Samsung Galaxy S20 FE hands-on: Hard to resist for the price

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Samsung is redrawing the lines that separate flagship smartphones from the rest of the pack. While the Galaxy S10 Lite may have been viewed as a toned-down version of the Galaxy S10, it has positioned the Galaxy S20 FE as a flagship in its own right. Then again, the Galaxy S20 FE has a lot more similarities with the other devices in the S20 family.

The company has a very specific demographic in mind for the Galaxy S20 FE. It’s targeting those who may be thinking of upgrading from a Galaxy A51 or A71, who may have a tight budget but want a flagship-level phone or simply those who felt that $999 was too much to ask for the base Galaxy S20 variant.

We have had some time to play with the device so we can share our first impressions in this Galaxy S20 FE hands-on. Stay tuned for the full review which will be up in the near future.

Design and feel

The Galaxy S20 FE’s design is not that different from some of the other devices that Samsung has released this year. You get a 6.5-inch flat display on the front. Since the panel isn’t spilling over the edges, the bezels and chin are a tad more prominent than they are on the Galaxy S20, for example. That’s not a bad thing and as we’ve noted in our Galaxy Note 20 review, a flat panel can be surprisingly good to use.

Since Samsung had to cut some costs in order to bring the price down, it has replaced the glass rear panel with plastic. It’s similar to the one on the Galaxy Note 20. As we’ve already said, glass is overrated and these plastic rear panels really are good enough. They’re nice to the touch, don’t attract fingerprints and also won’t shatter as easily (or at all) as a glass back if the phone is dropped. You won’t feel like the phone is going to slip out of your hand, either.

It feels every bit the premium and well-built device that Samsung is making it out to be. The lack of a glass back doesn’t take anything away from that feeling. It helps that the vertically-aligned camera housing has circular cutouts for the sensors, which is what we see on the Galaxy Note 20 series and the considerably costlier Galaxy Z Fold 2 as well.

Display

We are in familiar territory with the 6.5-inch Full HD+ resolution flat Super AMOLED display. Samsung’s panels tend to be exceptional and we find nothing wrong with the one on the Galaxy S20 FE. Then there’s also the fact that it supports 120Hz refresh rate. Nothing can rival the buttery smooth experience that a higher refresh rate provides.

There’s a fingerprint sensor embedded within the display. It gets an optical scanner, though, not the ultrasonic scanners used in the other Galaxy S20 models. The performance of in-display fingerprint sensors doesn’t match capacitive sensors regardless of the technologically being used. That being said, the Galaxy S20 FE’s optical sensor is good enough to get the job done.

Software

The Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t really bring any new software features beyond what Samsung has already made available to other devices. That’s because it ships with One UI 2.5 which has been out for existing models for quite some time now. Those considering the Galaxy S20 FE will be happy to know that Samsung has confirmed it will receive three major Android OS upgrades. Since it ships with Android 10, the Galaxy S20 FE will be supported until Android 13.

Camera

There’s only one camera that’s “new” here, because the Galaxy S20 FE uses the same 12-megapixel wide and 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensors as the Galaxy S20 and S20+. You can read our Galaxy S20+ review to find out more about these cameras. TL;DR: Crisp photos in daylight with great detail, brighter pictures in the dark with little noise.

The 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom and OIS is what demands our attention. In the preliminary tests we have conducted, there appears to be truth in Samsung’s claims of lossless 3x zoom. We don’t find any degradation in quality at 3x zoom compared to 1x. The Galaxy S20 FE is also capable of 30x “Space Zoom,” a fancy word for digital zoom. There’s sufficient detail in pictures taken at 30x so you can get some good use out of it.

Here’s one example of how 3x zoom maintains quality levels similar to a photo taken with the main camera:

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A 32-megapixel selfie camera is also present. It works like most selfie cameras on Samsung phones. The colors pop nicely, the camera captures a good amount of detail but the processing is a bit aggressive so don’t be surprised if your skin appears to be unusually smooth. We’ll be taking a more in-depth look at these cameras in our full Galaxy S20 FE review so do check back for that.

Performance

Samsung is shipping the Galaxy S20 FE with the same chipsets found in the other S20 models. You will get the Snapdragon 865 in select markets and the Exynos 990 everywhere else. Both 4G and 5G models will be available. The processor is mated to 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage with support for microSD expansion.

It feels snappy, doesn’t get bogged down when playing resource-intensive games or multitasking and packs more than enough punch to handle everything you can throw at it. That’s one of the reasons why the Galaxy S20 FE is such a compelling option. It’s truly offering flagship-level performance at a reduced price.

Battery life

Samsung has placed a 4,500mAh battery inside the Galaxy S20 FE. This is exactly the same as the Galaxy S20+. Your mileage with it will be similar for the most part. Expect to go through the entire day with around 20 percent left. You can drop the display down to 60Hz if you want to extend it a bit more.

There’s support for 25W fast charging but unfortunately, Samsung is only shipping a 15W charger in the box. Expect the device to take just over an hour and some change to charge fully, at least if you buy the 25W charger separately for the faster speed.

Conclusion

It’s not difficult to understand why Samsung has launched the Galaxy S20 FE or why it’s saying that future flagships will get their own Fan Edition models. The company has been very mindful about what it cuts from the main flagship trio to end up with a model that feels just right for the price. The vibrant Cloud Navy, Mint, Lavender, Red, Orange and White color options also make it clear that this is aimed at the younger demographic.

At $699 for the base 5G model in the United States, the Galaxy S20 FE can do some serious damage to OnePlus’s market position. Samsung is going after customers that don’t want to pay top dollar for a flagship but would happily put money down if they felt they were getting a good enough deal for a lower price. They may find it hard to resist the Galaxy S20 FE.

That’s it for our Galaxy S20 FE hands-on. We’ll run the gauntlet with the phone and be back with our full review in the near future.

  • Model: SM-G780F
  • Dimensions: Bar: 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4 mm
  • Display: 6.5 inch / 165.1 mm Super AMOLED Display
  • CPU: Exynos 990
  • Camera: 12MP

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