The Galaxy S20 is Samsung's most expensive "entry level" flagship to date. When a phone starts at a thousand dollars, it's easy to begin questioning just how much smartphone you need, versus what you may just want (and let's be honest, we're all guilty of upselling ourselves sometimes). But as the US begins the long transition to 5G cellular networks and smartphones begin to support them, it's becoming valid to ask just when an upgrade is necessary, and just which phones will be suited to best handle the next few years of mobile technological disruption.

While we think the Galaxy S20 Ultra is simply too much money and too much phone for most people, the base model Galaxy S20 offers a far more approachable size and price point, while losing very little functionally in the process. Given Samsung's aggressive discounting and trade-in offers, we also think the $1000 price tag only exists on paper, and that in practice, this phone represents a very solid buy at the $800 most retailers are currently offering it at. With its manageable size, industry-leading display, excellent battery life, top-notch performance, and the only 5G you'll need for the foreseeable future, the Galaxy S20 is the Android phone we think most people should probably buy if they're in the market right now—just make sure you're not paying full price, as there's really no good reason to.

Specs

SoC Snapdragon 865
RAM 12GB
Storage 128GB, microSD card slot
Display 6.2-inch 1440 x 3200 OLED, 120Hz
Battery 4,000mAh, 25W USB-PD fast charging (adapter included)
Cameras 12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 48MP crop zoom / 8K video sensor; 10MP front
Software Android 10, One UI 2.0
Headphone jack No
Measurements 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm, 163g
Connectivity WiFi 6, BT 5.0, 5G (sub-6GHz only)
Price $1000
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The Good

Display The new 120Hz OLED is gorgeous, and Samsung finally got rid of the curved edges, making edge touch rejection far less of an issue. This is the best screen you can get on any phone, period.
Design Nice, slim bezels all the way around the screen. The buttons have thankfully returned to the right side of the phone, and Samsung's build quality feels as high as ever.
Battery The S20 will easily make it through the day and then some, and you can extend battery life significantly by switching to 60Hz display mode. I personally managed 6 hours of screen time most days.
Size The most pocketable phone among the S20 family, and the right size for most people. The basic S20 avoids the gigantic proportions of its siblings, and is perfectly manageable even in a hefty case.
Charging The 25W bundled charger is significantly faster than those on devices like the Pixel or iPhone, and is more than fast enough for quick top ups as you head out the door. Fast wireless charging is an added bonus.
5G ready While it lacks the mmWave support of the S20+ and Ultra, we think that's irrelevant. The S20 supports all current low and mid-band 5G deployments in the US, and those are the ones you're actually likely to use in the next few years (Verizon will launch a mmWave variant later this year, if that's something you care about).

The Not So Good

Design again A case is absolutely mandatory. This phone is incredibly slippery, mostly glass, and the camera hump is awkward.
OS updates Samsung is good about security updates (the S10 ranks just below Google in our security update rankings), but still slower than we'd like on actual Android OS upgrades, particularly in the US. Case in point: Samsung's Android 10 codebase is so old that 3rd party launchers can't use gesture nav.
Fingerprint sensor The ultrasonic sensor is still slow and sometimes just won't work right, even after registering my thumbs multiple times. Optical scanners are simply better.
Camera They're better (and more numerous) than those on the S10, but they're not a massive step forward, and that's disappointing, especially given the price of this phone. The selfie camera is of a seriously mediocre quality as well.
Price While not nearly the sticker shock the Ultra is, $1000 is probably about $200 more than I'd say this phone is "worth." On the flipside, Samsung is almost making it hard to even pay full price for an S20 right now.

Design, hardware, what's in the box

If you've paid attention to Samsung's design language in the past five years, the fact that the Galaxy S20 is the brainchild of that same company won't surprise you in the least. Samsung's aesthetic is clean, its lines organic, and its colors conservative. A flash of chrome-look polished aluminum on the frame is about as bold as things get, and given you're just putting this phone in a case anyway, the way it looks is largely irrelevant. As a slight aside: I do think the whole glass sandwich thing warrants the typical gripe about how damn fragile phones are today, and the fact that if you don't put a case on the S20, it'll slide off just about any reasonably smooth surface and try to end its pristine existence. Buy. A. Case.

Samsung has switched to 120Hz display panels across the Galaxy S20 lineup, resulting in far smoother animations.

