I’ve been getting to grips with my Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G for the last week and a half. Whilst I think it’s an overall superior phone to the Pixel 4 XL, Google’s device does have some redeeming, unbeatable features.
Samsung is adept at making smartphones that appeal to a wide array of consumers with different wants and interests. That’s good for power users who emphatically embrace getting lost in their Samsung phones and enjoy treasure hunting for obscure feature additions.
But that’s not everyone. The S20’s arguably overkill camera setup – which has a 100x zoom that I’m yet to find any use for – busy Quick Settings tray, Bixby (which is mapped to the power button) and bloatware I can’t uninstall (I’m looking at you, Facebook) is all a bit much.
The S20 is undoubtedly an impressive phone – and I suspect a better device than Google’s Pixel 4 overall, which is largely down to the more granular camera app features, 120Hz display and battery life – but Google has it beat in two areas.
Google Assistant – and the company’s AI in general – does a lot of heavy lifting for the Pixel. It papers over other issues, and even resolves some down the line. That couldn’t be more clear with the new feature drops that happen quarterly. Google has devised a way to bring a lot of new functionality to Pixel phones outside of the yearly Android update.
The last two feature drops delivered automatic call screening (your Pixel will filter out spam calls without even letting your phone ring), the ability to background blur any picture, quicker access to your cards in Google Pay via the power button (called “cards and passes”), car crash detection, improved depth in selfies (by using the face unlock tech), improved brightness and much more.
These are serious feature updates. This isn’t just fixing broken things and adding some new emojis – it’s futuristic AI services that cost nothing extra. The kind of thing that’s demoed at a live event, rather than a blog update, which is how Google announced the last two feature drops.
Google is constantly and consistently improving its software – particularly Assistant. It’s sending those improvements down the waves as they come, which makes me think it must have something truly impressive to show us at I/O (if it goes ahead as a streamed event).
Repeatedly rewarding your Pixel purchase with new features that are genuinely useful (adding background blur to your old pics might not be as seductive as Call Screening, but it’s damn useful) is the definition of value for money.
Samsung’s S20 Ultra comes with a lot of features and bloat, Google’s Pixel 4 XL comes with the right features, no bloat and the promise of more in the future.
The S20’s in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is hit and miss. Sometimes you instantly unlock the device, sometimes you have to try again – and if it’s a bad day, one last time. It also feels like a regression after using Google’s face unlock that not only requires no hands, but also automatically detects when the phone is about to be picked up (thanks to the Soli radar chip) and readies it for unlocking.
It’s faster and more convenient, and nowhere is this more apparent that mobile payments. The speed and ease of my Pixel unlocking without any prompt as I pass through London Underground’s barriers, or as my phone hovers over a payment terminal, is unmatched.
It’s a small gripe, really, but the additional effort of using your other hand to hold the S20 whilst you attempt to place your registered finger in the right place, at the right angle, to unlock it simply doesn’t feel as accomplished.
We’re also seeing Google’s face unlock technology being deployed elsewhere in the phone for other purposes. As I said in the feature drop section above, Google has combined the front facing camera and face unlock tech to enhance portrait depth on selfies.
There could be more uses down the line too, especially with Soli. We’re yet to see the full potential of Google’s advanced biometric technology and that’s a good reason to be excited.