In this comparison we look at two widely available phones that have different philosophies regarding the everyday Android experience. On the one hand, the long standing pedigree of Samsung up against the upstart that has made more waves recently than ever in OnePlus. This is our Samsung Galaxy S20 vs the OnePlus 8 video.
Easy to grasp
You’ll notice that we’re talking about the lower tiers of both lines in this comparison. The OnePlus 8 also has the big brother Pro model, which gets a lot of the attention — however, it’s important to remember that the OnePlus 8 is the one available in carrier stores and across many online platforms, making it one of the most accessible OnePlus devices in the company’s history. It’s a move that brings it closer to the kind of proliferation Samsung has had for years — the Galaxy S20 is the smallest of the S20 lineup, with the S20+ and the S20 Ultra rounding out the high premium tiers.
And right off the bat, I’m already a fan of the handling on both sides. These are smaller phones, after all, with the S20 finding itself a little undersized in comparison. The S20+ is more up to size against the OnePlus 8. That said, the OnePlus 8 feels like a great middle ground for people that want a good amount of screen without sacrificing ergonomics. It’s also the flashiest current OnePlus device, with this Interstellar Glow colorway that is not found in the Pro models. Contrast that to the baby blues of my Galaxy S20 and S20+, which still look pretty good. On the topic of the backings, the camera modules are in line with either company’s existing design language — the OnePlus 8 keeps the triple camera setup right in the middle while the Galaxy S20 has the now infamous rectangle over on the top corner.
Going around the devices, the main difference between both thin phones is an extra input for the OnePlus 8 — the Alert Slider. I appreciate tactile options of any kind and OnePlus has done well to make this toggle synonymous with their brand. Other than that, many of the differences are only skin deep, as both phones bring high end specifications to a design that is really easy to grasp and understand: for those who want good quality of life in their everyday smartphone usage, both phones immediately fulfill that criteria once they’re in your hand.
And as premium offerings from both companies, the specifications really do line up — the Snapdragon 865 is the processor throughout with 8GB of RAM and 128 of onboard storage. For biometrics, in-display fingerprint readers and face unlock capabilities are found throughout. Both features are pretty reliable for both phones, but Samsung keeps sticking to an Ultrasonic reader that feels just a tad bit slower. I tend to opt for face unlock, but obviously that is something a little harder to use these days.
These differences in fingerprint scanner technology mean that you can’t protect the Galaxy S20 with just any screen protector. Actually, the list of options available is VERY limited and quite expensive.
Discrepancies in the hardware list might sway you one way or another depending on your needs. The OnePlus 8 Pro has a sizeable battery at 4300mAh, splitting the difference between the S20’s 4000 and the S20+ with its 4500mAh battery. No matter how you slice it, that’s quite a bit of battery for phones that are delightfully thin. Battery life in either case is more than enough for a full day of work and play, but the Galaxy S20 has 15W wireless charging while the OnePlus 8 didn’t get any at all — fast wireless Warp Charging was saved for the OnePlus 8 Pro.
OnePlus also provides a higher tier configuration with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of onboard storage for a higher price, but the Galaxy S20 has a microSD card slot to cover that base. It might sound like I’m just running through the spec sheet but I did want to ensure that the details get out there before I dive into the real crux of this comparison — how both companies leverage such hardware to make two unique takes on Android.
Speed, two ways
And that’s because OnePlus’ claim of “The Speed You Need” deserves to be a focal point: from their display down to the software in Oxygen OS, this phone is a breeze to use. The screen of the OnePlus 8 is a Full HD+ AMOLED panel that tops out at 90hz, potentially bringing a higher refresh rate to more people and showing them how anything above 60hz really makes smartphones feel a bit more futuristic. OnePlus did a great job of tuning their software and the display to provide a smooth and pleasing experience in Oxygen OS.
And if there’s one thing OnePlus fans swear by the most, it’s Oxygen OS — a smooth, speedy, and minimalistic take on Android that has a great aesthetic, to boot. Customization is still abundant, right down to OnePlus’ own font; and there are some extra features that are delightfully practical, like the Reading Mode to make your OnePlus device more comfortable to read like a Kindle. And it’s not like OnePlus forgets that speed can be applied in other situations: enhancements like the gaming and even more powerful Fnatic Mode help make mobile gaming a high performance endeavor, as well.
One of the reasons why the OnePlus 8 line might strike users as faster and smoother is because it doesn’t have too many Android alternatives — OnePlus Switch and OnePlus’ own gallery apps are here, but otherwise, many of the trappings of stock Android are the default. Contrast that to the Samsung philosophy, which dives into an ecosystem riddled with Samsung’s many alternatives. It’s important to note that even with all of these first party apps and settings that might overwhelm users, the Galaxy S20 doesn’t fall behind in terms of speed. Its Quad HD Super AMOLED display can do 120hz if the resolution is brought down to Full HD, making it look faster than the OnePlus 8. However, differences between 90hz and 120hz are up to your perception and how useful it is for your usage.