While slippery materials and the basic design language haven't changed much, the screen has. In fact, I'd say the S20's biggest design update compared to the outgoing S10 is the display. It's mostly no longer curved, which I maintain is an objectively good thing. This makes it much less likely for your fingers to accidentally register touches on the edges of the screen, which has been a complaint of mine on Samsung phones since the original Galaxy S6 Edge. I also just think it looks better, especially with the much smaller pinhole camera cutout and even thinner bezels, though that's entirely personal. Another big change worth pointing out is that Samsung has switched to 120Hz display panels across the Galaxy S20 lineup, resulting in far smoother animations.. It helps that the display itself is also excellent, with exceptionally high peak brightness, outstanding uniformity even at low brightness, and exceptional contrast. Samsung does screens best, full stop.

What Samsung does not do so well is what sits below the screen: Qualcomm's ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. I am well aware some people report no issues with this scanner, but in the eyes of the overwhelming opinion of people I talk to in the industry, and based on my own personal experience, it is not good. It gets too many failed reads, it often takes too long to read, and it just makes for a frustrating biometrics experience. I don't think face unlock on the Pixel 4 is perfect, but I vastly prefer it to Samsung's scanner here. Don't get me wrong: it's not as thought it's totally broken, it's just that it's not very good.

Perhaps the greatest hardware asset for the smaller S20 is its size. I'm typically a Big Phone kind of person, but using the S20 has reminded me of the virtues of a more diminutive handset. Even in a case, the S20 is totally pocket-friendly, and the ultra-wide display—coupled with Android's pinch-to-fit video—actually hasn't made me miss my larger Pixel 4 XL all that much. And when I look over at the S20 Ultra on my desk, I am struck by just how comically massive it is. So, yeah, I think the baby S20 strikes the right balance on size for most people.

The rest of the phone is rather standard flagship fare in 2020: no headphone jack, a USB-C port, IP68 waterproofing, and a bottom-firing speaker (which I sadly am pretty unimpressed with, it's super meh). Samsung scores extra points for keeping its much-loved microSD card slot, though, and for a high level of standard equipment even on the base model: 128GB of super-fast UFS 3.0 storage and 12GB of RAM, the same as you'd get on the S20+ and Ultra. And on top of that, Samsung's in-box goodies are among the best in the biz, with its excellent AKG-branded USB-C earbuds and fast 25W wall charger included with every phone. Both are legitimate value-adds.

Software, performance, and battery

OneUI 2.0 is about as good as I think Samsung software is going to get in the near future, and I'm largely happy with it. With native support for Android 10's navigation gestures (but not in 3rd party launchers), using the Galaxy S20 is a pretty pleasant experience, especially with things flying along at 120Hz. That said, I do find Samsung has "tuned" Android 10's navigation gestures in a rather odd way, and I'm not sure exactly how to describe what it feels like; it's as though the gestures are somehow stickier, or that engaging them requires a bit more emphasis on what you're trying to achieve. Flinging through back gestures and multitasking on the Pixel 4 feels like typing on your favorite keyboard, while on the S20 it's a bit more like using one of those weird ultra-thin tablet jobs that feel like they're made of cardboard. But that's probably not going to be a big deal for most.

When it comes to bloatware, your mileage will vary. On the unlocked model I'm using, there's the standard Samsung loadout, a couple of Microsoft items I've disabled, and Facebook. It's really not bad. Get a carrier model, though, and you'll probably need to go on a more extensive purge.

Speaking to personalization, One UI's customization options are extensive, significantly beyond those of stock Android, and I do encourage people to explore them. I have a list of 20 tweaks I like to make to my Samsung phones out of the box, a lot of which involves disabling some of the things I simply don't use, like Bixby or edge panels. But that remains one of the saving graces of a software experience that can feel a little bloated for the uninitiated, in that you can just turn most of it off.

Performance on the S20 has been nigh-unimpeachable for me, and even in a month of everyday use, I've noticed no significant slowdowns or hiccups that I wouldn't expect any phone to occasionally experience. The Snapdragon 865 seems a highly capable and powerful chip, driving the OS at 120FPS with ease, and I'm also finding it delivers pretty excellent battery life.

There's been a fair bit of chatter about the 120Hz mode and battery life, and while my experience is only anecdotal, I do think it's a bit overblown. I've kept my S20 in 120Hz mode the entire time I've been using the phone (a month at this point), and I consistently hit five or six hours of screen on time in a given day. That's very good for any phone, but for one of this size it's downright excellent. If I bothered to flip the panel back to 60Hz mode, I bet I could hit seven or maybe even eight hours of screen time, but I've never felt the need: I charge it wirelessly overnight, and it goes back on the charging pad when I go to bed. I expect battery life would be marginally worse using mobile data instead of Wi-Fi, but that's true of any phone.

You don't need mmWave 5G, and if you do, you know who you are and exactly why you want it.

