Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review: The perfect introduction to Samsung’s flagship range

With premium specs and a lower price tag than you’d expect, the Galaxy S20 FE has a little bit of everything

T3 Platinum Award
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review
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T3 Verdict

The ideal entry point into Samsung’s premium range, packing in all the best features of the Galaxy S20 while also cutting the superfluous features that only serve to increase the price. It offers solid performance from the camera, all the benefits of Samsung’s OneUI, and a screen that can’t be beat. Whether you’re new to Samsung, or upgrading from an older handset, this is the device for you.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Incredible screen that owes a lot to the 120Hz refresh rate

  • +

    Premium specs, including a top-tier chipset

  • +

    All the best parts of the S20 for a slightly lower price

  • +

    No Bixby Button

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Premium price, far from what you’d consider “affordable”

  • -

    Battery life not best in class

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review - Specs

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Dimensions: 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4 mm (6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 in)
Weight: 190g (6.7 oz
Screen: 6.5-inch, HDR10+, 120Hz, 1080 x 2400, 20:9 ratio
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
GPU: Adreno 650
RAM: 6GB/8GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Rear cameras: 12MP, 8MP, 12MP
Front camera: 32MP
Battery: 4,500 mAh
OS: Android 10, One UI 2.5
5G: Yes

Samsung produces a lot of phones, but apparently there are still people to target with a brand new one -- and a premium one at that. So we have the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, a phone with flagship-tier specs but at a lower price point than we’ve come to expect from premium devices.

The phone’s specs look great on paper, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the phone is actually good and worth buying. The short answer? Yes, provided you’re happy with the fact it does still have a premium price tag. The long answer is a bit more complicated, so read ahead.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review: Best Deals

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review: Design & Screen

Samsung likes to do Android its own way, making them instantly recognisable -- especially from a software perspective. The S20 FE is no different, and is about as on-brand as you can expect from a Samsung flagship -- whether that’s the presence of OneUI 2.5 or the rectangular rear camera array that debuted on the S20.

The screen is, as you might have expected, the S20 FE’s crowning achievement. While the resolution is limited to FHD+, rather than the S20’s QHD+, the 120Hz refresh mate makes it one of the nicest phone screens out there. The silky smooth motion is what really makes things work, and I’ve never seen Avenger’s Endgame look so good. And that includes watching it in 4K and at the cinema. HDR would have been nice, but that’s on Disney not Samsung.

The 6.5-inch display is a bit of a tricky one. It skips the curved Edge display of most premium Samsung phones, which I’m always in favour of, but there’s still a touch more bezel than you’d expect. It’s only a few millimetres around the phone, but that’s enough to be noticeable if you’re looking carefully. Of course the holepunch camera is very small, the smallest Samsung has apparently, and that means you’re able to take great selfies without losing much screen space.

Some criticism has been levelled at Samsung for swapping glass backs for a type of transparent glass called ‘glasstic’. While it’s true glasstic doesn’t feel as glossy and premium as actual glass, it doesn’t seem to make much difference in the grand scheme of things. Sure it would be nice for premium phones to go all in with the best features, but unless you’re really looking you won’t be able to notice much difference.

Glasstic looks fine, it just feels and looks more like the matte surface that it is - rather than the glossy casings of more expensive Samsung phones.

The only thing I’d change is the thickness of the camera bump, and the lack of a headphone jack. But that’s true of all phones, and isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Long gone are the days of TouchWiz hell, and Samsung’s OneUI is an absolute joy to use. It’s smooth, responsive, and it’s very easy on the eyes. It’ll be an adjustment for anyone used to a different flavour of Android, but it’s not so different that it’ll take that long to master all the changes. As for long-time Samsung loyalists, there’s nothing you won’t already be familiar with - which is exactly the point of OneUI.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review: Camera

One of the more unique features on the S20 FE is the 30x hybrid zoom feature -- the same as that on the S20 and Note 20. It’s not surprising that the S20 FE doesn’t offer the same level of zoom as the Ultra S20 and Note 20 phones, but it’s worth mentioning that 30x zoom is still a very long way.

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Long enough for the picture quality to seriously degrade at any rate, which seriously limits what you’ll actually be using the zoom feature for. As you can see in the images below, which took a picture of this solo country tower at various degrees of zoom.

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Poorer weather didn’t help things either, which is worth keeping in mind as we head towards winter.

Of course if you do want hyper-zoomed in shots, Samsung still has the on-screen viewfinder to help you find what you want to photograph. Because it is incredibly easy to accidentally shift and lose your shot, and without it the feature would be impossible to use.

