Samsung’s $700 Galaxy S21 FE is a more affordable version of the original S21 phone, but it still feels overpriced for what you get

Samsung’s $700 Galaxy S21 FE is a more affordable version of the original S21 phone, but it still feels overpriced for what you get

Prices are accurate at the time of publication.

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The Galaxy S21 FE is a cheaper version of last year’s premium S21 with nearly the same performance.
It’s a good phone, but battery life is lacking and I think it should cost about $100 less.
It’s also hard to fully recommend when Samsung is expected to announce new S22 models in February.

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE is basically a value-based refresh of the original S21 flagship phone from last year. It has similar performance and features for $100 less, making it one of the best premium Android phones you can buy for under $1,000. 

That said, we have yet to compare it to Samsung’s 2022 lineup of flagship phones, which we assume will be called the Galaxy S22. We’ll only know the S21 FE‘s true value when those new phones are officially announced.

It’s also important to keep in mind that while the FE model is almost on par with the standard S21, the design is simplified and the camera system is downgraded. The battery life is also a bit of a letdown, and the price still seems high for a refreshed and lesser version of a one-year old phone.

On the plus side, Galaxy S21 FE buyers do get an extra generation of Android upgrades, as well as an extra year of security updates you won’t get with the Galaxy S21.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE specifications

Samsung Galaxy S21 FESpecificationsDisplay6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2,340 x 1,080 resolution), 60Hz/120Hz refresh rateProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 888Cameras12-megapixel main, 12-megapixel ultra-wide, and 8-megapixel 3x optical telephoto lens up to 30x digital zoomBattery4,500mAhSelfie Camera32-megapixelMemory and storage

6GB RAM + 128GB

8GB RAM + 256GB

Biometric AuthenticationUnder-display optical fingerprint sensorNetwork Support5G (sub-6GHz and mmWave)DurabilityIP68


The Galaxy S21 FE‘s design mimics the original Galaxy S21, but it’s as plain as you can get. It looks fine, but you might expect better design flourishes when paying $700. In comparison, Google managed to achieve a cooler design for the Pixel 6 that costs $600

The Galaxy S21 FE’s plastic back is a refreshing change

The back is plastic and is available in graphite, navy, olive, lavender, and white matte color options. Invariably, plastic doesn’t feel as premium as glass, but the Galaxy S21 FE’s back still feels solid with almost zero flex. For reference, the original Galaxy S21’s back is also plastic, but Samsung made more effort to make this version feel premium with more exciting colors and a metal frame that wraps around the cameras.

The Galaxy S21 FE‘s plastic back is refreshing for a premium phone, as it makes the device feel less precious and fragile. Plus, most people surround their phones with plastic cases anyway, which takes the premium feel of glass out of the equation.

One of the best things about the Galaxy S21 FE’s design is its surprisingly light weight at 177 grams — it’s more comfortable to use and maneuver than other premium phones with large screens.  

Speaking of size, the Galaxy S21 FE might have a large 6.4-inch screen, but the phone doesn’t feel that big thanks to its fairly slim bezels.


Samsung’s reputation for producing superior phone screens remains intact with the Galaxy S21 FE. You get a bright, vibrant AMOLED screen with exceptional contrast that makes everything on the screen look good. The FHD+ 1080p resolution is plenty sharp, and the 120Hz refresh rate delivers a smooth experience while swiping and navigating around the phone.

The in-display fingerprint sensor works well 

The Galaxy S21 FE uses an optical in-display fingerprint sensor, whereas the flagship Galaxy S21 uses ultrasonic sensors that are supposedly less affected by dampness or dirt. I’ve had no issues with the Galaxy S21 FE’s fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone and apps that use biometric security.  


Seeing as the Galaxy S21 FE runs on the same processor as last year’s flagship Android phones, it runs like a premium phone from 2021. That’s to say there’s nothing the Galaxy S21 FE can’t handle — apps and games open and run quickly and smoothly, but that’s expected at the $700 price point.

Our Galaxy S21 FE review unit is the 128GB storage model with 6GB of memory (RAM). Benchmarking results using Geekbench 5 place the Galaxy S21 FE in line with the original Galaxy S21, which runs on the same processor and 8GB of memory.

The Galaxy S21 FE scored 1,098 for single-core performance and 3,035 for multi-core performance. To compare, the original Galaxy S21 scored an identical 1,098 for single-core and 3,259 for multi-core.  The extra multi-core performance score in the flagship Galaxy S21 is negligible.

How many Android updates will the Galaxy S21 FE get?

Samsung promises its Galaxy S phones will get three generations of Android OS upgrades. Seeing as the Galaxy S21 FE launched with Android 12, owners will receive updates all the way to Android 15. That’s one of the best update windows we’ve seen for an Android phone — even better than Google’s Pixel 6 support window, which promises two years of Android OS generation updates (not necessarily two generations). 

Samsung also promises to deliver a minimum of four years of security updates after a phone’s original release date. That means the Galaxy S21 FE should get security updates until at least 2026, which is on par with Google’s promise for Pixel phones. 

