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Samsung goes big on 5G, cameras with the Galaxy S20, unveils folding Z Flip phone

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/13/2020 Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY
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Samsung is ready for a closer close-up and hoping you’re finally ready to embrace 5G.

Its newest offerings in the Galaxy line of 5G phones, announced in San Francisco on Tuesday, come in three variants: the S20, the S20+ and the S20 Ultra, with the chief differences among them coming down to screen size, color, camera and price.

The S20 has a 6.2-inch Quad HD+ display and goes for $999.99; the S20+ has a 6.7-inch display and is at $1,199.99 to start, and the S20 Ultra has a 6.9-inch screen and is at $1,399.99 on up. Preorders begin Feb. 21, with the devices in stores March 6. 

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All three models come with 12GB of RAM (with a 16GB option for the Ultra). Though there are other factors, more RAM lets you return to previously used apps faster, including games that might otherwise take a long time to load. All three have 120Hz displays that, in theory anyway, promise a seamless mobile gaming experience. And they all have a minimum of 128GB of storage, along with the ability to upgrade via optional microSD cards. 

a stereo on his cell phone: Samsung S20 Ultra © Samsung Samsung S20 Ultra

The phones all have sizable batteries, too, with the Ultra having the biggest.

What is the Z Flip? 

You might have seen the ad Samsung ran during Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, showcasing the foldable "statement" $1,380 Z Flip that was also unveiled in San Francisco. It comes in gold, purple or black and folds to about half its size like a wallet or unfolds at any angle, similar to a laptop. It will be available Friday.

You can display content across the completely unfolded or partially folded 6.7-inch "AMOLED" screen on the Z Flip. You can also split the screen to control an app that is displayed in the upper half by interacting with the bottom half.

Among other modes, you can prop the phone up on a table, open at a 90-degree angle, to take a hands-free selfie. 

A hideaway hinge is protected by fibers to keep particles from damaging the device, Samsung says.

More details are expected to be revealed at an event in New York on Wednesday. 

With the renewed focus on folding phones, the current market for them is unproven and not yet what most pundits would consider mainstream.

Samsung ran into technical problems with the delayed launch last year of the near $2,000 Galaxy Fold. Verizon and Walmart are selling the folding $1,499.99 Moto Razr. Motorola is hoping the combination of nostalgia, flexible touch screen technology and an iconic brand name will translate into lofty sales. That remains to be seen.

As for Samsung's new foldable, "I believe the Flip will be a market success assuming there aren't any reliability gotchas," says tech analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.

Samsung Galaxy Buds+

Samsung also unveiled new $149.99 Galaxy Buds+ Bluetooth earbuds. Samsung is claiming improved audio quality over the prior version (which will remain in the lineup) and up to 22 hours of audio playback.

There's an additional microphone, bringing the total to three, for better voice quality, and a one-touch shortcut to Spotify. Samsung made a point that the pair works with iOS, meaning Samsung is obviously trying to compete against Apple's AirPods.

The new buds will be available Feb. 14 online, and in stores March 6. 

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The Galaxy S20 Ultra camera

So why else would you consider any of the S20s? As is often the case, it boils down to the camera. 

The new Galaxy handsets all have large sensors and a camera system fueled in part by artificial intelligence. The S20 and S20+ both have 64-megapixel telephoto cameras and 12MP wide-angle cameras; the Ultra has a 48MP telephoto camera but a 108MP wide-angle camera.

The three phones all have 12MP ultra-wide cameras as well. The quad-camera S20+ and Ultra models add depth vision. 

On that quad-camera Ultra model, you’ll see an array of three lenses – ultra-wide, wide, telephone – on top of one another on the upper left of the rear, housed in a rectangle with the flash, depth sensor and microphone.

The potential benefit behind all the bigger sensors and extra megapixels is that in an expansive scene with a lot of people, you can maintain focus and detail as you crop, zoom and edit. 

On the Ultra, you can dynamically shift between shooting in 108MP mode or 12MP by exploiting a technology known as “Nona Binning,” which essentially means you’re merging nine pixels to act as one giant pixel.

Moreover, through a combination of a hardware optical zoom and AI-powered digital zoom on the Ultra, Samsung says you can zoom in on a scene up to 100x; displaying, for example, barely visible distant street signs.

When you start to zoom at great distances, a small rectangle will appear on the display to help guide your shot.

You can zoom up to a more modest 30x on both the S20 and S20+.

Samsung also has introduced a new feature called Single Take. When you tap the shutter in this mode, the phone takes 10 seconds to automatically record the scene, and pick out and curate into the gallery what it considers the best photos and videos you’ve shot. You’ll have a couple of video options to choose from: pics taken from different angles or cropped, maybe a boomerang or something in black and white. You can decide after the fact which photos and videos to keep.

Samsung S20 camera's video options

You can also shoot 8K video. For sure, few of us have an 8K television to play back 8K content. Samsung through a partnership with YouTube will let you share what you’ve shot in 8K on YouTube.

Samsung says it is also partnering with renowned directors to capture content based on Netflix Originals, all to showcase the pro-grade capabilities of the Galaxy cameras.

Among other features: Samsung partnered with Google to integrate Google Duo video chat into the S20 – it's similar to Apple's FaceTime, but available across operating systems. You will find the Duo icon in the dialer and in your contacts. You'll be able to chat in full HD resolution – Google and Samsung say 5G will help with video quality.

Live captioning on Android will also be available on the S20s.

What else is new on Samsung S20s

Samsung also added a feature that will help you share your Bluetooth connection with friends who have their own Galaxy devices. 

When it unveiled its Galaxy Note 10 phones last summer, Samsung removed the standard headphone jack that was on the Galaxy S10 and prior Samsung smartphones. The jack is also missing on the S20s, a bummer for users who still rely on corded headphones.

Samsung pushing 5G

Is 5G enough of a reason to upgrade now? That’s still debatable, despite the promise of blisteringly fast speeds.

Samsung’s popular S-series flagships have for some years now been the mainstream Android yin to the iOS iPhone yang. By pretty much going all-in on 5G, Samsung promises to give the speedy next generation of wireless a major lift, which despite mounds of hype is still in its nascent stages. Apple buyers can’t purchase a 5G iPhone yet, nor is there any guarantee that will change when Apple gets around to unleashing new iPhones, most likely in September. 

For all the places where the nation’s four major carriers have launched 5G so far – three assuming the T-Mobile-Sprint merger that was approved by a federal judge finally goes through -- the networks are hardly everywhere. Even in markets where 5G exists, there’s not necessarily blanket coverage.

That said, 5G is far further along than it was when Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S10 5G handset last year. And Samsung is pushing 5G now as a hedge against the future. That hedge has its limits and depends on which of the S20s you buy. 

Most notably, the least expensive of the S20 models won’t be sold by Verizon, at least initially, because the particular flavor of 5G that Verizon supports – known in techie circles as mmWave – is incompatible with the device. Verizon says it will have a version of the S20 that will work with its 5G network in the second quarter of the year.

Instead, Verizon customers who want a new device with 5G will have to step up to the S20+ or S20 Ultra models. 

You can also buy an unlocked S20 and put a Verizon SIM card in it, but you won’t get 5G.

Are these new Galaxy flagships worth buying? Stay tuned for USA TODAY reviews.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Samsung goes big on 5G, cameras with the Galaxy S20, unveils folding Z Flip phone

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