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We tested… the Samsung S20 and its penchant for the superfluous

The Samsung S10 is one of our favorite high-end smartphones. Its replacement, the S20, is marketed in France on March 13 at a salty price of… 910 euros. It does not present any major improvement to point out: everything is played out in the details. Classically, its big brother, the S20 +, is simply a little bigger, for a price of 1,010 euros. The gargantuan S20 Ultra, equipped with better photo sensors, according to Samsung, will be available at 1,360 euros.

If no manufacturer succeeds in proposing a key innovation between two smartphone models every year, the absence of significant innovations for the Samsung S20 poses two questions: does it still keep the competition in check? And is its predecessor, the S10, really outdated? Here is our test to answer them.

Always pleasant in hand

Aesthetically, the S20 is a little more slender than the S10. And as its screen margins are more muted, it is a more elegant hint. But that’s not its main strength.

In recent years, the “S” series has stood out above all for its compactness, a guarantee of ergonomics. The S20 respects tradition: it is half a centimeter less wide than the current average of smartphones, and is therefore very pleasant to hold in hand. Its particularly rounded edges facilitate the thumb's access to the four corners of the mobile. On the other hand, its screen is slightly narrower than the average smartphone, which reduces the readability of images and texts. If your vision is correct, however, this is not a problem.

Only one recent high-end smartphone seems to match its comfort: the Google Pixel 4, which suffers from many faults (solidity, autonomy, brightness, etc.). So the main competitor of the S20 seems to be the S10, its predecessor, which is just as comfortable. The S10 is certainly a little wider, which is a little detrimental to its grip, but it is equipped with a screen less stretched in height, which facilitates access to the high-pitched buttons.

The S20 is a little narrower than the S10, but its screen is more stretched up.

Slight progress in photography

The S20 comes with a great camera, which you rarely find making mistakes during the day and outdoors. Its images are sometimes more contrasted than those of its competitors, therefore less legible, but also more “punchy”, which may please. The quality of the photos obviously decreases indoors or in the evening, but the S20 often manages to capture quite beautiful photos, provided that there is a little natural or artificial light to put under the sensor.

What are the photos of the S20 worth compared to those of the S10? We perceive improvements but they are not spectacular. The pictures are often a little sharper, and their colors, a little more natural. Significantly, the night mode has been redesigned: it is no longer necessary to activate it and it engages automatically, asking the photographer not to move for a few seconds. A good idea borrowed from Apple.

A photo taken with the S20 in the early morning.
A photo taken with the S20 in the early morning.

In the photo application, a new function is emerging. “Single Take” allows you to capture stealthy moments in detail: we film for a few seconds, for example the take-off of the bouquet in a wedding, the S20 takes an accelerated video loop, a classic video, and possibly some photos, including some may be square or black and white. The result is a little unpredictable and not always convincing, but it is a function to test: some users may find it useful.

What are the photos of the S20 worth compared to those of the iPhone 11 Pro, the tied winner of our last photo comparison? While the S10 was far behind the iPhone, the S20 only covers part of this delay. Indoors, his photos are often less successful than those of the iPhone, especially in very dark rooms. Outdoors, Apple’s smartphone does a little better at night.

The iPhone is doing better in the dark than the S20: its photos are more detailed, brighter, their colors are more accurate.
The iPhone is doing better in the dark than the S20: its photos are more detailed, brighter, their colors are more accurate.

The S20’s zoom is significantly better than that of the iPhone in daylight, but significantly worse when the sun goes down. The S20 has only one advantage: its very wide angle, which sees very wide, and captures cleaner photos.

Lots of redundant functions

On its website, Samsung touts several other strengths that we feel – at best – anecdotal in use. Small anthology.

  • 8K: the S20 can film in 8K definition, capturing four times more pixels than in 4K. This extra definition is imperceptible to the human eye, even on a huge 8K TV, unless you get very close to it, from an uncomfortable distance. As Samsung explains, you can extract 33 megapixel photos from 8K video, but the result is often very disappointing compared to a real photo. In addition, there is a real risk of saturating the memory of the S20 with these videos which weigh 5 times the weight of Full HD videos.
  • 120 Hz: an ordinary screen can display 60 frames per second. The screen of the S20 can display twice as many to improve the fluidity of mobile menus, scrolling through web pages and the responsiveness of games. But according to our tests with five users, the vast majority of them do not notice the difference, unless they are specifically asked to pay attention to the fluency. Most are then able to discern 120 Hz from 60 Hz, in particular because the texts, when they are scrolled, are a little sharper. But everyone considers the difference minimal and would not be willing to pay an additional cost to take advantage of it. Samsung has also disabled by default this function, which consumes a lot of battery.
  • Drums : the capacity of the S20 has increased by 20% … unfortunately, the range has improved. The S20 rarely stalls before the end of the day but it is difficult to reach two days in moderate use. This is probably due to its extremely bright screen, very readable outdoors.
  • Jack plug : she disappears. And Samsung does not provide the USB adapter that would plug in their favorite headphones… while many audiophiles still use this jack.

In conclusion

If you are looking for a particularly elegant and comfortable high-end smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S remains the best choice. It is a precious mobile, at a time when smartphones tend to become very uncomfortable in the hand. But the model we recommend is not this S20, very expensive given the meager improvements it brings … but rather the S10, currently sold 250 euros cheaper.

The S20 only becomes an interesting alternative if you are particularly demanding in terms of photos, or if you are impatiently waiting for 5G – the next generation telephone network. One can indeed acquire a 5G version of the S20 for an additional cost of one hundred euros. The S20 antennas will be compatible with the first 5G network that operators will start deploying at the end of 2020 in a few large French cities: it should be faster than the current 4G. But the S20 will not be able to pick up the 5G millimeter antennas – even faster – which should be added in our city centers in 2022.

The S20 (left) next to the S10 (right).
The S20 (left) next to the S10 (right). NICOLAS SIX / THE WORLD

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