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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: How good is this flagship late comer compared to the Galaxy S21?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE feels like a well-balanced Samsung flagship!!

The Galaxy S21 series had a great start when it was launched last year with the Galaxy S21 Ultra making itself a true flagship that has specifications that are larger in numbers and has been the king of the ultimate flagship in Android space. Lately, now Samsung came up with another "Fan Edition" of the Galaxy S21 series called the Galaxy S21 FE due to chip shortage that took place due to the pandemic.

In 2020, Samsung came up with this concept of Fan Edition for their flagship S series which provided almost all the flagship specifications at a slightly lower price than the flagships like we saw on the Galaxy S20 FE (Review) that brought in a powerful Snapdragon 865 chipset, a 120Hz AMOLED display, a 4500mAh battery with support for 25W fast charging and has the best software experience with OneUI.

But Samsung had cut a few corners to price it aggressively and now Samsung is aiming to gain that popularity with the launch of the Galaxy S21 FE. Though the Galaxy S22 series launch is around the corner, the Galaxy S21 FE has landed to provide fierce competition to other smartphone manufacturers. Is the Galaxy S21 FE worth buying or should you spend some extra and go for the Galaxy S21 (Review)

Let's find out in the full review.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Design:

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE has a polycarbonate back instead of a glass back like on the Galaxy S20 FE but the design is slightly different as the back is much inspired by the Galaxy S21 series. The Galaxy S21 FE has a haze textured finish at the back and the camera contour looks like that of the Galaxy S21. The Counter Cut design is slightly curved around the edges and the hump is slightly protruding.

This Counter Cut design houses a triple camera setup with a LED flashlight outside the setup but it is plastic instead of metal as found on the Galaxy S21. However, the back does attract some fingerprints or smudges and Samsung has not provided a case inside the box. Though the back is polycarbonate, like the Galaxy S20 FE, there is an IP68 rating which makes it dust and waterproof, and also there is wireless charging present.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

Around the sides, there is an aluminum frame that is brushed and it matches the back panel color. To the right side, there are the volume buttons and a power button which feel clicky to use. The left side is completely clean. At the bottom, there is a USB Type-C port, a primary microphone, a loudspeaker grille, and a dual SIM card slot as there is no microSD card slot for storage expansion.

The top only houses a secondary noise-canceling microphone only. The Galaxy S21 FE weighs around 177grams which is just slightly heavier than the 169grams of the Galaxy S21 and just like the Galaxy S21, this one is also thicker at 7.9mm around the sides. On the front, there is a punch-hole display that houses the larger 32MP camera and around the sides, there are minimum bezels.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

When it comes to protection, like the Galaxy S21, the display on the Galaxy S21 FE is also protected by Corning Gorilla Glass Victus which seems to be the best in the market when compared to other smartphones having Gorilla Glass 5. The Galaxy S21 FE is available in four different colors - Lavender, White, Olive, and Graphite which is almost black in color. 

Overall, the design is appealing but still, the lack of a glass back seems to be a downgrade for an almost flagship smartphone. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Display:

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE houses a smaller 6.4-inches Full HD+(1080x2400 pixels) Dynamic 2X AMOLED display which is the same as that of the Galaxy S21 but that has a 6.2-inches display but when compared to the Galaxy S20 FE's 6.5-inches display, the display is slightly smaller. As this is an AMOLED display, the color reproduction and viewing angles are great.

Like the Galaxy S21, there is the 120Hz refresh rate but it is not the dynamic one like on the Galaxy S21 series where Samsung has uses an LTPO panel that can scale the refresh rate from as low as 10Hz to 120Hz depending on the application in usage and instead you are getting the standard 120Hz refresh rate where you can either switch to High (120Hz) or Standard (60Hz) to save battery life.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

With the 120Hz refresh rate, you are getting a 240Hz touch sampling rate which makes the touch responses faster during gaming and multi-tasking. There is support for Widevine L1 and HDR10 so you can stream HDR content on OTT platforms as well as Youtube. In terms of brightness, the Galaxy S21 FE has a peak brightness of 1200nits while watching content in HDR and for normal stuff it is 790nits.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 has an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner whereas the Galaxy S21 FE comes with an optical fingerprint scanner that is fast and accurate. So in terms of display, the Galaxy S21 FE is great for media consumption but still, the Galaxy S21 is slightly better as it has a dynamic refresh rate and has an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Performance:

