Monday, May 27, 2024

REVIEW | Samsung Galaxy S20 FE in 2023

There are new models of phones being released every year; so, does it make sense to buy a current midrange phone from the likes of Realme and Vivo, or is it wiser to buy an older model from Samsung that was a top-notch smartphone experience?

To answer that question, we will be taking a look at the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G. This particular model was heralded by many reviewers as the best phone of the year when it was released. After spending several months with the S20 FE 5G as a daily driver, here are my thoughts on how it stacks up in 2023.

Design and Ergonomics

The S20 FE retains the minimalist design ethos of the S20 but replaces the glass rear with textured plastic. It’s a substance Samsung calls Glasstic and it does not feel like cheap plastic. It’s slim, and has comfortable curved edges, making for a comfortable in-hand experience.

The frame is aluminum, with a mildly shiny chrome look, and the front is covered by Gorilla Glass 3. The test unit was a shade of matte dark blue called cloud navy, with the blue being evident in daylight.

As expected with Samsung phones, it has an impressive Super AMOLED screen, measuring 6.5 inches, which looks great. The resolution is full HD at 1080p, with 120Hz high-refresh and support for HDR10+ content.

Moving to this phone from a flagship Huawei P20 Pro, it’s noticeable that this screen is a step-up in terms of how rich and vivid the colors look. Not to mention the 102Hz screen that is very fluid and gives a sense of ultra-responsiveness.

Power and volume buttons are on the left, nothing on the right, with the SIM tray atop. A USB Type-C connection is at the bottom, placed between an AKG-tuned speaker and a mic. There is an in-screen fingerprint scanner that works without hassle.

Specs and Performance

Powering the S20 FE is the Snapdragon 865 5G octa-core processor, with Adreno 650 GPU. Ram and storage come in three flavors, a 6GB/128GB variant, an 8GB/128GB variant, and the top-spec 8GB/256GB variant. The test unit is the former, with 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage.

These specs are in-line with midrange and upper midrange offerings. Based on the specs, this device should perform well, and indeed it did. Performance was snappy, and seemed very responsive; possibly also thanks in small part to the high-refresh screen.

There were just rare occasions when the phone stuttered when being used after being idle for extended periods. It likely has to do with switching out of some low-power state to regular operations.

The included speakers are good, with good audio playback; both loud and clear. The speakers in the earpiece doubled up for a stereo presentation. The audio quality was noticeably better than other midrange and even several flagship phones.

Given that it’s the 5G variant of the S20 FE, we tested 5G connectivity in Europe and were able to get great download speeds.

Battery and Charging

The battery has a capacity of 4500 mAh, and included in the box is a charger that is capable of charging at 15 watts. Sold separately is a fast charger capable of charging the S20 FE at 25 watts. 15-watt wireless charging and 4.5-watt reverse charging are also available, though not tested.

Battery life was quite good, easily lasting a day with light use. With moderate use, it still managed to hold up on most days without needing to be topped up. A 1-hour call on speaker for example only consumed around 7% of battery life.

That said, there are quite a few background apps that take a toll on battery life, even if you don’t have the screen on. Software suppression of background activities isn’t nearly as aggressive as some other brands’ implementations; but on the flip side, updates are timely and reliable.

Software and User Experience

The device ships with Android 10, with an upgrade path to Android 12. The UI is OneUI 4.1, but if you prefer a different skin you can always go with a launcher.

The Microsoft Launcher is great, and one that I have been using on the device for several months now. Patches and security updates are regular and happen routinely.  

Software collaborations like Microsoft Your Phone, or Link to Windows work flawlessly. This has been troublesome on some other devices, with it working sometimes but not always; but no such issues on the Samsung S20 FE.

The general software experience was polished and what you’d expect from a top-tier manufacturer like Samsung.

Camera and Optics

Camera specs on paper seem quite minimal, with the primary shooter being just 12-megapixel, a second 12-megapixel lens for ultrawide, an 8-megapixel lens for telephoto/zoom, and a 32-megapixel front camera for selfies.

Features include HDR and OIS. Don’t be disappointed by the specs though, as thanks to great software, photos are impressive.

Irrespective of the setting, be that indoors or outdoors, and in various kinds of light, the S20 FE consistently delivers great-looking pictures.

Even compared to older camera-focused flagship phones like the Huawei P20 Pro with its 40-megapixel Leica optics, the S20 FE produces more consistently good photos. The only exception is some low light conditions where the P20 Pro manages better detail.

Nature and landscape photos, especially those taken during the day are stunning.

Selfies lack heavy software beautification, so if you’re used to Chinese phones that use aggressive beautification, you may be a bit surprised to see more realistic results.

The S20 FE is capable of 4K video at 30/60 fps. Stabilization is only possible at 1080p though. Video results are also impressive, and share the characteristics mentioned above. Usual slow-motion functionality is also available.

Value and Competition

The S20 FE is now available at around P20,000 on Lazada, though the initial launch price was higher. Worth noting that it’s managed to hold its price quite well as other newer phones were released.

Samsung’s A53 with higher specs is currently available at a similar price, but camera results are often inferior to the S20 FE.

At a similar price, but much newer is the Poco F4 GT 5G; and if you’re willing to pay a bit more, at around P22,000 the OnePlus Nord 2T 5G, and Xiaomi 12 Lite are available. All of them boast newer, higher specs.  

Conclusion

Though not the latest model, it’s hard to fault the perfectly competent and well-rounded Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G. It’s no surprise that many reviewers picked this device as the phone of the year.

Having used it for several months, this was a great phone experience, a true jack of all trades. Comfortable to hold, fast, and takes great pictures. Unless you need the absolute best or newest phone, you’ll likely be very satisfied with the S20 FE in 2023.

  • Model: SM-G781B/DS
  • Price: P20,000
  • Verdict: An amazing all-rounder, that’s still relevant

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