As a new class of over-priced mechanical marvels and ultra high-end smartphones emerges, ‘affordable’ handsets are becoming more powerful and cheaper. September’s bloated launch schedule is solid proof of that.
Manufacturers have to strike a balance between cost, performance, build quality and some special extras to stand out from the crowd. Because of this, when I’m not reviewing a phone, I’ll plump for a Google Pixel because I think they offer most of the above with some unique AI features thrown in. Read why that’s so important here.
But rivals are starting to crowd Google’s space, with Apple reportedly dropping the entry level iPhone 12 price to $649. I’m eagerly awaiting my Pixel 5 review unit to arrive, but until that lands it is Samsung’s new Galaxy S20 FE 5G that has taken my sim card hostage. And it’s growing on me, fast. Here’s why.
The 120Hz refresh rate is such an important display feature in 2020. It makes a huge difference to your smartphone experience. That refresh rate is aided by Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, which remains unmatched. There’s no QuadHD option like on more expensive Galaxy phones, but I’m not missing it.
I usually opt for FHD at 120Hz on my Galaxy Z Fold 2, instead of 60Hz at the higher resolution because the fluidity is noticeable and addictive, particularly when gaming or watching videos. A 120Hz refresh rate on Samsung’s excellent display tech, at this price range, is an important differentiator.
The 4500mAh battery, too, borrows from age-old mid-range phone principles: it’s cheaper, it’s worse, but it lasts. On moderate usage, the FE lasts comfortably past 24 hours. But the high refresh rate display does chomp power faster than the 60Hz option.
The cameras are also very good. The S20 FE has most of Samsung’s wide-array of shooting options and takes vivid, striking images. However the issue of skin softening, lack of detail (in comparison to my Pixel 4, at least) and oversaturation are still present.
But, crucially, that’s the case for all of Samsung’s 2020 5G line-up. The point is that there’s virtually no noticeable difference between the camera on the FE – outside of silly levels of zoom – and Samsung’s more expensive phones. In terms of value, Samsung is giving away some of its best camera tech for a cut-down price. There’s even a small advantage in the FE: the auto-focus problem that plagued Samsung’s “Ultra” models this year isn’t present in the budget phone.
The colour accuracy and detail of Google’s Pixel cameras usually win me over, and probably will continue to do so. But the range of shooting options on the FE – like slow motion and super slow motion, alongside the impressive pro mode, are welcome.
Elsewhere, Samsung’s penchant for packing its phones with too many apps and features means there’s a lot of nonsense crowding the quick settings menu like Secure Folder and Samsung Kids (you can swap all of this out). But the company does have some good ideas. Samsung Dex is one of them. Or, to be more specific, Samsung Dex combined with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Streaming console games on a large monitor, via your phone, is a fun thing to do. It’s helped by the fact that the Galaxy S20 FE comes with three months free of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and the Moga xp5-x plus, which is a solid Xbox-like controller.
That gaming freebie is important. The Moga controller retails for $69.99 normally and Game Pass Ultimate is $14.99 a month. That’s $115 worth of free stuff. There are also $100 discounts at Amazon and Best Buy on the FE right now.
Samsung, too, has some of the best trade-in prices around for your old phone. You can pick up the FE for $249 if you trade in your Galaxy S10 from last year, which the Korean company values at $400. You can also get $300 for the S9 and $500 for the Note 10 Plus. There are even better deals for older Apple phones like the 2017 iPhone X ($400) and 2017 iPhone 8 Plus ($350). Traders can even get $225 off the 2015 iPhone 6S.
The most important thing to know about the Galaxy S20 FE 5G is that it does a good, solid, job. It is a powerful, reliable, smartphone with no major problems (yet). The trade-in prices, free Xbox Game Pass membership and pre-order discounts give it the edge on the competition, for now. If we’re talking about straight value for money, it’s hard to argue against Samsung’s new phone.
Got a tip, thoughts or something to complain about? Let me know.