Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review – Upending Budget Expectations

Chris Davies - Oct 23, 2020, 2:15pm CDT
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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review – Upending Budget Expectations
Editors' Rating: 9/10
Pros
  • Most affordable of the S20 family
  • Excellent 120Hz display
  • Cameras are capable of great shots
  • Solid battery life and performance
Cons
  • Plastic body betrays the cost-cutting
  • Low light camera performance isn't the best

2020 is the year of big phone families, and Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Series is nearing Brady Bunch numbers. Latest to arrive is the Galaxy S20 FE 5G, described as the “Fan Edition” but also the most affordable of the line-up. As always that means what’s absent from the spec sheet is as important to note as what’s present, but for once the compromise may all be worth it.

Samsung isn’t alone in launching premium phones this year, but pricey handsets like the Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S20 Ultra haven’t exactly matched up with pandemic-prompted economic uncertainty. The Galaxy S20 FE 5G, in contrast, drops at $699.99, half what an S20 Ultra lists at.

It still looks the part, though. The back is plastic, but comes in a broader variety of colors – red, white, lavender, mint, navy, and orange – and its matte finish avoids fingerprint smudges and pairs nicely with the metal frame. The camera block is a chunky bulge on the back, though not as ridiculous as the barnacle the S20 Ultra suffers.

You still get a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, the same Snapdragon 865 as its more expensive brethren, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. Some of the things that might seem like shortcomings at first turn out to be less of an issue: the 2,400 x 1,080 resolution is lower than the S20’s 2,560 x 1,440, but the later can’t reach that unless you turn the screen down to 60Hz. An in-display fingerprint sensor feels more usable than facial recognition in these masked days.

On the front there’s a 32-megapixel selfie camera peeping through the Infinity-O display. The back has a 12-megapixel (f/1.8) main camera with Dual Pixel AF and OIS, a 12-megapixel (f/2.2) ultra-wide, and an 8-megapixel 3x telephoto (f/2.4). Samsung then taps its Super Resolution Zoom tech for up to 30x magnification, albeit with some loss in quality along the way. No, you don’t get the whopping 50-100x Space Zoom that some more expensive Galaxy phones offer but, honestly, I don’t think you’ll miss the pixelated mess that’s more about bragging rights than anything else.

The hallmarks of Samsung’s photography are all present and correct. Lots of detail, a slight tendency to push the colors up, and decent handling of shadows with its HDR tech. Low-light performance is similar too, though there it’s really more about Samsung’s software than the hardware. I prefer what Google’s Pixel and Apple’s iPhone does on that front.

For video, you don’t get 8K capture. Instead there’s up to 4K at 60fps, with HDR10+ support. Like with the Space Zoom, though, I’m not sure 8K is something most people will miss.

Out of the box there’s Android 10 with Samsung’s various tweaks and customizations. If you’ve used another S20 Series phone then that should all be familiar, and it runs just as smoothly and swiftly on the Galaxy S20 FE as well. Samsung is promising OS updates all the way through to Android 13, which is good, though hasn’t said when exactly Android 11 will arrive, which is bad.

Depending on carrier you’ll get both sub-6GHz 5G and mmWave 5G, and of course the usual 4G LTE to fall back to. Speeds will, inevitably, depend significantly upon where you are: find the right combination of intersections in the right Verizon UW city and you can hit broadband-beating rates. Most of the time, though, figure on a more conservative uptick compared to LTE. At home, WiFi 6 is welcome as the cost of compatible routers trickles down toward the mass market.

With a 4,500 mAh battery, I had no issues getting through a full day with the screen at 120Hz. There’s both fast 22W wireless charging and fast wireless charging, plus reverse wireless charging support. Unlike Apple, Samsung includes a fast charger in the box, too.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Verdict

2020 has upended expectations for new smartphones. Chasing the cutting-edge for the its own sake feels a little blinkered: the real magic has been in more affordable devices, with the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a showing just what you can get these days when spending a fraction of flagship money.

The Galaxy S20 FE 5G isn’t quite as aggressive in its pricing than those phones, but at $700 the sacrifices aren’t quite as obvious either. Put side by side with a Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G and, quite frankly, I’m struggling to find enough compelling reasons to tell you to splash out on the much more expensive device. With its bigger display, meanwhile, and speedier hardware, the Samsung puts up a solid showing against the identically priced Pixel 5 as well.

Times change, and priorities change with them. I would never fault anybody for treating themselves to a bleeding-edge powerhouse phone, but if this year has taught us anything it’s that flagship smartphones may not place quite as high in the hierarchy of needs right now. The Galaxy S20 FE 5G cherry-picks the best of its siblings and, coupled with carrier promotions and Samsung’s own deals, makes a strong argument for being the golden child of the family.


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