Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G

Introduction:

It’s not the end of the Galaxy S21 series, there is still one last entry before the Galaxy S22 takes the center stage and steals the spotlight. The last smartphone to join the portfolio alongside the S21 series is the true fan-favorite which combines all Galaxy S21 essentials into one powerful smartphone. Yes, you guessed it right, it’s the Galaxy S21 FE 5G.

Samsung has focused on three fan-favorite components for this Fan Edition – display, performance and camera. The brand has tried to deliver more for less, a job best suited for the flagship-killer. We surely are not calling it that, but the S21 FE does sound quite promising as an almost-there-flagship.

The Galaxy S21 FE comes with a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X with native HDR10+ support and 120Hz refresh rate. The Galaxy S20 FE had a Super AMOLED display with no HDR capabilities and it was a disappointment.

As for the performance department – expectedly, the Galaxy S21 FE features the same hardware as the rest of the S21 series – either the Snapdragon 888 or the Exynos 1200 chipset. But the chipset versions are reversed here – the international model is the one with the Snapdragon, while Samsung’s in-house chip is limited to Australia (at least so far).

Finally, there is the camera segment, it looks like Samsung just pick up the hardware on the S20 FE and dropped it on the Galaxy S21 FE – 12MP main cam, 12MP ultrawide shooter and 8MP tele snapper with 3x optical zoom. On the front there is a 32MP camera which handles the selfies. Samsung is not advertising as more capable, but it brags with better processing and cool features like Object Eraser – all possible thanks to the new chipset.

Body

155.7×74.5×7.9mm, 177g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), plastic back, aluminum frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).

Display

6.40″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1080x2400px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 411ppi; Always-on display.

Chipset

Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm) – Version 1, Exynos 2100 (5 nm) – Version 2: Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680) – Version 1, Octa-core (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55) – Version 2; Adreno 660 – Version 1, Mali-G78 MP14 – Version 2.

Memory

128GB 6GB RAM, 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM.

Operating System

Android 12, One UI 4.

Rear Camera

Wide (main): 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS;

Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123˚, 1/3.0″, 1.12µm;

Telephoto: 8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm, 1/4.5″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom.

Selfie Camera

32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.74″, 0.8µm.

Video capture

Rear camera: [email protected]/60fps, [email protected]/60/240fps, [email protected], HDR10+, gyro-EIS;

Front camera: [email protected]/60fps, [email protected]/60fps, gyro-EIS.

Battery

4500mAh; Fast charging 25W, 50% in 30 min (advertised), Fast wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging, USB Power Delivery 3.0.

Misc

Fingerprint reader (under display, optical); NFC; Bixby natural language commands and dictation, Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified).

Unboxing:

Apple pioneered something that Samsung didn’t take time to adopt, even though the customers don’t appreciate it. Yes, this is about the ‘eco-friendly’ cost-saving retail box, which contains only a cable and some paperwork.

That’s all you get with each Galaxy S21, and that’s also what you get with the Galaxy S21 FE 5G retail bundle. The handset supports 25W fast charging, but if you want to enjoy the full charging speed and you haven’t bought an adapter yet, now is the best time to do it.

Design:

Quite expectedly, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G looks just like the Galaxy S21 devices but with a slight twist. The phone has a flat front, a thin metal frame and a slightly curved back that flows into the raised camera block. And that’s where it differs.

While the metal frame of the Galaxy S21 flowed into the jutting-out camera slab, Samsung did the opposite here – the plastic back seamlessly flows into a camera island. While it may seem like the brand opt out for the cheaper option, we think this look is more organic from the perspective of aesthetics.

The build is similar to the Galaxy S21 as well – there is a Corning Gorilla Glass Victus at the front, the frame is brushed aluminum, and the back is a piece of grippy plastic with a matte finish. The S21 FE is water and dust resistant with the same IP68 rating as the rest of the S21 series.

We do like this natural flowing design of the Galaxy S21 lineup and the S21 FE in particular. It is good-looking, and it does have firmer grip than your average dual-glass smartphone.

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G is equipped with a bit smaller 6.4” display than the previous S20 FE. It has the usual punch-hole for the 32MP selfie camera around the top, just below the earpiece.

There is no grille above the screen, just a thin outlet for the sound. There is a proper speaker underneath the display, right next to the selfie camera. It also doubles as the earpiece. The phone has a stereo speaker setup – this is one of them, while the other one is at the bottom beside the USB port.

Another thing underneath the display is the under-display fingerprint scanner. It’s a Goodix optical sensor, unlike Galaxy S21’s ultrasonic eye (by Qualcomm). It is reasonably fast, accurate and reliable, and overall, the experience is pretty fun.

Before we move to the back panel, we should acknowledge the evenly thin screen bezels.

The back is made of one smooth piece of plastic, and Samsung calls its design a Counter Cut one. It is mostly flat with slightly curved edges, then it rises a bit to cover the three cameras. The result is  indeed one simple and beautiful panel with no abrupt endings or transitions.

