The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE defies the ‘better late than never’ phrase: arriving about five months later than expected – and 11 months and a week later than the other phones in the Galaxy S21 family – the S21 FE is finally here, just a month or later for the next generation Galaxy S22.
Presumably, this is the entry-level Samsung Galaxy S21 range, with features and specs from the flagship S21 family, but at a lower price due to a few select downgrades that average phone users probably won’t notice. This phone isn’t Samsung’s first Fan Edition phone either (it should be noted that the Galaxy S20 FE proved to be quite popular).
Immediately the price is an issue. The S21 FE should be your family’s budget member (a fact indicated by the FE in the name) but arrives long after other phones in the S21 range are full price while others are discounted. You can get the Galaxy S21 – a now older phone with more impressive specs and features – for less (assuming you can find a good deal under $600).
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE pricing issue is unfortunate, as the mobile phone can be a tempting purchase at a more competitive price. You can currently get phones with the same processor, screen specs, and camera features for less.
But the price is not the only problem with the mobile phone. The phone – even with wireless charging – is quite slow to charge and also doesn’t last long enough between charges. Sometimes we had to download support to make sure the phone would last a whole day.
We also found that the software was quite slow and that swiping between menus, closing and launching apps, and simply unlocking the phone often took longer than on other phones. That’s a surprise given the phone’s processor, screen refresh rate, and RAM, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Samsung’s One UI behave like this.
To be clear, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE isn’t a bad phone, so we gave it a mixed score instead of a negative one. We found the S21 FE’s screen vibrant and bright, which made viewing content enjoyable. The powerful processor is good for gaming and the cameras were good for most of the photos we took.
If you can get the phone as part of a bundle, discount, refurbish, or use it, you may find the phone worth it. But for its launch price, it’s hard to recommend.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Price and Availability
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE went on sale on January 11, 2022, after being unveiled a week earlier at CES 2022, and retailers in the US, UK, and Australia offered various incentives to encourage purchases, including free headphones or credit in the store.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes in two storage sizes. The first is one with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage that costs £699 / $699 / AU$999, and there is also an 8GB RAM and 256GB storage model for £749 / $769.99 / AU$1,099.
The Galaxy S21 launched for $799 / £769 / AU$1,249 for 8GB / 128GB, but at the time of writing, we can easily find it for £649 / $549 / AU$949 (it was even cheaper during sales such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday).
Some Samsung Galaxy S21 FE deals might make it more affordable, but the discounts alone make the phone worth it.
Many mid-range phones like the Realme GT, Moto G200, Pixel 5, and iPhone SE (2020) cost much less and most have similar specs, making them more attractive.
So it’s hard not to feel that the price of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is way too high for what you get, especially if you can get the S21 for less.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Design, hardware, what’s in the box?
Just because this is the cheaper “Fan Edition” version of the S21 doesn’t mean it’s a small phone — far from it. It is larger than the base model Galaxy S21. In combination with a flat-screen, the shape takes up your hand. It’s about the same size as the Pixel 5a 5G and slightly smaller than the OnePlus 9 and Pixel 6. It’s the gold size that most people seem to like.
Big doesn’t mean heavy, though. Somehow, Samsung managed to save a few grams compared to the S20 FE (and the smaller S21). You probably won’t pick this phone up and compare the weight to every other model released this year, but you’ll still find that it’s neither too compact nor too heavy, reducing the chance of a phone in the face on those late nights. YouTube is smaller. or TikTok sessions.
The S21 FE inherits the styles of its previous siblings, without fan editing, with a few tweaks. The camera protrusion retains the same recognizable brand shape, but it’s plastic and forms part of the rear of this cheaper model rather than part of the frame – which, I should point out, is still metal. I like Samsung’s “glasstic” matte plastic, though, and it’s less fragile than glass (though more prone to greasiness and scratches). You can hear it bend a little when you try to turn it, but the phone is built solidly and feels like a premium Android device.
This sensitivity also extends to the screen. The S21 FE may be a budget flagship, but Samsung has one of the best displays I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not LTPO, so you don’t get benefits like dynamic refresh rate, but the S21 FE doesn’t seem to need that. It stays bright enough to wear in any environment (although given the season I’ve yet to test it against the full blast of the summer sun), it’s incredibly uniform with no gray spots or weird colors at night, and it doesn’t seem to shed shadows. bad crash on dark settings.
The color is good too, as is the aesthetics of the design: uniform, very thin bezels on three sides, and a slightly larger bottom bezel. Auto-brightness is good, with fewer errors than other phones. I wish the brightness options were more detailed at lower levels, but finding the right level is better than any Google Pixel. The sensitivity of the touchscreen is also good, without the problems that the S20 FE had.
In more mundane numbers and details, the 6.4-inch Gorilla Glass Victus display is “only” 1080p, but I think Samsung must have increased the fill level and sub-pixel size because the screen looks sharper than other panels. 1080p that I used, with fewer frills around the text. It’s also very smooth, with a refresh rate of 120 Hz. The new perforated camera cutout is larger than the S20 FE’s, and the silver accent ring is gone (which I did like), but those are minor points.
