Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review

Android users will love this budget-friendlier 5G flagship

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4.5

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

What We Like
  • Large 120Hz screen

  • Excellent cameras

  • Speedy performance

  • Beefy battery

  • 5G support

What We Don't Like
  • Under-powered charger included

  • No mmWave 5G in unlocked version

The FE 5G is the Galaxy S20 model that most people should buy, delivering a top-tier smartphone experience at an appealing price.

4.5

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the reasoning for calling Samsung’s new, budget-friendlier Galaxy S20 revision the “Fan Edition.” Is it for people who enjoy the design of the Galaxy S20 but don’t think it’s worth the lofty expense, or perhaps those who can’t afford Samsung’s original flagship smartphone? Either way, it’s an odd marketing message and an awkward name for a phone, but it’s certainly not the first convoluted phone name out there.

Thankfully, while the name is a head-scratcher, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G itself is not. It’s an excellent twist on the standard Galaxy S20 line that makes a couple of modest tweaks while shaving hundreds of dollars off of the price in the process. That makes it one of the better top-end smartphones you can buy today, thanks to a sizable and stellar screen, plenty of processing power, great cameras, and support for 5G connectivity.

Galaxy S20 FE Back
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Design: Plastic fantastic

 The Galaxy S20 FE loses very little in looks compared to the full-bodied models, delivering a sleek and thin handset with premium flourishes and nearly an all-screen face. You’ll feel the difference, however, as the backing glass of the S20 line gives way to plastic here.

It looks and feels just fine: it’s durable and not especially scratch-prone, plus there’s a wider array of backing colors compared to the standard Galaxy S20. Color options like Cloud Orange, Cloud Red, and Cloud Green are matched to the aluminum frame on each, delivering a welcome pop of color despite the cheaper backing material. Our Cloud Navy review unit doesn’t pack as much flash, but the subdued look works well for those who want it. You still get eye-catching curved accents where the plastic meets the frame, and it’s super-thin at 0.33 inches.

Color options like Cloud Orange, Cloud Red, and Cloud Green are matched to the aluminum frame on each, delivering a welcome pop of color despite the cheaper backing material.

The Galaxy S20 FE 5G has slightly thicker bezel borders around the display, but not distractingly so: it’s still almost all screen on the front, with just a small punch-hole cutout at the top center for the selfie camera. With a 6.5-inch display, it’s a sizable phone at just shy of 3 inches wide and about 6.3 inches tall. I found it easy to grip and keep hold of, but anyone with smaller hands or looking for a phone that’s built for single-hand use may want to look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, like all Galaxy S20 phones, there’s no 3.5mm headphone port included on the S20 FE 5G—but unlike the other S20 models, there’s no wired USB-C headphones here. The Galaxy S20 FE can deal with a bit of water, luckily, thanks to an IP68 dust and water resistance rating and the ability to withstand up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. Storage-wise, you’ll get a solid 128GB of internal memory to work with, and you can add in an external microSD memory card up to 1TB in size.

S20 FE side
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Setup Process: Easy does it

It doesn’t take long to set up this Android 10 smartphone out of the box. Just pop in your SIM card and power on the Galaxy S20 FE 5G by holding in the small button on the right side of the phone. You’ll have to tap through a few prompts, agree to the terms and conditions, and log into or create a Google account, and then you can decide whether you want to copy data from another phone or a saved backup in the cloud. All told, you should be able to get up and running within about 10 minutes.

Performance: Full speed ahead

With the same nearly-top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor found in the other Galaxy S20 models, you’ll have no shortage of power on hand in the S20 FE 5G. Granted, this octa-core CPU is flanked by half the RAM of the standard S20 model, with 6GB on hand, but I didn’t notice any significant hitches or spurts of slowdown along the way.

Benchmark testing showed a significant generational improvement over the Snapdragon 855 chip found in 2019’s top Android phones. I recorded a score of 12,222 in PCMark’s Work 2.0 performance test, an increase of nearly 2,600 points over the Samsung Galaxy S10e, which similarly has a 1080p display and 6GB RAM. In GFXBench’s tests, the Adreno 650 GPU recorded 43 frames per second in the Car Chase demo—a few frames faster than the S10e—while the T-Rex demo ran at nearly 120 frames per second on this 120Hz display. And in my own testing, games like Fortnite and Asphalt 9: Legends ran very smoothly.

