Samsung's Galaxy S20 series phones have been available since last Friday in markets such as the US. And earlier this week we also finally received a unit, in the form of a North American, Snapdragon 865-based Galaxy S20 Ultra. While our review is already underway, we’re also still waiting for public availability in Europe in order to get our hands on our Rest of World, Exynos 990 variant, so that we can take a comprehensive look at both variants of the S20 series. As we've seen in previous years, there have been some pretty significant differences between the Snapdragon and Exynos models at times, thanks to the SoC selection impacting everything from performance to image processing.

But first things first: since we have a bit of a lead time with the Snapdragon unit, we wanted to at least publish the performance figures for this model ahead of the full review, to temporarily satisfy everyone’s curiosity on at least this aspect of the phone.

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System Performance

System performance of the new Galaxy S20 Ultra is an interesting topic, as there are several new aspects to this year’s flagship phone. The one big difference that trumps every other addition is the fact that Samsung has been able to integrate a new 120Hz refresh rate display. This change alone puts the new S20 series far ahead of other mainstream phones in the market, and the new experience is fantastic.

Besides the new higher refresh rate screen, we’re also naturally seeing the upgrade to newer generation SoCs. In this first instance, we’re testing the Snapdragon 865 variant of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. For their latest flagship SoC, Qualcomm adopted the new Cortex-A77 CPU cores, promising to bring 20-25% higher performance over its predecessor.

Finally, we do have to remember that Samsung has a “performance” feature in its battery settings, which increases the aggressiveness of the scheduler to fully unlock the performance of the phone. Usually we test Samsung phones with this option enabled, both in our performance as well as battery life testing.

Starting off with our usual system performance tests, these evaluations are highly sensitive to the responsiveness of the phone, which is tied to the aggressiveness of the DVFS and scheduler of the CPUs. For the Galaxy S20 Ultra, we have four score combinations, showcasing the 60 and 120Hz modes, as well as the “High Performance” mode on or off.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Web Browsing 2.0

The web browsing test in PCMark is quite sensitive to performance responsiveness, and in this regard, the new Snapdragon 865 doesn’t disappoint. Switching between the 60 and 120Hz modes, we see a notable increase in fluidity, and this is picked up by the benchmark.

At the highest performing settings, the new Galaxy S20 Ultra even outperforms the QRD865 platform that we tested back in December. This was quite surprising, as I wasn't expecting commercial devices to ship with as aggressive settings as that phone’s “Performance Mode”, which did seem tad aggressive.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Video Editing

The video editing test has largely lost its performance scaling usefulness, but still is able to pick up the new 120Hz mode of the S20U, representing a jump ahead of any other phone in the market.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Writing 2.0

The writing sub-test is very important in terms of being a representation of every-day snappiness of a phone, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra here tops the charts, falling in line with the best scores from the QRD865 as well as now slightly leaping ahead of Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Photo Editing 2.0

The photo editing test similarly is scaling up in performance across the different setting configurations, showcasing fantastic performance.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Data Manipulation

The data manipulation score also seemingly is tied to the framerate achieved during the test, and the 120Hz mode of the S20U leads all other devices.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Performance

In the overall results, no matter what setting you’re using, the Galaxy S20 Ultra with the Snapdragon 865 tops all other commercially available Android phones out there, and at its peak settings, it even outperforms the QRD865 in its aggressive performance mode.

I did some quick testing of the DVFS aggressiveness between the optimized and performance modes, and was surprised to see no difference in the resulting scaling behavior. This means that the performance differences must arrive from the overall more aggressive scheduling, rather than scaling up to higher frequencies sooner. We’ll go over this aspect in more detail in the full review.

Speedometer 2.0 - OS WebView WebXPRT 3 - OS WebView JetStream 2 - OS Webview

In all our three web tests, we see the S20 Ultra in line with what the QRD865 was able to achieve, with some slight leads in WebXPRT 3. The Cortex-A77 seemingly doesn’t improve its instruction throughput very much in high instruction pressure heavy workloads such as the web-based JS benchmarks, so that’s possibly why we aren’t seeing that large increases here.

CPU Performance & Power

Our power testing back in December on the QRD865 platform wasn't quite as accurate as I would have hoped for, as the phone's power management funcitonality as well PMIC calibration weren’t quite polished. I had opted to publish numbers on the more pessimistic side of the scale, and I’m glad I did as it does turn out that the new chipset performs quite a bit better in actual commercial devices, including of course the S20 Ultra.

These new figures mean that the Snapdragon 865 actually does not behave as expected – we had been anticipating it requiring more power to achieve its higher performance points – and instead Qualcomm has managed to reduce absolute power all while increasing the performance. As a result, we’re seeing a much larger generational improvement in the energy efficiency of the chip. The new “middle” cores of the Snapdragon 865 also outperform the performance cores of the Snapdragon 855, and that does signify for quite a large multi-threaded performance boost.

We’ll be going over the detailed results as well as include an analysis of the Exynos 990 chip in our full review, but for now, it seems that the Snapdragon 865 is an excellent chipset, and will serve as a great base for 2020 devices.

GPU Performance & Power
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  • peevee - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    TL;DR: in normal mode which will be used by 99% of customers, without the battery-killing "Performance" option enabled, S20 Ultra is about the same as S10+, and even with the option still trails last year iPhones by a whole lot.
  • patel21 - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    Yes, I just thought the same.
    I just focused the SD865/60Hz scores, and ignored the 120Hz and P mode.

