Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE (LTE), which launched last year, has so far been a solid contender in the low-cost flagship segment. While it performed well in most of our tests, there were some drawbacks. It did get a bit warm under stress, and its battery life was just average; both things that the OnePlus 8T (Review) handled better at the same price level.
In 2021, Samsung decided on launching the 5G version of the Galaxy S20 FE (Review) in India, and it's called the Galaxy S20 FE 5G. It is basically the same phone, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor (and X55 5G modem) instead of the Exynos 990. Does the switch to a Qualcomm processor take care of the shortcomings we experienced with the LTE variant? More importantly, does investing in a smartphone with a year-old processor at this price level make sense in 2021? Let's find out!
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G is priced at Rs. 47,999 in India. Unlike the 4G model, it is available in a single 8GB RAM + 128GB storage configuration. Buyers can choose between Cloud Navy, Cloud Mint, and Cloud Lavender finishes. With a competitive price, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G takes on the OnePlus 9 (Review), ASUS ROG Phone 5 (First Impressions), and Vivo X60 Pro (Review), all of which are priced starting at around Rs. 49,999.
There are no cosmetic changes between the 4G and the 5G models of the Galaxy S20 FE. The phone looks identical to the 4G model and has the same button placement, with the power and volume buttons on the right. The primary speaker is placed at the bottom, next to the USB Type-C port and the mic. The earpiece speaker is hidden in a tiny slit at the top end of the display, and doubles up as the second speaker to offer stereo sound which is loud and clear.
The overall design looks clean and minimalist, with a colour-matched camera module that barely protrudes from the rear panel. The Galaxy S20 FE 5G has a metal frame that's sandwiched between a sheet of display glass on the front and a plastic panel on the back. The rear panel is curved to meet the frame on all four sides and has a smooth matte finish that feels premium. The glass covering the display is flat, which might have seemed like an odd choice last year, but feels at home next to the premium Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ (Review) smartphones which also have flat displays in 2021.
My review unit came in the Cloud Mint finish, and it showcases a mild yellow gradient when viewed at an angle. The matte texture is non-slippery and is good at rejecting fingerprints, but picks up dust quite easily.
The Galaxy S20 FE 5G, just like the 4G model, is also rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, which is a big deal given that several competing smartphones (that are priced a bit higher) do not offer this.
Compared to other phones available at this price level today, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G's processor is basically a year old. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor was announced in 2019 and started showing up in smartphones in the first half of 2020. It was the flagship processor used by nearly all smartphone manufacturers who were looking to push out the first wave of 5G smartphones in India.
While a year-old SoC isn't a big deal for the casual user, the jump from the Snapdragon 865 processor to the Snapdragon 888 is quite big in terms of performance, and other manufacturers offer the latter for only an additional Rs. 2,000.
Still, Samsung can justify its pricing because the Galaxy S20 FE 5G offers features that other smartphones in this price segment do not. The IP68 rating will let you take your smartphone for a dip in a pool, and 15W wireless charging is quite convenient. You can even reverse charge other smartphones or accessories at 4.5W. While these features might not count as necessities for most users, they do improve the premium smartphone experience.
The Galaxy S20 FE 5G runs Samsung's One UI 3.1, which is based on Android 11. Combined with the 120Hz refresh rate display, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G felt quite fluid in daily use. I felt no hiccups whatsoever when running native apps, third-party apps or switching between the two. There are plenty of preinstalled Samsung apps. The phone also comes with a few third-party apps from Microsoft and Facebook, but these along with several Samsung apps (like Samsung Shop, Samsung Members, Samsung Global Goals, Notes, Internet etc.) can be uninstalled if not needed. During the review period, I was not bombarded with ads or promotional notifications. I did receive the occasional notification from the Galaxy App Store, but these can be turned off in the system settings.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 may be a year old, but it's no slouch and offers reliable flagship-grade performance when it comes to regular tasks and gaming. The phone performed a lot better than the Exynos 990-powered Galaxy S20 FE in our tests (although some scores might not be directly comparable due to benchmark updates).
AnTuTu reported a score of 6,41,038, while Geekbench's single-core and multi-core results were 560 and 3,136 respectively. These are higher than what the Exynos-based model managed (4,62,330 in AnTuTu; 517 and 2,573 in Geekbench) but are lower than the performance figures we've seen from Snapdragon 888-powered smartphones in the same price segment.
Asphalt 9: Legends ran smoothly, with the graphics set to High Quality and 60fps mode enabled. The phone warmed up a bit during gameplay but did not get hot.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 is also quite capable of handling a game like Call of Duty: Mobile in terms of graphics. The game ran at Very High graphics and frame rate without a hiccup. However, I noticed some touch sensitivity issues and that dampens the experience in games that require a high degree of accuracy. There was noticeable lag when playing Call of Duty: Mobile and it appears that the 120Hz display (with a 180Hz touch sampling rate) could not keep up with my fingers. With this inability to accurately aim at a target, I ended up losing most of the matches that I played during the testing process.
The 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display showcases oversaturated colours when using the default Vivid screen mode. Switch it to Natural and the colours look quite dull but I found this a lot better. I wish there was a preset between the two modes which could have delivered colours that were a bit more restrained, especially for watching movies or shows.
