When Samsung first unveiled the Galaxy S20 FE, my initial reaction was “this could be the Galaxy S20 for the average Joe.” After all, it ticks the basics – at least on paper – a 120Hz refresh rate, decent battery, good set of cameras, and flagship processor. But I forgot that high expectations could lead to big disappointments. While the Galaxy S20 FE seems like the perfect S20 on paper, the real-world performance is quite different. Despite the presence of flagship-grade features, it doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and gets somewhat in a sea of very capable rivals. Samsung has “pulled off a Samsung” with the 4G variant of the phone. But what exactly “pulling off a Samsung” imply? Well, read our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review, and you’ll know exactly what I mean by that phrase.
Note: This is the Exynos 990 variant of the Galaxy S20 FE. It is not the 5G model.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Design
The Galaxy S20 FE is built on the blueprint of the Galaxy S20 series. Of course, it is less premium than the pricier offerings launched earlier this year, thanks to the usage of ‘glastic’ back instead of glass. Now, plastic doesn’t always have to be inferior to glass, and this one isn’t. It has a frosted finish that gives the smartphone a premium look. You might not know it is plastic if you look at it from a distance. Further, it allows the device to weigh less and the size fits well in the palm.
However, the finish is not that of a flagship
However, the finish is not that of a flagship. On the Galaxy S20 series, the glass is flush joint with the aluminum frame but on the Galaxy S20 FE, there is a minute gap between the rear panel and the frame on the sides. It is only noticeable if you look at it closely, but it’s there. I happened to drop it from a table, and thankfully, it came out unscratched from the fall. The plastic could actually turn out to be more durable than glass.
It comes with a similar design as that of the Galaxy S20 series including the camera module, button placements, and the port arrangement. The left edge is clean with no functional elements, as the power button and volume rockers all positioned on the right edge. The former is placed exactly where my thumb rests, and I love the reachability on offer here. The buttons are a bit thin for my taste but that’s just a pet peeve of mine! On the top lies the SIM/memory card tray whereas the USB-C port and speaker are located on the bottom.
We received the Cloud Mint variant for the review. It doesn’t attract fingerprints and is easy to clean. I haven’t noticed any major scratches on the back in my two weeks of usage. However, I can notice small scuffs at the corners of the rear panel, which have appeared by simply placing the device on a table or hard surface. This is something that my colleague Nadeem also mentioned in his Galaxy M51 review, but that device costs almost half as much. Samsung doesn’t provide a case in the box. I recommend you to hide this beautiful device in a case to avoid scuffs and scratches from daily usage.
The Galaxy S20 FE features a 6.5-inch flat Infinity-O display that offers FHD+ (1080 x 2400) resolution and a 407 PPI pixel density. The curves are gone, and I’d say it’s for the good. If you’ve been following my takes, you’d know by now that in my opinion, curved displays make your phones look good but they lose out on practicality. I prefer the flat panel.
There is a centered punch-hole following Samsung’s Infinity-O design language. As I mentioned in my Galaxy M31s review, the software forms a black ring around it when the camera is active, like in video calls. It translates to an ugly round dot. Moreover, it blinks at times when I’m looking at the screen or browsing the web. However, it doesn’t cause any hindrance while consuming media.I watched an entire season of The Office and came out impressed with the visual experience, thanks to the AMOLED panel’s quality.
The 6.5-inch display is clear, the colors are vibrant, and it is bright with good legibility under sunlight. I had no problem booking cabs or paying for my favorite coffee outdoors. Moreover, the 120Hz refresh rate is variable, meaning that it changes depending on the task you perform. Overall, it’s smooth and gets the job done. Even in low light scenarios, I have no complaint with this display.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Performance
I’ve been using the Indian variant of the Galaxy S20 FE. It is powered by the Exynos 990 SoC, paired with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage with up to 1TB microSD card support. Here’s where the company has pulled off a Samsung.
You see, the South Korean giant has had a history of launching Exynos variants of its flagships in India, while the US market gets the units powered by the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors. I’ve talked to a few of my peers who are testing the Snapdragon variant of the Galaxy S20 FE, and they’ve had absolutely no problem with their units. Meanwhile, for me, my Exynos-powered review unit was heating with normal usage itself. The upper half of the device started heating up while browsing the web or switching between social media apps. If it had been heating due to excessive gaming, it’d be understandable but heating with normal usage itself is something that shouldn’t happen, especially with a device priced at INR 49,999.
That said, the performance was snappy. I didn’t face any lags or stutters in the UI. I played Asphalt 9, and it took a while to load but the gameplay was smooth. The audio performance is handled by a single bottom-firing speaker. It is not the best out there but gets the job done. For comparison, my OnePlus 7T gets louder than the Galaxy S20 FE. However, the audio doesn’t break at high volumes and it is good enough to be heard while consuming media. As for call quality, it was clear for me, and the person on the other side was able to hear me clearly as well.
I had some issues with WiFi connectivity. When I toggled on the WiFi, it wouldn’t connect 7 out of 10 times. I had to go to WiFi Settings and tap on my network, it showed ‘Incorrect Password’ but tapping on it again connected me to the network. Further, the fingerprint sensor is unreliable at times. It reads my thumb 3 out of 5 times.
