Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: Worthy Contender as a Flagship Alternative

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review
John Velasco | SPY

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There was a time when only flagships garnered my attention, but after a long hiatus going years without reviewing, not even one, I realized that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a flagship. That’s also probably the reason the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE exists.

Introduced at CES 2022 as a phone with flagship qualities but at a more reasonable cost, the Galaxy S21 FE is one of the first phones of 2022 that consumers will need to consider. It’s chock-full of goodies they’ll need without the bloated cost of a traditional flagship.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 2.93 x 6.13 x 0.31-inches
  • Weight: 4.13 ounces
  • Display: 6.4-inch 2340 x 1080 120Hz AMOLED
  • Battery Capacity: 4,500 mAh
  • Rear Cameras: Wide 12MP f/1.8, Ultra Wide 12MP f/2.2, Telephoto 8MP f/2.0
  • Front Camera: 32MP
  

Design

At first, I wasn’t too amused with the design of the Galaxy S21 FE. That’s until I inspected the rear of the phone, which features a matte-like finish held in place by the metal bezel that wraps around the phone. Unlike other phones with glass surfaces, the Galaxy S21 FE isn’t prone to smudges — so it manages to keep a very clean look. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time a phone stayed this clean.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review John Velasco | SPY

Outside of this, it has the hallmark design characteristics we’ve seen in last year’s Galaxy S21 lineup, including the distinguishable triple camera system in the rear. Since it features a raised camera, the phone never sits flush on surfaces and rattles a little bit whenever I’m typing with the phone on its back. Although, it’s a minor nuisance I can live with.

  

Display

Once again, Samsung shows its display technology expertise with the Galaxy S21 FE. Sporting a 6.4-inch 2340 x 1080 AMOLED display, it offers exceptional clarity in all lighting conditions. There are plenty of details and rich colors to make watching a Netflix show enjoyable on the road, but it also helps that the 120Hz refresh rate gives small details, such as scrolling across the interface, that buttery and fluid look.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review John Velasco | SPY

 

I also love how the pinhole design with the display manages to tuck away the front-facing camera. It’s certainly not as wide and distracting compared to some notches I’ve seen in other phones, giving it a clean look that matches its minimalist design.

  

Software

It’s been years since I’ve last experienced Samsung’s take on the Android experience. With the Galaxy S21 FE, it’s Samsung’s own One UI 4.0 running on top of Android 12. While I like the simple aesthetics of the home screen’s layout, particularly the large-sized icons, Samsung continues to throw in redundant and unnecessary features — like the Edge Panel — which is simply another way to switch between apps.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review John Velasco | SPY

Under the hood, it’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 SoC (system on a chip) paired with 6GB of RAM. Generally speaking, it runs smooth and exhibits very little slowdown, but there were still instances when it would get a bit choppy running graphically intensive games.

  

Camera

One of the best parts about the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is its ability to capture photos and videos. With its triple camera system in the rear, I love the utility it offers in capturing whatever’s happening in the moment.

Outdoor shots under sunny conditions come out best with their crisp details and Samsung applying just a bit of color saturation to give my images some added sparkle. I was also shocked by the portrait shots I could get out of the front-facing camera. Details are plentiful too, and even though background blurring wasn’t 100%, I was still satisfied by the overall result.

Anker Soundcore Frames John Velasco | SPY

The telephoto camera is useful, but I find that it’s a step behind what the Google Pixel 6 Pro can produce with subjects way off in the distance. Meanwhile, low light performance is hindered by softer, mushy-looking details. It’s not a wash but could’ve been better. If you need convincing, check out the photos in my review of the Soundcore Frames because I took all the photos with the Galaxy S21 FE.

  

Battery Life

For what I was using it for, the Galaxy S21 FE managed to get me through a solid day of normal usage, with plenty of spare gas in the tank by bedtime. Its 4,500 mAh battery also didn’t take that long to charge at 1 hour, 33 minutes using a fast-charging wall adapter. Not only do you have that convenience, but it also features wireless charging.

  

Our Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE costs $700 and rivals higher-priced flagships with its balance of features and performance. Sure, it may be pared down in some areas, but you’re still getting a capable phone that won’t leave your pockets completely drained.

So Should You Buy it?

You bet, especially if you’re looking to snag a bit of savings but still want flagship caliber features.

Pros

  • A versatile triple camera system
  • Clean design with a matte finish
  • Dazzling 120Hz AMOLED display

Cons

  • Softer photos under low light

Score: 8/10

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review John Velasco | SPY

  

How Long Will It Last?

Designed with an IP68 water resistance rating, it’s not afraid of getting wet. It’s made from high-quality materials that give me confidence it’ll hold up, but you’ll definitely want to get a case to protect it from drops. Samsung throws in a 1-year limited warranty that covers defects.

  

What Are Some of the Alternatives?

Technically not classified as a flagship, the Galaxy S21 FE straddles that middle area between the mid and high range. Here are some other options to consider.

Apple iPhone 13

Those who prefer the Apple experience should look at the iPhone 13. Its smaller size makes it easier to use one-handed, but it only comes with a dual-camera system.

Apple iPhone 13 Courtesy of Target.

  

Google Pixel 6

Call it a spec for spec match; the Google Pixel 6 doesn’t skimp out either with its cleaner Android 12 experience and AI-assisted camera that capture ridiculously good-looking photos.

Google Pixel 6 Courtesy of Amazon

  

Samsung Galaxy S21

Since it’s about to receive a proper refresh, some exquisite deals are going on for the Samsung Galaxy S21. You genuinely get flagship caliber features and results with last year’s winner.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Courtesy of Amazon

  

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