Nov 24

Samsung S20 FE 5G for ATT Review
Samsung S20 Fan Edition 5G AT&T Review (Photo Courtesy AT&T)

Almost a year after the first US lockdown from the pandemic, many of us were wondering if we should save our money or buy the latest and greatest Android smartphone. First came Samsung’s S20 line, then the Note 20s, and now the S20 FE 5G midrange option. Midrange is hard to say for the S20 FE 5G, because in many respects, it is the Android flagship we should seriously consider this year.

Disclosure: I was loaned a Samsung S20 FE 5G at no cost for review from AT&T Wireless. I was not compensated for this smartphone and service review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

AT&T is currently rolling out its 5G and 5G+ wireless services across the US. Their 5G wireless coverage map shows that the faster signal is broadly available in most of the US. Luckily for me in the part of Las Vegas that I live in, I saw the 5G-connection logo the majority of the time. For about a month and a half, I tested AT&T’s 5G signal in and around Sacramento, in many areas of Las Vegas, including the Las Vegas Strip. There were a few hiccups, which I will get into a little later.

Samsung S20 Fan Edition 5G Unboxing by @24k Chris

As turbulent as 2020 continues to be, Samsung’s latest flagships and midrange smartphones cannot be ignored. Those of us on the bleeding edge of technology need and want the best. This year that can mean being on a much tighter budget. But that is ok!

AT&T’s model of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G 128GB can be purchased in several ways. They offer a 30-mo installment plan, full retail, and trade in and save options. With three ways to purchase, there is probably one that will fit your budget.

The Smartphone

As you can see, the S20 FE 5G comes in unique colors, including my Cloud Lavender test device. The other two colors offered from AT&T are Cloud Mint and Cloud Navy. The bezels are ultra thin on the sides and top, with a slightly more visible chin or bottom bezel.

The specs of the S20 FE 5G are very similar to the S20 with some tech from the S20+. It has the same processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, IP68 water resistance, 15W Qi wireless fast charging, 4.5W reverse wireless charging, and a 4500 mAh battery. Reverse wireless charging is a good way to power up a wireless earbud case.

Going further into the specs, this Android smartphone sports a 6.5” Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display with HDR10+ at a resolution of 1080 x 2400 FHD+ with a 20:9 ratio and a 407 ppi pixel density.

The model I tested came with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of ROM storage. It comes preinstalled with multiple apps from Samsung, AT&T, Google and games if you want, so that 128GB will fill up sooner than later with all of the media you will capture too.

One of the features from the S20 line that did not carry over into the S20 FE 5G is the ability to record 8K video. This is not a big loss. 8K TVs have not yet been released in any great quantity or at affordable prices. The 4K video resoultion that this phone can capture should provide plenty of quality for uploads to YouTube.

This smartphone is a wireless powerhouse with the ability to connect to 5G cellular and WiFi 6 or 802.11ax. The newest wireless routers are only now including WiFi 6 technology, so this is perfect timing to be ready to connect at Gigabit fast WiFi speeds.

Samsung has done away with the dewdrop forward facing camera and instead replaced it with a single 32MP hole punch camera, which takes up less screen area. I like that Samsung has moved the receiver speaker up and into the surrounding frame.

The audio from the speaker up top pairs nicely with the speaker in the base of the S20 FE 5G. Stereo audio out of it sounds pretty good for everyday music and podcast listening. I like how these speakers sound more than what my older iPhone produces.

Most of us are upgrading our phones to get better camera technology. The S20 FE 5G has three cameras on the back and one up front. I like the way Samsung has laid out the cameras vertically on the left side.

The newer cameras are more than ready to take clear photos and stable video even in low light situations. One of the ways I tested the ultra wide camera in low light was the midnight opening of the Circa Resort & Casino Las Vegas.

The clarity of photos and videos from the three rear cameras was eye opening during low light shooting. I could clearly see individual lights on buildings when touring around the Las Vegas Strip. During one test shooting the new ginormous video wall attached to the Resorts World Las Vegas, it picked up a moving face that spanned multiple stories at night.

It also picked up words on the screen and immediately offered to convert it into editable text. The camera understood at 2x optical zoom that the screen was not flat and offered to adjust the photo from an irregular trapezoid to a flat square. These two automatic modes of recognition are very helpful during a presentation. Taking photos of slides with text will be many times easier with this phone.

