variants of the S20 have to make due with a second-tier experience.

The Galaxy S20’s screens follow the same recipe that we found on the S10 and Note10 series, and other than the 120Hz display modes, the new panels don’t have any major new changes to them when it comes to features or display quality changes.

We move on to the display calibration and fundamental display measurements of the Galaxy S20 screen. As always, we thank X-Rite and SpecraCal, as our measurements are performed with an X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer, with the exception of black levels which are measured with an i1Display Pro colorimeter. Data is collected and examined using Portrait Display’s CalMAN software.

Display Measurement - Maximum Brightness

In terms of brightness, the S20 Ultra and S20+ fall in line with what we’ve seen from Samsung phones over the past few generations. The panel goes up to 325 nits in maximum manual brightness mode, and boosts up to 731 nits at full screen white when under auto brightness and high ambient light. The lower the APL of your content, the brighter the screen will become.


Portrait Displays CalMAN

The S20 series is identical to the S10 series when it comes to the display settings; we find the phone comes by default in a “Vivid” mode with a larger color gamut target for all content. But what’s new here is that this generation Samsung has included a color temperature slider offering not only a few discrete choices between cool and warm, but it also gives the option for fine-tuning the RGB balance as well. Nevertheless, the accurate color profile for the phone is the “Natural” one which aims for sRGB colors for default contents and is able to support wider color targets for color managed applications.

Unfortunately, the S20 doesn’t really behave any different to the S10 series, and we find the same characteristics in the calibration between the phones. The worst offender here is the color temperature which is far too warm at an average of 6330K across all grey levels, and a white falling in at 6220K. Samsung keeps doing this year after year and at this point I just don’t know what the point is anymore in hoping that they would finally get it right.

The resulting gamma is also quite off and will wildly vary in the measurement depending on your pattern’s APL. We’ve had tons of phones fail at this aspect as the panels are calibrated without consideration of the CABC mechanisms of the display – for some vendors it’s even possible to retrace the methodologies and showcase where they went wrong in the calibration.



Portrait Displays CalMAN

At this point I should note that we’ve slightly revamped our display reporting methodology, and have now moved from showcasing dE2000 error values to the newer dEITP standard, which is more strict in its error figure handling.

The S20 Ultra here ends up with a dEITP of 6.03 because of the color and luminosity errors, and just the color error would lend it a dEITP of 2.72. I’ll be remeasuring more devices and bring back comparison charts on other devices with the new dE standard in upcoming reviews.



Portrait Displays CalMAN

Saturation targets for the S20 are also in line with what we’re used to from Galaxy phones – not great, but not totally bad either. The major issue again is the shift of the spectrum towards reds.



Portrait Displays CalMAN



Portrait Displays CalMAN

The Gretag MacBeth chart with common human color tones is also just somewhat acceptable, with the commonality of gamma errors, but also some larger hue errors due to the shift towards reds.

A Typical Galaxy Display

Overall, the S20 series come with what I’d call typical Galaxy displays. The panel is fantastic quality, and there’s nothing to criticize it in terms of its intrinsic qualities. The calibration is a bit more lackluster and in-line with what we’ve become accustomed from Samsung, key points being that the gamma is off yet again, and the Natural display mode is also too warm, yet again. It’s not a deal breaker, but Samsung has done better in the past. In any case, they remain high quality displays which are just short of being outstanding.

Last week we had published our initial battery life report on the S20 series, with some interesting findings. First of all, what needs to be mentioned again is that the new 120Hz display modes on the phones come with a quite large battery life impact. The behavior is exhibited on all our S20 models at hand and I think it’s likely due to the panel itself or the DDIC. Samsung had included various display refresh modes varying from 48, 60, 96 and 120Hz, however we have yet to find evidence of any mechanism that actively switches between the various modes. 

Device-On Black Screen Power Consumption (Airplane Mode)

As such, even on a black static screen, running at 120Hz comes with a quite steep power penalty that’s always present whenever the display is on, costing around 160mW of power.

I had noted that I found our variant of the Snapdragon 865 Galaxy S20 Ultra to have worse idle power than our Exynos phone version. Initially I had attributed this to possibly the SoC or even the nature of the external X55 modem, but since then I’ve also received an LG V60 and that device’s idle power is perfectly normal. The only other thing that differentiates our S20 Ultra here is the fact that it has the extra mmWave antennas and RF systems. It would be interesting to see if non-mmWave variants of the Snapdragon S20 Ultra behave any differently (Tip at our Chinese or Korean readers).

I also had made mention that the “Performance” mode of the Exynos S20 phones seemingly behaved quite overzealously in terms of its scheduling settings, and there was a quite drastic increase in power draw for what was not nearly an as drastic increase in performance. I’ve rerun the battery tests in the “Optimized” settings which doesn’t have the “Increased system speed” option enabled, and I’ve confirmed my suspicion as the battery life figures did improve by some notable amounts. I’ve also tested the Snapdragon in the “Optimized” setting and the runtimes only differed by 2% – for users having the Snapdragon versions it’s thus safe to simply leave that enabled.

Web Browsing Battery Life 2016 (WiFi)

In our web test, the new S20 series end up right about where you’d expect them to. The Snapdragon 865 Galaxy S20 Ultra at 60Hz fares the best amongst the tested models, and now represents Samsung’s longest lasting flagship device. Slightly behind it we find the Exynos S20 Ultra at 60Hz. The difference between the two phones here isn’t very big in this test, and I attribute this to the higher constant idle power draw of the Snapdragon phone which counteracts the much higher compute efficiency of the SoC. The Eyxnos S20+ ends up slightly behind the S10+ phones, but still lasts a good 12.65h in this test.

Once we turn on the 120Hz display modes, the battery life results on all the phones drops quite notably. The Snapdragon S20 Ultra goes from 14h to 11.3h, a 20% drop. The same applies to the Exynos S20 Ultra, with a 20% drop, but for some reason the S20+ sees a larger drop of 25%. In the systems performance section I did mention that there’s some software configuration differences between the Exynos S20 Ultra and S20+, maybe some of that plays part here in the results.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Battery Life

Overall, the conclusion on battery life isn’t quite as black & white as we thought it would be. The key point is to stay away from the seemingly broken Performance mode on the Exynos chipset and you’ll have roughly similar battery life results between the two SoC variants of the S20. Naturally, that’s only being achieved by the fact that the Exynos does showcase worse performance, saving energy by using the more efficient lower performance states more.

