Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Review
Quick Verdict: Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE is, surprisingly, its best phone of 2020.
- Great app performance
- Good low light camera
- Flexible shooting for video or stills
- Range of colour choices
- Battery life could be better
- 5G model carries a stiff price premium
- 4G model uses a lower spec processor
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
If you're a fan of just about anything, you'll no doubt be aware of the special or fan editions that exist for everything from movies to albums to comic books and plenty more besides. They're the ones in the shiny steelbook cases with a smattering of new material, or a supplemental book or some other trinket designed to get you, the true fan, to spend a little more on content you probably already own, because it's better than the everyday model.
That's not what Samsung's done with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, the last flagship phone it'll release in Australia in 2020. Instead, its Fan Edition phone boils down the essential greatest hits from its entire phone 2020 phone range into a handset that costs less than most of them, and in many ways is a whole lot better. If you're a fan of Samsung phones and you've been holding out on an update, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the phone you should buy.
- 6.5 Inch 120Hz Super AMOLED display
- Wide range of colour choices
- Plastic body
- No headphone jack
One of the highlights of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the genuinely wide range of colours you can choose from when buying one. We've seen so often in the past that Samsung will announce a new phone in a dazzling array of colours, only to find that Australians can only buy it in two or three colours, and one of them is always black.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE isn't like that. While Samsung's marketing execs have appended "Cloud" to the colour name of every Samsung Galaxy S20 FE model, you've got the full choice of Navy, Lavender, Mint, Red, White or Orange to pick from. Somebody at Samsung must know I'm a bit of a sucker for blue phones, because they sent me the Navy model to test with, but that colour array really does mean that there's a little something for everybody.
While Samsung's other 2020 flagships have used metallic finishes to accentuate their luxury position, the one concession to budget that you get with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the use of plastic rather than glass or metal at the back, no matter what colour you choose. The benefit here is that for a phone this large, it's actually pretty light at just 190 grams.
At the front, you're faced with a 6.5 inch Super AMOLED display with a 1080x2400 pixel count. That's not the sharpest Super AMOLED on a Samsung phone, but again the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE straddles the line of features and price, so some concessions are to be expected. It's certainly bright and usable, and it's also 120Hz capable. This is an all-or-nothing proposition, with motion smoothing set either to 120Hz for the slickest screen movement, or 60Hz if you want to conserve battery power.
Around the back you'll find smaller triple lens camera bump, but no fingerprint sensor, because that's an in-display option on the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. Unlike the pricier Notes and S20 phones, this is just an optical sensor rather than an ultrasonic model. Typically that can introduce issues with fingerprint detection, but happily I didn't really run into any issues like that while testing the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE.
One feature we have seen on some lower-cost flagship phones, such as the Google Pixel 4a is a full headphone jack, but you won't find one of those on the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. There's a solitary USB C port for charging and USB C headphones at the base next to the speaker, while the top houses a dual SIM/microSD slot. That does allow for storage expansion, although it's a double sided SIM/SD card tray, which can be a bit tricky to balance and insert if you're using both sides at once.
- Triple lens camera covers most angles
- Good low light performance
- Space Zoom doesn't quite live up to the hype
- A great camera for novices and those wanting to stretch their photo skills
Samsung has for years offered very good cameras on its phones, but not always the very best in market. In 2020 it definitely stepped up its game, especially with the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, still one of my favourite camera phones.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is a lower cost device than the mighty Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and with that comes a lower specification set. You get a trio of rear lenses, incorporating a primary 12MP f/1.8 wide, secondary 8MP 3x Optical Zoom f/2.4 lens and tertiary 12MP 123 degree f/2.2 ultrawide lens. At the front, you'll be shooting selfies with a single 32MP f/2.2 wide lens housed in a central hole punch style camera.
Take those specifications next to Samsung's pricier phones, and you might expect to tumble off a cliff in quality terms, but that's not what happens when you actually shoot photos. It's a truism that most mid-range phones can shoot generally very good photos these days, making that case for premium phones all that much trickier to justify. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is amongst some heavy duty competition in this space, but it makes a very good reckoning of itself, whether you're a happy snapper or someone looking for a more serious and measured camera experience.
If you're in the shoot-and-pray camp, like much of Samsung's 2020 output the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE features its "Single Take" mode, which fires off all of the rear cameras at once to capture multiple still and video images, which you can then pick from. While I'd still love a version of Single Take that lets me specify that I only want stills or video, it's a great tool to quickly get some pleasing shots with minimal effort.
If you want to push the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE a little harder, it largely meets that kind of challenge. In low light, its performance was very good, delivering real life imagery rather than the slightly overcoloured tones of some competitors. As an example, here's a low light shot taken at a local park with the Google Pixel 5:
There's a lot of detail there – Pixel phones have done wonderous things with AI assisted low light shots – but also a strong contrast that's not quite natural.
Here's how the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE interpreted that scene:
The other feature that Samsung touts for the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is "Space Zoom", which has been Samsung's 2020 branding for its hybrid optical/digital zoom feature. On the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Space Zoom goes up to 30x, but like every other Space Zoom camera, you're sacrificing a lot of quality.
I've had a helper for zoom testing of late, because there's a family of king parrots that have been dropping by for daily snacks, and they're an ideal prospect for some zoom photo testing. Here's one hopeful snacker in my carport recently, taken at first with the ultrawide angle lens:
The standard wide angle lens also does nicely:
The 3x zoom setting is fine, as you'd expect, because that's the optical length of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE's zoom lens:
At 4x zoom, it's also fine, using a hybrid approach:
At 10x zoom there's some detail being lost for sure:
And at 30x "Space Zoom"… I may as well be making a stained glass picture of a king parrot:
That Space Zoom picture has been the same across every Samsung phone this year; push it to the advertised extremes and you'll get poor results, but the mid-range zoom space is actually pretty good.
