The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE scores high on the basics but how does it stack up against a bunch of Chinese flagship killers?
The FE lineup is to Samsung what the SE lineup is to Apple, and “Lite” to most other brands. The Galaxy S20 FE of 2020 was initially a sweet smartphone but after the arrival of the Snapdragon variant, it became very sought after in the sub-segment. ₹50,000 segments and is now quite a classic. Many doubted that Samsung would be able to pull off the same effect with the Galaxy S21 FE. It’s got the same formula that made the S20 FE a fan favorite but with improvements that lacked the old one.
And the recipe works. After spending a few days with the Galaxy S21 FE, I can say that it makes the Galaxy S20 FE look like a relic of the past. Although India gets the Exynos version, there is less need for the Snapdragon variant this time. The S21 FE is better built, has a great display, looks great and still has some amazing cameras.
But flagship killers from Xiaomi, OnePlus and some other brands are also coming our way in 2022. Knowing what the others bring to the table, is the Galaxy S21 FE enough to hold off Samsung in the category?
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE design
The Galaxy S21 FE is drawn from the S21 lineup and therefore, proudly wears the same design ethos that impressed us. It has the same neatly cut edges and cleverly shaped surfaces to give it a premium feel. The rear has the same S21 look but with reduced attention to detail around the camera. There are simple lines all around and as a result, the jaw-dropping appeal is gone. To add to that, Samsung’s choice of light pastel colors doesn’t do the design justice. Fancy olive green looks dull even in the absence of sunlight.
That said, the phone is built supreme. The fit and finish is excellent and despite the plastic back, it feels high quality. Most importantly, it is comfortable to hold. The front display bezels are incredibly slim; They make every other “bezel-less” phone design dated.
Plus, there’s an IP68 water and dust resistance rating – something only the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11 offer around this price. The display is covered in Gorilla Glass Victus, which should make the phone’s glass surface pretty shatter-resistant. Also, there is 15W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging for accessories. Samsung, unfortunately, removes the in-box charger and does not include a case in the package.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE display
At 6.4-inches, the Galaxy S21 FE’s display is large enough. These dimensions feature Samsung’s finely tuned AMOLED display with support for HDR10+ colors and a refresh rate of 120Hz. Compared to displays we’ve seen on the iPhone 12 and other AMOLED-display phones at this price point, the Galaxy S21 FE’s display looks alive.
Be it the One UI 4 interface or the varied vivid colors of the Instagram timeline, they all look beautiful on this display. The brightness level is adequate and makes it easily legible under the sun. The 120Hz refresh rate makes every animation and scrolling look smooth, but the lack of variable refresh rate tech means it’s not as energy efficient as the regular Galaxy S21’s display.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE performance
Critics have seen the Exynos 2100 chip as a “meh” alternative to the Snapdragon 888 on the US version. To be honest, I’ve seen more issues with Snapdragon 888 phones over the past year and the Exynos 2100 was more stable in comparison. Performance metrics are similar to what we saw on the Galaxy S21 last year, with the chip more than happy to handle day-to-day tasks efficiently.
Samsung has since introduced its well-optimized One UI 4 experience. Based on Android 12, it’s the most beautiful smartphone OS I’ve seen this year. The interface is neatly designed and you’ll be surprised to see Samsung packing in extra features that many Android phones still don’t have. This year, system ads are gone from Samsung apps, and other important productivity apps come from either Google or Microsoft. Samsung’s own apps are pared down to the basics but you can always download them from the Galaxy Store.
Throughout my days, One UI 4 on the Galaxy S21 FE was like a symphony – everything fell into place when you tapped an app or scrolled through menus/lists. The phone feels snappier than iOS 15 on current iPhone 13 models! The privacy indicator is a nice touch from Android 12 itself, and it’s a great relief to know that your phone tells you when an app opens the mic or camera.
In terms of gaming, the Galaxy S21 FE’s strength is good. The Exynos 2100 almost matches the capabilities of the Snapdragon 888, and a year later, games like Call of Duty: Mobile and Shadow Fight 4 Arena are perfectly optimized to take full advantage of the chip.
