For years, there's been a stigma around using plastic designs in high-end, expensive phones. Consumers have come to expect more luxurious materials like metal and glass which, despite being more fragile than plastic, typically have a more "premium" feel.
I'm definitely guilty of shying away from devices whose spec sheets feature the word polycarbonate. I was reluctant to try the Galaxy Note 20 for exactly that reason. But once my review unit came in, my concerns surrounding creakiness and a cheap in-hand feel disappeared. Build quality in general has, of course, massively improved since the days when plastic flagships were commonplace, and the Note 20 felt just as solid as any other phone I'd tested in recent memory.
The story is the same with the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition — better known as the S20 FE. This phone is the latest in Samsung's crusade to dominate every pricing tier with a well-rounded device that makes the appropriate sacrifices while maintaining the company's standards for quality and performance. In short, it's like any other phone in the S20 lineup, save for a plastic back and a flat display that bring it to a significantly lower price.
That means trouble for other affordable flagship manufacturers like Google and OnePlus, but for the rest of us, it's great news. The S20 FE isn't just a great phone, it's one of the best Android phones that we recommend to just about anyone, thanks to its unbeatable value.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Bottom line: The Galaxy S20 FE offers nearly everything you'd find on Samsung's more expensive models, with high-end specs and impressive cameras. The screen is totally flat, which means fewer accidental touches, and the back of the phone is made of a sturdy plastic.
- Flat 120Hz display is terrific
- All-day battery life
- Promised three years of software updates
- Impressive cameras with 3x optical zoom
- Sturdy design with fun color options
- Not every color option is available everywhere
- Camera can be slow to load
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Pricing & availability
The Galaxy S20 FE launched on October 2, with a single configuration in the U.S. offering 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM for $699.99. It's gone on sale a number of times since its launch, often reaching as low as $600 — additionally, Samsung offers generous trade-in promotions, knocking up to $275 off of the total cost of the phone depending on your existing device and its condition.
There are six color options available, including Cloud Navy, Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud Orange, Cloud Red, and Cloud White. At the moment, Cloud Orange and Cloud White are being offered as online exclusives through Samsung.com, while Cloud Red is reserved for Verizon and U.S. Cellular customers.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE What I like
Anyone who's used an S20 series device before will feel right at home on the S20 FE. It's a bit larger than the baseline Galaxy S20, but it's still a reasonable size with roughly the same footprint as the S20+, and a nearly identical design language. Of course, the main difference is the polycarbonate (read: plastic) backing, which features a matte texture and comes in a variety of vibrant, almost pastel colors.
This signals trouble for Google and OnePlus.
This isn't the same flimsy plastic we saw on the Galaxy S5 years back. The S20 FE doesn't creak or give under pressure; it feels just as solid as the rest of the S20 lineup, thanks in no small part to the aluminum frame, and likely won't crack if dropped. With how many matte devices Samsung has released as of late, it's also easy to forget that the S20 series was entirely glossy — this is a very welcome change.
I really love the color options on the S20 FE, too. In lieu of a physical briefing, Samsung sent over one of every color for photo purposes, which gave me a chance to really appreciate each shade without the guesswork of relying on heavily touched up photos. The Cloud Mint is by far my favorite — it matches my guitar! — but they're all gorgeous, muted colors that add a fun element to the phone.
Just like the on the Note 20, Samsung also ditched the curved glass on the front of the S20 FE, instead opting for a totally flat display that, while a bit less flashy, is a massive functional improvement if you ask me. This means slightly larger bezels around the perimeter of the screen, but in exchange, you'll experience zero accidental touches. Like the rest of the S20 series, the FE features a 120Hz refresh rate that makes every action on-screen feel buttery smooth.
|Category||Samsung Galaxy S20 FE|
|Operating System||Android 11|
|Display||6.5 inches, 20:9 aspect ratio, 2400x1080 (407 ppi) resolution, Super AMOLED|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|Expandable Storage||Yes (up to 1TB)|
|Rear Camera||12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm (wide)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.12μm (ultra-wide)
8MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.0μm (telephoto)
|Front Camera||32MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.8μm|
|Security||Optical fingerprint sensor|
|Dimensions||159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm|
|Colors||Cloud Navy, Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud Orange, Cloud Red, Cloud White|
There's only one specs configuration of the S20 FE, at least in the States, with 128GB of expandable storage and 6GB of RAM, though Verizon sells its own variant (with the totally consumer-friendly name of Galaxy S20 FE 5G UW) that's optimized for its Ultra Wideband network. I think 128GB is totally fine for most people, especially since you can expand it with microSD, though it's worth noting that the 6GB of RAM is a slight step down from the 8GB and up on the rest of the S20 series.
It's really quite remarkable how much Samsung was able to make the Fan Edition fit in with the rest of the S20 lineup, despite a starting price that's $300 below the retail value of its peers. You get the same Snapdragon 865 processor, the same Android 10 software with One UI 2.5 (though it's unclear whether the FE will be included in the initial S20 series Android 11 rollout), and the same gorgeous Super AMOLED display tech.
I've spent a lot of time with Samsung devices this year, and this one feels no different from the rest; performance is top-notch, and there are plenty of software perks like Edge Panels and even Wireless DeX — a relatively new feature that first debuted on the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra.
