Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9RT: Which phone is worth your money?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9RT: Which phone is worth your money?

The budget flagship space has seen some great smartphone launches over the last couple of years. These devices may not have all the bells and whistles that you’d expect from an ultra-premium flagship, but there’s plenty to like about these phones, especially for a lot less money compared to flagship devices. Samsung and OnePlus, too, have their contenders in this segment in the form of the Galaxy S21 FE and the OnePlus 9RT. Both of these phones came out earlier this year and they’re eyeing the same market with some subtle differences. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9RT comparison to find out which phone is worth your money in 2022.

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As we mentioned in our full reviews of each of these phones — Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review and OnePlus 9RT review — they both are overshadowed by other devices on the market. In OnePlus’s case, it’s the fierce competition in the budget flagship space in markets like India, whereas Samsung’s own Galaxy devices play killjoy to ruin the Galaxy S21 FE. But that doesn’t necessarily mean these are bad phones by any stretch of the imagination. If you’ve narrowed down your options to these two phones and are scratching your head over which one to pick, then we’re here to help.

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Specifications

Before we begin this comparison, let’s first take a look at the specifications to find out what each of them brings to the table:

Specification Samsung Galaxy S21 FE OnePlus 9RT
Build
  • Plastic back
  • Metal frame
  • Glass back
  • Metallic frame
Dimensions & Weight
  • 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm
  • 177g
  • 163.2 x 73.2 x 8.7mm
  • 197g
Display
  • 6.4-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X
  • 2340 x 1080p
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 240Hz touch sampling rate
  • 6.62-inch FHD+ Samsung E4 AMOLED
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 600Hz touch sampling rate
  • 1300nits peak brightness
  • 1000000:1 contrast ratio
  • 100% DCI-P3 coverage
  • HDR10+
SoC
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • International: Exynos 2100
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
    • 1x Kryo 680 (ARM Cortex X1-based) Prime core @ 2.84GHz
    • 3x Kryo 680 (ARM Cortex A78-based) Performance cores @ 2.4GHz
    • 4x Kryo 680 (ARM Cortex A55-based) Efficiency cores @ 1.8GHz
  • Adreno 660 GPU
RAM & Storage
  • 6GB + 128GB
  • 8GB + 256GB
  • 8GB/12GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB/256GB UFS 3.1 storage
Battery & Charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 25W fast charging
  • 15W Qi wireless charging
  • Reverse wireless charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 65W fast charging support
Security
  • In-display fingerprint scanner
  • Samsung Knox
In-display fingerprint scanner
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 12MP, f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS
  • Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2, 123° FoV
  • Telephoto: 8MP, f/2.4, 3X optical, 30X space zoom, OIS
  • Primary: 50MP Sony IMX 766, f/1.8, OIS
  • Ultra-wide: 16MP, f/2.2
  • Macro: 2MP, f/2.4
Front Camera(s) 32MP, f/2,2 16MP, f/2.4
Port(s) USB Type-C USB Type-C
Audio
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Dolby Atmos
Stereo speakers
Connectivity
  • Sub6/mmWave 5G
  • 4G LTE
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/x
  • Bluetooth
  • 5G
  • LTE
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • GPS/A-GPS
Software OneUI 4.0 based on Android 12 OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11
Other Features
  • Samsung Pay with NFC
  • IP68 rating
Large vapor chamber for cooling

Both Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the OnePlus 9RT, as you can see, are very similar in terms of the overall specifications which they bring to the table. Sure, there are some noteworthy differences between the two but they both seem like well-rounded phones overall. Let’s dive deeper into the comparison to find out the key differences.

Design & Build quality

Despite carrying a relatively affordable price tag, both Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the OnePlus 9RT stand out from the sea of budget Android phones, at least in the design department. The Galaxy S21 FE features a tall 6.4-inch OLED screen on the front with a center-aligned punch-hole camera and some slim bezels. Flip it over, and you’ll see a composite plastic back instead of a higher-end glass panel. This isn’t really a surprise considering the fact that even the regular Galaxy S21 has a plastic back. In S21 FE’s case, however, the camera bump is also plastic rather than the metal finish that bleeds into the chassis on the S21.

You get a power button and volume rocker on the right side of the phone whereas the USB Type-C port, primary speaker, main microphone, and SIM card slot are at the bottom. Sadly, there’s no headphone jack or microSD card slot, even though the Galaxy S20 FE did have a microSD card slot. One thing that we really like about the Galaxy S21 FE is that it’s available in a bunch of fun pastel colors including Olive, Lavender, White, and Graphite. You can check out our collection of the best Galaxy S21 FE cases which has some good options that let you show off the colors of your device. And if you’re not interested in picking up a case, then consider picking up a screen protector for the S21 FE as the glass display can still break if/when it takes a significant hit.

