The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is shaping up to be a rather impressive mid-range to semi-flagship phone. It takes the Galaxy S20‘s 120Hz display, trio of rear cameras, and a powerful chip, makes a few compromises, and sells for $699 in the U.S. and £699 in the U.K.
Samsung is marketing the phone as a handset that takes the bits Samsung fans want and throws them in a more affordable package, leaving out a few features that some might find superfluous. But I don’t really get who the Galaxy S20 FE is for.
Why is it called Galaxy S20 FE?
Let’s start with the fact that FE here stands for “Fan Edition.” If you’re a Samsung fan then surely you’re going to want to get a true flagship Galaxy phone, whether it’s the Galaxy S20 or you really feel like splashing the cash on the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Flagship phones aren’t cheap, but then $699 isn’t an insubstantial amount either. And fans of something tend to pay a little more than non-fans, so I think the name of the Galaxy S20 FE is a little off to begin with. If it was called the Galaxy S20 Lite, as we had thought, then I’d understand that.
Regular Galaxy S20 just as cheap on sale
But why would you want a lite version of a flagship phone that was only released in March, when the Galaxy S20 is available for the same price or less?
In the U.S. you can get the regular Galaxy S20 right now for $659, and you can often find it on sale for under $699.
After a quick Google search, I was able to find both the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus for under £600 in the U.K. A few of these models were only 4G capable, but the 4G S20 FE is £599 so still far from cheap.
Don’t get me wrong: the S20 FE isn’t unfairly priced. It’s offering a lot for its price tag, but so too does the S20 now that it’s been out for some six months.
If I had to choose between an older but more premium phone and a newer handset with a plastic build for a very similar price, I’d take the former each time. Samsung makes fantastic premium phones that are arguably worth paying more for. But when you can pay less some six months later and secure a phone that’ll promise strong performance for at least two years, then you’re looking at a bargain. And one that I feel could render the S20 FE moot.
The good news is that Samsung’s new phone already has some early discounts, with some Galaxy S20 FE pre-order deals coming in at $599, but I’d argue that’s still too steep.
Lost in the middle of the road
Putting aside the threat the Galaxy S20 FE faces from its older sibling, we’re still looking at a mid-range phone with an enviable spec list. As mentioned, with a high refresh-rate display and a camera setup that looks like it’ll ape or potentially beat the photography on the S20 and S20 Plus, the S20 FE is an attractive prospect.
Samsung told me the S20 FE has been designed to bridge the gap between the flagship S-series phones and the mid to lower-end A-series handsets. That’s a sound idea given not everyone has $1,000 to spend on a flagship phone or sign up to an expensive phone contract.
But I feel that $699 is the wrong price given the compromises the S20 FE comes with. While the inclusion of a Snapdragon 865 is great, I’m not sure there are masses of people who really notice the difference in performance between, say, a phone equipped with the latest Snapdragon 865 and the Snapdragon 720, which can be found in the $349/£349 Google Pixel 4a.
I’ve been using both the Snapdragon 865-sporting Oppo Find X2 Pro (a £1,099 handset) and Pixel 4a. The Find X2 Pro feels a bit snappier in daily use, but I’ve never felt the Pixel 4a slowed me down. And the extra performance of the Find X2 Pro doesn’t scale with the £750 price difference.
The same can be said for phone photography. It’s now so good that you need to go looking for subtle differences in photos by blowing them up on an external display. Phones under $500 not only take photos that are fine for social media — speaking anecdotally, I don’t know many people who get their smartphone snaps printed out — but some deliver very impressive performance, such as the $399 iPhone SE 2020.
$500 is the sweet spot
Had Samsung priced the Galaxy S20 FE at around the $500 mark, then I’d be very intrigued by the S20 FE. It would mean the S20 FE would end up butting heads with the Samsung Galaxy A71, which launched with a price of $599. But the price of the Galaxy A71 has already dropped, so there’s definitely scope for Samsung to come up with a $500 phone.
And the S20 FE could indeed get down to that price. When sales events like Black Friday come along, Samsung phones and carrier contracts with them can be snapped up at bargain prices. If that does happen, I can see myself recommending the S20 FE to people who want a phone that delivers strong performance, photography and features at a good price.
As it stands, I remain a bit confused and nonplussed by the Galaxy S20 FE. And with the Pixel 5 and OnePlus 8T just around the corner, I suspect we’ll see more impressive phones that could undercut the S20 FE at its current price. October can’t come here soon enough.