The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G might be considered as being a strategic error on Samsung’s part: the Samsung Galaxy S22 lineup is already here, the S21 and the S21 Plus both offer additional features and performance at a similar price, so the big question is: can the Galaxy S21 FE differentiate itself enough to have any kind of success? I tried to keep away from the market perspective in this review and focus on the objective qualities of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. Is it worth buying if you can get it at a good price? Here are my findings:
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G: Who is it good for?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a great choice for:
- Users who want proven technology in a robust smartphone
- People who enjoy having a powerful flagship phone, but don’t want to spend the extra money for the best of the best
- Users for whom screen quality and refresh rate is important (gamers, multimedia consumers)
- Young people who want a good all-rounder
Pros and cons
Testing the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has revealed its most attractive features:
- The screen is great, bright, and capable of 120 Hz refresh rate and HDR+
- The cameras are predictable, easy to use, and provide good all-round results
- The smartphone has excellent dust and water protection and seems sturdy
- Its chipset is among the most powerful available at the time of the review
- Samsung’s One UI keeps getting better with each iteration
- The battery is upgraded from the Galaxy S21 (4500 mAh vs 4000 mAh)
I also discovered several minor issues:
- The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G doesn’t have expandable storage
- There is no headphone jack
- There are no accessories and no charger provided
- It competes in a market segment where it has to fight Samsung’s other flagships
In a world where the Galaxy S22 exists, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has very little room to succeed. Also, the Galaxy S21 is very close in terms of price and performs better. The Galaxy S22 is much more expensive, but it’s still the new generation. This leaves the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G in an awkward position. Looking strictly at its features and performance, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is an excellent allrounder, with flagship specs and a polished user interface. It will definitely feel very familiar to the fans of the brand, while having no glaring weaknesses. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who wants a powerful smartphone, but the truth is there’s a very high chance you can get a Galaxy S21 or an S21 Plus for a similar price.
Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is supposed to be an “affordable flagship”, and that is apparent as soon as you look at its box. While the front of the box is embossed and looks pretty cool, its size doesn’t give you much hope of finding any accessories inside. Its exact dimensions are 6.81 x 3.58 x 1.61 inches (or 173 x 91 x 41 mm).
Looking at the back of the box, you get confirmation about the lack of accessories: there is a large note with tiny writing on it warning the user in several languages that no charger is supplied.
But hey! At least they included a charging cable and a SIM ejection tool. If they manage to implement Sony’s tool-less SIM tray ejection and Apple’s planned port-less design, they won’t have to give users anything apart from the actual smartphone. And the leaflets that no one reads, of course. Until then, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has a 3.3 feet long (1 meter) USB-C charging cable which you can use with any third-party charger with Power Delivery 3.0.
Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G was, as expected, a lackluster experience. There are no accessories in the box, but the package is sturdy and has attractive embossed graphics.
Design and build quality
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is ever-so-slightly larger and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S21. It measures 6.13 x 2.93 x 0.31 inches (155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm) and has a weight of 6.24 oz (177g). Subjectively, it feels solid, and I would describe the materials as being rugged, rather than premium. The back is made of plastic, while the frame is made of brushed aluminum. On the front, you get an excellent 6.4 inch AMOLED screen with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protection. The other features visible on the front are the selfie camera (with a round cutout) and the gray edges of the smartphone. What you can’t see, unless you are really paying attention, is the top speaker, housed just above the selfie camera.
The back of the phone looks cool, no matter which color you pick for your Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. The plastic back has a matte finish, while the camera cluster is not as defined as on the Samsung Galaxy S21 (but still raised slightly from the rest of the phone). The camera cluster format is the same, with three identical circular cutouts. Next to it, you can find the LED flash.
The top of the smartphone only houses a microphone. If you look closely, you can see a plastic insert in the metal frame, no doubt to improve signal reception. The plastic inserts are actually present on all sides of the device.
