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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Review: Should You Buy Or Wait For Galaxy S22-Series?
Samsung Galaxy S22 series is just around the corner but the company isn't quite done with its 2021's Galaxy S21-series. The latest entrant - the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is the successor of the widely appreciated Galaxy S20 FE 5G, which gave users a chance to experience the features and performance of a top-of-the-line Galaxy handset at two-thirds of the price of the flagship Galaxy S20.
- Excellent Display & Haptics
- Good Camera Performance
- Ergonomic & Durable (IP68 Rated)
- Smooth Performance
- Good Sounding Speakers
- Dated Fast-Charging Speed For A Flagship
- Feels Less Premium In Hands For The Price
- No 3.5mm Audio Jack & No microSD Card
- No Charger & Headphones In The Box
This time around, the price is slightly higher and so are the stakes. Priced at Rs 54,999 for the base variant (8GB RAM and 128GB storage), the Galaxy S21 FE 5G fights the likes of the OnePlus 9RT, Vivo X70 Pro, OnePlus 9, iPhone 12, and other handsets in Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 60,000 price bracket.
These handsets are the true flagship killers since they very closely replicate the performance of top-tier smartphones in almost all aspects at a reasonable price difference. We used the Galaxy S21 FE 5G to test out its performance as a daily driver. Here's what we found out.
Design- Minimal Yet Impactful
The S21 FE feels like a blend of two galaxies- the Galaxy S20 FE and the Galaxy S21. Samsung engineers took the camera module of the S21, sans the metal cladding, and strapped it on the plastic back of the Galaxy S20 FE. The result is a minimal-looking handset with an aesthetically clean back panel. The rear side has a soft matte texture that feels good to touch and attracts no fingerprints at all.
Now, if you compare the look and feel of the Galaxy S21 FE with any of its competitors (2021's OnePlus 9-series devices, Vivo X70 Pro, or the newly launched OnePlus 9RT), the handset feels less premium for its price. The all-glass and metal build of the competitors give them a more upmarket feel that the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE lacks.
Build Quality Standards
While the Galaxy S21 FE lacks the premium construction of its siblings, there's no compromise in terms of build quality and durability. The phone feels sturdy and should easily last years without any quality issues unless you deliberately put it through some torture. Even if you do, the handset should be able to survive it to some extent because it is IP68 water-and-dust resistant and the screen is protected by the best-in-business Gorilla Glass Victus.
How Does Galaxy S21 FE Feel In Hands?
Samsung has also aced the ergonomics with the Galaxy S21 FE. It is one of the most comfortable flagship phones to buy in 2022. The smartphone is very light (177g) and ergonomic to hold, thanks to the almost bezel-less 6.4-inch screen and slim chassis (7.9mm). I can comfortably use it with one hand for UI navigation and other basic tasks. Also, the brushed aluminum frame and matte plastic back give a good in-hand grip
No 3.5mm Audio Jack & microSD Card Slot
The type-c charging port, SIM card tray, speaker unit, and microphone are placed at the bottom. The right side houses the power button and the volume rockers. The phone lacks a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot for storage expansion, which doesn't come as a surprise in 2022. Overall, I liked the design of the Galaxy S21 FE. It feels elegant and this olive green shade is very unique.
Display- Top-Class Samsung Display
The display has received some fine upgrades with the new model. The S21 FE uses a 6.4-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, which is vivid and offers excellent clarity. Text, graphics, and animations look super crisp and colorful, both indoors and outdoors. Samsung's modern AMOLEDs are also excellent screens for video playback and gaming. The one on the S21 FE has HDR10+ support that makes it perfect for binge-watching content on OTT platforms.
120Hz Refresh Rate & Gorilla Glass Victus
The flat screen is very responsive and fluid, thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate support. Scrolling your Twitter/Instagram timeline and browsing web pages is a joyous experience. As far as the panel's durability is concerned, the screen has a layer of the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, which protects against scratches and major damages.
