Hands-On, Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Hands-On: Good Phone, Wrong Time

After plenty of leaks and rumours, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE was finally introduced earlier this week. Sporting the same design language and most of the hardware of its higher-end siblings, it is also a bit more affordable, which makes for quite an intriguing phone.

Unfortunately, the S21 FE is launched at a rather awkward time. With the Galaxy S22 series just beyond the horizon, it’s not particularly easy to recommend this phone, even if it’s positioned as a more budget-friendly option. Nonetheless, if it fits your budget, the S21 FE can definitely serve you well.

For the Malaysian market, two variants of the S21 FE are offered. The 128GB variant costs RM2,899, while the 256GB configuration goes for RM3,099. Both models also feature 8GB of RAM; the same amount of RAM you get in the S21 and S21+ in Malaysia.

One of the biggest differences between the Galaxy S21 FE and its more costly siblings is build quality; instead of a more premium glass back, it has a plastic rear panel instead to bring down its price. But beyond this different material choice, you’re still getting quite a capable phone powered by Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 chipset.

Other specifications of the S21 FE include a 6.4-inch 1080p Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a 120Hz refresh rate, a triple camera system (12MP primary + 12MP ultra-wide angle + 8MP telephoto with 30x zoom) a 32MP selfie camera, an IP68 rating, and a rather generous 4,500mAh battery with support for 25W fast charging; 15W wirelessly.

Despite its plastic back panel, the Galaxy S21 FE has solid build quality. The rear panel has a matte finish, which feels nice to the touch. It also has a metal frame that’s just thick enough to provide a good grip on the phone. All in all, it’s a surprisingly nice phone to hold in my hands.

The 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display of the S21 FE, as expected, is also pleasant to look at with bright, vibrant colours. Even though it’s “only” a 1080p panel, it still looks sharp enough. Screen transitions and animations look extra smooth too, thanks to the screen’s 120Hz refresh rate.

When it comes to battery life, the S21 FE should be quite long-lasting. Packed with a 4,500mAh battery, you should be able to get (at the very minimum) a day’s worth of use before needing to charge it up. If you want even better battery life, setting the display’s refresh rate to 60Hz should accomplish this.

In the performance department, the Galaxy S21 FE feels very responsive. After all, it’s powered by the same Exynos 2100 chipset found in the other S21 phones. Granted, it’s been a year since the SoC made its debut, but there’s no denying that it’s still a capable chip that can provide flagship-class processing power.

How about the camera performance of the S21 FE? Well, it’s reasonably good. Naturally, it can lock in focus lightning quick, the camera interface does not feel sluggish, and the image quality is more than acceptable for a device at this price point. Refer to the sample shots below to see how the camera performs.

For the sake of comparison, I took similar shots with the S21 Ultra as well using all three focal lengths of both phones. These include the ultra-wide shooter, the primary sensor, and of course, the telephoto lens. Given that the S21 FE doesn’t have the Ultra’s 10x zoom telephoto camera, I only tested the 3x zoom of the two phones.

It’s no surprise that the much more costly S21 Ultra can capture better-looking images with superior detail preservation, but the S21 FE can still take good shots. It’ll be interesting to see how the camera would perform in other shooting conditions, though I’ll only be able to do that in a full review of the phone.

So should you get the Samsung Galaxy S21 SE? Well, it depends. If you like how it looks, and it fits your budget, then yes, it’s a phone worth considering. That being said, if you don’t mind getting a slightly smaller phone, you may be better off with the standard S21.

After all, it retails at only RM3,088 now for the 256GB model; slightly more affordable than the S21 FE, which costs RM3,099 for the same storage capacity. On top of that, the regular S21 also offers a more sophisticated 64MP telephoto lens over the 8MP zoom camera of the S21 FE.

However, if the S21’s slightly smaller 6.2-inch screen isn’t for you, then the S21 FE is a good option. But if you’re thinking of getting this phone, keep in mind that the S22 series is coming very, very soon – if you can wait, you may want to do that to see what the upcoming phones have to offer.

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