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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE buyer's guide: Everything you need to know
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 the company 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!
Please note: The Galaxy S21 FE is no longer the latest "Fan Edition" phone from Samsung. On October 3, 2023, the company launched the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE. This is now the most recent "FE" phone out there.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE at a glance
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.
These trade-offs resulted in a slightly lower Galaxy S21 FE price, which started at $699. That was $100 less than the Galaxy S21’s original base MSRP. However, with the launch of the Galaxy S23 series, Samsung permanently lowered the price of the Galaxy S21 FE to $599 and the Galaxy S22 to $699.
Please note that there are some perks to the Galaxy S21 FE other than its price. You get a bigger battery with this model as compared to the main Galaxy S21. The Galaxy S21 FE also launched 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.
Is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE worth buying?
On paper, the Galaxy S21 FE is a great phone. For under $600, 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. You can read our detailed thoughts on the device in our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review.
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. When you take into account that, even today, it’s only $100 more expensive than the Galaxy S21 FE, you have a tricky situation.
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, Galaxy S22, or the newest Samsung Galaxy S23. Its price might be low, but it’s not so much lower to make it a no-brainer purchase.
For specific types of buyers, the Galaxy S21 FE might be a good choice. For most, though, checking out the Galaxy S22 (or even the Galaxy S23, which is $200 more expensive) might be worth it.
What experts think of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
In our review, we thought the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE was a fine phone, giving it a score of 3.5/5 stars. However, we lamented that the phone landed at the wrong time, making it difficult to recommend.
We appreciated the phone’s build quality, display, battery life, and performance. We didn’t much care for the camera or the phone’s overall value. Throughout the review, we made multiple mentions of how the original Galaxy S21 is still superior to this phone, to say nothing of the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S23.
Around the web, other reviewers had similar opinions:
- Allison Johnson at The Verge: Allison 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 were.
- Tom Bedford at TechRadar: Tom 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 Guide: Sticking 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
6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED
FHD+ (2,340 x 1,080)
120Hz refresh rate
240Hz touch sampling in gaming mode
Gorilla Glass Victus front
Plastic rear panel
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (US)
Exynos 2100 (Global)
6GB or 8GB
128GB or 256GB
No expandable storage
Battery and power
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
No charger in box
-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)
- 32MP single (ƒ2.2, 81-degree FoV)
Dolby Atmos support
No 3.5mm headphone jack
In-display optical fingerprint sensor
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)
One UI 4
Dimensions and weight
155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm
White, Graphite, Olive, Lavender
Differences compared to Galaxy S21
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. Remember these aren’t all the differences — 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?
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:
- 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
- 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 wasn’t even close to the best smartphone camera of 2022, 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?
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% left over. 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.
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?
You’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset inside the Galaxy S21 FE in the United States and a few other countries. 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 and 8 Gen 2, the flagship products for 2022 and 2023, respectively.
Despite 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 has become the best company out there when it comes to updating its large portfolio of 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. In December 2023, it received an update to Android 14 and One UI 6.
The Galaxy S21 FE will see Android 15 in 2024 and 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.
What are some good Samsung Galaxy S21 FE alternatives?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is not super expensive. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great phones out there for the same price or awesome phones for just a little more. Here are some phones you should keep in mind while you’re shopping:
- Samsung Galaxy S23 FE ($599.99 at Amazon): The Galaxy S23 FE is now the latest “Fan Edition” phone in Samsung’s lineup. Since it has the same price as the Galaxy S21 FE while offering a longer update commitment, better specs, a better camera, and more, it is an easy choice over the 2022 model.
- Samsung Galaxy S23 ($799 at Amazon): For $200 more, you can get the standard 2023 flagship from Samsung. The Galaxy S23 will have better specs nearly across the board, with battery capacity being the only notable deficiency. Of course, you’ll pay a lot more for this phone, but the upgrades will certainly be worth the premium if you can afford them.
- Google Pixel 8 ($699 at Amazon): For $100 more than the Galaxy S21 FE, you can get one of the most sought-after phones of 2023. You’ll miss out on a telephoto lens, but you’ll get the best Android update promise in the industry, Google’s stellar Pixel UI software, and a slightly bigger battery.
- OnePlus 11 ($1296 at Amazon): The OnePlus 11 is about $100 more expensive than the Galaxy S21 FE. The OnePlus 11 offers a higher-caliber experience, though, with better camera hardware, a faster processor, and a much better display. However, you will need to give up wireless charging and a full IP68 rating if you go with this one.
- iPhone 15 ($829.99 at Amazon): With an iPhone 15, 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 15 is the best iPhone you can get in this price bracket.
Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
- Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (6GB/128GB): $599
- Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (8GB/128GB): Rs. 34,999
- Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (8GB/256GB): $689 / Rs. 38,999
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.
Remember that you’ll be spending $599 on a brand new Galaxy S21 FE when the newer Galaxy S23 FE is the exact same price. We highly recommend checking out the Galaxy S23 FE ($599.99 at Amazon) instead.
If you do decide to move forward with the Galaxy S21 FE, 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. 34,999 (~$424).
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 2020’s Galaxy S20 FE instead, although that is also missing a headphone jack.
Out of the box, the Galaxy S21 FE has Android 12 and has already received the Android 13 update. In the future, it will get Android 14, Android 15, and Android 16.
Yes, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S23 FE on October 3, 2023. It has the same price as the Galaxy S21 FE, making it the better buy if you are deciding between them.