Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Has Apple’s phone met its match?

Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12
(Image credit: EveryApplePro/Samsung)

Samsung may tout the Galaxy S20 FE as an extension of the Galaxy S20 lineup it introduced in the spring of 2020. But the S20 FE's arrival last fall seemed designed with one rival in mind — Apple's iPhone.

After all, since the Galaxy S20 FE adopts many of the same features found in the standard S20 — our Galaxy S20 FE vs. Galaxy S20 face-off found the two phones to be almost interchangeable in all but a handful of ways — releasing a $699 phone with flagship specs seems like a perfect way to undercut any rivals. And there's no bigger rival in the smartphone world than the iPhone.

Apple responded in a big way with the debut of the iPhone 12, taking the wraps off four new phones just days after the Galaxy S20 FE went on sale. And that leads to quite a showdown between the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12 to see which offers the most to smartphone shoppers wary of $1,000 devices.

We've now reviewed the cheapest iPhone 12 models — the $799 iPhone 12 and $699 iPhone 12 mini, so we have a very good idea of how both phones compare to the Galaxy S20 FE.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12 specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Galaxy S20 FEiPhone 12 mini iPhone 12
Screen size6.5-inch AMOLED5.4-inch OLED6.1-inch OLED
CPUSnapdragon 865A14 BionicA14 Bionic
Storage12GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Rear camerasTriple-lens: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 8MP telephoto with 3x zoom (ƒ/2.4)12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera32MP (ƒ/2.2)12MP (ƒ/2.2)12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery size4,500 mAh2,227 mAh2,815 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)8:587:288:25
Size6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 inches5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches5.78 x 2.81 x 0.29 inches

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Price and availability

Samsung has thrown down an early marker with the Galaxy S20 FE. While many of Samsung's flagship phones have been on the high side of the $1,000 threshold as of late, the FE goes in the other direction. It starts at $699 for a phone with 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage. The price hasn't fallen much, not even with the subsequent launch of the Galaxy S21 lineup, though Samsung will take off up to $350 with a trade-in.

The iPhone 12 mini costs the same $699 the Galaxy S20 FE debuted at. You'll pay another $100 for the iPhone 12.

Like Samsung, Apple reduces the price of its phones with a trade-in. At present, you can get between $80 to $525 off when you trade in an iPhone 7 or newer. We're tracking both the best iPhone 12 deals and best Galaxy S20 FE deals to help you pay less.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Design and display

The Galaxy S20 FE and iPhone 12 take similar design paths. While both Samsung and Apple reserve premium materials for their high-end phones — the Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra in Samsung's case and the iPhone Pro versions for Apple — the less expensive flagships use less flashy materials in exchange for that lower price.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs iPHone 12

Galaxy S20 FE (Image credit: Samsung)

In the case of the Galaxy S20 FE, that means a plastic body in lieu of the glass and metal that the rest of the S20 lineup employs. Similarly, Apple uses aluminum and glass rather than the stainless steel featured in the Pro versions, though the iPhone 12 does offer the same Ceramic Shield as the Pro phones. That means the screen is likely to shatter.

In one significant change, the iPhone 12 features an OLED screen instead of the LCD panel Apple used in the iPhone 11, as the company upgrades the displays on its standard flagship.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12

iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Speaking of displays, you get a range of choices with the iPhone 12 — 5.4 inches for the mini and 6.1 inches for the iPhone 12. There's just one Galaxy S20 FE size, as the phone features a 6.5-inch display.

The Galaxy S20 FE's display boasts two advantages over the iPhone 12 lineup, even the more expensive Pro versions. For starters, there's no prominent notch on the Galaxy S20 FE — just a punch-hole cut-out for the phone's front camera. (And it just happens to be the smallest cut-out Samsung's ever offered, measuring 3.3mm.) The Galaxy S20 FE's display also offers a 120Hz refresh rate, matching the smooth-scrolling capabilities of the other S20 models. The iPhone 12 skipped that feature, and it's likely going to only appear on the Pro versions for the iPhone 13 this fall.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Cameras

Both the Galaxy S20 FE and iPhone 12 offer multiple lenses and savvy software for producing high-quality shots. We haven't done a formal face-off comparing the cameras, but given how highly we rank the iPhone 12 among the best camera phones, we'd expect Apple's handsets to edge the S20 FE

Not that Samsung's less expensive flagship is a turkey when it comes to cameras. The Galaxy S20 FE adopts the triple lens setup of the Galaxy S20, though with some less powerful optics. 

