Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Review: Wait for a Price Drop

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G

The ‘Fan Edition’ or FE series from Samsung was designed to offer enthusiast users flagship-grade smartphone features at mid-range prices. Samsung nailed it with the Galaxy S20 FE 5G, leaving not a lot of room for improvement. This year, we have a follow-up FE smartphone called the Galaxy S21 FE 5G, which Samsung hopes will be another runaway success. As I’ve already pointed out in my first impressions of the phone, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is an incremental update that doesn’t really elevate the FE experience by much, but nevertheless will be an important phone in Samsung’s portfolio once the Galaxy S20 FE 5G is phased out.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Review: Wait for a Price DropSamsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G price in India

Samsung has launched the Galaxy S21 FE 5G in two variants, with 128GB of storage for Rs. 54,999 and 256GB of storage for Rs. 58,999. Both variants have 8GB of RAM. Samsung currently has a cashback offer which knocks a cool Rs. 5,000 off the official price, as well as other trade-in offers.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G design

The most noticeable change in the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G compared to its predecessor is its design. This phone looks like an extension of the Galaxy S21 series thanks to the ‘contour-cut’ shape of the rear camera module. However, unlike the S21 series, the cladding around the cameras is plastic and not metal, and it doesn’t extend from the metal frame. The matte finish of the Graphite colour unit that I have looks a bit dull, but I’m sure the Olive, Lavender and White trims will liven things up. This phone looks good overall, and although the back panel is still plastic, it should offer better resilience to cracks if dropped, compared to glass.

Another change that’s not very apparent is weight. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G weighed 190g but the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a lot lighter at 177g, which many users will appreciate. Coupled with a thickness of just 7.9mm and rounded edges everywhere, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a very comfortable phone to carry and use one-handed. The body is aluminium and the buttons along the right have a good tactile feel. There’s no headphone jack or microSD card slot, but you get a dual Nano-SIM tray and a USB Type-C port on the bottom.

 

The Galaxy S20 FE 5G did support storage expansion using a microSD card, but unfortunately that’s not the case with this model. We’ve seen many mid-range phones of late ditch support for expandable storage, so I’m not completely surprised, and Samsung does offer a 256GB variant for those who need more storage. However, there are going to be some users that will be disappointed.

The 6.4-inch AMOLED display is vibrant and has satisfying levels of brightness. It has a 120Hz peak refresh rate and Corning Gorilla Glass Victus for protection. The glass is flat, which makes usage a lot easier, but the edges of the front panel are very slightly curved to meet the sides and back, which adds to the in-hand comfort. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has an in-display fingerprint sensor and face recognition for biometric authentication. A fingerprint is the quickest way to unlock this phone. Face recognition is a bit slow and doesn’t work too well in the dark, unless you have the phone really close to your face.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G’s packaging has also shed some weight as Samsung doesn’t bundle a charger in the box anymore. In true flagship fashion, you only get a SIM eject tool and a USB Type-C to Type-C cable. If you use a high-wattage USB PD power adapter, you’ll be able to fast charge the Galaxy S21 FE 5G at up to 25W. It’s not super quick compared to what’s possible today, but it’s decent.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G specifications and software

A new smartphone model usually means there’s been an upgrade to the SoC and the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G gets the same Exynos 2100 SoC as seen in the flagship S21 series. It’s a powerful SoC that has performed well in past Samsung models, and does a good job running Android 12 on the Galaxy S21 FE 5G too. Some global variants of this phone sport the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 instead, which is what we were hoping to see in the Indian models. Once again, there are going to be some disappointed fans out there because of this decision. The Exynos 2100 supports a good number of 5G bands, for whenever that becomes relevant here in India, and also popular wireless standards such as Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, and NFC for Samsung Pay. This phone also features wireless Dex mode for sharing content to a larger screen and using it like a PC.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, an IP68 certification for dust and water resistance, and wireless charging. The phone runs OneUI 4.0 which is based on Android 12. HDR10 video playback is supported. Traces of Google’s Material You design language can be seen in the menus and widgets but it’s still very much OneUI and nothing like the Android 12 experience you’d see on a Pixel device.

 

The software ran well and it’s the typical Samsung experience, with plenty of shortcuts and customisations to play with. I did notice one bug –  the framerate of the interface would randomly dip, making gestures and animations feel very jerky. This would correct itself after a while. I noticed it a few times when I began reviewing the phone and even after applying the first OTA update. It could be an issue with just my unit, so we’ll have to wait and see if more people report this bug.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G performance and battery life

I’ve had the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G with me for a little more than a week and it’s exactly what I expected — a no-nonsense value flagship that does everything you ask of it, and does it well. What I liked most about it was the low weight, which made it very comfortable to carry in my pocket or hand. Folks who often carry two phones will definitely appreciate this even more. The matte finish of the back and the glossy display did attract some fingerprints, but not a lot. Even without a case, the body didn’t pick up any scuff marks, which is a good sign. The display is very legible outdoors and the touch response of the phone is very good. I found the auto-brightness to be a little slow at adapting to ambient light at times, but this wasn’t a regular occurrence.

