Samsung's Galaxy S20 ushers in 5G upgrade cycle: Future-proof specs for business buyers

Samsung unveils its trio of Galaxy S20 flagship devices with a wide range of prices, a slew of upgraded camera features and specs, 5G as a default, and perks for the enterprise. Will businesses and consumers bite?

Samsung has unveiled its trio of Galaxy S20 flagship devices -- Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra -- with a slew of upgraded camera features and specs, a wide range of prices, 5G as a default, and perks for the enterprise. Ultimately, Samsung's Galaxy S20 launch is likely to kick off the 5G upgrade cycle en masse for the smartphone market. 

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Preorders for Samsung's Galaxy S20 phones begin Feb. 21, while the official launch date is set for March 6, 2020.

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At Unpacked, Samsung tipped its strategy for the Galaxy S20 line. With devices that range from 6.2 inches to 6.9 inches and differing price points and specs, it's clear that Samsung is looking to meet multiple objectives. And by discounting its S10 smartphones by $150 each, Samsung is making sure it has a wide variety of devices and prices for multiple folks. 

The Samsung Galaxy S20 series will be available on March 6. Pricing for Samsung Galaxy S20 starts at $999.99, with the S20 Plus starting at $1,199.99 and S20 Ultra at $1,399. 

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn an affiliate commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review.

Preorders for the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra begin Feb. 21. Customers who preorder between Feb. 21 and March 5 will get a $100 Samsung credit with Galaxy S20, $150 credit with Galaxy S20 Plus, and $200 with Galaxy S20 Ultra. 

Also: Best Samsung Galaxy S10 deals: Save big now that the S20 is here

The overall message for businesses is that the Samsung S20 lineup is designed to be futureproof. With tech buyers holding devices for nearly 30 months, Samsung is betting that having 5G as default will warrant a purchase. Last year, 5G was a pricey option, but 4G was the default. 

The highlights

Samsung highlighted the following at Unpacked:

  • A major camera upgrade as Samsung looks to close a gap with Apple's iPhone 11, which has fared better-than-expected due to its photo-taking ability. The Galaxy S20 launched an Ultra model that offers a whopping 108MP camera as well as potential 100x zoom. Samsung noted the S20 lineup has the biggest jump in-camera capabilities since the Galaxy S7.
  • The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a smart camera system designed to provide a clear image regardless of the time of day. A Nona-binning feature can group nine pixels together to make them one pixel as a way to take pictures on low light without night vision. Another feature is the ability to tell the user when the conditions are right to use the 108MP camera. Space Zoom, another feature, is designed to be a combination of physical and digital zoom capabilities. 
  • The camera punchout on the S20 devices takes up 55% less area on the screen relative to the S10. 
  • Storage and RAM upgrades that will make applications run better. The Galaxy S20 line has anywhere from 12GB to 16GB of RAM.
  • 5G capability across the Galaxy S20 screens, which may range from 6.2 inches to 6.9 inches. The Snapdragon 865 platform in the Galaxy S20 lineup supports all flavors of 5G. In 2019, Samsung accounted for 6.7 million 5G devices sold.
  • 8K video recording that can convert to other resolutions for YouTube uploading or Snapchat. There's also the ability to find a moment in a 8K video and turn it into a 33MP high-resolution photo. 
  • Business features such as the ability to download and share files within corporate approved locations such as OneDrive, Google Drive, internal clouds, and network storage. 
  • Video chat native integration via Google Duo as well as video conferencing over the DeX system via partnerships with Bluejeans and Cisco WebEx. 
  • The ability to allocate RAM for three to five apps depending on the Galaxy S20 model. 
  • A foldable model that is expected to rhyme with Motorola's Razr reboot.
  • Pricing designed to hit multiple price points and needs for consumers and businesses. For instance, the S20 will start at $999. and there are multiple price options all the way to the S20 Ultra topping out at $1,599.

Make no mistake, the Samsung Galaxy S20 launch will be critical to the consumer electronics giant, which is also making a B2B push in 2020. Counterpoint is projecting Galaxy S20 shipments to be at least 40 million units in the first year. That tally should prop up Samsung's smartphone unit, which hasn't delivered a massive upgrade cycle since the Galaxy S7 launch. "We expect 2020 shipments to exceed 40m units, driven by the rumored camera and hardware spec improvements, default 5G, and competitive retail pricing," said Counterpoint.

