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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE buyer's guide: Everything you need to know

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a bit late to the party, but better late than never, right?
By
August 20, 2022
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE rear on blue background
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

We expected to see the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE back in August 2021. However, it never materialized. For a while, we thought Samsung may have abandoned the release altogether. That theory was proven wrong, though, when Samsung launched the phone during CES 2022.

As usual, this “Fan Edition” model looks and functions much like its namesake, the Samsung Galaxy S21. There are still plenty of differences, however, especially when it comes to pricing. In this buyer’s guide, we’re going to give you all the information you need on the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE!

See also: Samsung Galaxy S21 series buyer’s guide


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE at a glance

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Black White Olive and Lavender Propped Next To Each Other
Samsung

Samsung launched the Galaxy S21 FE on January 3, 2022, at the annual CES convention in Las Vegas. General sales of the phone started on January 11.

As with the previous Galaxy S20 FE, the Galaxy S21 FE includes the essential features of the Galaxy S21 while shaving off some of the premium elements to lower the price. That includes a slightly weaker camera system, lower-grade build materials, and less RAM for the base model.

See also: The best Android phones you can get right now

These trade-offs result in a slightly lower Galaxy S21 FE price, which starts at $699. That’s $100 less than the Galaxy S21’s base MSRP.

However, there are some perks to the Galaxy S21 FE. You get a bigger battery with this model as compared to the main Galaxy S21. The Galaxy S21 FE also launches with Android 12, which means it will get one more year of Android upgrades than the main Galaxy S21 lineup, which launched with Android 11.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Slim and lightweight • Strong security updates • Best OS
Samsung's budget flagship for 2021 didn't arrive until 2022, compared to the Galaxy S22 series.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is very similar to the vanilla Galaxy S21, but you can now get it for an even better price, especially if you have an old phone to trade in.

Is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE worth buying?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE rear in hand
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

On paper, the Galaxy S21 FE is a great phone. For under $700, you get one of the best mobile chipsets of 2021, a decent camera system, Android 12 out-of-the-box, and more. No matter how you shake it, that’s not bad.

However, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE landed just weeks before the Samsung Galaxy S22. This device comes with a better chipset in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. It also has a better camera, more RAM, and the same out-of-the-box Android 12. It’s only $100 more expensive than the Galaxy S21 FE, too.

Our full review: The Galaxy S21 FE

This all leaves the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE in a precarious position. Its hardware isn’t as good as what you’ll find in the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S22. Its price might be low, but it’s not so much lower to make it a no-brainer purchase as we saw with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE.

For specific types of buyers, the Galaxy S21 FE might be a good choice. For most, though, checking out the Galaxy S22 might be worth it.


What experts think of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE front panel on rocks
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Our own Eric Zeman thought the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE was a fine phone giving it a score of 3.5/5 stars. However, he lamented that the phone is landing at the exact wrong time, which makes it difficult to recommend.

Eric appreciated the phone’s build quality, display, battery life, and performance. He didn’t much care for the camera or the phone’s overall value. Throughout the review, he made multiple mentions of how the original Galaxy S21 is still superior to this phone, to say nothing of the Galaxy S22.

Around the web, other reviewers had similar opinions:

  • Allison Johnson at The VergeAllison gave the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE a score of 7.5/10, which is similar to our 3.5/5 score. Like us, she loved the display and performance but thought the phone should cost less considering how late in the cycle we are.
  • Tom Bedford at TechRadarTom gave the phone the exact same score we did: 3.5/5 stars. Once again, he loved the display, performance, and build quality, but didn’t much care for the price. Interestingly, Tom didn’t think the battery life was up to snuff, which is the opposite of how we felt about it.
  • Philip Michaels at Tom’s GuideSticking with the trend, Philip gave the Galaxy S21 FE a score of 3.5/5 stars. He lauded the performance and display, dinged the phone for a middling camera, and also experienced disappointing battery life.

What AA readers think of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Back in June 2021, we asked our readers what feature they would be happiest to give up for a cheap Galaxy S21 FE. Interestingly, there was one definitive winner for this poll.

Check out the results below:

The chart makes it clear that a huge chunk of our readers would be happy to give up wireless charging if it meant a lower-cost device. Thankfully, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has wireless charging (and reverse wireless charging, too), so this sacrifice isn’t necessary.

