For the past few years, advances in camera tech have been the focal point when it comes to new flagship smartphone announcements. But, with the Samsung Galaxy S20 family announced today at San Francisco, that, uh, stays the same. Samsung’s Galaxy S20 presentation was almost exclusively about the new camera rigs on the three new phones, and for good reason — they promise to be some of the best smartphone cameras we’ve ever seen.
Samsung announced the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20+, and Galaxy S20 Ultra today, and we’re looking at strong camera rigs on all three. Any of those three phones will get you at minimum a 64 MP camera with 30x space zoom, which combines optical zoom with digital zoom improved by AI and pixel binning, which allows for more light to be taken in by the sensors.
Gaudy megapixel numbers being for suckers has been a lukewarm blog take for the greater part of the past decade, but combined with high-end lenses and sensors, it looks like there might be something special here beyond the big digits. During the presentation, the zoom capabilities of the phones were highlighted — getting 30x zoom along with that high of a megapixel count allows for some really fine details to appear in photos. Take a wide-angle landscape shot, and you’ll be able to zoom in and check out individual trees and what animals are doing in them. For most folks, the most practical use might be picking up great shots of the kids in wider-angle shots of sports events or music recitals.
On that subject, it sounds like Samsung is making getting the best possible shot during those events as easy as possible. There have always been different shooting modes, like portrait mode, that adjust the camera settings automatically to give you the kind of shot you want, but the Galaxy S20 phones take it one step further. Using Single Take mode, the camera will snap a bunch of shots simultaneously using a host of different presets, presenting you with the best results from that batch. It’s clear Samsung is on board with the belief that convenience is king — if you want a high-quality point-and-shoot phone no matter the situation, these sound like they’ll be the phones to get.
Samsung has long took pains to make it clear that the Galaxy S series is the last word in Android phones, and the way you can always tell is the inclusion of a feature that almost all phone users won’t actually use. This year, it’s 8K video shooting! You’ll be able to shoot video in 8K, while snapping 33 MP stills during video capture. So, if you’ve got the 70″+ TV to make having 8K worthwhile, that’s a nice little bonus feature! A Steady Mode that combines a physical anti-rolling stabilizer with AI algorithms that can detect and compensate for the shakes should keep those super clear videos turning out top-notch.
Of course, it’s a feature targeted heavily toward the influencer and YouTube communities — folks that increasingly need to stream as often as they need to record. That brings us to the other marquee feature in all of these phones — 5G connectivity. The speed boost from 5G makes recording and streaming 8K video technically a possibility, although you might want to consider carrying a battery pack or two or five if you really plan on doing that. The 4,000 mAh, 4,500 mAh, and 5,000 mAh batteries on the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra, while impressive, won’t get you there alone.
So, what’s the difference between the three? The obvious one is size, with the S20 Ultra the champ at 6.9″. But, the S20 Ultra is the champ when it comes to the camera, too — and here’s where things get real wild. The S20 Ultra camera can take 108 MP shots, with 100x Space Zoom, the same kind of optical zoom/AI-backed digital zoom combination on the other two S20 phones. The upshot? Well, you know how you can see individual trees and animals and all that in your other landscape shots? We’re just about getting down to individual hairs territory now. Basically, if you want to make a Where’s Waldo kind of game out of your wide-angle photos, you use this phone.
The other difference is in 5G — all three have 5G connectivity, but not all 5G is created equal. The S20, the smallest of the three, does not have mmWave 5G. That’s the super-high frequency, high speed, short-range kind of 5G that requires all those small towers to be installed on top of buildings — in other words, the absolute fastest 5G speeds will be out of reach for the S20. That might only matter if you’re streaming 8K video, in which case you’re probably better off throwing down for the camera prowess of the S20 Ultra anyway.
One last little tidbit was talk of a partnership with Netflix, which will bring exclusive bonus content tied to existing Netflix series like Narcos to Samsung Galaxy users. That could be seen as a shot across the bow of Apple, which has been pushing into Netflix’s content turf in recent years, if perhaps not as aggressively as we might expect.
The Galaxy S20 family is coming soon. Samsung says preorders will begin on February 21st, with shipping (including unlocked phones) beginning on March 6. The S20 will start at $999, the S20+ at $1,199, and the S20 Ultra at $1,349, with 1.5 TB of storage available on the most expensive models.
Samsung is also updating its Galaxy Buds to Galaxy Buds+ — the buds now have discrete drivers for treble and bass, feature three mics for clearer calls, and have an 11-hour battery life within the buds themselves, which is doubled by the charging case. Wireless charging for the case returns from last year. The Galaxy Buds+ will be available on February 14th for $149.