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.
Andrew LanxonEditor 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
, 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
followers jealous, it'll suit just fine.
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.
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.
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.