Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 4G First Impressions: Function over Form
It’s fair to say that Samsung was blind-sided with the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Every device maker’s smartphone sales have been affected by the pandemic, and this is natural—consumer spending is down because of the decrease in purchasing power. However, Samsung has been affected more than Huawei or Xiaomi, for example. The company’s decision to raise the pricing of its flagship Galaxy S20 series this year came at a bad time. The flagship Galaxy S20 Ultra’s $1,399/₹97,999 price tag raised many eyebrows, and even the regular Galaxy S20 and the Galaxy S20+ experienced steep increases in pricing. According to multiple reports, the Galaxy S20 series has sold in significantly lesser amounts than its predecessors. The decline in sales was such that Samsung lost its position as the top global smartphone vendor to Huawei. The Galaxy Note 20 series brought an ultra-expensive Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and a surprisingly hobbled regular Galaxy Note 20. Samsung needed something more effective in terms of pricing, and to deliver on the need, the company has gone back to basics by launching the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition).
Samsung first used the Fan Edition branding with the Galaxy Note 7 FE, bringing back the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 with a revised edition because of fan demand. Three years later, the company is bringing back the branding for the Galaxy S20 FE. Names don’t necessarily mean much, though; the Galaxy S20 FE could easily be called a Galaxy S20 Lite, and it is actually that in all but name. In some ways, it can be taken as the successor to the Galaxy S10 Lite, which was released earlier this year.
The Galaxy S20 FE is available in different 4G and 5G variants. The 5G variant is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (not dependent on region), while the 4G variant makes do with Samsung’s own Exynos 990 SoC. Interestingly, the 5G variant comes with only 6GB of RAM, while the 4G RAM variant comes in 6GB RAM and 8GB RAM variants depending on regional availability. In India, Samsung has chosen to launch only the 4G variant in a single 8GB RAM + 128GB storage variant, which is what we have here today for quick first impressions. This 4G, Exynos 990-equipped model is also sold in the UK and other countries in Europe.
|Specification||Galaxy S20 FE 5G||Galaxy S20 FE 4G|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865||Samsung Exynos 990|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Front Camera||32MP f/2.0||32MP f/2.0|
|Android Version||One UI 2.5 based on Android 10||One UI 2.5 based on Android 10|
About this preview: Samsung India sent the 8GB RAM + 128GB storage variant of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (SM-G780F) to us. I have used the phone for six days now, and this is my first impressions preview. Our full review will be published next week. Samsung had no input on the content of this article.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE – Design
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE has an interesting design. From the front, it looks just like the Galaxy S20. In terms of size, it falls in between the compact 6.2-inch regular Galaxy S20 and the mid-sized 6.7-inch Galaxy S20+. It’s quite a bit smaller than the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which has a behemoth 6.9-inch display. The size will be optimal for a large subset of smartphone users, but I was mildly disappointed with Samsung’s choice of a tall 20:9 aspect ratio. For this screen size, I think 19.5:9 would have been better, and 19:9 would have been optimal. As it is, the display width here feels a little cramped for me, coming after months of using 6.7-inch+ phones.
From the front, it was also a bit disappointing to see the bezels, which are noticeably larger than those seen on the Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra. Interestingly, they are also larger than Samsung’s own previous affordable flagship phones such as the Galaxy S10 Lite (review), Galaxy Note 10 Lite (review), and even the lower mid-range Galaxy M51. The screen-to-body ratio is 84.8%, which is on the lower side for phones today (the Galaxy S20+ has a 90.5% screen-to-body ratio, for reference.) Another downgrade here is the presence of Gorilla Glass 3 on the front. As I said in my Galaxy M51 review, this is not something that makes sense apart from a cost-cutting reason. For an affordable flagship, the lack of something like Gorilla Glass 6 is a sore omission. On the other hand, the hole punch front camera is small, smaller than the one used in the Galaxy M51, and smaller than OnePlus’ front camera in the OnePlus 8 Pro, for example.
It’s not as if there aren’t any positives here, though. The Galaxy S20 FE uses a flat display, and that is a plus in almost every practical use case. Yes, it doesn’t look as futuristic as a curved display, but in terms of usability, it’s still better than even the mildly curved display on the Galaxy S20 series in terms of accidental touches, glare, and more.
The sides are polished aluminum that looks and feels like glass. The aluminum frame on the sides is noticeably thin as the back and sides are aggressively curved. The back is where we find the real differences from the Galaxy S20 series. The triple camera enclosure is placed at the top left, with the camera lenses being designed like the lenses of the Galaxy Note 20 series and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (review). The back’s material itself is noteworthy. It’s matte plastic with a soft touch texture that feels surprisingly OK. It feels noticeably plastic, but it’s also noticeably better than the glossy, fingerprint-prone plastic that Samsung uses in the cheaper M-series and A-series phones.
