Samsung shoots for the top with the cameras on the new S20, S20+

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Updated Tue February 11, 2020

It's been almost a year since Samsung's last flagship release, so it's kicking off 2020 in a big way with three new flagship phones. You might even say appropriately named flagships: the Galaxy S20 and S20+. These are the core successors to the S10 and S10+. Plus, these sit alongside the final member of the Galaxy S20 5G family, the S20 Ultra.

After a brief hands-on with both the Galaxy S20 and S20+, I'm walking away with a good sense of these devices. Yes, these don't present a crazy new design or have a killer feature, but Samsung put tons of focus on connectivity and cameras.

For the first time, the whole line supports 5G, which is a big deal. Many of the big four carriers were just starting to roll out basic 5G connectivity last year, so this should be the year we see dependable speeds on a nationwide format.

These phones will likely drive that to some degree because it seems Samsung wants its users to be ahead of the curve. This all remains to be seen, but for now, you will pay a premium for being a step ahead of the competition. The S20 starts at $999 and the S20+ starts at $1,199. You can expect these to future proof you more than a traditional flagship, especially the S20+, which supports Sub-6 and mmWave networks. The S20 only supports Sub-6.

Along with 5G antennas, these are both running Android 10 with Samsung's One User Interface. This interface is in its second generation and presents a nice experience that isn't too crowded on top of Android. To some degree, it keeps some things clean, but you have a dedicated Bixby window to the left. Luckily, there's no Bixby button on either of these like the predecessors. In fact, you'll only find the power button, a volume rocker, a microSD card slot, a SIM card slot and a USB Type-C port on both the S20 and S20+. Samsung is dropping the headphone jack this year.

Smooth Performance

Powering Android is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor with 12GBs of RAM. In my time with the device, it was quite fast opening and closing apps, brief multitasking and even capturing content. The 6.2-inch and 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLEDs looked terrific. And for 2020, these both support up to 120Hz motion rate and are buttery smooth. We'll need to dig around in settings during the review to see the exact resolution, but it's nice. Plus, with the Infinity-O camera hole dead-center, it's less distracting and easily blends into the displays.

Improved cameras

But for both of these, the real star is the main camera setup on the back. It's the biggest redesign of the camera since the Galaxy S7, so five generations in the making.

For the Galaxy S20 it's a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens, a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 64-megapixel telephoto. The S20+ has all three of those, plus a depth vision camera. And these focus on creating sharper photos that look better with less noise and perform better in lower light. It seems that Samsung wants to hit Apple back hard after its leaps with the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max.

On the clarity side, you get up to 3X optical zoom on both the S20 and S20+. I was impressed when I tried this quickly in an indoor environment. It also goes one step further than the iPhone 11's telephoto lens, but this was just a hands-on, so we're not crowning a new champion just yet.

Plus, if you think 3X is good, the S20 Ultra can do an insane 10X optical zoom. With Super Resolution Zoom, Samsung will let you zoom up to 30X digitally on both the S20 and S20+. Both Super Resolution Zoom and Hybrid Optic Zoom use a mixture of the physical lens, AI and software processing that fall under the larger Space Zoom feature set. I'm looking forward to testing these further.

The biggest feature with the cameras though is Single Take Mode, which lets you hold the shutter button or just tap it, move the phone around and it will capture photos and videos at once. It makes it easy to capture content with no work. It can capture videos, burst photos, photos with sepia or new color tones, plus it will even grab a portrait shot or two.

I got to try it on a juggler named Blue and let's just say the results were cool. It automatically handles focusing and picking the best shots. If this works just as well in the real world, this could be the big "it" feature of the S20 and S20+. It's all about bringing great camera features to the masses, and this is a super simple way to do it.

A similar look with more subdued colors

In terms of design, the S20 is a hair thicker at 7.9 millimeters, but weighs less than 163 grams in comparison to the 7.8-millimeter and 186-gram S20+. Both of these have glass backs that look nice and the three-camera or quad-camera setups sit in square boxes in the left-hand corner. It's similar to both the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, so I don't see that much of an issue with it. If anything, it looks huge on the S20 Ultra, but that's also an even larger smartphone. Plus, a case from Samsung direct or an array of third parties will make it even on the back.

The colors are also nice and laid back. For instance, there isn't an Aura Glow S20 or S20+ like we saw on the Note 10 and 10+ this past August. Rather, the S20 comes in Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue and Cloud Pink, while the S20+ gets a Cosmic Black instead of Cloud Pink. They're subtle and the colorful options give you a nice splash. They still look sleek, they still look like flagships, and most importantly, they look like Samsung Galaxys.

Like I said, 2020 is not the year for a redesign but rather it seems to be the year of improved cameras through software and hardware working together in a meaningful way.

Stay tuned to CNN Underscored for full coverage of Samsung's Galaxy Unpacked 2020 event.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.