Going into 2020, one of the phones I found myself looking forward to the most was the Google Pixel 5. I feel like I was in the minority of people that thoroughly enjoyed the Pixel 4 (the XL model, specifically), so I was ecstatic to see how Google would improve upon it with its successor.
As rumors and reports around the phone made it clear that this year's Pixel would be taking a big shift compared to past releases, I was initially pretty bummed. I loved face unlock on the Pixel 4, I appreciated Google trying something new with Motion Sense, and hearing that Google was ultimately scaling things back to make a more "boring" device sunk my interest. Like a lot of people reading this, though, that opinion started to change given everything this year has thrown at us.
Spending habits have been evaluated, budgets have gotten tighter, and I've now found myself much more excited about smartphones that have the ultimate goal of delivering the best value possible (or phones that see massive discounts during events like Prime Day). That renewed my interest in the Pixel 5, and following its official unveiling on September 30, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. A couple of days ago, however, I was sent the Galaxy S20 FE to check out. After using the phone for about 48 hours at the time of writing this editorial, my interest in the Pixel 5 is once again slipping.
It seems like everyone is talking about the S20 FE right now, but if this is the first time you're hearing about it, here's the elevator pitch. The Galaxy S20 FE is basically the same phone as the S20 or S20+, but it makes a couple of spec compromises in order to hit a retail price of $700 (and it's on sale right now for just $600).
The Galaxy S20 FE has everything you'd want in a flagship, minus an insane price.
Compared to the S20 and S20+, which retail for $1000 and $1200, respectively, the considerably lower price of the S20 FE may lead you to think that it's a substantially worse phone. Rocking it as my daily driver for two days, I can wholeheartedly say that's absolutely not the case. In fact, the S20 FE is likely one of the best Android phones of 2020.
There are a few things about the S20 FE that really stand out to me, the first of which is its display. It's a 6.5-inch AMOLED panel with a 2400 x 1080 resolution, along with a 120Hz refresh rate. Compared side-by-side with the Note 20 Ultra — which costs $1400 — the S20 FE looks just as good to my eyes. Colors are super vibrant, viewing angles are excellent, and having that ultra-fast refresh rate gives the S20 FE a sense of speed and fluidity not often seen in this price range. Not to mention, the flat design of the screen is — and always will be — superior to curved ones.
Part of the fluid speed mentioned above is also thanks to the phone's internals, which are just as impressive. Thanks to the Snapdragon 865 (the same exact chip found in the regular S20 series) and 6GB of RAM, I've had zero performance issues. Using the S20 FE for checking emails, scrolling through Twitter, or playing graphically demanding games, nothing about the experience reminds me that I'm using a "value" phone. It's every bit as fast and responsive as I could ask for, and even more so than the regular Note 20 thanks to that 120Hz screen.
Samsung could have dropped the ball in any category, but the great thing about the S20 FE is that there isn't one critical aspect of the phone that's bad or unpleasant. The 4,500 mAh battery allows for great endurance, you can expand the roomy 128GB of storage with a microSD card, and the trio of rear cameras (including a primary, ultra-wide, and 3x telephoto sensor) all hold their own admirably well.
The one and only aspect of the phone I can see some people complaining about is the build quality, but even then, I'd make an argument in the Galaxy S20 FE's favor. Samsung opted for a plastic construction instead of glass, and while this got a lot of people riled up when Samsung made the same decision for the Note 20, it feels appropriate for the S20 FE.
Even the plastic design, the biggest con of the S20 FE, is excellent.
Not only is it a smart way to cut costs, but the plastic used on the phone feels really nice. It's incredibly sturdy, doesn't creak whatsoever, and has a nice matte finish that keeps fingerprints at bay. Samsung also gives you a wide array of fun colors to choose from, with one of my favorites being the orange that I have.
Perhaps the best praise I can give to the Galaxy S20 FE is that I've just been using it the way I would with any flagship phone. It runs all of my apps and games as fast as I could ask for, I thoroughly enjoy watching YouTube videos on it, I never have to worry about battery life, and I can confidently take pictures with it and know I'll get a great result. Pair all of that with features like an always-on display, a trusty in-screen fingerprint sensor, and wireless charging, and it's virtually impossible to find a bone to pick with the S20 FE — especially when you consider Samsung's recent commitment to three years of major OS updates for its phones.
All of this is fantastic news for you and me, but it's also a bit troubling for Google. I still think the Pixel 5 looks like a really enticing smartphone, but Samsung's work with the S20 FE has put things into perspective for me.
I know I still prefer Google's cameras and software interface over Samsung's, but from where I'm standing right now, those are the only two advantages the Pixel 5 has anymore. Final judgments will (obviously) be reserved until we can review the phone, but if you ask me, it has an uphill battle ahead of it.
Saying I'm completely uninterested in the Pixel 5 might be a little harsh, but Samsung has certainly given it a run for its money.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Samsung just won the value flagship race
The idea behind the Galaxy S20 FE is a simple one: offer a nearly identical experience found on the regular S20 series and sell it for considerably less money. Samsung's execution of the whole thing is darn-near perfect, with the S20 FE offering a thoroughly enjoyable flagship experience that doesn't break the bank.
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