Samsung Galaxy 2020 comparison: Note20 series vs. S20 series vs. A51
If you’re after an Android phone, Samsung’s Galaxy range is the first port of call for many people. But which one is best for you? The flagship S20 line, the budget-friendly A51 or the premium Note20 devices? To help you decide, New Atlas compares the specs and features of the Samsung Galaxy Note20, Note20 Ultra, A51, S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra.
While this isn’t the full extent of Samsung’s 2020 Galaxy phones, we picked out the ones that best represent the range. It’s also worth noting that all of these Samsung phones are available in 5G models, if you’re looking to jump onto that emerging cellular technology (and if it’s available in your area). These models have slightly different specs, but we’ll point those out when we get to them.
In physical dimensions, the Galaxy S20 comes in as the smallest, by quite a margin. The next smallest is the A51, followed by the Note20 and S20+ neck-and-neck with each other. The Note20 Ultra is a little bigger than those, and finally the S20 Ultra tops the pack as one of the largest mainstream phones of the year.
Weight-wise, the bunch follows the same order. The figures in brackets indicate the 5G models of those phones.
There’s actually quite a large range between the smallest and largest – 60 grams, or the equivalent of 12 US nickels. Weight isn't the most important aspect, but when the difference is like lugging around a pocketful of coins, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Samsung just loves to spice up its color names with weird adjectives – the Note20s are all mystic, the A51 is prismatic, and the S20s are cosmic and cloudy. In plainer terms, the Note20 colors have metallic sheens, the A51 has a “nano-laminated film” that reflects light to create pretty patterns, and the S20 cloud colors are nice pastels.
There’s a range of build materials on offer here. The Note20 and A51 are made with polycarbonate backing, while the other phones are all made with glass front and back, ringed in metal. For the S20 series, that frame is aluminum, while the Note20 uses stainless steel.
The Note20 Ultra is also the first smartphone on the market to make use of Gorilla Glass Victus. According to manufacturer Corning, the new material is far more scratch resistant and lets devices survive falls onto hard surfaces from as high as 2 m (6.6 ft).
The rest of the lineup uses the previous version, Gorilla Glass 6, with a max drop height of 1.6 m (5.2 ft). The only exception is the A51 which uses the much older Gorilla Glass 3, so don’t expect quite as much resistance there.
All six of these phones have pretty big screens, with the smallest – the Galaxy S20 – starting at 6.2 in. The A51 is next at 6.5 in, followed by the Note20 and S20+ on a respectable 6.7 in. The top is a tie between the Note20 Ultra and S20 Ultra, on an almost-too-big 6.9 in.
Samsung’s current design sensibilities waste very little space on the front of these devices – all six models hover around the 90 percent mark for screen-to-body ratio. That’s thanks to very thin bezels around the edges, and a “hole punch” camera in the top.
These Galaxy phones all have displays with higher than Full HD resolution. The Note20 and the A51 have an extra 480 pixels in the vertical compared to regular FHD displays, while the Note20 Ultra gives the common 1,440p resolution a similar stretching. The Galaxy S20 series has the highest resolution at 3,200 x 1,440.
In terms of pure numbers the sharpest resolution belongs, surprisingly, to the base model Galaxy S20, with a pixel density of 563 pixels per inch. That’s because it’s cramming the same resolution into a physically smaller screen.
Samsung has long been an advocate of the Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) display, and all six of these phones are built with the technology. AMOLED screens generally allow for brighter colors and darker blacks.
The Note20 range also comes with a stylus called the S Pen, which can be used to draw and write more precisely on the display. And it's not just a thrown-in-the-box addition either – the capability is baked into the display itself. Samsung says that the high refresh rate of the Note20 Ultra makes for even smoother note-taking and sketching.
The Note20s and S20s are all running on eight-core versions of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 chipset. The difference is that the Note20s use the newer 865+ models, which have a 10 percent faster CPU and GPU than the base 865. The Galaxy A51, meanwhile, runs on the lower-end Exynos 9611 processor – but it should still get the job done, and then some.
The Galaxy A51 has the least RAM of the bunch, on 4 GB. The Note20, Note20 Ultra, S20 and S20 Ultra double that by default, with the option to boost it to 12 GB in the models with 5G compatibility. The Galaxy S20 Ultra starts at 12 GB and cranks things up to 16 GB for its 5G model.
The higher end of that range seems a little like overkill – 8 GB is more than enough for most people’s phone use. Even the A51 will get by just fine with 4 GB.
The Note20, Note20 Ultra, S20 and S20 Ultra all have the same selfie cam, with a resolution of 10 megapixels (MP) and an aperture of f/2.2. Somewhat surprisingly, the budget A51 packs a much more powerful camera with 32 MP. Less surprisingly, the sharpest camera belongs to the S20 Ultra.
All six of these Galaxy phones boast three cameras on the back, while the A51, the S20+ and S20 Ultra have a fourth dedicated to depth-sensing (which itself doesn’t take photos).
They all feature a wide-angle lens, with various megapixel counts – 12 MP on the Note20, S20 and S20+, 48 MP on the A51, and a huge 108 MP on the Note20 Ultra and S20 Ultra. Every model shares the same ultra-wide lens – 12 MP and an f/2.2 aperture.
