Samsung S21 FE Smartphone REVIEW
Everything you need in a smartphone and more, this nicely priced Samsung gets Witchdoctor’s ultimate award from our tech guru PAT PILCHER.
If you’ve been lusting after Samsung’s Galaxy S21 but are budget-constrained, boy, do we have some good news for you. The Galaxy S21 FE (fan edition) is way more affordable than the Galaxy S21 but has an identical CPU, a larger screen, a triple-lens shooter and is 5G capable.
Design-wise, the S21 FE is an attractive beastie. Its slim, curvy design is eye-catching. It also looks identical to the Galaxy S21 and even has the same rear camera setup (and camera bump). Perhaps the biggest difference is that it uses a plastic rear and gorilla glass front sandwiched by an alloy band. In contrast, the Galaxy S21 has a glass back.
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Samsung calls it Glasstic (glass-like plastic – geddit?), and to this end, the chassis does look a little like glass. On the plus side, Tupperware makes the S21 FE less slippery to hold and more importantly, is less prone to breakage from involuntary drop testing. That said, while it looks like frosted glass, it still feels like plastic.
The S21 FE also sports a similar button layout with the power and volume controls on the phone’s right. There’s also a USB-C port and as expected, no 3.5mm headphone jack, so Bluetooth buds or a dongle are a must for music lovers. Lastly in the design department are colours. The S21 FE comes in black, white, pink and green. All told, the S21 FE sports a pleasing design that belies its reasonable sticker price.
As with Samsung’s flagships, the first thing you’ll notice with the S21 FE is its gorgeous 6.4-inch screen. It comes with a 1080 x 2400 resolution and surprisingly for its sticker price, a 120Hz refresh rate. This translates into super smooth scrolling and on-screen animations. Being from Samsung, the AMOLED screen is a high point. It offered up deep dark blacks, tanning clinic levels of brightness and super-vivid colours, all of which equates to plenty of peeper-pleasing on-screen goodness.
The S21 FE’s camera setup is also like the Galaxy S21. The main shooter uses a 12MP sensor and a 12MP ultrawide snapper. That said, while the S21 uses a 64MP telephoto lens/sensor combo, the S21 FE is limited to an 8MP sensor. It might be a lower-resolution telephoto sensor, but it uses the same lens. So, in use, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any major difference. Swinging the S21 FE around reveals a surprising gain: users get a 32MP front shooter, whereas the Galaxy S21 has a 10MP front sensor.
Photos shot with the S21 FE’s main camera were crisp, accurately exposed, but sometimes oversaturated. I particularly liked the S21 FE’s camera setup because the same colour profile is used across all four cameras. This handily means that when switching between cameras (eg, zooming in or out), there isn’t a jarring change to the exposure or colours. The low light shooting was also a pleasant surprise. Photos shot in the evening as the sun started to vanish were bright, detailed, vivid and largely noise-free. Macro shooting, however, wasn’t perfect, but for static objects it worked well enough. While the Galaxy S21 can record 8K video, the FE is limited to 4K video at 60FPS using both the front and rear camera. Given the relatively small number of 8K TVs in use at present, this isn’t likely to be a biggie for the foreseeable future.
Under the hood, there’s also plenty to like. Those with big media collections will appreciate that the S21 FE comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage or, even better, 8GB RAM and a roomy 256GB of storage.
It also uses the same Exynos S2100 silicon as the Galaxy S21 flagship. This is a bit of a big deal. Not only because of the S21 FE’s affordable sticker price but because the Exynos S2100 sports a 5nm design. This means it runs cooler and is 20% more energy efficient. Instead of using Samsung’s Mongoose CPU cores, the Exynos S2100 uses Arm Cortex cores. The CPU has an Arm Cortex-X1 core clocked at 2.9GHz. Three additional Cortex-A78 CPU cores run at 2.8GHz, plus four Cortex-A55 cores run at 2.2GHz. Samsung says that this setup should deliver a 30% boost to multi-core performance over the previous Exynos 990.
On the wireless front, the S21 FE has you well covered. Not only is it a 5G capable beastie, but it also supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. Speaking of Bluetooth, with Samsung’s superb Adapt Sound utility, I could tweak the audio on my Bluetooth buds to my specific hearing. The difference between the audio produced by the S21 FE and other android devices I had around the house was like night and day.
On the gaming front, the S21 FE also acquitted itself well. Demanding titles such as Asphalt, Dead Trigger 2, and Fortnite ran without stutters, glitches or slowdowns. The S21 FE runs Android 12 overlaid with Samsung’s One UI. It’s a clean and uncluttered interface that has steadily evolved and improved over the years.
Powering the whole show is a 4,500mAh battery. With typical use (social media browsing, music, gaming, email, shooting photos and so on), I got a day’s use. A charger isn’t included in the box, but the Galaxy S21 FE is wireless Qi charging compatible. It also has a 4.5W reverse wireless charging capability, which let me juice up a pair of earbuds that had gone flat while I was out and about.
In an age where you’re paying $2K or more for a well-specced smartphone, Samsung’s S21 FE delivers all the good bits from the Galaxy S21 with prices starting at a pocket or purse pleasing $1199. Sharp pricing aside, there’s plenty to like. A slinky design, acres of storage, gorgeous display and decent camera make the S21 FE a very desirable smartphone indeed. It’d be indecent not to give it a well-earned 10 out of 10.