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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S21: Which one should you buy?

The two devices are very similar in terms of specs, features, and design.
By
January 12, 2022
Samsung Galaxy S21 camera closeup
Zarif Ali / Android Authority

With the introduction of the Galaxy S21 FE, Samsung has created a phone that offers a similar experience as the Galaxy S21, but at a lower price point.

Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S21 series a year ago, and with its base model, the company cut a few corners to bring a device that was affordable and accessible while keeping most of its flagship qualities. With two devices so similar to one another, which should you buy? Let’s get into it in this Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S21 comparison.


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S21


Design and display

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

When it comes to design, the Galaxy S21 was one of the standouts of last year due to its clever integration of the camera module. Samsung continues in a similar direction with the S21 FE, with a couple of differences.

At launch, the Galaxy S21 was criticized for its polycarbonate back because it’s not as premium as the frosted glass found on its bigger brothers, the S21 Plus and S21 Ultra. Aside from that, the S21 is otherwise a premium phone with its signature integrated camera module and metal sides. With the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, you’re essentially getting the same design. The device has a polycarbonate back and metal rails, but the camera module is plastic as opposed to being metal, as on the regular S21.

The Galaxy S21 FE has a bigger footprint than the Galaxy S21.

In terms of size, the Galaxy S21 FE is slightly taller and wider when compared to the Galaxy S21, while having the same thickness. This is because it sports a 6.4-inch display compared to the S21’s 6.2-inch panel.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE front display in woman's hand
Samsung

Aside from the size, there are no differences between the displays of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 FE. Both devices have a FHD+ panel with a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080. Both also support a 120Hz refresh rate with up to 240Hz touch sampling and sport flat panels with a centrally-placed punch hole camera.

Also read: The best Samsung Galaxy S21 alternatives

As far as colorways go, there are plenty of new choices to pick from. The regular Galaxy S21 comes in Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, and Phantom Pink. If you’re buying from Samsung directly, you can also get the device in Phantom Gold and Phantom Red. It’s also worth noting that the 256GB variant is only available in Phantom Gray. With the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, you have a choice between White, Graphite, Olive, and Lavender.


Hardware and software

Samsung Galaxy S21 top back half of phone
David Imel / Android Authority

When it comes to hardware, the S21 and S21 FE are nearly identical. Both phones are equipped with the Snapdragon 888 or Samsung’s Exynos 2100 processor, depending on your region. That means you’re getting flagship performance from both devices, albeit with chipsets that are a year old at this point. The S21 FE gets 6GB of RAM for its 128GB variant while the regular S21 has 8GB of RAM, regardless of its storage capacity. You’ll need to upgrade to the 256GB variant of the S21 FE if you want to get that extra 2GB of RAM.

Another hardware difference between the S21 and S21 FE comes in the form of biometrics. The S21 packs Samsung’s upgraded ultrasonic fingerprint scanner that is fast and very accurate, while the S21 FE has an optical scanner, which may be a bit slower compared to its more expensive counterpart.

The S21's inclusion of an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner adds to the overall polish that isn't found on the Fan Edition.

One advantage the Galaxy S21 FE has over the regular S21 is its battery capacity: you’re getting a 4,500mAh cell compared to 4,000mAh on the S21. Keep in mind that the FE also has a slightly larger display, but we’re sure you’re going to see an overall improvement in the battery department with the FE.

When it comes to the rear cameras, the S21 FE offers a bit less than the S21 overall, at least on paper. Both devices have a triple-camera setup with regular wide, ultrawide, and telephoto lenses. We haven’t tested the camera capabilities of the S21 FE, but judging from the spec sheet, the FE has the same 12MP main camera as the S21. The ultrawide lens is very similar as well, sporting the same resolution but offering a slightly larger field of view.

Samsung Galaxy S21 back camera macro straight on 1
David Imel / Android Authority

There’s a bigger difference between the two when comparing their telephoto cameras. Both devices have a 3x optical telephoto camera, but the regular S21 has a 64MP sensor compared to the FE’s 8MP. It’s important to note that megapixel count doesn’t necessarily equate to better image quality. However, when it comes to telephoto cameras, if you plan on zooming in farther than the 3x optical range, the larger megapixel count of the regular S21 may result in crisper images.

When it comes to selfie cameras, the Galaxy S21 FE has an advantage on paper, as it sports a 32MP sensor compared to the S21’s 10MP sensor. But again, a higher megapixel camera doesn’t always mean better image quality, but it does capture more detail.

Read more: Testing the best 2021 smartphone cameras

Moving on to software, the Galaxy S21 FE runs the latest Android 12 with Samsung’s One UI 4.0 on top, while the S21 ships with the older Android 11 on board. However, the Android 12 update is already available for the phone, so the two handsets offer the same software experience.

But keep in mind that since Samsung guarantees three OS updates for both of these devices, the Galaxy S21 FE will get updated all the way up to Android 15, while Android 14 will be the end of the road for the Galaxy S21.


