The Samsung S20 5G FE is a really bad name. The FE in the mid-range £599 ‘Samsung S20 5G FE’ stands for ‘Fan Edition’. This has been pointed out by people other than me in the past few months, but surely true Samsung ‘fans’ are the ones who are going to be buying their £1000+ Ultra phones, not their cheaper mid-range offerings? Thankfully though, the name is pretty much the only bad thing about the Samsung S20 5G FE.
As mentioned in the intro, the S20 FE (I’m just gonna call it this from now on) is Samsung’s attempt at a more affordable, more mid-range version of their S20 flagship devices. Yes, there are now 4 Samsung S20 phones. The differences between the S20 FE and its more expensive counterparts are very obvious when they’re viewed side by side on a spec sheet, but when you’re actually using the device, they become less and less so.
Let’s start with the most obvious and most widely reported difference between the S20 FE and its bigger brothers. The back is plastic. On paper, this sounds scandalous. A £600 phone made from plastic! It’s going to feel so cheap! How dare they?! So, I can confirm, after having used the phone for a little while, the plastic back is absolutely fine. It doesn’t feel cheap or poorly made in any way shape or form. You can tell the back isn’t glass for sure, but in the hand it feels solid and sturdy, plus there’s the added bonus that it won’t shatter if you drop it. The finish doesn’t look as good that’s for sure, but it’s 2020, most of us have cases on our phones anyway so it’s honestly not even that important. What is nice is that despite the use of plastic for the back instead of glass, the S20 FE still supports wireless charging.
The design of the phone itself is very similar to that of the standard S20, except a little bit more boring. The finish on the back is quite dull, especially if you have it in a dark colour, and the front looks almost identical to the standard model. The biggest difference on the front is the thin silver ring that surrounds the hole-punch selfie camera. I’m not sure why it’s there, my guess is just to differentiate it from the more expensive models somewhat. The bezels surrounding the screen are also slightly thicker, but they are still thin enough that you won’t notice them during regular use. The bezels are also more visible because rather than the usual Samsung curved screen, for the S20 FE they’ve decided to use a flat one. And what a great screen it is.
For the price this has to be the best phone screen you can get. It’s a 120Hz, 1080p, 6.5-inch OLED panel and as is customary with Samsung screens, it is absolutely glorious. It’s not quite up to the standard as the screens on the more expensive phones visually – those ones will go up to higher resolutions, but I honestly don’t care. I prefer actually interacting with this screen, instead of the screen on the Note 20 Ultra. The 120Hz is buttery smooth, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that there is now a Samsung S series phone that has a flat-screen rather than curved. It practically eliminates accidental touches and makes typing and other general use just so much more enjoyable. You read that right, I prefer the screen on the £599 Samsung phone to the screen on the £1200 Samsung phone.
The tech powering that excellent screen is also surprisingly high end. In your £599 Samsung S20 FE with an excellent 120Hz flat screen, you’re also getting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865. Which is near enough the best chipset you will find in an Android phone. This is a very pleasant surprise. Especially as no matter where in the world you get your S20 FE from it will come with a Snapdragon 865 installed rather than Samsung’s own Exynos 990. This means if you’re from Europe, the £599 Samsung S20 SE is actually coming with a chip that benchmarks better than the one in the £1200 Note 20 Ultra… The result of all this power is, well, it’s a fast phone. I didn’t notice a single hiccup during my use. Apps all launch quickly, games all run well, no complaints from me performance-wise at all.
There is slightly less RAM in the S20 FE compared to the more expensive S20 models, 6GB in total, but at no point during my use did I feel that. Another difference between the S20 FE and S20 models that looks worse for the FE on paper is the storage options. The S20 FE only has one, 128GB, but it also can be expanded using a memory card so is pretty much not an issue. Also thanks to the Snapdragon 865 the S20 FE is 5G capable, as the name suggests. So if you’re in one of the few areas where 5G actually is that’s good. I’ve found the 4,500mAh battery providing the power to all these components to last at least a full day. You can kill it completely in a day if you’re a heavy user, but fast charging means that’s generally not an issue.
The biggest spec downgrade on paper between the Samsung S20 FE and the other S20 phones is in the camera. The FE doesn’t have the super high megapixel counts of the S20, S20 Plus or S20 Ultra. Instead it uses a 12MP standard wide-angle camera, a 12MP ultra-wide camera and an 8MP telephoto camera. Looking at specs alone you would expect the S20 FE camera system to absolutely pale in comparison to the 108MP main camera on the S20 Ultra, but in practice that’s not the case at all. Sure there is a bit less detail if you really look, but the FE has a surprisingly great camera, especially when you take its price into account. Pictures are detailed and look great.
The expected Samsung quirks are all still there of course. The camera software does tend to make pictures look more vibrant and colourful than real life, and it can occasionally get the brightness and exposure wrong. But more often than not you will be very happy with the pictures you take on this phone. The selfie camera is also great, it’s a 32MP sensor and as long as you’re giving it a lot of light it takes some of the best selfies I’ve seen. For this price, the only smartphones that you can get that can compete with this camera system are on the Google Pixel 5 and the iPhone SE.
My biggest gripe with the Samsung S20 FE isn’t actually specific to the FE, it’s more with Samsung in general. A few years ago when Samsung overhauled their Android skin and came out with OneUI I was super impressed and thought they’d finally nailed the software on their phones. Since then though with each new smartphone generation more and more features have been added, some which are excellent, some which you’ll never use, and Samsung’s software has got messier and messier while struggling to keep up. It’s got to a point now where I find going from an iPhone or a OnePlus to a Samsung to be frustrating, and both those clean operating systems really highlight just how much better Samsung’s can be. The most annoying thing about OneUI right now is the amount of adverts you get popping up on the screen asking you to buy or subscribe to some Samsung service or some service one of Samsung’s partners are providing. I don’t want or need this. Also, here’s the mandatory, Bixby still sucks, part of the review. Thankfully you don’t have to use it, and you shouldn’t. Samsung’s hardware at the moment is so great, but I just feel the software is letting the side down a little bit. Hopefully next year it gets cleaned up a bit.
So, my overall thoughts on the Samsung S20 5G FE. It’s a brilliant mid-range phone. It’s right up there with the best mid-range Android phones. In a world where the S20 FE exists I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy the standard Samsung S20. Especially right now where you can get the FE for £100 off. Picking between this, the OnePlus 8T, and Google Pixel 5 is a difficult decision. They all do most of the things that the flagships do, but just remove some of the more premium features that most people probably won’t miss anyway. The standout feature on the S20 FE is absolutely the screen, it looks amazing and is just as great to actually use. I just wish it had the same software as the OnePlus 8T, that would make picking it a much easier decision. If you want a mid-range phone with a truly world-class camera then you’ll probably want the Pixel 5. If you want a mid-range phone with blistering performance and amazing software then the OnePlus 8T is likely the phone for you. And if you don’t want to choose and want a mid-range phone that does everything well, then the Samsung S20 5G FE is the phone for you.
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