What’s valid for all variants of the phones is that the 120Hz display mode is quite the power hog. Samsung probably has the opportunity to improve this by introducing a better managed variable refresh rate mode that actually changes between the different refresh rates based on content, something that seemingly isn’t happening right now. Also switching to lower refresh rates when showcasing static content would be a huge power saver, but I’m not sure if Samsung would be able to actually deploy such a mechanism.

As we move on to the camera evaluation of the S20 series, I think it would be good to recap the new sensor architectures that Samsung is deploying in its new flagships. To say that this is the biggest camera hardware upgrade that Samsung has ever embarked on is a bit of an understatement, as the new modules on the S20 series, and in particular the S20 Ultra, have seen some fundamental shifts in terms of their designs and specifications.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Series Cameras
 Galaxy S20Galaxy S20+Galaxy S20 Ultra
Primary Rear Camera79° Wide Angle
12MP 1.8µm Dual Pixel PDAF
79° Wide Angle
108MP 0.8µm DP-PDAF

3×3 Pixel Binning to 12MP
8K24 Video Recording

fixed f/1.8 optics
OIS, auto HDR, LED flash
4K60, 1080p240, 720p960 high-speed recording
Secondary
Rear Camera
76° Wide Angle
(Cropping / digital zooming telephoto)
64MP 0.8µm

F/2.0 optics, OIS

8K24 Video Recording

24° Telephoto
(5x optical magnification)
48MP 0.8µm

2×2 Pixel Binning to 12MP
F/3.5 prism optics, OIS

Tertiary
Rear Camera
120° Ultra-Wide Angle
12MP 1.4µm f/2.2
Extra
Camera
Time of Flight (ToF) 3D Sensor

Starting off with the elephant in the room, that’s the new S20 Ultra. Last year we first saw talk of Samsung LSI introducing a new 108MP camera sensor that had been developed in collaboration with Xiaomi. Although closely related to that design, the HM1 sensor is a bit different to the HMX sensor that’s employed in the Xiaomi phones. What’s special about these new sensors is their sheer size: at 1/1.33”, it’s over double the sensor area of previous generation units found in past Galaxy phones. A lot of people will criticize the 108MP count as being a gimmick, but in light of the huge new sensor the actual pixel pitches aren’t exactly all that smaller than what we’ve seen from previous generation high-megapixel sensors from the last year or two, still falling in at 0.8µm.

Source: TechInsights

What’s rather peculiar about the HM1 sensor in the S20 Ultra though is that this isn’t just another quad-Bayer sensor like those seen in other designs over the year, but rather a “Nonacell” design, with the color filter array covering up 9 subpixels. Just like quad-Bayer designs, the new nona-Bayer  sensor is able to demosaic chroma information to be able to actually achieve the advertised 108MP resolutions. Physically, chroma resolution still is only 12MP on the sensor, and that’s something that you’ll want to keep in mind when we’ll later on investigate the 108MP samples of the phone.


Source: iFixit

As seen in the above teardown shot, the 108MP unit dwarfs the other sensors in the phone, but this does come with some complications. On the optics side, Samsung has now opted for a fixed f/1.8 aperture and has dropped the dual-aperture f/1.5-2.4 system we’ve seen on the S9 and S10 series. Because the new sensor is so huge, it actually becomes an issue to design proper optics that actually fit into the z-height of the phone. Even though the S20 Ultra has a thick camera bump now, it still has to make do with a smaller aperture optical lens than previous generations. The new bigger sensor also has another side-effect, that being a shallower depth of field when focusing on objects. I do find it a very big pity that Samsung opted to drop the dual-aperture system as that would have been the perfect fit for such a big sensor design and essentially eliminate any potential drawbacks on the optics side. Unfortunately, as it’s gone, I do expect the optics to not perform quite as optimally as we’ve seen on the S10 series.

Below the 108MP sensor, we find another unique design that’s exclusive to Samsung at this moment, and that’s the new periscope design telephoto module. Such modules were pioneered by Huawei as we first saw the P30 Pro last year bring it to the mass market, however Samsung goes way beyond what any other vendors is currently brining to the market. The optical magnification of Samsung’s design isn’t too special, only reaching a factor of 4x and a resulting 24° field of view or 103mm equivalent focal length. What is special though is that Samsung has crammed in a full 48MP IMX586 into the module, going far beyond the smaller 12 or 8MP sensors that are being deployed by other vendors such as Huawei. It’s the usage of such a big sensor that lies perpendicular to the body of the phone that actually forces the S20 Ultra to have such a huge camera bump on the back – as it’s being limited by the thickness and the footprint of the telephoto camera module.

To square off the trio of cameras on the S20 Ultra, we see a new ultra-wide-angle module. Samsung here opted to go for a lower megapixel count sensor at 12MP compared to 16MP on the S10 series, but the pixel pitch increases from 1.0µm to 1.4µm, which should allow it go achieve better per-pixel sharpness and low-light capturing abilities. It remains quite wide at a 120° viewing angle, just a tad tighter than 123° unit on the S10 series.

When looking at the different viewing angles of the S20 Ultra, we see some big discrete steps between what the different sensors are able to natively capture at their fullest. The main sensor on the S20 Ultra is actually a tad wider than what Samsung is marketing, and it produces 25mm equivalent focal length images, a little wider than the 26mm of the S10 series and the other S20 phones. Of course, the telephoto lens will have a small field of view of only 24°, but that’s precisely what allows it to achieve such high magnification levels, also thanks to the high resolution captured within this frame.


Source: ITSub

While the S20 Ultra’s camera design is fascinating, the design that actually excited me a lot more when the phones were first introduced is the camera trio that’s found on the regular S20 and S20+. Here Samsung is using a completely different approach that’s pretty much unique in the industry.

