Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G review: more of the same

The Galaxy S21 FE ticks many of the right boxes for a capable smartphone

Review Summary

Expert Rating3.5/5

Design
★★★★★
★★★★★
Display
★★★★★
★★★★★
Software
★★★★★
★★★★★
Camera
★★★★★
★★★★★
Performance
★★★★★
★★★★★
Battery
★★★★★
★★★★★

Pros

  • Stunning display
  • Stylish, comfortable design
  • Capable selfie and main cameras
  • Clean UI

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not the fastest phone in the market
  • Slow wired and wireless charging speeds
  • No headphone jack

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G struck a chord with fans and critics alike and the device was among the brand’s most well-liked phones in 2021. Why, you might be wondering? Well, the smartphone offered Samsung’s premium Galaxy experience at a wallet-friendly price point. More importantly, the device was backed by a top-end Qualcomm chip that lend the S20 FE 5G (review) oodles of raw horsepower.

That’s partly why I’m on the fence about the company’s latest Fan Edition contender – the S21 FE 5G. On paper, the smartphone checks all the right boxes and ships with features like IP rating, as well as wireless charging. However, this time around, the company has launched the phone with the Exynos 2100 SoC in India, which is decidedly slower than its Qualcomm counterpart. But, is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G more than the sum of its parts? Well, let’s find out in this review. 

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is an attractive proposition overall. That said, the device’s pricing sandwiches it between the Galaxy S20 FE 5G and the Galaxy S21, with the former offering better value and the latter, nicer features. 

Design 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G doesn’t stray too far from the design of its pricier S21 siblings. In fact, much like the Galaxy S21 (review) and the Galaxy S21 Plus (review), the smartphone employs a mix of plastic and metal in its construction. Despite that, the phone feels quite premium, which can be accredited to its chamfered metal frame that ups the handset’s in-hand feel tenfold. Moreover, the handset’s matte back doesn’t pick up any fingerprints or stains either, which is great. The smartphone also features the iconic contoured camera bump we first saw with the Galaxy S21 range. This time around, however, the camera bump hasn’t been given any special treatment. So, unlike the metallic camera bumps of the S21 range, the S21 FE 5G utilises a plastic camera module that merges seamlessly with the phone’s back. 

Barring its plastic back, Samsung hasn’t cut any major corners with the design of the phone. In fact, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is IP68 rated and the smartphone even comes with support for wireless charging. What’s more, the device is extremely comfortable to grip and use day in and day out, thanks to its sleek frame that measures just 7.9mm. That’s not all, as the phone even comes with a flat screen which mitigates accidental touches like a champ. If anything, I would’ve liked to see a 3.5mm audio jack with the phone – this is the Fan Edition, after all, and I’m certain fans would’ve liked to see the beloved analogue port on the handset. Thankfully, the device does ship with a dual speaker setup which gets reasonably loud for watching movies and videos on the fly. 

As for the rest of the I/O, the handset ships with a clicky volume rocker and power button on its right-hand spine. The device also ships with a USB Type-C port for charging at the bottom, which is sandwiched between a speaker grille and a dual-SIM tray. For biometrics, the device utilises an in-display fingerprint sensor which worked quite well during my stint with the phone. That said, the phone also comes with speedy facial recognition tech, which when paired with the handset’s “lift to wake” functionality, got me into my home screen in the blink of an eye. 

Display

If you ask me, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G’s display is undoubtedly its best feature. For one, the panel measures 6.4-inches, making it fairly compact and one-hand friendly. What’s more, the display is bordered by extremely sleek bezels which maximises the overall screen real estate. Consequently, despite its pocket-friendly form factor, I didn’t find the display to be too cramped or congested. That’s not all, as the screen is backed by AMOLED technology, so you will be greeted with vibrant colours and rich contrast from every which angle.

I’d also like to add that the display offers a snappy 120Hz refresh rate, ensuring animations and UI transitions appear buttery smooth on the phone’s screen. Moreover, the screen also offers a touch sampling rate of 240Hz, so the display should pick up on all your swipes and gestures without breaking a sweat. Lest I forget, the smartphone is Widevine L1 certified and can even relay HDR media from Netflix seamlessly. Coupled with its tiny punch-hole notch, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G’s display will undoubtedly be lauded by movie-buffs and hardcore gamers alike. 

Following Apple’s suit, Samsung has reduced the accessories that come bundled with the retail packaging of its phones too. To wit, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G doesn’t ship with a screen protector or a TPU case. Thankfully, the device offers a layer of Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus on top of the panel, which should keep scratches and scuffs at bay. 

Cameras

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is backed by a triple camera setup at the back comprising a 12MP main sensor which works alongside a 12MP ultra wide lens and an 8MP telephoto camera. For selfies, the device gets a 32MP selfie shooter upfront. 

