Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: the sensible S21 for 2022
In this extensive Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review you can read everything about the fourth member of the S21 family. Can the device repeat the success of the S20 FE, with smart hardware choices and good value for money? The answer to that question is 'yes, but…'. Read on to find out what the maar is – but first I will reveal the most important conclusions.
Here's a good thing about the Galaxy S21 FE:
it is the only S21 with the performance of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor,
the screen is of course of Samsung's well-known quality,
and the main and telephoto cameras are fine,
just like the battery life,
the solid (plastic) build quality,
and Samsung's software support.
are less good:
the front camera,
the expanding options of One UI
the box that does not contain a charger,
and the lack of storage expansion options.
All in all, the Galaxy S21 FE is a logical phone, with fast hardware, a nice screen, long battery life, and good cameras for home, garden and kitchen use. The 'but' I mentioned above mainly relates to the price. That is a bit on the high side. Don't get me wrong, you get an excellent phone for the money. However, to match the sales figures of the S20 FE, it has to drop in price a bit – but so did the S20 FE itself at the time.
If you don't want to pay the top price for the Galaxy S22, and you don't have expensive camera aspirations that should make you consider some Ultra model, then the Galaxy S21 FE is a logical middle ground between the better mid-range phones. and the most expensive high-end models.
I will now go deeper into all of the above, so read on for the complete Galaxy S21 FE review.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review
It was only a haircut and Samsung had stopped releasing the Galaxy S21 FE at all. Originally, the South Koreans wanted to sell it after the summer. However, there were more phones than chips to build into those phones. The foldables took the lead, and the S21 FE was put on hold. How long, you ask? Well, about five months. After the late summer and autumn, Christmas and New Years followed, but now it is here after all.
On the desk in front of me is the matte green Galaxy S21 FE. Olive green, to be exact. It almost looks like a camouflage version – almost makes it tough, as far as a phone can be tough. The camera island is reminiscent of the other S21 models, but if you look closely, it is integrated into the rest of the body a bit differently. It does not 'fold' around the metal edge, but simply lies on the back.
This back is made of plastic, just like devices in the A-series, but the frame is made of aluminum. Due to the matte finish, it is not very sensitive to fingerprints. The S21 FE makes a very solid impression, and has the same IP68 certification as the other devices in the S21 series. The AMOLED screen is completely flat, without curved edges or other fancy, expensive gadgets. And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, that's the whole idea behind Samsung's Fan Edition phones.
The design is ultimately a step more refined than – for example – the functionally designed Galaxy A52s. But the S21 FE is and remains the workhorse of the S21 family. And that's what he's meant to be.
Galaxy S21 FE display
For years you can blindly assume that a Samsung phone with an AMOLED screen has a fantastic screen. That is no different with the 6.4-inch panel of the Galaxy S21 FE. The resolution is 2400 x 1080 pixels, and that is enough. It is important that the device has a refresh rate of 120 Hz. This ensures that the S21 FE always feels lightning fast.
Samsung has cut back on one point compared to the rest of the S21 series. The screen frequency is not variable. You set the Galaxy S21 FE to a frequency of 60 or 120 Hz, and that's how it does it. In theory, this is less economical than the variable screen frequency that you encounter in the other S21 models. However, this difference is not noticeable. On the contrary. But more on that later.
Under the hood
One of the main differences between the Galaxy S21 FE and the other models in the series is the processor. In our country, Samsung puts Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 in the device. It is therefore the third Galaxy – after the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3 – with this chip, which is slightly better optimized than the Exynos 2100 in the other S21 models. And as in the Flip and Fold, the 888 does an excellent job.
A second cutback compared to the S21 series is the working memory. If you buy the 128GB variant of the Galaxy S21 FE, you get 6GB of RAM. That is not very much for a high-end phone – as much as, for example, the Galaxy A52(s). If you're a notorious multitasker, who switches back and forth a lot between games and other apps, you might consider purchasing the 256GB variant. After all, it does have 8GB of RAM. It is not necessary for the less heavy trade between Whatsapp, your browser, and YouTube Music – just to name a few things.
By the way: whether you buy the 128 or 256GB variant, you have to make do with that amount of storage. There is no slot for a memory card. That's not surprising, and fits the zeitgeist – but it's still a shame.
In everyday life, the Galaxy S21 FE is the fastest, smoothest running Galaxy S21 variant. The differences are small, but it makes it clear that the device delivers excellent performance, no matter what you do.
