Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: A lot of bang for less bucks

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: This mid-range smartphone is a lot of bang for less bucks.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. Photo credit: Newshub.

These days $1000 doesn't get you very far in the world of smartphones. 

Despite more phones to choose from than ever before, the rise in popularity of flagship smartphones means mid-range devices have been largely ignored, or just lack the chutzpah of more expensive phones.

Between their folding phones that cost around the same as a house deposit and televisions that rotate like circus Ferris wheels, Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE is a brilliant mid-range smartphone that punches leagues above its weight.

But what does $1000 actually get you in the form of this latest addition to the Galaxy range? I've been using one for the last week and here are my thoughts.

The good

The design of the Galaxy S20 FE is nothing overly special, which is a wise choice. Samsung has ditched the polished glass back of other Galaxy models in favour of a brushed aluminum finish, which is a win for durability and is really nice to hold. 

The 120Hz AMOLED display creates a smooth experience while playing games or watching YouTube and with Gorilla Glass 5 protecting the 6.5-inch screen, the S20 FE graduates with top honours from the school of hard knocks.

I'd still buy a case and screen protector for it, however.

In keeping with the sense of rugged durability, the S20 FE is also IP68 water and dust resistant, meaning it can take a dip in the pool with absolutely no issues.

The user experience offered by the S20 FE is, understandably, very Samsung-esque. Bloatware fills the phone and Samsung jimmies its own apps into every nook and cranny. But the user interface is sleek, refined and enjoyable to use.

I got quite a kick out of swiping through the app screens - that 120Hz display makes for a smooth experience.

Moving on to the camera, I was astounded at how well it performs, particularly in low light. The 12MP wide, ultrawide lenses and 8MP telephoto lens don't sound overly impressive, but performance-wise, they render photos unbelievably well.

Night photo comparison - image captured with the S20 FE (left) alongside image captured with the iPhone 11 (right).
Photo taken with the S20 FE (left) alongside a photo taken with the iPhone 11 (right). Photo credit: Newshub.

I tried out the night mode during a few big evenings on the town in Auckland and it didn't take long before the results had be feeling like a natural pro shooting in low light conditions. Photos come out with a clarity, vibrancy and sharpness unbefitting of a mid-range phone, which is a perk worth its weight in gold for a Gen Z like myself.

The 32MP selfie cam also packs quite a punch.

The phone is packed with the hardware that normally comes in a much pricier device. For the boffins out there, a Snapdragon 865 chipset sits within those aluminum walls, while 8GB of RAM means you're probably never going to be short on grunt.

On paper, this all sounds brilliant. So what's stopping you from rushing into stores and buying one tomorrow?

The bad

As is the case with all first-generation smartphones, there are some issues with the S20 FE that Samsung could improve upon.

My key gripe is the battery life. Sure, the 4500mAh battery holds enough juice for an average workday; but between the screen's high refresh rate and the very basic charger the phone comes with, keeping it charged becomes a real chore on a day-to-day basis.

It boggles my mind to think that with Samsung's brilliant fast-charging technology given away with the higher end models, with the S20 FE you get the same basic, cruddy charger you'd buy in a supermarket smartphone. 

Sure, any charger might be better than no charger (here's looking at you, Apple), but I expect future iterations of the phone to include Samsung's fast charger.

Review: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE in 'cloud navy'. Photo credit: Newshub.

I also found myself irked by the brightness of the S20 FE. Samsung has foregone the latest generation display panel present in flagship phones like the S20 and Note 20 (likely in efforts to keep costs low and prices competitive), meaning you aren't going to reach the same levels of brightness in their other devices.

If you're migrating from an older device you may not notice the difference in screen brightness, but compared to other phones on the market, it makes for a night and day experience.

Finally, the inbuilt facial recognition software used to access the phone can be buggy and get picky about the light and angle. Having to stop and put my password ends up getting pretty frustrating, especially if the phone demands I take off my hat or glasses to recognise me as its rightful owner.

On the plus side, if I can't get into my phone, at least no would-be phone thief can either.

The verdict

So should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE?

If you want a great mid-range smartphone then I would say yes. This device performs far beyond its class given its modest price.

It has some pretty serious tech under the screen that, which along with the rugged sturdiness and great operating system make for a brilliant experience.

Despite its flaws, the S20 FE is the surprise smartphone no one asked for, but probably should have. 


Newshub was supplied with a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE for this review.