Samsung Galaxy S20 FE long-term review: The real flagship killer

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Main

Introduction

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is a very interesting smartphone. It’s a prime example that Samsung can also make a flagship-grade smartphone and offer it at a relatively affordable price. However, it begs the question — has Samsung cut a lot of corners? Or are we looking at a new flagship killer that can give the OnePlus phones a run for their money? Also with the Galaxy S21 series just around the corner, will it still make sense to buy the Galaxy S20 FE in 2021? I have been using the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE for quite some time now and this is my long-term review. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Design

Before I delve further and talk about the phone’s design and build, let’s address the elephant in the room; the phone’s polycarbonate back. Now I understand Samsung’s decision to include a polycarbonate back in favour of cost-cutting but to be honest, this phone doesn’t feel cheap. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Back Panel

Cheap are those phones that have a flimsy or that shiny sort of a back panel. But this one right here is a high-quality one and I’d prefer this over any other glass back phone. My reasoning behind this is quite simple; I don’t like putting a case on my phone which means I constantly live in the fear that what if I drop my iPhone 11 Pro (my iPhone of choice)? I don’t think that it will survive. And this is why with the time that I spent with the Galaxy S20 FE, I have felt that the polycarbonate back coupled with the curved sides and an anti-slip texture makes this phone grippy in the hands. That said, glass back phones are indeed premium, but the Galaxy S20 FE with its polycarbonate back is definitely solid without a doubt.

However, my only gripe here would be that it does pick up fingerprints and smudges; though not as much as a glass back phone. Apart from this, the phone weighs 190 grams; it is 8.4mm thick and I’d say that the phone’s weight distribution is pretty well balanced. 

Moving on, there’s a rectangular camera bump at the back, which is not as big as the one found on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but is still quite pronounced. Now, this does make the phone wobble a bit if you put it on a flat surface, but that is only towards the top-left corner. This means if you like to type a message or browse the web while the phone lies flat on a surface, there shouldn’t be a problem. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Camera Bump

Apart from this, the phone’s frame is made out of aluminium that comes with a shiny coating. The phone’s volume and power buttons are found on the right, which by the way aren’t as clicky as I’d want them to be. No Bixby button on the left, which is good news. The primary microphone, a USB Type-C port and a speaker are found at the bottom. While the secondary microphone, the hybrid SIM slots and the earpiece that doubles up as a speaker, are situated at the top. By the way, the phone’s earpiece is quite small, and you literally have to see it up close to spot it. Below it is the punch-hole cutout for the selfie camera.

Lastly, for authentication, Samsung has chosen to go with an optical in-display fingerprint sensor instead of the much reliable ultrasonic sensors found inside the more expensive Galaxy S20 series. I found this fingerprint sensor to be quite finicky. I mean, it does the work but it’s slow. Though, what’s not slow is the Face-Unlock functionality. 

You can purchase the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE in five different colour options. These are Cloud White, Cloud Navy, Cloud Red, Cloud Lavender and last but not the least; and it happens to be my personal favourite colour as well, Cloud Mint. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Display

On the front, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is graced by a 6.5-inch Full-HD+ Super AMOLED flat display with a centre-aligned hole-punch cutout at the top. This panel is not of the Dynamic AMOLED variety like the ones found on the Galaxy S20 series. Nonetheless, the display on the Galaxy S20 FE is simply gorgeous. Bring in the 120Hz refresh rate and what you have here is a very smooth panel.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Display

While some people might miss the presence of a quad-HD resolution; in my opinion, the full-HD display should be fine for most, trust me. As for the quality, I’d like to report that this is indeed a very well calibrated panel and in general usage, indoors as well as outdoors, I had no complaints with the brightness levels.  

The display mode is set to Vivid by default and personally, I like how the colours pop on the screen. Just in case, if you do feel that the panel is a bit too oversaturated for your liking, there’s an option to manually tweak the display mode as well. Viewing angles are good and I didn’t notice any kind of colour shifting on this panel. With Widevine L1 support, I was able to watch OTT content and YouTube videos in full HD. Thanks to the large display and the presence of stereo speakers, videos and games look great on this phone.  Overall I have been very satisfied with my experience.