Another department where the Galaxy S20 FE takes a hit, thanks in no part to the Exynos 990 chip is battery life. This has been a disappointing experience. I expected the 4,500mAh battery to last me an entire day but it didn’t.
I expected the 4,500mAh battery to last me an entire day but it didn’t.
What’s worse is that it takes forever to charge! Samsung bundles a 15W fast charger with the device but it can be charged at 25W. I used a 25W fast charger and it took the device over two hours to go from 10% to 100%. Other devices in this range offer better fast charging solutions.
The Galaxy S20 FE gave me a Screen-on-Time (SOT) of 4 hours and 20 minutes on an average. My usage includes browsing and jumping between social media apps with a lot of Twitter. Moreover, the idle battery drain is super bad. It depletes about 15%-20% of battery while I sleep. It isn’t acceptable and this is the worst I have faced in 2020. For instance, I left my phone at 20% before going to bed, and woke up with just 4% juice left in the tank. And, it switched off while I looked for my charger to plug it in. Notably, no application was running in the background, and this idle battery drain was consistent in my 2-week usage.
The device also supports 15W fast wireless charging, but I wouldn’t rely on it to charge fully. Again, it takes a lot of time to charge. The Galaxy S20 FE also supports Wireless PowerShare to charge other devices like a pair of earbuds or a smartwatch. If you use this feature, I doubt your phone will last you an entire day. Overall, the battery life of Galaxy S20 FE is below average at best.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Software
The Galaxy S20 FE runs One UI 2.5 based on Android 10 out of the box. It is the same as Samsung’s flagship devices including the Galaxy Note 10, Note 10 and Galaxy S20 series. Hence, not much is new here to discuss. The UI allows plenty of customizations. From changing the size of grids on the home screen to changing themes, fonts and more, it has all of it. Out of the box, the device comes preloaded with over five Samsung apps. The company is already testing One UI 3.0 based on Android 11 for this device.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Cameras
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE sports a triple rear camera setup. There is a 12MP primary camera with OIS and an f/1.8 aperture. It is accompanied by a 12MP ultra-wide angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture and an 8MP telephoto sensor with OIS, 3x optical zoom, and 30x Space Zoom, which is basically hybrid zoom. Fortunately, Samsung isn’t playing the number game here by offering 2MP macro or depth sensors. There’s plenty of flexibility on offer.
The camera UI is similar to the one you’ll come across on the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note20 series. You get features like Single Take that allows you to capture up to nine different types of photos/videos with a single press of the button. It is fun to use, and the results can be pretty impressive at times. You also get live focus video, pro mode, pro video, panorama, food, night, super slow-mo, slow-mo, and hyperlapse.
Primary camera shots
The primary camera clicks solid pictures. The white balance is accurate in broad daylight. Plus, the colors are not oversaturated, and there is no noise in daylight.
Primary camera at dusk
However, it is a different story at dusk. There is a ‘pink’ problem with the primary camera here. It clicks pictures and processes them with a tint of pink. You can see in the above picture, the dog is visibly pink. It’s not a Pokemon, it was a normal dog.
As for human subjects in indoor lighting, the camera smoothens the skin and hair. If you have a beard, it will look like an oil painting post-processing. There is room for improvement in images clicked under indoor lighting.
There are plenty of zoom options available here. You get 0.5x with the wide-angle lens, 1x with the main lens, and 3x optical zoom with the telephoto lens. Further, you can go up to 30x hybrid zoom. As for the image quality, the results are good up till 3x zoom, and the images are usable till 10x zoom but after that, the results suffer from noise.
At 0.5x you also get some optical distortion.
Coming to the selfies, the front 32MP shooter clicks good quality images. It can be used to take regular and wide-angle shots for normal selfies as well as portraits. The edge detection in portrait shots is average. The color reproduction in indoor lighting is good, and unlike the primary rear camera, it produces comparatively sharper images but the details could be better.
You can shoot up to 4K in 40 FPS with this device. The results are adequate for regular video needs.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review: Conclusion
I expected the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE to be a phone that I would be able to recommend whole-heartedly when it launched. But after using the device for over two weeks, the on-paper specifications haven’t translated to real-life performance.
There are two major letdowns with this device. First, it heats up in the upper half with normal usage. Secondly, battery life is below average. Plus it takes a long time to charge, which is unfortunate by 2020 standards. As I said, the company ‘did a Samsung’ here.
Having talked to my reviewer friends in the US, I can safely say that it could have been a different story with this device had Samsung launched the 5G variant with Snapdragon SoC in India. For now, I’ll not be able to recommend this device. At INR 49,999 you expect your phone to last an entire day but the Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t.
If you are in the market for a compact Samsung smartphone, you can look at the Galaxy S10 Lite. It costs less, has decent cameras, good performance, and lasts an entire day. However, you’ll lose out on a high refresh rate. If you want the latter too, the Galaxy S20 Plus is now on sale for INR 49,999. The Xiaomi Mi 10 is a decent competitor as well.
The Galaxy S20 FE is built on the footsteps of the Galaxy S20 series. Of course, it is less premium than the pricier offerings launched earlier this year, thanks to the usage of ‘glastic’ back instead of glass. Overall, it has good fit in hands, flagship performance with heating issues, decent cameras but most importantly, it disappoints with underwhelming battery life.