Finally, let's talk about 5G real quick, because I think the discussion is warranted. In the US, we have a particular flavor of 5G called mmWave 5G that all three (remember, there are only three now!) major carriers are deploying to various extents. The little Galaxy S20 does not support mmWave 5G, while the S20+ and Ultra do. Here's my contention: it absolutely does not matter. You don't need mmWave 5G, and if you do, you know who you are and exactly why you want it. The only 5G that will cover any significant portion of Americans at home, work, and school over the next several years will be sub-6GHz 5G, which the little Galaxy S20 does support. That's all the 5G anyone's going to need until it's time to upgrade your phone again, so don't worry about all the mmWave nonsense. It's fine.

Cameras

Here's the short version on the cameras: they're fine. The slightly longer version is that they're mostly fine but not what I'd hope for on a $1000 phone, and that's kind of a bummer since Samsung really talked them up.

For people who have been on Samsung phones and will continue buy new Samsung phones every 2 or 3 years, Samsung is doing well on cameras.

Now, unlike the S20 Ultra, the S20 isn't marketed quite as heavily on its insane camera performance, so much as having a few new bells and whistles in its imaging arsenal. And it legitimately does: the new crop-zoom sensor for getting in closer is totally passable, the main sensor is improved all around, and the ultra wide lens is still a welcome tool for large gatherings or just plain fun. The cameras on this phone, for most people, are not going to be a disappointment. If anything, someone coming from a Galaxy S8 or S9 (both of which, as a reminder, had only one rear camera) will be blown away by how much more capable this camera system is than what they'd had before. Even someone with Samsung's old and rather terrible 2x optical zoom from the S9+ and Note8 will find the new crop-based system a massive improvement in quality. For people who have been on Samsung phones and will continue buy new Samsung phones every 2 or 3 years, Samsung is doing well on cameras.

The problem is that Samsung is doing less well once you look across the aisle to the likes of Google, Apple, and even Chinese brands like Huawei and Oppo. Google and Apple both blow Samsung away on the realism of their photo processing, and both offer much more consistent output in challenging light. A studied eye with an original, 2016 Google Pixel is probably going to prefer the still image output of that 4-year-old phone to Samsung's brand new one, and that stings. Google's Super Res Zoom on the Pixel 4 XL is also far, far better than Samsung's sensor crop zoom, both on processing and detail. Samsung's zoomed shots resolve incredibly muddy when you get up close and personal, and that "painted" look persists across all the cameras.

This is what the "zoom" camera on the S20 can manage at 10x and 30x on a well lit day, respectively. It's not pretty.

A consistent point that's been made among the AP editorial staff is that, in our view, Samsung is now just barely pulling out ahead of OnePlus on cameras (and in some places, we think OnePlus actually beats them). OnePlus' newest phone before the 8 goes on sale this week, the OnePlus 7T, costs just $500. The Galaxy S20 costs $1000. And outside the US, brands like Redmi and Realme are starting to offer some seriously decked-out camera setups on phones that cost similar amounts. This is where we feel the S20 legitimately does fall flat: while most people will find the cameras totally fine, even quite good, in light of the current competition on the market, Samsung is still trailing the leaders of the pack.

Should you buy it?

Samsung Galaxy S20
8/10

Yes, but we strongly recommend you search out discounts before doing so. Samsung is still doing a good job for mainstream consumers with the Galaxy S20, but there is a concerted feeling among the editors here that the the S20 lineup is overpriced across the board. We think the baby S20 is the least overpriced of the bunch, though, and that discounts are currently so easy to come by that the $1000 MSRP doesn't meaningfully exist. Samsung is even offering to buy back your Galaxy S20 after 24 months for $500 if you pay full MSRP today, which far exceeds the used market value of a Samsung phone after two years, effectively putting a significant ($250-300) discount on the phone down the road. You do have to wait for it, but it's guaranteed cash (provided you don't break your phone).

At $800, the Galaxy S20 becomes a very easy phone to recommend.

On the other hand, you can shave $200 off the MSRP directly at the time of this writing, and we think that, at $800, the Galaxy S20 becomes a very easy phone to recommend (and that this probably should have been the price to begin with). With an outstanding display, great performance, excellent battery life, increasingly rare expandable storage, and Samsung's improving OS update track record, we think the S20 is a smart buy.

Buy it if

Your current phone is ready for an upgrade and you want a not-gigantic but still all-around very good phone to replace it.

Don't buy it if

You're expecting 5G to change your life, or if you expect Samsung's new cameras to be a major upgrade over 2019's flagships.

Where to buy

The Galaxy S20 is available from all major carriers, but it's best to buy it from Samsung directly. As long as you don't plan to trade in a device or use their buyback promise program, you'll save $200, and Samsung offers 0% financing for qualified buyers. You can also find similar discounts on Amazon, Walmart, B&H, and Best Buy.