The specifications

Key specifications include:

Galaxy S20

  • Display: 6.2-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display; HDR10+ certified
  • Rear cameras: Triple camera
    - Wide: 12MP, 1/1.76", 1.8um, F1.8
    - Tele: 64MP, 1/1.72", 0.8um, F2.0
    - Ultrawide: 12MP, 1/2.55", 1.4um, F2.2
    - Zoom: Hybrid Optic Zoom 3x, Super Resolution Zoom up to 30x
  • Front cameras: 10MP, 1.22um, F2.2, AF
  • Body: 69.1 x 151.7 x 7.9mm, 163g
  • Processor: 7nm 64-bit Octa-core processor
  • Storage: 128GB up to 1TB microSD
  • RAM: 12GB
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Network: LTE, 5G (sub-6, mmWave, non-standalone (NSA)), Wi-Fi 6, dual SIM
  • Colors: Cosmic Grey, Cloud Blue, Cloud Pink

Galaxy S20 Plus

  • Display: 6.7-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display; HDR10+ certified
  • Rear cameras: Quadruple camera
    - Wide: 12MP, 1/1.76", 1.8um, F1.8
    - Tele: 64MP, 1/1.72", 0.8um, F2.0
    - Ultrawide: 12MP, 1/2.55", 1.4um, F2.2
    - Zoom: Hybrid Optic Zoom 3x, Super Resolution Zoom up to 30x
  • Front cameras: 10MP, 1.22um, F2.2, AF
  • Depth: ToF (VGA)
  • Body: 73.7 x 161.9 x 7.8mm, 186g
  • Processor: 7nm 64-bit Octa-core processor
  • Storage: 128/512GB up to 1TB microSD
  • RAM: 12GB
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Network: LTE, 5G (sub-6, mmWave, non-standalone (NSA)), Wi-Fi 6, dual SIM
  • Colors: Cosmic Grey, Cloud Blue, Cosmic Black

Galaxy S20 Ultra

  • Display: 6.9-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display; HDR10+ certified
  • Rear cameras: Rear quadruple camera
    - Wide: 108MP, 1/1.33", .8um, F1.8
    - Tele: 48MP, 1/2.0", 0.8um, F3.5
    -  Ultrawide: 12MP, 1/2.55", 1.4um, F2.2
    - Depth: ToF (VGA)
    - Zoom: Hybrid Optic Zoom 10x, Super Resolution Zoom up to 100x
  • Front cameras: 40MP, 0.7um, F2.2, AF
  • Body: 76 x 166.9 x 8.8mm, 220g
  • Processor: 7nm 64-bit Octa-core processor
  • Storage: 128/512GB up to 1TB microSD
  • RAM: 12/16GB
  • Battery: 5,000mAh
  • Network: LTE, 5G (sub-6, mmWave, non-standalone (NSA)), wifi 6, dual SIM
  • Colors: Cosmic Grey, Cosmic Black

My first impressions of the device revolved around weight and general feel. The Galaxy S20 felt best in the hand and proved to be a sleek device. The Galaxy S20 Plus was more in line with the Galaxy Note 10 Plus. The Galaxy S20 Ultra seemed bulky to me with the camera system sticking out a bit too much. However, ZDNet's Matthew Miller had no issue with the size of the Ultra. If the price tag doesn't deter you, I'd recommend seeing the device in person before pulling the trigger on a purchase. 

The themes

Here are the themes to watch as the Galaxy S20 line becomes available:

Does 5G by default spur a smartphone rebound and give Samsung an early 2020 boost?
Last year, the smartphone conundrum revolved around future-proofing. Why buy a 4G phone when you're likely to have a better network option 12 months later? That question haunted the Galaxy S10 as well as the Galaxy Note 10. The 5G question haunted the entire industry even though Apple fared better than expected due to camera upgrades and good pricing decisions. With 5G networks rolling out in more areas and Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 platform, 5G will be the norm. Samsung is aiming to benefit early on.

Will Samsung's camera upgrade drive sales?
Two years ago, Samsung was a clear camera leader, but Apple and other rivals closed the gap. Google with its Pixel devices highlighted how algorithmic photography can make up for lower megapixels. The Qualcomm Snapdragon platform, however, is enabling better photography. Samsung is combining that advance with its own upgrades that equate to a hybrid of AI as well as sheer hardware specs. The S20 Ultra is rumored to have multiple cameras and a 108MP capability. The big question is: What sort of camera will the lower-end S20 devices feature?

Pricing strategy is everything. Samsung has become a lot savvier with its pricing models. The Galaxy S10 Lite and Galaxy Note 10 Lite illustrated how Samsung is thinking through pricing. By offering lower price points, Samsung can bring more premium features down the market while keeping the kitchen sink, high-spec devices high priced. The Galaxy S20 lineup is likely to keep that approach going with Counterpoint betting that the base Galaxy S20 will start at $850. Also, keep in mind that the Galaxy S10 line is likely to see price cuts. It's unclear whether the Note 10 will see price cuts too.

Also: The 10 best not-so-new phones: Why last year's and older models make great deals

Samsung will also be speaking to the enterprise. Aside from Knox for security and DeX for productivity and desktop usage, Samsung is likely to tout 5G's impact on tasks like video conferencing, collaboration, and sharing documents. The specs of the Galaxy S20 line point to more enterprise-grade apps and usage. Look for Samsung to tie 5G, Galaxy S20, and digital transformation together. Samsung may also tout specific use cases like it has with its sleek rugged devices like the Galaxy XCover Pro.

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What's the deal with foldables? The foldable market got off to a slow start in 2019 for good reason: It's largely categorized by high prices and beta testing. Samsung needs to outline its foldable approach at Unpacked and hopefully align pricing with tech buying budgets. 

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