I was more than a little perplexed to see a shiny Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Fan Edition) turn up for review. After all, we have covered the range at launch. What more could you do to the best 2020 range of Google Android phones?
Well, it turns out that the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G is quite different from what we usually see in Australia. Instead of the Samsung Exynos chipset/modem, it gets the Qualcomm SD865 5G chipset/modem, a 120Hz Super AMOLED screen, 4500mAh battery, and 6/128GB/microSD to 1TB – all in the box.
But wait there is more. It is a paltry $999 and comes in six new colours. To put that in perspective you are getting the latest Qualcomm SD865 flagship, powerhouse chipset for the price of the mid-range SD765G. Sure there are some trade-offs in screen resolution, camera and accessories, but they are barely noticeable. We will identify them in the review.
Did someone say KFC? If you want a Galaxy S experience on a budget, this is it.
Details: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Model SM-G781B/DS (dual sim)
We issue the standard warning that you must buy the genuine model with Australian firmware as it works on all Australian Telco carrier LTE bands and can make a 000-emergency call (not 911) without a SIM.
From what we can tell the marketing name is SM-G781B/DS, but the real model is SM-G781BZBDXBA.
The last letter is A for Australia, and the ZBDXB are part of the colour selection and memory selection.
We have named and shamed the major grey marketers here. If you are going to spend this much money, get a genuine ‘Made for Australia’ model.
First impression – EXCEED
It is hard not to like a 6.5″ 20:9 (tall and slim) colourful phone. The review unit is Cloud Navy, but I have seen other colours, and they are well, out of the ordinary in a boring sea of black.
Not to spoil a good review, but as an expert, I immediately see some compromises. The flat 60/120Hz screen is 2400x1080p and has wider bezels. It has 6/128GB. The camera is a 12M+8+12MP, and the selfie is 32MP binned. It comes with a pithy 15W charger, but it is 25W fast charge capable. Well, at least it has a charger in the box – Apple shame on you. Oh, and the buds are missing. The biggest change is a polycarbonate painted back over an alloy frame.
Despite those omissions – which are needed to meet the price – it is a Galaxy-class device through and through. Fans will find the FE a temptation over the current crop of SD75655G phones. I know I would go for this.
A note to Samsung Australia – where are the full specs or have you gone all fruity?
Screen – EXCEED
Super AMOLED with a small centre O-hole for the camera Refresh is either 60 or 120Hz – not adaptive
We are not a fan of the combo Accelerometer/Gyroscope – it is 5-axis accelerometer and its quite sensitive, especially for screen rotation. It also removes the separate barometer, step and proximity detectors.
LTE and 5G – EXCEED
Dual sim (active at a time) hybrid (microSD takes sim 2)
VoLTE – carrier dependent – generally yes Wi-Fi calling – Yes
Sub-6Ghz n78 for Australia only enabled We can’t definitively test 5G at present due to extreme variations in speed test outcomes
-105dBm in a 3-bar reception area (average) Found next tower at -107 Found adjacent tower at -115 Good antenna design
It seems to have a good antenna design. It has the Telstra Bluetick for regional use.
Battery – EXCEED
4500mAh rated/actual 4370
Supplied: 5V/3A and 9V/1.67A/15W USB-A to USB-C Can use any USB-C PD 3.0 charger and charger up to 25W Test: 50%C 15W – 1 hr 100% 15W – 2 hrs 50% 25W – 30 minutes 100% 25W – 1 hrs fast charge
15W Qi capable (5V/3A or 9V/1.67A) Test: achieved 9V/1.268A/11.41W which is standard for Qi efficiency 4.5W reverse charge Test: achieved 5V/.625A/3.13W which is standard for Qi efficiency
Tests Most at 60hz screen
Video Loop test: 60Hz 1080p/50%/aeroplane mode – 19 hours 120Hz as above – 16 hours Typical use 4G, Wi-Fi Test 60Hz – 16.9 hrs 120Hz – 14 hrs 100% load Battery drain – 7.5 hrs T-Rex – 60Hz 685 min 3030 frame T-Rex – 120Hz 330.5 min and 6561 frame Drain minimum 314mA Drain maximum 918mA Screen off: mA (about 25 days) Screen time 60Hz – 10 hrs 120Hz – 8 hrs
You have to remember that this has a powerhouse SoC with a 60/120Hz AMOLED screen as well as 5G – all contribute to shorter battery life. All our tests were with 5G disabled.
The 120Hz screen has about a 25% power penalty, and the lack of an adaptive switch means leave it on 60Hz until you need it for games. It is a phone that you will need to charge every 24 hours. We recommend buying a USB-C PD charger like the Belkin 68W GAN with dual USB-C output ports. Or buy a 15W Qi charger pad – you will not regret it.
Sound – EXCEED
Stereo earpiece and down-firing speaker Dolby Atmos support
Dual Cirrus Logic CD35L41
Codecs are SBC (standard), LDAC (Sony), aptX/HD (Qualcomm), FLAC, ACC etc.
