Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Review: The Core S20 Experience
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Unlike Apple’s iPhone SE branding, Samsung had no qualms in explaining the logic behind the FE branding. The Fan Edition of the flagship Samsung Galaxy S20 looks to offer the favourite high-end features at a more palatable price tag, and with a Snapdragon 865 included as standard, it could be the only Samsung smartphone in the 2020 roster that UK fans are truly interested in.
Design and build
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE has the same design ideology as the rest of the S20 range – complete with rear-facing rectangular camera block and centrally-placed holepunch front-facing camera – but there are plenty of small differences in design that make the S20 FE stand out on its own.
The most noticeable is that unlike its siblings, the Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t feature a curved display. It’s completely flat, and that does mean it’s not quite as comfortable in the hand as curved alternatives, but Samsung has tried to make up for it by offering more of a curved rear than the standard S20. I admittedly had no complaints about comfort when using the S20 FE, even one-handed, but it’ll very much be a personal thing.
Another noticeable change is the shift from glass to “Glasstic”, Samsung’s proprietary plastic that’s designed to look and feel like glass, on the rear. Whatever Samsung might promise, it certainly doesn’t feel like a high-end glass rear, although the matte finish does mean it’s less of a fingerprint magnet than its siblings.
You might be surprised that Samsung opted for a plastic rear on a premium smartphone, but you shouldn’t be – it’s also present on the Samsung Galaxy Note S20 Ultra, a phone that costs a whopping £1,199/$1,299, so Samsung certainly doesn’t see an issue with its plastic replacement. Regardless of how Samsung feels, it makes cheaper alternatives with a glass rear – like the Nokia 8.3 5G – feel nicer in the hand than the S20 FE.
The only upside is that the rear will probably be more durable than glass – it certainly won’t shatter when dropped – and when combined with IP68 water resistance, the S20 FE is fairly robust.
Smartphone colours have taken an interesting turn in recent years, with manufacturers leaning to the colourful look, and that is certainly true of the Galaxy S20 FE. In fact, with Cloud Lavender, Cloud Orange, Cloud Red, Cloud Mint, Cloud White and Cloud Navy options available, there are more colour options to choose from than any other in the S20 family. It certainly makes for a more eye-catching device, that’s for sure.
Elsewhere, there’s a volume rocker and power button on the right and a USB-C port at the bottom, but there isn’t a headphone jack. That’s not a total surprise considering it isn’t present on the rest of the Galaxy S20 range, but Samsung’s cheaper smartphones do still ship with a 3.5mm headphone jack, so it would’ve been nice to see. It is the Fan Edition, after all, and plenty of fans still use wired headphones.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE sports a 6.5in display, placing it between the 6.2in S20 and 6.7in S20 Plus in Samsung’s collection. That’s the best of both worlds to me, with the 20:9 aspect ratio providing a tall display that’s easy to use one-handed. The display is flat, which may be disappointing to some, but it’s something I prefer not only for gaming but general use – until palm rejection tech is improved, anyway.
The main highlight of the Galaxy S20 display was the 120Hz refresh rate, and being the Fan Edition, it was only right for the S20 FE to feature the same high refresh rate. In fact, the buttery smooth display of the S20 FE is improved in some areas, with a 240Hz touch sampling rate to improve touch response time when gaming – a feature not even present on the recent flagship Galaxy Note 20.
It is admittedly lower resolution than the main S20 range, capping out at FHD+ rather than WQHD+, but as you couldn’t opt for a high refresh rate and high resolution on the flagship, it doesn’t seem like much of a downgrade. It’s more than likely that most S20 owners took the hit to resolution to enable the high refresh rate, providing a more immediately noticeable effect than a pixel-packed display, so the high resolution likely won’t be missed by most.
Like the rest of the collection, the Galaxy S20 FE sports an OLED display, complete with a small holepunch camera at the top. Crucially, that OLED panel is gorgeous, detailed and bright enough to be used on even the sunniest of days.
You’ll also find an in-display fingerprint scanner that works in a slightly different way to the usual in-display scanners that Samsung uses. It’s optical and not ultrasonic, requiring light to work properly, which essentially means you’ll see a bright light around your finger when you unlock your phone. It’s not a big deal to most as it’s used by many Android competitors, and it’s still lightning fast and accurate, but it may be something that existing Samsung owners have to get used to.
