X

Article updated on November 22, 2020 at 4:00 AM PST

Galaxy S20 FE: Samsung's Fan Edition is the midrange phone to beat

With great specs, 5G and a tempting price, the Galaxy S20 FE is the best Samsung buy in 2020.

Our Experts

Written by 
Andrew Lanxon
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Expertise Smartphones | Photography | iOS | Android | Gaming | Outdoor pursuits Credentials
  • Shortlisted for British Photography Awards 2022, Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2022
Why You Can Trust CNET
16171819202122232425+
Years of Experience
14151617181920212223
Hands-on Product Reviewers
6,0007,0008,0009,00010,00011,00012,00013,00014,00015,000
Sq. Feet of Lab Space

CNET’s expert staff reviews and rates dozens of new products and services each month, building on more than a quarter century of expertise.

8.0/ 10
SCORE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Pros

  • Great performance
  • 5G-enabled
  • Realistic price

Cons

  • Camera white balance can be hit and miss

Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE's combination of solid specs, 5G connectivity and approachable price tag has earned it a CNET Editors' Choice award for 2020. Its great balance of performance and value makes it a stronger value proposition than its pricey S20 Ultra or Note 20 Ultra siblings, but doesn't force you to sacrifice the features you've come to expect from a higher-end phone. 

Memorial day sale image
Best Memorial Day Deals

Don’t miss our Memorial Day live deals coverage for a real-time look at the best deals as we find them.

See Memorial Day Live Blog

While the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra are packed to the hilt with the latest, greatest tech, they also come with sky-high prices to match. That makes them a tricky sell at a time when purse strings are tightening and rivals like Google, OnePlus and even Apple are making great phones at more affordable prices. But the Galaxy S20 FE, which stands for "fan edition," packs many of the great features of its flagship siblings, including a solid triple camera, a powerful processor, IP68 waterproofing and 5G connectivity, all for a much more affordable price.  

samsung-galaxy-s20-fe-5g-8023
Angela Lang/CNET

At $700 in the US, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than the Note 20 Ultra, which retails for $1,300 (£1,179, AU$1,849). In the UK and Australia, a 4G version of the S20 FE is available for £599 or AU$999, with the 5G version going for £699 or AU$1,149. Even better, the street price for an unlocked model in the US is currently hovering around $600 at major retailers like Amazon and Best Buy -- no activation required, no strings attached. Trade-ins and other activation options available at Samsung and elsewhere might get that price down to an even lower level.

Read more: The best phone to buy for 2020

Even if you're paying $700, that's the same US price as the recently announced Google Pixel 5  (which is a little cheaper in the UK and Australia). But the S20 FE does offer benefits over the Pixel in the form of an additional telephoto lens, expandable storage and a more potent processor. We'll have to wait to get the Pixel in our hands to work out exactly how these two stack up. 

Watch this: The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the midrange phone to beat

But overall, the Galaxy S20 FE is not a revolution in mobile technology, but it's not designed to be. What it is is a solid all-round phone at a more affordable price. While it's still more expensive than phones like the iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord , its better spec list makes it the phone to go for if you've got your heart set on a flagship, but just can't quite stomach emptying your entire bank account to get one.

samsung-galaxy-s20-fe-5g-8013
Angela Lang/CNET

A great screen and powerful processor

There's a 6.5-inch, 2,400x1,080-pixel super AMOLED display which is bright, vibrant and pin-sharp. Is it as high definition as the Note 20 Ultra? No. Will you notice the difference? I certainly couldn't. It has a 120Hz refresh rate too that just makes swiping around the Android interface feel that bit smoother. It stretches all the way to the edges, with only a small punch hole for the front-facing camera.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra performance chart

Galaxy S20 FE 897 3,214 9,278Galaxy S20 Ultra 771 3,201 9,553
  • Geekbench 5 (Single core)
  • Geekbench 5 (Multicore)
  • 3D Mark Slingshot
Note: Longer bars equals better performance

Inside is a lightning-fast Snapdragon 865 processor (for the 5G models, an Exynos 990 chip in the 4G models -- the same one found in the Note 20 Ultra and S20 Ultra), which performed very well on our benchmark tests (check out the comparison chart above). Photo editing in Snapseed was a breeze and demanding racing games Asphalt 9 and Grid Autosport played perfectly well.

A potent triple camera

The camera is one of the main areas that's seen some compromises to keep the cost down. The rear camera setup includes a 12-megapixel standard zoom camera, a 12-megapixel 3x optical zoom and an 8-megapixel ultrawide-angle camera. Those are lower resolutions than you'll find on more premium Galaxy phones. The FE also lacks features such as the 100x "Space zoom" and 8K video recording that you'll get from the S20 Ultra. 

While I certainly don't think you'll miss 8K video or the 100x zoom (the quality at that zoom level is so poor you'd never want to do anything with those images) I really enjoyed using the 5x and 10x zoom options on the S20 Ultra, and loved the creative shooting options it provided. Would I spend hundreds more to have it though? Absolutely not. 

