The Galaxy S21 series will not go gentle into the night. On the contrary, it will produce one last bang before the Galaxy S22 steals the spotlight. The last of the S21 series caters to the true fans of the brand and combines all Galaxy S21 essentials into one powerful no-nonsense smartphone. Yes, this is the Galaxy S21 FE 5G.
Samsung has focused on three fan-favorite features for this Fan Edition – display, performance, and camera. And it has tried to give more of those for less, a job best suited for the flagship-killer kind. We surely are not calling it that, but the S21 FE does sound quite promising as an almost-there-flagship.
The Galaxy S21 FE updates the display with the S21’s screen panel. It offers a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X with native HDR10+ support and a 120Hz refresh rate. The Galaxy S20 FE’s Super AMOLED had no HDR10 capabilities at launch, which was disappointing back then, but these were enabled later in 2021.
Then there is performance – quite expectedly, the Galaxy S21 FE offers the same hardware as the rest of the S21 series – either the Snapdragon 888, or the Exynos 2100 chipset. But the chipset segmentation is reversed here – the international model is the one with the Snapdragon, while Samsung’s silicon is limited to Australia (so far).
Finally, let’s talk about the camera department. It looks like a copy-paste from the Galaxy S20 FE – a 12MP primary, another 12MP camera for ultrawide photos, and an 8MP tele for 3x optical zoom. The selfie imager is likely the same, too, a 32MP one. Samsung is not advertising the hardware as more capable, but it brags with better processing and cool features like Object Eraser – all possible thanks to the new chipset.
The stereo speakers and the UD fingerprint scanner are here to stay, too, but the microSD slot didn’t make the cut. It is one of these fan-favorite features that will not be accepted well among the community, that’s for sure. But on a positive note – the S21 FE now features a proper proximity sensor instead of a virtual one, something that should solve the numerous complaints.
Waterproofing is a vital part of the Galaxy S series, and the S21 FE is IP68-rated for dust and water resistance. Its design resembles the rest of the Galaxy S21 phones, and its build is a match to the vanilla Galaxy S21 flagship – a Gorilla Glass Victus front, an aluminum frame, and a matte plastic back.
Here is a rundown of the specs sheet.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G specs at a glance:
- Body: 155.7×74.5×7.9mm, 177g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), plastic back, aluminum frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).
- Display: 6.40″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1080x2400px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 411ppi; Always-on display.
- Chipset: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm) – Version 1, Exynos 2100 (5 nm) – Version 2: Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680) – Version 1, Octa-core (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55) – Version 2; Adreno 660 – Version 1, Mali-G78 MP14 – Version 2.
- Memory: 128GB 6GB RAM, 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM.
- OS/Software: Android 12, One UI 4.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123˚, 1/3.0″, 1.12µm; Telephoto: 8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm, 1/4.5″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom.
- Front camera: 32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.74″, 0.8µm.
- Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60fps, gyro-EIS.
- Battery: 4500mAh; Fast charging 25W, 50% in 30 min (advertised), Fast wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging, USB Power Delivery 3.0.
- Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, optical); NFC; Bixby natural language commands and dictation, Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified).
The most notable omissions of this new Fan Edition are the 3.5mm jack (not available on the S20 FE) and the microSD slot (available on the S20 FE). We would have liked one of those 10MP AF selfies instead of the 32MP Quad-Bayer snapper, too, but we guess that’s going on the S22 FE wish list instead.
There is no cheaper 4G version of the Galaxy S21 FE, like it was with the S20 FE, which is possibly another bummer for some users. We guess the 5G has become the new norm and cheaper 4G versions in the future are highly unlikely.
Unboxing the Galaxy S21 FE
Apple has started something that Samsung quickly adopted, even though consumers don’t appreciate it. Yes, we are talking about the ‘eco-friendly’ cost-saving retail box, which contains only a cable and some paperwork.
That’s exactly what you get with each Galaxy S21, and that’s what the Galaxy S21 FE 5G retail box contains. The phone supports 25W fast charging, but if you want to enjoy that and you haven’t purchased such an adapter yet, now is a good time to do it.
The good news is that once you buy such a charger, you can use it for your next phone a year or two from now. Plus, it can charge plenty of electronics because of its USB-C port and USB-PD support.
The Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a well-executed smartphone and a proper sequel to the Galaxy S20 FE. It brings a better display, more powerful hardware, and improved camera performance even if the camera sensors and optics haven’t changed much since the S20 FE. Oh, and we do appreciate the new, S21-like design.
