Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. Galaxy Note 20: Which should you buy?

Galaxy S20 FE in Cloud White
Galaxy S20 FE in Cloud White (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Galaxy S20 FE in Cloud Mint

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The Galaxy S20 FE packages the entire core Samsung experience into a surprisingly affordable flagship with a plastic body and a flat display. It offers a 120Hz display, three great cameras, all-day battery life, and 5G connectivity.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

A phone for everyone

Incredible value
Three great, versatile cameras
Gorgeous flat 120Hz display
All-day battery life
Three years of guaranteed software updates
No S Pen capabilities
No 8K video

Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Mystic Green

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By comparison, the Galaxy Note 20 is priced a bit steep, but it offers a nearly identical experience with a faster processor and S Pen support. Like the S20 FE, it's guaranteed to receive at least three years of continuous software updates.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Smart stylus

S Pen with wireless controls
8K video capture
Display is flat and vibrant
All-day battery life
Three years of guaranteed software updates
Display is only 60Hz
More expensive

Samsung has developed a reputation in recent years for its stunning hardware designs, typically utilizing a combination of metal and curved glass for its flagship phones. This year, however, we've started to see a shift back towards plastic in the company's "affordable flagship" category. As it turns out, plastic is just fine when done well, especially when paired with two of the best Samsung phones in late 2020 — the Gaalxy S20 FE and the Galaxy Note 20.

Galaxy S20 FE vs. Galaxy Note 20 A lot in common

The Galaxy Note 20 was the first phone in Samsung's flagship lineup to move from curved glass back to a polycarbonate (plastic) design, and while I was apprehensive about the change at first, getting it in my hands immediately put me ease. The Note 20 still feels extremely solid and well-built, and the flat display is a breath of fresh air for anyone who struggled with accidental touches on Samsung's curved displays in the past.

The subsequently released Galaxy S20 FE features the same plastic design and flat display, though it comes in a few more fun colors. Both phones are IP68 water- and dust-resistant, and feature standards like wireless charging and in-display fingerprint sensors. From a hardware standpoint, these two phones are nearly identical, save for a slight difference in physical size thanks to the Note 20's larger display.

Internally, the phones are similar, as well. The Note 20 features the slightly newer Snapdragon 865+ processor (which clocks a bit higher and renders graphics faster), along with more RAM, but both phones offer 128GB of storage, and only the S20 FE offers microSD expandability. The S20 FE is also the only one of the two with a 120Hz display — like the Note 10 before it, the Note 20 maintains a more modest 60Hz refresh rate.

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CategoryGalaxy S20 FEGalaxy Note 20
Operating SystemAndroid 10Row 0 - Cell 2
Display6.5 inches, 20:9 aspect ratio, 2400x1080 (407 ppi) resolution, Super AMOLED6.7 inches, 20:9 aspect ratio, 2400x1080 (393 ppi) resolution, Super AMOLED Plus
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 865Snapdragon 865+
Memory6GB RAM8GB RAM
Storage128GB128GB
Expandable StorageYes (up to 1TB)No
Rear Camera12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm (wide)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.12μm (ultra-wide)
8MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.0μm (telephoto)
12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm (wide)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm (ultra-wide)
64MP, ƒ/2.0, 0.8μm (telephoto)
Front Camera32MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.8μm10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22μm
Battery4500mAh4300mAh
Water ResistanceIP68IP68
Dimensions159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm161.6 x 75.2 x 8.3mm
Weight190g194g

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 S Pen

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Of course, the software experience on both phones is nearly identical. Each runs Android 10 with Samsung's One UI 2.5 software overlay, which offers powerful features like DeX for running your phone in a desktop-like experience using an external monitor. The biggest difference between the two is the Note 20's S Pen. This pressure-sensitive stylus allows you to take notes or draw on your screen, and can even be used to control your phone wirelessly using air gestures.

These phones are extremely similar in every way but their price.

Both phones feature the same primary camera, along with an ultra-wide sensor and a telephoto camera capable of reaching up to 30, though the S20 FE packs a native 3X telephoto lens, whereas the Note 20 uses Samsung's Hybrid Optic Zoom technology. The shooting experience is extremely similar on each phone, with a myriad of manual controls for fine-tuning your shots, but one perk I particularly enjoy about the Note 20 is the ability to use the S Pen as a remote shutter.

In case it isn't clear, these phones are extremely similar, from cameras to performance, battery life, and hardware features. They trade blows in minor features like S Pen support, a high refresh rate, and microSD expandability, but ultimately the biggest difference is the price. The Galaxy S20 FE costs a mere $700, and has already gone on sale for just $600. By contrast, the Note 20 launched at $1,000, with few bonus perks save for the S Pen.

If you're a longtime Galaxy Note fan who loves using the S Pen, the Note 20 is the obvious choice, but for all else, it's hard to justify spending the extra money over the S20 FE, which offers just about every other feature and benefits from some newer hardware bonuses. In fact, the Galaxy S20 FE currently ranks as our best Android phone overall, thanks to its unbeatable value. I'm a big fan of both devices, but the choice is clear.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.