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Multimedia performance was great too. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G supports HDR10 playback and apps such as Netflix recognise this ability too. Games ran very well with smooth framerates and pleasing visuals. Call of Duty: Mobile was fun to play and framerates were stable even at the highest graphics setting that the game would allow. The same went for Asphalt 9: Legends. After 15-20 minutes of continuous gaming, the back of the phone did get a little warm. The stereo speakers sounded very good, both for gaming and for watching videos. Benchmark numbers were also top-notch. The Galaxy S21 FE 5G scored 7,28,951 points in AnTuTu and a solid 1,087 and 3,245 points in Geekbench 5’s single and multi-core tests respectively.

This brings us to battery life. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G has the same 4,500mAh battery capacity as the Galaxy S20 FE 5G, but sadly, didn’t fare as well in our HD video battery loop test. The phone ran for just 11 hours and 44 minutes, compared to the 18+ hours completed by the Galaxy S20 FE 5G with the Snapdragon 865 SoC. Coincidently, the 4G version of the Galaxy S20 FE, which used the Exynos 990 SoC (the flagship of the S20 generation) also posted a much lower runtime of under 13 hours in our loop test. The phone fared well in mixed usage though, and on most days I was able to comfortably get through one full day on a single charge. This included a bit of gaming, use of social apps, and taking photos.

 

As I mentioned before, charging the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G isn’t the quickest we’ve seen, but it’s decent. I used a OnePlus WarpCharge 65T power brick, which is capable of 45W USB PD charging. It was able to charge this phone to 83 percent in an hour.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G cameras

The camera specs of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G are similar to those of its predecessor. There’s a 12-megapixel primary camera with optical stabilisation and an f/1.8 aperture; along with an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with 3X optical zoom, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, and a 32-megapixel selfie camera on the front. The camera interface and shooting modes are similar to what we’ve seen on recent Samsung flagships. One thing worth noting is that there’s no macro mode, since there’s no dedicated macro camera and the ultra-wide camera lacks autofocus, so it can’t shoot extreme close-ups either.

Daytime photos looked rich and vibrant on the phone’s display. There’s a good level of detail, colours were nicely saturated, and Samsung’s post processing worked well at cleaning up noise. The main camera also did a superb job with close-ups, producing a very pleasing background blur. Autofocus was quick and adaptive. The shutter button lets you take a single photo with a quick press, record a video with a long press, and take a burst with a right-swipe gesture (when holding the phone in landscape).

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G main camera sample (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G ultra-wide camera sample (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G telephoto (3X) camera sample (tap to see full size)

The ultra-wide camera captured comparatively weaker details but it’s useful as you can get some interesting perspectives of your subject. The telephoto camera was serviceable at up to 10X digital zoom, but the quality degraded quickly beyond this magnification level. The maximum hybrid zoom level with this camera is 30X.

In low light, the camera app’s scene optimiser automatically engaged Night mode for a brighter image. Objects in the viewfinder appeared very grainy in low light, but the final processed image was a lot better. I even managed to get usable shots from the ultra-wide camera with Night mode.

The selfie camera produced very good results during the day and in low light. Details were very good and colours were accurately represented.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G close-up camera sample (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G main camera sample with Night mode (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G selfie camera sample with Night mode (tap to see full size)

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G does a good job with video recording too. Stabilisation was good during the day and at night, with only minor jitter in the video. Audio in recordings also came out well. This phone can shoot videos at up to 4K 60fps with the front and rear cameras, which is impressive. The overall camera experience is similar to that of the Galaxy S20 FE 5G, which is to say, they are very dependable.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a fantastic value flagship from Samsung, in its own right. It checks all the boxes in terms of performance and features, and despite the bump in price, is still one of the only phones in this range to offer premium features such as wireless charging and IP68 waterproofing. The Galaxy S21 FE pretty much kills off the Galaxy S21, which doesn’t offer any significant value anymore at its current price.

There were a couple of areas in which I felt Samsung could have done better with the Galaxy S21 FE 5G. It would have been nice to have the option to expand storage, a bundled charger is always welcome, and battery life could have been better with regard to video playback. If any of these little misses might be a pain point for you, then look no further than Galaxy S20 FE 5G. There’s never been a better time to buy this phone, as its price is at an all-time low of just Rs. 36,999.

If you haven’t already snagged the launch offer and bought the Galaxy S21 FE 5G, I’d say the Galaxy S20 FE 5G offers far better value right now. It’s practically the same as the new model, so you really aren’t losing out on anything. The Galaxy S21 FE 5G will make more sense once its price drops and the Galaxy S20 FE 5G is phased out of the market, but till then, I’d recommend getting the older model instead.