But the one thing that should have been spot-on from the get-go – the price – is all wrong. The Galaxy S21 FE should have offered ‘more for less’ – those are Samsung‘s words, mind you – yet, it’s quite an expensive smartphone at launch with a starting price of €750. And while it arguably offers more over the Galaxy S20 FE and the Galaxy S21, it’s not for less.
Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 FE
See, the Galaxy S21 5G retails at about €650, which is €100 less than this new Fan Edition. Yet, the standard S21 offers a more capable display with a 120Hz dynamic refresh rate, more RAM (6GB vs. 8GB). The Galaxy S21 has a different type of 3x zoom, but even if it’s achieved with some trickery, it is pretty good and not drastically different from the FE. We believe many users will happily save €100 and get the Galaxy S21 instead.
Then there is one of our favorite Galaxy phones for 2021 – the Galaxy A52s 5G. It is an equally stylish smartphone, water-resistant as well, with a similar 120Hz AMOLED screen and quite a powerful Snapdragon 778 5G chipset. If you can live without optical zoom and HDR10 support for the paid streaming apps, the 6GB+128GB model of the A52s costs as low as €360 – and compared to the S21 FE’s €750 price – that’s a bargain!
Of course, there are other cool options to consider outside Samsungverse. The Realme GT 5G is €250 cheaper, and it beats the S21 FE with a better AMOLED with a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate (and it supports HDR10). It is not a water-resistant phone and has no zoom camera, but if those are not important, you can spend less and still get what’s important to you.
The Asus Zenfone 8 is €100 cheaper than the FE, but if you are after a more compact Android, you may want to consider this one instead. It has a superb 5.9-inch AMOLED with 120Hz and HDR10+, runs on the same Snapdragon 888 chipset, has powerful speakers, and offers fan-favorite goodies like a 3.5mm audio jack, FM radio, AF for the selfie camera. It may not be rocking a telephoto camera, but its ultrawide shooter has autofocus and can take macro shots. Overall, it’s a great offer worth considering.
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G • Samsung Galaxy A52s 5G • Realme GT 5G • Asus Zenfone 8
Finally, the €480 4G and €530 5G versions of the previous Galaxy S20 FE are still available. They are noticeably cheaper, yet with similar capabilities and identical cameras. If you can live without HDR10 support and put up with the virtual proximity sensor, they are worth considering. Their Snapdragon 865 / Exynos 990 chips are still great performers and part of the flagship crop, plus they run amazingly under 1080p screens. Oh, and they both offer microSD expansion.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE • Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a brilliant smartphone with top-notch features. It excels in the most critical departments – display, performance, camera, speakers, software, even design. For that – it’s a great smartphone.
But it’s not a Fan Edition, not like the S20 FE. For a phone that’s supposed to cater to the fans, ditching the charger and the microSD slot does not make sense. And it doesn’t bring any substantial camera updates, not even AF for selfies or ultrawide, though the improved photo quality could be arguably enough. But these shortcomings are not the Fan Edition’s biggest problem.
The Galaxy S21 FE’s most notable drawback is the launch price. The Galaxy S21 FE 5G costs €750 for its basic 6/128 version and €830 for the 8/256 model. And that’s quite high for the segment the FE’s aiming at.
The Galaxy S21 FE launches mere weeks before the Galaxy S22 premiere, and the expectations are that the regular Galaxy S22 with more powerful hardware and a better screen will retail between €800-€900. And it sure makes sense to wait and see what the Galaxy S22 has in store for us. Meanwhile, there are many phones that are offering similar features for much less, and what’s worse, some of them are Galaxy phones themselves.
So, the Galaxy S21 FE is a powerful and capable smartphone, no two ways about that. But we just cannot recommend it at this price, not without reservations. Once Samsung introduces its first price cut, though, the Galaxy S21 FE should get a spot on the shortlists of everyone looking for a no-nonsense flagship-like smartphone.
- Excellent AMOLED HDR10 screen, 120Hz, superb color accuracy.
- Good-looking S21-like body, water-resistant, grippy.
- Flagship-grade Snapdragon 888 5G chip.
- Outstanding camera performance, day and night, photo and video.
- Likable no-nonsense OneUI 4 with powerful features.
- Loud enough stereo speakers.
- No charger in the box.
- No dynamic screen refresh rate.
- No 3.5mm jack, no microSD, no AF for selfies (pick one).
- Expensive at launch.