Starting off with the main sensor, this is seemingly a pretty straightforward design that really only differentiates itself through the fact that’s it’s now a bigger sensor falling in at 1/1.76”. The resolution still is 12MP and it’s a regular Bayer sensor, so pixel pitches now grow to 1.8µm. The optics remain similar to the S20 Ultra’s, coming with a fixed f/1.8 aperture lacking the dual-aperture system and of course also includes OIS. The Ultra-Wide-Angle is also the same as on the S20 Ultra.

What’s really exciting about the S20 and S20+ is the “telephoto” module. The weird part is that this isn’t a telephoto module at all, but it’s an actual secondary wide-angle lens that’s only slightly tighter than the main camera. The sensor here is also large at 1/1.76”, but it comes a 64MP resolution with 0.8µm pixels. I actually haven’t heard confirmation of the color filter array of the unit, whether it’s quad-Bayer with remosaic or whether it’s a true 64MP Bayer sensor.

Why Samsung is able to call this a 3x telephoto module is that when cropping a 1:1 12MP picture out of it, it does end up at a 3x magnification in relation to the main camera sensor. The question you’re of course posing, is why would Samsung go for such a camera configuration? The first answer, possibly the most obvious one, is 8K video recording. As the main camera unit’s 12MP native resolution isn’t sufficient for 8K video recording, Samsung needed to find a way to include this into the regular S20 series as well – and obviously if you had an actual telephoto module for this then you’d end up with a pretty useless setup. Going for a secondary wide-angle module kills two birds with one stone, as you have one module being able to serve as the 8K video recording unit as well as taking advantage of the high-megapixel count of the unit to be able to achieve respectable crop-zooming.

I was most excited about this setup, more-so than that of the S20 Ultra, because it opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of sensor fusion and computational photography that’s physically just not possible on the S20U. Without spoiling the camera evaluations too much, this also means that the S20 and S20+ have quite high quality zoom capabilities in the 1-3x range as well, and it doesn’t behave as a “normal“ telephoto module at these intermediate levels.

Naturally, the proof is in the pudding, and that’s where we’ll fully evaluate the S20 Ultras as well as the S20+. Last year we saw some larger camera quality differences between the Exynos and Snapdragon variants of the S10+; these differences slowly disappeared over the course of the year over numerous software updates, but there still remained some discrepancies here and there in terms of the software processing. This year, we’ll be putting the two S20 Ultras against each other in the same manner, and we also have the Exynos S20+ to check how that camera configuration compares.

I’ve noted that over the past years maybe I hadn’t been objective enough when it came to colour accuracy of the photo evaluations, so starting with the review today I want to do something else and add in another comparison point. The Fujifilm X-T30 with the standard 18-55mm kit lens will serve as a “reference” point in terms of the exposure and in particular the colour accuracy of the scenes – I particularly chose the Fuji because it had been praised as being amongst the best in the industry in this regard. The samples here are adjusted in terms of their exposure and dynamic range, but without any modification to the colour science.

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[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ S10+ (S) ] – [ S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

Diving right into the matter, let’s talk about the S20 Ultra’s zooming ability. Samsung here advertises up to 100x magnification, and I’ll pretty much discard this mode right out of the gate as being useless and a mere marketing gimmick. There’s essentially little to no advantage over a 30x magnification on the phone and it doesn’t even warrant samples as it just looks like a mess and no different than just magnifying the 30x shots digitally.

So, taking the 30x shots as the first comparison point, there’s only three phones in the line-up actually capable of such captures. Between the two S20 Ultra phones are very similar to each other, but there’s slight differences in terms of how they’re handling noise and sharpening. The Snapdragon unit has a bit more sharpening going for it but it’s hard to pick it as being outright superior. The S20+ is the only other phone capable to such magnification, and the difference to the S20 Ultras is quite large as there’s evidently a ton more pixilation and nowhere near the same spatial resolution – but that was to be expected.

At 10x magnification we again see the two S20 Ultra shots being similar in exposure, however there’s again differences in the detail. Here it’s more evident that the Snapdragon unit is using post-processed sharpening to the image, and there also appears to be some smearing of details as the Exynos unit does achieve to maintain some better textures on some elements.

Huawei’s P30 Pro and its own periscope telephoto module is the only unit that comes into play here as a competitor in terms of sharpness, but the S20 Ultras still beat it handily. The S20+ produces a useable result, but also lags behind the S20 Ultras – but is still far ahead of any other “conventional” zoom camera, with only the Pixel 4 competing in terms of result.

At 4x magnification which is the native level of the S20 Ultras, we again see the differences between the Snapdragon and Exynos units just pop right out at you, as the former’s sharpening is evident throughout the scene.

The S20+’s 3x result is the phone’s default mode when you tap on the telephoto zoom button when switching cameras, and the result does look respectable and is significantly more detailed than what you’d see from other 2-3x optical zoom modules, although the Mate 30 Pro’s 3x optics are much sharper, even if the sensor itself has some dynamic range issues.

At a 2x magnification, that’s where we see the S20 Ultra’s biggest weakness and problems. Samsung here is employing image fusion between the main and telephoto modules, using the sharper center image output of the telephoto module and merge it into the wider capture of the main unit. The problem here is that they’re doing this while the main module is at 12MP resolution, and the result is that the majority of the image looks like a pixelated mess as it has to do digital magnification on that 12MP image. It’s a massive disappointment and it’s here where the S20+’s dual-wide angle camera system comes to shine, as the 2x results is leaps and bounds better than on the S20 Ultras.

Not only are both S20 Ultras blurry here, but the Snapdragon S20 Ultra here goes haywire with the sharpening and the foreground vegetation is ridiculously over-processed, as if suffering from high image compression.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

In the next scene, again we see the two S20 Ultras dominate in terms of their sharpness and what they’re able to achieve, being far ahead of any other phone in terms of the achieved resolving power at high magnification.

The two Ultras again showcase big troubles at 2x magnification and are handily beat by every other phone in the line-up, even losing to last year’s S10.

Between the Snapdragon and Exynos S20U’s, the Qualcomm variant continues to showcase more post-processed sharpening throughout the scene on all camera modules. On both wide and ultra-wide shots, we see the Exynos able to retain better definition of textures in the brighter elements on the scene such as on the small and big concrete towers.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The S20 Ultra’s telephotos are again quite incredible for a phone – far ahead of any other phone and handily beating my X-T30 on the regular kit lens. While the Snapdragon does pop out more and has more contrast in the details, it’s quite exaggerated and doesn’t feel as natural as the unsharpened results of the Exynos S20U.