As one of the first 50 people in line to get into the hotel, I captured almost an entire walkthrough of the casino, multi-level sports book, the longest bar in Nevada, and the outside pool deck, which is setup stadium style. All of it was recorded in low light on the S20 FE 5G.

I found the clarity of what the ultra wide camera produced to be better than good, approaching great. The video was stable and the pause button in the camera app was helpful. I was able to pause between my video recordings through areas of the hotel. At the end of my tour I tapped the stop button, which stitched all of the scenes together.

That one pause button feature saved me a fair amount of editing time later. Normally, I would have to download all of the video files and stitch them together manually. The pause video recording feature is something that I also like about Huawei’s camera app.

One of the biggest reasons why I liked using the S20 FE 5G during my time with the device is its 120Hz screen refresh rate. The technology is truly next level and certainly not iterative innovation like with what some brands engineer for their flagship smartphones. The 120Hz provides buttery smooth scrolling on the web and while reviewing attached documents in email. The iPhone 12 line, including the iPhone 12 Pro Max 5G does not offer a 120Hz screen refresh rate.

This phone is also powerful enough to work well with Microsoft’s Your Phone Companion app. If you have ever used an iPhone with iCloud connected to a MacBook Air or an iPad, the device that you are using can ring and you can answer a call. This does that with the S20 FE 5G and Microsoft Windows 10.

A recent update to the Companion app enables the ability to make and receive calls on your PC, along with transfers between them. This opens up using a laptop’s microphone and speaker for a better calling experience. And like using the Photos app on a Mac with iCloud, this app gives you access to view the most recent 2,000 photos from the Samsung phone, on the PC, up from 25. iCloud only shows you the latest 1,000 photos between your connected devices.

This model S20 also gets Samsung DeX wireless support, along with a promise of three generations of Android and One UI software updates. Three generations of Android updates means that Google security updates will continue to arrive for more than two years. I experienced two S20 FE 5G firmware updates from AT&T. The updates seemed to have improved how quickly the cameras react when recording in low light.

One important distinction to note about Android updates is that they come from the wireless carrier. For example, when Google makes a security update, they will send it to AT&T for compatibility testing. Once they certify it, they send the firmware update out in batches to their customers. This process can take several months in some instances.

The Service

Calls were loud and clear over AT&T’s 5G. I did not experience any dropped calls. Getting back to the data side of the test. One of the ways I use my smartphone is as a WiFi hotspot. I will connect to it throughout the day on different devices depending on what I need to do.

Sometimes I will stream videos from my tablet or play Internet connected games that require a continuous connection. Then, there are the video calls and social media uploads I will do each day.

Doing these everyday tasks with the Samsung S20 FE 5G as my hotspot yielded interesting results. When the smartphone switched to 5Ge from 5G, the hotspot service from the phone became unnecessarily slow to respond. I have tested 5Ge AT&T service in my area before on the LG G8x ThinQ, and it was always speedy.

I had heard a few months ago that 5G+ was available in small pockets of Las Vegas. So I found out where to go on the Las Vegas Strip to try it out, which was near Caesars Palace. Unfortunately, the S20 FE 5G cannot connect to 5G+ cell sites. The 5G chip in this phone is not compatible with 5G+ signal.

What was the fastest 5G that I experienced during the test? While connected to 5G, my fastest test speed according to the app was 174Mbps. The slowest 5G speed test yielded about 12Mbps. This means that while AT&T may have the fastest overall 5G wireless speeds in the country, they have work yet to do.

5G is new and there are billions of dollars yet for the cell companies to spend on upgrading towers and their backend fiber connections. The promise of extremely fast 5G is there and I know that speeds will increase as the upgrades continue.

As these 5G upgrades continue, the Samsung S20 FE 5G will feel speedier. Zoom video calls, downloading game and system updates, uploading photos and videos, will all happen at a faster rate on this smartphone.

For an overall value to the technology that you get, Samsung’s S20 Fan Edition 5G from AT&T, in either the 128GB or 256GB models, is my top choice (4.5/5 stars) for a midrange flagship smartphone right now. The cameras produce sharp photos with excellent detail, even in low light. Recording 4K video with the ultra wide camera was fun and easy. Spend about half of what you would on an iPhone 12 Pro Max and get some features that are better than Apple’s top flagship.

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