Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Review: Looking to Unsettle the Budget Flagships
One for flagship fans on a slightly tighter budget
This has been a good year for Samsung’s fans on slightly tighter budgets. The brand got the year underway with more affordable variants of its Galaxy S10 and Note 10 flagships, then upped the ante on the M series, and now has come up with a more affordable version of its S20 series. And unlike the lower priced S10 and Note 10 variants, this one comes with no “Lite” moniker. The budget-friendly S20 is called the S20 FE, with FE standing for “Fan Edition.”
Cutting a few corners…but neatly
Of course, the lower price of Rs 49,999 has meant a few compromises as compared to the S20 proper. But Samsung has managed them with some skill. The most obvious one that will strike many is in terms of design — the FE comes with a plastic or carbonate back instead of a glass one. That said, it is smoothly textured — almost velvet-like — and will not pick up smudges or scratches easily (no case in the box, none needed). We also liked the distinct shades which Samsung has labeled “cloud” — we got “cloud mint” which had a fresh green look to it, rather unlike anything out there. We did think it might get mucky after a while but it has stayed pristine so far, which gets us into the “plastic is just fine” camp — it has been a while since we used a phone without slapping a cover on it. The phone is also available in cloud red, cloud navy, cloud lavender, and cloud white options.
There are some neat design touches — the rectangular camera unit on the back (which does jut out a bit) has a slightly darker shade of the phone’s color and even the antenna bands have the same shades as the back. As we had stated in our first cut, the S20 FE is by no means a small phone, but Samsung has managed to keep it relatively lightweight. Glass fans might scream “not premium” but we got premium feels off it. Incidentally, the phone comes with an IP68 rating, so it can take a dip in about one and a half meters of water for about half an hour. Pretty resilient. Make that pretty and resilient because this phone does look smart.
Another area where some might feel the FE has compromised a little is in terms of cameras. There are three cameras at the back and their megapixel counts of 12 (main) with OIS, 12 (ultrawide) and 8 (telephoto) might strike those who saw the monster 108 and 64-megapixel snappers on the S20 series as a little lightweight. The front-facing 32-megapixel camera is, however, right up there with the best in spec terms. And even though the phone is powered by the Exynos 990 that we saw on the S20 series and even the Note 20 series, there will be those who insist that Samsung’s own chip is not on par with the Snapdragon 865 series. Which is another argument for another day. As is the absence of 5G, which we are not sure is a dealbreaker at all, given the complete and utter absence of that network in the nation.
Roaring down the flagship highway
What really matters, however, is that the S20 FE PERFORMS. The caps are deliberate. The phone comes with a 6.5-inch full HD+ Super AMOLED display, and well, this being a Samsung flagship, you get poppy colors and great daylight visibility. It comes with a 120 Hz refresh rate for the rapid and smooth scrolling fans, although we would recommend turning it down to 60 Hz if you do not feel a clear difference (hint: we did not), as it is good for the battery. That big, bright display combined with stereo speakers makes this phone a multimedia powerhouse, whether it is watching shows and videos or just getting some gaming action.
And in terms of gaming, the S20 FE does a very good job too. We gave Call of Duty and the Asphalt series a run on the device, and it handled them with ease. No lags, no frame drops. The same goes for running multiple apps in the background. The S20 FE is all flagship here, although some might get a little concerned by the phone’s tendency to heat a little near the camera area about an hour into intense gaming.
Camera snappy fizz
The three cameras on the back are very good performers too. All of them seem to adhere to Samsung’s newfound belief in keeping colors relatively natural and not going into hyper-saturated mode. The megapixels might be on the lower side, but we got some very impressive shots in terms of color and detail. There were a few minor focusing issues sometimes with backdrops getting more attention than the subject itself (shades of the Pixel), but by and large, these shooters are a notch above most of the competition at this price point (a comparison with the ones on the OnePlus 8T is en route), and at times made us wonder if the missing megapixels were actually worth the fuss some are making. Whether it is the presence of OIS on the main sensor or just some software tweaks, but even low light performance was impressive, barring some issues with light flares — colors were surprisingly good even in the dark.
[Click here for full resolution images plus additional samples]
Samsung has thrown in flagship software features here such as Single Take, which automatically generates images and videos when you run it, adding its own filters and effects. The 3x optical zoom is a blessing, but we would not recommend trying the 30x digital zoom as it makes the pictures noisier than a heavy metal concert in the pre-COVID era — you can go up to 10x zoom without losing too much detail, though. Video quality is not as good as stills and is a notch below what we got from the S20 proper but is still good enough for the social networking and vlogging crowd. In short, these are flagship-level shooters. Mind you, shoot too much video, and that heating issue pops up again. Never uncomfortable, but persistent.
A battery that lasts, and UI that does not clutter
The phone is powered by a 4500 mAh battery and comes with support for wireless charging and also up to 25W charging. Rather intriguingly, Samsung has chosen to go with a 15W charger in the box, which seems a bit of an unnecessary economy move given the potential of the device. The battery will last you about a day of usage with the display on 120 Hz (provided you do not go crazy gaming) and a little more if you get it down to 60 Hz (we recommend), but charging it can take one and a half hours to two hours. Incidentally, you can also wirelessly charge other devices from the S20 FE, which is a bit of a rarity at this price point.
The phone runs on Samsung’s OneUI 2.5 on top of Android 10. With Android 11 being available on the likes of the Pixel 4a and the OnePlus 8T, that does seem a bit of a letdown, but the UI itself is relatively clean and barring the odd effort to make you install apps, does not get in your way and does not have too much bloatware. What it does have however is Samsung’s excellent Dex software that lets you connect the FE to other devices seamlessly. Again, this is a zone in which most devices at this price point cannot venture without breaking into a sweat over accessories and apps.
Fan-o-menal: nothing Lite about this performance heavyweight
All of which makes the Galaxy S20 FE a formidable proposition. Unlike the S10 Lite and the Note 10 Lite, it has very little that is actually ‘lite.’ It is a heavyweight in the true sense, as it brings a lot of the original S20 to the table, and what it does not, it replaces with worthwhile options — that back, those cameras, for instance. Barring its slight penchant of heating up during gaming and photography (and it never gets alarming, we hasten to add, and is evidently likely to be fixed soon courtesy of an OTA update), the phone is an out-and-out flagship performer. And it totally rattles the budget flagship cage.
Yes, it will get into the wars with the likes of the OnePlus 8T (and even the OnePlus 8 Pro) and the Xiaomi Mi 10 series (plain, T, T Pro, and all), but from what we have seen so far, it can hold its own against them, comfortably. The S20 FE is a great option for anyone who is in the market for a flagship below Rs 50,000, and especially anyone who loved the S20 series but found it too expensive.
Oh yes, it is a good time to be a Samsung fan.
- Very good display
- Superb cameras
- Smooth performer
- IP Rating
- Wireless charging
- Can heat up
- Slower charger in the box
- Some might not like the plastic back (we do!)
- No 5G (anywhere, but still…)
|Build & design||
It is the Samsung flagship that is aimed squarely at the budget flagship contenders from OnePlus and Xiaomi, among others. But does the Galaxy S20 FE's lower price come with compromises? And what difference do they make to the device's overall performance?