Samsung seems to have adopted the FE – fan edition – as a good thing, using it as a method of bringing another device to market with more aggressive pricing, once flagship models are out of the way.
As with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, the Galaxy S21 FE arrives as if popped out of the S21 mould, with a cheaper price, a few tweaks here and there, but very much the same experience.
The timing of the arrival of the Galaxy S21 FE raises a few questions: the S21 models aren’t much more expensive and the Galaxy S22 is about to launch, so how does this fit into the cycle?
Design and build
- 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm, 177g
- Plastic back
- Gorilla Glass Victus
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE carries the same overall design as the Samsung Galaxy S21 models, particularly the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21+. The size of this device means it sits between those two devices and the design differences are minor.
There is a slight difference however. The frame of the Galaxy S21 FE runs straight around the edges of the phone, while on the S21 and S21+, it extends around the edges of the corner camera bump too. Here the camera bump is moulded from the same piece as the backplate, more like the 2021 Galaxy A models.
The other minor difference is that the Galaxy S21 FE is pretty much flat on the rear, while the S21 models curve slightly into the frame on the trailing edge; given the size of the S21 FE, this doesn’t make much of a difference – indeed, we like the symmetry of the design.
The S21 FE will come in four colours – Olive, Graphite, Lavender, White – so there’s not the same variety that there was for the S20 FE, but we suspect the Graphite/black shown here will be the most popular.
It’s a good-looking phone and despite having a plastic back, it feels solid and the matte finish is welcomed.
To give some protection, there’s an IP68 waterproof rating, while the display is covered with Gorilla Glass Victus – which is the top grade from Corning and should help keep scratches off. There’s no factory fitted screen protector.
- 6.4in, 2340 x 1080, 120Hz
With a 6.4-inch display, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, as we said, slots in between the two smaller Galaxy S21 models. It’s a flat display, a single punch hole centre aligned at the top of the page.
As is customary from Samsung it’s an AMOLED panel – or Dynamic AMOLED 2X as Samsung calls it – with the choice of 60 or 120Hz refresh rates. This doesn’t have the same adaptive refresh rates offered by the Galaxy S21 models.
But it does carry with it that Samsung AMOLED look that’s so favoured in smartphones, with deep blacks and vibrant colours. We’ve not spent long enough with this device to fully evaluate the display, but first impressions are good.
One of the changes compared to the previous version of this phone is a reduction in the width of the top bezel (slightly).
One of the interesting things is that Samsung ships this phone with on-screen navigation as default, meaning you have to switch to Android’s gesture navigation in the settings if you would rather use that. The narrow bezel at the bottom of the phone makes gesture navigation a little more fiddly than some devices we’ve used – but we’ll see how we adapt to this over the coming days and weeks.
There’s also an in-display fingerprint scanner and this, so far, appears to be a good performer, quick to register prints and quick to unlock.
Hardware and performance
- Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100, 6/8GB RAM, 128/256GB
- 4500mAh battery, 25W wired/15W wireless charging
True to form, Samsung launched the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE saying that it was powered by a 5nm octo-core processor, rather than specifying the details. Again, it’s a device that might have Snapdragon in one location and might have Exynos in another.
For the Galaxy S20 FE this was simple – the 5G version was Snapdragon and the 4G version was Exynos. For the Galaxy S21 FE that distinction isn’t so obvious and it appears there will be both Snapdragon and Exynos versions – with Snapdragon 888 in Europe and the US, but with Exynos 2100 getting listed in some other regions, like Australia, and we expect it will be in some Asian versions.
There are options for RAM and storage, although that lifts the price, and there’s no option for microSD, which there was on the previous device, so that’s a loss you’ll feel.
The battery is a 4500mAh cell with support for 25W wired charging and 15W wireless charging. These aren’t the fastest rates out there and there’s no charger in the box, so if you want faster charging, you’ll have to head out an buy a compatible charger.
That 25W wired charging is a little slow by current standards, but Samsung seems to be happy with it as it was the case for the Galaxy S21 models too.
We’ve not spent long enough with the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE to fully assess its performance, but we’ll be using this phone over the coming weeks to fully evaluate it.
- Triple camera system
- Main: 12MP, f/1.8, OIS
- Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2
- Telephoto: 8MP, f/2.4, 3x optical, 30x digital zoom
- Front: 32MP, f/2.2
There’s a fairly predictable collection of cameras on the Galaxy S21 FE. The main camera is Samsung’s Dual Pixel 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.8 lens. We’ve seen a similar arrangement on a lot of Samsung phones and it’s similar to the Galaxy S21 and S21+, which we expected.
One change is the telephoto lens, which here uses a 12-megapixel sensor rather than the 64-megapixel sensor on the Galaxy S21. One of the details you miss with this switch is that there’s no option to shoot 8K video here, not that that really matters right now.
The telephoto offers 3x optical zoom and 30x Space Zoom, which is Samsung’s name for digital zoom. We’ve seen all this before and we’ll be comparing it to recent devices and other Samsung models in the near future to give it a full assessment.
The front camera is 32-megapixels, again we can’t really understand why Samsung is opting for more megapixels on the front camera. There’s even the option to shoot at full resolution and we can’t see why anyone would seriously want to do that.
Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we’ll be giving this camera system a full workout to see how it performs and bringing you a full review shortly.
- Android 12
- One UI 4.0
The software loadout of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is at least up to date, arriving with Android 12 out of the box. Samsung has also done well with updates over the past generation of phones, which bodes well for the future of this device.
It comes with Samsung’s One UI 4.0, rolling together some of the latest Android features with Samsung’s latest tweaks.
We’ve long been fans of Samsung’s software offering, as it provides plenty of options for customisation, including some lifted from Android’s new Material You offering, where you can easily change the colour palette to match the wallpaper.
We’ll update with any performance observations we have on the software positioning of this device in the near future.