I’m picky when it comes to phone screens and I’m happy with the S21 FE’s screen.
The built-in fingerprint sensor also works very well. It’s an optical sensor, not ultrasonic like Samsung’s high-end phones, but it’s very reliable and fast (though possibly less secure). I have one complaint, though: it’s a little too far from the phone’s face, just above the chin, which is a little awkward to get right. The 2020 S20 FE was the same, but I would prefer the taller sensor, as with the rest of the S21 series.
The S21 FE has stereo speakers via the headphone jack and a trigger unit on the bottom. The balance between the two is good, both hands-on and not, but it’s the normal phone speaker situation: no real bass, heavy treble, a bit squeaky at high volumes. Loud enough for impromptu music when you find yourself gardening or want to hear it playing across the house.
The haptics here seems identical to the S21 series. That is Good (unfortunately for an Android phone), and a big update on the faint and mostly buzzing sound the S20 FE produced.
Like any other high-end phone these days, even if you spend more money you don’t get a charger in the box – just a handful of paper cards and manuals that you throw away or keep but never read, a one-meter cheap USB Type-C cable and a SIM eject tool.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Software, performance, battery life
Samsung’s Android 12-based One UI 4 may be a new version of Android, but it will look very familiar if you come from another recent Samsung phone. There are some deeper changes, such as Android 12’s new privacy improvement indicators and some minor UI changes. But Samsung isn’t rocking the boat between updates, and this isn’t the kind of major revamp Google’s Pixels got with Android 12.
If you haven’t used Samsung’s software for years, you’ll probably get used to the S21 FE pretty quickly. It doesn’t feel “stuck” or like Google Pixels, but it’s not the kind of menu-death experience Samsung phones used to be — although the settings menu can still feel clunky at times, like tapping the battery graph to access more detailed vision. But most of the more advanced features are in the Good Lock modules. Customization fans can download and customize them.
The biggest problems with Samsung’s software are now rooted in apps and the ecosystem. Sure, you have the Play Store and you can load whatever you want (this isn’t iOS, hooray!), but Samsung still insists on installing its own worse versions of basic apps — in some cases, making them deeper. going into integrations they don’t deserve.
That means you installed Samsung’s calendar app, Samsung’s voice assistant, Samsung’s keyboard app, and even Samsung’s app store (plus some Microsoft bloatware like LinkedIn and a preloaded Facebook app — raw). Samsung can make a good Android skin and great hardware, but the apps aren’t great. For whatever reason, Samsung keeps trying to make something out of Bixby, even if it’s bullshit next to Google Assistant, and the Samsung keyboard frustratingly interferes with correctly spelled words. Even Samsung’s launcher is probably worth replacing, and the rest of the built-in package is nothing to write home about, aside from perhaps the Notes app.
You’ll want to replace most of these built-in apps (with Google’s best versions in most cases), even if they don’t get the same deep integrations as Bixby’s case.
While replacing these apps, we should also warn you that we recently caught Samsung’s Galaxy Store distributing apps that can infect phones with malware. Since Samsung has just objected to its app store responsibilities, we only ask that you remove your apps from Google.
It’s also worth mentioning that OneUI 4.0 is still very new, and I’ve run into some flaws such as picture-in-picture errors – especially when using the S21 FE for navigation and exiting the navigation view in full screen. Samsung is one of the update kings right now, so don’t worry, and these kinds of issues will no doubt be resolved through updates.
In this regard, the upgrade situation itself must also be optimal. Samsung is now the fastest manufacturer to deliver security patches, many times better than Google itself, and Samsung has one of the longest update commitments, with three years of OS updates and four years of promised security patches. This phone can be upgraded to Android 15 depending on how Samsung configures this scheme.
Unlike some phones, this one is ready for the long haul, which extends to performance too – with one notable downside that I’ll discuss shortly. The S21 FE has last year’s Snapdragon 888. Now that it’s 2022, it may be “old” but it’s still very capable, especially at this price. The only slips and hiccups you should notice are inevitable, whether it’s a failed app or just Android itself. For productivity-oriented workflows, this is more than you need.
Even gaming is no problem, and the 1080p screen resolution helps a bit if you want to play a more demanding title at native resolution. I didn’t notice the S21 FE getting particularly hot during use, but the plastic back can insulate things a bit, and it’s winter so ambient temperatures are low.
There is one notable downside to the S21 FE’s performance, which is RAM: the base model comes with just 6GB. When it comes to multitasking, I found that apps further down the list needed to be restarted on the resume, although the situation wasn’t so tense that things like Spotify died in the background. Samsung’s Android skin also kills apps more aggressively than some other phones, so delayed notifications, and other more serious app crashes can occur.
This is a very poor rendering, anticipating strange behavior from background apps.
Bluetooth audio performance was fine for me, and the only issues I had were on audio devices that I know have poor signal strength, such as the OnePlus Buds. I don’t think you’ll have any issues with choppy playback or connectivity issues with better-performing headphones.