The most interesting result from this poll, though, is how many of our readers would give up 5G support. Obviously, 5G is still unavailable in many parts of the world, but that’s changing rapidly. Once again, they won’t need to make this sacrifice, since the Galaxy S21 FE has access to both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G networks.


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE specs

Check out the official Samsung Galaxy S21 FE specs overview below.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Display
6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED
FHD+ (2,340 x 1,080)
120Hz refresh rate
240Hz touch sampling in gaming mode
Materials
Gorilla Glass Victus front
Metal frame
Plastic rear panel
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (US)
or
Exynos 2100 (Global)
RAM
6GB or 8GB
Storage
128GB or 256GB
No expandable storage
Battery and power
4,500mAh
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
No charger in box
Cameras
Rear:
-12MP primary (ƒ1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 79-degree FoV)
- 12MP ultrawide (ƒ2.2, 123-degree FoV)
- 8MP telephoto (ƒ2.4, 3x optical zoom, OIS, 32-degree FoV)

Front:
- 32MP single (ƒ2.2, 81-degree FoV)
Audio
Stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos support
No 3.5mm headphone jack
Security
In-display optical fingerprint sensor
Water-resistance
IP68 rating
Connectivity
Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC support
Networks
5G: Non-Standalone (NSA), Sub-6GHz, and mmWave
Enhanced 4x4 MIMO, up to 5CA, LTE D/L Cat.19 (1.6Gbps)
LTE U/L Cat.18 (211Mbps)
Software
Android 12
One UI 4
Dimensions and weight
155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm
177g
Colors
White, Graphite, Olive, Lavender

Differences compared to Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21 back in hand 1 1
David Imel / Android Authority

With a name like Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, it’s obvious this phone has a lot in common with the vanilla Galaxy S21. Below, we’ve rounded up the major differences between the two devices. Keep in mind these aren’t all the differences, but just the major ones.

  • Size: The Galaxy S21 FE is slightly taller and wider when compared to the Galaxy S21. The phones are exactly the same thickness, however. The Galaxy S21 FE also has a slightly larger display at 6.4 inches as compared to the Galaxy S21’s 6.2-inch display.
  • Battery: Thanks to its larger size, the Galaxy S21 FE has a bigger battery than the Galaxy S21: 4,500mAh for the former and 4,000mAh for the latter.
  • Weight: Of course, with a larger battery comes a heavier phone. The Galaxy S21 FE weighs 177g, which is slightly heavier than the 171g Galaxy S21.
  • Cameras: In general, the camera system on the Galaxy S21 FE is weaker than what you’ll get with the Galaxy S21. Note that even though the selfie camera is a 32MP shooter as compared to the Galaxy S21’s 10MP sensor, this won’t necessarily result in better photos and video.
  • Security: The Galaxy S21 FE has an in-display optical fingerprint scanner. This isn’t the same as the ultrasonic sensor in the Galaxy S21 and could result in slightly slower and less accurate performance.
  • RAM: The Galaxy S21 has 8GB of RAM regardless of the internal storage capacity. The Galaxy S21 FE, however, starts with 6GB of RAM for the 128GB model. The 256GB model has 8GB of RAM.

Is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE camera good?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE camera closeup from left
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Galaxy S21 FE has what we refer to as the rear camera trifecta. This means it has a primary wide sensor, an ultrawide sensor, and a telephoto sensor. Combined, these three lenses give you the most versatility when it comes to smartphone cameras. All in all, the Galaxy S21 FE’s camera system is a dead-ringer for what we saw in the Galaxy S20 FE.

On the front, the phone has a single 32MP sensor in a centered display cutout. As mentioned earlier, this sensor has more megapixels than the 10MP sensor on the Galaxy S21 but is not necessarily a better shooter.

Check out some example shots below:

Here’s some more info on the camera system:

  • Rear
    • 12MP wide: Dual Pixel AF, OIS, ƒ/1.8 aperture, 79-degree FoV
    • 12MP ultrawide: ƒ/2.2 aperture, 123-degree FoV
    • 8MP telephoto: 3x optical zoom, 30x Space Zoom, OIS, ƒ/2.4 aperture, 32-degree FoV
  • Front
    • 32MP front: ƒ/2.2 aperture, 81-degree FoV

During our time with the Galaxy S21 FE, we found the camera experience to be just average. It’s not going to be the best system of 2022 (or even 2021), but it will produce some good shots under ideal conditions. Once you put the camera in some tough situations, though, it’s going to buckle under the pressure.


