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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  • SafraneIt - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    If I understand the SPEC benchmark correctly, the QRD865 consumes about half of the power of the iPhone 11 to produce about half of its performance. Correct?

    That would mean that the iPhone's CPU is designed to draw a lot more power...
    I wonder why Qualcomm doesn't have a CPU with similar design characteristics. Maybe the monetary benefits don't justify it?
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    2.5x/2.13x the power for 1.57x/1.37x the performance. Arm will only have a similar "high power" CPU in 2021+.
  • SafraneIt - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    Thank you for the details.
  • emn13 - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    ...though would you want that? I can't imagine intentionally damaging battery life expectancy by so much for so little perf gain. But given the otherwise excellent A13, imagine what they could do if they aimed a little more at sustained perf and battery life, and less at instant space-heater... I'm curious how the existing Low Power Mode compares, although that disables various other bits of functionality you might not want to lose.
  • dudedud - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    Yes. I would love to see the Low Power Mode in the SPEC sheets as well in order to compare it to the "middle cores" in the 865/855. IIRC, Andrei posted a voltage curve in its review, and it seems like the upper 200Mhz consumes a lot.
  • cfenton - Saturday, March 14, 2020 - link

    My understanding is that the little cores in the A13 are significantly better than the little cores in the SD865. This allows Apple to keep more tasks on those very efficient cores, which is good for battery life. This gives them the headroom to go a bit nuts on the big cores.

    Though, I would also be interested to see an A13 limited to 70% on the big cores. I imagine it would still have plenty of power and would be much better for battery life. Of course, given the data Apple has about how people use their phones, it's probably already optimized for the best overall balance.
  • arayoflight - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    Actually the power is 2.5x lower for a performance about 1.5x lower. For power measurement, look at the Watt figure on the left chart (first one before the comma).

    A bigger die like Apple's would be more expensive to produce and hence would have few takers in the android side. The discrete modem this year alone led to such a big rise in flagship prices. Imagine what a large CPU + discrete modem would have done.

    Qualcomm gets their CPU designs from ARM as well. So if ARM doesn't make a big CPU, Qualcomm just has to take what ARM has or develop their own (which is very hard).
  • Nicon0s - Monday, March 23, 2020 - link

    Essentially all you have to know is the X performs better than Y in certain benchmarks.
    Now how accurate those benchmarks are is another discussion.
    Everybody can see than the iphone 7 doesn't feel faster in day to day usage than a lot of mid-range android phones.
  • SafraneIt - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    Edit: I wish you would be more specific than just using adjectives like "superior". I look up to this website for educational content.
    It would also be great to have links after each benchmark to a FAQ that explains how we should understand it (so, for the WebView one, the influence of the JavaScript engine is a big disclaimer to have).
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, March 13, 2020 - link

    That performance section covers "system performance" as a whole of hardware and software combined, while yes JS engine perf matters, it shouldn't matter in this context of overall device perf.

    As for Apple, you can read more details in the dedicated reviews of those phones, I can't really go into more specifics in the comment section other than summing up that it's "superior":

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