In the past six months, whenever someone asked me “what’s the best budget phone on the market,” I’d say the iPhone 11. I’d get suspicious looks, but then I’d explain that it’s truly an amazing deal for $699, as it’s very close in performance to the $999 iPhone 11 Pro. And if you’re really on a tight budget, the iPhone XR and 8 are pretty good at very decent prices.
Enter Samsung’s new Galaxy S20 series of devices, announced on Tuesday at Samsung’s Unpacked event in San Francisco. The Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra appear to be great phones (I’ll need some time with them to truly find out), with powerful cameras, smooth 120Hz screens, and the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor. The pricing is as follows: $999 for the Galaxy S20, $1,199 for the Galaxy S20+, and $1,399 for the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
That’s right, the Galaxy S20 starts $300 above the iPhone 11. With Apple’s brand power and the fact that the iPhone 11 really is an excellent phone, the Galaxy S20 will be a tough sell.
IPhone: Can it really be that good?
The Samsung Galaxy S20 is a more powerful phone than the iPhone 11 — on paper. But when it comes to cameras, megapixels aren’t everything. I’ve tested phones with 64-megapixel and 108-megapixel sensors against the iPhone 11’s camera and the iPhone still came on top.
I don’t expect the Snapdragon 865 to offer a big performance advantage — if any — over Apple’s A13 Bionic chip. The S20 has a whopping 12GB of RAM (three times more than the iPhone 11) but RAM has never been a constraint on any iPhone I’ve owned.
And then there’s the 5G, which is on board for all three S20 phones (only the sub-6Ghz variant on the S20, though). It’s worth mentioning because the chip is expensive, and is likely partially to blame for the S20’s prices. It’s also important to note that no iPhones support 5G at this time. If 5G is important to you then you may find the S20’s pricing justified. My take is that for the vast majority of users, 5G still isn’t a big factor.
There are also things that the S20 doesn’t have, like the iPhone 11’s excellent face recognition, or a 12-megapixel front-facing camera (the S20 and S20+ have a 10-megapixel front shooter; only the ultra-pricey S20 Ultra has a 40-megapixel camera).
In a nutshell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the S20 turns out to be a better phone than the iPhone 11. But is it going to be $300 better?
IPhone: A complicated lineup
The iPhone 11 and the Galaxy S20 lineups aren’t easily comparable, especially since the cameras and screen sizes are so different. The iPhone 11 has the same processor, the same camera (sans the zoom lens), and just slightly worse battery life than the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. It has an LCD screen instead of OLED, though.
The differences between the Galaxy S20 and S20+ are subtle: size and battery life, mostly. It’s the S20 Ultra that’s really far ahead, especially in the camera department. And Samsung has recently launched the Galaxy S10 Lite, which shares some traits with the S20 series but has the two-generations old Snapdragon 855 processor. The company also slashed the pricing of its S10 series, with S10e now starting at $599.
But if you’re someone in the market for a brand new phone, and you don’t mind jumping ship from Android to iOS or vice versa, you’re going to look at Samsung’s new flagships and see that they start at $1,000 dollars, while the iPhone’s (still quite new) flagships start at $700 dollars. As I said, a tough sell.
IPhone: Comparing apples to apples
Why am I comparing Samsung’s Galaxy S20 to the iPhone 11? Aren’t there enough Android phones to compare with? Well, aside for the fact that Apple is arguably Samsung’s biggest competitor, looking at other Androids doesn’t make the Galaxy S20 seem any cheaper. Companies like Xiaomi, Oppo, OnePlus, and Vivo will soon launch phones with the same processor and similar camera setups for less money.
Don’t get me wrong: If you like Samsung phones, and if the reviews are good, and if money is no issue, then by all means, get the new S20. Treat yourself to the S20 Ultra if you can; it appears to be the most powerful phone on the planet right now. But there’s no escaping the fact that these phones are really, really expensive in a world in which even Apple has become cost-conscious.
Samsung could’ve done it differently, too. The company could’ve ditched a few more features from its S20 (5G and 120Hz, maybe) and made it at least two or three hundred bucks cheaper. Instead, Samsung decided to make the entire S20 lineup overkill in terms of features, and priced it accordingly. That’s fine, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if that ended up being good for Apple’s market share.