If you’re hellbent on buying a phone with a glass back then the OnePlus 9RT should be your pick. This one has a glass sandwich design with a metallic frame. The OnePlus 9RT is available in two color options — Hacker Black and Nano Silver. We reviewed the Hacker Black variant of the phone which had a great in-hand feel. You get a standard camera module at the back and a tall 6.62-inch FHD+ AMOLED panel on the front with a punch-hole cutout for the camera on the left side. OnePlus’ signature alert slider is present on the right side of the body along with the power button. The volume rocker is on the left side whereas you get a dual-SIM slot, a USB Type-C port, a speaker grille, and a microphone at the bottom.

OnePlus 9RT UI

Both Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the OnePlus 9RT have an in-display fingerprint scanner, so there’s no dedicated, physical scanner on the body. Both of these phones also have a very similar footprint, but a quick look at the specifications table will tell you that the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is both thinner and lighter than the OnePlus 9RT. The S21 FE measures 7.9mm in thickness and weighs 177 grams while the 9RT measures 8.7mm in thickness and weighs 197 grams. The Galaxy S21 FE is also more durable thanks to its IP68 rating for dust and water resistance. The OnePlus 9RT, on the other hand, doesn’t have a durability rating. It’s “allegedly” resistant to water, but we won’t put our money on it.

OnePlus 9RT back

All things considered, it’s safe to say that we’re looking at two handsome phones with some unique characteristics. They might lack the finesse of flagship phones but it certainly feels like they belong to the very highest rung of the midrange ladder from a design and build quality standpoint.

Display

The display is one of the strongest suits of Samsung phones, and the Galaxy S21 FE, too, excels in this area. We’re looking at a 6.4-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X with a max resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels and support for up to a 120Hz refresh rate. This display resolution is nearly identical to the Galaxy S21 (2340 x 1080 on the Galaxy S21 FE vs. 2400 x 1080 on the Galaxy S21). As we mentioned in our review of the phone, the Galaxy S21 FE has a solid display. It’s just as high-quality as the display on the regular Galaxy S21, with deep blacks and vivid colors.

Galaxy S21 FE performance

The OnePlus 9RT also has a great display as we noted in our review. It sports a Samsung E4 AMOLED display that measures 6.62-inches with a max resolution of 1080*2400 and supports up to 120Hz. The colors on this one are great and so are the contrast levels. Having reviewed both of these devices, we can confidently say that you’ll be happy with either of them when it comes to the display. But one thing that’s worth pointing out about the OnePlus 9RT is that it has a higher-touch sampling rate compared to the S21 FE. This is great for gamers who can take advantage of the faster inputs for competitive titles.

OnePlus 9RT wi

The OnePlus 9RT has a touch sampling rate of 300Hz which can further increase to 600Hz in supported games. In comparison, the Galaxy S21 FE has a touch sampling rate of 240Hz is more or less similar to what we’ve seen in many other devices in this class. So if you are a gamer who spends a lot of time playing competitive games, then we think the OnePlus 9RT is a better pick.

Internal hardware

One of the main reasons why we think the timing may be slightly off with the Galaxy S21 FE and the OnePlus 9RT’s release is because of the processor that’s running the show. Both phones are using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 SoC to keep things ticking behind the scenes. While the Snapdragon 888 isn’t necessarily a bad chip, it’s not the cream of the crop when it comes to performance and support for the latest feature set. The S21 FE also gets Samsung’s in-house Exynos 2100 processor in some regions like India, but even that’s a year old now.

In theory, however, you should expect to see the same level of practical performance from both chips. You’ll find both phones to be just as quick and responsive as any other flagship device in 2022 for day-to-day workloads. That being said, the year-old hardware may show its age while running benchmarks or resource-intensive programs. Samsung’s Exynos is also known to be plagued with thermal throttling issues, so keep that in mind. OnePlus 9RT might just be slightly better in this regard because of its large vapor chamber for cooling. Do you really want to pay as much as $700 for a year-old SoC? We’ll leave it up to you to decide.

The price tag of the Galaxy S21 FE becomes a bigger pill to swallow when you look at its base variant. You only get 6GB RAM and up to 120GB storage for that price in the US. It’s less than the 8GB that’s available on both the Galaxy S20 FE and new the Galaxy S21. You probably don’t need anything more than 6GB of memory for typical day-to-day usage, but it is indeed a downgrade from the Galaxy S20 FE. The Exynos 2100 version of the S21 FE sold in India comes with 8GB RAM as standard, though. The base variant of the OnePlus 9RT will fetch you 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, so keep that in mind. On the top end, you get up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage on the Galaxy S21 FE, and up to 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage on the OnePlus 9RT.

