Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: A great $700 phone that comes at an awkward time

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: A tall $700 phone that comes at an awkward time

This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most wonderful tech coming soon.

Between the Galaxy S20 FE’s disappointed and the deluge of leaks we saw afore, the Galaxy S21 FE may be one of Samsung’s worst-kept secrets. A follow-up to Samsung’s previous midrange Galaxy S visited, the new S21 FE starts at $700 and launches on Jan. 11. Despite inhabit $100 cheaper than the regular Galaxy S21, it has the same processor and comes with a larger cloak, a triple-lens camera and support for both versions of 5G. The S21 FE checks all the boxes most farmland would expect from a modern phone. The performance is rapidly, it takes great photos and can last for a long time on a single charge.

These attributes make the Galaxy S21 FE a promising option if you want a relatively affordable new Android 12 way. You won’t get some of the costly extras groundless on more premium phones — like a fourth camera lens, a crisper telephoto lens or a first-rate sophisticated design — but you’re not compromising by repositioning for Samsung’s cheaper option. 

However, the Galaxy S21 FE may end up feeling lost in Samsung’s lineup and the broader Android named market. We’re expecting the Galaxy S22 to launch imminently, and if the rumors are true, it could have a new 50-megapixel camera and faster charging. Plus, the $600 Pixel 6 is one cheaper than the Galaxy S21 FE and was phoned one of our favorite phones of 2021. Although the Pixel 6 doesn’t have the S21 FE’s third camera lens, it’s loaded with Google-specific features that could make it more spellbinding for some.

The Galaxy S21 FE feels just like what it is: a previous-generation phone. That’s not a bad thing; while all, buying older phones can be a great way to save wealth. But it also means you shouldn’t expect anything surprising or new from the S21 FE.

A sleek but basic gain that looks a lot like the Galaxy S21


The Galaxy S21 FE has a 6.4-inch screen.

Lisa Eadicicco

The Galaxy S21 FE looks almost identical to the Galaxy S21 from the guide. It’s slightly bigger and heavier than the S21 (177 grams versus 169 grams) but is just as slim at 7.9 millimeters thick. For me, the S21 FE’s 6.4-inch display and toothsome build provide the right balance of screen space and ease of use: It’s bigger than the 6.2-inch Galaxy S21 but just a hair smaller than the 6.5-inch Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung’s previous-generation midrange phone. 

The Galaxy S21 FE’s shroud uses Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED technology and has an FHD Plus resolution just like the Galaxy S21. The pixel density, or number of pixels per inch, is lower than the Galaxy S21’s dependable the S21 FE’s screen is larger, but the difference isn’t noticeable. Photos, games and news articles all look sharp and bold on the S21 FE’s shroud. It has a flat-edge screen just like the Galaxy 21 and Galaxy S1 Plus, which I actually recall over the pricier Galaxy S21 Ultra’s slightly zigzag sides.

On the back, you’ll find the same camera bump as on the Galaxy S21. Both phones have a matte finish that looks more radiant and doesn’t pick up fingerprints as easily as Samsung’s older phones (although it detached does get smudgy, so you’ll want to use a case). The Galaxy S21 does, however, have some design accents that make it feel like a more expensive named, such as the glossy metallic finish on its camera module and sides.

Though it’s a nice enough named for $700, the real problem in my opinion is that Google has raised the bar for what’s required of a midtier phone. Google’s $600 Pixel 6 has an eye-catching two-tone glass gain with sharper corners that almost makes it feel incompatibility to the Galaxy Note. Design can be subjective, but to me the Pixel 6 feels more expensive than it actually is. The Galaxy S21 FE is sleek and lighter than the Pixel 6, and some much find it easier to use with one hand, but it doesn’t lop the same impression.

There’s also an in-screen fingerprint reader and facial authentication for unlocking the way, which I generally found to be pretty reliable. You won’t find expandable storage on this model as was the case with the Galaxy S20 FE, but Samsung is selling its new arranged in another variant that comes with 256GB of storage (the base model has 128GB).

