Samsung is reviving its flagship Galaxy S20 lineup after announcing an all-new entry called the Galaxy S20 FE. The suffix stands for Fan Edition and you can see how the device could appeal to the core fans of the Samsung brand. They are getting the latest performance upgrades, a flagship-grade camera setup, and one of the best displays you can get on a smartphone. All of this is on offer for a starting price of Rs 49,999, and the device even has some funky new colour options that are bound to win the younger audience it is targeting. So why should you buy the Galaxy S20 FE over something like the OnePlus 8T (review)? What compromises have been made from the original S20 to accommodate this lower price point? I will try to shed some light on some of the most important questions regarding the S20 FE in this detailed review.
With the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung has proved that it has the calibre to make excellent affordable flagship smartphones. Keeping some of the choicest features such as the flagship Exynos 990 SoC, 120Hz Super AMOLED panel, wireless charging, and a set of incredible cameras, the Galaxy S20 FE is surely one of the best buys for Rs 49,999.
Design and display
- Display: 6.5-inch FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080)
- Refresh rate: 120Hz
- Panel: Super AMOLED
- Connectivity: USB Type-C
Samsung appears to have skimmed a little bit on build materials, using plastic on the back of the Galaxy S20 FE, but when you hold the phone in your hand you will still feel a certain premium-ness lingering. Samsung has gone with a flat panel on the front this time as opposed to the slight curvature you will see on the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus (review). This does give the S20 FE just a hint of excess bezels but it will only be noticeable to smartphone aficionados like myself. I have gotten the Cloud Navy version for review, which is a colour I really like, and it would be a shame to put something like this in an opaque case. The matte finish, present on all colour variants, acts quite handsomely as a deterrent for smudges but it will not do so well against scratching. Of course, Samsung does itself no favours by not providing any clear plastic or silicone case inside the box. The camera housing on the FE is just slightly smaller in surface area and fractionally protrudes out more from the back than its older compatriot. Apart from that, you will find the standard selection of buttons and ports, ie a Type-C port and speaker grille at the bottom while the power and volume rocker buttons are on the right along with the hybrid dual-SIM+microSD card on the left.
In the display department, Samsung has made sure to retain its signature features while doing away with some of the unnecessary ones. On the S20 FE you will get the signature Samsung AMOLED panel which measures 6.5-inch diagonally. The minuscule punch-hole is somewhat marred by slightly bigger bezels but the fluidity of the 120Hz panel is the entrée to a stellar viewing experience on the S20 FE. The change comes in the form of a lower resolution (FHD+) panel being offered on the FE as opposed to the WQHD+ (3,200 x 1,440) on the regular version. In my opinion, there is only so much the human eye can discern in terms of pixels and for the target audience, it is a difference that is largely going to be ignored. Besides the 120Hz refresh rate, a feature which happens to be readily noticeable is locked at FHD+ resolution on the original S20. As expected, I have no complaints with the S20 FE’s display except perhaps the lack of HDR10+ certification. The display has excellent contrast ratios and colour reproduction, one of the best in the smartphone world. The FE’s panel gets super bright (though not as much as the S20) and dim making it ideal for any kind of lighting scenario. The regular display customisations for vividness, colour temperature and more are present as always. If there is a fault in the S20 FE display I don’t think I can spot it and for its price, you are definitely getting more than your money’s worth.
- Rear cameras: 12 MP, f/1.8 primary, 8 MP, f/2.4 telephoto, 12 MP, f/2.2 ultra-wide
- Front camera: 32 MP, f/2.2
- Video: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60fps (front and rear)
A few compromises appear in the optics department on the Galaxy S20 FE. You get a triple camera setup, same as that of the original Galaxy S20, but some of the sensors are different. The primary lenses on both devices is the same 12MP sensor which means the S20 FE will churn out saturated, bright and detailed shots as can be expected from a Samsung flagship. A hint of overexposure at times and a little trouble with shadows is all you can complain about and for a more detailed outlook on this, you can refer to my colleague’s S20 Plus review.
The difference arises in the telephoto sensor wherein the original S20 has a 64MP lens which does not provide a dedicated optical zoom, but actually crops into the high-res image for a hybrid zoom up to 3X (which can be digitally enhanced to 30X). The S20 FE in fact has a dedicated 3X optical zoom telephoto lens with 8MP resolution. As such, the S20 FE and its 8MP telephoto lens can actually take more detailed zoom photos than the 64MP S20 telephoto. However, this becomes more apparent only when we move past 5X zoom and in my opinion, the difference will not be readily visible unless you are specifically looking for it. Which brings us to the final 12MP ultra-wide lens that is present on both the phones. In the case of the S20 FE though, it looks like it was borrowed it from the lower-level Galaxy A-series. It is not necessarily a bad thing since the FE can bring out a vivid scene when a lot of light is thrown at the sensor, but the OG S20 just edges it out in terms of detailing and low-light performance.
At night time the Galaxy S20 FE pushes way past its weight class and shoots splendid photos. Even without using the dedicated night mode, the S20 FE’s automatic AI-scene detection will know if the conditions are dimly lit, and automatically adjusts the exposure. It then makes use of some computational sorcery to generate a highly detailed image which can sometimes be better than what the Night mode will click. It is prudent to point out that the original Galaxy S20 does not yet have this kind of scene optimisation for low-light shots. You will have to use the dedicated Night mode for it. Of the other things absent on the S20 FE is 8K video recording capabilities, something which won’t be sorely missed in my opinion. Apart from that, the FE also misses out on the ability to switch between the ultra-wide or telephoto lens for the portrait-style Live Focus shots. In all fairness, the FE’s ultra-wide lens does a very nice job of keeping the subject in focus and getting a good background blur.
