The Galaxy S21 Ultra is priced “premium” and so is the iPhone 13 Pro. The Galaxy S21 FE (the FE stands for Fan Edition), and despite being a high-end smartphone costs less than that of the Galaxy S21. The rationale behind the Galaxy S21 FE is simple: sell a phone that provides the same level of exclusivity you would expect from a top-tier device but at a price that attracts aspirational customers who are willing to shell a little more for this premium offering. That formula worked beautifully for Samsung in the past with the Galaxy S20 FE but the S21 FE comes at an odd time, especially when the launch of the Galaxy S22 is just around the corner.
Having used the Galaxy S21 FE for 5 days, I have developed a fondness for this phone while being mindful of its cons. Here’s my review of the Galaxy S21 FE.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE price in India: Rs 54,999 onwards
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: Design and aesthetics
The Galaxy S21 FE is a typical Samsung phone. The design has a vibe that reminds me of the Galaxy S21. It’s fresh and modern, yet familiar. The sides of the phone are all metal, while the back is plastic. The glass front and plastic back feel high quality and durable, like the Galaxy S21.
But holding the Galaxy S21 FE gives you a feeling of a very expensive object. The back has this matte finish to it as if it is glass and not polycarbonate plastic. My review unit is all grey and resists fingerprints. This is still a large phone, given its 6.4-inch screen size, and it does require two hands to reach the top of the screen.
The phone is rated IP68 for water resistance, meaning it can withstand the rains. Like we saw in the case of the Galaxy S21, here also the camera module has been neatly blended into the corner of the phone.
The Galaxy S21 FE is a pretty clean phone. The power and volume rocker live on the right-hand side, while the bottom of the device features a USB-C port sandwiched between the speaker and SIM. Both antenna bands and microphones are etched into the frame.
Unfortunately, Samsung has removed the expandable storage — so choose the internal storage capacity accordingly. You can opt for 128GB or 256GB storage with 8GB of RAM. Overall, the Galaxy S21 FE lives up to the quality we come to expect from Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: Display and speakers
The S21 FE has a 6.4-inch screen. This is a Full HD Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, similar to that of the Galaxy S21. Colours look accurate, while blacks and contrast are impressive. Photos, videos or reading texts look fine on the Galaxy S21 FE’s screen. It also supports an adaptive switch refresh rate, ranging from 60Hz to 120Hz. The idea is to intelligently ramp up to 120Hz when motion is necessary and slowly back down when not in use to save battery life.
The high refresh rate makes your phone feel more responsive, and its benefits are clearly visible when scrolling through your Facebook feed. The screen doesn’t have curves at the edges, a trademark quality among Samsung’s high-end smartphones. The point is a display with curved edges does not make the experience any different when consuming content. Yes, it looks cool but those screens are more susceptible to cracking easily.
You will also find an in-screen fingerprint reader and facial authentication for unlocking the device, which I found to be reliable. The stereo speakers on the S21 FE are loud and clear, good enough for watching videos or listening to casual music.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: Performance and battery life
For the India variant of the Galaxy S21 FE, Samsung is using the Exynos 2100 processor. The chipset is more or less equivalent to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor. The Exynos 2100 is fast and capable enough to run all the apps I typically use in a day be it Twitter, Microsoft Teams, Linkedin, Apple Music, WhatsApp or Chrome. I also ran games like Dragon Ball Z Legends and Final Fantasy: The First Soldier on the S21 FE, and the experience was on par with any flagship-level Android smartphone.
The phone comes loaded with One UI 4.1, built upon Android 12. The One UI is less clunky and highly customisable. The interface is familiar visually but has all the features that make Android 12 so user friendly, including new theme options and privacy changes. With the S21 FE, Samsung is promising three years of guaranteed Android updates, a step in the right direction.
The 5G-enabled phone features a 4,450mAh battery and it easily made it through a full day before needing to be recharged. That’s not bad, considering I used the phone with the 120Hz display option all the time. You get up to 25W wired and 15W wireless charging. You won’t get a charger in the box, though. It applies to every flagship smartphone Samsung sells on the market. It also supports reverse wireless charging, a feature that comes in handy when you own truly wireless earbuds like the Galaxy Buds 2.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: Cameras
There are three cameras on the back, a 12MP sensor for the main and ultra-wide lenses and an 8MP telephoto lens with a 30X zoom. The ultra-wide lens has a 120-degree field of view, while the telephoto lens supports 3X optical zoom. The camera experience is on the same level as the Galaxy S21. Images look sharp and detailed, and the camera performs well in different light settings. Colours are saturated, as usual, but the images always look true to life.
The details are sharp – but there have been times the camera tends to oversharpen the subject. The Galaxy S21 FE can achieve closer zoom shots with up to a 30x digital zoom, though it isn’t still worth it. I noticed substantial noise in those images. While the regular S21 can also record 8K video, unlike the S21 FE, which maxes out at 4K UHD video. The 8K videos make no difference to average users no matter how smartphone brands market them.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: Should you buy it?
I clearly remember the Galaxy S2O FE was a great deal, and Samsung nailed the pricing. The Galaxy S21 FE is a solid phone and is in line with the best Samsung phones on the market. Yes, the Galaxy S21 FE isn’t any different from the Galaxy S21 but the phone ranks high on every parameter needed to make a great phone. Is it an exceptional phone? Depends on how you see it.