Head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

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'FE' in the name here refers to 'Fan Edition' and, although Samsung didn't bring back the 3.5mm audio jack, they certainly stepped up their game in terms of appealing characteristics at a sensible price. The S20 FE is new in for review and a detailed comparison with the Lumia 950 XL is here below - I'll do an imaging shoot out too, don't worry!

Galaxy S20 FE and Lumia 950 XL

Galaxy S20 FE and Lumia 950 XL

As a reminder, the original S20 series arrived over-priced, over-fussy, and over-fragile. The FE fixes all of that making it a shoe-in for the most sensible Samsung Android flagship one can buy right now, I'd argue.

As usual, just for fun and curiosity, I've shaded in green an obvious 'win' for either device. Any row where a winner would be totally subjective is left uncoloured. Or, where all devices are utterly excellent but in different ways, I've given each a 'green'(!)

[By the way, if you're viewing this feature on a phone then the table may well cause you problems. Try viewing in landscape mode? Failing that, go view this on a laptop or tablet!]

  Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G
Date first available November 2015 September 2020 
Current price, availability No longer officially for sale, though it's often on clearance prices if you're lucky and at outrageous profiteering prices due to rarity (if you're not!) £600 (or a non-5G version for £500, all specs the same apart from cellular bands and an Exynos chipset)
Dimensions, form factor, weight 152 x 78 x 8mm, plastic chassis and replaceable backs (plastic/leather/wood etc, from Mozo, as modelled here, though you'll have to look on the clearance market and eBay at this stage), 165g, bezels are comparatively small

 

160 x 74 x 8mm, 190g, slightly taller and narrower, but noticeably heavier
Durability No specific durability metrics, though the fact that the back comes off will help enormously for water damage, i.e. taking out battery and cards immediately, drying out the internals, even unscrewing the motherboard from the guts of the phone. I'm old-school here! All damage to the back or corners is trivial through replacement of the rear, but the screen's exposed, of course. The plastics used should absorb shock and, anecdotally, I've never bothered putting a case on any Lumia. Just saying. I think that fact is significant. IP68 certified for dust/water. The plastic back has to count in the FE's favour in comparison to other modern flagship phones - no back glass to crack! Plus the Lumia's parts aren't always available anymore, which also has to be taken into consideration. 

 

Operating system, interface Windows 10 Mobile, (dismissable) virtual controls, as needed, now officially updated to W10 Fall Creators Update (Redstone 3, Autumn 2017) with security to 'January 2020'.

Android 10, Samsung's One UI 2.5, November 2020 security, gesture controls available, or navigation buttons on-screen (the default).

Display  5.7" AMOLED (1440p at 16:9 aspect ratio, matching most video media), Gorilla Glass 4, ClearBlack Display polarisers help with outdoor contrast, excellent viewing angles. Screen area is approximately 88 cm2

Glance screen available (in various colours) for always-on time, day and notification icons, plus some detailed info from a specified app.

6.5" 1080p 120Hz Super AMOLED display, 20:9 ratio, Gorilla glass 5(?), screen area is roughly 101cm2

Excellent colours and contrast, even better than the Lumias, gets even more of a win here for the high refresh rate - I can't see the difference but then I'm relatively old(!) Young eyes will immediately see smoother scrolling.

There's an 'Always on' 'Glance' display with time, date and battery status.

Connectivity LTE, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 4.2 (all uses).

Continuum connectivity to use a wide range of first and third party UWP apps on external displays as secondary screen, independent of the phone display. Includes the NexDock 2, transforming the Lumia into a Windows 10 S laptop, effectively. Though, not, curiously, the newer NexDock Touch!

LTE, 5G, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac/6, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.0 (all uses). Plus the DeX Desktop, which is more than the equal of Continuum, including working with the NexDock Touch, so a clear win overall.
Processor, performance Snapdragon 810 chipset, 3GB RAM, faster than it's ever been now on the Fall Creators Update though still slower for almost everything than on the Android phone. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
Snapdragon 865, 6/8GB RAM (depending on variant), lightning fast at everything
Capacity 32GB internal storage, expandable via (cheap) microSD to extra 256GB 128/256GB, microSD expansion is available
Imaging (stills) 20MP PureView f/1.9 1/2.4" sensor. Phase Detection auto-focus, dedicated camera shutter button and launch key, 1.5x lossless digital zoom (in 8MP oversampled mode, and lossy digital after that), OIS. 'Rich Capture' produces customisable HDR shots and 'dynamic flash', with triple LED illumination. Outstanding shots in most light conditions, with just focussing issues in low light as an Achilles heel.

12 MP, f/1.8, 1/1.76" main camera, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
8 MP, f/2.4, 1/4.5", PDAF, OIS, 3x telephoto
12 MP, f/2.2, 123˚ ultrawide, 1/3.0"

An imaging shootout is coming up...

