The Galaxy S20 FE is what happens when you make a phone with the stuff people want for a good price — and trim the rest. Samsung gives you a 120Hz display, 5G and triple cameras with 30x Space Zoom for just $699 — which is $300 cheaper than the regular Galaxy S20.
You can tell that Samsung is gearing the Galaxy S20 FE toward younger shoppers. For one, the 32MP selfie camera is sharper than the front camera on the Galaxy S20. And you can get the S20 FE in six colors. But it's really for anyone who wants a great phone for an affordable price.
Screen: 6.5-inch AMOLED (2400x1080: 120 Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 865
Storage: 128GB, expandable up to 1TB
Rear cameras: Triple-lens: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 8MP telephoto with 3x zoom (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery size: 4,500 mAh
Size: 6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 inches
Weight: 6.7 ounces
As you might expect, Samsung had to cut corners in a few places to keep the price down, from the display resolution and RAM to the charger and plastic back. The more expensive iPhone 12 offers faster performance, better camera quality and a tougher Ceramic Shield display. But based on my testing for this Galaxy S20 FE review, it's one of the best phones for the money.
Samsung Galaxy S20 review: Price and release date
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE has a price of $699 and has a release date of Oct. 2. It comes in just one configuration, with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM, though owners can expand storage by up to 1TB with a microSD card.
The Galaxy S20 FE is available through AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. The Verizon variant, dubbed Galaxy S20 FE 5G UW, supports the carrier's millimeter-wave 5G network for much faster speeds in urban areas.
Some retailers already have the Galaxy S20 FE on sale for $599, or $100 off. And we've seen the S20 FE for as low as $529. Check out the best Galaxy S20 FE deals so far.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Design and colors
The Galaxy S20 FE will stand out in a crowd with its six color options. You can take your pick from Navy, Lavender, Mint, Red, White and Orange. We checked out the Navy option, which has a sophisticated sheen to it. Just note that the color selection will vary by carrier.
Samsung makes a couple of design concessions in the name of affordability, but this phone doesn't look or feel cheap. The back uses polycarbonate (plastic) instead of glass, but Samsung did a nice job curving it around the sides to make the handset feel unified and solid.
When you put the Galaxy S20 FE side by side with the regular Galaxy S20, it's easy to tell that the former has thicker bezels. However, once you start using the S20 FE it's fairly close to a full-screen experience. It also helps that the cutout from the S20 FE's front camera is smaller than on the regular S20.
The Galaxy S20 FE doesn't cut corners when it comes to water resistance. The handset is IP68 rated, which means it can handle a dunk with ease.
Measuring 6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 inches and weighing 6.7 ounces, the Galaxy S20 FE is a bit thicker and heavier than the regular Galaxy S20 (5.9 x 3 x 0.31 inches, 5.7 ounces), but that's not a surprise given the FE has a larger display than the S20 (6.5 vs 6.2 inches).
I do have one complaint about the Galaxy S20 FE's design, and it's the choice of fingerprint reader. Unlike the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 series, the S20 FE uses an optical sensor embedded in the display instead of a more accurate ultrasonic sensor. As a result, I encountered more false negatives trying to unlock the phone than I would like. I found that I had to be more deliberate when pressing down with this phone.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Display
I'm glad that the Galaxy S20 FE features a 120Hz display, which I think is a better feature to bring over from the regular Galaxy S20 than its sharper quad HD resolution. The S20 FE makes do with a full HD+ screen with 2400 x 1800 pixels.
The 120Hz setting delivers smoother scrolling and better gameplay in a growing array of titles that support 120Hz panels. Thumbing through NYTimes.com was buttery smooth, and I enjoyed fluid animation when playing Marvel Contest of Champions as I used Iron Man to fire a laser at The Punisher.
Samsung's OLED panel really shined when watching an episode of Cobra Kai. As Sam LaRusso crashed into a dessert table, the explosion of color really came through, with pops of green, blue, brown and orange.
The Galaxy S20 FE's display performed well in our lab tests. It hit a peak of 679 nits of brightness with Adaptive brightness turned on. Anything above 600 nits is good, but the regular Galaxy S20 reached a max of 857 nits.
This screen is also quite colorful, as the S20 FE registered 133.3% of the DCI-P3 color space, which is shy of the regular S20's 162.5%. In terms of color accuracy, the Galaxy S20 FE fared slightly better than the Galaxy S20, notching a score of 0.3; a score of zero is perfect. The regular S20 hit 0.37, and the iPhone 11 a better 0.22.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Cameras
The Galaxy S20 FE is one of the most versatile camera phones for the price, offering a trio of rear lenses, plus a front 32MP camera for selfies.
The back cameras consist of a 12MP ultra-wide shooter with a f/2.2 aperture and 123-degree field of view. There's also a main 12MP camera (f/1.8) and a 8MP telephoto lens with a 3x optical zoom and 30x Space Zoom (digital).
The Galaxy S20 FE 30x Space Zoom in action. Not bad! #GalaxyS20FE pic.twitter.com/7JwEzojLLYSeptember 28, 2020
I had fun testing out the Space Zoom on the Manasquan River in New Jersey. I could zoom in on a boat from far away, and the Galaxy S20 FE got me in close enough to make out the two passengers and the sides of the vessel. It's definitely grainy up close but it's still pretty impressive for a phone.