On the whole, I have been quite happy with the S21 FE 5G’s photography chops. Shots taken during the day offer ample details and good dynamic range. That said, much like most other 12MP shooters, the overall sharpness takes a hit once you zoom into the composition. Consequently, at a closer crop, you’ll notice that the leaves of a tree, for instance, start to lose their definition and the frame appears a tad muddy. The lowlight stills, on the other hand, look quite good, especially with the night mode enabled. The smartphone tackles noise quite well, although I noticed that the device struggled to keep the lens flaring in check. Furthermore, with the night mode enabled, the S21 FE 5G tightens the frame ever so slightly, so you might want to take a couple of steps back to capture the complete scene. Other than that, I didn’t find any issues with the smartphone’s 12MP main camera. 

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The same goes for the handset’s telephoto sensor too, which nets serviceable details at 3x optical zoom. That said, the quality of the images takes a steep dip if you zoom in further digitally. Consequently, while you can, in theory, use the phone’s 30x space zoom feature, you’ll often find yourself discontent with the photos as you climb up the zoom ladder. The ultra-wide sensor clicks reasonably detailed photos too. Unfortunately, the shots are not without fault and I noticed that objects around the periphery of the frame were rendered quite soft. On the bright side, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G ships with a capable selfie camera that can snap quality self-portraits come night or day. The images are replete with details and offer excellent colours too, so no complaints here. 



Unsurprisingly, the S21 FE 5G’s cameras don’t offer any noticeable improvements over its predecessor, the S20 FE 5G. If you look at the slider attached above, then you’ll notice that both the phones click near-identical images, with the S21 FE 5G edging out slightly in terms of the overall sharpness. Regardless, if you don’t pixel-peep, you will be hard-pressed to find any differences in the images shot from the two phones during the day. 



The same is true for their respective telephoto sensors too and at a 3x crop, both the devices snap similar photos. In fact, the S20 FE 5G’s composition appears a tad sharper, although the device does introduce a bit more grain in the frame. Rest assured, buyers currently using the company’s Galaxy S20 FE 5G need not upgrade to the newer model. 

Performance, Battery life, and Software

Coming to the meat of the matter, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is backed by the company’s in-house Exynos 2100 SoC. The chipset works alongside UFS 3.1 storage and LPDDR5 memory. Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a really fast phone, though the handset’s pricing pits it against devices backed by snappier Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 / 888 processors. Ipso facto, the S21 FE 5G – while not slow – is not as powerful as the competition either. The handset’s Mali GPU isn’t as well-equipped for gaming as its Adreno counterparts too.

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In fact, demanding games tend to run better on the S20 FE 5G, as opposed to the S21 FE 5G. Case in point, BGMI, which maxes out at HDR graphics and Ultra FPS on the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. On the contrary, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G can play the game at HDR graphics with the Extreme frame rate preset enabled, and the device also supports the in-game UHD texture pack. 

Again, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is not a bad performer and I seldom ran into instances of lag or stutter on the phone. That said, the wealth of alternatives (including Samsung’s very own Galaxy S20 FE 5G) cast a shadow on the handset’s performance chops. Interestingly, I noticed the phone would heat up quite a bit too. In fact, in our CPU throttle test, the device throttled to 66 percent of its peak performance, which is the lowest I’ve seen in a while. To the company’s credit, the Exynos 2100 SoC runs quite cool so I am willing to chalk this off on OneUI 4.0’s sub-par optimisation. 

Speaking of which, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G runs Android 12 with the company’s OneUI 4.0 interface on top. The custom skin offers a treasure trove of customisation features and comes with a dedicated theme store that allows buyers to change the wallpaper, Always-on Display clock face, and more. That said, the custom skin doesn’t support third-party icon packs, which is a bummer. Regardless, the interface more than makes up for it by offering slick animations, a truckload of utilities like a built-in screen and call recorder, customisable edge panels, and more. It also helps that the device supports the company’s famed DeX platform, ensuring productivity-fiends have something to look forward to as well. 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G ships with a 4,500mAh battery that comfortably saw me through the end of a heavy workday. Do note that on the days I played games on the phone, the battery life would take a small dip and I’d had to plug in the phone around the 7 pm mark. On the bright side, the phone supports both wired as well as wireless charging. The charging speeds pale in comparison to the industry standards though, with the phone maxing out at 25W for wired and 15W for wireless charging. Regardless, I doubt prospective buyers will have any major battery woes from the Galaxy S21 FE 5G. 

Final verdict 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G retails for Rs 54,999 for the base variant, though buyers can avail of a Rs 5K cashback offer by using an HDFC card, thereby bringing the price of the phone down to Rs 50K. For its discounted price, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G gets some things right and the smartphone offers a stylish design that has been paired with a stunning display. That said, as prefaced previously, the device’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. Furthermore, seeing how the phone’s cameras haven’t seen any drastic upgrades over its predecessor, I’d reckon you should save some bucks and cop the company’s Galaxy S20 FE 5G instead. Else, prospective buyers can also get the Samsung Galaxy S21, which currently retails for the same price as the S21 FE 5G and offers a better telephoto camera, among other things. All things considered, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G, while good, should’ve been priced more aggressively to make it stand out that much better. 

Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5 

Pros:

  • Stunning display
  • Stylish, comfortable design 
  • Capable selfie and main cameras 
  • Clean UI 

Cons:

  • Expensive 
  • Not the fastest phone in the market 
  • Slow wired and wireless charging speeds 
  • No headphone jack