Laptop Mag Verdict
Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE packs most of the best features of the Galaxy S20 line and for less than $700.
Bright 120Hz display
Fingerprint reader is inconsistent
RAM is a bit low
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OS: Android 10 with One UI 2.5
Display: 6.5-inch AMOLED FHD+ (2,400x1080), 120Hz
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Rear cameras: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 8MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom (ƒ/2.4); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.2)
Size: 6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 inches
Weight: 6.7 ounces
Samsung is a perennial favorite among Android fans with its flagship Galaxy S line dominating the high-end early at the start of each year and the Galaxy Note doing the same each fall. This year, however, Samsung has treated us to yet another "near-flagship" offering in the form of the Galaxy S20 FE.
While it features many of the flagship specs from the Galaxy S20, the S20 FE comes in at a much more affordable $699, making it an intriguing option for those who want high-end features without paying the $999 or more most flagship smartphones command.
With a 120Hz Super AMOLED display, a triple camera and the powerful Snapdragon 865 processor, the Galaxy S20 FE ticks a lot of the boxes for a 2020 smartphone. So now the question is whether the trade-offs Samsung made to deliver at this price point are worth it?
In this review, I'll take an in-depth look at the choices Samsung made with the Galaxy S20 FE, but (Spoiler!) it is among the best smartphones of 2020 thanks to the combination of excellent value and performance.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE price and configurations
The Galaxy S20 FE starts and ends at $699; unlike most smartphone offerings from Samsung (and other brands), there is no upsell for more storage or RAM.
I reviewed the Cloud Navy model on T-Mobile, which includes 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM. For those who want more storage space, there is a microSD slot that supports up to 1TB microSD cards.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE design
The Galaxy S20 FE design isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel; its comfortably rounded corners and plastic back are pleasant to hold if not exactly eye-catching. However, for those who favor a slightly more attention-grabbing smartphone, there are a total of six color options available, including Lavender, Mint, Orange, Red and White.
While Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is one of the most striking smartphone designs of the year, the Galaxy S20 FE is decidedly more utilitarian, but that’s absolutely a benefit when you're simply holding and using the smartphone.
The more traditional flat display avoids any issues with accidental presses that come from the curved edge displays of Samsung’s true flagships and, of course, it presents less of a durability concern. It also offers the same IP68 dust and water resistance rating as the rest of the S20 lineup, so the S20 FE should survive any accidental dips or rainy day exposure.
The polycarbonate (plastic) back feels great, and if you are someone who opts to go case-free, it will no doubt hold up better to the occasional drop than the more expensive glass backs on most flagship phones.
Speaking of the back of the Galaxy S20 FE, it does suffer from the same off-center camera bump dilemma as the rest of Samsung’s 2020 lineup. The smaller module is not as pronounced as on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but it still can’t sit flat on a surface. Again, simply adding a case solves the issue and, with the Galaxy S20 FE, this is a reasonable addition as the phone is quite lightweight.
The Galaxy S20 FE measures 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches and weighs 6.7 ounces. That’s essentially identical to the OnePlus 8T (6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3), but quite a bit larger than the smaller-screened Pixel 5 (5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3) and iPhone 12 (5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3).
Despite the relatively basic design of the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung has done an excellent job at making a design that is easy to use, comfortable in the hand, and does just enough to stand out.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE ports
Naturally, you have a USB Type-C port available for charging and/or transferring files, but you do also have a microSD card slot. It is built into the SIM tray, so just pop that out and you can add up to an additional 1TB of storage via microSD.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE display
The Galaxy S20 FE's 6.5-inch display delivers the same ultra-smooth 120Hz refresh rate as the rest of the Galaxy S20 lineup. It's all the more impressive in a device at this price point. While the resolution takes a bit of a hit at FHD+ (2400x1080), that’s the maximum resolution supported for 120Hz on the other S20 models and I don’t find it to be a problem.
