The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE was released in October 2020 and was quite a hit for Samsung. It started at $699.99 with some great Samsung and carrier launch specials and offered a very enjoyable experience for the masses. I recommended it to family and friends who didn’t want to pay $1,000 for a Samsung phone and they say it is one of the best phones they have used.
The smartphone landscape has changed a bit since then, and if the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G had launched in September 2021, then it might have been easier to recommend. For Samsung fans who are not going to buy the S22 flagship, it’s a great option. It may be a good buy for Android smartphone users who want to pay $700 or less for a phone. For those just looking for an affordable Android phone, there are other options where you can save even more money and have a solid smartphone experience. We’ll discuss these groups in more detail below.
The FE in the name stands for Fan Edition, and in late 2020 that meant buyers picked up a phone with mostly flagship specs, a microSD card slot for storage expansion, wireless charging,support, and more. Some people voiced a desire for a FE to have a 3.5mm headset jack, but that wasn’t included. I’m not quite sure why this current S21 FE is a Fan Edition since it doesn’t include a microSD card slot or much of anything that lends itself to a FE moniker. It has a few muted color options, but they aren’t as flashy as the S20 FE, so maybe the 32MP front-facing camera is what sets it apart from other Samsung phones.
- High-end specifications
- Gorgeous and responsive display
- Outstanding cellular reception
- Capable rear camera system
- DeX, Gallery, and Samsung Internet installed
- Priced $100 too high
- Plastic back may bother some
The Galaxy S21 FE 5G starts at $699.99 with four color options. The time to buy it is now with some great launch offers that currently include $100 instant Samsung store credit or free Galaxy Buds Live or $30 Galaxy Buds Pro, and fairly generous trade-in offers for your existing phone.
The Galaxy S21 is similar to the S21 FE in that both have matte plastic back panels instead of glass. I have zero concerns with the use of plastic, given it is more likely to survive a drop. Many people also put their phone in a case, so the material of the back is of little concern. The fact that matte finishes are used is more important since no fingerprints appear when you hold and use the phone. The S21 FE is also $100 less than the S21, and I would definitely recommend the S21 FE over the S21 at this time.
The Super AMOLED display is gorgeous, as expected from Samsung, and the 120 Hz display provides a flawless display experience. It is great to see a flat glass panel with minimal bezels and a small center hole-punch front-facing camera. The matte finish on the aluminum frame is also great since that helps you grip the phone.
Power and volume buttons are positioned on the right side with the USB-C port, bottom speaker, and SIM card slot on the bottom. A mic opening is on the top with nothing on the phone’s left side.
There are three cameras on the back of the S21 FE with a contour-cut look seen on the S21 series, but more subtle with matte plastic construction. The cameras are very capable, with plenty of software options available, including dual recording to capture video content from the front-facing camera at the same time as a rear camera.
I purchased a Pixel 6 Pro in December but returned it after experiencing terrible cellular reception performance. This is one area where Samsung stands above others, and it’s the same situation here with rock-solid RF performance. Calls sound great, download speeds are fast, and you can trust a Samsung phone to get the job done.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G specifications
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
- Main display: 6.4-inch, 2400 x 1080 pixels resolution, Dynamic AMOLED 2X with 120Hz refresh rate
- Operating system: Android 12 with OneUI 4.0
- RAM: 6GB/8GB
- Storage: 128GB/256GB internal storage
- Cameras: 8MP rear f/2.4 telephoto with 3x hybrid optic zoom, 12MP f/1.8 wide-angle camera, and 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera (123 degrees field-of-view). 32MP f/2.2 front-facing camera.
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, GPS/Galileo/GLONASS/Beidou, NFC
- Sensors: Accelerometer, Barometer, Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor
- Dust/water resistance: IP68 rating
- Battery: 4500 mAh non-removable with fast wireless charging. Wireless PowerShare is also available.
- Dimensions: 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm and 177g
- Colors: Graphite, Lavender, Olive, White
There isn’t much to differentiate the S21 FE from the S21 series of phones besides the plastic back panel and lower resolution cameras. Price is $100 to $300 less for the S21 FE too.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G launches with Android 12 and Samsung One UI 4.0. The November 1, 2021, Android security update is present on our review unit, but that tardiness could be due to T-Mobile or the fact that the device is not yet publicly available. Samsung has a proven solid record of regular security updates, so I’m not worried about it here on this phone either.
One thing I am pleased to see on the S21 is the ability to have Google Discover on the far left home screen panel. You can still switch to Samsung Free, but it’s great to see Samsung providing users with options. In the past, I always turned off this panel because I didn’t find Samsung’s offering very compelling. OnePlus and its old Shelf home screen panel are the same for me.
