Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is priced similarly to the original S21 flagship phone. While it may not be considered budget-friendly, it does make significant improvements in a few important aspects when compared to the original S21. The improvements include a better battery and the addition of an optical zoom to the telephoto lens.

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Design and Build Quality

Design and Durability

I’m still a bit unsure about Samsung’s choice of colors for the S21 FE (Fan Edition) model, especially when compared to the vibrant options available for the older S21. White and black seem rather basic and uninspiring, while olive green and lavender feel quite niche. The design still gives off a somewhat conservative vibe, making me recall images of a nun, and I can almost taste the Fisherman’s Friends.

Speaking of size, I’m relieved that Samsung’s one-handed mode is available because the Galaxy S21 FE has grown a bit larger compared to the original. However, at 6.4 inches, it remains one of the more compact phones you can find in 2023.

I liked the Galaxy S21 before the Fan Edition, and I was concerned that the Gorilla Glass Victory display, lacking a built-in screen protector, would have accumulated nicks and scuffs by now. Surprisingly, it’s held up quite well, with only a couple of light scratches after a week of use. I highly recommend installing your own screen protector, but the glass itself is quite robust. It still looks pristine despite my less-than-gentle handling. Additionally, the S21 FE boasts full IP68 water and dust resistance, making it a durable choice once you’ve added that screen protector.

Software And Features

In-Display Fingerprint Sensor

So far, Android 12 and the OneUI 4 launcher have been performing exceptionally well on the S21 FE, making for a powerful combination. Most of the fantastic Android features seen in the Pixel 6 smartphones have found their way to this Samsung device. There are a few Pixel-exclusive features missing, such as call screening, but you still benefit from robust privacy settings and Samsung’s top-notch security measures.

In-display fingerprint sensor is a standout feature working flawlessly even when your hands are slightly moist. Additionally, there’s face recognition as a backup option, and you can fine-tune its security level to your preference. This means the S21 FE takes its time to ensure it identifies you accurately, making it less susceptible to fraud attempts. However, you can speed up the recognition process if you prefer. Even with the speedier option, though, the Fan Edition won’t unlock if you’re wearing a relatively minimal face mask.

Always On Display and Other Customization

And Also offers customization options allowing you to tailor nearly every aspect of the phone to your liking. This includes personalizing the always-on display and configuring the side key, which can be assigned functions like Samsung Pay, Great Mate Bixby, or even camera access if that’s your preference. Speaking of Bixby and Samsung Pay, these are just two of the many Samsung apps included with the S21 FE, and they often duplicate the functions of Google’s own offerings.

Additionally, you’ll find Smart Things, which essentially serves as another version of Google Home but with added health tracking features. S21 Fe also comes with a web browser and a variety of other standard apps.

Software Apps

I personally find it quite frustrating that there are duplicates of almost everything on the S21 FE. Two web browsers, two photo galleries, and so on – it’s a bit like Noah’s southern arc in terms of redundancy. However, if you happen to prefer Samsung’s services over Google’s because you’ve been using Galaxy smartphones for a while and that’s what you’re accustomed to, then that’s fantastic, you’ll likely be pleased.

And you do have the option to uninstall most of Samsung’s apps if you prefer a more streamlined experience. This is a relief because when I first received the S21 FE, around 30 gigabytes of the 128-gigabyte internal storage were already occupied by system files and other data, and there’s no microSD support available for expanding the storage.

Display and Audio

Display Picture Quality

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE features a slightly larger 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED display compared to the original Galaxy S21. This display offers vibrant, sharp, and bold visuals with a full HD+ resolution, with only a small portion taken up by the selfie camera pinhole at the top. I’ve personally stuck with the default vivid display mode because I enjoy the vibrant and lively colors it produces, and I rarely need to manually adjust the screen brightness. And also provides a comfortable viewing experience in low-light conditions.

If you happen to be using the phone outdoors on a sunny day, the screen brightness can be cranked up to the maximum to ensure clear visibility of the content, making it ideal for various situations.

While the stereo speakers on the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE may not pack quite the same punch as the ones in the original S21, despite the phone’s size increase, they do offer superior quality with richer sound depth. When it comes to Bluetooth connectivity, there were no complaints whatsoever. Throughout the entire week of testing, there were no issues with connectivity or range, and we did extensive testing of the Bluetooth connection, partly because the S21 FE still includes a headphone jack.

Performance and Gaming

Performance Genshian Impact

Powering the Samsung S21 FE is Samsung’s Exynos 2100, at least in my review sample. In the initial few hours, there were some noticeable performance issues, but the S21 FE quickly improved, and overall, it has been quite responsive. However, it can occasionally exhibit juddering, especially in situations like using the camera app when switching between different modes. This issue might be exacerbated by the fact that my review model has just 6 gigabytes of RAM, which appears to be a primary reason why the Fan Edition struggles to maintain a smooth frame rate, especially when pushing it to higher detail settings.

