The Galaxy S20 FE was one of Samsung’s better-selling phones of 2020. It brought with it the promise of a flagship smartphone experience, but at a more affordable price than what you’d typically pay for the top-of-the-line Galaxy S series flagships. But despite packing some seriously good cameras, a fun design language and a gorgeous display, the phone did suffer a little when it came to the core hardware.
Now at the turn of the year, Samsung launched the Galaxy S21 FE as an upgrade over the Galaxy S20 FE 5G. The new phone follows the same script as the fan edition phone from last year but crucially improves in key departments, including design and core hardware.
We’ve had the Galaxy S21 FE with us for a few days, giving us the chance to examine it in-depth and give a verdict on if the phone is worth your money.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G review: Design
Let’s get to the interesting bit first. The design.
So, the moment you lay your hands on the Galaxy S21 FE you’ll notice some interesting things. The first among them is just how the phone has obvious design similarities with the Galaxy S20 FE. There’s the use of plastic at the back with the frame on both the phones created using metal.
Both also feature curved corners and a central punch-hole camera at the top of the display. But, there are plenty of differences as well. Because of the presence of a slightly smaller display and thinner bezels on the S21 FE, the phone looks and feels more compact in the hand when compared to the Galaxy S20 FE. It is also a little lighter at 177 grams compared to the S20 FE which weighs in at 190g.
The Galaxy S21 FE also has a redesigned camera module which is more in line with the one found on the other S21 series phones. The one on the Galaxy S20 FE has a camera island that protrudes like the Galaxy S20 series phones.
All these elements combine to make the S21 FE a very interesting-looking phone, in my opinion, one that will appeal to a large audience.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G review: Display
At the front of the phone, we have a 6.4-inch display with no fancy curves on it. This is a flat display that offers support for up to FHD+ resolution. The flat panel is accompanied by very little in terms of bezels and houses a centre-aligned punch-hole for the selfie camera.
As you’d expect from Samsung, the AMOLED panel used on the device is quite feature-rich and is capable of fast refresh rates. While there is no support for adaptive refresh rates, it does offer support for working at either 60Hz or 120Hz. And as we found during our review, it also does not disappoint in performance. It offers deep blacks and punchy colours, making it great for watching movies or consuming multimedia content on the device.
In our Calman display tests, the Galaxy S21 FE performed well, clocking up an average DeltaE of 2.6 in both the sRGB and DCI-P3 colour space. However, in both the max DeltaE was a little on the higher side. Calman testing of the display also showed a very good contrast ratio and decent RGB balance as well. Samsung’s also done a good job tuning the display to have no visible colour biases running in the natural colour profile. This is something that the Calman testing also showed, with the panel throwing up a very good average correlated colour temperature of 6513.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G: Performance
In India, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is powered by the Exynos 2100 SoC. This is a chip built using the 5nm process. On the phone, this chip has been paired with 8GB of LDRR5 memory and up to 256GB of UFS3.1 storage. Because the phone runs on Samsung’s One UI 4, we also get support for the company’s RAM Plus feature which extends the RAM by another 4GB. This is a pretty powerful combination, even if not the most powerful for the start of 2022.
In benchmarks, this combination serves the phone well, with the S21 FE 5G racking up high scores in tests such as AnTuTu, Geekbench and 3D Mark WildLife. Interestingly, not only were these benchmarks scores higher than what the similarly specced Galaxy S21 Ultra achieved, but surprisingly also better than what some Snapdragon 888-based phones such as the OnePlus 9 managed to get in our tests. The only benchmark where the Galaxy S21 FE 5G did not perform too well was the CPU Throttling Test. Here, we found the chipset being dramatically throttled after the 15-minute mark of the test, leading us to believe the phone possibly has issues with handling thermals.
In real-world scenarios, these numbers translated into smooth performance in day-to-day tasks while running apps of daily use such as Twitter, Facebook and even when browsing the internet through apps like Chrome. Gaming performance too was pretty good, with Gamebench showing the Galaxy S21 FE can handle resource-intensive games such as Asphalt 9 Legends and Call of Duty 5 with relative ease. However, it must be noted the performance in games was not as stable as what we have previously seen on competing devices like the OnePlus 9 running last year’s flagship Snapdragon chipset.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Cameras
When it comes to optics, the Galaxy S21 FE does not offer anything new in the camera department. This is because Samsung has equipped the device with a triple rear camera setup that features a 12MP primary lens with support for OIS sat next to another 12MP ultra-wide camera. Completing the camera set-up is an 8MP telephoto lens with 3X optical zoom.
All three lenses throw up some really good results, with the primary lens churning out good shots in the daytime when the camera is fed with a good amount of natural light. Living up to our expectations, the lens captured detailed shots with rich and accurate colours. These shots offer good dynamic range and even more improved results with HDR on.
The ultra-wide lens is also good, with clicking shots with plenty of details in them. However, there is some fish-eye effect in the images captured using this lens. The telephoto lens is our least favourite lens of the set-up. But, that’s not a consequence of the poor performance of the lens. Rather, it’s because of just how little usability telephoto lenses offer in general. The lens does offer serviceable details at 3x optical zoom. However, the quality of the images takes a hit once you zoom in further digitally.
Apart from these, the S21 FE’s camera app and supporting computational photography algorithms ensure the phone performs well in low light conditions. With the primary lens, we clicked some really good shots that packed in a lot of detail and very little noise to ruin the frame.
Apart from these, the phone also brings modes such as Single Take and Live Focus. The latter is the phone’s portrait mode which clicks some really nice shots with good depth effect in them. The mode works almost equally well in both daytime and low light conditions. However, in the latter, the level of detail and accuracy of the blur along the edges of the subject goes for a toss a little.
For selfies, the phone comes with a 32MP lens that captures accurate skin tones and skin details in well-lit situations. The low light performance of the lens, however, is something that leaves a little to be desired.
Galaxy S21 FE review: Battery
For battery, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes with a 4,500mAh battery pack — much like the Galaxy S20 FE 5G. This pack manages to ensure the phone lasts over a day on moderate use and also gets you through the day even if subjected to heavy usage. When the phone runs out of charge, the device can be topped up using a 25W charger in about an hour and a half.
Honestly, for a phone in 2022, this just doesn’t cut it anymore as much more affordable devices are now offering even 120W fast charging promising a complete charge in less than 20 minutes. But the S21 FE does have a few other tricks up its sleeve. The phone also comes with support for wireless charging. However, the speeds here are slightly slower, topping up at 15W.
Galaxy S21 FE 5G review: Verdict
With all the gyan out of the way, let’s get to the all-important question.
Is the Galaxy S21 FE worth buying?
For me, the answer would be a yes. The Galaxy S21 FE is a good deal if you’re looking to buy a new phone that not only works like a truly high-end device but also looks and feels as such. It flaunts a killer display, offers good performance, and also comes with the promise of clicking good photos in a variety of conditions.
The only catch here is its price.
At Rs 54,999, the Galaxy S21 FE is actually not badly priced. But could the pricing have been better? Maybe, yes. Considering the fiercely fought segment the phone comes in, Samsung could have done the S21 FE 5G a favour by launching the phone with a much more aggressive price tag. It would have not only helped the S21 FE 5G compete better with phones from the likes of OnePlus, iQOO and Xiaomi but also helped it look like a no-brainer in front of the Galaxy S20 FE 5g which despite offering a similar camera and overall performance, is retailing at a much more aggressive price point.