Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hands-on: better late than never
The second-gen affordable premium phone is better than ever.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year and four months since Samsung redefined the “flagship killer” concept with the Galaxy S20 FE. At the time, the phone blew us away with its quality, delivering a true flagship experience for a significantly lower price than a “regular” Galaxy S20. The Galaxy S21 FE has been rumored for nearly six months, and now we finally got the chance to try it out.
The Galaxy S21 FE debuts with some of the expected upgrades over its predecessor but still retains many of the points that made the S20 FE a more affordable device. You won’t find a brand new camera array on this phone when compared to last year’s device — that’s a 12MP sensor for the main and ultra-wide lenses, while an 8MP sensor still resides behind the 3X telephoto lens — but Samsung has upgraded the styling to be more in line with the Galaxy S21 and the rumored Galaxy S22 series.
The display got a big touch latency upgrade — up to 240Hz touch response rate when using game mode — and the processor has been bumped up to the same Snapdragon 888 that powers the rest of the Galaxy S21 lineup. But, despite the Galaxy S21 being less expensive than the Galaxy S20 at launch, the Galaxy S21 FE launches at the same $699 price as the Galaxy S20 FE.
That makes it $100 less than a standard Galaxy S21 — and it sports a bigger screen than that phone, too — but does it make too many concessions for a mere $100 savings? Our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hands-on should help you get an idea of the answer.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hands-on: Price and availability
|Category||Samsung Galaxy S21 FE|
|OS||Android 12 + One UI 4|
|Memory||6GB or 8GB|
|Display||6.4 inches, 120Hz refresh rate, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 2340 x 1080 resolution|
|Storage||128GB or 256GB|
|Rear Camera||12MP, ƒ/1.8 (wide-angle)
12MP, ƒ/2.2 (ultra-wide)
8MP, ƒ/2.4, 3x optical zoom (telephoto)
|Front Camera||32MP, ƒ/2.2|
25W Fast Charging
15W Wireless Charging
Reverse Wireless Charging
|Water and dust resistance||IP68|
|Colors||White, Graphite, Olive, Lavender|
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE will be available on January 11 from all major carriers and unlocked from Samsung, as well as the usual retailers that carry Samsung phones. Samsung set the MSRP for the Galaxy S21 FE to $699.99 — the same price the Galaxy S20 FE launched at — making it $100 less than the regular Galaxy S21.
The Galaxy S21 FE with 6GB RAM with 128GB internal storage sells for $699.99, while $769.99 will upgrade that to 8GB RAM with 256GB internal storage.
As is the case with most Samsung phone launches, the Galaxy S21 FE can be had for a deal at launch from many carriers, including AT&T. AT&T is selling the Galaxy S21 FE for $15/month on a qualifying installment plan, which makes it $540 total. That’s $160 less than the retail price. At that price, the phone is an absolute steal and incredibly easy to recommend.
Samsung will likely be running its usual trade-in promotions for the phone, meaning you can get the Galaxy S21 FE for hundreds less if you trade in a qualifying smartphone and use the credit towards the purchase of a new Galaxy S21 FE.
Don’t call it budget
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
The more affordable flagship phone
The Galaxy S21 FE puts all the best parts of the Galaxy S21 in a more affordable shell.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hands-on: Hardware refinements
For the past year and change, we’ve been raving about the Galaxy S20 FE. Not only was the price excellent — especially when it went on sale — but the overall experience was just as good as a regular Galaxy S20 for most users. The Galaxy S21 FE brings about an upgraded processor that will be able to handle anything you throw at it, including the upgraded 120Hz display.
The Galaxy S21 FE is very much a combined and refined version of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S20 FE.
Now, the Galaxy S20 FE also had a 120Hz panel, but the S21 FE features the Dynamic AMOLED 2X from the S21 series — bringing about general improvements in image quality and refresh rate tweaks — which features a new 240Hz input refresh while game mode is enabled.
While it was subtle, I could tell the difference between the input latency while playing fast games that require twitch reflexes. In short, a 240Hz refresh rate means that the Galaxy S21 FE is able to detect any touches on the screen twice as fast as the 120Hz display physically refreshes the image.
Because of that, you’ll feel like any touches made to the screen are absolutely instantaneous. This sort of 240Hz input refresh tech has been used on the Galaxy S20 and S21 — as well as plenty of phones from other manufacturers — but it’s a first for the FE series.
The panel itself looks absolutely gorgeous, as you might expect from a Samsung display, and is both plenty bright outdoors as well as ultra-smooth when 120Hz mode is enabled. You’ll find that 120Hz is enabled out of the box, so the best experience can be had without tweaking a single thing.