Battery life was good for me. Since Google stupidly nerfed how it shows battery usage on Pixels, I started using Accubattery to get a more universal sense of battery life across devices. With the custom, I can easily get two days of use and about eight hours of screen time per charge. More interestingly, I charged every other day and didn’t see it dip into the single digits very often – though I spend more time at home these days, as we probably all are. That’s great, and I think even relatively picky people who spend half a day playing games or watching short videos will be pleased.
That’s good because it doesn’t load very fast. Samsung says up to 25W, but the highest I measured was about 20W via PPS (and about 15 on a non-PPS charger). While this is similar to recent Pixels, the OnePlus surprises you.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Cameras
Sorry in advance. But because I’m immunocompromised and due to current events it’s getting harder to get a good variety of photo samples from different places so there’s not the usual variety of samples. Not that it matters much here, because the camera is not very special and almost corresponds to the S20 FE and S21 (outside telephoto).
While the S21 FE’s triple camera setup — a 12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, and an 8MP telephoto — is highly flexible, photos are rarely as impressive as they are on a Pixel 6. Samsung’s processing was significant a few years ago. improved. , but most hardware itself does not, and Samsung again lags compared to Google and others. In more practical terms, this means competitors take better photos at night and you may notice messy processing and loss of texture under certain conditions.
Interestingly, my biggest frustrations have been with how aggressively the camera switches to a crop from the primary sensor instead of using the hardware telephoto camera, and how muddy processing sometimes destroys the little contrast the sensor can get in low light. Colors can still tend to become oversaturated with Scene Optimizer enabled (on by default), but Samsung’s auto white balance managed to get some tough shots admirably.
Samsung will keep its ultra-exclusive high-end cameras, and while this phone is priced too low to benefit from a change, I think it’s probably time for the company to rethink its strategy. All of their other high-end phones ranging from the S21 FE here to the $1,800 Galaxy Z Fold3 take nearly identical photos, more or less honestly.
A handful of numbers and specs may vary – Samsung has swapped out the ultra-wide and telephoto sensors a few times over time on more expensive models – but this is the same primary IMX 555 that the S20 supplied in a configuration going back years with some tweaks. Granted, it’s a pretty flexible setup with a primary, ultra-wide, and a telephoto (3x optical and even 30x digital here), but I’d love to see some real upgrades to Samsung’s phones in the future, like bigger sensors.
Yet that is mainly a complaint about a higher price. Here, for $700, I think most people will be happy, although the Pixel 6 will take much better photos for $100 less if that’s your priority.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE – Should You Buy It?
It could be. The S21 FE is a beautiful phone with many features. The only issue I have with this is the value. When the S20 FE landed in 2020, it was a budget balm for the $1,000 Galaxy S20. But Samsung and everyone else has managed to cut prices this year, so the debut of the S21 FE for $700 makes sales more difficult.
For $100 more, you can get the entry-level S21, which has more RAM, a better telephoto camera, a slightly nicer build with the metal frame covering the camera’s protrusion, and more portable size – although the latter may not. is of benefit to everyone. On the other hand, for $100 less you can get the Pixel 6, which overall has a better camera (even with lost telephoto courtesy of a sensor crop), better software, more RAM, and useful features unique to Pixels like call screening, translation tools and more, although it has a worse screen.
In 2020, the Galaxy S20 FE was a slam dunk and contender for Phone of the Year, but in 2022, the S21 FE is ready for a completely different kind of celebration. The market has changed and the S21 FE now just bridges a gap between Samsung’s premium mid-range A-series phones and the Galaxy S. While the new Galaxy S21 FE is a good phone, it’s not of great value. It can be a good deal at a discount or through a carrier promotion, but full price is a hard sell.
- You can get a good deal through a carrier.
- A good display, battery life, and updates are priorities
- You can’t spend a little more on the S21, or you don’t like the cheaper Pixel 6.
Do not buy if:
- You want a great camera.
- You buy your phones without a contract at full price – that’s bad value for that.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Specifications
|Release Date||11 January 2022|
|Operating System||One UI 4.0 based on Android 12|
|Dimensions||74.5 x 155.7 x 7.9 mm|
|Weight||6.24 oz (177 g)|
|Display||6.4-inch, FHD+ resolution, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|Memory||6GB RAM with 128GB storage|
8GB RAM with 256GB storage
|Rear Camera 1||12MP, ƒ/1.8 aperture, Dual Pixel AF, OIS|
|Rear Camera 2||12MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture, ultrawide with FOV 123-degrees|
|Rear Camera 3||8MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture, 30x Space Zoom|
|Front Camera 1||32MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture|
|Security||Under-display Optical Fingerprint scanner|
|Connectivity||Sub6 5G, Samsung Pay with NFC, Bluetooth|
|Battery||4,5000 mAh, 25W wired charge speed, 15W wireless charge speed, Wireless PowerShare|
|Colors||Graphite, Olive, Lavender, White|