Software and updates
Originally, Samsung was preparing to launch the Galaxy S21 FE with Android 11. Fortunately, during the delay period, the South Koreans had the presence of mind to make this Android 12 right away. With this, Samsung has unobtrusively added a significant plus to the Fan Edition. The rest of the S21 series started the software existence on Android 11. Although all models receive the same number of major upgrades, the Galaxy S21 FE starts a generation later – and will continue for a year after 2025.
I recently explained in detail what this means in the overview of all future Galaxy S21 FE updates and upgrades. For convenience, I summarize it here again. In the coming years, the device will receive these updates:
End of 2022, early 2023 to Android 13
Early 2024 to Android 14
Early 2025 to Android 15
One UI upgrades: at least until early 2025
Monthly until early 2025
Quarterly until early 2026
In terms of functions and features, you will therefore be in the first rank until at least the beginning of 2025. Security will remain up to date at least until early 2026.
Incidentally, you now get the One UI 4 interface, with all the functions, gadgets and tricks that you also have on other high-end Galaxy phones. You can adjust the design with the cool Color Palette function, and use old, familiar features such as Samsung Pass and Dual Messenger. You can also have several apps open at the same time in different Multiwindow windows. The Bixby assistant is excellent to ignore, but Bixby Routines can indeed be useful – as well as the DeX desktop system.
This also means that one of the complaints I voiced in my Galaxy S21 (Ultra) review still holds true. Samsung's software has once again reached the point where it continues to expand. Every software upgrade brings more, more, more. Personally, I like to set a lot of details myself, but I realize that 90% of users really don't want 24 extra settings for taking a screenshot. For example, that's it.
Simply put: in terms of software, the Galaxy S21 FE offers long support, and a lot of features and settings – even a bit too much of the latter.
Galaxy S21 FE review: battery and battery life
Already twice I hinted above to the next excellent aspect of the Galaxy S21 FE. I already mentioned that you don't notice the higher energy consumption with the device that the non-variable screen frequency of 120Hz entails. In addition, I noticed that the Snapdragon 888 processor seems a bit better optimized than Samsung's own Exynos 2100.
All this points to the endurance of the Galaxy S21 FE's 4500 mAh battery. Of all S21 variants, the S21 FE is the device with the longest battery life. He recently 'beat' the S21+ with its 4800 mAh battery, and even the S21 Ultra and its 5000 mAh battery with some ease. Even with fairly intensive use – except for heavy gaming sessions – I always had a lot of battery charge left late at night.
Charging is fairly smooth, provided you have a charger that supports the USB PD 3.0 standard – for example Samsung's own EP-TA220 which you can buy separately for around €23. With a simpler charger you can of course charge the Galaxy S21 FE just as well, but then it takes longer than 70 minutes to get it from zero to one hundred percent full.
It's a shame that you don't get a charger with the Galaxy S21 FE, but that doesn't change the fact that the battery life is one of the strongest points of the device. On the other hand: Samsung has not yet made the jump to higher charging capacities and charging times of roughly half an hour with the S21 FE.
Galaxy S21 FE camera review
Another strong – albeit less protruding above ground level – point of the Galaxy S21 FE is the camera. It was good in the regular Galaxy S21, and in the S21 FE it does its job no less. At least, when we talk about the 12 megapixel main camera and the equally pixelated ultrawide camera. The first in particular actually takes great photos under all conditions – light or dark. The dynamic range is fine, so you almost always take beautifully exposed photos. The second does its job well, but is clearly less generally usable, and fails more quickly in the dark.
As with the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung makes the interesting choice for an 8 megapixel telephoto camera. In fact, it's the exact same camera. Where the regular S21 and S21+ zoom in digitally thanks to a 64 megapixel sensor, the S21 FE does this optically – 3x, to be exact. As far as I'm concerned, this produces nicer pictures, although this mainly happens with more than sufficient (day) light.
Wide angle 100% crop
Main camera 100% crop
3x 100% crop
The only camera of the S21 FE that I find a bit less than the rest of the S21 series is the 32 megapixel front camera. This is in fact the third 'economy point' of the device. The lack of autofocus means that you don't actually use the high resolution meaningfully, and often just miss some details. In Portrait mode, the edge detection – the separation between foreground and background – is erratic. Selfies are simply on the same level as on the Galaxy A52 models: good enough, but clearly less than with the other S21 variants.
