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Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE is a flagship for people who can't afford flagships

Chris Velazco
·Senior Editor, Mobile
·4-min read

Unlike the last two we've sat through, today's Galaxy Unpacked isn't all about a pricey new Samsung flagship phone -- instead, the star is a relatively cheap one. (Emphasis on "relatively.") After weeks of spot-on leaks, the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition is here, and for Samsung, this launch couldn't come soon enough.

We'll get to why that is soon -- for now, it's important to note that the Fan Edition is a fascinating blend of premium and mid-range. It packs the same Snapdragon 865 chipset used in the original S20 series, except it's paired with just 6GB of RAM instead of the standard 12GB. Its 6.5-inch Super AMOLED screen can refresh at rates as high as 120Hz, but its resolution is capped at Full HD. (You know, just like the regular Note 20.) It also comes with 128GB of onboard storage, though you can supplement that with as much as 1TB of space with the right microSD card. And while the S20 Fan Edition's screen size puts it right between the S20 and the S20 Plus, it uses the same 4,500mAh battery as the latter.

Even the camera hump around back looks like what you'd get from a $1,000 Samsung phone. The Fan Edition packs a 12-megapixel standard wide camera with an f/1.8 aperture, dual-pixel autofocus, and optical image stabilization, which should help put the FE in the same imaging ballpark as its more expensive siblings. That main sensor is joined by a 12-megapixel, f/2.2 ultra-wide camera, an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with a 3x optical zoom (or 30x hybrid Space Zoom), and a whopper of a 32-megapixel selfie camera.

All of that is squeezed into a cost-effective polycarbonate body that comes in one of six lively colors: Cloud Red, Cloud Orange, Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud Navy, and Cloud White. Oh, and did I mention the Fan Edition should play nice with all 5G networks? The $700 sub-6 5G model will debut in the US on October 2nd, right alongside the $750 mmWave 5G model that'll be exclusive to Verizon.

In years past, a phone like this might have been called the Galaxy S20e or Galaxy S20 Lite. Not this time. Samsung revived the "Fan Edition" moniker it launched with a non-explosive Note 7 because it doesn't have the same "less-than" connotations some of its earlier labels did. That was a smart move, as was the way Samsung seemingly managed to balance style and mostly high-end performance in a phone that costs hundreds less than its flagships. The end result? A device that just might fill a handful of roles that are crucially important to Samsung right now.

It's meant to bridge the gap between the company's mid-range A-series smartphones and the more premium Galaxy S20 line. (In a conversation with journalists, Samsung referred to this phone as "connective tissue," which doesn't have the same ring that "Fan Edition" has.) It's meant to counterbalance the optics of Samsung releasing a bevy of really expensive phones during a time of profound uncertainty. More than anything, though, it's meant to sell -- and fast.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition
Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition

See, Samsung has had a tougher time weathering 2020 than some of its rivals, which has resulted in some troubling year-over-year declines in global smartphone sales. That reversal of fortune was enough for Huawei to finally overtake the Korean electronics titan as the world's biggest smartphone vendor earlier this year, and to make matters worse, a recent report from research firm Omdia (via 9to5Google) suggests the sub-$500 Galaxy A51 was the only Samsung device to crack the global top 10 list of best-selling smartphones for the first half of 2020. In fact, if Omdia's figures are solid, Apple's iPhone 11 has been the big smartphone winner by far this year. Is it any wonder, then, that Samsung is releasing a colorful new smartphone with a flagship processor that happens to cost as much as the iPhone 11?

Of course, it won't be long until the landscape shifts and Samsung's 5G-friendly S20 Fan Edition has to go up against the 5G-friendly iPhone 12. Maybe the FE puts up a great fight; maybe it flounders because people won't know which of Samsung's many, many phones to buy. Either way, it seems like Samsung may have built one of the best all-around Android phones for the price, so do yourself a favor if you're mulling an upgrade: Wait until we test this thing first.