Unfortunately, the Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t pick up the Adaptive Motion smoothness option found on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which optimizes for the content on screen, so you need to manually switch between 60Hz and 120Hz modes in the settings. It’s a battery life tradeoff that you will need to decide on; I prefer the look of 120Hz enough that I’m willing to put up with shorter runtimes.
A welcome feature on the Galaxy S20 FE is the enhanced 240Hz touch sampling rate. Coupled with the 120Hz refresh rate, it helps to make this smartphone feel as fast and responsive as anything on the market.
I turned to my standard collection of 120Hz games, including Mortal Kombat, Dead Trigger 2, 1945 Air Force and Alto’s Odyssey to see how the Galaxy S20 FE held up. As I expected, there was no noticeable drop-off from the smooth frame rates and quick touch response making this a winner for smartphone gamers on a budget.
The Galaxy S20 FE also makes for an excellent content consumption device with support for HDR10+ on its 6.5-inch display. I watched the 1080p HDR10 trailer for No Time to Die and the many varied environments James Bond was being chased through were vibrant and colorful. It held up similarly well in the darker scenes, keeping things crisp and discernible while maintaining the black levels you expect from AMOLED.
Our lab tests supported my experiences with the Galaxy S20 FE display; it managed to reproduce 133.3% of the DCI-P3 color space. This is well above from what we saw with the iPhone 12 (81.1%) and just slightly more colorful than the Pixel 5 (128.8%) and the OnePlus 8T (120.2%).
The results of the Delta-E color accuracy test (lower is better) were also roughly even among its competition, with the Galaxy S20 FE managing a 0.3, matching the Pixel 5 (0.3), but slightly behind the iPhone 12 (0.29) and OnePlus 8T (0.29).
Outdoor use is not a problem with the Galaxy S20 FE with a max result of 679 nits with Adaptive brightness on. This put it again well ahead of the iPhone 12 (570 nits) and just slightly above the 678 nits peak brightness of both the Pixel 5 and the OnePlus 8T.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE audio
The integrated speakers easily filled my medium-sized testing space even when set at below full volume. The Dolby Atmos support and Dolby Atmos for gaming software can be used to augment the audio in addition to the built-in EQ settings. It’s well worth playing with these settings if you plan to use the built-in speakers regularly as they make a significant difference.
Another interesting option Samsung includes is Adapt Sound which tunes the phone for specific age groups. If you are under 30, for example, it will boost the high-range frequencies, which middle-aged folks are particularly attuned to, while those over 60 get a boost in all frequencies.
Listening to James Blake’s “Before” the Galaxy S20 FE’s speakers did an excellent job delivering the echoing vocals and eclectic pulsing beat. I was impressed by the clarity of the speakers even at full volume, but obviously, the low-end is limited and you would be better served by a pair of wireless headphones.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE performance
While it doesn’t feature the latest and greatest Snapdragon processor, the Galaxy S20 FE gets the same powerful Snapdragon 865 found in the rest of the Galaxy S20 lineup this year. This processor is found in most flagship Android smartphones released in 2020, but those devices typically commanded a much higher price tag.
One area where Samsung cut back on with the Galaxy S20 FE is RAM; its 6GB is half what the rest of the Galaxy S20 line offers. I still loaded a dozen Google Chrome tabs while having a Netflix show playing in picture-in-picture without a stutter. It’s possible this could be more of a problem for the Galaxy S20 FE 2 to 3 years down the road, but at the moment, it never presented a performance issue for me (although I still wish it had more RAM). The Galaxy S20 FE is an excellent gaming phone and for the more productivity-focused, I was able to cycle through over a dozen apps without any lag.
Turning to our benchmarks for a more quantitative breakdown of its performance, the Galaxy S20 FE yielded a solid Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 2,928. As you might expect, the iPhone 12 (3,859) completely destroys this result, but even the OnePlus 8T (3,203), which also uses the Snapdragon 865, comes out well ahead, while the Pixel 5 (1,617) and its Snapdragon 765G are a distant fourth.