However, my only complaint with this display, if there would be one, would be that this display doesn’t offer you a variable refresh rate just like you get on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. This means you can either set the display at 60Hz and have a good battery life or you can set the display at 120Hz in favour of relatively shorter runtimes. If you ask me, I am willing to trade off the battery life in favour of the smoother display. More on the battery life in a bit.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Software

In terms of software, Samsung had already started rolling out the One UI 3.0 update based on Android 11 for the Galaxy S20 FE by the time I started using this phone. So, if you’ve been holding back from purchasing the Galaxy S20 FE because of the older software, now is the time. But how good is Samsung’s latest software? Well, anyone who is coming from One UI 2.5 will feel right at home. With One UI 3.0, Samsung has paid good attention to detail and it is quite evident in the way the new software looks and feels.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Software_One UI

For starters, there is a tonne of options that you’d get to play with. There are navigation gestures, wallpapers and themes, a Game Launcher, dual-messenger feature and so much more. Starting with the lockscreen, you can check the weather, your music and more with the help of lockscreen widgets.

Edge panels are one of the most under-rated features that I really enjoy using. The best part here is that it lets me save my often used app pairs, quite handy. Then there’s the notification shade which looks pretty slick in my opinion. I really like how Samsung has played around with the translucent elements, and it’s not just the notification shade but the entire UI that I am talking about. The volume controls are also revamped and you now get a much detailed view. There’s also a toggle to enable Android 11’s live caption feature.

Notification bubbles are also here, which will remind you of the old Facebook chat heads, but these are systemwide of course. And how can we ignore the Always-on Display, which according to me has become Samsung’s forte. It still comes with the same number of clock and colour options; however, now you do get a few new GIFs to apply. 

On the contrary, Samsung’s software is as usual loaded to the brim, which isn’t always a good thing and yes not everything is nice and dandy. If I point out, I don’t like Samsung Daily and yes, they renamed it, I don’t know how does that matter but that’s there. I truly wish Samsung resorts to using Google Now in the future.

Annoyingly, you still get the option of “download two apps for everything”, for example, Gallery and Google Photos, Internet and Chrome, and you know the drill. The good part is that while setting up, you can choose to skip downloading Samsung’s suite of apps, and many other bloatware apps (thank goodness). But I only have one simple question, why can’t we just stick to Google apps pre-installed? 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_UI

Apart from this, general operation is on-point. Samsung’s One UI 3.0 is truly very functional. Sometimes, yes I do get bothered by the occasional stutters and frame drops in the UI, which by the way is something that is absolutely rare when I compare it to what I used to face during the old TouchWiz days. That said,  if we do ignore the minor shortcomings that I just mentioned, I guess this is it. One UI looks good, animations and transitions are done well, and I can finally say that I am kind of starting to like Samsung’s take on Android, over stock Android or for that matter Oxygen OS.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Hardware

Shifting gears, let me now tell you about the phone’s hardware. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE features the Exynos 990 SoC under the hood, which is coupled with 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of UFS 3.1 onboard storage, which by the way is expandable to up to 1TB via a microSD card. 

Sadly, no Snapdragon 865 on this phone, but when did Samsung ship a flagship device in India with a Snapdragon processor? So, while I haven’t had the opportunity to play with the Snapdragon variant of the Galaxy S20 FE, I can say that the performance on the Exynos variant has been good for the most part. More details ahead.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Performance

Let’s get the benchmarks out of the way. In Antutu, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE reported a score of 487090, while the phone’s single-core and multi-core scores in Geekbench were 911 and 2709 respectively. AndroBench results that show the phone’s sequential read and write speeds, reported a score of 1527.38 MB/s and 668.44 MB/s respectively.

In real-world usage of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, I didn’t come across any major issues. Opening apps was fast and the phone could handle heavy multitasking with ease. The Galaxy S20 FE was quite responsive for the most part. But as I mentioned earlier, I could see those slight stutters and delays, whenever I switched from a heavy app to the homescreen. 

I played Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends at high graphics settings and the Galaxy S20 FE was able to run both these games without breaking a sweat. The only problem is that over longer gaming sessions, the back panel, specifically near the camera module does get warm to the touch, which did make me feel a little uncomfortable holding the phone over long stretches of gameplay. 

I really feel that in general usage, the Exynos 990 chipset is able to handle everything that you throw at it, but that’s not the problem. The problem is with overheating, and this is an area where Samsung really needs to put in their efforts and come up with a solution.  

