We’re big fans of the craze of phone makers offering streamlined versions of their high-end handsets. And that’s exactly what the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is – a ‘fan edition’ of its full S21.
The reason we like them is that as a premium handset some features are simply not needed and are actually expensive for the end user. These phones focus on what is needed and there is no room for anything else. The only problem is that while cutting the fat, some of the good stuff may also go away.
Thankfully, Samsung is pretty much right with its latest mid-ranger. We’ve been playing with the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE for a few weeks now – here are five things you need to know…
1. The Design is VERY S21
At first glance, the S21 FE looks a lot like its S21 bedmate, but there are some minor but significant design changes.
While the Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch display, the Galaxy S21 FE upgraded it with a slightly larger 6.4-inch display. The good news is that both displays are AMOLED and they also have the same 2340 x 1080 resolution. They also have a 120Hz refresh rate, so the difference is just that the S21 FE is larger.
Flip it over and the look is, once again, painfully similar. There are the three rear lenses tucked into a rather cute camera bump. The big change here is that the S21 FE is made of a plastic material, while the S21 is metal (as in the material, not its choice of music).
The ‘glasstic’ material used meant it wasn’t as slippery in the hand as the S21, but there’s no doubt this is an area where costs have been cut.
2. Cameras are decent, images are vibrant
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has a triple camera array like the original S21. Although the cameras are slightly different, the spec changes are pretty negligible, so most users won’t notice a thing.
We really enjoyed taking photos with the Galaxy S21 FE. The main 12MP camera took lovely vivid photos (as many as you can in late winter in the UK), there’s also a 12MP Ultrawide as a second lens and an 8MP telephoto lens – it’s the largest change, as the S21 has a 64MP Telephoto lens. That means you can’t zoom as much as the S21 – yet a 3x hybrid zoom is nothing to sniff at.
The selfie camera is a stable 32MP, which is actually an improvement over the rest of the S21 lineup.
Samsung has added some great camera features from its S21 line. Our strengths are single shot (where a photo is taken on all lenses and you can choose your favourite), dual recording – shooting from the front and back of the camera which is a great vlogging functionality (it can be done in 45, 60fps), and Portrait mode, which offers a good amount of bokeh.
3. The performances are impactful
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE uses a Snapdragon 888 chip that enables 5G (if that’s a thing in your region) and is a punchy – if slightly dated – processor that handled our games (Call of Duty: Mobile was smooth throughout), 4K streaming (Midnight Mass with HDR looked glorious) and we could switch between the likes of TikTok, Instagram and Facebook without any pressure on the device. It was a bit hot at times but that’s as expected.
4. Battery life is okay but charging keeps you waiting
In the world of smartphones, fast charging is one of the most requested things right now, so at 25W we found the S21 FE to lag behind in this area. Since we’re used to using phones that come with 65W as standard, we had to play the waiting game with this one.
Wireless charging is on board which is a plus, but again you’ll have to be patient for this to charge. We weren’t too bothered, though, as we were happy to see that wireless charging (and reverse charging if required) is standard and uncut for this edition.
As for day-to-day battery life, it managed a full day with heavy use, but we were plugging the thing in before bed.
5. The S21 is feature-rich and doesn’t look like a midrange
Although classed as a mid-range phone, the Samsung Galaxy S21: FE pretty much offers what you get on the S21.
Yes, the back is plastic and some of the camera specs are reduced, but it’s got punchy performance and a myriad of top-tier features – including an in-display fingerprint sensor, face unlock, stereo speakers, Android 12 (with three years of promised updates), and up to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: final verdict
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE? Well, it all comes down to price. When it was first released, it cost £699 and was just £100 cheaper than the full-fledged Galaxy S21.
If you find it cheaper than that – and with the Samsung Galaxy S22 range now you probably can – then this is a solid entry for Samsung, a handset that gets a lot of good and not a lot of bad.