Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Review: Might be worth waiting

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, aka Fan Edition, arrived unusually late, compared to its predecessor. It was only available in Singapore on Jan 11, when S20 FE’s arrived here in Oct 2020.

The Galaxy FE models are essentially cheaper versions of the flagships, while retaining some high-end specifications. And they are usually available around six to seven months after their namesake.

But the S21 FE arrived only a month before the anticipated launch of S22 series with 2022’s first Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event slated for Feb 9.

PRICE: From $978, available on Lazada and Shopee
PROCESSOR: Samsung Exynos 2100
DISPLAY: 6.4-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 2,400 x 1,080 pixels, 120Hz
REAR CAMERAS: 12MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP main wide-angle, 8MP telephoto
BATTERY: Non-removable 4,500mAh
WEIGHT: 190g

One can only surmise that the new S22 will be probably be really different from the S21 for Samsung to release the S21 FE so late. So, is the S21 FE still a great deal? Let’s find out.

Available in four colours of graphite, lavender, white and olive (version reviewed), the S21 FE does not differ much from its cousins in terms of design. It has a sleek and slim 7.9mm-thick body with an IP68 water resistance to endure some water splashes and dunks.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes in four colours. (Photo: Samsung)

The only difference is the rear triple-camera module is more seamless to the main body, instead of sticking out in the main S21 series.

The S21 FE’s olive model has a “haze finish” rear, which has a translucent quality and matte finish. I like this finish, as there are not much fingerprints or smudges despite handling it for a long time.

The matte finish rear does not attract much smudges. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Not only does S21 FE remain faithful in terms of design, its features are up there with the flagships. The S21 FE features a 6.4-inch display with the same resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 pixels as S21 and S21+. It is a gorgeous display that will make any content shown on it looks great.

Furthermore, the S21 FE’s display also supports a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. Unlike the S21 main series’ adaptive (or automatic) refresh rate, you can only opt to choose between the standard 60Hz and the much smoother 120Hz for gameplay or browsing.

Like its flagship cousins, the display of S21 FE is gorgeous. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Like its flagship cousins, Samsung does not include the power adapter or earphones in the box. Similarly, there is no expandable storage. This is especially glaring when the storage capacity of S21 FE starts from a meagre 128GB. While there is a 256GB option, this might quickly used up if you shoot a lot of photos and videos.

Performance-wise, the S21 FE is on par with the S21 Ultra. This is probably not a surprise, since both share the same Exynos 2100 processor.

+ Great overall performance
+ Fabulous 120Hz display
+ More affordable
+ Matte rear does not smudge much
+ Good image quality

– No power adapter or earphones included
– No expandable storage
– Should have been launched earlier

In the Geekbench 5 benchmark tests, the S21 FE chalked up 1,082 (single-core) and 3,409 (multi-core). In comparison, the S21 Ultra scored 1,022 (single-core) and 3,261 (multi-core).

For everyday use, the S21 FE is very responsive with all the apps launch quickly. I did not experience lags in any of the operations I try, whether they are mobile web browsers, social media apps or games.

The S21 FE has a 32-megapixel (MP) hole-punch front-facing camera, while its rear camera system consists of a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera and a 8MP telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom.

The rear triple-camera system of S21 FE. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

By comparison, the S21 and S21+ have a 10MP front-facing camera and a 64MP telephoto camera with 3x hybrid zoom, even though they possess the same ultra-wide-angle and wide-angle cameras. Only the S21 Ultra’s camera features, such as 108MP wide-angle camera and 10x optical zoom, are better than the S21 FE.

In bright sunlight, the images shot by the S21 FE are crisp and sharp with great dynamic range and nice details. Selfie shots are equally brilliant.

Photos shot using night mode are superb as well, with nice rendition of pixels with highlights not overblown. You can see the distinct difference between the night shots taken on normal mode and night mode.

In addition, the S21 FE has features of its flagship cousins, such as Single Take that lets you automatically capture stills and videos in different angles and with different effects; and Dual-recording mode that allows you to take videos using the front-facing and rear cameras at the same time.

Like its flagship cousins, I found the S21 FE easily lasted through the day without the need to charge.

In our intensive battery test (looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi switched on and the display at full brightness and 120Hz refresh rate), the S21 FE lasted about 14 hours 2 minutes.

On the other hand, the S20 FE clocked 17 hours and 40 minutes. But the battery test then was done with the display set at 60Hz.

The Samsung S21 FE 5G would have been easy to recommend with its sleek design, gorgeous display, fast performance and great image quality. It is also more affordable even if its pricing is probably similar to the street price of S21 now. But the S21 FE has better features.

The only issue is the proximity of the S22’s launch. I would recommend waiting until the unveiling of S22 before you make any decision on the S21 FE.

FEATURES: 8.5/10
DESIGN: 9/10
OVERALL: 8.5/10

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.
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