The back houses the camera module with triple camera setup – a 12MP main cam, a 12MP ultrawide snapper and an 8MP 3x telephoto shooter.

Although the back panel is made of plastic, it is nowhere near cheap or hollow. Interestingly, it’s not a smudge magnet either.

The aluminum frame is slightly curved and brushed, matching the touch and feel of the back. It provides both utility (grip) and stylish look, too.

The top houses nothing but a secondary mic. The bottom has the primary mic, the dual-SIM tray, the USB-C port and the second speaker.

The left side is all flat with nothing there, while the right-side accommodates the volume rocker and power/lock key.

The headset is not large, which is an added bonus over the device being grippy. Handling the Galaxy S21 FE is an experience in itself. And we will remember the phone for exactly those things – a no-nonsense clean design with pocket friendly size and good grip.

Display:

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G has a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, that’s an upgrade over Galaxy S20 FE’s 6.5” Super AMOLED. It still retains the 1,080 x 2,400px resolution (411ppi), supports 120Hz refresh rate and Always-on display. The touch sampling rate when using the Game Mode is 240Hz, otherwise, it is 120Hz.

The Galaxy S21 FE has HDR10+ support. This combined with the Widevine L1 DRM support, allows you to stream Full HD HDR10 content for all popular services.

You can choose between two Motion Smoothness modes (a.k.a refresh rates) – High (120Hz) and Standard (60Hz). Sadly, the 120Hz mode is not a dynamic one – 120Hz is always forced no matter the content on your screen.

Samsung seems to have updated the One UI 4 brightness slider – it can now hit the max brightness once you click OK on the warning for possible overheating. It is on par with the maximum brightness when using the Adaptive (auto) mode – 792 nits – not far away from S21’s 856 nits. The minimum brightness recorded at point white was 1.8 nits – sounds amazing.

Battery life & Charging speed:

The Galaxy S21 FE has the same battery as the S20 FE – a 4,500mAh cell. The battery charges at 25W, but since there is no charger in the box, you’ll need to step out of your house to shop for one.

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G did score marvelously on our tests. The phone can handle calls for slightly over 31 hours. You can browse the web for nearly less than 10 and a half hours. You can watch videos for 16:33 hours.

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G supports up to 25W fast charging, but it ships without a power adapter.

When using the 25W Samsung charger, the battery went to 51% in just 30 minutes from scratch. That’s reasonably fast compared to its competitors. A full charge took 1 hour and 15 minutes .

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G supports up to 15W wireless charging with compatible Qi pads. It can also wirelessly charge other devices like earbuds, watches and even phones.

Speakers:

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G has two full-fledged speakers, like all Galaxy S21 phones. The first one is behind the screen, near the selfie camera. The other speaker is at the bottom.

The two speakers are very well balanced if you are listening to music in landscape or portrait orientation. When heard separately, the bottom speaker sounds a bit louder and slightly more bassy.

This dual-speaker setup is really good and the same goes for the audio quality. The vocals are amazing and we also like the rich high notes. The bass is underwhelming, while the mid-tones are okay, but not as well presented as on the Galaxy S21.

Performance:

The international/global variant of the Galaxy S21 FE runs the popular Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G platform, while the limited/local model currently exclusive to Australia at the moment, runs on the Exynos 2100 SoC by Samsung. We will be using the Snapdragon 888 version here.

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G has three memory configurations to choose from, all with LPDDR 5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage – 6/128GB, 8/128GB and 8/256GB. There is no support for memory expansion.

Moving on to the benchmarks, first is the GeekBench 5 test. Here the smartphone device got a whooping score of 1,096 and 3049 points in the single-core and multi-core tests, respectively. This proves that the Snapdragon 888 5G chip is still one of the best in the market.

The Galaxy S21 FE is among the highest scoring smartphones on the AnTuTu benchmark with an amazing score of 719,696 points.

The Galaxy S21 FE is sufficiently equipped with flagship grade features even by 2022 standards. Sure, there is the new platform which is faster but still the SD888 chip is not out of the competition yet.

Camera & Photo quality:

Rear Camera

Wide (main): 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS;

Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123˚, 1/3.0″, 1.12µm;

Telephoto: 8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm, 1/4.5″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom.

Selfie Camera

32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.74″, 0.8µm.

Daylight photo quality:

The 12MP default photos from the Galaxy S21 FE’s main camera are excellent. The resolved detail is a lot, the sharpening is not over the top, and there is zero noise. The contrast is significantly high, while the dynamic range remains very good.

The colors are quite good, even if not perfectly accurate – they look a bit warmer than they really were in real life, but that’s fine. Most people would probably prefer them like this instead.

Overall, the main camera of the new S21 FE excels in daylight conditions.

The 12MP images from the ultrawide are amazing, too, especially for this type of shooter. They have enough detail, ample sharpness and once again – we cannot see any noise. The contrast is great and the dynamic range is also commendable.