With the same nearly-top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor found in the other Galaxy S20 models, you’ll have no shortage of power on hand in the S20 FE 5G.

Connectivity: Ready for 5G

The unlocked version of the Galaxy S20 FE 5G supports the standard sub-6Ghz flavor of 5G that is most widely deployed today but doesn’t pick up the dramatically faster mmWave 5G service that Verizon and T-Mobile use in mostly downtown urban areas.

Even so, I found that T-Mobile’s sub-6Ghz 5G signal picked up by the Galaxy S20 FE 5G was significantly faster than I’ve seen the carrier’s LTE in my area, just north of Chicago. In regular testing during my day-to-day usage, I recorded multiple 5G results in excess of 100Mbps, the highest at 129Mbps, and many other results in the 70-80Mbps range. While hardly mind-blowing, that’s a significant improvement over comparable 4G LTE performance and more than enough speed for streaming video, playing games, and whatever else you might need your phone connection for in a pinch.

Note that there is a Verizon-specific version of the Galaxy S20 FE 5G that supports the mmWave connectivity, but it costs $50 more than the unlocked version and those made for other carriers. While it’s true that mmWave service is scarce right now, the results can be many times faster than what sub-6Ghz offers.

S20 FE vs. Pixel 4a 5G
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Display Quality: Less crisp but still sharp

Here’s where the other difference is felt: the S20 FE 5G opts for a lower-resolution 1080p AMOLED Infinity-O display at 2400x1080, rather than the ultra-crisp 3200x1440 QHD+ of the other S20 models. Samsung routinely makes the best smartphone screens in the world, and while the difference is hardly dramatic, having fewer pixels packed into the view is noticeable. That’s particularly true on a larger 6.5-inch screen like this.

Even so, and even though other phones have gradually turned me into a 1440p snob, this is still a very nice screen. It’s vibrant, detailed, and solidly bright, although just a small step away from the maximum surging brightness levels of Samsung’s pricier handsets. Part of what makes it a joy to look at is the 120Hz refresh rate—double that of the vast majority of phones—which results in smoother scrolling and animations.

It’s one of those things that you won’t want to live without after you see it in action, as I did last year after reviewing the OnePlus 7 Pro and Google Pixel 4 XL (both at 90Hz). Samsung has also packed the fingerprint sensor within the display, near the bottom, and it worked quickly and reliably well in my testing.

S20 FE apps
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Sound Quality: It’ll play a tune

The Galaxy S20 FE 5G delivers pretty capable sound via its bottom-firing speaker. Paired with the tiny earpiece sliver at the very top of the phone’s display, it delivers loud and solidly clear stereo playback of streaming music via Spotify and when watching videos. You’re always better off connecting via Bluetooth to a dedicated speaker for music or dedicated viewing sessions, but these speakers do just fine in a pinch. And the earpiece sounds great during calls, too.

Camera/Video Quality: Versatile and powerful

 You’ll get the same main trio of shooters from the Galaxy S20 here: a 12-megapixel main sensor, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor that zooms out without you needing to step back, and an 8-megapixel telephoto sensor that delivers 3x optical zoom shots. Everyday snaps are pretty excellent across the board, with strong detail and vivid coloring, although Samsung’s aggressive processing can give photos an unrealistic sheen at times. Having the versatility of three focal lengths is great, too.

S20 FE photo
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Samsung’s 30x Space Zoom feature uses an AI algorithm to boost the 3x optical zoom to a 30x hybrid digital zoom. You’ll be able to scope out far-off sights with a little more detail than you’re used to from smartphone digital zoom features, but the results are still a lot fuzzier than if you stick within the optical zoom range. The S20 FE’s night shooting mode is quite good, too, while well-lit video shooting turns out pristine and vibrant 4K footage at 60 frames per second. And the front-facing 32-megapixel camera expectedly turns out stellar selfies.

S20 FE photo
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Battery: More than enough

Even with the lower-resolution screen, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G gets a 12 percent battery capacity boost compared to the Galaxy S20, up to 4,500mAh. That’s a lot of power to fuel your everyday exploits, and I never came close to tapping it out in regular everyday usage.

