Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition: A Budget-Conscious Android Phone With Flagship Specs
It's entirely possible that Samsung hadn't intended to create the Fan Edition as it exists today. In January renders of the Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra leaked, and then COVID-19 forced the world to close down. At a virtual event in lieu of Mobile World Congress, Samsung made these three phones official with a starting price of $999. It seemed that a lower-priced pseudo-flagship like the S10e of 2019 would not see a reprise in 2020. Perhaps owing to the pandemic -- and a resultant sales slump -- the company unveiled the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition in September, and it officially went on sale in mid-October for a much more attractive $699, or $749 for the Verizon variant with mmWave 5G support.
Almost immediately, Samsung slashed the Galaxy S20 FE's price to $599 before it even launched with some great preorder promotions. And if that wasn't low enough, the FE was down to $499 at Best Buy just a week after release. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Tired of paying premium prices for flagship phones just to get a nice camera, this iOS fanboy bought himself his first Android phone since the Motorola Droid Turbo. A flagship at midrange prices -- can it be? Let's meet the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition...
|Processing And 5G Platform||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 and X55 5G Modem|
|Display||6.5" FHD+ 2400 x 1080 Super AMOLED (405 PPI)|
|Memory||6 GB LPDDR5|
|Storage||128 GB UFS 3.0|
|Rear-Facing Cameras||12MP f/2.0 Standard OIS, PDAF - 12MP f/2.2 Ultra-Wide FOV, 8MP f/2.4 Telephoto OIS PDAF|
|Front-Facing Cameras||32MP f/2.2, 80-degree PDAF|
|Video Recording||Up to 4K @ 60fps, 1080p up to 240 fps, 720p @ 960 FPS slow-mo|
|OS||Android 10 With Samsung One UI 2.5|
|Dimensions||5.97 x 2.72 x 0.31 inches (151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm)|
|Weight||5.78 oz (163.0 g)|
|Connectivity||802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0+LE, NFC, USB-C, 5G + LTE|
|Colors||Cloud blue, Cosmic grey, Cloud pink, Cosmic white|
|Pricing||$699 Recommended Version, Price As Tested $499. Find it @ Amazon|
How The Galaxy S20 FE Differs From The Original S20Because we've already reviewed the Galaxy S20 Ultra, consider this article more of a companion piece, looking at what's changed since the rest of the line-up's release this spring. Indeed, the table above looks an awful lot like the more expensive Galaxy S20's specs, but there are some differences. We'll start with the highlights, though. For starters, it has the same Snapdragon 865 5G SoC, which is one of Qualcomm's fastest smartphone platforms. It also has the same 128 GB of UFS 3.0 storage. Between the SoC and onboard storage, this phone should be very snappy.
On the other hand, Samsung did scale some thing back. For starters, this phone has 6 GB of LPDDR5 memory, as opposed to the massive 12 or 16 GB on the full-fat Galaxy S20, like the Ultra we reviewed earlier this year. On paper this gap in memory seems like a huge chasm for the Fan Edition to overcome, but in practice, it's really not that limiting. Sometimes a backgrounded game would get shut down and would have to restart when it became active again, and once in a while Chrome would have to reload a tab if there were a lot open. While that could get a little annoying, we think that's fine for the price.
The body on the original Galaxy S20 devices was sheathed in Corning Gorilla Glass. On the Fan Edition, this is a high-quality, matte finished polycarbonate. Very few people will notice the difference beyond unboxing, however, since so many phone buyers just shove their phones into protective cases. Even if you rock a naked phone, the polycarbonate looks and feels great. The phone doesn't creak or flex. There's still no headphone jack on the body, and Samsung does not include any USB-C to 1/8" adapter, so analog headphone users are on their own. There's still a fingerprint reader in the screen, but it's an optical reader instead of the ultrasonic variety. Waking the phone up in the dark will light up that portion of the screen when it detects a finger so that it can read the fingerprint.
The display is a nice, large 6.5" and has a 19:9 2400 x 1080 resolution with a refresh rate of 120 Hz. That pixel count equates to a lower 405 PPI as opposed to the original S20's 6.2" 556 PPI 1440p display, but it's still as sharp as anything that Apple would charge a thousand bucks for. The Super AMOLED display looks great on its own, too, and we're hard-pressed to find any flaws. The display can be set to 60 Hz mode, and the phone reverts to 60 Hz mode for any apps that can't handle 120 Hz automatically. We left it in 120 Hz mode for daily use and our tests, because it's a thing of beauty.
Colors are vibrant, the screen can put off upwards of 800 nits of light, and it's very responsive to touch. The Fan Edition has been a daily driver for over a month now, so we think we'd see issues if they were present. Samsung's software has the same variety of display color calibration modes, including an adjustable color temperature in Vibrant mode, and a blue light filter that adapts to the lighting in the room.
Audio performance on the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition is very good. Call clarity is excellent, and the speaker gets plenty loud for hands-free conversations. It's not great for music, since there's very little bass, but it's fine for a quick YouTube video. More egregious is the lack of headphone jack, which is pretty common these days. Samsung does not include a USB Type-C to 1/8" adapter in the box, either, so you'll either need to pick one up or just use a Bluetooth headset instead.
Galaxy S20 FE Camera PerformanceThe biggest noticeable difference between the original and new Fan Edition of the Galaxy S20, however, is the camera array. We made a big deal in our review about the huge 100x Space Zoom feature. However, Samsung has reduced that to a mere 30x here, which is still one of the highest digital zoom factors around, and it looks pretty solid thanks to Samsung's AI-assisted zoom technology. Fortunately, Samsung kept optical image stabilization on the telephoto lens, so photos shouldn't blur too much if you've overdosed on coffee.