Specs

Samsung Galaxy S21Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Display
Samsung Galaxy S21
6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Flat FHD+ resolution
2,400 x 1,080 at 421ppi
Adaptive 120Hz refresh rate
HDR10+ certified
120Hz refresh rate
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED
20:9 aspect ratio
Flat FHD+ resolution
2,400 x 1,080
411 ppi
120Hz refresh rate
Materials
Samsung Galaxy S21
Gorilla Glass Victus front
"Glasstic" back
aluminum sides and camera module
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Gorilla Glass Victus front
"Glasstic" back and camera
aluminum sides
Processor
Samsung Galaxy S21
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (US) or Samsung Exynos 2100 (International)
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (US)
or Samsung Exynos 2100 (International)
RAM
Samsung Galaxy S21
8GB

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
6GB or 8GB
Storage
Samsung Galaxy S21
128GB or 256GB
No expandable storage
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
128GB or 256GB
No expandable storage
Battery and power
Samsung Galaxy S21
4,000mAh
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
4.5W reversal wireless charging
No charger in box
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
4,500mAh
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging

No charger in box
Cameras
Samsung Galaxy S21
Rear:
- Wide-angle: 12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8µm with OIS and dual-pixel AF
- Telephoto: 64MP, ƒ/2.0, 0.8µm with OIS and phase-detection AF
- Ultrawide: 12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm with 120-degree FoV

3x hybrid optical/digital zoom
30x "Space Zoom"

Front:
- 10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22µm, with dual-pixel AF
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
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
Samsung Galaxy S21
Stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos support
No 3.5mm headphone jack
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos support
No 3.5mm headphone jack
Security
Samsung Galaxy S21
In-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
In-display optical fingerprint scanner
Water-resistance
Samsung Galaxy S21
IP68 rating
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
IP68 rating
Connectivity
Samsung Galaxy S21
4G LTE support
5G (sub-6GHz, SA and NSA, mmWave)
Wi-Fi 6E support
Bluetooth 5.0
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC support
Software
Samsung Galaxy S21
Android 11
One UI 3.1
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Android 12
One UI 4
Dimensions and weight
Samsung Galaxy S21
151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm
171g
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm
177g
Colors
Samsung Galaxy S21
128GB in Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, and Phantom White

256GB only in Phantom Gray

Samsung.com colors: Phantom Gold and Phantom Red
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
White, Graphite, Olive, Lavender

Price

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Black, White, Olive, and Lavender propped next to each other
Samsung
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 (8GB/128GB): $799 / €799 / £769 / Rs. 69,999
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 (8GB/256GB): $849 / €849 / £819 / Rs. 73,999
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (6GB/128GB): $699 / £699 / €749
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (8GB/256GB): $769 / £749 / €819

With the Galaxy S21, Samsung delivered a flagship phone at an affordable price. With the Galaxy S21 FE, the company offers users a device that delivers on most of the great aspects of the Galaxy S21, but at an even more budget-friendly price. Starting at $100 cheaper, the S21 FE undercuts the S21 in almost every way. You’re getting similar if not identical performance, a larger display and battery, and a great camera setup overall.

But keep in mind that since the Galaxy S22 series is just around the corner, the S21 may go on sale soon, which could make it more appealing to many. It’s possible that you’ll soon be able to get it for the same price as the Galaxy S21 FE or even lower, which will make the decision of which one to get that much more difficult.

Galaxy S21 FE Green Back RGB
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Samsung's 2021 flagship finally gets a "fan edition"
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is very similar to the vanilla Galaxy S21. However, it pares things down a bit in order to slash $100 from the MSRP.
Samsung Galaxy S21 in front of box
Samsung Galaxy S21
The cheapest S21 series phone
Samsung's cheapest S21 phone brings an Exynos 2100 or Snapdragon 888 SoC, an FHD+ 120Hz OLED screen, a 4,000mAh battery, and a pretty solid rear camera system. You're also getting an IP68 rating and wireless charging. You don't get a charger in the box though.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Samsung Galaxy S21: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Lavender rear view resting on wall
Samsung

The Galaxy S21 has a leg up on the S21 FE in a few areas. It has a slightly better build quality due to using metal instead of plastic for the camera housing. It also has a better fingerprint scanner, more RAM on the base model, and a slightly better rear camera system — at least on paper.

However, the Galaxy S21 FE boasts longer battery life, a larger screen, and runs Android 12 instead of the older Android 11, which means it will get an extra year of software support. It also has a higher-resolution selfie snapper and comes in $100 cheaper.

Which one to get comes down to the specs and features you value more.

Which of these two phones is more suitable for you depends on the specs and features you value more. Users who want the best camera and build quality should go with the S21, while those who prefer things like a bigger battery and a larger screen should opt for the S21 FE.

The Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra are also options that are worth considering if you’re looking for a device with an even better build quality paired with a larger screen and a bigger battery. These devices cost more at the moment, but their prices may drop soon since the Galaxy S22 series is just around the corner.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review | Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review


Which one would you rather get?

266 votes