The Galaxy S21 FE like the Galaxy S21 is sold either with a Snapdragon 888/Exynos 2100 chipset depending on which region you are living in. Since we have the Indian variant of the Galaxy S21 FE, it is powered by the Exynos 2100 chipset which is also a 5nm process-based chipset and is equivalent to the Snapdragon 888 chipset when it comes to performance.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

All tasks like multitasking between applications, rendering videos, playing games, etc. ran smoothly without any frame drops. In heavy games like BGMI, it could achieve Smooth graphics with an Extreme frame rate as well as an Ultra frame rate with HDR graphics without any stutters or lags. After long hours of gaming, the back does feel slightly warm but it is not so much due to the cooling system underneath.

The Galaxy S21 FE is available in two variants - 8GB LPDDR4X RAM with 128GB and 256GB storage variants which have USF 3.1 storage speeds. In the CPU throttling test, the Exynos 2100 performed much better as it could throttle only 85-90 percent of the performance which is good as it seems that Samsung has done slightly better optimization compared to the performance on the Galaxy S21.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

In terms of benchmarks, the Galaxy S21 FE scores well. Since this is a 5G chipset, you are getting 12 bands of 5G and the carrier aggregation works well. So clearly, you are getting a flagship-grade performance as well as gaming capabilities.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Software:

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE is the first smartphone to run OneUI 4.0 based on Android 12 which is a very good thing. Compared to the OneUI 3.1, there are no significant changes, but still, some new ones are interesting and OneUI 4.0 brings with some upgrades like redesigned widgets which are more customizable, and there are some privacy features that are borrowed from Stock Android 12. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

Under Settings, there is a Privacy Dashboard which includes the permission manager for all the apps, you will now get alerts whenever any application is using the camera and microphone. One of the most interesting new features present is the Color Palettes. The Color Palettes consist of five different colors which are automatically picked up by OneUI itself depending on which wallpaper do you choose.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The color that the system chooses also gets applied on the quick toggles, dialler, and in some places throughout the UI. All other Samsung features are present like the Edge panels which when swiped from the corner come up and you can have all your favorite applications, the Samsung DeX is also present which lets the smartphone to use as a computer, and also there is a Link to Windows feature.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

In terms of software updates, like all Samsung flagships, the Galaxy S21 FE is also slated to get three years of Android OS updates and four years of security updates and in this area, Samsung has always excelled. However major downsides of OneUI remain like quite an amount of bloatware and some Samsung-specific applications that do consume more memory.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Cameras:

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE like the Galaxy S21 houses a triple camera setup that includes a 12MP f/1.8 main camera with OIS, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera, and an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom. There is a 32MP f/2.5 camera on the front. However, you do see a downgrade here in the telephoto camera on the Galaxy S21 FE compared to the Galaxy S21 which has a larger 64MP telephoto camera.

The images from the main camera come out with good sharper-looking details and dynamic range. The noise is also slightly on the lower side or you can say it is non-existent. The colors do look slightly oversaturated and the contrast is also on the higher side. The HDR works extremely well but it does boost some colors.

At night, the images from the main camera come out with good details and dynamic range. The colors look natural as there is no oversharpening taking place and noise is also not present. With the HDR mode turned on, the details in shadows are slightly better, and when you turn on the dedicated Night Mode, the colors pop out better, and the details in shadows are much better.

The 12MP ultrawide camera takes images with good dynamic range and contrast but there is some amount of noise is present. The colors look natural without any oversharpening in the background and details look sharper but there is autofocus missing which would have been good for taking macros. There is some distortion around the edges present though.

At night, the ultrawide camera does a good job in terms of dynamic range and colors look well saturated. However, there is a considerable amount of noise present and if you zoom into the images, the details on the subject look slightly softer. So there is also a dedicated Night Mode which does improve the dynamic range, exposure and also reduces noise to a larger extent.

The 8MP telephoto camera has 3x optical zoom and the images have sharper-looking details with good dynamic range and contrast. The noise is also on the lower side but the colors do look oversaturated. This camera is quite different from the 64MP telephoto camera on the Galaxy S21 that has 1.1x optical zoom and has no noise at all. 