On the main and ultra-wide, these differences continue. Vegetation might look more pronounced on the Snapdragon, but it loses out in texture retention to the Exynos throughout the scene.

This scene for some reason was very wrongly exposed on almost all the phones, with all of them getting a failing mark in that regard. Even though it’s in broad daylight, the S20 results barely have any elements in the upper 10-15% of the histogram in terms of exposure levels, the X-T30 better represents the scene as it was in reality.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

In the next shot there’s some issues that start arising for the S20+’s “telephoto” module, and that’s the optics. In this scene with an extremely bright backdrop against the sun with very high contrast due to the trees, we see very a very prominent haze around the high contrast elements. It’s as if the phone had a smudged lens, but it was actually clean. I noticed this happens in quite a for scenes for the S20+ and the only explanation I have is that it’s an optics issue with the lenses of this module.

This is also a good scene to start talking about the 108MP capture modes of the S20 Ultras. There’s a massive amount of detail here and these particular samples are around 50MB in size, as a warning before you open them.

Both phones are able to capture significantly more detail than in their default 12MP modes, however there a very stark differences between the Snapdragon and Exynos phones, with the latter being able to produce a much higher quality result with far more natural detail. I don’t know exactly what’s happening here, but it’s as if the Snapdragon picture was lower resolution and scaled up to 108MP, whereas the Exynos unit is closer to a native resolution shot.

Although there’s haze in parts of the shots, the 64MP shot of the S20+ here is doing a remarkable job in terms of keeping up with the 108MP cameras, and I’d even go so far to say that for large parts of the scene it’s actually able to resolve things with more spatial resolution than the S20 Ultra, particularly towards the edges of the scene where the Ultra just starts getting far too soft.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

This is another incredibly detail-rich scene, this time around with also more high dynamic range.

The S20 Ultras are quite different here in terms of their color renditions, with the Snapdragon being quite saturated. There’s also differences in exposure – although both phones were similar in their exposure time at 1/124 and 1/135th second, the Snapdragon chose ISO16 while the Exynos chose ISO50. There is some evident change in the HDR processing as the Exynos is able to better preserve the highlight of the sky and that part of the trees whereas it’s blown out on the Snapdragon.

The S20+ feels weird here on the main sensor as it produces a seemingly lower resolution image on the right side of the creek, with worse results than that of the S10 and other phones.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The flower here is again a good example of the haze that’s present on the S20+’s 64MP lens module, again showing some weak optical characteristics.

When taking pictures of more close-up objects, the S20 Ultra’s huge sensor and shallower depth of field becomes more apparent as the background becomes significantly more out of focus and blurred out. The problem is that isn’t not so much a smooth bokeh more appears more as chromatic aberrations and quite a bit of a mess.

The phones are also having trouble with the exposure and HDR and highlights of the vegetation is far too bright, the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro are doing a much better job here.

I focused on the differences between the S20 devices until now, so let’s take a better look at how they compare against the competition and their predecessors.

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Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

On the main camera units, things actually don’t differ all too much in terms of compositions between the different devices. I maybe would have wished for a bit brighter highlights as the phones are again still to shy on those last 10% of levels which didn’t quite convey the sun-lit façade of the building.

The high-light texture retention and sharpening comments made earlier again apply here to both the S20 Ultras. I prefer the Exynos shot as it’s more natural, but it’s a subjective preference choice.

The Ultra-Wide angle is really good in terms of exposure and dynamic range on the S20’s, however I do see the reduction in resolution compared to the S10 as the new phone actually does see a downgrade in the amount of captured details.

I don’t know what’s happening on the Exynos S20 Ultra unit’s Ultra-Wide, but there’s this blob of blurriness in the very center of the image on both phones. It’s as if the phone was trying to do some image fusion with another sensor but failing at it spectacularly. This isn’t present on the S20+.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The S20’s main competition is the iPhone 11, and frankly here they’re losing out to Apple when it comes to the composition of the scene, as the 11 Pro is able to maintain much better dynamic range without clipping the blacks as badly as on the Galaxy phones. In terms of details I also prefer the iPhone as it’s producing a much more natural look. The Snapdragon S20 Ultra’s over-sharpening is again far too much and doesn’t look good, particularly on artificial objects and contours.

The Ultra-Wide here is also a straight down-grade from what we saw on the S10, with lower resolution and worse dynamic range.

Briefly looking at the super-high res images again, it’s as if the two S20 Ultras had completely different sensors as the Snapdragon unit is again far blurrier and feels lower resolution as to what the Exynos is able to achieve. However here it’s the S20+’s 64MP unit which shines as it’s able retain a lot more detail than either Ultra – check out the book shelves on the center-left side.

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[ Galaxy S20U – (S) Auto ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) Tap ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) Auto ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) Tap ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) Auto ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) Tap ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The S20 phones here had some problems for actually exposing for the foreground of the scene instead of the sky or the actual sun. The S10+E and Pixel 4 are actually amongst the best devices here, but still quite a bit far from the raw dynamic range of the scene (See X-T30 reference). There’s also some severe lens flaring here that wasn’t as prevalent is past devices – again likely due to the larger sensor sizes this year.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ] – [ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Here’s also a scene where I think the new S20’s fail to compete with the iPhone 11 Pro in terms of either detail or dynamic range processing. It’s an upgrade over the S10 series, but I had expected more out of the camera hardware.

These samples also showcase some odd behavior between the Snapdragon and Exynos at 108MP resolution. The latter is just again massively sharper, showing more natural resolution. On the Snapdragon when you closer on the tree branches you see a ton of ghost images. I think what’s happening here is that the phones are taking multiple shots for the HDR compositing, but the Exynos is able to do this in a more optimized way. Also check out the left background buildings on the Snapdragon – it’s a ton sharper and seemingly more in focus, probably a sign that the two phones are focusing on totally different things.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ] – [ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ] – [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

In an indoor shot, the S20 phones also fail to catch up with the iPhone 11. The new phones are certainly upgrades to the S10 series, but I think the dynamic range is a bit lacking and then there’s again the issue of sharpness – over-sharpening on the Snapdragon phone, and the general optics concerns all the models.

