Tech review: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE might be the flagship smartphone for these trying times

Samsung has delivered a "lite" flagship smartphone - the Galaxy S20 FE.
Samsung has delivered a "lite" flagship smartphone - the Galaxy S20 FE.PHOTO: SAMSUNG

With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging and the economy battered, many consumers are likely to be tightening their purse strings.

Perhaps keeping that in mind, Samsung has delivered a "lite" flagship smartphone - the Galaxy S20 FE 5G. This "Fan Edition" gets a $800 price cut from the flagship S20 Ultra ($1,898) launched in March.

This means Samsung had to shed some features from the S20 Ultra. The phone comes with 8GB of system memory (instead of 12GB found in the S20 Ultra), a lower-resolution display (2,400 x 1,080 pixels instead of 3,200 x 1,400 pixels), a plastic rear (instead of Gorilla Glass) and an optical in-display fingerprint sensor (instead of an ultrasonic one).

The camera also gets a downgrade. The S20 FE features a rear triple-camera system instead of S20 Ultra's quad-camera system that comprises a high-resolution 108-megapixel (MP) wide-angle camera. The S20 FE's telephoto camera has only a 3x optical zoom, compared with the S20 Ultra's 4x optical zoom.

Images shot by the S20 FE are good, but not as good as those taken by the flagship. I snapped photos of the same day scene using both phones and found that the one taken by the S20 FE lacks the sharpness of the other.

But the S20 FE's night mode feature does not pale in comparison, with photos taken by both phones of the same night scene showing little difference in quality.

The S20 FE comes in six colours - blue (tested here), red, lavender, green, white and orange. The S20 Ultra is available only in grey and black.

Regardless of the colour you choose, you will get a nice matte rear finish that is resistant to fingerprints and smudges. Plus, there is not much of a camera bulge at the back, unlike the flagship phones.

I also like that S20 FE's flat display has no curved sides, which prevents accidental touching of the screen.

And with the smaller display, one-hand handling is more deft than with giant smartphones like the S20 Ultra or Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra.

The S20 FE features Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon 865 processor and supports 5G network, but only the Sub-6GHz bandwidth and not the mmWave bandwidth.

It is also rated at IP68, meaning that it is water-resistant down to a depth of 1.5m for 30 minutes. In other words, it can withstand a drop into the pool.

The S20 FE has an optical in-display fingerprint sensor, which is supposed to be slower in recognising fingerprints than the ultrasonic one in the S20 Ultra. However, I find that the optical sensor works just as well as the ultrasonic ones.

On the downside, the bezels of the S20 FE display are visibly thick compared with its almost bezel-less flagship cousins.

You can set the display's refresh rate between the standard 60Hz and the much smoother 120Hz.

Despite the lower resolution, the display still looks great with vivid colours and sharp details. I can feel the smoothness of the 120Hz refresh rate when playing games - for example, during Pokeball-throwing in the Pokemon Go mobile game. In-game transitions also load faster.

Shooter games like Free Fire and racing games like Asphalt 9 also feel smooth and speedy.

Performance-wise, the S20 FE is almost on par with the S20 Ultra. In the Geekbench 5 benchmark tests, the S20 FE chalked up 903 (single-core) and 3,191 (multi-core). In comparison, the S20 Ultra scored 917 (single-core) and 2,769 (multi-core).

Apps launch quickly and I do not experience lags in any of the operations I try - from mobile browsers to social media apps.

Packed with a smaller battery of 4,500mAh compared with the S20 Ultra's 5,000mAh, the S20 FE has a battery life that is expectedly not as good.

With the display set at the standard refresh rate of 60Hz, the S20 FE clocks 17 hours 40 minutes - an hour less than the S20 Ultra.

Still, its battery life is better than most smartphones. After my 12-hour workday with regular checking of e-mails, Facebook and Instagram, there is still around 55 per cent of juice left.

FOR

- Superb value for money

- Great 120Hz display

- Display has no curved sides that can trigger accidental touches

- Matte back resists smudges

- 5G-ready

AGAINST

- Images are not as good as those taken by the flagship phones

- Thicker bezels

TECH SPECS

PRICE: $1,098 (128GB, version tested), $1,168 (256GB)

PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (Quad-core 1.8GHz, Triple-core 2.4GHz, single-core 2.8GHz)

DISPLAY: 6.5-inch FHD+ Super Amoled, 2,400 x 1,080 pixels

OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 10

REAR CAMERAS: 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle, 12MP f/1.8 wide-angle, 8MP f/2.4 telephoto

FRONT CAMERA: 32MP f/2.2 (front)

MEMORY: 128GB/256GB (microSD expandable up to 1TB); 8GB RAM

BATTERY: Non-removable 4,500mAh

WEIGHT: 190g

RATING

FEATURES: 4/5

DESIGN: 4/5

PERFORMANCE: 4/5

BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 4.5/5

OVERALL: 4/5


Correction note: An earlier version of this story said the display can be set in either adaptive or standard mode. This is incorrect. You can set the display's refresh rate between the standard 60Hz and the much smoother 120Hz.

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