The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a budget-friendly addition to the Galaxy S21 series. Is the time for the release of this new $699 smartphone, however, already closed?
It's an important subject to explore because the Galaxy S22 range — Samsung's next set of flagship smartphones — is just around the way. That means the Galaxy S21 FE invites comparisons not only to other Galaxy S21 versions but also to Samsung phones that may be in our hands in as little as a month. Even smartphone buyers who are holding out for the reduced price of the S21 FE may be persuaded to wait a little longer to see if the Galaxy S22 delivers considerably enhanced features.
That is a question that will have to wait until the Galaxy S22 makes its debut, which is expected to be in February during a launch event. For the time being, our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review reveals a smartphone that doesn't compromise too many features from the Galaxy S21 series but doesn't come with the price cut you were probably looking for. See Specification
Editor's Note: We've updated our hands-on with camera tests, a battery update, and an initial rating.
Top Features of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
- It is $100 less costly than the Galaxy S21.
- For comparable performance, it uses the same Snapdragon 888 chipset as the Galaxy S21.
- The 8MP telephoto lens isn't as crisp as the 64MP lens on the S21, but you can manually change that 4,500 mAh battery, which is the same size as the one on the Galaxy S20 FE, but the screen shrinks significantly (6.4 inches vs. 6.5 inches)
- Among the graphite, white, and olive versions, lavender is the best color option.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Price & Availability
The Galaxy S20 FE's pricing — it came at a $300 savings over the Galaxy S20 — was a key part of its allure. However, after slashing pricing on the Galaxy S21 series last year, Samsung found it more difficult to sell the Galaxy S21 FE at such a significant discount from its major flagships.
The Galaxy S21 FE begins at $699 in the United States. That's $100 cheaper than the Galaxy S21's launch price from last spring; depending on the Galaxy S21 offers available, you could even be able to find last year's flagship for less. Unless Samsung boosts the price of the next Galaxy S22 — which is a possibility, according to speculations — the Galaxy S21 FE won't be much cheaper than Samsung's newer flagship.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Design
With Samsung switching to a plastic-based polycarbonate construction for the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus, it's clear what material the phone maker will choose for the Galaxy S21 FE. It's plastic, and although that's not really a significant difference from the S21, there's no attempt to hide what this phone is made of. The Galaxy S21 FE has a professional appearance thanks to a haze coating on the rear, but this phone isn't going to fool anyone into thinking it's a premium smartphone.
The contour cut design that houses the back camera array is one of the Galaxy S21 FE's finest design touches. While there is a bulge holding the strip of vertically aligned lenses, it blends in with the phone's side, making the array appear less noticeable.
But I wish the sides of the Galaxy S21 FE were a little more noticeable - unfortunately, they're fairly slippery, making the phone difficult to grip. Within a few hours of receiving the Galaxy S21 FE, the phone had already slid from my grasp a number of times, and only my cat-like reflexes saved it from falling to the ground.
The Galaxy S21 FE, like the ordinary S21, has a fingerprint reader built beneath the display. The sensor is simple to detect thanks to an overlay that shows when the phone is locked, and it's certainly more responsive than the Pixel 6's pokey unlocking mechanism.
The Galaxy S21 FE incorporates another Galaxy S21 feature that may irritate certain customers. There is no microSD card slot, as there was on the Galaxy S20, so the capacity on the phone you purchase — whether 128GB or 256GB — is all you receive.
My evaluation unit's blackish graphite hue is by far the least intriguing of the Galaxy S21 FE's four-color possibilities. The phone is also available in lavender, olive, and white. Lavender is the most visually appealing option in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Display
The Galaxy S21 FE, with a 6.4-inch screen, fits between the 6.1-inch S21 and 6.7-inch S21 Plus in the family lineup, and the display, like both phones, has a 1080 x 2400 resolution and a refresh rate of 120Hz.
Another resemblance is the Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen tech, which is essentially a Samsung marketing phrase for a sort of AMOLED panel that originally appeared in the Galaxy S20 phones. To paraphrase a lot of technical jargon, it means the screen is brilliant and bright, and based on our experience with the phone, we absolutely agree.
The Galaxy S21 FE's screen is its strongest asset. Colors, contrast, and brightness are all excellent, and it makes watching TV shows or playing games on the phone a pleasure.