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Standard camera images work out a lot better, provided you limit yourself to the 3x zoom afforded by the telephoto camera lens. You can’t complain about the final quality, whether we’re talking about wider-landscape shots, close-ups of the trees, or even the stuff decorating the shelves in my office. But that shouldn’t be a surprise, since the S20 FE’s camera is almost identical to the one in the standard S20 - which we had very nice things to say about in our review.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review

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As for the selfies, there’s nothing to worry about where the foreground is concerned. Smaller details in the background come out a bit worse for wear, but since you’ll be the focus then that’s not such a dealbreaker. The foreground is as good as you could expect, but isn’t anything particularly special. Still that’s not a bad thing, whatever your selfie needs are.

FHD Video at 30 FPS

4K Video at 60 FPS

There’s no 8K video recording this time round, another consequence of the lower price, but unless you already shelled out for an 8K TV then this won’t be a huge issue. Especially not since it can record in 4K at 60 frames per second, and as you can see from our comparison video, that’s seriously better than a bog-standard FHD 30FPS shot.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review: Hardware

Any phone that is designed to cost less will inevitably compromise on the hardware in some way. The S20 FE has those compromises, but not when it comes to the internal hardware. The 5G model comes with the Snapdragon 865 which, while not as new or powerful as the recently released 865+, is still one of the best chipsets on the market -- and the same as the one in the rest of the S20 range. It also comes packing the Adreno 650 GPU, the same as the S20 and Note 20 ranges, and 6-8GB of RAM, depending on which model you buy. 

In other words, Samsung hasn’t been doing much in the way of downgrading, and your performance experience is identical to the other Samsung flagships. 

The hardware isn’t completely identical, but not in the ways that really matter. The S20’s ultrasonic fingerprint scanner has been replaced with an optical version, though it still works exactly as you’d hope from any fingerprint scanner. It’ll still have trouble if your fingers are dirty or not precisely placed, but that’s true of any optical scanner out there.

All of that is great, but none of it matters if the phone’s battery is terrible. Thankfully it holds up rather well, even with the power-draining features like the 120Hz refresh rate switched on. The S20 FE is powered by a 4,500 mAh, which sits right in the middle of the standard S20’s 4,000 mAh and the S20 Ultra’s 5,000 mAh, and it seems to hold up fairly well to heavy use.

Playing Pokémon Go for 90 minutes, at full brightness with the 120Hz refresh rate switched on, led to a 20% loss in battery life. At first glance that seems like a lot, but multiply it and you wind up with around seven and a half hours of usage. Pokémon Go is a notorious battery drain, so being able to get that much playtime out of it was a surprise. Not that many people could stomach playing it for that long anyway.

That said, not having a terrible battery isn’t the same as having a great battery. The S20 could get you to and from work on a single charge, even with mid-level usage, but you’re going to have to plug it in for any evening activities. You can always switch off some batter-raining features, like the 120Hz refresh rate, but it seems counter-productive to buy a phone with premium features if you’re going to keep them switched off.

Corners have to be cut to meet certain price points, but battery life should never be compromised in favour of something superfluous.

One minor point to note is that the Galaxy S20 FE 5G does not support all 5G standards. Or rather it does not support the superior mmWave 5G that offers higher bandwidth -- and thus higher potential speeds. It’s not so much an issue in the UK, since there’s no mmWave coverage there, but if you’re in a country that does (such as the US) then you should know what you’re buying.

Of course mmWave coverage is very limited, especially compared to the more common sub-6 5G that the S20 FE does support. So you’re not really missing out on very much.

Finally, the most important change between the S20 FE and the rest of the S20 range is the loss of the Bixby button. Like the Note 20 range, Samsung has opted to let you summon Bixby by holding down the power button instead. That said if you don’t want to use Bixby, at all, you can reprogramme that gesture to open up the power menu - just like every other Android phone.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review: Verdict

The Galaxy S20 FE has an incredible amount to offer, taking the best parts of the Galaxy S20 range and packaging them into a slightly more affordable handset. Emphasis on slightly, though, because it is still considerably more expensive than other “affordable” phones from rival phone makers.

But the fact is that the compromises that have been made aren’t particularly serious, so this is a phone designed for people put off by the more extravagant features (and pricing) on S20 and Note 20 handsets. Improvements could always be made, but that’s true of any phone.

So if you’re looking for a premium phone that skips a lot of the fluff, and the resulting price inflation, the Galaxy S20 FE might be for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a long-time Samsung user or you’re just looking for a change of scenery.