For Samsung, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a cross between a premium flagship and a mid-range phone, but whether you need it or not is another story. Samsung first tried this approach with the Galaxy S20 FE back in 2020. This phone, however, feels like it came too late, if only because the Galaxy S22 models are just around the corner. Rather than a new concept, FE phones are like hybrids of past models. Samsung will take elements of a couple different past models and fashion something constructive out of it.
The Galaxy S21 FE is indeed that kind of device, and it’s mainly for people who want something dependable. You make compromises to get that reliability, and that’s where you’ll have decisions to make.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE specs
Display: 6.4-inch 2400 x 1080 Dynamic AMOLED 2X display 20:9 aspect ratio with 411 pixels per inch
For me, the obvious inspiration here is the Galaxy S21+ and S21. Samsung borrowed most heavily from those two devices, both of which were upper mid-range alternatives to the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s nice that the company maintains its flat screen approach, staying away from the curved displays of past years. It also made this a sturdy phone, with designs and trappings that put it firmly in the Galaxy S21 family.
The 6.4-inch display is a good example, as it’s pretty much exactly the same, save for the size difference. The Galaxy S21 FE sits right in between the S21 and S21+ in that regard. Not a huge phone, though not a small one, either. This middle-of-the-pack status really defines where the phone ultimately stands. The specs are very much the same way, as is the overall design.
That’s why I like to use the word “rehash” to describe it. It’s a by-product of the two aforementioned S21 phones, and doesn’t really come with its own identity. The back follows the same design principles, while the colour options align with those Samsung chose for the Galaxy Buds2.
Under the hood, the situation isn’t all that different. You get the same Snapdragon 888 processor, plus 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of internal storage. Put all that together, and you’re looking at a solid device that should meet expectations.
Galaxy S21 FE 5G performance and software
Just like the Galaxy S20 FE, the S21 FE’s 2400 x 1800 screen resolution means it won’t do a variable 120Hz refresh rate. Personally, I’m fine with that, as I understand the trade-offs involved. You get a smoother frame-rate throughout, though sacrifice some battery life at the same time. I should also note that this is a pretty bright screen, and high brightness is often a battery drain, so keep it at a moderate level and you squeeze more life per charge.
In all honesty, there’s not much that’s remarkable here, and that’s not a bad thing. Samsung built the Galaxy S21 FE to be more functional than exceptional, which will be obvious no matter how tech-savvy you are. For example, if you consider what your activity is like on a daily basis, be it a mix of messaging, social media, streaming, calls and browsing. This phone shouldn’t have much of a problem with those tasks. Even if you throw in gaming and watching live sports, you likely won’t encounter any major performance issues.
You also won’t get anything overly special, like S Pen support or advanced camera features. What you do get is a solid foundation that does what a phone of this calibre should. This should apply later on as well, given Samsung will commit to three years of updates to keep the device current. That also means the One UI overlay will get better as Android continues to improve.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G camera
The camera array has a lot in common with both the previous Galaxy S21 devices, and the Galaxy S20 FE. On paper, the specs align with the latter, but the image sensors partially come from the former. What you end up with is a good camera capable of taking good shots, though not always with every lens.
The 8-megapixel telephoto is the weak link of the group, and that’s most evident when you try using it in low-light. The others are much better, though not a huge departure from the previous models. Take a photo with the ultra-wide camera and you’re not going to see a big difference with the S20 FE. The main 12-megapixel lens is a tad better at rendering shadows, highlights and colours, but composition is otherwise similar.
That’s not to say you don’t get something good here. You do. It’s just that it’s not a leap forward in any particular way. If you were to shoot with a Galaxy S21 or S21+, for instance, you would come away with the same results. Samsung also kept a lot of the same shooting modes, so you have a number of ways to capture content.
Video isn’t all that different, too. You can get solid footage in 4K at up to 60fps, and in a new addition, you can shoot slow-motion clips at 240fps (in 1080p). Your results will certainly be better during the day than they will at night. Not to mention that you need to do more to stabilize the phone because footage can sometimes feel like it jitters or wiggles when you move with the phone. It’s not a serious drawback, but unless you use the SteadyShot mode, the S21 FE is a bit more sensitive to a lack of stability in your hands.
Galaxy S21 FE 5G battery life
To stick with its ongoing policy to go greener, Samsung doesn’t include a wall charger in the box. You do get the USB-C cable, so just plug it into any charger that can do 25W and it will fill up quickly. The phone also charges wirelessly up to 15W for extra convenience. It even lets you do the reverse through Wireless PowerShare to charge another device when you place it on the phone’s back.
On mixed and moderate usage, the Galaxy S21 FE held up all day for me without issue. It is the kind of device that can easily go a full day, even if you do stream a lot. Keep screen brightness at a moderate level, and you can offset any battery power the faster 120Hz refresh rate takes up.
This device does work with 5G networks, and I found that to work perfectly fine when I was able to get on one. Availability still has to grow from different carriers, but no matter what, you are prepared if you end up going with this phone.
Final thoughts on Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
It’s hard for me to recommend the Galaxy S21 FE because of timing. Samsung released it so close to a set of newer devices, and its similarities to previous ones put it in a tight spot to stand out. The Google Pixel 6 is cheaper and has a better camera, making it a viable alternative. Even the Galaxy S21 isn’t far off in cost, and its performance is already pretty close.
Your interest in this phone may come with your desire to use a Samsung device that has some size, without demanding a bigger premium from your wallet. It’s a solid handset that does what you would expect it to do. It just depends on whether you feel it’s worth it above the others I mentioned.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is available now in graphite, white, olive and lavender.