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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review second opinion: So close to being a OnePlus killer
Samsung is the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world. The Galaxy S series is not only the company’s flagship family but the flagship series of Android in general. As such, when the company launched the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, some may have thought it was just releasing a fun phone for its fans, at least based on the name (“FE” stands for “Fan Edition”).
Read also: Our original Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review
However, it’s likely Samsung had more nefarious purposes in mind for the Galaxy S20 FE. The phone’s features, design, and price put it in direct competition with the latest phones in the “affordable flagship” segment — most notably those from OnePlus. Although OnePlus has been around for about seven years, this is the first time Samsung has so aggressively tried to grab customers directly from OnePlus’ usual market.
As a long-time OnePlus fan, I wanted to try out the so-called “OnePlus killer” myself. I used the Galaxy S20 FE for about three days to get a feel for it.
In our original review of the Galaxy S20 FE, we mostly compared it to its $1,000 namesake. I think approaching it from a different angle, though, might make it a bit more clear just how good this phone is — as well as why Samsung still has work to do if it wants to steal all of OnePlus’ customers.
The gang’s (almost) all here
As I said before, our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review mostly compared the device to the vanilla Galaxy S20. The Galaxy S20 is, by far, the better phone of the two. It has better specs, a better build, better cameras — the phone is just better.
However, while recent sales have dropped the phone’s price, it still has a $1,000 MSRP most of the time. At $300 less without any discounts, the Galaxy S20 FE isn’t really in the same ballpark. The Galaxy S20 is a bonafide flagship, while the S20 FE is a premium mid-ranger. In that sense, comparing it to the Galaxy S20 isn’t really fair.
Related: Samsung Galaxy S series — A history of the biggest name in Android
Let’s look at the Galaxy S20 FE on its own. For $700, you’re getting a top-tier 5G-powered flagship processor in the Snapdragon 865, a high-refresh-rate display, and the quintessential rear camera trifecta (wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto). You’re also getting an IP68 rating, wireless and reverse wireless charging, and a MicroSD card slot. Let’s be real: that’s nearly everything a premium mid-range shopper wants and more.
Additionally, some aspects of the phone that Samsung considers cost-cutting moves actually benefited it in the end. The move to a flat display is a welcome one for many folks. The switch to an optical in-display fingerprint sensor didn’t hurt, either. Even the plastic back (don’t even think about calling it “glasstic”) is preferable when compared to the glass sandwich design which is so popular these days.
In fact, the only place where the Galaxy S20 FE comes up truly short is with the included RAM. At 6GB, that puts it way behind the competition in this space. Even the Google Pixel 5 has 8GB of RAM.
The point, though, is that the Galaxy S20 FE is the premium mid-ranger to beat in 2020. It’s not as good as the Galaxy S20, sure, but it’s not supposed to be.
OnePlus would call this a “Pro” phone
If you look at the spec sheets of the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, you can quickly spot the things that differentiate the two. The OnePlus 8 Pro’s wireless charging, IP rating, 120Hz display refresh rate, telephoto camera, and 1440p display are the big ones. These upgrades give OnePlus the leeway it feels it needs to charge $899 for the entry-tier OnePlus 8 Pro.
Isn’t it interesting, then, that the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE has almost all of those features for $200 less? By those metrics, the Galaxy S20 FE is a Pro-level device. Yet, it costs the same as the vanilla OnePlus 8 and $50 less than the just-launched OnePlus 8T.
This is where the Galaxy S20 FE gets interesting. It’s also something we only briefly touched on in our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review. When you compare the Fan Edition with the latest crop of OnePlus phones, you see that Samsung is offering a whole lot more for a comparably lower price.
Now, we could argue all day about whether this is Samsung being incredibly aggressive, OnePlus resting on its laurels, or both. Regardless, the Galaxy S20 FE puts every premium mid-ranger OnePlus has released this year to shame when it comes to overall value.