    The reason being even if I or any sane person considering buying S20 series device, its either going to be S20 with its 4000mah battery or the S20+ with 4500mah one.

    So when I think of how fast is it from S10+ with the same battery size as S20, the numbers are not interesting at all.

    You also need to keep in mind that S20 Ultra is a Huge phone, with lots of body space to cool it down, so the performance numbers might be different from the smaller models, and whatever battery/power the new architecture of SD865 is going to save is more probably going to be wasted by the external modem.
  • Alistair - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    Yeah I'm most interested in the S20 normal results, not the + or Ultra. It is already an extra $300 over the iPhone 11, I'm not really interested in the phone that costs double. I'm not interested in the 11 Pro Max etc. either.
  • flyingpants265 - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    Reviewers love to focus on superficial stuff like specs and benchmarks.

    Ever notice how flagship phones lag, even on release? The software is EXTREMELY badly written. A lot of these apps should be using maximum 1 megabyte of RAM.. Instead they're loading gigabytes of assets and libraries, makes no sense at all, but makes it much easier on the developers. I wish Terry A. Davis had written a modern smartphone OS. Multi-tasking support should be better, and app-switching should be instantaneous. Even Microsoft Windows can do that.

    Oh, and also,
    No front speakers = no buy.
    No headphone jack = no buy.
    And unless it performs miracles (it doesn't), $999 = no buy.
  • Alistair - Saturday, March 14, 2020 - link

    That's why I picked up my first iPhone since the iPhone 4 this week. Cheap, fast, works (yet sadly filled with stupid Apple decisions, but ones I can live with). I want iMessage for the browser, and T9 dialing, basic stuff that Apple refuses to do out of pigheadedness. But it works, battery life (stand by time in particular) is amazing. My less than one year old flagship Android phone, it's Android auto stopped working (the voice assistant), and Google has known about the bugs for 6 months now and hasn't fixed them. Bought the iPhone for Carplay, which is great. Only problem is I use all google services, so I have to append "on Youtube music" to every request, which is annoying.

    Android and Apple both need to add a default music player setting option, for god's sake.
  • NickCPC - Saturday, March 14, 2020 - link

    I'm a Brit and have had the Exynos 990 S20 Ultra since Monday - really impressed - previous phone being a Pixel 2 XL. Completely agree with the review that the 120Hz mode is a significant step forward - I don't even mind it being a lower resolution. I guess I'm coming forward 3 CPU generations (S835) even though it's less than 2.5yrs since I got the P2XL. Completely expecting the S865 to be superior to the E990 but it's still overall a very good phone. Ironically not had much chance to use the camera yet, but speakers are infinitely better than the P2.
  • 4k HDR - Saturday, March 14, 2020 - link

    You forget one important test 4K HDR YouTube video with full resolution of the S20 ultra cause S10 Exynos and S10 snapdragon 855 lags if you watch these kind of extreme resolution videos and throttling so fast snapdragon throttle even worst than Exyons.
  • Tlh97 - Sunday, March 15, 2020 - link

    Can you add Perf/W efficiency of SD865 GPU in warn condition like in Apple chipsets?
  • Quantumz0d - Sunday, March 15, 2020 - link

    Finally some generational improvements like 820 and 835 (efficiency), I think this is a good platform to buy and get it going for a long time since the battery consumption of these planned obsolescence devices will be at-least good enough to keep them going for 3+ years instead of just 2.

    Coming to SPEC, yeah as usual. Apple's iPhone 7 is defeating this, but one simple question, will the consumer market, Including the supply and demand with respect to the ROI and performance (meaning people's usage patterns and their satisfaction rate) so does these benchmarks translate to the pricing and the user experience ? to put it simply, an iPhone 8 or X as shown in SPEC, will they be able to beat an S10 or S20 experience ? I don't think so at all..

    Next up, Samsung S20 series phones are ugly and looks like trash, their camera module is so big and thick and it's an eye sore comparing it to the Note 8,9, S10 this is a huge downgrade, when DJ Koh left Samsung, or since the rumors were coming, I speculated changes but not for worse.

    - Lack of SpO2 sensor in Samsung health app now, it's just a pedometer now.
    - Removal of 3.5mm jack, what the fuck is this ? This phone is right up at over $1000 without tax and it lacks basic stuff like that for no reason except for greed, their stupid Galaxy Buds do not even have AptX or AptXLL and they use cheap shit Balanced Armatures and demanding over $100 for that ANC, absolute rip off when you see their guts sporting coin cells which could be slot loaded or such but we have another planned obsolescence gadget. AKG is trash, AKG N5005 is shit, they have huge regression in the whole QC, Sound, K3003i was great but this is nothing. Shows in their Galaxy Buds and inbox set.
    - Insane price for the base version as well.
    - Seeing the camera, they removed that Dual Pixel PDAF and got focusing issues for some nonabinning bullshit.
    - Still having a hole despite showing off their Under Screen Camera in 2018, in China.
    - Their Knox chip, I wonder Exynos will have bootloader unlock or not this time and how hard is it.
    - No stereo speakers which are FF, I know their sound is great on Note10 but it should have been done by now.
    - 120Hz for bragging rights, downgraded the display resolution to FHD. It's a shame when their OP7P panel does it at 1440P, they couldn't give the base version at 5K mah ? Zenfone 6 did it last year, LG V60 is doing it this year..
  • cheetah2k - Monday, March 16, 2020 - link

    How does it compare to the exynos 990 S20 Ultra?? This is the question everyone is after!

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