Samsung Galaxy S20 FE nails the fundamentals giving Apple and OnePlus something to think about

Your move Apple and OnePlus.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE nails the fundamentals giving Apple and OnePlus something to think about
S20 FE India price is Rs 49,999. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

It is not easy being the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE — short for Fan Edition. You must play by the book just enough to make you look and feel like a flagship so you are fair to your fans but not so much you end up being unfair to your other Galaxy S20s. There are three of those by the way, Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20+, and Galaxy S20 Ultra. The Galaxy S20 FE slots below the Galaxy S20. At Rs 49,999, it is currently the most affordable option in the S20 line-up.

Whether or not the S20 FE strikes the right balance between specs and price is something I will tell you in my full review but for now it is safe to say that it is a very likeable phone — and that should make OnePlus, even Apple nervous.

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This is not Samsung’s first stint with the Fan Edition branding. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Samsung says the S20 FE is a tribute to fans who have apparently been asking the brand to bring S20-like features to an even more accessible price point. Curiously, this is not Samsung’s first stint with the Fan Edition branding. The Note 7 — yes, the infamous Note 7 — also had a Fan Edition which was in fact a refurbished Note 7 with a smaller battery and the assurance that it would not blow up. The Note 7 saw limited availability. That was back in 2017. The S20 FE in 2020 does not have any backstory behind it, there is a strategy of course, but it is just another variant of the S20 and that is all.

One can still argue that it has a lot of existing parts from an existing phone which kind of sort of also makes it a refurbished S20 in a way but come to think of it, it does not really matter, because as I said, the S20 FE is a very likeable phone. And it is not borrowing those parts from an inferior phone. In isolation, it is a complete flagship through and through, and it does all of this at a price that is almost Rs 20,000 less than the S20. That is a lot of money saved, without making a compromise in any significant way.

Like the S20, the S20 FE also has:

  • Super AMOLED 120Hz high refresh rate display
  • Exynos 990
  • 12MP main camera with Dual Pixel PDAF sitting behind an f/1.8 aperture lens with OIS
  • Dual stereo speakers
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
  • 25W fast wired, wireless and reverse wireless charging
  • Samsung Dex support
  • Expandable storage

Observe carefully and it is evident, Samsung has not skimped on the fundamentals. Screen, processor, camera, audio, ingress protection, charging and productivity-focused software, the S20 FE has all these areas covered.

S20 FE is a very likeable phone. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The biggest difference — notice that I say difference and not Samsung cutting corners — comes by way of design. The S20 FE has a polycarbonate body with a matte finish. It still looks like an S20 though and while I am sure many would find the use of plastic in 2020 off-putting, I think that it is only logical why Samsung is doing it. Something was needed to be done in order to bring the cost down. I have been using the S20 FE for a while now, and here is what I think — I am glad that Samsung chose to go this way. There are two reasons why I feel this way.

One is that glass serves no real-world purpose aside from being aesthetically pleasing. It does not stay that way for long. Either you are forced to conceal all that beauty with a case, or you must prepare for a life of endless wipes. Plus, glass must always be handled with care. I have nothing against all-glass phones, but I think more brands should make more plastic phones — and there will be takers.

The reason why plastic phones get a bad rap is because they are almost always cheap looking. Not the S20 FE though and that is the second reason why I think Samsung going this way was a stroke of genius. The plastic that Samsung is using in the S20 Fe is nice to look at and it is soft to the touch. It is not the same material that it is using in the Note 20, but it is close. Almost like satin — Samsung calls it textured haze. It does not attract smudge and fingerprints by the millisecond either. Samsung has found a way to make plastic look and feel premium and I am all for it.

Samsung has not skimped on the fundamentals. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

It is also not glossy or anything. There are five solid but subtle colours to choose from including red, lavender, mint, navy and white. That is the most for any Samsung phone to date.

The other difference comes by way of the display. It is 1080p+ and flattened out. It has significantly more bezels too. There is Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection and an optical in-display fingerprint scanner for biometrics. There is nothing wrong with the panel itself, it is signature Samsung AMOLED stuff which means that it is high-quality with rich colours. It is 120Hz so it is plenty fast, and scrolling is as smooth as it is on the S20. Unlike the Note 20 Ultra, this is not adaptive which means Samsung always locks it to 120Hz when you switch to it. The optical fingerprint reader is faster than the S20’s ultrasonic solution though it is not as secure.

While I would have liked the S20 FE to have slimmer bezels, there is also a silver lining here as the phone gives you ample breathing space to rest your palms and comfortably sift through all the Android navigation gestures without many misses. As for the curves, again, Samsung has been cutting them down on its other high-end phones too — including the S20 — and I do not think that is anything to complain about.

There are three cameras. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The camera alignment on the back of the S20 FE is also very S20-like with the addition that this one gets Note 20-like bold accents around the individual cameras depending on the colour you choose. As for the cameras themselves, there are three here. A 12MP main, a 12MP ultra-wide angle and another 8MP telephoto for 3x optical zoom and up to 30x software-induced “space” zoom. The phone has good hardware and it also puts it to good use most of the time. Samsung’s night mode also works as advertised brightening up your low-light photos when you need them, but its overly aggressive noise reduction means they often end up being soft and mushy. Regardless, it is a good setup and gets the job done. On the front, it has a 32MP camera which shoots nice and detailed selfies in most lighting scenarios.

Speaking of hardware, the S20 FE has both 5G and 4G variants elsewhere, 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 that is being sold internationally. Yes, the India variant 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. 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. There is support for storage expansion as well.

Samsung has dropped the S20 FE at a very strategic time. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

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Rounding off the package is a 4,500mAh battery which interestingly is bigger that what Samsung ships in the S20.

Samsung has dropped the S20 FE at a very strategic — and crucial — time ahead of the festive season. OnePlus is gearing to launch the OnePlus 8T 5G on October 14. Apple is launching the iPhone 12 — which is expected to have a standard and vanilla variant akin to an S20 FE — on October 13. While it will be interesting to see how the S20 FE, iPhone 12, and OnePlus 8T pan out in the days to come, Samsung’s phone seems fundamentally strong and while I don’t think it will be able to take on either of these phones basis of pure specs, with those fundamentals secured, it has every chance to give them a tough fight. As I said, the S20 FE is a very likeable phone and not just in one area, but as a whole package. It is priced well too. Let the mid-range flagship smartphone wars begin.

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