Now, in terms of this comparison, I get to bring back a phrase I coined long ago — Galaxy Syndrome. It’s a term I use to describe a problem I see many Galaxy users face; in having a phone with so many features and apps Samsung has developed, people tend to find that at least half of them never get used. It’s different for everyone — you might not use Bixby because Google Assistant is already there, Samsung DeX is probably a great way of expanding the phone’s usage but it just collects dust, and Samsung’s many other preinstalled applications are nice to have but end up sitting in that Samsung folder out of sight. Some features do prove useful, like the Edge Panel. But in the end, none of these extras slow down the S20’s overall experience, which means Samsung gets credit for saturating their phones with features without sacrificing speed. Perhaps the best way to put it is that the Samsung ecosystem is trying its hardest to be the way you get things done, while the OnePlus ecosystem is just trying to make systems that already exist easier. If you are entrenched in the Galaxy ecosystem by now, sticking to it is a no-brainer. But they also ask you to pay a premium to stay in it.
Go wide or go long?
So where does Samsung direct the value of their phones? For the S20 line, the tag was “The Phone that will Change Photography.” Obviously this was meant mostly for the S20 Ultra with its 100x zoom, but the S20 has its own way of prioritizing far reaching photography. 12MP main and ultrawide sensors accompany the 64MP telephoto sensor, the Samsung built BRIGHT sensor that is actually almost as wide in focal length as the 12MP main. With zoom as a priority here, this 64MP lens is cropping in to provide what is essentially a lossless quality at the same final resolution as the other sensors. This high powered shooter also provides 8K recording in video.
OnePlus, on the other hand, stuck to a camera package we’re pretty used to seeing: a 48MP main sensor with a 16MP ultrawide and a 2MP macro lens. Perhaps the main misstep for some people here will be the macro lens — that’s not a knock on macro photography, just a commentary on how these 2MP results don’t do it much justice. Based on the spec alone, the OnePlus 8 might fall behind because it doesn’t prioritize zoom, but that’s obviously up to you to decide. I don’t really use zoom too often, so having ultrawide cameras on both of these already satisfies me.
But in terms of sheer quality, it’s hard to go up against the already established tuning of Samsung’s hardware and software. But OnePlus was up to the task. The main sensors show that the OnePlus 8’s pixel binning 48MP camera can go toe to toe with the Galaxy S10’s main at 12MP. Wide angle pictures have similar results, though the shooter on the Galaxy S20 is a little wider. And finally in terms of zoom, the OnePlus 8 finds itself outdone because the 64MP sensor telephoto BRIGHT sensor helps achieve far reach with diminishing returns outside of 10x zoom. In night situations, the night modes do a good job of getting a more usable shot, but the Galaxy S20 actually goes into the 3 to 10 second exposure times so its results are often better.
Video looks pretty good from both phones unless you get into the zoom levels because the diminishing returns are far more obvious on the OnePlus 8. And if you are a big selfie taker, the front facing cameras, the OnePlus 8 does have the higher megapixel count with 16 over the 10 of the S20. However, it’s the S20 that can shoot videos at 4K for the front as well as add in some more finetuned beauty effects and live focus video.
It’s clear that while OnePlus wants you to have a good time with its cameras and a better time using the smartphone as your daily communication tool, Samsung is always trying to even the feature lists between the various parts of the smartphone. Just like with the software, Samsung is inundating the user with tools that might mean speedy and smooth experiences on the daily, as long as you get used to going through all the things in front of you.
Paying for it
And as you might expect, the Galaxy S20 does bring a ton of features and capabilities to to the table but it asks more of your wallet. Quite literally everything in the S20 is done right, but it might be too much for some of you — and the price of $999 for this, the smallest of the lineup, might be too much, as well. Don’t get me wrong, I do think Samsung has come far enough to be one of the most reliable smartphones you can get during any given season. But their steps forward are starting to feel like grasping for straws when the price doesn’t seem to fit what makes the store shelves.
On the other hand, people think the OnePlus philosophy has been led astray — paying upwards of $699 feels like a gut punch to those who remember the days of flagship level sub-$400 OnePlus devices. I can understand that frustration, but when putting this phone up against the $1000 S20, I find myself still thinking that OnePlus is holding steady to their Never Settle axiom. No, it doesn’t do everything the S20 does — but if you don’t need it too, then you’re getting you’re money’s worth, because OnePlus has continued to close the gap.
I still think that if you were to walk into a carrier store and see the Galaxy S20 and the OnePlus 8, you’d see the shine of the OnePlus 8 first and get intrigued — and then you’d probably end up noticing that the phone that changes photography might not be as practical than the speed you need.