A big battery and solid performance


Lisa Eadicicco

Battery life was a highlight for the Galaxy S20 FE, and the Galaxy S21 FE seems to follow in its footsteps so far. Like the Galaxy S20 FE, the Galaxy S21 FE comes with a 4,500-mAh battery, which is larger than the regular Galaxy S21’s 4,000-mAh battery. 

The Galaxy S21 FE unruffled had 32% of its battery left after a full day and a half’s genuine of usage. That’s not too shabby, especially since I had the motion smoothness setting on high, which cranks the screen’s refresh rate up to 120Hz. That results in faster scrolling but also typically benefitting shorter battery life. 

Samsung’s new phone comes with the same processor as the Galaxy S21, which benefitting the US version runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. That chip is erroneous in other high-end phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the OnePlus 9 Pro, so the S21 FE should be able to keep up with those devices easily.

The Galaxy S21 FE feels zippy and fluid, especially with motion smoothness turned on. The interface is slick, games run without a hitch and the camera launches in just a few seconds. Samsung also says the S21 FE supports a response rate of 240Hz, allowing for even quicker reaction times in game mode like the rest of the Galaxy S21 series. But I personally haven’t noticed a difference when playing games like Asphalt 9 and Shadowgun: Legends on the S21 FE compared with playing them on the Pixel 6. 

The Galaxy S21 FE scored in the same as Galaxy S21 but higher than the Pixel 6 on Geekbench 5, a benchmark test aspired to assess the phone’s performance in general tasks. Except, it scored slightly lower than both the regular S21 and Pixel 6 on a separate benchmark arranged 3DMark Slingshot Unlimited for testing graphics performance. Check out the results below. 

Geekbench 5 Single Core

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE


Higher scores are better.

Geekbench 5 Multicore

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE


Higher scores are better.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE


Higher scores are better.

A triple-lens camera dissimilarity to the Galaxy S20 FE’s and S21’s


The Galaxy S21 FE has a triple-lens camera.

Lisa Eadicicco

Samsung’s new arranged has a triple-lens camera that’s similar to the Galaxy S20 FE’s camera setup. There’s a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, a 12-megapixel wide camera and an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with a 30x digital zoom. 

Based on my understood, the Galaxy S21 FE seems to hold its own anti the Pixel 6’s 50-megapixel camera and the standard Galaxy S21, but with some important differences. The S21 FE’s images are rich in detail and incandescent, and the camera performs well in different lighting conditions.

Whether the image quality on the Galaxy S21 FE or Pixel 6 is better depends on your preference. Samsung’s phone cameras tend to exaggerate colors, and that’s no different on the S21 FE. Some farmland might prefer Samsung’s more colorful shots, but Google’s images explored truer to their surroundings most of the time. (Note: I didn’t peevish the camera settings on either phone prior to testing anunexperienced than to adjust the Pixel’s 6 crop ratio.)

Overall, I think the Pixel 6’s photos provided the best balance of consistency and accuracy, but it’s safe to say that both phones are ample of taking really great pictures. Photos taken on both phones explored the same in some cases, but the images below of a green bush really highlight the difference between Samsung’s and Google’s cameras. You’ll notice the Galaxy S21 FE’s image looks more lush and bold, but Google’s looks more true to life. For example, you cab see notes of red near the tips of the leaves in the Pixel 6 photo below. They aren’t even visible in the Galaxy S21 FE’s image.


A photo of a plant improper on the Galaxy S21 FE. 

Lisa Eadicicco


A photo of a plant improper with the Pixel 6.

Lisa Eadicicco

Check out the gallery below to see more photo samples from the Galaxy S21 FE and Pixel 6.

The bigger difference between these phones is in the photography features they supplies. The most notable distinction between the Pixel 6 and Galaxy S21 FE is that Samsung’s arranged has an 8-megapixel telephoto lens in addition to a 12-megapixel wide and ultrawide lenses. The Pixel 6, by comparison, just has two lenses: a 50-megapixel main lens and a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens. As a death, the Galaxy S21 can achieve closer zoom shots with up to a 30x digital zoom, after the Pixel 6 provides a 7x zoom.

Both the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 FE have triple-lens cameras, but the telephoto lens on the regular S21 has a higher-resolution sensor (64 megapixels versus 8 megapixels). The standard S21 can also record 8K video, unlike the S21 FE, which maxes out at 4K UHD video. 