Overall Daylight Conclusion – Somewhat Disappointing

The S20 series feel like they’re overpromising and under-delivering on their camera capabilities when it comes to captures. Samsung delivered some incredible hardware here when it comes to the paper specifications, but I feel that it fell short of actually materializing in actual better camera captures.

Starting off with the S20 Ultra: The phone’s telephoto module does deliver on its promises, and the combination of a 4x optical magnification module with a 48MP sensor achieves some incredible zooming capabilities that are clearly far ahead of any other device on the market today. There’s not much more to say here – if you want a phone with an excellent telephoto module, then the S20 Ultra is the obvious choice.

The S20 Ultra’s 108MP main camera was quite unconvincing to me in the daylight shots. There are several layers that we have to peel apart here. First of all, there are very obvious processing differences between the Snapdragon and Exynos models this year. While on the S10 series this was in favor of the Snapdragon, I feel the other way around for the S20 series as the sharpening on the S20 Ultra here has gone absolutely haywire on all the camera’s modules, going beyond what one would consider an improvement of picture quality into the realm of actually being detrimental to the picture. The Exynos variant here seemingly has no sharpening processing at all, and it feels a ton more natural.

On the matter of the 108MP picture shots, there’s also very stark differences between the two variants of the phone, and the Exynos model somehow is consistently ahead in terms of the sharpness and natural resolutions of the shots. I don’t know what the cause for this is, but the two phones clearly are using very different mechanisms to get to the end results.

Lastly and most importantly, I feel like the optics of the modules aren’t able to keep up with the camera sensors. I feared this would happen because of the sensor’s humongous size, and it did show up in the images, and the edges of the picture just aren’t as sharp as on phones with smaller sensors, including the S20+.

The S20 Ultra’s massive quality hole in the 1.1x to 3.9x zoom range is just atrocious. Samsung here severely lags behind Huawei’s processing prowess in actually using the 108MP’s full resolution during the sensor fusion, and particularly shots in the 2x range just look really bad compared to the S20+ and other phones with 2x optical modules. The current software solution of stitching the telephoto module picture into the middle of a digitally magnified 12MP shot just feels like some intern’s implementation. Samsung has the hardware ability to address this, but let’s see on whether they’ll do this.

The Ultra-Wide module also feels like a downgrade compared to the S10 series. I’ve most used this module in daylight settings anyway and I loved the results on the S10 series, and the loss of resolution on the S20’s here is just a negative with essentially no added positives for the new module.

Finally, the S20+’s camera system, at least in daylight, seems like a much more sensible configuration. It doesn’t suffer as badly from the optics on the main sensor, and Samsung’s implementation of the 64MP sensor as a secondary wide-angle resolves the problems of having mediocre intermediary zoom levels. Sure, it doesn’t zoom quite as far and clear as the S20 Ultra, but it’s in line with current 2x optical modules and even slightly outperforms them beyond that, resulting in useable 3-4x shots with plenty of clarity. Ironically enough, I also find that the 64MP shots on the S20+ more often than not actually beats the 108MP shots of the S20 Ultra due to the better optics – although these are not perfect as there’s evident hazing in very high contrast objects.

Frankly, I’m quite disappointed in the results of the S20 series. They’re still good, and represent upgrades to the S10 series in most scenarios, but they fall short of the overhyped expectations. I think Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro’s main sensor quality and pictures are still a step above what the S20’s can deliver in daylight, with cleaner, sharper and more natural results. Huawei also is seemingly years ahead of Samsung when it comes to complex camera systems like the one employed on the S20 Ultra, having much better optics and the proper software processing to actually deal with the multiple modules.

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While daylight pictures maybe aren’t that large of an upgrade for the S20 series, the new huge sensors must showcase some notable improvements in low-light scenarios, virtue of their much improve low-light capturing abilities.

Things get a bit more complex here as not only we have to deal with the default output of the cameras, but also take into account computational photography modes such as the various new Night Modes that have by now been normalized by essentially every smartphone vendor.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P30 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Starting with the S20 Ultra’s telephoto modules, it’s essentially useless in low-light without Night mode as the narrow aperture optics just aren’t able to catch any meaningful amount of light. Switching over to Night mode makes them useable, however with very different results on the Snapdragon and Exynos. The Exynos is extremely red and it’s showing some heavy ISO artifacting on the building, while the Snapdragon is just way blurrier, as if the image was actually captured with the main camera sensor and not the telephoto module. Both results just aren’t good, but that was somewhat to be expected at low-light.

On the main sensors, both units do respectably well and have much better dynamic range than other smaller cameras, with the exception of Huawei. Turning on night mode improves things a ton, but there are differences between the Snapdragon and Exynos phones; the Qualcomm phone is significantly sharper and its night mode processing is able to retain a whole ton more detail throughout the scene.

The problem is that they’re both worse than what the S10+ variants were able to achieve, which is probably not what you’d want to see from a newer generation phone with much improved camera hardware.

The S20+’s shot is almost identical to the S20 Ultra’s (between Exynos versions) and the camera sensor’s superiority on the S20 Ultra is only used to reduce the ISO from 2000 to 1600.

The Huawei Mate 30 Pro here just outright destroys the S20’s in low-light, and that’s not even the best the company has to showcase as the newer P40 Pro comes with an even more capable sensor.

The Ultra-Wide however does see some evident upgrades as it’s clearly an upgrade in quality compared to what the S10 series were able to offer. Given that Huawei’s Ultra-Wide angle isn’t nearly as wide, the S20 series are actually the best performing phones now in this camera module category.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P30 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Night mode however doesn’t always favour the Snapdragon. In this case it’s the Exynos model which is far ahead in the resulting image processing, being far sharper and more detailed than the other S20 Ultra. While the Snapdragon S20 Ultra has issues differentiating itself against the S10+s, the Exynos S20 Ultra and S20 produce excellent images that are a large generational leap in quality. They even manage to trade blows and beat the Mate 30 Pro here.