GFXBench 5.0 specifically looks at graphics performance. The Galaxy S20 managed 1,325 frames (21 frames per second) on the Aztec Ruins in High Tier Off-Screen. While a respectable result, the iPhone 12 (2,168, 34 fps) makes it look terrible. The Android competition puts it back in perspective with the OnePlus 8T (1,375, 21 fps) just slightly ahead and the Pixel 5 (438, 7fps) sitting on the sidelines.
In our Adobe Premiere Rush video editing test, the Galaxy S20 FE took 1 minute and 24 seconds to finish transcoding a 4K video to 1080p. The iPhone 12 (26 seconds), once again, sets the pace here, while the OnePlus 8T (1:38) comes in slightly behind the S20 FE with the Pixel 5 (2:25) behind the rest as always.
All variants of the Galaxy S20 FE support sub-6Ghz 5G, but only the Verizon model adds support for mmWave 5G. Most customers are a couple of years away from truly benefitting from 5G, but at least you're future-proofed with the S20 FE.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE battery life
The Galaxy S20 FE packs a giant 4,500 mAh battery, which matches that of the much larger Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. With 5G and a 120Hz display, this was a user friendly move by Samsung.
In my daily usage, I never once had an issue making it through the day using the Galaxy S20 FE, and I even had some battery life to spare. My personal usage during testing included roughly an hour of Netflix and/or YouTube streaming, 3 to 4 hours of YouTube Music streaming, capturing photos and video, and roughly an hour of Slack, Twitter and general web usage. Taking the Galaxy S20 FE off the wireless charger at around 8:00 a.m., I would typically have around 20% remaining when I went to set it down at around 10:30 p.m.
Our lab test differed quite a bit from my personal usage with the Galaxy S20 FE. I was using T-Mobile’s 5G network and the test was performed on AT&T, so perhaps that explains some of the discrepancy.
That said, the Galaxy S20 FE lasted 8 hours and 58 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over AT&T’s 5G network at 150 nits of brightness and 60Hz. This was enough to beat the iPhone 12 (8:24), but it's well behind the Pixel 5 (9:53) and the OnePlus 8T (10:50).
Unfortunately, the Galaxy S20 FE only comes with a 15W charger, which will only get you a 16% charge in 15 minutes and 35% within half an hour. Consider picking up a 25W fast charger to boost those speeds if you find yourself charging up regularly.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE cameras
While it doesn’t enjoy any of the massively large megapixel counts found on some of the Galaxy S20 models, the Galaxy S20 FE does give you a full triple camera array with wide-angle, ultrawide and telephoto lenses.
The specs for the three lenses on the Galaxy S20 FE include; a 12MP (f/1.8) primary wide-angle lens, a 12MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens, and a 8MP telephoto (ƒ/3.0).
Switching between the three lenses is done by tapping on the corresponding icons along the right side or bottom of the camera app depending on whether you are taking a horizontal or vertical photo; these equate to a 0.5x, 1x and 3x zoom range. Tapping and holding any of these icons will allow you to then slide through the full range of its digital zoom, up to 30x by 0.1 increments.
Here’s a gallery of what the full zoom range of the Galaxy S20 FE looks like. At around 10x, it is still quite usable and will reliably focus. Moving anywhere beyond that and you will see serious degradation in the quality of the image and will be unable to focus manually reliably.
Galaxy S20 FE 0.5x Zoom
Galaxy S20 FE 1x zoom
Galaxy S20 FE 3x zoom
Galaxy S20 FE 10x zoom
Galaxy S20 FE 30x zoom
I did have occasional issues with focus on the Galaxy S20 FE, it lacks the laser autofocus found in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or even the more common time-of-flight (ToF) sensor. Interestingly the autofocus is pretty reliable on its own, but when I was trying to force it on something by tapping the screen, I found myself taking a second shot to make sure I had it.
