Samsung’sand Galaxy Note 20 Ultra might be packed to the hilt with the latest, greatest tech, but they also come with sky-high prices to match. That makes them a tricky sell at a time when purse strings are tightening and rivals like Google and OnePlus are making great phones at more affordable prices. But the packs many of the great features of its flagship siblings, including a solid triple camera, a powerful processor, IP68 waterproofing and 5G connectivity, all for a much more affordable price.
- Great performance
- Realistic price
- Camera white balance can be hit and miss
At $700 in the US, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the Note 20 Ultra, which retails for $1,300 (£1,179, AU$1,849). In the UK and Australia, a 4G version of the S20 FE is available for £599 or AU$999, with the 5G version going for £699 or AU$1,149. Even better, the street price for an unlocked model in the US is currently hovering around $600 at major retailers likeand — no activation required, no strings attached. Trade-ins and other activation options available at and elsewhere might get that price down to an even lower level.
Even if you’re paying $700, that’s the same US price as the recently announced Google Pixel 5 (which is a little cheaper in the UK and Australia). But the S20 FE does offer benefits over the Pixel in the form of an additional telephoto lens, expandable storage and a more potent processor. We’ll have to wait to get the Pixel in our hands to work out exactly how these two stack up.
But overall, the, but it’s not designed to be. What it is is a solid all-round phone at a more affordable price. While it’s still more expensive than phones like the iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord, its better spec list makes it the phone to go for if you’ve got your heart set on a flagship, but just can’t quite stomach emptying your entire bank account to get one.
A great screen and powerful processor
There’s a 6.5-inch, 2,400×1,080-pixel super AMOLED display which is bright, vibrant and pin-sharp. Is it as high definition as the Note 20 Ultra? No. Will you notice the difference? I certainly couldn’t. It has a 120Hz refresh rate too that just makes swiping around the Android interface feel that bit smoother. It stretches all the way to the edges, with only a small punch hole for the front-facing camera.
Inside is a lightning-fast Snapdragon 865 processor (for the 5G models, an Exynos 990 chip in the 4G models — the same one found in the Note 20 Ultra and S20 Ultra), which performed very well on our benchmark tests (check out the comparison chart above). Photo editing in Snapseed was a breeze and demanding racing games Asphalt 9 and Grid Autosport played perfectly well.
A potent triple camera
The camera is one of the main areas that’s seen some compromises to keep the cost down. The rear camera setup includes a 12-megapixel standard zoom camera, a 12-megapixel 3x optical zoom and an 8-megapixel ultrawide-angle camera. Those are lower resolutions than you’ll find on more premium Galaxy phones. The FE also lacks features such as the 100x “Space zoom” and 8K video recording that you’ll get from the S20 Ultra.
While I certainly don’t think you’ll miss 8K video or the 100x zoom (the quality at that zoom level is so poor you’d never want to do anything with those images) I really enjoyed using the 5x and 10x zoom options on the S20 Ultra, and loved the creative shooting options it provided. Would I spend hundreds more to have it though? Absolutely not.
Shots from the S20 FE are punchy with a good exposure balance between bright skies and dark foregrounds, helped by the auto HDR mode. It’s by no means the best camera around — I find the white balance can be a bit hit and miss at times — but for drool-worthy shots of coffee and cake to make your Instagram followers jealous, it’ll suit just fine.
The front camera has a 32-megapixel resolution which produces crisp shots that are more than good enough for Instagram — depending on the face you pull, that is.
Samsung offers the S20 FE in a wide range of vibrant hues, but I think the deep navy blue of my review model is much more “classy” than it is “cool” — it’s a nice sport coat instead of a neon parka; a steak and glass of chianti instead of a burger from a van; an HBO drama instead of WWE highlights. It’s much more attractive than the sinfully dull gray of the S20 Ultra, but then just about anything is.
Its rear panel is made from plastic, but its frosted finish makes it look and feel more like glass to me (Samsung even calls it “glasstic”). There’s toughened Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and aluminum on its edges. It feels sturdy and comfortable to hold and the matte texture of the back means fingerprints aren’t much of a problem.
There’s no headphone jack, so hopefully you’ve invested in some bluetooth headphones by now (you won’t get any headphones in the box) but the phone does have IP68 waterproofing, which will keep it safe from spilled drinks or heavy rain.
A beefy battery
Samsung has stuffed a 4,500-mAh battery inside the S20 FE, which is 500 mAh more than the battery it put in the regular S20. It’s no surprise that it has a lot of power to offer. I haven’t yet been able to do our full suite of battery-drain tests on the phone, but after an hour of YouTube streaming at full brightness, the phone had only dropped by 7%, which is very good.
Anecdotally, I found that it had well over half its battery left after a day of photographing, playing videos and doing bits of gaming. I have no doubt that it’ll comfortably get you through a full day of mixed use and probably well into the next. It also supports wireless charging as well as 25-watt fast charging to give it a quick juice up if you’re about to head out.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE specs comparison chart
|Samsung Galaxy S20 FE||Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra||OnePlus 8 Pro||Apple iPhone SE (2020)|
|Display size, resolution||6.5-inch super AMOLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels||6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X||6.78-inch AMOLED; 1,440×3,168 pixels||4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334×750 pixels|
|Dimensions (inches)||TBA||2.99 by 6.57 by 0.35 in.||6.51 by 2.93 by 0.35 in.||5.45 by 2.65 by 0.29 in.|
|Dimensions (millimeters)||159.8 by 75.5 by 8.4mm||76.0 by 166.9 by 8.8mm||165 by 74.4 by 8.5mm||138.4 by 67.3 by 7.3 mm|
|Weight (ounces, grams)||190g||7.76 oz.; 220g||199g||5.22 oz.; 148g|
|Mobile software||Android 10||Android 10||Android 10||iOS 13|
|Camera||12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 8-megapixel (3x telephoto)||108-megapixel (wide-angle), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight camera||48-megapixel main, 8-megapixel telephoto, 48-megapixel ultrawide, 5-megapixel “color filter”||12-megapixel|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (5G) Samsung Exynos 990 (4G)||64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5GHz + 2GHz)||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865||Apple A13 Bionic|
|Storage||128GB||128GB, 512GB||128GB, 256B||64GB, 128GB, 256GB|
|RAM||6GB||12GB, 16GB||8GB, 12GB||Not disclosed|
|Expandable storage||1TB||Up to 1TB||None||No|
|Battery||4,500 mAh||5,000 mAh||4,300 mAh||Not disclosed, but Apple claims it has the same battery life as iPhone 8|
|Fingerprint sensor||In-screen||In-screen||In-screen||Home button|
|Special features||120Hz screen refresh rate, support for 30W fast charging and 15W fast wireless charging||5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; 100X zoom; water resistant (IP68)||5G enabled, Fast-charging, fast wireless charging, 120Hz display||Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$699||$1,399 (128GB), $1,599 (512GB)||$899||$399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)|
|Price (GBP)||£599 (4G), £699 (5G)||£1,199 (128GB), £1,399 (512GB)||£799||£419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)|
|Price (AUD)||AU$999 (4G), AU$1,149 (5G)||AU$1,999 (128GB), AU$2,249 (512GB)||AU$1,435 converted||AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)|
First published Oct. 4