Moving on, I have already told you that the Galaxy S20 FE comes with a stereo speaker setup, and I have to say that its output is pretty loud and clear. During my testing, I found the master output to be very good with beautiful sounding lows and mids. Vocals sound crisp and clear, and overall, these are one of the loudest speakers that I have seen on a smartphone. Wireless audio performance was great as well.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Battery and Connectivity

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE packs a 4,500mAh battery which supports fast charging, wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. You get a 15W charger bundled inside the box. 

Despite having a fairly large battery, endurance isn’t a strong suit of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. While you can make the phone last a full day without any major problems, it is only possible if you set the screen refresh rate to 60Hz. But then again, if you have a 120Hz screen at your disposal, why would you want to use 60Hz? 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Refresh Rate

With my usage, I was only able to manage a full day worth of use with the display set at 120Hz, that’s it. Giving short battery top-ups before sleeping had become somewhat of an everyday routine since I was never confident that the phone would make it to the next morning. Speaking of which, standby times are a mess on this phone. Every morning, I’d notice a dip of around 15% in the battery, and the result was the same even when I tested the phone while the screen refresh rate was set to 60Hz. 

Consistently charging the Galaxy S20 FE from about 20% at all times to all the way up to a 100% took me about 80 minutes using the supplied 15W charger. 

As for the good part, throughout the review period, I tested the Galaxy S20 FE on Jio 4G, and I have to say that I didn’t come across any issues regarding the call quality or network performance. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Cameras

We finally come to the most exciting part of this smartphone, the cameras.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Rear Camera

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE features a triple-camera setup at the back that comprises a 12-megapixel f/1.8 primary camera with OIS. This is coupled with a 12-Megapixel f/2.2 Ultrawide camera and a 12-Megapixel f/2.4 telephoto camera that’s capable of 3x optical zoom. At the front, the Galaxy S20 FE one-ups the regular Galaxy S20 and offers a 32-Megapixel f/2.2 front camera for selfies. While the cameras sound to be formidable on paper, are they up to the mark in real life?

In daylight conditions, the primary camera was able to capture excellent shots with good colour reproduction and details. Autofocus was quick and objects even at a distance were sharp and well defined.

Daylight Shot

Daylight shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

Daylight Shot

While shooting human subjects, especially in Live Focus, the camera does a very good job of maintaining the skin texture and overall sharpness. By the way, I really appreciate the fact that you can play around with the blur intensity in Live Focus mode even after taking the shot. 

Live Focus shot

Live Focus shot

Live focus shot

Live focus shot

For that matter, I’d like to point out that somehow I feel that portrait photography is done so well on Samsung flagship phones, that other manufacturers should definitely take note. I mean clicking human subjects is relatively easy for phones, but objects, not so much. Let me give you an example.

During this pandemic, I have been working from home and part of my job involves clicking thumbnail images or story images for publishing on the website. Trust me I have struggled to click good photos using my iPhone 11 Pro’s portrait mode. For that matter, my Pixel 2 XL, which is about 3 years old now, clicks better portrait photos than my iPhone (in my opinion). The thing is, both these phones struggle with edge detection. So, the other day, I had to click a photo for the website, and at the time I was already reviewing the Galaxy S20 FE. As usual, I took out my iPhone 11 Pro and started clicking images for the thumbnail. You know what? I wasn’t able to get a good shot. Below you can check the photo taken from the iPhone in portrait mode.

Portrait mode on iPhone 11 Pro

Portrait mode on iPhone 11 Pro

So, that’s when I thought why not try clicking the photo from the Galaxy S20 FE? Believe me, when I say this, I managed to get the main image in a single go. Below you can check the photo taken from the Galaxy S20 FE using Live Focus. 

Portrait mode on Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Portrait mode (Live focus) on Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Moving on, close-ups were once again excellent. Details were superb on the focus area while the natural depth of field looked very pleasing to the eye. 

Close-up shot

Close-up shot

Close-up shot

Close-up shot

The telephoto camera also takes some well-detailed photos while using the 3x optical zoom. It’s good to see consistent colours in images taken from both the primary camera and the telephoto camera.

