The cameras are perhaps the biggest difference between the S20 Ultra and the S20 and S20+. All three phones pack the same Snapdragon 865 processor with 12GB of RAM. There is an upgraded Ultra with 16GB, but that’s kinda overkill when laptops usually come with between 8 and 16GB of RAM.
As I jumped among editing a picture, playing a game and chatting with some friends, the S20 and S20 Plus didn’t so much as hiccup. The S20 also kept up as I shot 8K video while downloading a 1.4GB app over LTE, though it did get quite warm in the process.
I even found the in-screen fingerprint sensors surprisingly fast. Samsung uses ultrasound scanners as opposed to the optical reader in the OnePlus 7T Pro, which some reviewers have complained is slow and frustrating. But I haven’t noticed a significant difference in speed. My main issue has been in trying to get my finger in the right spot to unlock the phone when its screen is off. You’ll find a visual guide showing where to place your finger when the screen turns on, but it’s an extra step in the way of unlocking your phone. I was able to correctly guess where this sensor was sometimes, but more often than not, I missed. I wish Samsung had used Qualcomm’s new fingerprint sensor that’s about twice the size of a thumb and would be much easier to find.
One of the things Samsung is calling attention to on the S20 lineup is 5G support across all three devices. It’s a signal that the next-gen networking standard is getting ready to go mainstream. That’s a nice story to tell the public, but it’s incomplete. Yes, 5G is here, but coverage isn’t comprehensive yet. It’s also confusing as to what the different types of networking technologies mean, and not everyone knows that mmWave is much faster or that 600MHz covers larger areas. There are too many caveats about mmWave’s limited range or the less impressive speed boost from 600MHz at this point that will confuse the average consumer.
I used the S20 Ultra on Verizon’s 5G network: It’s fast, but coverage is limited. Our S20, meanwhile, came with T-Mobile service (technically, anyway — more on that later). While Verizon only supports mmWave right now, T-Mobile offers both sub-6 and mmWave 5G in New York. Spots with the much faster mmWave are few and far between though. That’s not to mention that the S20 doesn’t support them; only the Plus and Ultra model do.
T-Mobile claims that while 600MHz 5G will be noticeably faster than LTE, “customers won’t see a dramatic difference” in others. On average though the carrier said there should be a boost of 20 percent download speed over its LTE network. Unfortunately, there was an issue with my S20’s SIM card, and I never got to connect to 5G at all. T-Mobile hasn’t been able to provide a solution.
What was noticeable on the S20 and S20+ was their long-lasting batteries. Thanks to their large 4,000mAh and 4,500mAh cells, respectively, the two phones lasted surprisingly long despite power-draining features like high-refresh-rate screens and 5G. I set the displays to 120Hz and consistently got close to two full days out of both flagships. On our battery test, which involves looping a full HD video, the S20 clocked a little more than 12 hours while the Plus hit 15 hours. That’s longer than the Ultra’s eleven-and-a-half-hour mark, and the Plus ties with the Pixel 4 XL.
S20 vs S20+
The S20 and S20+ are basically the same phone, aside from their differences in size, battery and mmWave support. The Plus also has an additional depth sensor on its back for slightly better portrait mode and AR effects. Are those features worth the extra $200 for the larger phone? Only if you really want a bigger screen, extra long battery life and super fast 5G on T-Mobile (at least, when the network is more mature). Verizon offers an mmWave-compatible S20, so your decision will also depend on what carrier you use. For most people though, the base S20 is plenty of phone.
In the case of this year’s S20 trio, smaller is so much better. I felt like the Ultra was overkill when it came to size, camera features and, most important, price. At $1,000, the S20 costs the same as the iPhone 11 Pro but more than the Pixel 4 while the S20+ is more expensive than the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Pixel 4 XL. But the S20s are also the best-looking Android flagships around, with speedy performance and long battery life. For that money, you’ll also be getting excellent displays and blazing 5G speeds where available. If $1,000 is too much for you, you might want to wait for other options like the rumored Pixel 4a or consider the S10 ($749), which offers most of what you need for hundreds less. Right now though the S20 and S20+ are among the best Android phones money can buy.
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