Review, Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: The Middling Option

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE was launched at an odd timing; almost a year after the debut of its higher-end siblings, in fact. This puts the device at a disadvantage: not only is the newer, shinier Galaxy S22 series just beyond the horizon, the S21 FE isn’t particularly budget-friendly either.

That is not to say the Galaxy S21 FE is a bad phone. It’s still a good flagship device, but for the same amount of money, you can get a better-equipped phone, such as the regular Galaxy S21 itself. However, depending on what you want out of a phone, the S21 FE could still be a good fit for you.

What It Is

Display6.4-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (2400 x 1080), 120Hz
ChipsetSamsung Exynos 2100 2.9GHz octa-core
GPUMali-G78 MP14
Storage128GB/256GB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)12MP f/1.8
12MP f/2.2 (ultra-wide angle)
8MP f/2.4 (telephoto)
Camera (front)32MP f/2.2
4,500mAh with 25W fast charging
Dimensions155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm
OSOne UI 4.0 based on Android 12
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6
USB Type-C
PriceRM2,899 (128GB + 8GB), RM3,099 (256GB + 8GB)

On paper, the Galaxy S21 FE looks like a reasonably well-equipped flagship smartphone. Not only does it have the same Exynos 2100 chipset as the more premium Galaxy S21 series, it also features a fast, gorgeous Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a 120Hz refresh rate.

Of course, the S21 FE does make some sacrifices to bring down its price. It has a less premium plastic back panel – though this does make it more lightweight – and its telephoto sensor isn’t quite as sophisticated.

The Good Stuff

Samsung makes some of the best displays in the market, so it’s no surprise that the Galaxy S21 FE has a high quality panel. It is pleasant to look at with bright, vibrant colours, and even though it’s “only” a 1080p panel, it still looks sharp enough.

Aside from that, screen transitions and animations on the S21 FE look extra smooth, thanks to the display’s 120Hz refresh rate. If you’re an avid gamer – and your favourite mobile game supports 120Hz mode – it’s really quite enjoyable to game on such a fast panel.

Speaking of which, the performance level of the Galaxy S21 FE is also comparable to other flagship phones in the market now. Throughout the review period, the phone felt very zippy and responsive…for the most part. More on this further down the review.

Another aspect of the Galaxy S21 FE that I really quite like is its lightweight nature. Thanks to its reasonably compact form factor and plastic back, it tips the scales at only 177g; that’s quite light for a phone this size.

Prior to using the S21 FE as my daily driver, the S21 Ultra was my main device, which is noticeably heftier at 229g. Needless to say, it’s a breath of fresh air to use a lighter phone for a change.

Battery life of the Galaxy S21 FE is also quite good. On average, I can get about five hours of screen on time with the phone 4,500mAh battery. That’s more than long enough to get through a typical workday, even with some light gaming thrown into the mix.

Last but definitely not least is the camera performance of the S21 FE. For the most part, it can capture some good-looking shots, especially with the 12MP primary sensor. The 12MP ultra-wide angle camera and 8MP telephoto lens does struggle in low light conditions, but they’re certainly serviceable. Judge for yourself with these sample shots.

The Bad Stuff

While the Galaxy S21 FE feels fast and responsive most of the time, it also has an odd tendency to feel sluggish when I wake the phone from sleep; it’s as if the screen’s refresh rate is set below 60Hz. This issue isn’t unique to my unit either, as other users have reported the same issue.

Granted, this sluggishness is easily rectified by just locking and unlocking the phone, so I suspect this is a software issue. It’s a little annoying to run into this issue several times a day, so hopefully, Samsung will issue a fix to this soon – its software support is easily among the best, after all.

Last but not least is the value proposition of the S21 FE. Retailing at RM2,899 and RM3,099 for the 128GB and 256GB models respectively, it’s priced quite close to the current asking price of the standard Galaxy S21.

In fact, you can get the Galaxy S21 for 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 offers a more sophisticated 64MP telephoto lens too over the 8MP zoom camera of the S21 FE.

Is It Worth It?

With that in mind, is the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE worth it then? Well, 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 also coming in the next two weeks – if you can wait, you may want to do so to see what the upcoming phones have to offer.

If the Galaxy S21 FE was slightly more budget-friendly, or if it offered a little bit more for the money – it would’ve helped if it was launched much, much earlier too – then perhaps it would’ve been more appealing. As it is, it’s the middling option. Not quite affordable enough, and not quite capable enough.

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