Overall, we don't have any complaints about the display. It is easily one of the best displays you can find on a smartphone at this price point.
Camera Hardware Overview- Almost Best For The Price
The Galaxy S21 FE boasts a familiar triple-lens camera featuring a 12MP dual-pixel autofocus-enabled ultra-wide camera. This lens has the largest aperture (f/1.8) in the setup and is optically stabilized. If you are wondering about the sensor used, it must be Samsung S5K2LD and not the Sony IMX555 since it is reserved for the variant drawing power from the Snapdragon chipset.
The second lens is a fixed-focus ultra-wide-angle sensor of 12MP resolution (f/2.2) with a wide field-of-view of 123º. The third and the last lens in the setup is an 8MP OIS-enabled telephoto sensor with a comparatively darker f/2.4 aperture. Similar to the last year's Fan edition handset, it also outputs upscaled 12MP images. You also get 3X optical zoom and 30X far-field zoom. For selfies, the Galaxy S20 FE has a 32MP front-facing camera.
Even though the Galaxy S21 FE has the same camera hardware as its predecessor, the results are slightly better this time that can be due to better software optimization or hardware tuning.
Camera Performance- Vibrant Daylight Shots
• The primary sensor is the winner here. The shots coming out of this 12MP OIS-enabled wide-angle lens show crisp details, vivid colors, and excellent dynamic range, which have become synonyms for Samsung's top-end Galaxy phones.
• The images shot in the standard photo mode are mostly noise-free and textures are retained well.
• I couldn't notice any major over-processing happening in pictures shot in abundant lighting except for contrast levels that seemed a bit on a higher side sometimes.
Good Landscape Camera
• The Galaxy S21 FE is a very good camera device for landscape photography. The 12MP ultra wide-angle sensor captures vibrant shots in daylight with a wide dynamic range and impressive details.
• Colors look vivid, slightly warmer though but you will like the most of landscape photography on the Galaxy S21 FE.
• If you are at hills or clicking random shoots on a chaotic street, the wide-angle shots will make a good impact.
Low-Light Camera Performance Has Improved
• The primary lens also performs pretty well when the light conditions are a bit challenging. Low-light images look sharp and have rich colors. When the Night mode is enabled, colors become a bit too warm to our liking but pictures are even sharper and cleaner.
• The primary sensor has a quick autofocus, both in daylight and low-light.
• The night mode also works with the ultra-wide-angle and can give some decent results if you have abundant light. Otherwise, a lot of noise creeps in and makes the pictures grainy.
Impressive Close-Ups – Mostly With Primary Sensor
• The Galaxy S21 FE lets you capture portrait shots with both the primary lens and the 8MP telephoto sensor. As expected, the portraits on the primary sensor come our sharper and have better details and contrast levels.
• I recommend using the primary sensor (1x) for portraits if you are clicking in low-light (due to brighter aperture) or have human subjects for that natural skin textures.
• If you want to get closer to the subject, capture in 3x with the telephoto sensor; however, you will have to compromise on sharpness and clarity.
• Moreover, the portraits of humans show excessive skin smoothening that can be a bit of a letdown.
• The zoom shots are barely usable and disappointed us overall.
Galaxy S21 FE As A Video Camera- Too Many Comprises
• The Galaxy S21 FE is a good video shooter but since it has three lenses, you have to make a fair share of compromises with the video resolution and quality. The crisp 4K 60fps videos can only be shot with the 12MP primary sensor without the super steady mode and only in the 16:9 aspect ratio.
• Changing the aspect ratio to full-screen lowers the resolution to 1080p and the frame rate to 30fps.
• Hardware stability is offered on the primary and telephoto camera.
• For noise-free indoor videos, shoot with super steady mode disabled. If you have light in abundance, you can capture some neat and stable videos but only in 1080p 30fps.
• Portrait videos show decent bokeh but only works with 1080p resolution and without stabilization
Like last year, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is also powered by an Exynos chipset- the Exynos 2100 that supplied power to the S21 Ultra and the S21+. The global variant gets the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC. This might again disappoint some potential buyers whose buying decision is based on the SoC being offered on the Indian variants of Samsung Galaxy handsets.