How is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE battery life?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE display on blue background
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Galaxy S21 FE has a substantially larger battery than the vanilla Galaxy S21 — 4,500mAh as compared to 4,000mAh. Since the phone’s display is just slightly larger and other specs are relatively the same, the Galaxy S21 FE has slightly better battery life when compared to the Galaxy S21. It also has a larger battery than the Galaxy S22, which is stuck with a 3,700mAh cell.

During our review period, we saw the phone last us a whole day without a charge no matter what we did with it. At bedtime each day, the phone had around 30% leftover. Obviously, that won’t get you through a second day, but with some battery conservation practices, you might get through 1.5 days without a charge.

Related: The Android phones with the best battery life

When you do need to charge, you can use wired or wireless charging. Wired speeds top out at 25W (with the proper charging brick, which is not in the box) and wireless speeds top out at 15W with a Qi-compatible charger.

The Galaxy S21 FE also has reverse wireless charging so you can “leech” power off the phone to charge a smartwatch, earbuds, etc.


How is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE performance?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE on piano keys
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

In the United States and a few other countries, you’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset inside the Galaxy S21 FE. This is the second-best Android chipset of 2021, beaten out only slightly by the Snapdragon 888 Plus. Both chipsets are weaker than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which is the flagship product for 2022.

Required reading: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 deep dive

Despite it not being in first place anymore, the SD888 is still a beast. Generally, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE should be able to handle any task you throw at it. It should be perfect for multi-taskers and even a good option for folks who toy with console emulation on their phones.

Meanwhile, in many other areas of the world, the Galaxy S21 FE comes with the Exynos 2100, the same found in the global variants of the S21 series. This chipset is nice and powerful but doesn’t meet the same performance peaks as the Snapdragon 888.

A note of caution we’ll make about performance regardless of which chipset you get is that the entry-level Galaxy S21 FE comes with 6GB of RAM. This will make it slightly worse at multi-tasking than the Galaxy S21 (which has 8GB of RAM) and the 256GB model of the Galaxy S21 FE (which also has 8GB).


Phone software and updates

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE display in hand
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Samsung has become the best company out there when it comes to updating its Android phones. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE will receive four years of Android upgrades and five years of security updates. Out-of-the-box, it comes with One UI 4, which is based on Android 12.

See also: Everything you need to know about Android 12

That means the Galaxy S21 FE will see Android 13 later this year, Android 14 in 2023, Android 15 in 2024, and finally Android 16 in 2025. It will then get security patches throughout 2026, after which it will reach an end-of-life status.

Interestingly, this schedule gives the S21 FE a slight leg up over the rest of the Galaxy S21 family. Since those phones launched in 2021 with Android 11, they will probably only see up to Android 15. This makes the Galaxy S21 FE the better buy if software longevity is a primary concern.


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: What’s new?

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE back 1
David Imel / Android Authority

Interestingly, Samsung is keeping the 2020 Galaxy S20 FE active. You will still be able to buy it from Samsung as well as carriers and third-party retailers. If you are thinking about choosing between the Galaxy S20 FE and the Galaxy S21 FE, here are the important differences you should know about:

  • Size: The Galaxy S21 FE has a slightly smaller 6.4-inch display when compared to the Galaxy S20 FE’s 6.5-inch screen. The trade-off here is that the Galaxy S21 FE is thinner and lighter while offering a very similar display experience.
  • Performance: The Galaxy S20 FE has the 2020 flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 865 (or Exynos 990). This will be a weaker chipset than the Galaxy S21 FE’s Snapdragon 888 (or Exynos 2100). Likewise, the Galaxy S20 FE only offers 6GB of RAM, while the 256GB model of the Galaxy S21 FE has 8GB of RAM.
  • Storage: Speaking of storage, the Galaxy S20 FE maxes out at 128GB of internal space, while the Galaxy S21 FE has that 256GB model. Do note, though, that the Galaxy S20 FE has a microSD card slot for expanding that storage, while the Galaxy S21 FE does not.
  • Cameras: Although there are subtle differences, the Galaxy S21 FE has nearly identical camera hardware as the Galaxy S20 FE. In reality, you should see only minor differences between the results from both phones.
  • Software: The Galaxy S20 FE launched with Android 10. Since then, it’s seen Android 11 and, most recently, Android 12. That means Android 13 will be its last update, while the Galaxy S21 FE will see up to Android 16. If software updates are important to you, the Galaxy S21 FE is the better buy.
  • Colors: The Galaxy S20 FE comes in a whopping six colorways: Cloud Navy, Cloud Red, Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud White, and Cloud Orange. The Galaxy S21 FE, however, only comes in four colors: white, Graphite, Olive, and Lavender.

