Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) review
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Is the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) the best price-to-value phone that Samsung has ever released? It is, both on paper, and in our review, indicating a shift in Samsung's flagship phone strategy. How is it holding up a while after its release and should you buy it? We aim to answer these questions in our full review.
priced at just $700 at Samsung with bonuses, but it is often discounted and can be found for a lot less these days. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Best Buy are also running awesome Galaxy S20 FE deals.Intended to be a cheaper version of the S20 series, with all the right compromises and corners cut, the Galaxy S20 FE is
This is actually an amazing value, and makes the S20 FE one of the cheapest phones with the 2020 flagship Snapdragon 865 5G chipset on the market. On paper, the S20 FE has the other specs to match, too, such as a 120Hz OLED display, a triple camera with 3x telephoto optical zoom, and a big, 4500mAh battery.
Where, then, has Samsung cut corners to achieve this amazing pricing?
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE colors and display
Cool matte hues, bright and frugal 120Hz display, quick finger reader
- Navy, Red, Lavender, Orange, White, or Mint
- 6.5" 1080p OLED display with 120Hz refresh rate
If someone had told us a few years ago that we would be longing for the days of plastic phones, we'd call them nuts, but now that metal phones went the way of the Dodo because of wireless charging, our only premium material option left seems to be glass. As we all have learned abundantly clear, such phone bodies are the most prone to shattering, Gorilla Glass notwithstanding.
That is why we welcome Samsung's decision to house the Galaxy S20 FE in the "glasstic" body (Samsung's fancy way of saying it made plastic look like glass) of its upper midrangers like the Galaxy A71 5G, or the Note 20. They are at once cost-saving, make the phone one you don't always have to baby, and, a third added bonus - often lighter than glass phones with similar screen sizes.
The S20 FE, however, is not quite super light at 6.70 oz (190.0 g), yet we wish more phone makers go back to less "premium" materials if that will bring the other advantages such as lower price and higher durability to the fore. Moreover, the "glasstic" material looks and feels just as premium, and, in the case of the S20 FE, Samsung has painted it in a rainbow of matte colors to choose from for every taste - Navy, Red, Lavender, Orange, White, or Mint - all in a "Cloud" hue. The matte finish is a bit slippery and a fingerprint magnet, though, so we'd suggest you wrap the phone in a case immediately.
All Samsung Galaxy S20 FE colors
If there is something we don't quite like about the S20 FE visuals, it's the relatively thick bezels around the sides, but that's if we compare with the S20 series, while if we do with the terrible ones on another popular phone in the same category - the iPhone 11 - they are downright elegant. The S20 FE is also IP68-certified to survive at least half an hour in up to five feet of water - always a welcome feature at this price point.
Holding the phone and using it with one hand is pretty easy, as it is thin and fairly narrow, plus the lock and volume keys are right where they need to be under your thumb. The volume rocker is quite sturdy but the power button wobbles a bit too much in comparison. Thankfully, the slow ultrasonic finger scanners of the S20 series are replaced with a regular optical one on the S20 FE, and it is all the better for it, as we are happy to report that it seemingly unlocks a smidgen quicker, and in a more reliable manner.
As for the S20 FE display quality, the only compromise Samsung has made is lowering the resolution to 1080p from the 1440p of the S20 series, and, again, it's all the better for it, as the battery life is much, much better with no pixel density sacrifice discoverable with a naked eye unless you look at it from very close.
Moreover, the screen is flat, which throws off our back gesture navigation game a bit compared to Samsung's curved Edge panels, but that makes it cheaper to replace, less awkward to use with interface elements at the edge of the screen, and much easier to install a protector on. Speaking of which, the S20 FE does ship with a screen protector pre-installed but there are no earphones or case in the box, just the charging brick and cable.
The S20 FE display has support for the wide DCI-P3 color gamut needed for the screen's HDR certification, but the colors are а bit on the cold and oversaturated side, and that's about the only gripe with the display's presentation.
It is otherwise very bright and comfortable to view outside, and the screen has a 120Hz refresh rate mode that makes scrolling and interface animations appear smoother and easier on the eyes, and that it the default screen mode, indicating that Samsung is now pretty confident it won't be killing the battery.
What's more, the 120Hz mode takes less of a toll on battery life than the same one does on, say, the Galaxy S20+ or S20 Ultra, so you can leave it on at all times without worrying about the drop in endurance.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE specs performance and interface
Flagship prowess, 128GB storage option, the only 5G model option
- Snapdragon 865 or Exynos 990 chipset
- 5G (US, Korea) and LTE-only (Europe) models
- 6GB/128GB (US) or 8GB/256GB (Europe) versions
With the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung is again pulling off what it has been chastised about for a good while now - different chipsets for different markets. While the US gets the good stuff - Snapdragon 865 - the global S20 FE makes do with Exynos 990. Not a bad processor per se, but its auxiliary features and thermal throttling performance are below Snapdragon 865 on the mobile chipset totem pole.