Imaging
(front/selfie)
5MP front camera 32MP, f/2.2 front camera, way better than the Lumia's.
Imaging (video) Up to 4K, optically (and optionally digitally) stabilised, with 'Best photo' 8MP grabbing built-in, plus Rich Recording and HAAC microphones for high quality, gig-level stereo capture. Up to 4K/60fps stabilised video capture and high quality stereo audio capture. 
Music and Multimedia
(speakers)
A tinny mono speaker by modern standards, though as ever you can trade volume for fidelity in a simple tweak on Lumias. Terrific stereo speakers, imbalanced physically, but tuned pretty well and with Dolby Atmos enhancement if needed.
Music
(headphones)
3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+AptX, plus a decent internal DAC, so great wired and wireless headphone audio too.  A2DP, AptX via Bluetooth or plug in a Type C DAC for best results. I do miss a 3.5mm jack on a so-called 'Fan Edition' though!
Navigation  Windows 10 Maps is now pretty mature and impressive, especially once you've learned the live traffic routine trick! Offline maps save a lot of data bandwidth for those on tight contracts or anyone in a low signal (data) area. But it's all looking a little neglected in 2020 compared to the bells and whistles in Google Maps. And even live traffic is now becoming erratic.

 

Google Maps is now the gold standard in phone navigation, tied in with many other Google services and offering true real time navigation around traffic issues, even at local level, along with offline maps that auto-update.
Cortana/Voice Cortana was in theory now mature and well integrated, though functionality has been falling away and most attempts to rouse her end in failure in 2020. Google Assistant is available via voice or swipe, and works well, far superior to the dying Cortana in 2020, due to the investment that Google has put in over the last few years. There's also Samsung's Bixby, which is the default voice assistant, but happily this is easy to disable.
Battery, life  Removable 3000mAh battery, and the ability to change cells are a positive here (and you CAN still buy decent spare batteries), plus USB Type C Power Delivery (up to 3A, so 15W) and 1A Qi wireless charging built-in also helps. However, a Lumia running Windows 10 Mobile will now discharge in 24 hours even if you don't use it much, so it's a win here with caveats!
Sealed 4500mAh battery, gets easily through a day, with charge to spare. Type C port supports 25W wired charging via Power Delivery standard. Plus 15W Qi charging and 4.5W reverse wireless charging (for accessories). So a sealed battery, but... everything else is top notch on this front.

 

Cloud aids Windows Photos syncs at full resolution and quality across all signed-in devices, subject to your OneDrive tariff (stingy, unless you have Office 365 - most of us do, hence the 'win' here), should you have thousands of images in the system. Plus Windows 10 backs all your media, application data and settings to a separate backup folder system, tariff-free on OneDrive, for easy restoration on a new or factory reset phone. Google Photos does a great job of organising photos and syncing them across all signed-in phones and tablets, albeit at 'reduced' quality (re-compression server-side). Plus there's a local Gallery application with its own editing facilities and with a link to OneDrive, in case you want to go all Microsoft and not use Google's services.
File compatibility As with all Windows phones, plugging into a Windows PC gives full drag and drop to the phone's user file system. Plugging into a Mac is more problematic, though seems to work under Catalina. Plugging into any PC gives immediate MTP file access, plus this works on a Mac on all OS versions, with Google's Android File Transfer utility, for drag and drop of all user files. Seamless and lightning fast.
Biometrics  Iris recognition ('Windows Hello') works well unless you wear varifocals(!), but takes a couple of seconds (including an animation!) in real world use. There's also no official way of paying in shops using this. The optical fingerprint sensor is about 90% reliable, unlocking and working to authenticate transactions too, as you'd expect, with Google Pay or in the Play Store. It's much better than the ultrasonic sensor used in the previous S10 and S20 models - so hopefully this is a step forwards for Samsung after two years in the biometric doldrums.

 

Applications and ecosystem  Windows 10 Mobile had most (though not all) mainstream apps and services covered, though some are dropping away now - see my guide! Often third party clients are involved, mind you, there are companies who hate Microsoft so much that they simply refuse to write for Windows, it seems. And 'long tail' niche/boutique apps are hard to find for real world companies and shops. The might of Google and Android's app ecosystem - everything is available and almost always in first party form. 

 

Upgrades and future Windows 10 Mobile is now effectively out of support. From now on, it will be useable but with more and more service caveats applying. Still, 'end 2019' was a full four years since the Lumia 950 XL was launched, so it's hard to complain. Samsung has an excellent track record at supporting its phones, so let's assume that this will get good support through 2022. And hopefully through 2023. 


Verdict

Adding up the green 'wins' (for fun?!) gives a whopping 16-2 win to the much newer device, which is completely overwhelming - with devices like the FE it's clear how far behind the Lumia is in the smartphone world now. 

PS. I've shot test photos on each and an imaging shootout is next.