Call of Duty Mobile on Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Despite enabling priority mode and other gaming-related settings, I eventually had to lower the graphics settings to medium. This configuration worked perfectly for less demanding games like Call of Duty Mobile, even when cranking up the graphics to higher, more immersive levels. One notable advantage of having the Exynos model of the S21 FE is that it remains pleasantly cool even during extended gaming sessions lasting an hour or two. However, it’s worth noting that while gaming, the battery life depletes quite rapidly, so it’s advisable to stay close to a nearby power source.

Battery Life

Battery Life

Let’s talk about the battery life of the Galaxy S21 FE in comparison to the original S21. I’m a fan of Samsung’s original S21 flagship phone, but it often struggles to make it through a full day, typically running out of power by early evening. So, I was relieved when I heard that Samsung had increased the battery size for the Fan Edition from 4000 milliampere-hours to 4500. Unfortunately, in terms of providing a solution, this increase in battery capacity has proven to be about as effective as trying to fix a leaky tap by shouting obscenities at it.

If your primary use for the S21 Fan Edition is messaging friends and occasionally glancing at social media, it should last you the entire day. However, if you want to use it more extensively, such as frequent camera usage, lengthy Skype calls, gaming, and Netflix streaming, you’ll face a challenge making it last until bedtime. On most days during my testing, it required an extra charge before I could call it a night. Even on the rare days when it did survive, I only had around five to ten percent battery life left.

Regarding charging options, you can still use 15-watt wireless charging or a 25-watt wired charger, though it’s not exceptionally fast. It’s worth noting that you’ll need to provide your own charger since Samsung no longer includes one in the box.

Cameras Test

Let’s talk about the camera on the Galaxy S21 Fan Edition, which has received some improvements. While it still features a 12-megapixel primary sensor (which may seem low compared to rivals with higher megapixel counts and pixel binning technology), I found that it performed well in most shooting conditions when using full auto mode for color accuracy. Skin tones, while not as authentic as those captured by the Pixel 6, exhibit rich tones that many users may find appealing. However, in lower light and more ambient conditions, photos of kids and pets can sometimes appear blurry, exacerbated by occasional focus issues. Fortunately, Samsung’s night mode is available to enhance low-light photos of stationary subjects, as long as you have a steady hand when using the primary shooter.

The Galaxy S21 FE is equipped with a 12-megapixel ultrawide-angle lens, which, similar to the primary camera, struggles a bit with color accuracy. Nevertheless, it comes in handy when you want to capture expansive scenes, like a cathedral, for instance. However, the significant upgrade in the Fan Edition is the addition of an 8-megapixel telephoto shooter, offering a genuine three-times optical zoom. You can even zoom in up to 30 times, but I wouldn’t recommend going beyond the 10 times zoom as the photos tend to get quite grainy. Nevertheless, it’s more than adequate for getting close-up shots without intruding on the scene. I should note that I haven’t observed a significant improvement in the quality of my zoomed-in photos on the Fan Edition compared to the original Galaxy S21.

8 Megapixel Telephoto Lens Image
Image: Tech Spurt

The S21 lacked an optical zoom but made up for it with a higher megapixel count that essentially cropped into images. However, the S21 FE offers a plethora of bonus camera features, some of which are quite impressive, including the reliable ‘single-take’ mode. This feature is particularly useful if you have kids or pets since it allows you to capture up to 20 seconds of footage and saves not only a video but also various stylish photos, offering multiple ways to cherish the moment.

When it comes to video, while the Fan Edition doesn’t offer 8K recording like its predecessor, it’s not a significant loss. The Galaxy S21 FE performs admirably with 4K video, delivering detailed frames unless lighting conditions are subpar. Even when shooting while in motion, Samsung’s image stabilization ensures smooth results. Sound is recorded clearly from all directions, with only minor wind interference when shooting outdoors. For those who enjoy sharing selfies, the S21 FE 32-megapixel front camera does the job well. It can switch to a wider view to accommodate multiple people or background action, and even in low-light conditions, it produces decent results.

My Final Thought

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G, with that 5G label that feels good these days, was quite enjoyable as my daily smartphone. However, given its price point, I’d suggest considering the Pixel 6 instead, primarily due to the persistent battery life issue. By early evening, you’ll likely find yourself constantly checking the battery percentage, which can be concerning, especially if you have plans for the evening. While the camera is solid, it doesn’t quite match the Pixel 6 in still photography, although the video recording and selfie camera on the Galaxy S21 FE perform well.

The Android 12 and OneUI 4.0 experience is quite commendable. If you happen to come across a good deal on the Fan Edition, it might be worth considering. However, if you’re a power user with demanding needs, such as gaming and heavy camera usage, you might want to explore other options. In any case, the Galaxy S21 is still a solid choice, especially if you’ve been using it as your daily driver.

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