As if to cushion the predictable backlash, however, Samsung has not only split the European Galaxy S20 models into a cheaper LTE-only, and 5G versions, but also provided a middle LTE option with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage.
Compare that to the 6GB/128GB 5G model that is the only one available in the US, and the Exynos issue suddenly seems like small potatoes. Not to mention that Amazon in Europe offers a full 3 years of warranty on it, compared to the typical one in the US. Here are the dry Galaxy S20 FE benchmarks - not record-shattering, but excellent performance nonetheless:
When it comes to the interface, the Galaxy S20 FE, alas, ships with Android 10 and One UI 2.5 out of the box.
Samsung has also promised 3 years worth of software updates for the phone, making it on par with what Google promises for its own Pixel line, so besides Android 11, the Galaxy S20 FE is also getting Android 12 and Android 13, keeping it relevant way into 2023.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs S20+ camera samples and video quality
Not to rain on the S20+ parade but dedicated telephoto zoom beats cropping
Samsung has equipped the S20 FE with flagship-grade triple camera kit that includes 12MP main and ultrawide shooters, and an 8MP 3x telephoto optical zoom camera as well. At 32MP, the front camera is not too shabby, either.
Where this setup gives way to the Galaxy S20 and S20+, is their 64MP zoom camera, but Samsung actually uses the high resolution to achieve crop zooming, rather than have the real telephoto zoom that the S20 FE offers.
The big 1.4 micron pixels of the 12MP ultrawide camera on the S20/S20+, are also larger than the 1.1 micron ones of the Galaxy S20 FE's 12MP ultrawide kit yet the main 12MP camera shared between the editions carries the same excellent specs - wide F1.8 aperture, and huge 1.8 micron pixels. Thus, despite the big price difference, we expect a negligible one in camera performance between the S20 and the S20 FE.
Is it so? Pretty much, as you can see from our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs S20+ camera samples comparison below. The S20+ kit rarely has an edge in zoom detail, as it crops from a higher resolution, and the phones produce excellent results in terms of colors, detail and definition overall, be it sun or dusk outside.
The only immediately visible difference between the two cameras is that the S20 FE camera software is set to produce slightly warmer tones with more contrast overall, and that's what users usually prefer. As for sharpness and definition, there are several examples in the comparison below where the S20 FE managed to focus better, both with the main (the flower), and the zoom (the baby seagull) cameras.
As for the video recording quality, it exhibits the same warm colors of the stills, and is devoid of visible artifacts or dropped frames, even in 4K HDR mode that is the maximum Samsung allows on the Galaxy S20 FE. There is no 8K recording, despite that the chipsets support it, as it requires much higher camera sensor resolutions, but that doesn't bug us on a mid-range phone as it did on, say, the $2,000 Galaxy Z Fold 2 in our review.
As usual, Samsung's dual phase-detection autofocus in the camera sensor makes refocusing back and forth between near and far objects a seamless cinch during video recording, and the three mics capture excellent stereo sound that weeds out background noises. Samsung allows you to zoom while recording video with up to 3x optical and further hybrid or digital levels that comes useful at times, too.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE battery life and charging speed tests
Which Samsung phone is a two-day battery phone? This Samsung phone.
In the spirit of cutting corners at the right places to arrive at that sweet sub-$700 price point of the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung equipped it with a battery the size of what the S20+ or Note 20 Ultra carry, with none of the extra screen pixels it has to power.
With great 4500mAh power lighting up a 1080p instead of 1440p display resolution, comes great battery life responsibility, and the Galaxy S20 FE doesn't disappoint. We clocked more than12 hours of screen-on time in our browsing and scrolling battery benchmark test, which is one of the best results in its class.
What's more impressive, however, is that the high 120Hz display refresh mode doesn't take nearly the toll on battery life as it does on, say, the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and the S20 FE managed to survive over ten hours of browsing and scrolling with the maxed-out refresh rate. That's a pretty good sign that the phone can last you two days with normal usage, and we can't remember when was the last time a Samsung handset in this class managed to pull such a feat, flagship processor and all.
On the flip side, a compromise was made with the charger, as the Galaxy S20 FE ships with Samsung's 15W instead of the newer 25W chargers yet the brick pumps the battery up to 100% from a depleted state in less than an hour and a half, and to 50% in 30 minutes.
Samsung's fast charging tech is so efficient that it typically achieves charging speeds on par with more powerful bricks for the same battery sizes, and the Galaxy S20 FE is no exception.
In a nutshell, with the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung has now caught up to the Chinese brands when it comes to both charging speeds, and battery life, for a very affordable price, and we can wholeheartedly recommend you pick one up.
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