As far as design is concerned, the Galaxy S21 FE is very much a combined and refined version of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S20 FE. As with both of those phones, the side rails of the Galaxy S21 FE are metal, while the back is plastic. This is a nice powdery plastic that feels solid throughout, with no obvious give even if you press hard on it.
The entire body sports a matte finish, which helps make it more difficult to tell which parts are metal and which are plastic. That’s a stark contrast from the glitzy, shiny Galaxy S21.
Samsung continues to reduce the overall number of curves found on its phones, straightening out the back corner contours and the metal side rails to form a more uniform curve. The unique camera hump from the S21 has been brought over but now features a smoother transition between the back and the hump. I preferred the dual-tone colors of the S21 series but like the curve on the S21 FE’s camera hump better.
Samsung also lowered the location of the in-display fingerprint reader when compared to the S21, which I find to be a far more natural position. In fact, there were several times where I pulled the phone out of my pocket only to find that I had unlocked it in the process of grabbing it, simply because the fingerprint reader now resides in the exact location where I grab the phone.
Samsung continues to reduce the overall number of curves found on its phones.
The biggest hardware downgrade is, without a doubt, the haptic motors. Out of the box, the Galaxy S21 FE’s haptic motors feel cheap and old, delivering that harsh, imprecise vibration of the phones of yore. This won’t bother you if you’re someone who turns haptic feedback off right away but, for folks like myself, it’s a big turnoff if you’ve become a haptic feedback snob over the past few years.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hands-on: Software, battery, and camera upgrades
The Galaxy S21 FE launches with One UI 4, built upon Android 12, and all the fantastic features from other Samsung flagships are here and as good as ever. The new theme engine ensures that your device feels unique by changing the color of the UI based upon the wallpaper you’ve chosen.
Additionally, Android 12 brought sweeping privacy changes, including a privacy dashboard and icons that appear on the screen any time an app requests the use of your camera, microphones, or location. Unlike Google, Samsung didn’t go out of its way to significantly alter the visual style of One UI with the Android 12 upgrade. Rather, it’s the same interface you love, now with a bit more color.
Good Lock remains one of my absolute favorite reasons to use a Samsung phone, simply because it offers more customization options than any other OEM bothers to. Want a different multitasking screen that’s far more useful than the stock one? How about the complete history of all your notifications? No matter what you want to change, Good Lock is almost guaranteed to allow it.
While it features the same battery size as last year, I was able to squeeze two full days of use out of the phone in the short few days I’ve had with it. Even power users will be able to get more than a full day’s worth of use from this phone, and charging up is quick, thanks to the 25W wired and 15W wireless charging. It’s also got reverse wireless charging in case you need to top up a pair of the best wireless earbuds.
The camera, too, has seen a few tweaks and upgrades despite not having any major hardware spec changes. I’ve been able to snap a few shots between the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21 FE and came away impressed with the results. Samsung looks to have further enhanced the HDR processing, adding in more shadow detail and balancing out highlights slightly better than the Galaxy S21, both of which were running Android 12 with One UI 4 in these comparisons.
The only place where the S21 FE fell behind was in video recording, as there’s no option to record 8k video. Still, it’s not likely that most people will concern themselves with this feature, so it’s probably not a real loss.
The Galaxy S21 FE supports all the rest of the expected modes and features, including 30x Space Zoom, which combines a hybrid digital and optical zoom via the 3x telephoto lens. The downside here is that the telephoto camera is only 8MP, so it won’t ever look as good as a phone with a larger sensor.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hands-on: Still the value king?
When the Galaxy S20 FE launched, it surprised many people because it cut out the “least important” specs and delivered a huge $300 price cut when compared to the Galaxy S20. This time around, the Galaxy S21 FE is only $100 less than its respective more-premium Galaxy S21 phone, which makes it feel like less of a value win for customers.
Still, from my fairly short time with the phone over the weekend, I’m inclined to continue recommending the FE model over the standard Galaxy S21 because there are very few concessions made that will matter to the majority of folks.
But the elephant in the room is the Google Pixel 6. At $100 less than the Galaxy S21 FE, the Pixel 6 will likely remain the choice for folks wanting to spend less without actually getting less from their phone.
The elephant in the room is the Google Pixel 6, which is a further $100 less expensive than Samsung’s offerings.
The question, of course, is whether or not Google can iron out the myriad of Pixel 6 bugs that keep cropping up. Google certainly has the price advantage here, but Samsung tends to be better about stable software updates these days, in addition to users more options and features out of the box.
We’ll have our full review shortly but, for now, Samsung appears to have yet another winner with the Galaxy S21 FE despite the fact that the price reduction over the standard S21 isn’t as stark as the previous iteration.
Source: Mobile Phones – Android Central