Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Review: For the fans done right

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This year, the Samsung Galaxy S20 series has had a mixed reception. While the Galaxy S20 and S20+ may have been good smartphones, the Galaxy S20 Ultra did not do much to justify its higher price tag. The ‘FE’ in the Galaxy S20 FE stands for ‘Fan Edition’. And with this being Samsung’s last S20 branded smartphone for the year, it wants users to experience high-end features without paying a premium. Samsung has also thrown in a number of other remarkable specifications on the Galaxy S20 FE which are not even available on the Galaxy S20 Ultra in this region. So, does that make it the best Samsung smartphone to buy at present?

Design and build quality

To justify the smartphone’s lower price tags, sacrifices in build quality have definitely been made. The most noticeable of these is the smartphone’s in-hand feel. As soon as you pick it up, you will notice its plastic back or as Samsung likes to call it, ‘glasstic’. Personally, this feels like a major step down from a frosted glass finish for example. Thankfully, the frame of the phone is still made from aluminium with the front of the phone coming with dated Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection. Despite this though, I have not experienced any micro-scratches on the front glass nor any damage so this is a sacrifice I am happy with.

The ‘glasstic’ back panel of the Galaxy S20 FE could be a drawback to some

Giving credit to the ‘glasstic’ back, at least it is not something that attracts damage over daily use. In terms of size and dimension, the smartphone at 190g and 8.4mm thick feels like any other. There is no particular design trait that differentiates it aside from the smaller camera bump, which we will address a bit later. You find the usual suite of power and volume buttons off to the right edge, with a plain left edge. The top houses a secondary noise cancelling microphone and a SIM slot. Depending on whether you pick up the 4G or 5G variant of the smartphone, you will be able to house the relevant nano-SIM here. There is also support for micro-SD expansion here for those that need it.

Speed wise, we have no complaint with the in-screen fingerprint scanner

The bottom edge has one part of the stereo speakers, the Type-C USB port for charging and the primary microphone. Being a ‘Fan Edition’ smartphone, it would have been nice to see a 3.5mm headphone jack but alas it is not here. But a huge plus point for the Galaxy S20 FE’s build is that it comes with official IP68 water and dust protection. This gives you peace of mind from regular spills and usage underwater for 30 minutes. However, it would have been nice to see an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner to pair with the feature. Ultrasonic fingerprint scanners work with damp fingers which the optical scanner on the Galaxy S20 FE struggles with.

Display and multimedia consumption

While in hand feel is important, one would argue that display technology takes an even bigger priority. Here, Samsung has done a great job. You find a Super AMOLED FHD+ O-dot Infinity panel at 6.5-inches with a 20:9 aspect ratio. The panel is flat, supports HDR10+ content and has a super smooth 120Hz refresh rate. With this not being a Dynamic AMOLED panel, you will see slightly lower contrast levels compared to the other smartphones in the Galaxy S20 lineup. But this is not a huge deal breaker by any means.

Multimedia consumption on the Galaxy S20 FE is good

As for the resolution, the FHD+ panel means a 1,080 x 2,400 pixel resolution with a 407ppi. For those accustomed with QHD+ panels, you will be able to notice the slightest fuzziness in text. But given Samsung panels do not support both QHD+ and 120Hz refresh rates at the same time, you are not missing out on a whole lot with the Galaxy S20 FE.

The ability to have a full 120Hz refresh rate on the display of the smartphone is impressive

The bezels on the smartphone are compact and the flat display does not necessarily take away from impressiveness. I quite enjoyed watching a variety of content on the screen, whether that was via YouTube or Netflix. Moreover, the smartphone pairs nicely with its stereo speakers. We are glad to see Samsung throw in this feature into the mix too. You will likely be able to listen to your songs or any form of audio just fine in a medium sized room with good clarity and richness even on high volume settings.

Performance and software

Things get really interesting when it comes to the Galaxy S20 FE’s daily performance. If you do not know, the Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra all come with Samsung’s proprietary Exynos 990 chipset in the UAE. While more than capable for daily, its inferior performance in certain areas over the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor is well known worldwide. In light of this, the Galaxy S20 FE being available with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor is a huge deal. But you have to keep something in mind. The 4G variant of the smartphone still ships with the Exynos 990 processor whereas the 5G variant, which is Dh200 more expensive comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865.