The difference in zoom levels is because of the hardware built in. Originally, the triple-threat camera array included a 64-megapixel 1/1.7" sensor which automatically "decoupled" the pixels at higher zoom levels to keep more detail. That's been replaced with an 8 MP telephoto shooter which, while it takes decent pictures, can't capture the same level of detail as the 16 MP effective original in its grouped pixel modes.
All the other cameras are all pretty similar on the rear, including a standard 12 MP and a 12 MP ultra-wide angle shooter. The sensors are all a touch smaller on the Fan Edition, so the resultant pixels on the sensor are a bit smaller than the original. For video capture, the 8K 24 fps capability of the old model is gone, replaced by 4K 60 fps maximum video capture, also supported on the standard S20.
One other difference is the front camera, which has a huge 32 megapixel count. The front camera also supports 4K 60 fps video capture. By default this camera groups its pixels to take 8 MP photos, and the clarity is pretty nice even in sub-optimal lighting.
Galaxy S20 FE Software ExperienceSamsung's software experience on the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition is just like its siblings. The phone ships with Android 10 with OneUI 2.5. Samsung's skin takes a lot of flack these days, but we think that's somewhat unfair compared to the TouchWiz days of yore. The Galaxy S20 FE's launcher is pretty intuitive, and the OS supports both traditional three-button navigation and gesture input. By default the back button is on the right, unlike Google's spec, but Samsung's Settings app let us move it to the left where it belongs. The current version of Samsung's software includes the October security update. Samsung says it's going to support the FE for the same three years of OS updates as its other Galaxy S20 devices, so buyers aren't getting into a software dead end.
The only complaint we have about the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE's software is the amount of bloatware installed. Fortunately, all of it can be removed permanently and doesn't occupy any space once removed. The bloat falls into three categories and included 18 apps in total. Games includes Candy Crush, Star Trek Fleet Commander, and a bunch more. Verizon-specific bloatware doesn't include Verizon Messages or Voicemail, but does include all of the Verizon Media apps like Yahoo News, Finance, Sports, and a few others. Lastly, online services include Facebook, Pinterest, Netflix, and Disney Plus. Many of these are useful to subscribers, but can be safely removed by those who aren't.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE BenchmarksSince the Galaxy S20 FE is mostly made up of known components and software, the performance shouldn't vary a whole lot from other members of the S20 family. We needed to put that to the test, though, so here's a quick look at performance and battery life.
While the Galaxy S20 FE is right in the middle of the pack in both of these tests, its scores are much closer to the front than the back. The Snapdragon 865 SoC in this cheaper phone performs just as well as it does in more expensive devices like the Asus ROG Phone 3 and Galaxy S20 Ultra. That holds true for the OnePlus 8T, which we view as Samsung's main competition here. The $700 Pixel 5 is just an embarrassment for Google by comparison.
Once again, the Galaxy S20 hangs tight with the other Snapdragon 865 devices we've tested. While the Wild Life score doesn't look great for Android out of the gate, the stress test has allowed those devices to hold onto the vast majority of their performance, while Apple devices come back down to earth. That's true here, too, as the final run's score was 91% of its initial run, and performance didn't drop off until the 19th pass through the test.
In short, the 6 GB of RAM doesn't hold the Galaxy S20's performance back at all compared to the other Samsung phones with twice as much memory, and it lasts a nice 12 hours while performing those tests. In practice, we've always gotten a full day and more out of the battery, often going to bed with 45-50% of a charge remaining. The budget SoC in the Pixel 5 lets that device last much longer, but it can't hold a candle to the Galaxy S20 FE in performance. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 8T has a very similar performance profile with just a bit less battery life.
Galaxy S20 Fan Edition VerdictThe Galaxy S20 Fan Edition is a remarkable handset. Samsung certainly cut a few corners to bring the flagship experience to a more affordable price point. However, we think Samsung cut the right corners, which means that the majority of phone shoppers won't mind and probably won't ever feel limited by its feature set. Application performance is solid, the camera is really nice, and overall the Galaxy S20 and its extended software support make for a really nice experience.
The $700 price class is kind of crowded these days, though. First of all, there's Google's Pixel 5, which has a premium design (complete with ugly "intentional" gaps) and a midrange SoC easily trounced by the Snapdragon 865. We already covered how Google is charging far too much for the Pixel 5, so we won't belabor the point. Even if Samsung isn't as fast as Google with software updates, it's giving three years, and we know that Android 11 will hit the device eventually. The hardware is a big enough upgrade that we'd pick the Galaxy S20 FE over the Pixel 5.
More pressing, however, is the OnePlus 8T. This is a much tougher fight for the Galaxy S20 FE. That phone has a couple of key enhancements over the Samsung, including its software experience, which is very close to stock Android and more importantly, already upgraded to Android 11. It all comes down to camera preferences. Samsung's photo experience has traditionally turned out better-looking photos than OnePlus, although OnePlus has improved recently. Folks who need the telephoto lens might be better off with Samsung's better telephoto sensor and superior AI-fueled digital zoom. It's a tough call at regular retail price that is made a bit easier by hunting for sales.
If the original Samsung Galaxy S20 (and S20 Ultra) were excellent, albeit pricey phones, the company has really hit a nice balance of performance, features, and price with the Fan Edition. Best Buy was offering the carrier versions of the S20 FE on a big discount bringing the price down to sub-$500, so it was hard to say no when just about anything else in its performance class is still pushing $700. That sale might be over, but it seems new promotions are available on this phone quite often. Folks looking for the best in Android smartphone performance without breaking the back would do well to hunt around just a bit to find some nice sales, and then pick up a Galaxy S20 Fan Edition.