Main camera, artificial light
3x, artificial light
In terms of features and functions, Samsung has not spared any further. With the Galaxy S21 FE you get all the camera gadgets that the other models also have. From Director's view to Portrait video, to the recognition of pets in the regular Portrait mode, and the Single take mode that has been expanded in One UI 4.
Main camera, night mode
Front, portrait mode
As far as I'm concerned, the cameras of the Galaxy S21 FE reflect the Fan Edition concept well. If you just want to shoot reliably beautiful photos, then the S21 FE is the right choice. And the optical zoom camera gives you that little bit more that you miss with the A52 – and maybe even with the S21 itself. The fact that you also hand in something to the front camera is the flip side of the same coin.
So far I've discussed the Galaxy S21 FE's design (solid, functional), the screen (excellent), the performance (smooth), the software (many features, too many options), the battery life (best of the S21 series) ), and the cameras (fine and reliable). But of course there are also smaller parts worth mentioning, such as the fingerprint sensor.
This sensor is – in this review – the fourth point where Samsung's savings program comes to the fore. Under the screen is the same optical sensor that we know from the A-series. This works well enough, but in my opinion it is slightly less fast and accurate than the ultrasonic scanner of other S21 models.
Of course you can also protect your S21 FE with facial recognition. This works smoothly, and recognizes different 'versions' of your face – for example with and without glasses. But this method is and remains less secure than a fingerprint sensor (or the iris scanner of yesteryear).
During our time with the Galaxy S21 FE, we always had good reception and call quality – although we haven't been to areas with poor reception. The stereo speakers give a good sound, and can also generate a reasonable volume (although they don't sound too good at the loudest).
I can no longer call the lack of a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack surprising. The analog music connection is no longer a feature that you can expect in a high-end telephone in 2022. What I personally think of that becomes less relevant every year 😉 .
What you can expect – and get – is space for two SIM cards. Strangely enough, the option to use an eSIM is not part of the game. That is indeed crazy, because the other S21 models do offer this option. And so I note a fifth 'cutback'. It's not huge, but you should know.
Galaxy S21 FE review: conclusions
And so I end up at the moment when definitive conclusions must be drawn from this Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review. On the one hand, I have noted a number of points where Samsung clearly cut back. The non-variable screen frequency was found to have no real impact on battery life. And if you really want 8GB of RAM, you can always opt for the 256GB model.
Not to be missed are the front camera without autofocus, the optical fingerprint sensor, and the lack of the eSIM option. You have to decide for yourself how annoying these points are.
On the other hand, there is a large list of points that Samsung has simply done well. The practical, robust design works well, the screen is excellent, and the performance leaves nothing to be desired. I am completely enthusiastic about the battery life. Above all, the cameras are good and reliable, even if they don't excel in one area or the other. Only the front camera falls a bit out of the boat.
Add to all this Samsung's four-year update policy, and with the Galaxy S21 FE you have an excellent phone that delivers value for money in the most important areas. In 2022, the device will bridge the gap between the (not yet launched) more expensive S22 series and upcoming mid-range phones such as the Galaxy A53. If the price also drops – let's say – €100 in the coming months, then the price-quality ratio is once again completely fine.
Samsung has given the Galaxy S21 FE a suggested retail price of €749 for the model with 6GB and 128GB storage, or €819 for the device version with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage capacity. The phone is now available at many stores and all providers.
PLEASE NOTE: if you buy an S21 FE until January 23, you can receive the Galaxy Buds 2 for free. Check this deal directly in Samsung's own shop HERE – or read more about this promotion. At these shops and providers you always buy an official Dutch copy, as necessary to receive the Buds 2:
Samsung Shop (from €749)
KPN (in combination with abo)
Mobiel.nl (from €747 or icm subscription)
T-Mobile (in combination with subscription)
MediaMarkt (from €749)
Tele2 (in combination with subscription)
Coolblue (from €749)
Vodafone (in combination with subscription)
GSM Web (in combination with subscription)
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is the 'sensible' S21, which scores good to excellent on all important points. By omitting some frills, a high-end phone with an excellent quality ratio remains.
Excellent battery and battery life
Beautiful 120Hz AMOLED display
Good software support
The front camera has been cut
You don't get a charger with the device
Memory: 6GB RAM is not much, storage is not expandable
One UI has too many options
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