Multitasking, gaming and general performance show no signs of slowing down

As far as other internals are concerned, you find up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. The latter especially helps with faster install times and reading data from photos in your gallery. But more than that, the combination is able to handle everything you throw at it. Editing pictures, videos or hardcore multitasking works flawlessly here. In my usage, I have not had an issue whatsoever. Only on one occasion, two weeks into usage, the smartphone froze on my as I was trying to take a screenshot but this was fixed with a simple reboot.

We wish the smartphone got more software updates to constantly refine the user experience

Software wise too, you are looking at fairly up to date visuals. The smartphone comes with OneUI 2.5 draped over Android 10 with all of Samsung’s optimisation thrown in. Something I do want to say is the the smartphone is still on its September security patch while I write this in mid-October so perhaps Samsung may want to address this and look at faster software updates. Access to the Always-On Display, a number of Samsung features and DeX work extremely well, with the same experience and fluidity as I experienced with the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, and in some cases, even better. Gaming is also a delight on the smartphone. Especially paired with the 120Hz panel, you get to experience some superb performance especially when games are optimised well to take advantage of the hardware. And I was particularly impressed because the phone did well maintaining temperatures too.

Camera capabilities

While many would expect sacrifices here, it does not seem like the Galaxy S20 FE makes any noteworthy ones. You find a triple-camera setup on a fairly small camera bump. First up is the 12MP wide lens with Dual Pixel PDAF and OIS. This does a good job of reliably taking photos no matter the situation. Even for close up images, it is able to focus on the subject with no issues for focus hunting. Complimenting this, you find an 8MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom and 30x Space Zoom. Personally, using this lens has been my favourite just because of how easy it is to quickly crop into a view using 3x optical zoom and take reliable photos. But if you take a lot of portrait images using this, edge-detection is not as immaculate.

The triple-camera setup on the Galaxy S20 FE is more than capable

To round up on the camera experience, you find a 12MP ultra-wide lens with a 123-degree field of view. While this gives you expansive coverage, you do suffer from a loss of sharpness and a fish-eye look when using this lens. That being said, all the three cameras work in tandem pretty well. I have no complaints with regards to dynamic range coverage and overall performance. Perhaps an added macro mode using the ultra-wide angle camera could have added even more value here.

In low-light situations, the phone can be a bit of a mixed bag. For scenic images, it does a commendable job, especially with the ultra-wide angle lens as well. Night mode can definitely elevate small details in a photo and you will be able to see that in the sample of the truck below, where its night mode counterpart was able to bring out all the detail in the grass and road. But the smartphone struggles to focus perfectly on a subject at times. Moreover, especially during night, the deviation in colour between the wide and ultra-wide lens is blatantly obvious.

On the front, you find a 32MP selfie camera

Moving to the smartphone’s 32MP hole-punch selfie camera, it does not quite have the same image processing. Here, skin tones can be a rendered a bit inaccurately at times and in complex HDR situations, the phone can struggle. But using night mode here, it really elevates details in your selfies and I think you will be very happy with it.

Battery life

Topping off with the Galaxy S20 FE’s battery life, there are more good things to be said. The smartphone comes with a 4,500mAh battery, with support for wired, wireless and reverse wireless charging. The charger bundled out of the box with the smartphone is a 15W one, although the phone is capable of charging at up to 25W. And a typical full charge cycle with the 15W charger takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Expect to see at least 9 hours of screen-on time on a regular basis with the Galaxy S20 FE

With general usage, the smartphone was able to deliver all-day battery life. This amounted to almost 9-10 hours of screen-on times on some days which is quite ridiculous running at the full 120Hz refresh rate.

We do not think you will need to charge the phone through the day unless you are heavily pushing its processing power. If you do run out of juice though, recharging might be slower than the competition. So, that could be seen as a drawback and naturally to make up for it, Samsung has decided to retain wireless charging.

Conclusion

If you look at the Galaxy S20 series as a puzzle, the Galaxy S20 FE is probably the most worthy piece to it. With the smartphone, Samsung has done everything right. Perhaps the only complaint for users may be in-hand feel however most of us end up throwing on a case on our smartphones anyway. For everything else whether that is the display technology, performance, optics or battery, the Galaxy S20 gets a massive recommendation. But if you are in the market for one, make sure you pay the extra to get the 5G version at Dh2,699, not only for its improved data speeds but also because of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor.