The new Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the fourth phone in the S range this year. That’s a lot of variants, and it doesn’t include the two Note 20 phones and the seemingly myriad A-series phones that Samsung also released this year. When trying to figure out which one has the right mix of features and price for you, you may feel like you need a spreadsheet, accountant, and actuary to be on hand.
Fortunately, most Samsung S-series and Note phones have a lot of good things going for them: a fast processor, good build quality, nice screens, and decent cameras. I’m not saying you can’t go wrong, but the S20 FE contains enough of the key “flagship” parts to make a terrific $ 699 value.
It’s also proof that Samsung can turn a phone around quickly. Development began immediately following the announcement of the original three S20 phones in March 2020 when it became clear that the pandemic would give the economy a boost.
But the Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t feel like a rush job. It has a few high quality components that will delight, while the cheaper parts don’t detract from the experience too much.
Galaxy S20 FE Hardware
The Galaxy S20 FE is based on a 6.5-inch 1080p OLED display. It’s a completely flat screen with frames that are perfectly fine but more visible than other S20 devices.
The fact that the screen is “only” 1080p is not a problem even with this size. In return, you get a high refresh rate of 120Hz which makes scrolling smoother and some games look better. I’m really excited to see it on a phone that costs $ 700, especially since Samsung has strangely left it out of the more expensive Galaxy Note 20.
Samsung is sticking to its guns when it comes to colors and vibrancy on this screen – which means it’s a little cocky. Fortunately, you can tone it down by going into the “natural” screen mode.
The hardware element that is most likely to generate criticism is the back of the phone. It’s plastic, but don’t let yourself be thrown. The phone still feels sturdy and solid overall. Samsung also offers it in six different colors: navy, lavender, mint, red, white, and orange. They are all “cloud” colors, which in Samsung parlance means that they have a matt finish.
The S20 FE is a little more angular than other S20 phones, but it still mostly feels like it belongs in the family. It’s well done and my only real hardware gripe is the chrome ring that surrounds the hole punch selfie camera. It catches and distracts the light all the time – and is completely unnecessary. Samsung does this to some A-series phones too, and I just don’t get it.
It supports wireless charging and fast charging, although the charger included with it doesn’t have enough power to quickly juice it. The battery is big enough for a phone of this size with 4,500 mAh. In my tests, I lasted up to two days of moderate use. It should take around six hours of screen time in total unless you’re doing something really battery-intensive.
Galaxy S20 FE Kamera
Samsung had to cut costs somewhere, and the camera is one of those places. However, I don’t miss what Samsung dropped in the first place. Instead of one of the newer “Ultra” sensors with high megapixels from Samsung, the S20 FE has three standard 12-megapixel sensors.
That means there will be wide, ultrawide and telephoto cameras. All three take good pictures under good conditions. In night mode, I am still impressed with the improvements Samsung has made. The S20 FE cannot quite You can go head-to-head against the Pixel or iPhone 11 Pro, but it’s close. Video is exactly what you’d expect, too: right in the middle in terms of quality. Unlike other S20 devices, the FE cannot take an 8K recording – not a huge loss.
So the camera asserts itself, but does not attract much attention. That’s where I leave it, but I have some long-lasting complaints that I have to wait for. Samsung still sticks to three bad camera habits. Neither of them are bad enough to be deal breakers, but are worth being aware of.
First and foremost, Samsung still has a tendency to overdo it by brightening photos and adding vibrancy. I think that’s probably what a lot of people prefer, but in some lighting conditions it just makes everything a little bit neon to my eyes. You can customize this with the Pro modes and tone down a few things in the post.
Second, Samsung continues to market its lens as a 30x zoom lens. Technically, the results at this zoom level look like someone spilled water on a photocopy of a printout. If you keep the zoom level at 10x or less, you will actually be happy with the results.
Finally, Samsung insists on smoothing faces too much, especially with the 32-megapixel selfie camera. Even if you turn off all of the filters, you will see something very different from what your mirror is showing you.
As I said, I don’t think either of these is a reason to avoid the S20 FE. However, all three are frustrating as they are not due to hardware defects. They are just decisions that Samsung makes with the software.
Galaxy S20 FE performance and software
Samsung put in the parts that it knows people care about most when it comes to performance: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor and 5G. I don’t think that’s a necessity (especially the 5G) for a fast, good phone either. Still, the S20 FE is fast enough for everything I need.
While we look at 5G, I should note that the Verizon version of this phone costs $ 50 more. This is because it must include the components required for Verizon’s mmWave 5G network. A network, I should add, that only works when you are within range of one of its sporadically visible city towers.
While I haven’t had any issues with speed, lag, or startup times, I’ll admit that I didn’t push this phone to the limit of what some phones can now do. However, it is possible that power users will reach the limits of the phone. Samsung has cut some costs by reducing its RAM from 12GB to 6GB, which can affect multitasking and Samsung’s DeX desktop interface. It also limits the S20 FE to one storage configuration: 128 GB, but can be expanded with microSD.
Samsung’s One UI software is the same on the S20 FE as it is on all of the other S20 and Note 20 phones. I like a lot of its additional features and I think the overall design is coherent and even elegant in some places. I also find it infinitely annoying that Samsung finds little corners of it to advertise or ask to sign up for partner services.
I also don’t like Bixby, a bad digital assistant. You can still use Google Assistant, and with a little software tomfoolery, you can even remap Assistant with a long press of the power button.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE comes at a very interesting time and as part of an interesting trend. It barely outperforms the Google Pixel 5 (in the market for the same price) and is also ahead of new iPhones. This Pixel is, and at least one of these iPhones is likely to be about as expensive as the Galaxy S20 FE.
Phone companies are springing up to the idea that people who don’t want to spend $ 1,000 on a phone still want a new phone, not just an older one at a discount. Samsung is leading this trend, as it often does, by making sure that the store shelves can be stacked with its products at any price imaginable. The S20 FE was developed quickly to not only keep up with the economic downturn, but also to ensure that Samsung has something new in that $ 699 slot.
And while the Galaxy S20 FE can rightly be called a rushed “parts bin” phone, that doesn’t mean Samsung hasn’t done anything really solid here. It did. The combination of speed, a big screen with a high refresh rate, a decent battery, competent cameras, and Samsung’s build quality leads to a result that is remarkably close to the playing field: S20 flagship features at a cheaper price. All S20 phones share these characteristics. The flagships have just a little more.
Samsung phones also all have one other quality in common: frequent and sometimes significant discounts. Since me and my colleague Dan Seifert have repeated ad nauseam, it’s always worth waiting to see if the price goes down or if you can buy a step-up phone for the same price.
When you buy a Galaxy S20 FE, you will be happy. However, if you can find a regular S20 or S20 Plus for the same price, you’re even happier.
Photography by Dieter Bohn / The Verge