Moving on to the battery, both phones in this comparison have a 4,500 mAh battery with support for fast charging. The OnePlus 9RT offers faster-charging speeds of up to 65W whereas the Galaxy S21 FE tops out at 25W charging. The Galaxy S21 FE makes up for it with support for wireless charging, something that the OnePlus 9RT lacks. The S21 FE supports 15W Qi wireless charging and you can also use it to charge other devices with reverse wireless charging. It is, however, worth pointing out that the Galaxy S21 FE, just like the other Samsung flagship phones, doesn’t come with a charger inside the box. Both phones come with support for 5G but the Galaxy S21 FE runs Android 12 out of the box whereas the OnePlus 9RT is yet to get the official Android 12 rollout.

Camera

In terms of the optics, the Galaxy S21 FE features three rear cameras — a 12MP ultra-wide, a 12MP primary camera, and an 8MP telephoto camera. This camera setup, in case you are wondering, is almost identical to that of the regular Galaxy S21 with the exception of the telephoto lens. The telephoto on the regular Galaxy S21 has a much higher resolution of 64MP. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is capable of capturing some excellent shots. There are some things that you may not appreciate like the colors being a bit over-saturated at times or the night performance being less reliable, but the overall quality is great.

The OnePlus 9RT also has three cameras at the back, but it includes the 50MP IMX 766 sensor, a 16MP ultra-wide camera, and a 2MP macro lens. As we mentioned in our review, the shots taken from the OnePlus 9RT look great in terms of the color reproduction but it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to dynamic range. We noticed that the shots also tend to get softer as you move to the corners of the images as opposed to the center of the frame. We’re adding camera samples from both phones below, so be sure to take a look at those images yourself and let us know what you think in the comments below.

OnePlus 9RT design

As for the selfie camera, the Galaxy S21 FE features a 32MP snapper versus the 16MP front camera on the OnePlus 9RT. On the video front, both of these devices can record 4K videos at up to 60fps. The S21 FE can record 720p slow-motion videos at 960fps whereas the OnePlus 9RT can only do 720p videos at 480fps.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Camera samples

OnePlus 9RT: Camera samples

OnePlus 9RT Camera Samples

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9RT: Which one should you buy?

This is a close match-up in the budget flagship space as both devices are extremely competitive with their feature sets. Both devices are powered by the same Snapdragon 888 SoC or an equally powerful Exynos 2100 SoC for the Galaxy S21 FE in some regions. You get a decent set of cameras on both devices but we think the Galaxy S21 FE is a more reliable shooter overall. Both have FHD+ AMOLED panels but the OnePlus 9RT has a higher-touch sampling rate, making it ideal for gamers. We also like how all models of the 9RT have 8GB RAM as standard whereas the Galaxy S21 FE’s base variant only comes with 6GB of RAM in the US.

The pricing also plays a huge role in deciding which smartphone is better out of the two. Samsung tends to inflate the launch price of its phone and the same is the case with the Galaxy S21 FE. In India, the Galaxy S21 FE will set you back as much as ₹52,000 right now for the base variant with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage. The OnePlus 9RT with the same configuration is available for ₹42,999. This is a significant price difference, which turns the table in favor of the OnePlus 9RT regardless of all the merits that the Galaxy phone brings to the table. Sure, the OnePlus 9RT is not a perfect phone, but we think it offers more value in this comparison.

Not only do you get a slightly more premium design and build quality, but you also get a more responsive display for gaming, a vapor chamber for cooling, support for fast charging with the included adapter in the box, and more. Yes, you will miss out on features like an IP rating and wireless charging support, but are those enough to warrant the premium? Perhaps not. But if you are shopping for a phone in the US, then the Galaxy S21 FE is your only option. However, it costs $699 which we think is too much for this device. Even the best Galaxy S21 FE deals out there will only save so much money on your purchase. If you’re really after the premium features then consider checking out the regular Galaxy S22 variant for just $100 more. Even those looking to buy the OnePlus 9RT in India can consider buying some other devices including the Xiaomi 11T Pro which starts at ₹39,999.

    The latest Samsung budget flagship is a great phone, as long as you get it on sale.
    The OnePlus 9RT is a good phone that delivers on almost all fronts. However, there are better phones out there with more aggressive pricing that make the OnePlus 9RT feel slightly expensive.

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.

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