What are some good Samsung Galaxy S21 FE alternatives?

Google Pixel 6 rear panel in the hand
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is not super expensive. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great phones out there for less money or awesome phones for just a little more. Here are some phones you should keep in mind while you’re shopping:

  • Samsung Galaxy S22 ($799): Coming in at just $100 more, the Galaxy S22 will offer a very similar experience when compared to the Galaxy S21 FE. It will have a better fingerprint sensor, 8GB of RAM no matter which model you choose, and a much better camera system. The Galaxy S21 FE, though, will have a bigger battery and a bigger display.
  • Google Pixel 6 ($599): For $100 less than the Galaxy S21 FE, you can get the phone we voted as the best of 2021. You’ll miss out on a telephoto lens and a 120Hz display refresh rate, but you’ll get a great Android update promise, Google’s stellar Pixel UI software, and a slightly bigger battery.
  • OnePlus 9 ($679): The OnePlus 9 is about $20 cheaper than the Galaxy S21 FE thanks to OnePlus cutting the price down. The OnePlus 9 misses out on the Galaxy S21 FE’s telephoto lens with a monochrome sensor in its place. However, the specs are very similar across the board, with the OnePlus 9 having a leg up when it comes to wired charging speeds and Bluetooth connectivity (5.2 supported).
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 FE ($599): This phone is $100 cheaper than the Galaxy S21 FE. Why would you get last year’s model, though? Well, the Galaxy S20 FE supports microSD cards, which the Galaxy S21 FE does not. This alone could be enough to entice buyers.
  • iPhone 13 or 13 Mini ($799 or $699): Regardless of which iPhone 13 model you choose, you’ll get a pretty similar experience when compared to the Galaxy S21 FE. You will miss out on a telephoto lens, a 120Hz refresh rate, and Android (obviously), but the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are the best iPhones you can get in this price bracket.

Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE rear on red background
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (6GB/128GB): $699
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (8GB/128GB): Rs 49,999
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (8GB/256GB): $769 / Rs 53,999

The Galaxy S21 FE is available now. As usual, the easiest place to buy it is Samsung.com. However, third-party retailers as well as Samsung’s usual carrier partners will also sell the phone.

The phone comes in four colors: white, Graphite, Olive, and Lavender. There are also three configurations of the phone. One has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, another has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in India, while an option with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage is also available. Keep in mind that some carriers and retail partners will only carry specific colors/variations of the phone.

In the United States, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T will carry the device. In India, the phone will be available in the two 8GB RAM variants with the Exynos 2100 from major retailers starting at Rs 49,999 (~$673).

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Slim and lightweight • Strong security updates • Best OS
Samsung's budget flagship for 2021 didn't arrive until 2022, compared to the Galaxy S22 series.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is very similar to the vanilla Galaxy S21, but you can now get it for an even better price, especially if you have an old phone to trade in.

FAQs

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE rear centered left
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Yes, it is IP68-rated, just like the rest of the phones in the Galaxy S21 lineup. This rating means it is water- and dust-resistant.

Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE doesn’t have either of these features. If you want a microSD card slot, you can always grab last year’s Galaxy S20 FE instead, although that is also missing a headphone jack.

Out-of-the-box, the Galaxy S21 FE has Android 12. It will get Android 13, Android 14, Android 15, and Android 16.

It’s possible. However, recent rumors suggest Samsung could possibly end the entire “Fan Edition” series. If this comes to pass, it would mean no Galaxy S22 FE. Time will tell what Samsung does here.


Help other readers out

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