You can buy the Galaxy S21 FE in two storage variants- 8GB RAM + 128GB storage and 8GB RAM + 256GB storage. The smartphone runs on the latest OneUI 4.0 based on Android 12 and is powered by a 4,500 mAh battery cell. The handset ships without a power adaptor and supports 25W fast-charging, which is too slow for a phone priced this high in 2022.
Smooth Performance Round The Clock
These specs translate to smooth day-to-day performance with both light and heavy tasks. The handset never felt slowing down with the number of apps running in the background. You can record 4K videos, run multiple apps, and play the most demanding games such as the COD Mobile, Battlegrounds Mobile India (graphics defaults to Smooth & Extreme), and Marvel's Future Revolution run without any major performance issues and glitches.
The in-game graphics look super vivid but you might experience some fluctuations in fps and minor heat signatures with the continuous gaming. The heat signatures can vary as per your location and the temperature. Notably, the heat signatures didn't affect the gaming performance of our unit during the testing period.
OneUI 4.0 User-Experience On Galaxy S21 FE
The OneUI 4.0 is pleasing to the eyes and is loaded with utilities and personalization features. The software (with January 2022 security patch) ran without any bugs and app crashes during our testing period with apps and media files taking 82GB of internal storage. The UI gestures on the OneUI 4.0 are one of the smoothest in the lot. You can also see some Material UI elements while personalizing the home screen with wallpapers.
Audio & Networking Performance
The Galaxy S21 FE's audio performance will also impress you in the daily routine. Be it MP3 files, videos on YouTube and OTT platforms, or in-game audio, the stereo speakers ensure an immersive sound delivery. We used the handset with Airtel 4G in the Delhi NCR region and didn't face any connectivity issues with voice calls, Bluetooth (5.2), and internet connectivity (Wi-Fi 6).
If there's any particular feature or hardware that hasn't seen any upgrades, it is the battery life and the charging speeds. The Galaxy S21 FE also draws power from a 4,500mAh battery cell that can mostly last for a day with moderate usage. You start streaming videos or playing demanding games and you would need a refuel by the end of the day.
And mind you, unlike most mid-range and flagship devices in 2022, the Galaxy S21 FE's 25W fast-charging can test your patience at times. Since the brand isn't offering a charging adaptor in the box, I used a 45W USB PD brick that took around 85 minutes to refuel the battery from zero to 100%. Brands like Xiaomi are offering considerably faster-charging speeds now. The Galaxy S21 FE also supports wireless charging.
Samsung Is Lacking In Fast-Charging Innovation
For instance, the recently launched Xiaomi 11T Pro's 5,000 mAh battery takes just 22 minutes to recharge to 100%. It's time Samsung start stepping up things in the fast-charging domain too. We are eager to test the fast charging on the upcoming Galaxy S22-series.
The Galaxy S21 FE is a good overall smartphone but could have made more impact if it had launched earlier. The timing seems a bit off in 2022 with stiff competition from BBK Electronics (OnePlus, Oppo & Vivo) and Xiaomi. Moreover, the Galaxy S22-series is around the corner and it makes sense to wait for the new handsets as they expected to bring some excellent upgrades.
But if you can't wait for Samsung to launch the new flagships, the Galaxy S21 FE is worth considering. It brings the goodness of the top-end Galaxy smartphones such as a great display, wireless charging, good camera, IP68 rating, and solid day-to-day performance at a considerably lower price-point. However, I still believe Samsung could have priced it well in India since the competition isn't shying away from matching the specs and performance at a lower price.
The smartphone can be purchased in two storage options- 128GB at Rs. 54,999 and 256GB at Rs. 58,999. If these prices look a bit too high, you can go with the last year's Galaxy S20 FE, which is still a very good deal in 2022. The OnePlus 9RT is another decent option to consider for a good overall value for money smartphone.