Tests dB Anything over 80dB is excellent
Media – 73.5 Ring – 77 Alarm – 80 Earpiece – 55 Handsfree use is fine with adequate volume and some mic noise reduction
The sound stage is surprisingly wide appearing to extend 10-15cm past the device with hints of spatial sound as well. There is excellent Left/Right separation.
It has Dolby Atmos for music and gaming as well as an EQ with Normal, Pop, Classic, Jazz, Rock and Custom settings. The EQ can tweak the frequency response, but as you will read next, its native signature is excellent.
We also like the Adapt Sound that lets you select an age – Off, Under 30, 30-60 and 60+ and it boosts known weaker frequencies. So if you are a typical sexagenarian with compromised hearing, you will hear more on a Samsung Galaxy S20 series device.
The BT 5.0 drove our reference Sony WH-1000xM4 in SBC, AAC and LDAC modes and provided good clear sound and plenty of volume. You don’t get buds with this device.
Sound quality – EXCEED
This is bright vocal (bass recessed, mids/treble boosted ) verging on warm and sweet (bass/mids boosted, treble recessed). Its obviously designed for clear vocals but you can tweak the EQ to get a little more bass and a slightly less treble which is perfect for my jazz tastes.
While it is not overly loud at 75dB the sound quality and lost THD more than compensate.The top speaker (white line) and bottom speaker (gold line) are reasonable matches.
Deep Bass: 20-40Hz
Hints building solidly to 70 Hz
Middle Bass: 40-100Hz
High Bass: 100 to 200Hz
Flat but peaking
High Treble: 6-10kHz
Slight dip to avoid harshness then flat
Dog whistle: 10-20kHz
Flat to 15kHz then a gradual decline to 20khz
Build – EXCEED
159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4 mm x 190g
Glass – not specified but likely GG3 Frame – alloy Back – painted ‘Glasstic’ acrylic glass
IP 68 1.5m for 30 minutes
In the box
15W charger USB-A to USB-C cable
While it sounds stingy not to have buds or a 25W charger its all about meeting the price point. The Glasstic back is probably more durable than glass if you drop it.
Android 10 – EXCEED
Google Android 10 Security patch date 1 Sept 2020
One UI 2.5
All standard apps, Google Lens and Assistant. Dedicated Google Assistant key.
Mostly productivity and utilities
Three OS updates, e.g. to V13 Security patch Note that security updates handled by Google in Android 11
Fingerprint – 9/10 test FaceID – 7/10 test
It supports Samsung DeX video out or screen mirroring
Samsung One UI 2.5 is superior to Pure Android in so many ways. It is the difference between a vanilla functional OS and one that works so well. It gives immense customisation options for camera, screen, sound, gaming and more.
Part of that is DeX – the Samsung Desktop Experience where a USB-C to HDMI cable turns a monitor into a PC like a desktop computer. And unlike most Android devices it has screen output via cable or casting as well.
But the real bonus is three OS upgrades!
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Camera – EXCEED
It is an S20 in name, but SD865 gives different camera results to the Exynos SoC we usually get.
It is hard to put a finger on that difference, but it is like the shots are less colourful. In fact, they are more colour accurate than the S20 Exynos SoC that produces a nice oversaturated shot that we all love.
They are clear, detailed, and it is hard to take a bad shot in any light condition.
It may be 32MP binned to 8MP, but in fact, it ends up at 10MP uncropped or 6.5MP cropped.
It is average knowing how good the OPPO Find X2 Pro or the realme X3 SuperZoom can do with the same selfie sensor.
Single take photo
Single Take photography mode record a short 5-to-15-second video, panning around the subject. The phone selects the best still frames and video clips from the various sensors and edits them for you.
We did not test bokeh as it is disguised as ‘Live Focus’.
It is [email protected] capable (primary lens) and [email protected] (ultra-wide). I would class the quality as good rather than spectacular that you expect from the S20 series. Again its to do with the finished result – less sharpness, details and colours.
Gyro EIS is excellent as can be expected from the SD854 SoC.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Fan Edition) is a little confusing until you throw away those S20 series preconceptions.
My daily drive is the $1999 Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, so I tend to measure everything by it, rather than by money!
Our rating system takes money into account and removes any bias. You can’t compare a $999 device to a $1999 device. Any more than you can compare an Apple iPhone to a comparable Android phone. Its Apples and oranges. The FE gives more value for less money.
So if I have been at all judgemental on what the S20 FE has or does not have – sorry. It is in a class of its own at $999 and blows lower speced SD756G phones out of the water.
It is the best value, most fully-featured 5G phone for $999 bar none.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G will send shockwaves to all the SD765G phones that will need to drop back to around $799 to maintain volume.
So if you have not experienced Samsung Galaxy S series before this is the one to get.
A PASS mark is 4/5. We add points for EXCEED and vice versa for FAIL.
It absolutely deserves the 4.9/5 rating
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Fan Edition) – the best S20 for the price
Value for money
Ease of Use
Value – superb for an SD865 device
Build quality – it's a Samsung
Style – colourful 'black slab'
Battery life – two days if not more
Camera – well above average
Display – 120Hz and nice and bright
Android – three OS updates
Underpowered 15W charger