Samsung Galaxy S21 FE convinces in the test – you should still not buy it

Take the own top smartphone from 2021, delete something, add something: Finished is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. Is the revised 2021 flagship still worthwhile in 2022?

Samsung fans are waiting for the Galaxy S22, but Samsung first sent another little horse into the race at the technology fair CES. A version of the Samsung Galaxy S21 with the addition Fan Edition (FE) in the name, full name: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. Like the predecessor S20 FE, it is a slightly modified version of last year’s flagship.

Not everything is better than in the Galaxy S21

Slightly changed? That is to say: There is a bit more in some places, less elsewhere. For example, a bit more display (6.4 instead of 6.2 inches) and more battery (4500 instead of 4000 milliampere hours.) Also, the selfie cam now has 32 instead of 10 megapixels (MP).

There is a bit less elsewhere. For example, the camera: It is identical to the original S21 at first glance. The wide-angle camera and ultra-wide-angle camera still have 12 MP. However, only the wide-angle sensor is the same. In the newer S21 FE, the sensor and the image pixels for the ultra-wide-angle camera are smaller. This has a negative impact on the quality, especially in low light. The telephoto camera now uses a sensor with 8 MP resolution, whereas it still has 64 MP in the S21. In addition, the sensor is considerably smaller in the S21 FE. The poorer image quality becomes noticeable when you go beyond the triple zoom or take pictures in the dark.

Design compromises of the Galaxy S21 FE

There is also a bit less visual splendor. In the Galaxy S21, the aluminum frame around the casing’s edge flowed directly into the camera module. The S21 FE looks similar at first glance. However, the metal casing around the camera lenses no longer merges into the casing frame. Thus, a good bit of elegance that characterized the Galaxy S21 is lost. Like the standard S21, the S21 FE also has a plastic back. Glass is only found in the larger S21+ and S21 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
Bit reduced: Plastic instead of metal and fewer megapixels: The camera trio of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. Photo: dpa picture alliance

Since hardly anyone still uses an expensive smartphone without a cover anyway, one wonders why the manufacturers also cover the backs with expensive glass. Plastic is a bit more susceptible to scratches, but it cannot break like a glass back. The plastic back of the FE is definitely not an obstacle to purchase.

Fast everyday smartphone

These are the most obvious differences. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 is installed as the system chip inside. Although the first smartphones with the newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 have been released in the meantime, the smartphone still delivers excellent performance. The Snapdragon 888 also gives the S21 FE an advantage over the original S21. This is because the latter is only offered with Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 chip in Europe. The version with a stronger Snapdragon 888 is only available in the US and China. Users who prefer Snapdragon over Exynos can now buy the Galaxy S21 FE.

The bright display with either a power-saving 60 or super-fast 120 Hertz refresh rate looks good, and the fingerprint sensor under the display feels like it works better than on previous Samsungs. However, its low placement is still an ergonomic challenge when using it with one hand.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
The fingerprint reader of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is reliable and fast. Unfortunately, it is a bit inconvenient to reach due to its low placement. Photo: dpa picture alliance

The camera does not show any weaknesses either. The individual modes via night portrait or single-take (a mixture of different shooting modes and videos) are fun and usually deliver pretty good results.

The storage versions are a tight 128 gigabytes (GB) with 6 GB working memory for 749 Euros and a better sized 256 GB with 8 GB working memory for 819 Euros. Those who want to make use of the FE’s numerous photo and video options better choose the larger storage option – there is no memory card slot.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is available for just under 750 Euros MSRP with 128 GB of storage. 256 GB costs around 820 euros. Photo: dpa picture alliance

Conclusion: The purchase is currently not worth it

Great display, fast chip, good camera, good battery, up-to-date software. More does not need to be said about the S21 FE. You cannot really go wrong with it if you like Samsung’s smartphones. Even after one year, the device actually fulfills all requirements that you would expect from a smartphone. Therefore, the question is: Who needs this special edition one year later?

Because: The original 21 from 2021 with a better camera and slightly higher-quality looks costs almost 100 Euros less than the new FE one year after release. And the competitors are not asleep. Comparable smartphones are now available for considerably less money.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G (2 from left) has a lot of competition: Google’s Pixel 6 (left), the Honor 50 (2 from right) and the Motorola G200 5G have similar performance data. Photo: dpa picture alliance

For example, Google’s Pixel 6 with very slim Android, fast updates and a pretty good camera (starting at just under 640 Euros). Motorola’s Moto G200 5G from December also offers similar performance data – but has a worse camera – for 450 Euros.

The Honor brand that has risen from Huawei’s shadow also competes with the S21 FE. The Honor 50 has a slightly weaker chip, but an interesting camera solution and a lot of glitter on the back for just under 480 Euros. Last but not least, Samsung’s own Galaxy A52 5G, for example, is not far away in terms of performance, but it is cheaper at just under 450 Euros.

The Galaxy S21 FE simply comes at an inopportune time. Because the launch of the new Galaxy S22 series is just around the corner. The new smartphones are supposed to have better cameras and performance. The price of the S21 FE will probably drop again. Our recommendation is therefore to wait for the Galaxy S22. You can either invest your money directly in the newer smartphone or buy the S21 FE at a lower price.

With material from dpa