A cut-out for the front-facing camera at the top edge breaks up the display, but it's not too large, so not much real estate is wasted.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Cameras
Despite significant differences in specifications, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE's camera performance is mostly comparable to that of the S21 and S21 Plus. We'd even say there are significantly more similarities than differences.
The main snapper here is a 12MP main camera, which, like the 12MP ultrawide, is a carryover from the S21. However, whereas the S21 features a 64MP telephoto camera, the S21 FE just has an 8MP one.
This telephoto lens is lower-resolution than the S21's, but it's combined with the same lens, which allows for 1.1x optical or 3x hybrid zoom, so the apparent decrease won't make much of a difference for most people.
The phone has a 32MP camera on the front, which is an upgrade over the 10MP on the previous S21 variants, but the resolution isn't always the be-all and end-all of photo quality.
Pictures taken with the main camera were incredibly vivid, which is quite typical for photographs taken on a Samsung phone - it's clear that the brand's scene optimization software has never heard of oversaturation. Nonetheless, the primary camera's skills make images seem instantly social media-worthy, especially in well-lit scenarios.
We also like how the images from the three cameras shared a color profile - many phone cameras don't have these in sync, so switching between a zoom and a conventional photo might impact how colors and brightness seem. We could ensure that no matter what zoom level we used for the S21 FE, the hues will appear the same.
Many photographic and videography modes from prior Samsung phones are available here, like Single Take, which records a shot on multiple lenses at once so you can choose the best, and Dual Recording, which lets you record video on both the rear and front cameras at the same time.
Camera Samples & Comparison
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Performance
Many of this year's top-tier Android phones will have Qualcomm's newest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, but the Galaxy S21 FE will be a year behind with 2021's Snapdragon 888 hardware. On the plus side, the Snapdragon 888 is the same system-on-chip that powers the whole Galaxy S21 family, so performance should be comparable. And the three S21 phones were among the finest Android phones we've tested in the last year.
When you choose the FE, you do so at the expense of the remainder of the Galaxy S21 portfolio. Samsung provides less RAM, with the 128GB basic variant of the Galaxy S21 FE sporting only 6GB as opposed to the ordinary S21's 8GB. This has an effect on the ability to swiftly move between programs, but not so much that you'll notice a significant latency.
Certainly, I was able to move between apps on the Galaxy S21 FE without any difficulty. I also liked how the phone handled some highly demanding apps without a hitch. On the Galaxy S21 FE, I played PUBG Mobile, and the game performed well without compromising any of the first-person shooter's beautiful visuals.
Our benchmark tests for the Galaxy S21 FE mirror my experience. We achieved a multi-core score of 3,199 when we performed Geekbench 5 on the new Samsung phone. That's not as impressive as the ordinary Galaxy S21's 3,302 scores on that general performance test. The OnePlus 9, a similarly priced Snapdragon 888-powered phone with 12GB of RAM, received a 3,618 score. With a multicore score of 2,696, the Pixel 6, which is powered by Google's Tensor hardware, trails the Galaxy S21 FE.
In graphics tests, the Galaxy S21 FE outperformed the Galaxy S21. In the 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited test, both Samsung phones produced 34 frames per second. That is also the score obtained by the OnePlus 9 and Pixel 6. It's worth mentioning that the iPhone 13 with its A15 Bionic CPU beats all of these Snapdragon 888 smartphones, with a result of 55.9 frames per second. Nonetheless, the message here is that the Galaxy S21 FE can compete with the greatest Android phones.
With compatibility for both mmWave and sub-6Ghz 5G, the Galaxy S21 FE, like any other Galaxy S21 model, should function on any 5G network in the United States.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Software
The Galaxy S21 FE is powered by Android 12, with Samsung's One UI 4 skin on top. The key difference between Android 12 and earlier versions is enhanced customization, notably the option to choose a color scheme for the menus and icons, which One UI 4 supports.
The FE's RAM, CPU, and screen refresh rate should make navigating the menus a pleasure, but that wasn't the case in our testing. Swiping between home pages, accessing applications, and unlocking the phone seemed slow, especially when using gesture navigation. Using the phone menu's search to find a certain app was very sluggish.
Not everyone will notice or care about this since the phone isn't sluggish by any means, but it's worth noting that the phone isn't as fast as you'd expect given its specifications. We'd be remiss if we didn't flag this up as tech reviewers.