The Galaxy S20 FE also features the Single Take option, which captures photos and video from the primary lens for 10 seconds then produces a variety of different shots and clips for you to choose from.
I found the Galaxy S20 FE comes a little closer to natural colors than some of the previous Samsung smartphones I’ve tested. In this sample, the pink of these flower petals is slightly more vibrant than reality. It looks pleasant and doesn't drastically change the image.
Samsung’s software-produced bokeh does a pretty good job for portraits and close up photos. Here’s an example of a raspberry bush that is holding on as the weather turns here in Wisconsin. Overall, it produces a reasonable kind of a dreamy blur to the background; my one quibble is that the leaves above warrant blurring. This again is attributable to that lack of a ToF sensor as it can’t read depth perfectly.
While Night Mode isn’t capable of some of the turn-night into-day magic we see from Google and Apple, it has gotten quite good. If you can hold your camera steady or have a way to secure your camera in place, you can get very usable photos even in extremely poor lighting conditions.
Turning to the selfie-camera, this is where the Galaxy S20 FE really blows things away with its 32MP (f/2.2) wide-angle sensor. As is often the case with Samsung phones, it tends to over-smooth details by default, but if you tap the wand icon in the upper-right corner you can tweak those settings to your preference.
The Galaxy S20 FE can’t capture the 8K video that some of its siblings can, but it does match their 4K performance at up to 60 frames per second (from both front and rear cameras). 1080p is limited to 60 fps instead of the 120fps option that can make for smooth slow motion. Then again, slow motion and super slow motion are available at reduced resolutions.
You can also record HDR10+ video to deliver superior contrast and color. Pro Video mode gives you more extensive controls over video capture with granular control over zoom speed, focus, white balance, exposure and more. Audio controls will allow you to direct the built-in mics on the smartphone or you can capture audio from external mics or earbuds, like the Galaxy Buds Live.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE software and warranty
The Galaxy S20 FE is currently running Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI version 2.5. Updates to One UI version 3.0 as well as Android 11 are currently in beta testing, but we don’t have a timeline for the public release. Samsung has improved its update track record in recent years with consistent security updates and the company committed to three years of Android updates for the Galaxy S20 FE, which matches what you will get from Google.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE offers the same impressive software extras of its more expensive siblings, including DeX, which allows you to run a desktop interface from your Galaxy S20 FE. Support for wireless DeX on TVs with Miracast makes this feature much more accessible now. Previously, users needed a cable or a special adapter. The basic idea is that you screencast your smartphone to the TV and can navigate the operating system using your smartphone as a touchpad. It’s not going to replace your PC, but it can serve as a reasonable option in a pinch.
Samsung devices also offer much more robust integration with Windows 10. Rather than requiring the Your Phone Companion app, you simply pull down the Quick Settings shade and tap Link to Windows to get started. Once you connect your PC, you have all of the features that other Android phones have on Windows 10, like the photo gallery, calls and texts. You also can stream your Android screen directly to your Windows 10 PC, meaning you can leave your phone plugged in and handle everything from your laptop.
Holding the Galaxy S20 FE up next to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it is easy to see that cuts were made, but after a week of using the device, I can say definitively that most people won’t notice or care about them. The design of the Galaxy S20FE is simple and comfortable, but really pops in some of the brighter color options.
While the display lacks a high resolution, it is colorful and bright with that smooth 120Hz performance that makes it look every bit as good as the more expensive Galaxy S20 models. And while I personally didn’t run into battery issues, if you do, remember you can turn off that 120Hz and add hours of additional battery life.
I love the photo and video options that are opened up by the triple camera array on the Galaxy S20 FE compared to some of its competitors, like the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12. Those cameras may produce better pure images and video, but they lack some of the reach of the Galaxy S20 FE, which can be the difference between getting a good photo and missing it completely.
Overall the Galaxy S20 FE is a fantastic smartphone and, at $699, it is easily one of the best values available today.
Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.