Facebook is installed by default, but you can now fully uninstall it rather than just disable it, and I certainly did as soon as I fired up the app launcher. We still find some Samsung apps, such as Internet, Messages, Samsung Notes, Samsung Health, and a few others, but you are given the option to select these apps during setup, so you do not have to install them all and have more control over your phone than you did in the past. Many of these are actually better than the Google equivalent too, such as Samsung Internet and the Gallery.
DeX wireless support is provided so you can connect the S21 FE to a PC or monitor and enjoy a PC-like experience powered by the phone. We also see excellent integration with Microsoft Outlook, OneDrive, Office, and Teams, which is perfect for enterprise customers. It’s impressive to attach a small Galaxy S21 tosomething like the NexDock 360 Touch and have a laptop experience all powered by a small and very capable smartphone.
See also: Best Android phone 2022: Top expert picks.
The Single Take option in the software has also been enhanced with the ability to toggle what types of results you want the phone to create, including highlight videos, Boomerang clips, filtered photos, collages, and more. You can have a lot of fun with Single Take on a Samsung phone. Other modes in the camera include dual recording, portrait video, hyperlapse, AR doodle, super slow motion, and more.
I’ve always enjoyed Samsung’s Gallery app for managing and editing my photos, so I was pleased to see it includes an option to sync to OneDrive from right within the Gallery. The Gallery app can also be setup to automatically create curated collections of photos and videos and present them as stories. Manual story creation is also an option for S21 FE owners.
Edge panels are also available for S21 FE users, so I quickly setup my favorite contact shortcuts, weather, and metric ruler panels. Link to Windows, Smart View sharing to other Samsung devices (like my Samsung TVs), and all of the other Samsung goodies are present in the S21 FE.
Who should consider the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE?
Other reviewers have had the phone a bit longer than me due to winter storm delivery delays, so after I wrote my review, I went and checked out what others had to say about the phone. Many reviews stated that the Galaxy S21 FE didn’t have a place in January 2022, but I think it’s actually a good option for the right customer. Let’s take a closer look at some possible customer scenarios:
- Samsung fan who doesn’t want a $1,000 flagship: This person likes the Samsung UI, ecosystem, and additional apps, as well as all of the customization options in the settings and advanced camera software. The S21 FE offers nearly the same experience as the S21 for $100 less and arguably the same experience for 95% of the functions that an S21 Ultra offers for $300 less. The phone has DeX, a fabulous display, and solid battery life, so it’s a great choice for this person.
- Android user who wants to pay $700 or less for a phone: Many might say that this person should pick up the Google Pixel 6 for $100 less, at $599, as a better option to the S21 FE. I wish that were the case, but after using one and experiencing very poor cellular reception and just OK battery life, I would buy the S21 FE instead. The Pixel 6 will get timely software updates and does have a great camera experience, but it sports a new Google processor and Google hardware does not have a solid track record for reliability.
- People who want an inexpensive smartphone: $700 is better than $1,000, but for those looking for a phone that is $500, $400, or less than this is not the phone for them. The Pixel 5a with 5G is a fantastic option that is currently priced at $449 and sometimes on sale for $399. The TCL 20 Pro 5G is also a solid option available for $499.99. Motorola also has very affordable options for mid-range phones.
Daily usage experiences
I never had the chance to test drive the Galaxy S20 FE, but several family members have it, and so I have tried it out occasionally over the past year. It’s a solid smartphone that appeals to long-time Samsung fans who did not want to pay $1,000 for a new phone. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G slides right into that same spot with improved specifications across the board, the latest Android software, and the same $699.99 starting price. I think it would be a killer option with a starting price of $599.99, but some launch specials make it equivalent to that if you need a Samsung accessory.
The back is plastic, but the matte finish feels and looks great with no fingerprints and some added grip to it. The phone is also fairly light, despite having a very large 4,500 mAh battery, so the plastic back was a good move by Samsung, in my opinion. It should also survive short drops better than a phone with a glass back panel.
When I buy a phone, I need it to perform in all locations, including in areas where others may see spotty cellular coverage. Samsung is the best at cellular connectivity, and this is one major reason I sent back the Pixel 6 and would consider a Galaxy S21 FE if I didn’t already commit to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 . Phones need to connect to the network to help you get work done, so this capability is a significant factor when selecting a smartphone.
The S21 FE isn’t a flashy phone, but it checks all of the boxes and has a reasonable launch price. The cameras performed very well, the battery will get you through at least a full day, and all of the Samsung goodness is contained in the package.