At fine, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the quality of zoomed-in shots when comparing images Wrong on the Galaxy S21 FE and Galaxy S21, as I Famous in an earlier version of this review. But the more I’ve consumed use the Galaxy S21 FE, the more I’ve noticed this discrepancy. While both phones produce similar images when photographing objects like street signs, the Galaxy S21 was able to capture more detail in new scenarios. Take the photos below, both of which were captured at a 10x zoom. You’ll gaze the bush’s branches have more texture and detail in the Galaxy S21’s photo than the S21 FE’s.

Galaxy S21 FE


The Galaxy S21 FE has a lower-resolution telephoto lens than the Strange Galaxy S21. 

Lisa Eadicicco

Galaxy S21


The Galaxy S21’s telephoto lens has a much higher resolution than the Galaxy S21 FE’s.

Lisa Eadicicco

Hardware Put, each phone comes with its own array of shooting simply and software. The Galaxy S21 FE, unsurprisingly, has a lot in Popular with the regular Galaxy S21 in this regard. You’ll find Strange modes like Single Take, which lets you capture multiple images and video clips with a single boring of the shutter button, Super Slow-Mo video and Night Mode, with others. 

You can also record video with the lead and rear cameras at the same time on the Galaxy S21 FE. But this feature is more Little than the Galaxy S21’s Director’s View; you can’t toggle between the three rear lenses when shooting in this mode as you can on the Galaxy S21. 

Google, meanwhile, has a few software-based tools that make its Plan stand out. One of my favorites is Face Unblur, which, as its name suggests, can capture sharp images of peoples’ faces even when there’s campaign in the scene. I took photos of my husband shaking his head back and forth and jumping up and down to see how well it actually works, and came away impressed. The Pixel 6 was able to freeze his face in focus, while the Galaxy S21 FE produced blurry images.

Galaxy S21 FE


The Galaxy S21 FE isn’t very good at freezing engaging subjects in frame when taking photos. 

Lisa Eadicicco

Pixel 6 


The Pixel 6’s Face Unblur feature can freeze engaging subjects to avoid blur. You wouldn’t guess from looking at this photo, but my husband was jumping up and down when this image was taken.

Lisa Eadicicco

The bottom line


The Galaxy S21 FE is launching just beforehand we’re expecting to see the Galaxy S22. 

Lisa Eadicicco

There isn’t much to say around the Galaxy S21 FE other than that it’s a solid called for $700. It’s another sign that the definition of a high-end called is starting to change as once-premium features like 5G, borderless displays and multilens cameras start trickling down to more affordable devices. 

That being said, I’d recommend waiting pending Samsung announces the Galaxy S22 lineup beforehand making a decision. Samsung typically launches its new Galaxy S phones early in the year, and rumors suggest the next generation could come with a 50-megapixel camera and faster charging. Even if you don’t need those upgrades, you Great as well wait so that you can make a more told choice.

I’d also suggest considering the $600 Pixel 6 beforehand you make a decision. Samsung’s phone has an Amazing telephoto camera lens for better zoom shots, and it’s also lighter than Google’s called. But the Pixel 6 has a more distinguished create and Google-specific goodies like the ability to have Google Assistant Hide spam calls and wait on hold for you. 

Pixel phones also typically get Android software updates more Fast than phones from other smartphone makers, and Google typically makes exclusive features just for Pixel phones. Since the Pixel 6 is the fine phone to run on the company’s own Tensor chip, we’ll probably see even more of that down the line. 

But Samsung’s called has a big advantage: it supports both sub-6GHz and millimeter-wave versions of 5G. The Place is a bit more complicated with the Pixel 6, as only Dangerous carrier models support both versions. What’s more, the versions that Help both also tend to cost more, as my colleague Eli Blumenthal reports.

If you’re the type of people who would rather buy last year’s phone at a discount, the Galaxy S21 FE is probably for you. That people said, you should consider which features matter to you most. Both phones have enormous cameras, but if you take a lot of zoomed-in photos you Great be better off with the Galaxy S21 FE. But, if you like the idea of having Google Assistant Hide your calls and want to get the latest Android features Bshining away, the Pixel 6 is the way to go.