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Review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Arriving late to a very different party

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In 2020, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE impressed us with its value, reducing its $1,000 flagship to a more affordable $700 package ($600 on launch day). However, 2022 will be a totally different year. The Galaxy S21 FE isn’t a bargain king or flagship-killer like the previous generation when compared to the Pixel 6 and even Samsung’s own decreased cost; it’s just another albeit nice phone in Samsung’s increasingly crowded portfolio.

Design & Hardware

The S21 FE is actually larger than the Galaxy S21 standard model. The form consumes your hand when paired with a flat display. It’s similar in size to the Pixel 5a 5G and somewhat smaller than the OnePlus 9 and Pixel 6.

However, big does not imply heftily. In comparison to the S20 FE, Samsung managed to save a few grams (and the smaller S21). The S21 FE, on the other hand, retains the stylings of its non-fan-edition brothers with a few changes. The camera bump has the same recognizable design as the more expensive model, but it’s made of plastic and is part of the rear rather than the frame.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a cheap flagship, but it has one of the greatest screens we’ve seen in a long time. Because it isn’t LTPO, it doesn’t provide perks like dynamic refresh rate switching, but the S21 FE doesn’t appear to require it. Given the season, we have yet to test it against the full intensity of the summer light, but it’s remarkably consistent at night, with no splotchy greys or bizarre color tinting, and it doesn’t appear to compress shadows too significantly at low settings.

The visual design is likewise superb, with uniform and very thin bezels on three sides and a little bigger bottom bezel. Automatic brightness is much better than comparable phones, with fewer misses. Touchscreen sensitivity is likewise excellent, with none of the problems that plagued the S20 FE.

The Gorilla Glass Victus-topped 6.4″ display is “only” 1080p in terms of numbers and details. With a 120Hz refresh rate, it’s also quite smooth. The new hole-punch camera cutout is bigger than the one on the S20 FE, and the silver accented ring is no longer there, although these are minor differences.

It also has a very good fingerprint sensor built-in. It’s an optical sensor rather than an ultrasonic sensor like those found in Samsung’s higher-end phones, but it’s highly dependable and quick. Furthermore, The S21 FE has a down-firing unit on the bottom and dual speakers via the earpiece. Both with and without hands cupped to the side, the balance between the two is OK, but it’s your typical phone speaker situation: no true bass, treble-heavy, and a tad harsh at high levels. However, if you find yourself doing some yard work or need to hear it ring from the other side of the house, it’s definitely loud enough for some spontaneous music.

Even though you’re investing more money, you won’t get a charger in the box, much like all the other higher-end phones these days. What you do get is a three-foot USB Type-C cable that looks cheap and a SIM-ejector tool.

Overall Performance & Battery Life

Samsung’s One UI 4, which is based on Android 12, is a brand-new version of Android, but it will feel extremely familiar if you’ve used another Samsung phone recently. Inside, there are a few more significant updates, such as Android 12’s new privacy-enhancing indications and a few small UI tweaks. Samsung, on the other hand, isn’t upsetting the boat between upgrades, and this isn’t the kind of major overhaul that Google’s Pixels received with Android 12.

If you haven’t used Samsung software in the previous several years, the S21 FE will likely become second nature. It doesn’t appear “stock” or like Google’s Pixel phones, but it’s not the death-by-menu experience that Samsung phones were formerly known for. However, Good Lock modules house the majority of the more complex capabilities. Fans of customization can get their hands on them and play about with them.

The applications and ecosystem are now the most serious flaws in Samsung’s OS. Of course, you have the Play Store and can sideload numerous apps such as duplicate photos remover, but Samsung still insists on installing inferior versions of fundamental applications and, in some cases, giving them deep integrations that they don’t merit.

It’s also worth noting that OneUI 4.0 is still in its early stages, and we encountered certain issues such as picture-in-picture bugs on a frequent basis — especially when using the S21 FE for navigation and exiting the full-screen nav view. But, because Samsung is now one of the update kings, I’m not concerned, and issues like these will surely be addressed by software upgrades.

On that topic, the current state of the upgrade should be excellent. Samsung is currently the quickest manufacturer to release security updates, usually surpassing Google. Samsung also has one of the most extensive update commitments, promising three years of OS upgrades and four years of security fixes. Depending on how Samsung schedules the updates, this phone might get all the way to Android 15.

Moreover, the Snapdragon 888 from last year is used in the S21 FE. It may be “ancient” now that it’s 2022, but it’s still extremely competent, especially at this price. Only those stutters and slips that are inevitable, whether owing to a poorly-designed app or Android itself, should be noted. It’s more than enough for productivity-oriented tasks.

The S21 FE’s performance has one glaring flaw, and that is RAM: The lowest model comes with only 6GB of memory. When it came to multitasking, we saw that programs farther down the list had to restart on resumption, however, the situation wasn’t so bad that Spotify would die in the background. Samsung’s Android skin also kills apps more violently than other phones’, resulting in difficulties such as delayed alerts and other more serious app-breaking bugs. Additionally, the battery life is decent enough for a flagship such as this.

Camera

While the S21 FE’s triple-camera configuration — a 12MP main, a 12MP ultra-wide, and an 8MP telephoto — is quite versatile, photographs won’t surprise you as much as they would on a Pixel 6. Samsung’s processing improved substantially a few years ago, but the majority of the hardware hasn’t, and the company is once again lagging behind Google and others. In more practical terms, this implies that rivals capture better night photographs, and you may see muddier processing and a loss of texture in some situations.

Overall, not that impressed with how the photos turn out but they are fair enough for this price bracket.

Final Verdict

You can purchase the base model S21 for $100 extra, which has more RAM, a better telephoto camera, a little nicer construction with the metal frame hiding the camera bump, and a more pocketable size — though that last feature may not be a benefit to everyone. For $100 cheaper, you can purchase the Pixel 6, which has a better camera, better software, more RAM, and useful Pixel-exclusive features like call screening, translation tools, and more, despite having a poorer screen.

The Galaxy S20 FE was a slam dunk and a phone of the year contender in 2020, but the S21 FE comes late to a totally different sort of party in 2022. The market has altered, and the S21 FE now serves as a bridge between Samsung’s premium A-series phones and the Galaxy S. While the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a wonderful phone, it isn’t particularly inexpensive. It could be a decent value on the sale or through a carrier offer, but the full price is difficult to justify.

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