Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 FE: Base model and Fan Edition compared

When the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE was introduced a few days ago, my colleague Ben even spoke of fratricide. He elaborates on that in his commentary about the Galaxy S21 FE and yes: The timing does indeed seem unfortunate. One year after the release of the Galaxy S21 and only a few weeks before the presentation of the Galaxy S22, the Fan Edition is now competing for buyers:

  2021 flagship Fan edition
Name
MSRP from $799 from $699
Picture Samsung Galaxy S21 Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Specifications 6.2 inch, Dynamic AMOLED
1080 x 2400 pixels
Snapdragon 888 (USA & China)
Exynos 2100 (Europe & LATAM)

128 / 256 GB ROM
8 GB RAM
Triple camera
Main camera: 12 MP
Ultra wide-angle: 12 MP
Telephoto camera: 64 MP
4000 mAh
January 2021
6.4 inch, Dynamic AMOLED
1080 x 2400 pixels
Snapdragon 888 (USA & Europe)
Exynos 2100 (other markets)

128 / 256 GB
6 / 8 GB RAM
Triple camera
Main camera: 12 MP
Ultra wide-angle: 8MP
Telephoto camera: 12 MP
4500 mAh
January 2022
Advantages
  • Comparatively compact
  • Snappy pace, even compared to Plus & Ultra
  • Surprisingly valuable plastic back
  • Long update period
Disadvantages
  • Battery life too short
  • No S Pen support
  • No UWB chip
  • Memory not expandable
Rating To the review

Not yet rated

While we are still waiting for our review unit of the Galaxy S21 FE, we will look at the hard facts and find out how the model performs on paper against the base device from 2021. We will follow up with the review in a few days and adjust the above overview accordingly.

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Models and prices

Let’s get started and look directly at the price tag: The newcomer is available starting at $699, while the Galaxy S21 only starts at $799 when we talk about the recommended retail price at launch. However, the Fan Edition also starts with 6 GB of RAM, while the year-old Galaxy S21 is exclusively offered with 8 GB of memory. Here you can see an overview of the available models:

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE with 6 GB RAM / 128 GB storage – MSRP $699.
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE with 8 GB RAM / 256 GB storage – MSRP $769.
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 with 8 GB RAM / 128 GB storage – MSRP $799.
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 with 8 GB RAM / 256 GB storage – MSRP $849.

But don’t forget that these are the recommended retail prices – you can get the Galaxy S21 for around $599 if you are lucky! So, keep an eye on our Galaxy S21 deal radar, which shows the latest prices.

Design and display

Visually, you can already tell from the picture above how the S21 design was kept for the fan edition model: Samsung has stayed true to its design language so that the FE can be visually assigned to the rest of the S21 family. However, the colors have somewhat changed. This makes the S21 FE look a bit duller, in my opinion.

Bildschirmfoto 2022 01 04 um 08.25.28
These are the available colors for the Galaxy S21 FE / © Samsung

You don’t have to worry about the quality of the construction. Samsung always delivers above average, so a plastic body should not be considered a flaw. However, if you put both devices next to each other, you will notice that the newcomer is a bit bigger: The dynamic AMOLED panel in the Fan Edition measures 6.4 inches, whereas last year’s Galaxy S21 was equipped with 6.2 inches.

Apart from that, the two smartphones don’t differ much, either in terms of design or display. The screen offers FHD+ resolution in both cases and is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus. Both models are IP68-certified, use a flat instead of a rounded screen, but are available in different colors: You can choose between “Phantom Violet,” “Phantom Grey,” “Phantom White,” and “Phantom Pink” for the Galaxy S21. The S21 FE is available in “Olive,” “Lavender,” “White,” and finally “Graphite.”

Hardware and performance

If we talk about the performance, there is a clear difference, depending on the market: In the US, both models are equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor, while in Europe (and other markets) the S21 is powered by Samsung’s own Exynos 2100 SoC.

But let’s not fool ourselves: The Qualcomm SoC is only slightly ahead in terms of speed, and the owners of both smartphones will certainly not have to complain about performance problems. And our tests indicate that battery consumption is also similar between the components.

You should also consider that the cheaper version of the S21 FE only has 6 GB of working memory, but even with that, normal smartphone users should not have any serious problems in daily use. By the way, you can already surf in the 5G network in both cases.

Cameras

A quick glance at the back reveals that triple cameras are used in both cases. The exact numbers are interesting here, though. On the one hand, the S21 offers an ultra-wide-angle camera with 12 megapixels, while the S21 FE only manages with 8 megapixels.

On the other hand, Samsung uses a hybrid zoom with 64 megapixels in the S21. The optical focal length is only 1.1 times longer than that of the main camera, but the 64 megapixels are used to digitally zoom in on the subject when zooming. Samsung changes this strategy in the S21 FE with an optical 3x camera with 8 megapixels. We will check which phone takes better pictures as soon as we have the test device in the office.

However, it seems that the standard S21 is more suitable for ultra-wide-angle fans and the S21 FE for telephoto users. Also, read our review of the Galaxy S21+! There you will find the identical cam as in the S21, and Ben has examined the camera in detail.

galaxy s21 5g fe prograde camera
The camera section of the S21 FE comes in the same color as the rest of the smartphone’s back. / © Samsung

The selfie shooter has at least been able to increase the number of megapixels from 10 MP to 32 MP. Again, only the upcoming review of the Fan Edition will show how well the camera performs compared to the Galaxy S21. However, my expectation is that you will get a pretty good camera here.

Battery and Quick Charging

Samsung has added a lot here: Instead of 4,000 mAh, it is now a whopping 4,500 mAh, which is already a significant plus. However, we will only find out how much longer the Fan Edition lasts after we finish with our tests. We can only say this much: Quick charging is still possible with up to 25 watts, but the charger is not included in the box and has to be purchased separately. Wireless charging remains the same as well, with 15 watts.

samsung galaxy s21 all colors
Despite the almost identical design, the S21 looks more visually appealing than the S21 FE. What do you think? / © Samsung

Software and security updates

As far as software and updates are concerned, you are well served with both phones: The One UI, which is based on Android, is one of the most popular interfaces for Google’s mobile OS. And Samsung has been one of the leading companies in the Android shark tank ever since it rethought its security update policy and promised updates for four years.

Three major Android updates are also guaranteed, which is a considerable benefit of the S21 FE: The Fan Edition already comes with Android 12 and OneUI 4.0 and will thus also receive Android 14.

Conclusion

To be honest, I do not want to say anything too definitive before we can test the S21 FE ourselves. But at least on paper, there are not many reasons to prefer this smartphone over the Galaxy S21, which you can now sometimes get for $100 less. The lowest price for the S21 was even below $700, and then there is also the new Galaxy S22, which is already knocking on the door with an Exynos 2200.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G

It might be worth considering your choice between the S21 or the upcoming S22 – but the Galaxy S21 FE doesn’t really come with many good reasons to buy. The longer software support compared to the S21, the optical telephoto camera, the bigger battery, or the upgraded selfie camera could be arguments – but is that enough? I am skeptical but would like to pass the question on to you. Write us in the comments whether you rate the S21 FE more positively or whether you also see the phone without a clear purpose so close to the S22 announcement.

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