Take note of the picture quality differences between the S20 Ultra’s 2x zoom and what the S20+ is able to achieve here. The latter is essentially able to take advantage of double the resolution and thanks to the sensor fusion produces a result that leaps and bounds ahead of the S20 Ultra.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ 11 Pro ] – [ P4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P30 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

When there’s a little more light available, the S20 Ultra’s telephoto module becomes more usable even in low-light, and actually manages some good, or better say, passable results, at least it’s way better than any other phone in this zoom range. What this shot also exposes is some odd vertical lens flaring that’s present on both S20 Ultras. The lenses were completely clean, so this must be results of internal reflections and optics of the module itself, particularly because they’re almost identical between the two phones.

In this scene it’s also the Exynos S20 Ultra which takes the lead in terms of the processing – both in Night mode and in the default auto mode. The Snapdragon just blurs out details and textures a lot more.

Comparing the regular shots of the S20U-E against the S20+E, we can actually better see the hardware differences between the two phones, as the Ultra really is able to resolve more detail throughout the scene. The S20+ also is a huge upgrade against the S10 series here, only falling short to the Mate 30 Pro.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ]
[ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P30 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

One commonality I found during the shooting with the S20’s is that the darker it gets, the more inconsistent they get. In this playground shot which was extremely dark, the S20+ actually produces a better result than the S20 Ultra. Between the two Ultras, I feel like the Exynos had the edge again, but the Snapdragon this time around handles the noise better. The problem is that they’re not representing satisfactory upgrades compared to the S10 shots, in particular the latest Android 10 firmware update on the Snapdragon S10+ has seemingly improved things a lot. Then you open up the Mate 30 Pro sample and realize that neither of the new Samsung phones is actually able to come even near the picture quality that Huawei is showcasing, and even falling behind Apple here in regards to Night Mode quality.

Click for full image
[ Galaxy S20U – (S) ] – [ Galaxy S20U – (E) ]
[ Galaxy S20+ (E) ]
[ Galaxy S10+ (S) [ Galaxy S10+ (E) ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P30 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Finally in this last scene, things are again quite disappointing. Between all the Samsung phones, old and new, it’s the Exynos S10+ which had by far the best results in Night Mode, and even the Snapdragon S10+ beats all the new S20s in terms of detail of the scene. The new phones are beaten not only by their predecessors, but also Apple and particularly Huawei.

Overall Low-Light Conclusion

Overall, I think the S20’s software processing in low-light is quite a mess. We saw some scenes where the new S20 phones are clearly better than other phones, but this seemingly only happens in medium-light conditions, as the darker you get, the worse the results. There’s also some quite large differences in the software processing between the Snapdragon and Exynos phones this year, this time around it’s the Exynos model which is very clearly better in the majority of scenarios as the Snapdragon variant very often blurs out details and textures.

The problem is that they are all just disappointing and none of the new phones actually live up to their hardware capabilities. Huawei is very much beats even the new S20 Ultras with ease, and sometimes the processing falls so flat that currently even the S10 phones do better in some scenarios.

I understand that cameras are usually the last aspects of a phone that get attention during development, but this is quite the ridiculous situation where things keeping in such a unrefined state early in a device’s release cycle. I’m 100% certain Samsung will be issuing a ton of firmware upgrades over the coming months and likely to improve things, but the media cycle and reviews are coming out now and that’s what most users will see when they’re reading about the S20 series. It’s just an unfortunate situation.

Amongst the biggest hype features of the S20 series was their ability to capture 8K video. These are not only amongst the first mobile phones on the market to proclaim this capability, but they’re also amongst the first ever consumer cameras on the market, with the feature being previously just being available to professional equipment.

S20+ (E) S20 Ultra (E)
S20 Ultra (S)

Video quality on the phones on the main sensors and the usual 4K30 and 4K60 recording modes are excellent, with details and dynamic range being excellent. The above video samples this year remain in the default SDR recording profile, as Samsung HDR+ recording a “Labs” feature, and we saw it have quite the complication last year on the S10 series.

One thing I want to make note about the S20 Ultra is that a lot of people were complaining about focus issues of the camera, and I indeed also encountered that phenomenon, with some horrible results on the Snapdragon S20 Ultra (4K30 video sample). Fortunately, Samsung had already released a firmware update which fixed the issue on the Exynos model, and the sensor’s new PDAF system almost equally as fast as the dual-pixel PD of the Galaxy S20+.

A new video recording feature of the S20 series is the “Super Steady” mode. This mode is limited to FHD resolution and uses digital stabilisation to produce – well, a super steady video recording. The quality here however isn’t great, because what the phone is actually doing is cropping into a stabilised frame of the Ultra-Wide-Angle camera module, not being able to use the other camera modules at all even though the UI is a bit misleading in allowing you to switch between wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle perspectives.

Before going into the 8K samples, we have to talk a bit about how the phones actually achieve this. On the S20 Ultra, 8K recording obviously only is able to be done through the primary 108MP camera sensor as it’s the only unit with sufficient resolution to actually support it. The problem is, that the camera sensor isn’t able to super-sample the 8K video recording across the whole camera sensor, and instead uses a 1:1 crop of pixels of the sensor. Because the sensor’s native resolution is 12000 x 9000, it means it has to crop quite a bit to end up at the 8K video recording resolution of 7680 x 4320, resulting in a narrowed field-of-view, as you see in the above superimposed snapshots of the different video modes.

The S20+ on the other hand uses the secondary wide-angle module – again that’s simply because it’s the only module that is sufficiently high resolution to support the 8K resolution. Its native resolution here is only 9248 x 6936, meaning that it only has to crop a relatively smaller region of the sensor to fit in the 8K video frame. It means that the S20+ actually has a wider 8K field of view than the S20 Ultra, which I actually find to be much preferable for most use-cases.

The funny thing is that I have a hard time evaluating the video quality as currently I don’t even have any display in the house that’s able to natively display the full 8K video. If you’re lucky enough to have an 8K TV at home, I probably recommend casting the YouTube video to that device. For us mere mortals with 4K displays, all I can say is that the video looks absurdly sharp, and almost every frame of the video is almost the quality of a still camera capture.