We should also note out that this sluggishness was limited to the phone's menus. When utilizing applications, the phone felt quite responsive.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Battery life and Charging
The Galaxy S21 FE comes with a 4,500 mAh battery, which is the same capacity as the battery in the phone's predecessor. With a little smaller screen and a more power-efficient processor powering the new phone, you'd think battery life would be improved over the Galaxy S20 FE's mediocre performance.
While we're currently completing our battery testing on this phone, the first results aren't promising. The battery should last a day of typical use, but intensive use may deplete it faster, especially if you increase the 120Hz refresh rate in the Galaxy S21 FE's display settings. The official battery test results may be more promising.
Samsung has increased the charging speed from the Galaxy S20 FE to up to 25W charging on the S21 FE. After half an hour, a depleted phone should be at 50% charge. My Galaxy S21 FE returned to a 46 percent charge in that time, however, I wasn't able to conduct the test with a 25W charger.
This is due to the fact that Samsung does not provide a charger with the Galaxy S21 FE, as it does with other S21 models. There are entirely valid environmental reasons for this move, but it places the responsibility on users to already have a charger capable of supporting the speeds of the Galaxy S21 FE or to purchase one along with the phone. A Samsung 25W charger will cost you between $20 and $35.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Specification
|NETWORK||Technology||GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE / 5G|
|2G bands||GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 - SIM 1 & SIM 2 (Dual SIM model only)|
|CDMA 800 / 1900 & TD-SCDMA|
|3G bands||HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 1900 / 2100|
|5G bands||SA/NSA/Sub6 - International|
|SA/NSA/Sub6/mmWave - USA|
|Speed||HSPA 42.2/5.76 Mbps, LTE-A (5CA) Cat19 1600/200 Mbps, 5G|
|LAUNCH||Announced||2022, January 04|
|Status||Available. Released 2022, January 07|
|BODY||Dimensions||155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm (6.13 x 2.93 x 0.31 in)|
|Weight||177 g (6.24 oz)|
|Build||Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), plastic back, aluminum frame|
|SIM||Single SIM (Nano-SIM) or Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)|
|IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins)|
|DISPLAY||Type||Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+|
|Size||6.4 inches, 98.9 cm2 (~85.3% screen-to-body ratio)|
|Resolution||1080 x 2400 pixels, 20:9 ratio (~411 ppi density)|
|Protection||Corning Gorilla Glass Victus|
|PLATFORM||OS||Android 12, One UI 4|
|Chipset||Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm) - Version 1
Exynos 2100 (5 nm) - Version 2
|CPU||Octa-core (1x2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3x2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4x1.80 GHz Kryo 680) - Version 1
Octa-core (1x2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3x2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4x2.2 GHz Cortex-A55) - Version 2
|GPU||Adreno 660 - Version 1
Mali-G78 MP14 - Version 2
|Internal||128GB 6GB RAM, 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM|
|MAIN CAMERA||Triple||12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/1.76", 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm (telephoto), 1/4.5", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom
12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123˚ (ultrawide), 1/3.0", 1.12µm
|Features||LED flash, auto-HDR, panorama|
|Video||4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, gyro-EIS|
|SELFIE CAMERA||Single||32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.74", 0.8µm|
|Video||4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60fps, gyro-EIS|
|SOUND||Loudspeaker||Yes, with stereo speakers|
|COMMS||WLAN||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot|
|Bluetooth||5.0, A2DP, LE|
|GPS||Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO|
|USB||USB Type-C, USB On-The-Go|
|FEATURES||Sensors||Fingerprint (under display, optical), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass|
|Bixby natural language commands and dictation
Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified)
|BATTERY||Type||Li-Ion 4500 mAh, non-removable|
|Charging||Fast charging 25W, 50% in 30 min (advertised)
Fast wireless charging 15W
Reverse wireless charging
USB Power Delivery 3.0
|MISC||Colors||White, Graphite, Lavender, Olive|
|Models||SM-G990B, SM-G990B/DS, SM-G990U, SM-G990U1, SM-G990W, SM-G990E|
|SAR||0.77 W/kg (head) 0.90 W/kg (body)|
|SAR EU||0.95 W/kg (head) 1.48 W/kg (body)|
|Price||$ 799.99 Buy at Amazon|