As a OnePlus fan, I gotta hand it to Samsung
Anyone who reads Android Authority regularly knows I’ve been a fan of OnePlus for a long time. To test out the Galaxy S20 FE, I had to set aside my OnePlus 7 Pro, which is my favorite Android phone ever made.
Normally, when I’m testing new phones, I start to miss the OnePlus 7 Pro within a few hours. Interestingly, that didn’t happen with the Galaxy S20 FE. I say this is interesting because I also own a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is head-and-shoulders above both phones by multiple metrics. However, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is so huge and heavy that I hate using it as my daily, no matter how powerful it might be.
I like the Galaxy S20 FE a heck of a lot more than any OnePlus phone launched this year.
The Galaxy S20 FE, though, felt great. It was ergonomically pleasing, powerful, smooth, and got terrific battery life. The fact that it came in my favorite color (red) didn’t hurt either.
Even my biggest pet peeve, the selfie camera display cutout, stopped wearing on me after about a day. Notably, I can’t say the same about my time with the OnePlus 8T, which has a similar display cutout. I think the fact that the cutout is centered on the Galaxy S20 FE — and thus far away from my notification icons — makes all the difference.
I certainly haven’t used every phone that’s launched in 2020, but the Galaxy S20 FE has quickly become my second-favorite of the year (my number one is the ASUS ROG Phone 3, even if it’s also too big to use as a daily).
Nice one, Samsung.
There’s still work to be done, though
As great as the Galaxy S20 FE is, my time with it did leave me wishing some things were different. Samsung deserves all the praise in the world for packaging so much phone into such a low price point, but there’s definitely room for improvement.
The biggest issue with the phone is the camera. Although the configuration is absolutely the gold standard (wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto), the quality I saw just wasn’t what I expect from Samsung. Under ideal conditions, the camera is fine. However, as soon as you throw a challenge at it, it crumbles. I realize that the Galaxy S20 FE by definition can’t have the same camera system as the Galaxy S20, but it should be better than this. Check out our original review of the phone to see some camera examples.
Secondly, the display isn’t up-to-snuff, either. The 120Hz refresh rate is lovely, and the 1080p resolution is totally fine for a phone in this price bracket. However, the color balance seemed wonky and there are some very obvious touchscreen issues. Samsung’s tried to fix the latter problem, but as far as I can tell it’s still happening.
Finally, One UI is still a bloated mess. I realize this is totally subjective so feel free to head to the comments and tell me how wrong I am. However, I’m pointing this out because Samsung is obviously trying to steal away OnePlus customers, and they generally love Oxygen OS. Since One UI is kind of the opposite of Oxygen OS, Samsung will need to do a lot of work making the One UI experience smoother and easier to navigate if it truly wants to win over OnePlus die-hards.
As evidence of this, the latest versions of Oxygen OS are more like One UI than any other previous versions — and OnePlus fans aren’t happy about it. If Samsung wants to convert OnePlus fans over to its side, One UI is going to need a lot of work.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review second opinion: More FE phones, please
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is proof that the company can create phones that one-up OnePlus while still being affordable. This phone might not be the “OnePlus killer” Samsung may have hoped it to be, but it’s damn close.
Related: Google Pixel 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Which is better?
Honestly, this phone should be celebrated by Samsung fans as well as OnePlus fans. For Samsung fans, this phone’s success could help push the company to reign in its ambitions for the Galaxy S series and better balance its value propositions. For OnePlus fans, this phone might light a fire under the company to up its game in the premium mid-ranger space. As far as I’m concerned, OnePlus has a lot to prove in 2021 if it wants to hold on to its users.
I’m very much looking forward to the next iteration of the Fan Edition series. I hope Samsung can increase the hardware quality a little bit — especially when it comes to the camera. I also hope One UI 3.0 will continue the trend of Samsung making its Android skin less chaotic. Who knows: if OnePlus continues to deliver disappointing devices in 2021, my next phone could be a Samsung Galaxy S30 FE.