Usually you’re used to digital cropping to be a mess, but even at up to 6x magnification within the video things still astoundingly good. I noted focusing is a bit slower on all the phones, and the S20+ really didn’t like switching over to close objects. Taking a few steps back did help the phone find its bearings.

Overall, the results are just outstanding, and I’m looking forward to what people will be able to achieve with help of professional video editing and camera work.

The speakers on the S20 series have undergone a rather drastic redesign, most of it due to the phone’s front camera design. Because the front camera is now at the centre of the display, Samsung was no longer able to house the earpiece speaker right next to the usual earpiece grill location. On the S20 series, the actual speaker is now located below the front camera, with an audio channel leading to a sliver thin gap between the display glass and the device’s frame. This fundamentally changes the audio characteristics of the phone, and it’s not all positive.

Speaker Loudness

The biggest change is the fact that the new earpiece speaker is extremely loud, but also weirdly enough not very front directional. Holding the phone one-handed in portrait mode the phone doesn’t sound as loud as the S10+, but as soon as you hold it in landscape and use your palms as natural cups to focus the audio, the full brunt of the earpiece speaker is focused towards you. Interestingly enough, the smaller S20+ here becomes significantly louder, more-so than the S20 Ultra.

Speaker Stereo Bias

The new earpiece also largely overwhelms the bottom firing main speaker when it comes to loudness. The new speaker here is significantly bigger than that of the S10 series, and it has a fuller frequency response, particularly in the high-ends.

What this means that for generic pink noise and most other audio, you’ll have the impression that there’s a heavy bias towards the earpiece speaker, the complete opposite of what we’re used to as traditionally it’s been always biased towards the main speaker.

In terms of the actually audio quality, it’s still excellent, but it does have a different audio signature. The high-ends are a lot more pronounced on the S20 phones, which might need some getting used to.

The S20+ and the S20 Ultra also have somewhat different sound. Compared to the S10+, the S20+ definitely loses some “fullness”, and that’s due to the weaker low-mid ranges. The S20 Ultra is able to maintain more of these frequencies, and it sounds better than the S20+, more familiar to the sound of the S10+, but with the added clarity of the new more pronounced high-ends.

I do think that Samsung should tone down the earpiece speaker a bit – its high-end frequencies are maybe a bit too much and it just is a bit too loud in relation to the main speaker – particularly on the S20+. I could see some people being put off by the audio signature here as it is more tiring that that of the S10+.

And of course, I have to complain about the new phone’s lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. With Samsung being the last major flagship vendor dropping the jack, it’s a nail to the coffin for the audio connector. Not too much to add here other than I’m disappointed in how things have devolved – all in the name of selling more accessories.

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We’re coming to an end of what’s a very long review for what probably the most awaited and important Android devices of 2020. Samsung has made several promises as to what the S20 series brings, with the majority of the hype being surrounded around the new cameras, with the other key point being the 120Hz display of the phone.

Starting off with the general design updates of the S20 series, I’m actually extremely happy as to what Samsung was able to achieve with the smaller S20 and S20+ phones, and in part with the S20 Ultra. Samsung’s flattening of the display along with the larger curvatures of the back glass means that, ergonomically, the new phones are a very big improvement over the last few Galaxy flagship generations, allowing the phones to feel smaller than they are – even the humongous Ultra.

The S20 Ultra is in a class of its own when it comes to its size. It’s bigger, thicker, and just feels heftier than anything else Samsung has brought to market in the flagship category. I’m sure there’s plenty people will very much welcome these devices as they’re willing to use bigger and bigger phones, though I’m more prone to stick with the S10+, as I feel the Ultra is just a tad too large.

The other drawback of the Ultra is the camera bump. It’s not that I have anything against camera bumps, it’s just that I feel Samsung could have implemented it with better design elements – particularly the “gasket” – and the gaps around the camera protrusion feels cheap and is very prone to collecting dust. I didn’t have the same reservations about the S20+’s camera design, as that one’s perfectly fine and reasonable in my opinion.

The screens of the S20s are all excellent in terms of their quality. The highlight feature of the phones here is simply the 120Hz ultra-high refresh rate. It’s an amazing feature that by itself is able to differentiate the experience of the S20 series, bringing you a much smoother device experience than ever before.

The performance of the S20 series is also excellent. Both the Snapdragon 865 and the Exynos 990 are able to deliver top-notch system performance on the new phones, although the Snapdragon does have a slight edge. Together with the 120Hz refresh rate, these are the snappiest, most responsive devices on the market right now – no contest.

However, the 120Hz refresh does come with quite the battery life cost. Expect a 20-25% reduction in battery life when you use the feature. Here even though the new phones come with extra big batteries, going up to 5000mAh on the S20 Ultra, it’s not sufficient to counteract the high refresh rate power draw. And if you’re coming from a previous generation flagship phone, the net result will be a battery life downgrade. It’s possible that Samsung could improve things with firmware updates and actually introduce a switching refresh rate mechanism to improve the current inefficient system – but we don’t know if and when they’re going to do that.

The power efficiency differences between the Snapdragon and Exynos are acceptable in everyday usage, however if you’re a power user, particularly in gaming, the Exynos 990 won’t fare very well. The M5 CPU is a disappointment and isn’t competitive with the Cortex-A77 cores of the Snapdragon. But at least it’s the last generation of Exynos SoC having to live with such a disadvantage. The GPU performance of the SoC is also very disappointing, as the long-term performance will only be around half of the Snapdragon models.

Then there’s the cameras. Samsung put such an emphasis on the camera capabilities of these phones that frankly we expected the most amazing results ever. In my mind in particular I had expected for Samsung to compete with Huawei in terms of picture quality, both in daylight and in low-light.

In daylight, the one strength of the phones that does materialize is the S20 Ultra’s telephoto module. The sheer hardware prowess of this camera is leaps ahead of other devices in the market right now. Sure, Samsung went a bit too far with proclaiming it’s able to achieve up to 100x zoom – those pictures are just a blurry mess. But it does fare very well at 10-20x magnification, and provides some shots that you normally wouldn’t think possible out of a phone.