Five of the six have telephoto lenses too, from 12 MP on the Note20 Ultra, to 48 MP on the S20 Ultra, right up to 64 MP on the Note20, S20 and S20+.
The A51 forgoes the telephoto lens for a macro instead, allowing it to shoot close-ups of tiny objects in more detail.
Since all of these phones are in Samsung’s Galaxy ecosystem, they share most of the same photo and video modes.
They can all snap images with High Dynamic Range (HDR), stitch multiple shots together into panoramas, and shoot in very low light conditions thanks to night mode. They can also all use augmented reality (AR), where virtual objects and characters are overlaid on the real world through the camera.
Scene Optimizer is a feature found on many Samsung phones (including all six of these), which recognizes what kind of shot you’re taking and automatically adjusts settings like exposure, contrast and white balance to get the best results. The modes it recognizes include things like faces, food, people, animals, cities, scenery, sunsets, and flowers.
Live Focus allows users to adjust the level of background blur – even after a photo is taken.
Single Take is a mode that makes it easy to capture the best version of a moment, by shooting a short video and automatically pulling out the best stills as photos.
The S20+ and S20 Ultra make use of the depth-sensing camera to improve Live Focus, let you use the camera to measure the size and dimensions of objects or even scan them to make 3D models.
Where the phones differ most drastically is in the zoom. The A51 has digital-only zoom, at up to 8-times. The Note20, S20 and S20+ can zoom in up to three times optically and 30 times digitally. The Note20 Ultra ups that to 5-times optical and 50-times digital. And finally, the S20 Ultra has one of the most powerful zoom capabilities in a smartphone, offering up to 10-times optical and a huge 100-times digital zoom.
The Galaxy A51 misses out on many of the video modes and features of the other five phones. It can shoot in 4K or Full HD at up to 30 frames per second (fps), and slow things down to 120 fps. Plus there’s some electronic image stabilization (EIS) at work.
As for the rest of the batch, the options are a bit wider. The Note20, Note20 Ultra, S20 and S20 Ultra can do all the same stuff as above, but also shoot in 8K resolution, 4K 60 fps, slow motion at 240 fps, and a super slo-mo mode at a huge 960 fps.
They also have timelapse, HDR10+ and optical image stabilization (OIS).
All six phones have ultrasonic fingerprint sensors built into the lower portion of the screen. That’s it for the A51, but the other five also have a facial recognition system, so users can unlock the devices with a quick scan.
The Note20 and S20 lines are all rated IP68 for water resistance, and Samsung says they can survive being submerged in up to 1.5 m (5 ft) of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. The A51, meanwhile, has not been officially rated, so it’s unclear how well (if at all) it would withstand a splash or spill or swim.
The baseline storage for this whole range is 128 GB, which will be enough for many people. For those who need a bit more, the option is there on each phone except the A51 and S20.
On the Note20, that can be doubled to 256 GB. The Note20 Ultra, S20+ and S20 Ultra all offer 128 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB models.
The Galaxy Note20 doesn’t offer a MicroSD card slot, so choose your storage option wisely. For the rest of the range, you can expand it later – up to 512 GB for the A51, and up to 1 TB for all the others.
All six phones have decent battery capacities, up around the higher end of the market. They start at 4,000 mAh for the Galaxy A51 and S20, move up to 4,300 mAh for the Note20, 4,500 for the Note20 Ultra and S20+, and top out at a generous 5,000 mAh for the S20 Ultra. In general, you should expect to get at least a full day’s use out of each of these phones.
All six can also all be fast charged with the included charger.
Five out of the six phones can be wirelessly charged, but you’ll need to buy a separate charger which can cost up to US$50 for a Samsung-branded one. There’s also a feature called PowerShare, which lets you charge other devices just by placing them on top of your phone.
The A51 is the sole hold-out with wired charging only – but wireless charging is something that many people can live without.
USB-C is the port of choice for all of these phones, which is used for charging and plugging in the included earbuds. The exception to the latter is the A51, which also includes a 3.5 mm audio jack. Strangely enough, the phone industry seems to have decided that this once-ubiquitous (and still useful) port is now restricted to budget devices.
All six Galaxies are running Android 10, the latest version of Google’s operating system, right out of the box. Samsung has confirmed that the S20 and Note20 ranges will be supported for at least the next three versions of Android.
This whole batch of phones comes pre-loaded with Bixby, Samsung’s proprietary personal assistant.
The A51 is the oldest phone of the bunch, having released back in December 2019. The S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra came out in March 2020, and the Note20 and Note20 Ultra are the newbies, having launched in August 2020.
The A51 is positioned as the budget phone of the bunch, starting at the very reasonable US$399, or $499 for the 5G model.
After that there’s quite a gap, with the Note20 and S20 starting at $999. The S20+ starts at $1,199, while for an extra 100 bucks you could get the Note20 Ultra, and another 100 on top of that the S20 Ultra.
These prices go all the way up to an immense $1,599 for the 512 GB model of the S20 Ultra, making it one of the most expensive phones on the market today.