That said, audio output through stereo speakers isn’t the best we’ve seen in the segment. Audio quality is good but seems flat when compared to ROG Phone 5 and Xiaomi Mi 11X Pro. The volume level is decent but the loudspeaker volume during calls can be high at least for an Indian variant.
Network reception has been strong so far, with the phone retaining the Jio 4G network even in the basement. The chip also supports 5G networks but at the moment, this is just a fancy feature.
That said, I was disappointed with the haptic feedback. The vibration motor on the Galaxy S21 is not well controlled and hence, feels unsatisfactory, especially for a Galaxy S series device.
Samsung Galaxy S21 cameras
The Galaxy S21 FE cameras don’t boast the same megapixel count as its competition, but they’re far outdone by real-world performance. The main 12MP camera is brilliant in both day and night conditions, preserving plenty of detail and color counts. Photos take on the traditional “Samsung saturated” look but each photo looks alive. I personally prefer the white balance and sweet dynamic range (color variety) this camera produces.
The 12MP ultra-wide is one of the better ultra-wide cameras I’ve seen in this segment, with largely the same color profile and performance as the main camera. At night, however, there are signs of conflict. The 8MP telephoto camera is good for portraits and regular zooming, while the 3X optical range is useful for shooting birds. Zoomed photos look great, but pixel-peepers may notice how much upscaling the camera has done.
Video shooting performance is best in class. Wide dynamic range, good noise suppression and decent stabilization are the visual attributes of the Galaxy S21 FE’s video mode. You can shoot 4K video at 60 fps; There are no 8K videos.
Finally, the 32MP front camera also impresses with its capabilities, taking clear selfies with facial details and natural skin tones.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Battery
Having a 4500mAh battery on a flagship-grade phone is good enough these days, provided the entire system is well optimized. With the first build of One UI 4 on top of Android 12, the Galaxy S21 FE is a day-one phone. On weekdays when there were more “phone-like” tasks on the phone (phone calls, reading emails, texting, social media, and occasional camera work), I was getting through the day with 25-30 percent power left. Adding video calls often drops the battery meter below 20 percent. Maybe a future update can improve the stamina, and I really hope Samsung does, because most Samsung phones don’t improve their stamina as they age.
With no charger in the box, I relied on a 120W Xiaomi charger to keep the phone alive. With less than 20 percent battery, it takes more than 1.5 hours to fully charge. Charging the same with a 15W wireless charger will make you wait more than 2 hours. In a world where half-priced phones fully charge in under 20 minutes, this seems slow in every way.
The Galaxy S21 FE is like the iPhone 12 in many ways — just a great high-end phone for everyone. Samsung seems to have created a phone for those who want a great high-end experience without spending a penny north of Rs. 60,000. Unlike the Galaxy S20 FE, where the cost-cutting was more obvious, the Galaxy S21 FE doesn’t feel that different from the regular S21. It has a great display, really nice cameras, smooth performance and an overall good user experience.
It’s not perfect though. For a phone that costs Rs. 55,000, the Galaxy S21 FE pales in comparison to the iPhone 12, the much cheaper iQOO 7 Legend, and Vivo’s X70 series – which doesn’t bat an eye even without the Samsung case. Battery life has room for improvement and charging speeds are slow by modern “flagship” standards.
So, who should buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE? Based on our experience, we think you’ll be really happy with the S21 FE if you care about a great Android experience sprinkled with Samsung-ness, a vibrant display for your Netflix/Prime video sessions, timely updates and security patches, and a versatile experience. Still a solid camera experience. We recommend gamers keep this in mind but anything powered by Snapdragon 888, or Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 will be great at this price point.
Name of the product
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
- Great display
- Impressive cameras
- Sublime user experience
6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 120Hz
Samsung Exynos 2100
A UI 4 on Android 12
12MP Main + 12MP Ultrawide + 8MP 3X Zoom
4500mAh, 25W fast charging