Samsung has been churning out two types of flagship phones each year for as long as one can remember — the more mass-market Galaxy S phones like the S20 and the stylus-toting one-of-their kind Galaxy Notes like the Note 20 Ultra. These flagship phones have long been seen as Samsung’s answer to the iPhone. They’re also seen as luxury items, not just because of their high cost but because Samsung builds them that way.
Earlier this year, Samsung did something unusual though. It launched “Lite” editions of the S10 and Note 10 so more people could access its latest and greatest technology in a more affordable package — also to take on OnePlus. Their timing could have been better but Samsung was just setting the stage for things to come — so it seems now. That’s probably why the Galaxy S20 FE exists today.
Samsung says it was the ongoing pandemic that pushed it to build a phone like the S20 FE so fans could experience S20-like innovations at an even more accessible price point. It is not even shy about it — FE is short for Fan Edition. But that is not to say it is not meant for anybody else. In fact, if you’re not a Samsung fan yet, this phone might just change your opinion.
Design and build quality
I really like the design and Samsung’s choice of build materials here. Yes, the S20 FE has a polycarbonate body with a matte finish but only and only if you’re finicky about it, would you find the use of plastic in 2020 off-putting. I don’t mind it — in fact I like it. You can read more about why that is in my preview piece here, but the TL;DR version is, Samsung has found a way to make plastic look and feel premium and I am all for it.
The plastic that Samsung is using in the S20 Fe is nice to look at and it is soft to the touch, almost like satin — Samsung calls it textured haze. It does not attract a lot of smudge and fingerprints either. Bottomline with the S20 FE is that you won’t have to conceal it with a case, and believe me, that’s not what you would want to do with this phone. The S20 FE comes in five solid but subtle colours to choose from including red, lavender, mint, navy and white. While each colour has its own distinct identity, I really like the minty fresh colourway that I have for review.
It really helps that Samsung hasn’t strayed very far from the S20 line-up when designing the S20 FE. It looks exactly like an S20 or S20+, especially from the back. The side profile, which is the outer frame, also looks exactly like the setup on the other S20 phones. The S20 FE is also IP68-certified for water and dust resistance.
If one was to talk about the differences between the S20 FE and other S20 phones, the biggest difference comes by way of the display. At 6.5-inch, it slots between the S20 and S20+. It is 1080p+ and it is flat. It has significantly more bezels too. Curiously, the punch hole cut-out on this one also has a silver accent which is a little difficult to ignore. There is Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection and an optical in-display fingerprint scanner for biometrics. This is surely faster than Samsung’s ultrasonic solution found in the other S20 and Note phones, but again, it is not as fast as competing phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro using similar technology.
You can’t go wrong with Samsung’s signature AMOLED panels and it works as advertised in the S20 FE as well with ample brightness levels and rich colours. It is also 120Hz so it is plenty fast, and scrolling is as smooth as it is on the S20. Unlike the Note 20 Ultra, the S20 FE’s display is not adaptive which means Samsung always locks it to 120Hz when you switch to it.
I would have liked the S20 FE to have slimmer bezels, but on a positive note, all those extra bezels do give you a lot of breathing space to rest your palms and comfortably sift through all the Android navigation gestures without many misses.
Performance and battery life
The S20 FE has both 5G and 4G variants, though Samsung is only bringing the 4G S20 FE to India. Also, whether you like it or not, India is still getting the Exynos 990-based S20 FE and not the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865-based one sold internationally. Surely, the India variant of the S20 FE will not be as fast (or efficient), but I think at Rs 49,999, it is still not such a hard pill to swallow, like it is with the Note 20 Ultra that’s worth an upwards of 1 lakh.
Aside from those comparisons, the S20 FE is still one of the most powerful phones you can get at its price. You also get plenty of RAM and storage — 8GB/128GB and 8GB/256GB. There is support for storage expansion as well. Software inside the phone is Android 10-based One UI 2.5.
Performance is on very similar lines as the other S20 phones which means the S20FE is also fast and smooth most of the time, but at the same time, it has a tendency to heat up especially under heavy load. This is one area where I think Samsung should have borrowed from the Note 20 Ultra, but then again one can always argue, that is a much more expensive phone. At least, the S20 FE is quick to cool down so that’s a relief.
As for battery life, the 4,500mAh battery inside the S20 FE will last you a full day when running the phone at 60Hz. Battery life at 120Hz could be better but it is a step up from the S20+ that also has a similarly sized battery. I have been averaging 5-6 hours of screen on time which is at least a couple of hours more than the S20+. Like the other S20 phones, the S20 FE supports both wireless and reverse wireless charging. There is 25W fast wired charging too, though a compliant charger is sold separately.
The S20 FE has three cameras on the back. A 12MP main, a 12MP ultra-wide-angle and another 8MP telephoto. The main and ultra-wide-angle are same as the ones on the S20 and S20+.
The phone’s main camera is a consistent performer in good light. Even though Samsung’s post processing algorithm tends to pump up the colours, overall, the photos shot using the S20 FE are warm and pleasing to the eyes with lots of detail and good dynamic range. Ultra-wide-angle photos are nice and well-detailed as well with minimal or no corner distortion, but the quality is expectedly not as impressive as the main camera. Colour tuning is more or less similar on both cameras which is nice. Low light photos come out soft and mushy because of Samsung’s highly aggressive noise reduction but night mode helps get better, brighter results.
On paper, the S20 FE can shoot up to 30x zoom photos (up to 10x in low light/night mode), but honestly, that is just software overkill. It can do 3x hybrid zoom, which is a nice thing to have though just in case. Optically, the S20 FE can only go as far as 1.1x.
Unlike the other S20 phones, the S20 FE can’t do 8K video recording — which is just fine. 4K (@30fps, 60fps) videos shot with the phone are sharp, have lots of detail, and offer excellent all-round stabilization.
On the front, the phone has a 32MP camera which shoots nice and detailed selfies in most lighting scenarios.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE?
The headline of my S20 FE preview piece was this — Samsung Galaxy S20 FE nails the fundamentals giving Apple and OnePlus something to think about. So, you can tell I was already quite pleased with the phone after a few days of use. After having used it for an extended period now, I am happy to report that my first impressions were pretty spot-on.
The S20 FE is not a stripped down S20/S20+ or an S20/S20+ stripped off all the good things to make it more affordable — like the S10 Lite or Note 10 Lite was to the S10 or Note 10 — but it is a true flagship phone through and through in itself. It is a very likeable phone and I think Samsung has pulled off a major winner here.
The S20 FE also highlights Samsung’s might and magic, how quickly it can build and deliver a well-rounded smartphone — as work on this one apparently started soon after the pandemic hit the world. In this case, Samsung has also priced it well.
But as good as the S20 FE is, the S20+ is currently selling at the same price. In case you’re wondering why that is, well, the more the things change, the more they stay the same. Samsung phones are notorious to get price cuts and attractive discounts, just days after launch, so it won’t be surprising to see the S20 FE selling for a lower price soon enough. As for buying a new smartphone from Samsung, the S20+ at a price of Rs 49,999 is what you should be looking at. And always remember, good things — aka, good deals — come to those who wait. The S20 FE is bound to get even more affordable in the days to come.
- S20+ on a budget
- Costs same as S20+ currently