The FHD+ resolution delivers a crisp 407ppi, which meant that everything from text to images and videos looked quite sharp. While the brightness was sufficient indoors, the display was barely legible outdoors under the afternoon sun. Samsung does not mention HDR in its spec sheet, but it seems to be supported.
In the display settings, one can adjust the screen's refresh rate, but it can only be set to 60Hz (for longer battery life) or 120Hz (for a smoother experience). During the review period, I usually kept the display running at 120Hz.
The Galaxy S20 FE 5G clocked 18 hours and 22 minutes in our HD video loop battery test, which is quite good for a premium smartphone. The Exynos model, with the same 4500mAh battery capacity, ran the same video loop test for 12 hours and 44 minutes, which is a bit low. In ordinary use, which included running social media apps, checking emails, an hour of calls and an hour or two of gaming with the display set to 120Hz, I usually ended the day with about 20-30 percent left, which is quite impressive.
In 2021, it is a bit surprising to find a premium Android smartphone with only a 15W charger in the box. Still, charging times were not too bad, with the battery charging up to 33 percent in 30 minutes, 51 percent in an hour, and 100 percent in 1 hour and 38 minutes. The smartphone does support 25W charging, but you will have to purchase your own charger.
While the camera setup remains the same as on the LTE model, the processor swap from an Exynos 990 to a Snapdragon 865, could lead to minor differences in photo processing and therefore the end result. So, I decided to put the Galaxy S20 FE 5G's cameras through their paces. As expected, the results were not too different from what we saw in our review of the 4G model.
The rear module consists of a 12-megapixel f/1.8 wide-angle camera, an 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto camera (3X optical zoom) and a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide camera. Selfies are handled by a 32-megapixel f/2.2 camera that shoots 8-megapixel binned images.
The camera interface remains the same as on any other premium Samsung phone running One UI 3.1. There are easily accessible controls that let you adjust the aspect ratio, timer, and flash, and switch between cameras. The list of default modes is customisable and the slots can be swapped and personalised as per a user's requirements.
The video mode lets you switch the video resolution with just two taps, which is quite convenient. The back panel near the camera module does get a bit hot when keeping the viewfinder on for about 10 minutes, but cools down quickly once you exit the camera app.
Photos shot in daylight came out bright, vibrant, and quite saturated. Whether you are shooting flowers, fruits, or even scenery, the colours pop quite a bit, which is typical of most Samsung smartphones. The dynamic range is quite good, but HDR processing does go overboard at times, resulting in a dreamy effect. The sharpness and details in photos are quite impressive for a smartphone in this price segment. Image quality and white balance remain consistent even when switching between cameras.
The smartphone features a telephoto camera with 3X optical zoom, which shoots crisp images in daylight. The same camera also doubles up as a macro shooter as it lets you get closer to the object compared to the primary camera. This is important, as there's no dedicated macro camera.
Portrait photos come out quite clean with good edge detection, but the Galaxy S20 FE 5G falters at times (with a noticeable halo), when the subject is not still.
Post sunset, photos came out a bit murky with slightly reduced dynamic range in the shadows, but they still looked quite good. The Night mode takes care of these minor shortcomings and keeps streetlights and bright spots from getting overexposed, while bumping up the brightness and details. The phone shot crisp photos in low-light scenes when Night mode was used with the primary wide-angle camera, but delivered only passable photos when used on the ultra-wide-angle camera.
Selfies in the standard and portrait modes came out quite sharp and clean with good edge detection in daylight, but turned out murky and lacked depth in low-light shooting scenarios. The night mode is also available on the front camera and did a good job of maintaining detail and giving a sense of depth to the selfies.
The Galaxy S20 FE 5G promises a lot in terms of video, and surprisingly delivers in terms of quality as well. Videos shot at 1080p and 4K (30 and 60fps) with the primary rear camera came out crisp and packed with detail, and were also well stabilised when walking. My only gripe was with the ultra-wide-angle camera, as it tended to overexpose scenes. The selfie camera also managed videos quite well and offers 1080p and 4K recording options. 4K video shot with the selfie camera lacked stabilisation and looked quite jerky. In low-light scenarios, videos shot at any resolution came out blurry and a bit noisy, but stabilisation was decent.
To the casual user, Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE 5G might not appear to be much of an upgrade given that it only adds 5G support to the spec sheet. This would have been fine if this phone had been launched alongside the 4G model in India in 2020, like it did in other parts of the world.
We have reviewed the 4G model and it's easy to tell that the Snapdragon 865 silicon makes quite a difference in terms of performance, and also doesn't heat up as much as Samsung's own Exynos SoC.
The Galaxy S20 FE 5G might be the most complete low-cost flagship offering in terms of features at the moment, given that it offers optical zoom, wireless charging, and an IP68 rating. These features, along with its vibrant OLED display, great cameras, good battery life and solid everyday performance make it a compelling option. However, it's hard to recommend to a gamer given its touch sensitivity issues.
If you are looking for performance, there are smartphones like the Xiaomi Mi 11X Pro (Review) and the iQoo 7 Legend that get you the Snapdragon 888 processor and faster charging from Rs. 39,990. If you can stretch your budget by Rs. 2,000, there's the OnePlus 9 (Review), which offers the Snapdragon 888 processor, an excellent display that can handle bright sunlight, faster charging, and no touch sensitivity issues when gaming.