The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE comes in a range of colors.
A collection of S20 FEs ready to be used as dominos.
The front. It’s a normal, all-screen design.
The display is flat.
The back is plastic.
Today, Samsung held its third product event in a month and a half to launch the “Galaxy S20 FE,” a value-oriented take on the company’s flagship smartphone line. If these Samsung phones are getting hard to keep track of, that’s because, by our count, this is the company’s 11th “flagship” smartphone model for 2020, after the Exynos and Qualcomm versions of the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, S20 Ultra, Note 20, and Note 20 Ultra.
This particular model seems worth keeping track of, though, since Samsung aims to bring some premium smartphone features down from the stratospheric price of earlier models. For $699, you get a 6.5-inch 2400×1080 OLED display with two big features: 1) it’s 120Hz, just like the $900 OnePlus 8 Pro, and 2) the display is flat, instead of the distorted, curved screens that usually ship on high-end Android phones. In the United States, the phone gets a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 4500mAh battery. The phone has wireless charging, an optical (not ultrasonic) fingerprint reader, NFC, a MicroSD slot, IP68 dust and water resistance, and ships with Android 10. For cameras, you have a 12MP main camera, a 12MP ultrawide, and an 8MP 3x telephoto. The front camera is a 32MP sensor in a hole-punch display cutout. The back is plastic, while the front is Gorilla Glass.
The “FE” in “Galaxy S20 FE” stands for “Fan Edition,” a name the company last used when it scraped together the leftover un-exploded Galaxy Note 7 parts to make the Galaxy Note FE. The Note 7 was infamous for having a flawed battery design that would short-circuit and cause the phone to catch fire or explode. After two recalls and a long investigation, Samsung re-released the Note 7 with a smaller battery as the “FE.” It’s not clear why Samsung chose to resurrect the “Fan Edition” branding and reference one of the darkest moments in the company’s history. But I’m no marketing expert.
Internationally, Samsung customers in Europe, India, and various other territories often get stuck with the company’s inferior Exynos SoCs instead of the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips that the US, China, and other countries get. Samsung fans are so unhappy with the Exynos models that they started a petition titled “Stop selling us inferior Exynos phones!” that has so far garnered over 45,000 signatures. With the “Fan Edition,” Samsung seems to be actually listening to fans and selling Qualcomm versions alongside the Exynos models. If we pick the German Samsung site as an example, the Galaxy S20 FE comes in a “4G” (Exynos 990) and “5G” (Snapdragon 865) version, with the Qualcomm version selling for a €97 ($113) premium.
Speaking of 5G, the US version and the “5G” version internationally both mean sub-6GHz 5G. The United States is also getting a Verizon-exclusive model, the (deep breath) “Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G UW.” That “UW” is for “Ultra-Wideband,” Verizon-speak for mmWave 5G. MmWave is the version of 5G responsible for all the speed-test records the carriers like to hype up, but mmWave networks are so difficult to implement that carriers have admitted mmWave can’t scale beyond cities. Even Verizon only has 4-percent mmWave coverage over its network. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition 5G Ultra Wideband is $749, a $50 premium over the regular Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition 5G.
$699 for a 120Hz, Snapdragon 865 phone sounds like a great deal. Offering a more value-oriented flagship seems like the right move in a depressed, coronavirus-ridden economy. This move also feels like it puts Samsung in direct competition with OnePlus, which, in the past, has owned the Android value-for-money crown but has slowly let its prices creep up. OnePlus does not really have an answer to the FE right now, since the 120Hz 8 Pro is a whopping $900, but OnePlus’ next phone, the OnePlus 8T, is also speculated to bring a 120Hz display more down-market and will be announced October 14.
In the US, the Galaxy S20 FE will ship October 2, and it’s up for preorder on Samsung.com today.
Listing image by Samsung