Performance and battery life
One of the biggest complaints when it came to the flagship Samsung Galaxy S20, in the UK at least, was the inclusion of Samsung’s Exynos 990 over Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865. There are complaints from S20 owners that the Exynos version is slower than the Snapdragon variant, and there’s a knock-on effect on overall battery life too, so it’s great to see Samsung finally offering a Snapdragon-enabled variant of the Galaxy S20 FE with 5G connectivity in the UK.
It is worth noting, however, that the 4G version of the Galaxy S20 FE features the Snapdragon Exynos 990, so there is still a chance you’ll end up with an arguably inferior model if you aren’t paying extra for 5G connectivity.
Regardless of the processor you get, the Galaxy S20 FE is paired 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, expandable via the built-in microSD card slot.
As you’d expect from a Snapdragon 865-powered smartphone, the Galaxy S20 FE offers flagship performance regardless of what you’re up to – be it playing Call of Duty Mobile with the highest graphical settings or scrolling through media-heavy apps like Twitter and Instagram. It’s helped by the high refresh rate, of course, making everything feel smoother and more responsive than competing 60Hz smartphones, and there’s not a hint of stutter or lag either.
That’s backed up by our benchmark results, putting the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE on a par with the standard Galaxy S20 and OnePlus 8T. It’s worth noting that I’ve been looking at the Snapdragon 865 variant of the S20 FE, so performance may vary with the Exynos model.
That impressive performance extends to battery life, with the 4,500mAh battery performing noticeably better than its Exynos-enabled counterparts in our benchmark tests – likely down to the improved power efficiency of the Qualcomm chipset.
The Galaxy S20 FE lasted a whopping 12 hours and 35 minutes during our Geekbench 4 battery test, and that mirrors real-world use; it’s enough to get me through a day packed full of texting, tweeting and gaming, but there’s not enough power in the tank to last a full second day. 5G connectivity and the 120Hz refresh rate do take their toll eventually, after all!
That said, the Galaxy S20 FE does offer support for 25W fast charging, although it only ships with a 15w charging brick, so you’ll have to splash out to take full advantage of the fast charge capabilities on offer. Still, with the bundled charger, the S20 FE regained 38% of charge in 30 minutes and full charge in little under 90 minutes in tests, which should minimise the amount of time you spend tethered to the wall.
There’s also 15W wireless charging, and like the rest of Samsung’s flagship range, there’s 4.5W reverse wireless charging on offer too.
You’ll find three cameras embedded within the rectangular camera block on the rear of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. It’s comprised of a main 12Mp f/1.8 sensor along with 12Mp f/2.2 ultra-wide and 8Mp f/2.4 telephoto snappers. That might seem a little underwhelming compared to the rest of the S20 at a glance, particularly in the telephoto department, but generally speaking, the trio of cameras perform well.
Of course, it’s the main sensor that gets the most TLC in most smartphones, so let’s start there.
The main 12Mp sensor is larger than that of the other S20 FE cameras, so it captures more light with more accurate colours, and that’s evident in the quality of images taken. In ideal conditions, the S20 FE captured bright, detailed, colourful snaps enhanced further by Samsung’s AI scene optimisation, a feature that adjusts images depending on what it thinks you’re taking a photo of.
It’s quick to capture images, although like most smartphone cameras, there’s a slight chance it’ll come out blurry if you move mid-take. But, if the S20 FE notices this, it’ll give you a little heads-up within the Camera app – a very handy feature not present on most Android smartphone.
The idea of the 12Mp ultra-wide is to squeeze as much of a scene in as possible, with Samsung’s option offering the ability to capture double the amount of the scene compared to the main lens with a 0.5x zoom. That’s on a par with the iPhone 11, and it’s an improvement on the 0.6x zoom on many competing Androids with an ultra-wide lens, allowing you to squeeze in a little more of a vista or more friends in a group shot.
Importantly, unlike some competitors, there’s no noticeable drop in quality or real shift in colour temperature between the ultra-wide and wide lenses. Images are just as vibrant and detailed as those from the main sensor, although it’s not quite as capable in low-light situations.
Lastly, there’s the 3x telephoto lens, allowing you to get closer to your subject without physically moving. The good news is that images captured by the telephoto lens are decent in terms of detail, but unlike the ultra-wide, there’s a shift in colour temperature compared to the main lens. It might not be noticeable in everyday use, but putting photos side-by-side, you’ll be able to tell.
The telephoto lens also offers up to 30x digital zoom, but images taken at that level are barely usable – taking a photo of the moon on a clear night looked closer to a headlight than a celestial body.
