The Galaxy S20 and S20+ will soon be forgotten, if Samsung has anything to do with it. Go to its online store in the U.S., and there are a few discounted, unlocked S20+ models remaining, while the S20 is listed as out of stock everywhere. It’s the same in the U.K., where if you try to buy an S20 or S20+, the store tells you, “We are sorry, but this product is currently not available.”
Does the S20 deserve to be swept away so quickly? After all, it’s barely a year old, and many companies (Samsung included) often continue selling the previous year’s model for a while following the launch of a replacement. I returned to take a look at the Galaxy S20+, alongside the new Galaxy S21+, to see if it really should be consigned to the history books.
Good — and bad — design
Samsung really doesn’t want you to buy the remaining S20+ phones. At the time of writing, a discounted S20+ costs $1,075 from Samsung, down from $1,200, while the, down from the normal $1,000 price. There are good things about the S20+ compared to the S21+, as we’ll discover, but it’s impossible to justify paying more than the cost of the newest Galaxy phone to get one. Presumably, the remaining S20+ will be around for a while.
How do the two compare? You can check out the on-paper comparison, but we’re going to talk about look, feel, and performance. The Galaxy S20+ is an extremely well balanced smartphone. It’s slender, slim, and never feels ungainly in your hand. It’s a little longer than an iPhone 12 Pro, but about the same width. The Apple phone is just about the ideal size for general, everyday use, so this is a good thing. The S20+ id light by modern phone standards, and the curved chassis makes it so pleasant to hold.
It’s unfortunate the back of the S20+ is so dull, especially in its dreary gray color. The front is lovely, though, with its 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen, 3,200 x 1,440 resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, and HDR10+ support. It’s also curved along the sides, with the screen blending neatly into the Gorilla Glass back panel. It’s tapered to just the right degree, and is very comfortable in your hand.
The S21+ can’t quite match the S20+ here. It’s heavier, a bit bulkier, and less curvy. From the front, Samsung got it right with the S20+, but not from the back. For such an expensive phone, the Galaxy S20+ doesn’t really look or feel like one. Surprisingly for a somewhat cheaper phone, the Galaxy S21+ looks brilliant with its matte finish glass back, textured metal camera bump, and the way the module then flows into the metal chassis at the side.
Design and price ware always the S20+’s downfall, and it remains the case now as it nears death, due to the S21+’s far more reasonable price and great styling. However, spec warriors will be concerned about the S21+’s lower screen resolution, and the flatter screen may also put some people off, as it’s more often seen on far cheaper phones than flagship-level models like the S21+. Are these concerns justified?
Identical screen performance
The difference in resolution is a bit of a worry — before you actually try out the two phones together. The S21+’s screen is almost identical to the S20+’s, except for a slightly lower 2,400 x 1,080 resolution and a less pronounced curve running down the sides. No one wants to buy a phone that has lower specs than the one it replaces, and even though many people will tell you it makes no difference, is that really true?
Setting the Galaxy S20+’s screen to its highest resolution (and therefore a 60Hz refresh rate) in Vivid color mode, and with the Video Enhancer switched on, I put it next to the S21+, also using the Video Enhancer and in Vivid color mode. It’s always set to its highest resolution, because it only has one.
Running Carfection’s BMW M2 CS review on YouTube, both phones allow a 2160p resolution, and the results when watching them side-by-side are absolutely indistinguishable. I’ll reiterate: They look exactly the same, and to clarify, they both look glorious. What this means is even though the S21+ has a “lower” resolution, you’ll never, ever know. What’s more, the S20+ still looks fantastic. Don’t think you’re being shortchanged on the visuals, because you’re not.
The flip side of this is, of course, there isn’t any reason to upgrade your S20+ to the S21+, based on the screen performance. But how about the camera?
If you didn’t know already, the Galaxy S20+’s camera is exactly the same as the Galaxy S21+’s camera on paper. However, we know from the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s excellent camera performance that Samsung has made substantial changes to the software and artificial intelligence (A.I.) behind the camera hardware, so the story may go beyond just the numbers.
The Galaxy S20+’s camera is decent, but even when it was new, it couldn’t compete with phones like the iPhone 11 Pro. Now, it looks even less capable, and the advancements Samsung has made with the camera software are immediately clear when it’s compared with the S21+.
Take a look at the brightness, balance, HDR, and saturation in both of the photos above. The S20+ struggles with dynamic range, loses detail in the shadows, and doesn’t balance the clouds against the blue sky properly. The S21+’s photo does all these things much better, and is far more representative of the scene I saw with my eyes.
Lowlight photography also shows where Samsung’s software and A.I. work is paying off. The above photo was taken in low ambient light indoors, and the S20+ used a three-second exposure to take the picture, while the S21+ decided it needed only two seconds. The S21+ exposes a lot more detail, has less noise, and more accurate colors.
Improvements aren’t made throughout the camera, though, with the 3x zoom’s photos looking very similar in particular. Also, the S21+ occasionally hunts around for focus in a way the S20+ does not, and the portrait mode lacks detail compared to the S20+’s portrait shots. All this is likely something that will be fixed in a future software update, but the software on the S20+ lags way behind the S21+.
My S20+ has Android 10 with Samsung’s OneUI 2.1 onboard, while the S21+ has Android 11 and OneUI 3.1. There really is no excuse for it not receiving an update yet. (Some S20 models have received the update, but apparently not all.) Admittedly, there isn’t a huge difference between OneUI 2.1 and OneUI 3.1, but I expect a $1,200 phone that’s a year old to have the latest software, especially when it’s available on some other Galaxy models. Samsung has made commitments to regularly update its security software, and Android in general, but the timing really does have to be improved if it’s to come close to competing with Apple in this area.
The Galaxy S20+ remains a solid smartphone, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was far from Samsung operating at its best. From small things like the poor choice of colors to major misjudgments like the price, the S20+ wasn’t born from the best decisions.
It really shows its age, especially in the camera, so it’s very obvious the S21+ is the better phone — even though it’s less expensive. Samsung’s decision to discontinue it is the right one, not because the S21+ is light years ahead, because it’s not, but because the refinements and better design really make it the phone the S20+ should have been.
Where does this leave you if you have an S20+? If you’ve got the chance, upgrading to the S21+ would be worth it — assuming you can cash in on generous trade-in offers and recent discounts. Under most other circumstances, an annual upgrade is unnecessary, but Samsung didn’t do its best work with the S20+, and it’s very obvious when you start to use the S21+.