This telephoto camera does a good job in terms of dynamic range and contrast but there is a larger amount of noise present and since this camera also gets Night Mode, things do get sorted as the noise reduces up to some extent dynamic range improves slightly. The colors look oversaturated and you can also go up to 30x digital zoom which is good but at that level, details look softer.

The images from the selfie camera come out with good dynamic range and colors also look natural and since you have a 32MP selfie camera, the field of view is wider. The noise is very low and the details look sharper. However, these selfies come out at 8MP by default and you do also get a 32MP mode also. The portrait selfies come out with good edge detection and the background blur is mapped perfectly.

In terms of videos, there is no support for 8K video recording yet, but you do have 4K at 60fps which is present on the main camera whereas 4K at 30fps is present on all the cameras. The videos from the main camera come out with excellent dynamic range and since OIS is present, the videos come out stabilized with very less noise. 

The videos from the ultrawide camera come out with a good dynamic range but there is a lot of noise and the details look softer. The videos from the telephoto camera also come out with good dynamic range but there is some amount of noise present but you do get sharper details and colors look natural. Still, the noise is on the lower side as OIS is present.

On the front, there is support for 4K video recording at 30fps and the selfie videos come out with good dynamic range and low noise with natural-looking skin tone. The portrait videos also have good edge detection and proper background blur with sharper-looking details. Overall, the cameras may not be as good as the Galaxy S21 but still, these are excellent cameras present here.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Battery Life:

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE sports a 4500mAh battery which is 500mAh more than the Galaxy S21 and this battery can easily last the smartphone for around one and half days with normal usage which is good as the OneUI 4.0 is better optimized for battery life and if you use heavily like watching videos, playing games like BGMI, Call Of Duty, etc for 3-4 hours, the battery can easily last for a single day.

The Snapdragon variant does have better battery life when compared to the Exynos variant and the standard screen-on time was around 6-7 hours with the display set to standard 60Hz but when set to High 120Hz, the screen-on time was around 5-6 hours which is just average and could have been better since there is a good sized battery.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

Like the Galaxy S21, here also you do not have a charger bundled inside the box but you can get a separate charger as it can support 25W fast charging which is not the fastest when compared to others like the OnePlus 9 Pro (Review) that has 65W fast charging and the newly launched Xiaomi 11T Pro that brings 120W fast charging. With the 25W fast charger, you can go from 0 to 100 percent in 1 hour 30 minutes.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

Well, this seems to be a downgrade compared to the Galaxy S20 FE which though supports 25W fast charging does have a 15W fast charger bundled inside the box. You do get a USB Type-C to Type-C cable with the Galaxy S21 FE which is a good move as this cable can do USB PD charging which is useful for charging other smartphones faster and also laptops.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

There is also support for 15W fast wireless charging which we can say fast but competitors like the OnePlus 9 Pro support 50W wireless charging which is very fast. The reverse wireless charging feature is also present and is capped at 4.5W which can charge other smartphones when kept on the back of the Galaxy S21 FE. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Audio Quality:

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE has a dual stereo speaker setup that sounds adequately loud and clear but is not the loudest as the sound does get muffled when setting to the highest volume level. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack and you get Dolby Atmos for enhanced sound profiles. 


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Galaxy S21 FE is a good all-rounder when it comes to budget flagships as you are getting a nice looking design, an excellent display for media consumption, performance and gaming feels the best, the cameras are one of the best, battery life and software experience are good as you also get faster and longer-term software updates. 

Some of the features like IP68 rating, support for wireless charging, etc. do make it stand out. However, there are some areas where the Galaxy S21 FE does fall short like the design is still polycarbonate instead of glass which most of the competitors offer, then the battery life could have been improved and though you do not have a charger bundled, the charging speeds both wired and wireless are not the fastest.

If you want a smartphone with a great set of cameras, the best performance and gaming, a good software experience and for media consumption, then the Galaxy S21 FE is a perfect flagship but you do compromise on build quality which is polycarbonate instead of glass, battery life is mediocre, the charging speeds are slower compared to other competitors and OneUI still has some bloatware present.

When compared to the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21 FE does miss out on an LTPO panel, the former one gets a 64MP telephoto camera and has support for 8K video recording for the rear cameras. If these features are worth the extra money then go for the Galaxy S21 or else if you can live with certain compromises, then the Galaxy S21 FE is a great all-rounder flagship smartphone.




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