This support is one of the best reasons to buy the Galaxy S21 FE over the original Galaxy S21, as the Galaxy S21 launched with Android 11, and will only be supported until Android 14. As for security updates, the Galaxy S21 will also only get support until 2025. We confirmed this with Samsung.  

Battery life

The Galaxy S21 FE doesn’t impress here, especially for a phone with a large 6.4-inch screen, where battery life is expected to be decent. It might be a deal-breaker for those “power users” who use their phones often throughout the day.

With normal daily use scrolling through social media, streaming videos, and running basic apps, the battery drops surprisingly fast. By the end of a typical day, the Galaxy S21 FE’s battery drains down to around the 25% mark. 

Our standard battery life test helps confirm that the Galaxy S21 FE’s battery life isn’t great — it lasts 10 hours and 10 minutes in our video streaming test, where we continuously stream a YouTube video with maximum screen brightness at the phone’s default 1080p resolution. 

To compare, the original Galaxy S21 with a smaller 6.2-inch screen lasts 12 hours and 46 minutes. In the Galaxy S21 FE’s $700 price range, Apple’s iPhone 12 with an even smaller 6.1-inch screen also lasts longer at 11 hours and 54 minutes — basically 12 hours. Google’s Pixel 6 with the same screen size lasts 13 hours and 58 minutes — basically 14 hours.

DevicePriceBattery lifeSamsung Galaxy S21 FE$70010 hours, 10 minutesSamsung Galaxy S21$80012 hours, 46 minutesApple iPhone 12$70011 hours, 54 minutesGoogle Pixel 6$60013 hours, 58 minutes

You can get better battery life by setting the screen to the traditional 60Hz refresh rate. At the same time, paying $700 for an Android phone to get a traditional 60Hz experience doesn’t feel right.

The Galaxy S21 FE supports up to 15W charging speeds, which is standard these days. It doesn’t come with a charger, which is a bit inconvenient, but most of us have already amassed plenty of chargers over the years. If you want or need a new charger, we recommend Anker’s inexpensive $17 20W PowerPort III Nano that will charge the Galaxy S21 FE, other Android phones, and even iPhones at full speed. 

The Galaxy S21 FE is also capable of wireless charging, as well as reverse wireless charging for powering accessories like wireless earbuds from the back of the phone.


The triple-lens camera includes a standard, ultra-wide, and zoom lens. That’s more than you get with the iPhone 12 for the same price, and it’s clearly premium quality. 

On the downside, the Galaxy S21 FE‘s zoom lens is a huge downgrade compared to the original Galaxy S21, dropping from 64 megapixels on the standard model to just 8 megapixels on this new model.

That said, you’d be hard-pressed to notice much of a difference for everyday shooting, at least when lighting is good. Though the other lenses are similar, if not identical, to the original Galaxy S21, low-light performance suffers on the FE’s cameras.

The Galaxy S21 FE’s cameras take great photos in good, bright lighting that are easily in the same league as the iPhone and Pixel 6.

The ultra-wide camera basically deleted shadows and shade in the barn image below, and the barn’s dark side is way too bright. It did fine with the church.

And it can take decent photos when it’s not so bright.

But photos start to look blurry and basically unusable in low light.

What are your alternatives?

Google’s $600 Pixel 6 is the Galaxy S21 FE’s clear competitor, and we rate the Pixel 6 higher for its better battery life, bold design, cameras that perform better in low light, and cheaper price. 

With that said, you’ll prefer the Galaxy S21 FE if you value better quality zoom shots, as well as Samsung’s promise for more Android updates. You’ll just have to accept the $100 premium, as well as comparatively poor battery life.

The bottom line

While the Galaxy S21 FE is a good phone, it’s tough to recommend it before Samsung announces its new Galaxy S22 lineup. The Galaxy S21 FE is meant to be Samsung’s value-premium option of 2022, but we simply don’t have a 2022 flagship Samsung phone to compare it to yet.

And while the Galaxy S21 FE’s price isn’t high, it doesn’t particularly entice us, either. It’s “only” $100 less than the original S21, and the differences between the two phones are arguably greater than $100 — battery life is significantly worse, and the cameras are less capable in low light. 

Samsung may have been better off just lowering the price of the original Galaxy S21 rather than releasing an FE version. Apple reduced last year’s iPhone 12 price by $100 when the iPhone 13 was released, so Apple fans get the same flagship phone that was released last year for less — that’s not the case with the S21.

The main thing going for the S21 FE over the original S21 is the fact that it gets an extra generation of Android updates, as well as an extra year of security updates.

To sum it all up, the Galaxy S21 FE isn’t one of our top recommendations, but it’s still a good phone. However, most people who want a budget-friendly premium phone will be better off with Google’s Pixel 6. That model has better battery life, better cameras, and a better $600 price. Just note the Pixel 6 lacks a zoom camera. 

Pros: Lightweight build, powerful performance, beautiful screen, super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate, great camera quality in good lighting, triple-lens camera

Cons: Poor battery life, poor low-light camera performance, price feels high compared to Pixel 6

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