The colors look quite nice, at par with the main camera, and just a bit warmer and punchier than they should have been. But that’s just how Samsung likes showing the world, and we certainly like it.

The corners are softer because of the nature of the 13mm ultrawide-angle lens and the automatic distortion correction. This camera has a 13MP sensor, but it saves 12MP images, and our guess is that the corner straightening involves a minor crop, too.

Moving on to the zoom camera, it has an 8MP sensor, it saves 12MP photos. It appears those are upscaled from the original resolution. These 12MP photos from the telephoto camera are quite nice. Their resolved detail is in the high range, even though the sharpness isn’t on par with the other cameras because of the minor upscaling.

The contrat, dynamic range and color presentation are a match to the rest of the cameras, too, meaning you get high contrast, high dynamic range and a bit warmer and punchier colors. The noise is well handled, since it’s barely visible.

Galaxy S21 FE has a Portrait mode, and while it defaults to the 3x zoom camera, you can switch to the primary one as well. The 12MP 3x zoomed portraits offer proficient subject separation and incredibly pleasant bokeh, but the subjects are often doft and/or a bit noisy.

The portraits from the main camera also excel in separation and bokeh, but their subjects are much sharper, more colorful and contrasty. Thanks to the brighter lens the noise levels are much lower.

Low-light photo quality:

The 12MP low-light photos from the main camera are superb. They are rich in detail, contrasty, with excellent color saturation, high dynamic range and realistic exposure and look. The noise is low, though sometimes more noise is retained in order to preserve details.

While the Auto HDR makes a successful attempt at restoring most clipped highlights in the normal shooting mode, it doesn’t do much for brightening up the shadows. If you want brighter night-time photos, then you switch to Night Mode.

The Night Mode usually uses 2s exposure time for the main camera, and it does offer brighter photos with improved exposure. More detail appears in the shadows, the noise is sweeped well without hurting the detail in the process.

While the Night Mode photos are brighter, they are not the best, and if you need better exposure at night, we suggest using this option.

The 12MP ultrawide photos at night have good saturation, life-like exposure and pretty high dynamic range, they are often extremely soft and overcrowded by noise. We suggest using the Night Mode.

The Night Mode on the ultrawide camera produces likable photos with enough detail, low (or at least acceptable) noise, improved exposure and dynamic range and excellent color saturation. These Night Mode images are not as great as the ones from the main camera, but they are much better than the default ones and perfectly usable.

The Galaxy S21 FE rarely uses the telephoto camera when shooting regular photos. Most of the time, the low-light 3x zoomed shots turn out cropped and upscaled from the main camera’s output. And you can easily tell that – they look good but are quite soft and lacking in detail.

Using Night Mode when you use the 3x zoom does the opposite – it most of the time uses the zoom camera and rarely resorts to digital zoom over the main one.

The 3x Night Mode shots are okay, if not amazing. They are saved in 12MP, meaning they are upscaled from 8MP, and here that’s even more obvious. The detail is still alright, and so are the exposure, contrast and even the noise reduction. The pictures are bright, but not over the top and overall we suggest using 3x zoom with Night Mode if you need to zoom in low-light conditions.

Selfies:

This is not the year the Fan Edition will be getting a proper selfie camera with autofocus, but this doesn’t mean the 32MP camera isn’t good.

The selfie camera on the S21 FE, just like on many other Samsung phones, features a toggle to determine how wide the frame will be. By default the selfies are saved in 8MP, which is good, though 32MP mode is available, too.

The selfie camera captures some great selfies. They look natural, with low noise, balanced sharpness and excellent colors, contrast and dynamic range.

The sweet spot for fixed focus, however, is not ideally tuned for shooting at an arm’s length, so selfie sharpness is less than amazing.

The portraits from the selfie camera look great. The subject separation is proficient enough, the blur looks nice and the subjects seem well exposed, detailed and colorful.

Final Verdict:

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is an amazing smartphone with top grade features. It excels in most departments – display, performance, camera, speakers, software and design. For that – it’s a great smartphone.

It’s not a Fan Edition, not like the S20 FE. For a model that’s intended to cater the fans, ditching the charger and the microSD slot does not make sense. It doesn’t have any substantial camera updates, not even AF for selfies or ultrawide, though the improved photo quality could be arguably enough. But these aren’t even the S21 FE’s biggest problems.

The S21 FE is a capable and powerful smartphone, no second opinion about that. But we just cannot recommend it at this price point, not without reservations.

Pros

  • Lovely AMOLED HDR10 display, 120Hz & superb color accuracy.

  • Stunning S21-like body, water-resistant and grippy.

  • Flagship-grade Snapdragon 888 5G chip.

  • Amazing camera performance, day and night, photo and video.

  • Samsung’s One UI 4 comes with cool and powerful features.

  • The stereo speakers are sufficiently loud.

Cons

  • There is no charger in the box.

  • Screen doesn’t support dynamic refresh rate.

  • No 3.5mm jack, no microSD card slot, no AF for selfies.

  • Expensive at launch.

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