The main camera sensors on the other hand I feel fall short of the high expectations. Yes, they are better than what we see on the S10 series, however Samsung here is still falling short of proving the same quality that Apple achieves on the iPhone 11 – and it’s also optically inferior to Huawei’s newest devices. I just don’t quite see why the 108MP sensor on the S20 Ultra had to be an 108MP sensor, as I don’t feel that number of pixels translates in anything meaningful in any of the camera usages of the S20 Ultra. In fact, more often than not, the S20+’s 64MP camera unit is able to take more detailed pictures.

The S20+’s 12+64MP combination is I think more versatile than that of the S20 Ultra, and the area where this shows the most is in the 1.2-3.5x zoom range, where the Ultra just falls apart, but the S20+ still is able to take perfectly detailed pictures. The ultra-wide-angle’s reduced resolution from 16MP to 12MP is a straight downgrade for daylight pictures, it does however make this up with better low-light pictures.

Then there’s low-light, which is just a massive mixed bag of results. Here it’s clearly a matter of the software not being optimized, as sometimes all the S20 perform worse than the S10 phones. Yes, in the perfect conditions the phones are able to shine – particularly the Exynos models, which currently have much better low-light camera calibrations and processing – but even in that best-case scenario Samsung is far behind the results that Huawei is able to achieve.

Megalomania Devices – But Still Good Phones

I’ve taken to calling the S20 series megalomania devices because, $1400 price tags and all, they’re overpromising and underdelivering – however that doesn’t mean they’re bad phones. Other than the display size and the excellent zoom module, I don’t really see the value in the S20 Ultra over the S20+. The 108MP camera in particular feels underutilized. Given the steep price premium over the S20+, I’m having a hard time rationalizing this phone over its smaller siblings.

The S20+ I feel is a proper successor to the S10+, and I’m even willing to switch over to it as a daily device. The 120Hz screen remains incredible no matter the battery life impact, and the cameras are still plenty good, even if not class-leading. The users in Snapdragon markets in particular end up with a device that makes very few compromises and is seemingly worthy of being a top class 2020 flagship. I just hope that Samsung will be able to resolve the camera discrepancies between the different models, as well as generally improve the camera picture quality over the coming months. If they achieve this, then I feel that the new phones would warrant their release price tags.

 

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MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air with ARM processors to enter mass production in Q4 2020; ARM-powered MacBook Pro 14 and MacBook Pro 16 joining in mid-2021 – Notebookcheck.net

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Alex Alderson, 2020-07-10 (Update: 2020-07-10)

Prior to writing and translating for Notebookcheck, I worked for various companies including Apple and Neowin. I have a BA in International History and Politics from the University of Leeds, which I have since converted to a Law Degree. Happy to chat on Twitter or Notebookchat.

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LinkedIn sued after being caught reading users’ clipboards on iOS 14 – 9to5Mac

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LinkedIn was recently caught reading users’ clipboards on iPhone and iPad thanks to the new privacy features of iOS 14, as we reported last week. Even though the company claimed it was due a software bug, there’s now an iPhone user who’s suing LinkedIn for supposedly reading sensitive content from the clipboard without permission.

According to a Yahoo! Finance report, Adam Bauer filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco federal court arguing that LinkedIn collects personal information from iPhone and iPad users via the system’s clipboard.

Bauer complains that LinkedIn may not only have access to private data from the device on which the app is installed, but also from other nearby devices such as a Mac through Apple’s Universal Clipboard feature.

The class-action lawsuit lawsuit classifies the problem as an alleged violation of the law or social norms under California laws. LinkedIn hasn’t commented on the situation yet, but the company said a few days ago that the iOS app wasn’t intentionally reading the users’ clipboard, but due to a software bug.

iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 includes a new banner alert that lets users know if an app is pasting from the clipboard, which is part of a series of new privacy features Apple is adding to its operating systems this year.

This particular clipboard feature is already exposing the behavior of some popular apps like TikTok, AccuWeather, AliExpress, and now LinkedIn. Even after several reports on the web, this is the first time a user has filed a lawsuit based on the new iOS 14 privacy feature — and the update has been available to a restricted number of users for just two weeks.

We’re yet to know if the court will accept the user’s appeal against LinkedIn.

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Apple Warns Against Closing MacBooks With a Cover Over the Camera – MacRumors

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Apple this month published a support document that warns customers against closing their Mac notebooks with a cover over the camera as it can lead to display damage.

Image via Reddit
Apple says that the clearance between the display and the keyboard is designed to very tight tolerances, which can be problematic. Covering the camera can also cause issues with automatic brightness and True Tone.

If you close your Mac notebook with a camera cover installed, you might damage your display because the clearance between the display and keyboard is designed to very tight tolerances. Covering the built-in camera might also interfere with the ambient light sensor and prevent features like automatic brightness and True Tone from working. As an alternative to a camera cover, use the camera indicator light to determine if your camera is active, and decide which apps can use your camera in System Preferences.

The warnings from Apple likely stem from complaints from MacBook Pro owners who have seen their displays crack after covering the camera, and there are multiple reports and warnings on sites that include MacRumors and Reddit. The issue appears to be especially bad with the new 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models that have thinner bezels.

Image via the MacRumors Forums
MacRumors forum member Dashwin, for example, put a webcam cover on his 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ in April and the result was a crack in the display under where the camera is located.

The latest MBP 16 inch with the thin tiny bezels and display comes at a cost of breakage with the tiniest of forces with a webcam cover in place. The internal display no longer works and I’ve had to connect it to an external display. I’ve had one of the exact same webcam covers on my 2011 MBP with no issues whatsoever for many years.

Damage from applying a webcam cover to the camera is considered accidental and can be repaired under AppleCare+, but it’s quite possible it’s an issue that Apple won’t fix for customers that don’t have ‌AppleCare‌+, and it’s an expensive fix.

Apple says that customers concerned about illicit camera access should watch for the green light that comes on when the camera is activated. The camera is engineered so that it can’t be accessed without the indicator light turning on.

MacBook owners can also control which apps have access to the built-in camera as users must grant permission for camera use on any operating system after macOS Mojave. For those who do need to cover the camera, Apple recommends a camera cover that’s not thicker than the average piece of printer paper (0.1mm) and that does not leave adhesive residue.

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