On the bottom of the phone, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G keeps the same layout as the original Samsung Galaxy S21, with a speaker, a microphone, the SIM tray, and a USB-C port, all flanked by the plastic inserts.
The right side of the phone houses the volume rocker and the power button. The buttons have good feedback and are just the right size.
The left side is completely devoid of features, in line with the design of the current Galaxy S21 range.
Like its more expensive siblings, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has an IP68 rating for dust and water protection, meaning it’s highly resistant to dust and can withstand being submerged for 30 minutes in up to 1.5m of fresh water. As with any electronic device, submerging it in salt water is not recommended. Since I touched on the subject of colors earlier, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G can be purchased in four different colors: white (the one I tested), graphite black, lavender, and olive green. Apart from the white one, which has the brushed aluminum look for the frame, all the others have matching paint on the sides.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is unmistakably part of the Galaxy S21 family. It has similar features to its siblings, and it feels as solid as the S21. It’s slightly larger, but still well below the size of the Galaxy S21 Plus. The materials are a step down in terms of premium feel, but they seem very durable.
Looking at the spec sheet, there are very few things missing on the Galaxy S21 FE compared to the more expensive S21. The chipset is still the same, Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G with an Adreno 660 GPU and 6 or 8 GB of RAM. Some regions are going to get an improved version of the Exynos 2100 chipset, but our device had the Snapdragon. Storage is either 128 GB or 256 GB, sadly without the ability to expand it. The operating system fills about 23 GB of space.
The screen of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is one of the downgrades from the Galaxy S21, if you can call a 120 Hz, HDR 10+ capable screen a “downgrade”. The AMOLED panel has a resolution of 1080 x 2400 pixels, a 400 ppi density, and a maximum brightness of 800 nits.
Moving on to the cameras, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has three of them on its back. The hardware is identical to the one on the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G. One notable addition is a 3x zoom for the telephoto. Here are the specs for each camera:
- The main camera has 12 MP, 1.8 µm pixels, Dual-Pixel autofocus, and 26mm f/1.8 lens with optical stabilization
- The ultrawide camera captures 12 MP images, has a pixel size of 1.12 µm and 13mm f/2.2 lens with fixed focus
- The telephoto camera sensor has a resolution of 8 MP, although it saves the pictures at the same 12 MP resolution as the other cameras. It has a 3x optical zoom, 1.0µm pixels, and 76mm f/2.4 lens with optical zoom. On paper, it can be considered as an upgrade over the Galaxy S21, as its zoom is optical, not digital, like on the S21.
The selfie camera has 32 MP, 25mm f/2.2 lens, and a fixed focus. It uses pixel binning to take 8 MP pictures.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G can shoot videos at 4K resolution with up to 60 fps, 1080p videos at 30/60 or 240 fps, and 720p videos at an amazing 960 fps for super slow-motion. The videos benefit from gyro stabilization.
In terms of connectivity and sensors, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has almost the same features as its more expensive siblings: Dual-SIM (only some versions), Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS with GLONASS, BDS, and GALILEO compatibility, accelerometer, gyro, proximity sensor, compass, and a front-mounted optical fingerprint sensor. Compared to the Galaxy S21, it lacks a barometer, and its fingerprint sensor is not ultrasonic.
The battery is, again, an upgrade from the Galaxy S21. It has a capacity of 4500 mAh and is advertised as being able to charge to 50% in 30 minutes using a Samsung 25W fast charger. I couldn’t obtain one in time for the review, but I did make a charging graph for a 15W third-party charger. Check it out on the next page! The smartphone can be charged wirelessly and can also provide wireless power to other devices. The efficiency and the charging times using this method are not great, though.
For a complete list of technical specifications, as well as the current price, you can visit the product webpage: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G 128GB.
On the next page, I describe the experience I had with the Galaxy S21 FE, both in terms of capturing photo and video, as well as actual day-to-day use. I also throw in some benchmark scores for good measure and describe the software environment. Let’s jump in!