That also sums up the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE's overall camera performance. If you just want a phone that shoots well with minimal effort that's easy to achieve, but there's also enough power and flexibility here for those wanting to flex their photo muscles a little.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE sample photos:
- Snapdragon 865 runs well
- 5G capable – at a premium price
- Bixby present – but you can ignore it
We've seen a huge number of mid-range 5G phones launch this year, typically based around the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G SoC, because that's been Qualcomm's play for that mid-range market.
Samsung's gone down a different path for the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G, which instead runs on the more premium Snapdragon 865 processor with either 128GB or 256GB of onboard storage.
That creates an interesting price/performance balancing act, because there's little doubt that the Snapdragon 865 is a better platform than the 765G that we see in so many of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE's competitors.
You can really clearly see this in benchmark results. Excluding Apple's iPhone lines – which sit in a rather different space in any case – here's how the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE compares against its similarly priced 5G competition using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
The comparison is even more stark in 3D benchmark terms, where the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE dominates:
That's a slam dunk for the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, right?
Not exactly, because there's a slight sting in the tail here. There's a model of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE that sells in Australia for $999, a very familiar price point for all those 765G-based 5G competitors it's smoking up there.
That model, however, is 4G only. If you want the model of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE with 5G, it'll cost you at least $1,149, which means you're paying an additional $150 just for 5G, or more if you want the 256GB model.
I tested with the 5G model, and the stark reality of 5G in Australia in 2020 can't entirely be ignored here. We're seeing a gradual expansion of 5G networks in Australia over time, and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE certainly tested well in 5G areas during my review period. However, the networks are far from pervasive, and that $150 price bump puts the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE more into the lower tier of what we'd consider properly "premium" phones, rather than the higher end of the mid-range space where those other 5G phones live.
It is at least preferable that you've got the choice, but this is complicated by the fact that the cheaper 4G model doesn't run on that same Qualcomm Snapdragon 865. Instead, like this year's Samsung Galaxy S20 or Galaxy Note 20 phones as sold down under, you're given an Exynos variant. I've not been able to test that specific configuration with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE for the purposes of review, but the typical pattern there is that you see a slight performance dip, but slightly better battery life as a result. Typically, however, you wouldn't expect to see a drop down to Snapdragon 765G levels, but there's almost certainly going to be a performance difference.
Like every other Samsung handset of 2020, what you get in software terms is Android 10 with Samsung's own OneUI slathered on top. Samsung's approach to Android has lessened in terms of full visual takeovers over the years, and that's a welcome step. You do still get Samsung's own middling Bixby assistant on board, but unlike many Samsung phones there's no dedicated Bixby button to deal with, and it's a simple enough matter to either enable it on the power button, or disable it and use the much more flexible Google Assistant instead. No prizes for guessing which way I cast my vote on that score.
- 4,500mAh battery, but that 120Hz screen takes its toll
- Fast wired and wireless charging
- Wireless powershare capable – but it's still a gimmick
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE features a sealed 4,500mAh battery. That puts it amongst a small group of high-capacity Samsung phones, but the challenges to its battery endurance aren't small ones. 5G takes its toll, and adding in a 120Hz capable screen is also going to suck down those precious electrons faster than a 60Hz or even 90Hz screen would.
To test this, I used the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE as my daily phone as well as running it through our standard battery endurance test. This entails running a Full HD YouTube video at maximum brightness and moderate volume for an hour from a fully charged battery. What we're looking for here is a score above 90% remaining; below that typically denotes a phone that may not last a full day's usage. With the screen refresh rate set at 120Hz, here's how the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE compared:
This is pretty clearly the price you pay for 5G plus a fast refresh rate screen plus that Snapdragon 865. It's entirely feasible, and indeed likely that the 4G/Exynos model would run a little better, and of course you could eke out a better result if you dropped the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE entirely into 60Hz-only mode.
In more day to day usage, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE could last out all but my heaviest work days – and as always, I've never met a phone that I couldn't entirely drain dry with enough repeated heavy app usage, especially gaming.
In recharge terms, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE supports 25W USB C charging via cable, 15W fast wireless charging and reverse wireless charging, which Samsung still calls "Wireless Powershare". It's offered the feature for a few years now and there's a very limited utility there if you have Qi-capable wireless buds – Samsung obviously would prefer those were the Galaxy Buds Live – but beyond that the speed of charging other phones still leaves this mostly a gimmick.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE?
- Buy it if you want the best mid-range (or low range premium) 5G handset available in 2020.
- Don't buy it if you want expanded camera features or a premium body design.
Samsung's 2020 flagship phones have provided an interesting mix of features and price points, and while the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE doesn't quite unseat the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – or the Galaxy Z Fold 2 if you're particularly cashed up – at the top of the Samsung premium phone family, what it offers at its price point is really very good value. It's a pity Samsung couldn't bring the 5G model in at under $1,000, but as is always the case with Android phones, it's feasible that bargain deals may emerge that bring exactly that to market.
Pricing and availability
PriceThe Samsung Galaxy S20 FE retails in Australia in either 4G or 5G variants in a range of colours. The baseline 128GB 4G Samsung Galaxy S20 FE costs $999, while the 5G Samsung Galaxy S20 FE with 128GB costs $1,149 and the 256GB will set you back $1,249.
Where to buy
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman
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