Towards the end of 2020, Samsung revealed its first Fan Edition smartphone for the Galaxy S range. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE was introduced as an alternative to the flagship range that year, offering most of the great features of the S20 range, while removing some of the non-essential elements in a bit to lower the overall costs to the buyer. The brand introduced another Fan Edition smartphone to its portfolio, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G.
In 2020, the S20 FE was announced at the end of September and went on sale a few weeks later in October. That was four months before the launch of the next big Galaxy S smartphone, the S21 range. This time around, however, due to many internal and external factors, the S21 FE was announced just a few weeks prior to the, then, upcoming first Samsung Unlocked event for 2022. Needless to say, irrespective of being a Fan Edition smartphone, the S21 FE would need to deliver on quite a lot to compete against the newly launched Galaxy S22 range.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Build and Design
As with all physical objects, the first thing you’re going to notice is the Galaxy S21 FE’s design. Although not immediate, you’ll also soon realise how much change Samsung has brought to the new smartphone compared to its older brother. The S21 range sported metallic accents across the frame and on the camera island on the rear.
I’m hesitant to use the word “cheaper” when referring to the build quality of the S21 FE but it is just that. And that’s the point. It has the same design as the other units in the range, but all the trimmings and frills have been removed for a more plastic approach. The entire smartphone has a more plastic feel than the rest of the units. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re trimming off some of the fat to introduce a leaner product.
In terms of the colours available, it’s also mostly the same. There are four colours to choose from, with black, white and purple still remaining. However, the rose colour was dropped and replaced with olive green instead. I won’t be too bothered by that, as none of them was of interest to me. The review unit I received was purple. This wouldn’t be my go-to option, however, it does ease on the eye over time and I’ve become quite fond of it.
The unit did pick up some weight over the holidays. That’s excusable, though, as you get a slightly larger screen as a bonus.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Screen and Display
As stated, the screen on the Galaxy S21 FE is larger. It has a 6.4” screen with a Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel, which supports a 120Hz refresh rate and HDR10+. The larger screen does bring a larger frame for the unit. It also brings with it a slightly larger bezel compare to the original, which decreases the screen-to-body ratio down to 85.3% from 87.2%.
Further to this, it features the same display with a 1080x2400px with a 411ppi pixel density. Again, due to the larger screen real estate, the pixel density is lower than the previous 421ppi. Still, these are respectable numbers above the 400ppi mark.
It also has the same protection, with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. This is great for anyone prone to dropping or scratching their screens. I’m glad Samsung has not attempted to reduce manufacturing costs further by removing this layer of protection.
The screen’s peak brightness is about 10% less than the S21. At the same time, the screen does reach dimmer levels, which is better for saving battery life, especially late at night. RGB colour reproduction is still at an impressive 97%, which is great. It hasn’t lost much in that regard and many users won’t easily pick up on this either unless they’re running benchmark tests.
When it comes to the rest of the configuration of the device’s hardware, it remains relatively unchanged. The South African market variant remains with the same Exynos 2100, which has a Mali-G78 MP14 GPU.
Where there is some change is that Samsung now offers a lower-tiered 6GB RAM option, whereas the other S21 devices start at 8GB RAM and up. The unit received for review had the 6GB variant, although there are options for 8GB with storage options between 128GB and 256GB.
That 6GB may be significant in terms of the new software upgrades. Samsung has bolted on Android 12 with the Galaxy S21 FE, which also runs the latest One UI 4. The updated software comes with a host of new features, such as Google’s Material You feature, which incorporates the colour tones from backgrounds to enhance the colours of the theme. There is also much more pronounced animations on the gestures when using the native options on the device.
In addition to running the Android OS, Samsung has recently announced its upgrade programme for all new smartphones launched, which the brand promises to keep Android upgrades coming for at least three major future updates. This includes the Galaxy S21 FE. So, users can expect to receive updates at least up to Android 15 for the smartphone.
Most of Samsung’s latest smartphones now come standard with 5G. This is for its midrange and flagship devices, with only a few options at the lower end. The S21 FE is also a 5G smartphone, which is good news for anyone looking to use the device long term.
Performance and Battery
I mentioned the reduction of the RAM to 6GB from the standard 8GB on the S21 range. Along with the updated OS, there is a noticeable reduction in the benchmark scores as a result. On average, the Galaxy S21 FE is down some 10-15% on various benchmark tests.
This is also noticeable in real-world tests. When opening many browser tabs, playing videos over WiFi and operating under peak load, you’ll notice a few glitches in how it operates. When it’s running, everything seems to be working fine. However, there is oftentimes a lag before an activity is loaded or started. This includes opening a new tab (after many previous opened tabs) and running apps. This is the first flagship in years I’ve noticed this. I was unable to pinpoint this down to the reduced RAM or the newly introduced OS and firmware, which may still have a few bugs to iron out, given that it’s the first smartphone to launch Android 12 and One UI 4 on a Samsung device.
Samsung has included an additional 500mAh to the battery. This is also great news. We’re not sure if this is just to provide better longevity between charges or Samsung taking mitigating steps to circumvent any battery drain as a result of the above-mentioned optimisation issues on the new software.
Be that as it may, it was still able to manage an entire day on a single charge operating under normal use. In a more conservative approach, you can eke out up to two days of use if need be. However, the device runs quite warm under significant load over time. Most of this is noticeable at the top of the device only. What was impressive, though, is that it cools off quite quickly once you stop the activity and turn off the screen. I’ve not seen this level of cooling on other leading smartphones.
As with most of the internals, the camera remains mostly unchanged. About 67%. It still has the triple-lens configuration. Two of the camera lenses remain the same. However, the 64MP telephoto lens has been swapped out for a lower-tiered 8MP telephoto option.
This means that it has the following configuration:
Most of your native images will remain unchanged between the two devices. However, once you start tinkering with the settings and shooting options, the S21 FE is down just a tad on what the S21 is capable of. Both, however, are no match for the Ultra variants for the Galaxy S smartphones.
In short, if you’re going to require images where you may need to zoom in often, you may want to stick to the standard Galaxy S range. While it does offer 3x optical zoom, as with the original, the difference between the 8MP and 64MP lenses means that there’s far less detail on the former. And it shows.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G brings with it all the best features of the S21 range while being offered a discounted price point. It’s worth noting that I had received the review unit a few weeks prior to the launch of the Galaxy S22 range, in a bid to provide additional feedback to the consumer on its value as a whole.
There’s no doubt that the S22 smartphones are impressive and bring with them a host of new features and hardware specifications. At the same time, with the Galaxy S21 FE unit, you’re still saving an impressive R6,000 on the entry price of the S22 unit. That’s significant. Prices start at R12,999.
Secondly, the Galaxy S21 FE comes standard with Samsung’s build of Android 12 running One UI 4. Yes, it may still not be the polished end-product in that regard, but it still opens up the entire Samsung ecosystem and its integrations. Ironing out these bugs and I expect the unit to come into its own in 2022 and will definitely hold its value. And it’s because of this that I’d be easily convinced myself to opt for the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE at this stage – unless you truly need that extra oomph in power and new camera capabilities that come with the S22 range.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a great smartphone. It meets all the requirements for a modern user, while still offering a few of the best flagship features, even at a reduced price. While there is still work to be done in terms of the software optimisation, it has great potential in 2022.