On the front, you will find the 32MP snapper on the S20 FE while the S20 has a 10MP shooter. The S20 Plus brings out richer colour tones to give a more natural look to the selfies, while the FE brightens up the face irrespective of lighting. Even so, thanks to the higher resolution, facial details are visible more on the FE while the S20 Plus employs some aggressive smoothening. Both phones can do front-facing Live Focus shots with amazing background separation and detailing.
I will be diving deeper for a detailed comparison of the Galaxy S20 FE’s camera with the Galaxy S20 Plus, in a separate piece. But the gist is this: the S20 FE with its lower resolution triple-camera goes toe-to-toe with the more expensive S20 on almost all fronts which the target audience is going to care about.
Performance and software
- Chipset: Exynos 990
- RAM and storage: 8GB + 128GB, expandable to 1TB
- Software: OneUI 2.5 based on Android 10
It is a bummer that Samsung doesn’t sell Snapdragon variants of its devices in India and the same is valid for the Galaxy S20 FE. However, the Exynos 990, found on the Galaxy S20 lineup, is no slouch either and whether it is daily usage or heavy 3D gaming, you are still going to get flagship-grade performance. The phone does lag slightly behind the likes of the OnePlus 8T or the iQOO 3 5G (review) in terms of benchmarks but in my experience, the Galaxy S20 FE is a true workhorse. Even with a ton of apps open in the background, Call of Duty Mobile running at full settings and the phone being charged, all at the same time, the Galaxy S20 FE manages somehow to run reasonably cool. You can get 8GB of RAM along with 128GB of internal storage which is the only variant available at the moment, and I believe it to be optimum for even a power user such as myself. You do have the option to top it off with the help of a microSD card by up to 1TB. Overall solid performance and solid usage for its price is how I would describe the Galaxy S20 FE.
The ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, something I have only seen on Samsung phones, is also being retained and while the sensor can be iffy at times, for the most part, it does a decent job of authentication. You can always switch to the faster but less secure face unlock method as well. Now the phone also packs in a stereo speaker setup which is just as good as the speaker on the original S20 with the earpiece working in tandem with the bottom-firing unit. The S20 FE in India is not 5G ready but I believe that is not going to be a concern for most users at least until the newer-gen networks become commercially available in the country. For the time being, you are getting dual-SIM 4G VoLTE connectivity, a staple for all phones nowadays.
As for software, a couple of competing phones, including the OnePlus 8T, have moved on to Android 11, but the Galaxy S20 FE is presently running OneUI 2.5 based on Android 10 out of the box. I have mentioned in previous reviews that OneUI is one of the most customisable skins on Android and has a streamlined approach to user interaction. Samsung’s regular bloatware aside, the Galaxy S20 FE’s fluid animations, ease of one-handed usage and tons of customisation make for an enjoyable experience. It also works in favour of the S20 FE that OnePlus’ latest OxygenOS11 takes lot of cues from OneUI.
- Capacity: 4,500mAh
- Charging speeds: 15W, support up to 25W
- 0 – 50 percent: 50 minutes
Battery life is decent on the Galaxy S20 FE with the 4,500mAh cell packed inside, which has support for 25W fast charging. However, you are given only a 15W charger in the box. That said, the S20 FE has a distinct advantage over its competitors in that it has wireless charging support and also supports reverse wireless charging, exactly like the original S20. My usage involved 80 percent screen brightness and the refresh rate locked at 120Hz. I did manage to squeeze out a whole day which included some Call of Duty: Mobile action for about an hour and streaming Netflix for about two hours. Overall the phone delivers a solid 5 hours and 30 minutes of screen-on time. My standard battery drain test showed that the device can last for about 23 hours while looping a single video at 50 percent brightness and volume. It does take some time to charge the phone with the in-box charger, specifically about 2 hours.
I really like how Samsung is expanding its lineup into the affordable flagship market. It did so last year with the Galaxy Note10 Lite and S10 Lite, and I came away quite impressed with the latter. Now with the S20 FE, Samsung has stripped away a couple of unnecessary features such as a WQHD+ display, curved edges on the screen, a glass back and a few others to demonstrate that it can make an affordable flagship that can stand up to its Chinese counterparts. The Galaxy S20 FE is a fluid and fast smartphone, but most importantly, it carries the premium S-series branding which is certain to boost the sales. I am tempted to believe that if the Galaxy S20 FE does well, Samsung is more than likely to keep up this trend of bringing toned-down flagship phones that will target a wider sales audience. Perhaps a Galaxy Note20 FE is in the offing? Who knows. OnePlus, iQOO, Realme, Xiaomi and others may undercut Samsung but the South Korean giant has the backing of its expansive customer base and bragging rights as the biggest smartphone maker in the world in terms of shipments. For a price of Rs 49,999 there will be very few phones that can outdo Galaxy S20 FE in any department of the smartphone experience.
Note: For the duration of Flipkart’s Big Billion Day sale, which is from October 16th to October 21st, you can actually get the Galaxy S20 Plus for Rs 49,999. As good as the Galaxy S20 FE is, its value is only when it sells lower than the S20 Plus. With both phones at the same price during the sale period, opting for the Galaxy S20 Plus could be a good idea.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Excellent display with 120Hz refresh rate
- Flagship performance
- Best-in-class cameras
- Wireless charging
- Plastic back
- Bezels are slightly wide
- Slow charging speeds