On a standard day, I’d typically wind up within spitting distance of a 50 percent charge by the time I hit the pillow. Heavier days could push me closer to 25-30 percent, but even so, that’s a lot of wiggle room to play with. This is a super-strong, all-day powerhouse. Switching off the 120Hz refresh rate for a battery-friendlier 60Hz didn’t make any noticeable difference in my testing, and with that kind of battery buffer, you certainly shouldn’t sacrifice one of the S20 FE’s best features.

The Galaxy S20 FE 5G can charge at a blistering 25W with the right power adapter. Unfortunately, the included 15W charger isn’t it; that’s one of the few truly irritating cost-cutting measures in the FE package. It also wirelessly charges at 15W with a compatible wireless charging pad (you’re on your own on that front), plus it can “reverse charge” other wirelessly-chargeable phones and accessories on the back.

S20 FE bottom
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Software: It’s the One

Samsung’s One UI interface atop Android 10 is smooth and welcoming here, delivering an attractive look without the excessive cruft seen in some of Samsung’s older Android skins. Each phone maker’s skin puts a spin on the core Android experience, and while Google’s Pixel version is arguably the smoothest and most feature-rich of the bunch, Samsung’s is pretty close behind.

There’s also a fair number of Samsung apps preinstalled, some of which you may find more useful than others. The Galaxy Store, for example, provides easy access to Fortnite, which you cannot download from the Play Store as of this writing. Besides those apps, this unlocked version thankfully doesn’t have any carrier bloatware, although you may encounter that if you purchase one of the carrier-locked versions.

The 4,500mAh battery has a lot of power to fuel your everyday exploits, and I never came close to tapping it out in regular everyday usage.

Price: The right price

At $700, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G is a full $300 less than the Galaxy S20 5G, which is hardly pocket change. Samsung’s top-end flagship phones keep pushing price barriers, but the S20 FE 5G is a consumer-friendlier course correction: one that keeps the biggest perks of the experience intact while trimming here and there to hit a much more palatable price point.

That also makes the Galaxy S20 FE one of the most compelling 5G handsets right now, although with infrastructure deployment still in the early stages, buying a 5G-compatible phone is only going to get better in time. Right now, however, the improvements are modest and inconsistent.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G vs. Google Pixel 5

Google charted a different kind of path in making its first 5G phone more affordable: by cutting down on processing power above all. The new Pixel 5 uses an upper mid-range Snapdragon processor that can’t match the Galaxy S20 FE 5G in benchmark comparisons, yet the phone still feels very speedy and smooth in use. Given how smooth Google’s budget Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a phones are, that doesn’t surprise me at all.

The Pixel 5 feels a lot smaller thanks to its 6-inch screen, and it has a 90Hz refresh rate rather than 120Hz, but anything over 60Hz is fantastic in my book. And while both phones have stellar camera setups, Google’s processing algorithms have a slight edge and do better with nighttime shooting, too. Note that the Pixel 5 also supports mmWave 5G, making it a more versatile option on that front.

Both phones are $699, so if you’re deciding between them, go with the Galaxy S20 FE 5G if you want a larger screen and more processing power for games, or the Pixel 5 if you want a smaller handset with Google’s smooth OS experience and the full range of 5G compatibility.

Final Verdict: Hitting a sweet spot between price and performance.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G is one of the best 5G smartphones you can buy today, finding the sweet spot between luxurious design and top-end perks with modest trims and tweaks to deliver a more appealing price point. True, $700 is still a fair bit of money to spend on a smartphone, but it’s increasingly on the lower end for handsets with this kind of power, a great screen, excellent cameras, and fantastic battery life.

Specs

  • Product Name Galaxy S20 FE
  • Product Brand Samsung
  • SKU SM-G781UZBMXBA
  • Price $699.99
  • Release Date October 2020
  • Product Dimensions 6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 in.
  • Color Orange, Red, Green
  • Warranty 1 year
  • Platform Android 10
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • RAM 6GB
  • Storage 128GB
  • Camera 12MP/12MP/8MP
  • Battery Capacity 4500mAh
  • Waterproof IP68