The S20 FE features a 12MP wide angle lens as its main camera, with a second 12MP shooter for ultra wide angle shots. There's also an 8MP telephoto lens with a 3x optical zoom. Push past that, and you can enjoy a 30x digital zoom with the Galaxy S20 FE. The same software-powered features on the Galaxy S20 — Night Mode, Super Steady recording and Single Take — are also around for the S20 FE.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12

Galaxy S20 FE (Image credit: Samsung)

Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini stuck with the two lenses found on the iPhone 11 — a main camera and an ultra wide angle lens. The new iPhones also benefit from Apple's software expertise, with features like Smart HDR and Deep Fusion emphasizing the details in the photos you capture.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Performance

This battle was really over before it started. The Galaxy S20 FE features the same Snapdragon 865 system-on-chip as the rest of the Galaxy S20 lineup. There's only 6GB of RAM in the FE, compared to 12GB in the Galaxy S20, so the FE tends to be less peppy when it comes to multitasking. 

Still, even after the release of the Snapdragon 888, the Snapdragon 865 remains a top chipset for Android phones — powerful enough to close the gap considerably with Apple's top-performing mobile processors.

Notice that we said "close" the gap, though. The A13 Bionic in the previous generation of iPhones already outperformed the Snapdragon 865, and that continues with the A14 Bionic inside the iPhone 12 family. This is a 5-nanometer chip, so it's more power efficient than before.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The results are pretty stark. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini produced respective multicore scores of 3,859 and 4,123. Both results topped the Galaxy S20 FE's 2,928 score. The results were the same in graphics and video encoding tests, too, with the iPhone 12 routinely outperforming the Galaxy S20 FE.

Both the Galaxy S20 FE and iPhone 12 offer 5G connectivity. The S20 FE works on all types of 5G, with Verizon selling a special Galaxy S20 FE UW model that's compatible with its high-speed mmWave-based 5G network. The iPhone includes support for both mmWave and sub 6GHz spectrum, so there's no need for carrier-specific models.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Battery and charging

This turned out to be a disappointing part of our showdown. Despite a 4,500 mAh battery — bigger than the 4,000 mAh battery in the standard Galaxy S20 — the S20 FE lasted only 8 hours and 58 minutes on our battery test where we have the phone surf the web over 5G until it runs out of power. That's an hour worse than the average smartphone.

And yet, it left the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini in the dust. Apple's larger phone lasted 8 hours and 25 minutes. The mini was even worse at 7 hours and 28 minutes. It turns out 5G is pretty demanding.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs iPhone 12

Galaxy S20 FE (Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S20 FE can charge at 25W, though you'll only get a 15W charger in the box. That's more than iPhone 12 users receive, as Apple stopped including chargers with its phones, citing environmental concerns. (It's a great way to keep costs down, too.) The iPhone 12 does support the new MagSafe charging standard for wireless charging your phone.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Software and special features

Samsung has recently committed to three Android updates for its flagship phones like the Galaxy S20 FE, though in this case one of those updates was last year's Android 11. (The SE shipped with Android 10.) Expect Android 12 to land on the Galaxy S20 FE toward the end of the year.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Future)

The iPhone debuted with Apple's iOS 14, and could upgrade to iOS 14.5 when that update landed in the spring. This fall, you'll be able to upgrade to iOS 15, and we imagine the updates will keep coming for at least three to four more years.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12: Outlook

We don't have to conduct a Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12 camera face-off to figure this comparison tilts heavily toward Apple's devices. The processor is more powerful, the cameras are better regarded and Apple phones are better supported with software updates, even with the progress Samsung is making in that area.

That said, the Galaxy S20 FE did give Android fans a lower-cost way to enjoy the best features of Samsung's phones and probably previewed the price cuts Samsung made to the S21 lineup earlier this year. Throw in the fast refreshing screen and better battery life, and it's not like the iPhone completely dusts Samsung's inexpensive option.

Still, there's a reason Apple is the king of smartphones and you can see that clearly when you compare an iPhone 12 to a Galaxy S20 FE.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.