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Samsung’s Galaxy S21 smartphone family — the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra — is growing with a new entry point: the Galaxy S21 FE.
As it did with the Galaxy S20 FE at the end of 2020, Samsung has taken some of the best features from the S21 line and squeezed them into this smaller, more affordable device. Samsung is launching the S21 FE at CES 2022, a show where they usually focus on TVs and monitors.
the Galaxy S21 FE will be available on January 11 at $699.99 for the 128GB model and $769.99 for 256GB of storage. We got to spend a weekend with the S21 FE, and after that, we’re naming it a finalist for Best Mobile Phone of CES 2022.
The Galaxy S21 FE looks familiar, despite being slightly larger than the S21, without flashy design elements like metal edging. It also has a camera bump that sticks out from the edge of the phone.
Samsung calls it a cutout bezel, and the subtle design provides uniformity across the phone’s back panel. The frame of the S21 EF is aluminum, but as you might expect with this more affordable option, the back panel of the phone is smooth polycarbonate. It’s not shiny, but shows some fingerprints. Weighing in at 177 grams, the S21 FE feels substantial in our hand, and it comes in olive, lavender, white, or graphite color options.
The front of the device is almost all screen, with a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel, and it’s nice to see minimal bezels all around at this price point. We also like how it handles color and supports a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother visuals than you’ll see on many phones at this price. Samsung has also integrated a 32-megapixel selfie camera into the top, which is great for video calls and quick snaps. They also included an in-display fingerprint sensor in the lower half of the display.
All of this is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, the same that resides in the rest of the Galaxy S21 Family. That means photos are quick to process, games can be played locally or from the cloud, and multitasking is made easy with smooth movement between apps. However, the RAM is lower than other S21s and this could lead to slowdowns with more intense tasks or a multitude of open applications. The $699 S21 FE has 6GB of RAM (which we tested) and the $769 variant comes with 8GB. The S21 FE comes preloaded with Android 12 and Samsung’s One UX 4.0.
Battery life was strong throughout the weekend as well, likely thanks to the 4,500mAh battery inside. We easily got through a full day on one charge, even two with lighter use. When it’s time to charge, you’ll need to plug in the included USB-C cable or place it on a Qi-compatible wireless charger. Samsung doesn’t include a wall plug in the box, but we recommend an Anker Nano II.
While Samsung S21 FE comes with a bigger battery and faster processor inside, the same treatment hasn’t been given to the main camera array on the rear. Here’s what the Galaxy S21 FE packs.
- 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens: The ultra-wide lens offers a 123 degree field of view and is ideal for capturing a large area in one shot. In our first tests, we captured a ton in frame without seeing much blur or fisheye effect around the edges.
- 12-megapixel wide-angle lens: The S21 FE’s main shooter works admirably. This is better for portraits and more traditional shots.
- 8 megapixel telephoto lens: This is the same zoom lens as on the S20 FE and we’re surprised it hasn’t been upgraded. It is an 8 megapixel lens with 3x optical zoom functionality. 30x Space Zoom is supported here, but without the physical periscope lens of the S21 Ultra. It’s just a combination of physical and digital zooming and scaling, which can lead to severe distortion at 30x. We found the 10x zoom feature to be the most convenient.
Samsung’s various modes are also included here – Night Mode, Single Shot, Portrait, Pro, Power, Video Portrait, Dual Recording and Slow Motion among others, and they all work well (examples below). The single take is still one of our favorites, letting you press the shutter button and move the phone around, then the S21 FE uses AI to determine which shots to capture and whether to must apply effects.
Camera performance here will be critical, as the The Pixel 6 is only $599 and provides excellent photography. You lose the physical telephoto lens there, but Google’s processing is unrivaled in the Android space.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE is shaping up to be a great new entry point into the Galaxy S21 family. However, it is launching at an interesting time, as we are only a few weeks away from the supposed successors of the Galaxy S21 Family, aka the Galaxy S22. Still, for those who want a more affordable Samsung device, the $699 S21 FE will probably do the trick – as long as you’re cool with a cheaper design and not the most impressive telephoto lens.
The Galaxy S21 FE is also causing a stir at CES as one of the few mobile phones to be launched at the show. For its feature set and affordable positioning, it’s a finalist for best mobile phone at CES 2022. We’ll share our full finalists later this week, ahead of the top picks in each category.
Orders open January 11 for the Galaxy S21 FE at $699.99 for 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM, or $769.99 for 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. Either way, you’ll also find support for 5G mmWave and Sub-6, which is great news, especially if either network exists near you. Those looking for super-fast speeds that can rival home networks will want to find mmWave connectivity, although it’s not being rolled out nationwide. Sub-6 is more common, but doesn’t offer a crazy increase in speeds.