Timing is everything in life…and product launches. Take for example the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G, which was released in Singapore earlier this month. This later-than-expected launch — the previous S20 FE came out in October 2020 — means that the FE will face competition from the upcoming Galaxy S22. It also has to compete with the original (and now discounted) Galaxy S21 phones. In short, Samsung isn't helping the S21 FE here with the timing or the pricing, which is similar to the street price of the standard Galaxy S21. Which is a shame since the S21 FE is a solid, near-flagship phone.
- 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display (2,400 x 1,080 pixels, 120Hz)
- Samsung Exynos 2100 chip with 8GB RAM and 128GB/256GB storage
- 12MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide, and 8MP telephoto
- 4,500mAh battery (with 25W fast charging)
In case you're unaware, the FE stands for Fan Edition. It's basically a slightly cut-down version of the Galaxy S21 with an ostensibly lower price tag. Notably, the FE has a 8MP telephoto camera instead of the S21's 64MP version. Meanwhile, Samsung has bumped up the selfie camera from 10MP to 32MP. Its 6.4-inch screen falls between that of the standard S21 (6.2-inch) and the S21+ (6.7-inch). But they both have similar 120Hz refresh rates for that smooth responsive feel. You'll also get HDR10 support in Netflix, like the other S21 models. Other features, like IP68 water and dust resistance, in-display fingerprint sensor and the Samsung Exynos 2100 chipset, are all retained in the S21 FE, too.
Perhaps to cater to the larger display, the FE has a 4,500mAh battery compared to 4,000mAh for the S21. The phone lasts me a whole day with the screen running at 120Hz, but not much more than that. There's no adaptive refresh rate — you pick either 60Hz or 120Hz in the settings. In our usual video-loop battery test, the FE clocked an uptime of 11hr 51min, which is significantly longer than the standard S21 (8hr 40min). The FE also supports wireless charging (15W) and reverse wireless charging, like the base S21. However, its 25W wired charging feels slow and dated compared to other phones in the market. There's no power brick in the box, just the USB-C cable. One thing to note — the FE gets very warm when running at full tilt.
Since I rarely use the telephoto camera myself, I totally get why Samsung would switch to a presumably-cheaper 8MP telephoto lens for the FE. It also makes sense to upgrade the selfie camera to a 32MP version. Overall, users should have no complaints about the cameras. The main camera is the same 12MP version with optical image stabilisation as the S21's. Colours look vibrant and pleasing to the eye in the photos taken by the FE. Low-light performance is very decent — photos turn out reasonably bright and detailed. However, the FE can only shoot 4K videos, not 8K like the S21. But I doubt that's a concern for most users.
Instead of being a slam-dunk value-for-money winner like its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is merely a good alternative to the vanilla S21. In all likelihood, it will quickly be forgotten as consumers focus on newer, sexier 2022 phones. For one, I'm betting Samsung will up its wired charging game for its phones this year. Not to mention the FE has to compete with load of new upper mid-range models like the Oppo Reno7 Pro 5G. Overall, the S21 FE is a solid smartphone with a very good camera and several flagship-tier features. It's just a matter of deciding which mix of features among the various S21 models best suits you. The FE is available now at S$978 (128GB) and S$1,048 (256GB) from Lazada and Shopee.
Note: Review unit provided by Samsung.
Any purchase you make through our links may generate a commission. It supports our work, but does not dictate our editorial reviews. See our FAQ here.