The Galaxy S20 FE also did a fine job capturing this close-up of a portulaca flower. The pink came out darker than real life, but I appreciated the level of detail in the water droplets around the petal.
I compared the Galaxy S20 FE against the more expensive iPhone 11 Pro Max in this portrait, and Samsung's phone held its own. The S20 FE did a better job illuminating my face, even if it's a bit blown out. However, the water and surrounding trees look richer in the iPhone's shot, and the blur effect is a bit more subtle.
The Galaxy S20 FE also performed well when I took several shots at a nearby park. When I shot a photo on a hiking trail, the S20 FE rendered the trees and leaves with pretty sharp detail, and the sunny sky didn't blow out the shot.
I next challenged the Galaxy S20 FE with a shot of trees in a shadowy foreground, a rippling river in the center and a line of trees and puffy clouds in the background. Overall, the exposure looks pretty well balanced, and this is a pic I would be happy to share.
The Galaxy S20 FE delivered a brighter photo of this tree in darkness with its Night mode. The lights on the right side are a little blown out, but overall you can make out more detail in the brick, trees and grass in Samsung's photo.
The 32MP selfie camera on the Galaxy S20 FE gives you a normal and ultra-wide option for maximum flexibility, which comes in handy when you want to fit more people in the shot.
Samsung says this selfie shooter uses what's called tetra binning (which combines four pixels into one to capture more light) and a re-mosaic algorithm (which remaps pixels into a conventional color patter for producing more detailed pics in bright conditions).
In my testing I found that the Galaxy S20 FE had a tendency to smooth my face, though I'm not complaining too much. My blue shirt certainly pops and there's a fair amount of detail in my hair.
I also tried out the Galaxy S20 FE's Super Steady mode, which is designed to minimized camera shake when you're in motion. I noticed only a slight difference with the setting on when walking at a moderate pace, so Super Steady is probably best for more rigorous activities and action sports.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Performance
The Galaxy S20 FE packs a Snapdragon 865 processor and pairs that with 6GB of RAM, which is half as much as the 12GB in the regular Galaxy S20. You also get 128GB of storage, which is expandable up to 1TB via a microSD card.
In my everyday use, I found the Galaxy S20 FE to be quite responsive, whether I was switching between a dozen open apps or racing around the track in Asphalt 9. I did notice a hint of lag when exiting to the home screen at times, but overall the S20 FE has performed well thus far.
In Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the Galaxy S20 FE scored 2,928 in the multi-core test. That's lower than the Galaxy S20, which notched 3,147. The iPhone 11 reached a score of 3,251.
On the GFXBench graphics test (Aztec Ruins Vulkan test off-screen), the Galaxy S20 FE reached 1,325 frames (21 frames per second). The regular Galaxy S20 hit 1,319 and the iPhone 11 1,481.
To test the Galaxy S20 FE's real-world performance, we transcoded a 4K video to 1080p after applying an effect and transition in Adobe Premiere Rush. The Galaxy S20 FE took 1 minute and 24 seconds, which is behind the regular S20's 1:15. The iPhone 11 took only 46 seconds.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Battery life and charging
The Galaxy S20 FE should last you through most of your day on a charge, but it didn't last as long as we expected given the size of its battery. It's equipped with a 4,500 mAh battery, which is bigger than the 4,000 mAh pack in the Galaxy S20 and the same size as the Galaxy S20 Plus.
After unplugging at 7 a.m. and using the Galaxy S20 FE regularly for several hours, it still had 55% juice left at 4:16 p.m, which is pretty good.
However, on our web surfing battery test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness, the Galaxy S20 FE lasted only 8 hours and 58 minutes over AT&T's 5G network and 9:03 on Verizon's LTE network. (I don't have Verizon 5G in New Jersey). The handsets on our best phone battery life list all last 11 hours or more.
By comparison, the regular Galaxy S20 lasted a slightly longer 9:31 over T-Mobile's network, and the iPhone 11 endured for a whopping 11:16. Note that these tests were run with the Galaxy S20 FE's display set to 60Hz; the 120Hz setting can reduce battery life by 2 or more hours based on our testing.
The Galaxy S20 FE ships with a 15W charger, which is notably slower than the 25W charger that comes with the regular Galaxy S20. On our testing, the phone reached 16% charge in 15 minutes and 35% in 30 minutes. You can buy a 25W charger for faster charging with the FE, but it's going to cost you an additional $29.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Verdict
The competition is heating up for flagship phones that cost less than $700, and the Galaxy S20 FE could be tough to beat. It offers a big display with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, strong cameras and solid performance in a colorful design. I can deal with the plastic back and most other trade-offs versus the regular Galaxy S20; I just wish Samsung included a more advanced ultrasonic fingerprint sensor and the battery life was a bit longer.
The Galaxy S20 FE's powerful zoom, in particular, help Samsung stand out against the likes of the Google Pixel 5 and iPhone 12. The Pixel 5 offers better photo quality, but its performance trails the S20 FE. And while the iPhone 12 is faster than the S20 and also delivers better looking photos, it doesn't last as long on a charge and lacks a telephoto zoom.
Some may want to wait to see what Samsung has in store for the upcoming Galaxy S21. But the Galaxy S20 FE is one of the best phones for the money now.