Shots from the S20 FE are punchy with a good exposure balance between bright skies and dark foregrounds, helped by the auto HDR mode. It's by no means the best camera around -- I find the white balance can be a bit hit and miss at times -- but for drool-worthy shots of coffee and cake to make your Instagram followers jealous, it'll suit just fine. 

s20-fe-dean-view-normal

With the standard zoom lens, the phone has done a good job balancing the very bright sky with the more shadowy ground below. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
s20-fe-dean-view-3x

Using the 3x optical zoom, I've been able to get closer up on the buildings, achieving a more interesting composition. Again, exposure is great, with nice vibrant colors, too.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
s20-fe-dean-view-wide

Activating the super-wide lens let me capture a huge amount of the scene in front of me. The exposure is good, but the colors are a touch drab. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
s20-fe-gallery-wide

The colors are anything but drab in this super-wide shot of one of Edinburgh's art galleries. It's vibrant, punchy and would look great on Instagram.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
20201001-102230

I like how close up I've been able to focus on this flower, but the white balance is slightly shifted to the magenta side, giving it a cooler, purplish tint overall that I don't love. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
s20-fe-tower-3x

The 3x zoom has come in handy again to let me focus more on this beautiful clock tower. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
20201001-102256

You can digitally zoom all the way up to 30x, but as you can see here, the quality takes a serious hit. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The front camera has a 32-megapixel resolution which produces crisp shots that are more than good enough for Instagram -- depending on the face you pull, that is. 

Classy design

Samsung offers the S20 FE in a wide range of vibrant hues, but I think the deep navy blue of my review model is much more "classy" than it is "cool" -- it's a nice sport coat instead of a neon parka; a steak and glass of chianti instead of a burger from a van; an HBO drama instead of WWE highlights. It's much more attractive than the sinfully dull gray of the S20 Ultra, but then just about anything is. 

Its rear panel is made from plastic, but its frosted finish makes it look and feel more like glass to me (Samsung even calls it "glasstic"). There's toughened Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and aluminum on its edges. It feels sturdy and comfortable to hold and the matte texture of the back means fingerprints aren't much of a problem.

There's no headphone jack, so hopefully you've invested in some bluetooth headphones by now (you won't get any headphones in the box) but the phone does have IP68 waterproofing, which will keep it safe from spilled drinks or heavy rain. 

samsung-galaxy-s20-fe-5g-7999
Angela Lang/CNET

A beefy battery

Samsung has stuffed a 4,500-mAh battery inside the S20 FE, which is 500 mAh more than the battery it put in the regular S20. It's no surprise that it has a lot of power to offer. I haven't yet been able to do our full suite of battery-drain tests on the phone, but after an hour of YouTube streaming at full brightness, the phone had only dropped by 7%, which is very good. 

Anecdotally, I found that it had well over half its battery left after a day of photographing, playing videos and doing bits of gaming. I have no doubt that it'll comfortably get you through a full day of mixed use and probably well into the next. It also supports wireless charging as well as 25-watt fast charging to give it a quick juice up if you're about to head out. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE specs comparison chart


Samsung Galaxy S20 FESamsung Galaxy S20 UltraOnePlus 8 ProApple iPhone SE (2020)
Display size, resolution 6.5-inch super AMOLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X6.78-inch AMOLED; 1,440x3,168 pixels4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334x750 pixels
Pixel density 405ppi511ppi513ppi326ppi
Dimensions (inches) TBA2.99 by 6.57 by 0.35 in.6.51 by 2.93 by 0.35 in.5.45 by 2.65 by 0.29 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 159.8 by 75.5 by 8.4mm76.0 by 166.9 by 8.8mm165 by 74.4 by 8.5mm138.4 by 67.3 by 7.3 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 190g7.76 oz.; 220g199g5.22 oz.; 148g
Mobile software Android 10Android 10Android 10iOS 13
Camera 12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 8-megapixel (3x telephoto)108-megapixel (wide-angle), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight camera48-megapixel main, 8-megapixel telephoto, 48-megapixel ultrawide, 5-megapixel "color filter"12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 32-megapixel40-megapixel16-megapixel7-megapixel
Video capture 4K8K4K4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (5G) Samsung Exynos 990 (4G)64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)Qualcomm Snapdragon 865Apple A13 Bionic
Storage 128GB128GB, 512GB128GB, 256B64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB12GB, 16GB8GB, 12GBNot disclosed
Expandable storage 1TBUp to 1TBNoneNo
Battery 4,500 mAh5,000 mAh4,300 mAhNot disclosed, but Apple claims it has the same battery life as iPhone 8
Fingerprint sensor In-screenIn-screenIn-screenHome button
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CLightning
Headphone jack NoNoNoNo
Special features 120Hz screen refresh rate, support for 30W fast charging and 15W fast wireless charging5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; 100X zoom; water resistant (IP68)5G enabled, Fast-charging, fast wireless charging, 120Hz displayWater resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $699$1,399 (128GB), $1,599 (512GB)$899$399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £599 (4G), £699 (5G)£1,199 (128GB), £1,399 (512GB)£799£419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$999 (4G), AU$1,149 (5G)AU$1,999 (128GB), AU$2,249 (512GB)AU$1,435 convertedAU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)

First published Oct. 4