Battery life has been great on the S20 FE, as well. In the 10 days I've been testing the phone, the 4500mAh cell has been more than enough to last through each day without a problem, averaging around 5 to 7 hours of screen-on time. The S20 FE supports 25W Fast Charging, though Samsung only includes a 15W brick in the box.
Update (February 11, 2021): Since the initial publication of this review, the Galaxy S20 FE has been updated to One UI 3.1 and Android 11, introducing a significant visual overhaul and a number of new features like the ability to swap the Samsung Free news feed to the left of the home screen with Google Discover.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Cameras
The S20 FE features three rear cameras in the de facto standard grouping of wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses. The main sensor is the same one found on the standard S20: a 12MP ƒ/1.8 camera with all of the typical Samsung qualities you'd expect, both good and bad. Deeply saturated colors, a strong tendency to lift shadows, and a preference for warm tones.
Unsurprisingly, that means that it's great for the most part, and the vast majority of users will love the photos it takes. If you're a pickier photographer, you might take issue with the often very harsh haloing effect in bright outdoor lighting, or the strong HDR effect that overly flattens daytime shots, but of course, you can take a bit of control over these problems by switching over to a manual shooting mode if you prefer.
Samsung seems to have changed up its telephoto lens choice with every new release this year, and on the S20 FE, that means a true 3X sensor that can reach up to 30X through Space Zoom, Samsung's coined term for its combination of optical and digital zoom.
Of course, the telephoto sensor isn't quite as sharp as the main one, but I've still been very happy with it overall. It's great for snapping a closer shot without a second thought, and of course, digital zoom on the main sensor helps fill out the 2X gap between cameras.
The ultra-wide seems to be nearly identical in performance to that of nearly every other high-end phone Samsung has released this year — which isn't a bad thing by any stretch. The S20 FE does a great job at minimalizing barrel distortion, though haloing is even worse on the ultra-wide.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE What I don't like
It's impressive just how much the S20 FE feels like any other S20 model, but it isn't without its faults. The reduced 6GB of RAM is plenty for most tasks, but it can hang up at times when you're running multiple heavy apps in split-screen view. I've also found that the S20 FE is fairly slow to launch the camera, and always seems to lag a bit for the first second or two. That may not sound like much, but a second is all it takes sometimes to miss your shot.
It's a bit odd that the S20 FE only includes a 15W charger in the box, as well. Even the maximum supported 25W is a bit slim by today's standards (though it's in line with the rest of Samsung's selection), but I'm doubtful that there was truly a massive cost savings in reducing the in-box charging speeds.
Of course, if you're a fan of glass backs and curved screens, the S20 FE will feel like a downgrade in that regard from even the baseline S20. I think most people will be perfectly happy with the build quality of the S20 FE, though. Switching over from devices like the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold 2, I never once found myself wishing the S20 FE had used different materials.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE The competition
The S20 FE's aggressive pricing puts it in direct competition with devices like the OnePlus 8 and the upcoming Pixel 5. Especially with its $100 discount through most retailers, the S20 FE has a distinct advantage over the OnePlus 8 with its overall better cameras and wider availability in the U.S., though the OnePlus 8 offers the option for a higher storage tier, along with the more widely accepted curved glass and metal design and OnePlus's popular OxygenOS software.
The situation is similar for the S20 FE against the Pixel 5, but it faces even stronger competition from the Pixel 4a, which comes in at half the retail price of the S20 FE and features the same incredible camera found on the Pixel 4. If imaging is your number one priority, the Pixel 4a is extremely tempting — especially since both phones are guaranteed to receive years of software updates.
Update (February 11, 2021): The newly released Galaxy S21 takes considerable inspiration from the Galaxy S20 FE, featuring a similar polycarbonate design and flat Full HD display, along with a lower retali price of $800. We've compared the S21 and S20 FE, and while they're fairly evenly matched, the Galaxy S20 FE is still the cheaper option with few compromises.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
You don't need fancy build materials
The Galaxy S20 FE is a fantastic phone at a great price, but if you're after a curved glass design like Samsung's higher-end models, you won't find it here. The S20 FE instead uses polycarbonate for its back panel, though it still relies on an aluminum frame for durability.
You want the S20 experience without spending four figures
Samsung designed the S20 FE as a flagship-tier device for a slightly tighter budget. You'll still get all of the same great features you'd expect on an S20, including great cameras, 5G support, and a gorgeous 120Hz display, without having to spend an arm and a leg to get there.
You want all-day battery life
The S20 FE comes equipped with a 4500mAh battery, which is more than enough to provide all-day longevity, even with the 120Hz refresh rate enabled. You'll need to provide your own charger to reach the full 25W charging speeds, but the 15W brick included in the box will keep you topped up without a problem.
You should not buy this if ...
You want the best of the best
There are few compromises with the S20 FE, but at nearly half the price of the Note 20 Ultra and S20 Ultra, it's still missing some premium features like S Pen support, Samsung's massive new cameras, and even foldable display tech.
All in all, the Galaxy S20 FE makes few concessions to reach its lower price point, offering the same level of quality and performance you'd expect from a modern Samsung device. It's a fantastic value priced hundreds below Samsung's other flagship devices, and if you have a fairly recent device already, you can get it for pennies to the dollar through Samsung's trade-in programs.
I think people who want a simple phone that takes great photos and lasts all day can still save money by opting for the Pixel 4a instead, but consumers that want the extra power and display prowess of a flagship have a great new option to consider.
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