Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE is surprisingly easy to love
If there's one thing I like more than an incredibly good smartphone, it is an incredibly good, cheap smartphone. Spoiler alert: that's exactly what the Galaxy S20 FE (or Fan Edition) is.
There are several ways to look at a phone like this one. Through a lens, Samsung is responding to an ongoing pandemic and its economic impact. On the other hand, there is the valuable connective tissue that is located between the A-series of the middle class phones from Samsung and the higher-quality S20 line. Regardless of how you look at it, there's a lot to like about Samsung's newest, cheapest S20.
For one, I'm a fan of what Samsung did with the FE design. At a glance, it's almost impossible to tell that you're using a phone that costs hundreds less than the other S20s ... aside from perhaps some of the wild colors available. (Unfortunately, our test device is harmless - some say pedestrians - blue.) The fact that the Fan Edition retains a lot of flagship style is especially nice, as Samsung had to make some adjustments to keep costs down. Most of the glass and metal you'd find on a standard S20 has disappeared and has been largely replaced with the same type of polycarbonate Samsung uses for its more humble A-series phones. While this means the FE lacks the gravity of an S20 +, that stuff should better hold up against spills and keep this thing graciously light.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
This is especially nice considering how big the screen is. The FE's 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display is located in the sweet spot between the S20 and S20 Plus. The plastic frame and minimal bezels make the phone never feel unwieldy. Perhaps more important is the fact that the screen is honestly a little nicer than I expected. Who could blame me Screens are routinely the most expensive parts used in smartphones, and cost management has been the whole point here.
The only big tradeoff is that the display's resolution is only 2400 x 1080 - which is significantly lower than the other S20s. You can see individual pixels when you press your face directly against the Gorilla Glass 5. But what this screen lacks in flagship quality clarity it makes up for with a refresh rate of 120Hz and a completely flat cover glass. The former means the movement on the screen can look remarkably smooth, although turning the feature off will result in slight battery gains. And the latter means you are much less likely to accidentally tap something on the edge of the screen with the side of your hand. That was a recurring - and disgusting - problem with many of the smartphones I tested this year, and it was honestly a pleasure not to worry about it.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
So, yeah, the S20 FE looks and feels pretty good too. That wouldn't matter much if its performance wasn't on par with snuff, but luckily it uses the same Snapdragon 865 chipset you'll find in most of its more expensive cousins. Suffice it to say, there is enough power here for any app or game to run smoothly. With that in mind, things can get a little hairy when multitasking or recording where you left off in an app - that's because the Fan Edition only takes up 6GB of RAM compared to the 12GB you get in most of the others Versions of the S20. That scarce allotment of memories may be the only thing I really don't like about FE, but luckily, hiccups rarely occur. Keep in mind that while the S20 Fan Edition is surprisingly good business, it isn't quite as future-proof as other models.
Other than that, the rest of the package is pretty hard to discuss. Just think about the battery: the cheapest S20 uses the same 4,500 mAh battery as the S20 +. However, since it does not have to drive a high-resolution display, it routinely stops far north for a whole day. (If screen turn-on time is your preferred metric, count on about seven hours.) With the screen set at this 120Hz refresh rate, I have little doubt that the VU can clear the two values. Day battery lock. That's pretty good from any smartphone - it's doubly impressive from a phone with a Snapdragon 865.
Even the cameras that often get the slot on more budget phones are hard to complain about. The 12-megapixel main camera has been pulled straight out of a standard S20, and Samsung's aggressive image processing results in intelligently saturated photos that, as usual, often look a little better than reality. Of course, the same concerns about the regular S20 camera apply here too: certain details are processed to look slightly caricatured, and it was often a bit of a hassle to make sure the photos were correctly exposed. You probably won't use the ultra-wide camera that much, but I didn't see any breakthrough differences between the photos and stills captured with a regular S20. To my surprise, I enjoyed the FE's 8 megapixel telephoto camera more than I thought thanks to the correct 3x optical zoom. Other versions of the S20 use high-resolution camera sensors to artificially lengthen the shooting range. Camera tricks are no match for old-school optics.
Whenever a company releases a phone that's supposed to be someone else's cheaper spin-off, my instincts tell me to prepare for the worst. Not this time. For the last few days testing the S20 FE, Cole Porter's early 30s song "(You'd be so) Easy to Love" has been playing on the back of my mind. My mind may change if I keep testing the Fan Edition, but when it comes to the impressive performance, great display, commendable battery life, and price, Porter said it best. At the moment the S20 Fan Edition is simply “worth the longing”.
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