Telephoto shot

Telephoto shot (3x optical zoom)

Telephoto shot

Telephoto shot (3x optical zoom)

That said, I am not a huge fan of the 30x space zoom feature that Samsung advertises. According to me, it is nothing more than just a gimmick. 

Telephoto shot (3x optical zoom)

Telephoto shot (3x optical zoom)

Telephoto shot (30x space zoom)

Coming over to the wide-angle camera, well, I have no complaints with the colour reproduction, I mean just look how beautiful the photos look. The only problem is that since the wide-angle camera is using a small sensor, the images lack detail when you zoom in. 

Wide-angle shot

Ultra wide-angle shot

Wide-angle shot

Ultra wide-angle shot

Wide-angle shot

Ultra wide-angle shot

Now let’s move on and talk about low-light image quality. Shots taken from the primary camera are decent but the photos taken using the telephoto and the wide-angle cameras are plain average. They lack detail, grain and distortion are quite evident. 

Low-light (primary camera)

Low-light (primary camera)

Low-light image (telephoto camera)

Low-light (telephoto camera)

Low-light image (ultra-wide camera)

Low-light (ultra-wide camera)

But then there’s night mode. First things first, photos taken in night mode take a lot of time to process. This was something that really tested my patience. But the end result was simply amazing. Images taken with night mode look sharp and detailed in comparison to the general low-light shots. Colours reproduction is good and I simply can’t deny that the photos, at least to my eye look very pleasing. Rest, you be the judge. 

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

On to the front camera, selfies taken in good lighting conditions came out with excellent details and good colour reproduction. Skin textures are maintained well while the dynamic range is on point. The Live Focus mode once again does a fine job of separating the subject from the background. 

Indoor selfie

Indoor selfie

Outdoor selfie

Outdoor selfie

Outdoor selfie (Live focus)

Outdoor selfie (Live focus)

That said, the low-light selfie camera is plain average. The camera struggles to maintain consistency and the resulting shots look muddy and grainy. The screen flash does help in getting a better image, but the overall output is still meh! But, it’s the night mode that once again saves the day.

Night mode shot

Night mode shot

Night mode shot (Live focus)

Night mode shot (Live focus)

Talking about the phone’s video capabilities, both the front and rear cameras are able to shoot 4K video at 60fps. In terms of the final output, I have no complaints from the camera when it comes to details, colour reproduction or dynamic range, those are done well. My problem is with the movements. Whenever I used to pan, I felt there was a slight judder in the footage. Also, when moving the camera around while shooting, the movements for some reason didn’t look natural.

As for the low-light video quality. I’d say don’t expect much, since the output is just satisfactory. While colours and details look okay, you can’t ignore the visible grain and noise in the recorded footage.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Verdict

At a selling price of Rs. 40,999, at the present moment, the Galaxy S20 FE is a steal. I mean there’s a lot going in the favour of this smartphone. The device is proof that Samsung can still make good phones with top of the line hardware and offer it at a relatively low price.

For what it’s worth, the Galaxy S20 FE comes with a fantastic 120Hz OLED display. It is designed well and feels solid in the hand. It also has a great pair of stereo speakers that offer an immersive audio experience. And its cameras perform exceptionally well in good lighting conditions. Coupled with One UI 3.0, and I cannot see a reason why would anyone skip and purchase any other phone at this price range. If you can look past the camera’s average video recording performance and somewhat okayish battery life, you won’t regret purchasing the Galaxy S20 FE. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE_Final

So, can this phone be called the new flagship killer? I guess yes. One of the closest competitors to the Galaxy S20 FE is the OnePlus 8T. And apart from the faster fingerprint sensor and the glass back found on the OnePlus phone, I can’t think of anything special that makes the 8T better than the S20 FE. For that matter, after using the Galaxy S20 FE, I actually prefer One UI over Oxygen OS. And I say this because I am a huge Oxygen OS fan, and in between the two I really feel that currently, Samsung is the better pick. What do you guys think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Our Latest Videos

Prev 1 of 134 Next
Prev 1 of 134 Next


Aman Rashid
aman.rashid@u2opiamobile.com

Aman is a content producer for Mr. Phone's YouTube channel, based out of New Delhi. He's a true blue sneakerhead; he likes to watch all the random movies and tv series you can throw at him; he loves all things tech, and is a huge Dragonball fan. In his free time, you'll mostly find Aman going on lone long-drives.