Along with the different lenses, there are a variety of shooting modes available including Samsung’s popular One Take mode, allowing you to take a 10-15 second video and generate a variety of photos, video clips and edits based on what the phone thinks is important, along with Night Mode, Pro mode and more.
On the front, you’ll find a 32Mp snapper that performs much like the selfie camera of the iPhone 11: it’s a single camera offering both an ultra-wide and wide shooting mode. That’s done simply by cropping in the full-frame image to give you a tighter look, and although it’s not as good as having a true dual-camera setup on the front, images are more than enough for the likes of Instagram and Snapchat.
In terms of video, you can record at up to [email protected] on both the front- and rear-facing cameras. However, features like moving autofocus only work when shooting at [email protected], and it’s a similar case when shooting in aspect ratios other than 16:9, so there are limitations to the video offerings of the S20 FE.
Like the rest of the Galaxy S20 range, the S20 FE comes with Android 10 out of the box, although you’ll be able to get an upgrade to Android 11 when it’s pushed out to Samsung smartphones – likely near the end of 2020. What’s better is that prior to the announcement of the S20 FE, Samsung committed to three years of Android upgrades, potentially providing access to Android 12 and 13 on the 20 FE.
You’ll get access to key new features in Android 10 including a system-wide dark mode, Digital Wellbeing tools and even Facebook Messenger-esque Chat bubbles from the likes of WhatsApp and other chat apps – if you want them, anyway.
Like the rest of the Samsung portfolio, the S20 FE features Samsung’s OneUI baked on top of stock Android. As with most custom UIs, there are visual changes on offer, and OneUI provides deep customisation in terms of widgets, themes and fonts to radically change the look of the interface if you desire.
OneUI can take a bit of getting used to initially, but once you’ve powered through the short learning curve, the Galaxy S20 FE is a joy to interact with.
One of the biggest draws of the Galaxy S20 FE is undoubtedly the price, coming in at £599 for the 4G variant and £699/$699 for the 5G/Snapdragon 865 combo. You might notice a lack of US pricing for the 4G variant, and that’s because it simply isn’t coming to US shores – although US fans have an additional $749 FE 5G UW variant exclusive to Verizon that supports the network’s Ultra Wideband network.
That’s a welcome sight compared to the standard Galaxy S20, which comes in at £749 for the 4G model and £899/$999 for the 5G version, although there are plenty of A-series phones from Samsung that come close to the S20 FE in price. For more on how the S20 FE compares to the rest of the range, take a look at the best Samsung Galaxy phones.
If you’re tempted, it’s available directly from Samsung along with retailers like Amazon in the UK and the US too.
Being the Fan Edition, The S20 FE had a lot of expectations to live up to, and for the most part, Samsung has achieved what it set out to do – provide the core Galaxy S20 experience in a cheaper package. You’ve got the same super-smooth 120Hz AMOLED display, albeit with a lower resolution, and it still has a high-end look despite switching out the rear glass for Samsung’s ‘glasstic’ glass-effect plastic.
The biggest plus for UK fans is the inclusion of the Snapdragon 865 over the Exynos 990, with Qualcomm’s option offering improved performance and power efficiency compared to Samsung’s own chipset.
There’s a trio of surprisingly capable rear-facing cameras that work well, capturing bright, detailed images, although photos taken on the telephoto lens do look a little more washed out than the vibrant colourful shots taken by the main wide and ultrawide lenses.
Battery life is decent too, with no issues getting through an average day with 5G and the 120Hz refresh rate enabled, and there’s 25W fast charging supported to keep you untethered – although it ships with a less powerful 15W charging brick.
Essentially, Samsung has distilled the essence of what made the Samsung Galaxy S20 such a popular option and put it on sale at a discounted price. The glasstic rear is a little disappointing, but it’s something most people will get over eventually.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Specs
- 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4 mm
- Snapdragon 865 (5G) or Exynos 990 (4G)
- 128GB storage, expandable up to 1TB
- 6GB LPDDR5 RAM
- 6.5in 120Hz FHD+ AMOLED screen
- 1080 x 2400 (407ppi)
- In-display optical fingerprint scanner
- 12Mp f/1.8 main lens, 12Mp f/2.2 ultrawide, 8Mp f/2.4 3x optical zoom
- 32Mp f/2.2 selfie lens
- Up to [email protected] video
- 4,500mAh battery
- 25W wired charging, 15W wireless charging
Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 6, NFC, GPS, USB-C
Android 10 (OneUI 2.5)