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Just a Good Phone for a Good Price

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Illustration for article titled The Galaxy S20 FE Is the More Affordable Samsung Phone You Really Want

Photo: Sam Rutherford

When Samsung chose the Galaxy S20 FE’s name (FE stands for Fan Edition), it did so because FE tested better in focus groups compared to other tags like “Lite” that normally get slapped on slightly cheaper budget flagship devices. But you know what? I’m kind of OK with that slice of corporate nonsense because it’s just two letters. And more importantly, for people who have been scared off by the $1,000+ price tags of Samsung’s other high-end phones, the S20 FE retains a lot of the premium features found in its more expensive siblings, all for just $700.

That’s the same price as the 2016 Galaxy S7 at launch and $50 less than last year’s woefully underappreciated Galaxy S10e. So even though I’m not a huge fan of its name, I am a fan of the Galaxy S20 FE’s value.

Compared to phones like the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the S20 FE is refreshingly simple. That said, you do get a wide range of color options including navy (seen here), lavender, mint, red, orange, and white. You also get a flat 6.5-inch OLED screen with 32-MP hole-punch selfie camera up front, triple cams in back, and a USB-C port down below—all in a body that’s about the same size as the Galaxy S20+.

The S20 FE even comes with wireless charging with support for Wireless Powershare, so you can lend some extra juice to a friend in need or recharge a pair of Qi-compatible earbuds on the go. The only miss is that while some manufacturers are still equipping their more affordable handsets with a headphone jack, the S20 FE doesn’t have one, which means the next cheapest Samsung phone with an actual 3.5mm port is the Galaxy A71.

Of course, to hit this price, Samsung has made a few concessions in terms of the S20 FE’s design and specs, but they’re ones I can live with. So instead of a QHD+ screen resolution, the S20 FE features an FHD+ 2400 x 1080 display. And while the S20 FE does support a 120HZ refresh rate that makes things look extra smooth, it’s not one of Samsung’s new VRR screens like you get on the Note 20 Ultra. Finally, in place of a glass rear panel, the S20 FE has what Samsung calls a “glasstic” back, which is a nice way of saying high-quality polycarbonate—plastic. It’s got a nice matte finish, but between being much less dense and conducting heat differently, there’s no mistaking it for real glass. There is an upside to this though, because compared to the Galaxy S20+, the S20 FE is noticeably lighter.

Thankfully, Samsung didn’t make any compromises when it comes to the S20 FE’s processor, as it gets the same Snapdragon 865 chip used in its more expensive siblings—which means you don’t have to worry about getting hit with lag or stutter—along with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of base storage, and a microSD card slot. So despite its lower price, it’s nice having full flagship performance on the S20 FE.

The S20 FE’s strong performance doesn’t stop there either, because it features a 4,500 mAh battery that’s just as big as what you get in the S20+ and Note 20 Ultra. The S20 FE’s battery life is fantastic. On our video rundown test, the S20 FE lasted just shy of 16 hours (15:52), which is way better than our 12-hour average and better than anything in this price range besides the OnePlus 8 (16:09).

The one small wrinkle is that unlocked models of the S20 FE don’t have support for mmWave 5G (or AT&T’s special wifi calling protocol), just sub-6GHz 5G. So if you want a S20 FE that works properly on your network, you’ll have to buy one directly from your carrier, with Verizon’s special mmWave 5G-enabled S20 FE commanding a $50 premium over a standard model.

The S20 FE sports a well-rounded trio of rear cameras, including a 12-MP main cam, a 12-MP ultra-wide cam, and an 8-MP telephoto cam with a 3x optical zoom. While the S20 FE’s cams exhibit a lot of the same characteristics seen on other Galaxy phones, like rich colors and solid exposure, it also has a lot of the same shortcomings, like a tendency to be a little over-aggressive when it comes to sharpening, and a low-light mode that’s pretty respectable, but not quite as good as Google’s Night Sight.

The only con (and it’s a pretty minor one) I’ve found on the S20 FE is its in-screen optical fingerprint reader. It totally works and is generally pretty accurate, but I find it’s not quite as fast as what you get on a regular Galaxy S phone, and the light it needs to shoot out to read your digits can be a bit jarring at night.

Illustration for article titled The Galaxy S20 FE Is the More Affordable Samsung Phone You Really Want

Look, the S20 FE isn’t quite as eye-catching as some of Samsung’s other more expensive phones, and I still kinda cringe at the notion that anyone would buy a second phone in less than a year simply because they are a fan. But if you long for the days when a good flagship phone cost around $700 instead of $1,000 or more, the S20 FE is a delight. It’s got a bright, colorful screen, a simple build with lots of color choices, great performance, and a solid assortment of cameras without anything even approaching a major flaw. The S20 FE has pretty much everything you really want without punishing your wallet, and that’s always a formula I can get behind.

README

  • The S20 FE supports up to 25-watt wired charging, but to get that you’ll need to buy a new power brick because you only get a 15-watt fast charger in the box.
  • Unlike a lot of more expensive Galaxy phones, the S20 FE has a flat screen. No rounded edges.
  • For people on Verizon, there’s a special Verizon S20 FE that supports both sub-6GHz 5G and mmWave 5G, but it has a slightly higher $750 MSRP.
  • The S20 FE’s “glasstic back” makes the phone a bit lighter and less dense compared to real glass, which may be good or bad depending on your tastes.
  • Like other Galaxy S and Note phones, Samsung says the S20 FE will get three years of security and Android updates.

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