Other reviewers have compared the Galaxy S20 FE’s plastic material to the one seen on the regular Galaxy Note 20. While I can’t condone a plastic back on a phone with a $1,000/₹77,999 price tag, it is significantly more palatable on the Galaxy S20 FE, which has a significantly lower price tag (£599/$699/₹49,999). For the price, I would have preferred a matte glass back as seen on the OnePlus 8 Pro (review), as that feels significantly more premium in the hand. Plastic presents a different set of trade-offs: It’s much more durable than glass, but it doesn’t feel as nice as glass, generally speaking.
The Galaxy S20 FE’s other design features include having the capability to do wireless charging with 15W fast wireless charging, IP68 water resistance, and the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. It does feature a microSD card slot, which is of the hybrid variety (dual-SIMs or a single-SIM + microSD).
The box package of the Galaxy S20 FE is bare-bones. Samsung is bundling only a 15W Adaptive Fast Charger with this phone with a Type-C to Type-A cable, although the cheaper Galaxy M31s and Galaxy M51s both feature a 25W USB Type-C PD 3.0 charger with PPS and PDO. The phone does support 25W fast charging, but you will have to buy a charger separately. At a time when even lower mid-range phones costing ₹14,999 feature 65W ultra-fast charging, I fail to see how Samsung can get a free pass for bundling a 15W charger in an affordable flagship in late 2020. This wouldn’t have been a great move in 2019; in 2020, it only passes off as cutting too many corners. The company also doesn’t bundle any earphones or a case, while the Galaxy S20’s box package contains wired USB Type-C earphones as well as a generic transparent case.
Overall, the design of the Galaxy S20 FE is acceptable. It won’t win any awards for innovation, but at the same time, it features a usable, practical design that won’t need a case so much as a phone with a glass back. It’s still disappointing to see Samsung regress in key areas such as bezels and bundling fast chargers, though.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE – Initial Thoughts
My initial thoughts with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE have led largely in one direction. For the price tag of ₹49,999/£599/€649, this phone is undoubtedly a very good phone, fit for 2020’s pandemic-stricken smartphone market. As far as Samsung’s affordable flagship phones go, it is excellent. With features such as a 120Hz AMOLED display, a flagship choice of SoCs, a primary camera borrowed from the Galaxy S20 (although with different image processing), and a 4,500mAh battery—ithe Galaxy S20 FE has all the makings of a successful value flagship.
At the same time, however, the phone has to contend with a field of competitors that is quickly getting better. The upcoming OnePlus 8T, the OnePlus 8 Pro, the Xiaomi Mi 10T, Mi 10T Pro, and the Mi 10, and the ASUS ROG Phone 3 (review) are all competitors that have better specifications in a few areas, although they won’t match Samsung’s brand name. In our upcoming review of the Galaxy S20 FE, we will attempt to answer the following questions:
- How good is the display of the Galaxy S20 FE? Does the lack of QHD+ resolution make a noticeable difference? In terms of display quality, is the panel a top-quality display with respect to brightness, contrast, viewing angles, and color accuracy?
- The performance of the Exynos 990 SoC. We have done a deep-dive on the Exynos 990 in our Galaxy S20+ review and examined its gaming performance in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review. In the eight months since the Galaxy S20’s launch, has the Exynos 990 aged poorly? Can its real-world performance compare favorably with that of Snapdragon 865-powered phones such as the OnePlus 8 Pro?
- The cameras. The primary camera may be lifted from the Galaxy S20, but Samsung has made quite a few image processing changes since the Galaxy S20’s launch, and not all of them have been for the better. How does the 12MP camera with 1.8μm pixels hold itself to that of Quad Bayer cameras such as the 48MP OnePlus 8 Pro? The ultra wide-angle camera has a smaller sensor than the Galaxy S20’s ultra wide-angle camera, while Samsung has moved to a 8MP camera with a true telephoto lens (73mm) to achieve nearly 3x optical zoom instead of having a 64MP secondary wide-angle camera on the regular Galaxy S20 and S20+ that used crop sensor zoom to achieve 3x “hybrid optic zoom”. How does the telephoto camera hold up to that of the Galaxy S20’s? How well does the night mode work in all cameras?
- 120Hz + Exynos 990. It wasn’t a great combination for battery life on the Exynos variant of the Galaxy S20+. Is it the same for the Galaxy S20 FE 4G?
- How well does the phone’s overall value proposition compare to that of its competitors?
To learn the answers to these questions, stay tuned for our full review, which will be published next week. For now, the Galaxy S20 FE 4G has held up promisingly in some respects, while showing predictable weaknesses in other areas.