Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Putting the ‘fan’ in fantastic
$699 isn’t a price tag you would associate with flagships in this day and age, but that’s exactly the kind of trend Samsung is looking to challenge with the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition (FE). Samsung says the Galaxy S20 FE brings what fans loved most about the Galaxy S20 series to a lower price point and that it is just as much a flagship as the Galaxy S20 or Galaxy Note 20.
And, if you look at the spec sheet, the $699/€749 starting price for the 5G variant certainly makes the Galaxy S20 FE a compelling value on paper. But that does that hold true in practice? Let’s find out in this review.
Note: We’re reviewing the 5G variant of the Galaxy S20 FE, which is powered by the Snapdragon 865 chipset. However, the device was not connected to a 5G network at any point.
Galaxy S20 FE design
Like the Galaxy Note 20, the Galaxy S20 FE has a plastic back and a metallic frame. Here, the plastic makes more sense, as we’re talking about a phone that’s around $300 cheaper. As we said in our Galaxy Note 20 review, having a plastic rear panel is not a bad thing. It doesn’t feel cheap and enables a good grip without needing a case, and the matte finish ensures fingerprints aren’t as visible as they would be on glass (you can still see the marks, but only when light hits the back at the right angle). Plastic also won’t shatter upon impact, though if you still prefer using a case, there are plenty of nice options to choose from.
We also have to talk about the choice of colors Samsung is offering with the Galaxy S20 FE. There are a total of six colors to choose from, and at least five of them are expected to be available in every market. Our Cloud Navy unit looks classy, but if you prefer brighter, punchier colors, you can pick up any of the other color variants instead. We think it’s great that Samsung is finally giving colors of a phone the importance they deserve and hopefully, it will become a trend instead of a one-time thing or something we only see with Fan Editions of the company’s flagships.
The one design element that makes the Galaxy S20 FE feel like a mid-range phone is all those bezels around the display. The S20 FE has a flat screen, so the side bezels aren’t as thin as they are on the S20, S20+, or S20 Ultra. The bottom bezel is a little too large as well, though it’s something you can ignore when you consider the asking price. The display’s punch hole is tiny, but for some reason it has reflective edges that makes it more visible than it should be. Again, forgivable at this price point, but something Samsung might want to avoid with whatever $700 phone it launches next.
The lower price of the phone hasn’t affected its resistance to the elements. The Galaxy S20 FE is IP68 certified for water and dust resistance, same as all Samsung’s flagships have been in the last four years. This is an important distinction the S20 FE has over its spiritual predecessor, the Galaxy S10 Lite, and it also gives the S20 FE an edge over the OnePlus 8.
Galaxy S20 FE display
The Galaxy S20 FE has a 6.5-inch Full HD+ (2400×1080) Super AMOLED Infinity-O display with a 120Hz refresh rate. While the colors, viewing angles, and black levels are excellent, this is not a flagship-grade panel as far as brightness levels are concerned. The S20 FE can’t get as bright as the displays on the other Galaxy S20 models, which is probably why it’s missing HDR10+ certification as well (though HDR10+ video recording is still available). The maximum brightness is still adequate even under harsh sunlight, but if you like your phone’s display to be the best of the best, the Galaxy S20 FE is not for you.
The 120Hz refresh rate has carried over intact from the other Galaxy S20s and gives you quick and smooth animations throughout the user interface and in games that support them. This isn’t the adaptive refresh rate tech that’s found on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra so it’s not as power efficient, but as you will read later in this review, battery life on the S20 FE was still pretty solid. However, I was a bit disappointed that the refresh rate drops down to 60Hz as soon as the phone’s temperature reached 40C. That temperature ceiling is 2 degrees lower than the S20/S20+/S20 Ultra, but thankfully the S20 FE doesn’t heat up too often.
I also found the 6.5-inch display to be oddly cramped, even though 6.5-inch screens aren’t small by any stretch of the imagination. But our graphic designer Naomi thought it’s just the perfect size, so your mileage will vary. The same goes for the in-display optical fingerprint sensor. I found it works better than the ultrasonic sensor on the Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, while Naomi thought it’s slower and less accurate.
Galaxy S20 FE camera
The Galaxy S20 FE has the same 12MP main camera as the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+, and its performance is more or less the same as well (hint: it’s excellent), so you should read our Galaxy S20+ review to see what kind of pictures you can get from it. In this review, I’m going to talk about that all new 3x optical zoom camera — capable of up to 30x digital zoom — that’s debuting in Samsung’s smartphone lineup with the S20 FE.
The Galaxy S20 and S20+ also have up to 30x zoom (Samsung calls it Space Zoom, but we’re not here to shill for the company’s marketing team so we’ll refrain from using those terms), but the way they go about it is different. On the S20 and S20+, zoom is all digital – those phones capture a 64MP image and then crop it to emulate zoom, so quality isn’t always so good. On the Galaxy S20 FE, it’s a proper telephoto lens that can only take photos at 3x and beyond, unlike the 64MP ‘telephoto’ camera on the S20 and S20+ that can also take regular 1x pictures.
And since optical zoom is always better than digital zoom, I was excited to test the Galaxy S20 FE, and I’m happy to report that it does an excellent job. The telephoto lens is just an 8-megapixel sensor, but the resulting picture quality is actually better than what you get on the S20 and S20+, at least once you move past 10x magnification. The difference isn’t always big, but you get slightly sharper output from the S20 FE. At 3x-10x, the quality across all the non-Ultra Galaxy S20 models is similar, which is to say you can get some great shots if the lighting is right.
Here’s a 3x shot taken with the Galaxy S20+ and Galaxy S20 FE side by side (slide left for the S20 FE picture):
And here’s the same scene shot at 10x and 30x with both phones (slide left for the S20 FE picture):
When it’s dark, the phone resorts to cropping images from the main camera till 4x zoom. The telephoto lens kicks in after that, but it’s more or less useless outside of well lit environments when the sun goes down. Here, the S20 and S20+ have a theoretical advantage as their zoom camera has a wider aperture of F2.0 (the S20 FE sensor is F2.4), but in practice, they are all equally poor in tough low-light conditions.
Here are a bunch of scenes captured at 1x, 3x, 4x, 10x, 20x, and 30x zoom with the phone:
The ultra-wide camera on the S20 FE seems to be similar to the 12MP ultra-wide camera on Samsung’s mid-range phones like the Galaxy A51 and A71 instead of the sensor used on the other Galaxy S20 models. It does a serviceable job out in daylight and a noisy one at night, though you can fix that somewhat by using Night mode. The 32MP front camera is probably lifted from those mid-rangers as well, and it’s a little light on detail no matter what time of the day or in which environment you take a selfie. But it keeps noise well under control, and it does a fairly solid job with Live Focus bokeh shots.
Speaking of Live Focus, the Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t offer you the option of choosing between the telephoto and ultra-wide camera for bokeh pictures with the rear camera. The phone uses the ultra-wide lens for bokeh shots, and for the most part, quality’s great. As always, loose hair around a person’s head can cause artefacts, and too many leaves or flowers can make it hard for the camera to determine what’s supposed to be in the foreground and what isn’t.
Here are a couple of ultra-wide pictures (each next to their non-ultra-wide shots) and a couple of selfies:
A few other points to note about the camera experience on the Galaxy S20 FE:
- 4K video recording is supported at up to 60 frames per second. 120 fps video recording isn’t supported, but that might change with a software update.
- Since there’s no 33MP+ camera, the S20 FE is not capable of 8K video recording. But you’re not missing out on anything, truth be told.
- The Single Take shooting mode is included and works just as well as it does on other Galaxy devices.
- Full-fledged Pro and Pro video modes are available as well, with the option to control shutter speed and, in Pro video mode, the ability to record audio with the phone’s microphones or with Bluetooth or USB mics.
- The zoom-in-mic feature of the other Galaxy S20 models and the Galaxy Note 20 series isn’t present on the S20 FE, as it doesn’t have a third microphone at the back.
- Other available shooting modes are panorama, food, Live Focus video, super slow-mo, slow motion, hyperlapse (including Night hyperlapse, which uses long exposure to create a trailing light effect), and AR Emoji.
Galaxy S20 FE performance
Our Galaxy S20 FE is the Snapdragon 865 variant, and it’s super fast and never shows signs of stutter or lag. That’s despite ‘just’ 6GB of RAM on the base variant (the one we used), which is one way Samsung is keeping the cost of the phone down. The only issue with 6GB of RAM is that the phone doesn’t hold a lot of apps in memory – PUBG restarted from scratch after I opened just three other apps, something that probably wouldn’t happen with 8GB RAM or more.
Thermals were also great. The Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t heat up very often or to an extent that’s problematic, and that’s despite the fact that a plastic back isn’t as good for dissipating heat as a glass back. Now, the Snapdragon chip might be the reason the phone keeps its cool, because our Exynos 990-powered Note 20 did become uncomfortably hot from time to time, at least outdoors. Maybe that won’t be the case on the Exynos variant of the S20 FE, though we will have to test it to be sure.
Galaxy S20 FE software
Samsung has not cut any software features from the Galaxy S20 FE to achieve the lower price point. Everything is here, including support for wireless DeX that was introduced with One UI 2.5 on the Galaxy Note 20 series. Samsung is also promising three years of Android and One UI updates, so the software experience and the support guarantee are both top notch.
If you’re looking for a detailed rundown of all the features, I’d recommend reading our Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review, as both of these phones run Android 10 with One UI 2.5 out of the box. The Note 20 series naturally has some exclusive stylus-related features, but that’s about it for the differences.
Galaxy S20 FE battery life
The 4,500 mAh battery on the Galaxy S20 FE can last all day long, and that too at 120Hz refresh rate. Like the phone’s performance, the stellar battery life may be a result of the Snapdragon chip and the Exynos variant of the phone might not do as good. But if you’re getting the 5G model, expect a single charge to get you to bedtime at 120Hz with moderate to somewhat heavy use; at 60Hz, you can expect to see a day and half of use before you have to hunt for the charger.
The Galaxy S20 FE comes with a 15W fast charger in the box even though it supports 25W super fast charging. This is a shame, considering Samsung is using 25W support as one of the headline features of the phone. We had a 25W charger lying around, but if you don’t, you will have to spend an addition $30-40 to get the fastest charging speeds. Speaking of charging speeds, a 25W charger tops the battery up in 70 minutes while the supplied 15W charger should get the job done in around 100 minutes.
The S20 FE also supports fast wireless charging and reverse wireless charging, like its costlier counterparts. Some will argue that Samsung could have further reduced the price of the phone by not including wireless charging support, but like water and dust resistance, wireless charging is a convenience that’s always good to have even if it may not come into the picture every day.
Galaxy S20 FE audio quality
The Galaxy S20 FE has stereo speakers like the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra. It’s not true stereo, as the earpiece doubles up as the second speaker, which is also the case with all other Galaxy flagships except the Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Z Fold 2. On the other Galaxy S20 models, this setup does a solid job and offers loud, rich, undistorted sound output. On the Galaxy S20 FE, the loudness and clarity have carried over intact, but there’s much less bass to be heard, which makes the experience less immersive, whether you enable Dolby Atmos or not.
As for earphones, the S20 FE doesn’t have any in the box, so you will have to get your own pair. There’s no headphone jack so you will have to get USB-C earphones if you don’t wish to use a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter. Or you could buy the Galaxy Buds, Buds+, or Buds Live and enjoy high-quality wireless audio, though that will mean spending another $100 or more on top of the price of the phone.
Call quality was just as you’d expect from any smartphone in this day and age. I could hear the person on the end of the line clearly and I got no complaints about my voice from any callers. Network reception was excellent as well.
Galaxy S20 FE verdict
When Samsung said it set out to bring all the fan-favorite features of the Galaxy S20 series to the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition, it wasn’t kidding. The S20 FE has all the important ingredients – a beautiful 120Hz display, fast performance, excellent cameras with zoom that’s actually better than what you get on the S20 or S20+, all-day battery life (at 120Hz, no less), top notch software, and the option of 5G connectivity – while also packing features like water and dust resistance, two-way wireless charging, and stereo speakers.
It’s not all perfect. The stereo speakers are of a lower caliber than the other Galaxy S20 models, only 6GB of RAM on the base variant means multitasking isn’t as good, and the bezels around the display are too big by the standards set by Samsung itself with its flagship phones in the last two years. Samsung also isn’t shipping the Galaxy S20 FE with a 25W super fast charger in the box, but for the asking price of $699/€749, all of that is very, very easy to ignore.
In fact, I would go as far as saying that the Galaxy S20 FE makes the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ obsolete and grossly overpriced in comparison. Unless you want the absolute best Samsung has to offer, which would be the Galaxy S20 Ultra or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, save your hard-earned money and just get the Galaxy S20 FE.
|Beautiful display with 120Hz refresh rate||No 3.5mm headphone jack|
|All-day battery life even with 120Hz refresh rate||Zoom camera is more or less useless in low-light situations|
|Excellent main camera, impressive zoom at 3x-10x||6GB of RAM on base variant might not satisfy serious multitaskers|
|Snapdragon 865 makes for snappy performance without any overheating||No earphones or 25W super fast charger in the box|
|Flagship software experience, will get three major Android OS updates||Display bezels somewhat big by today’s flagship standards|
|Features like water resistance, wireless charging, stereo speakers, 5G connectivity|
|Six color options, most of them available in every market|