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

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

Following months of rumors, leaks, and (possible) delays, Samsung finally released the Galaxy 21 FE on January 3, 2022 — the ‘FE’ standing for ‘Fan Edition.’ The phone is a sequel to the much-loved Galaxy S20 FE, and mainly serves as a more budget-friendly version of last year’s Galaxy S21. The phone will also presumably be the budget alternative to the upcoming Galaxy S22 series, but without final pricing information on those phones, we can’t be sure yet.

The late release of the Galaxy S21 FE means there are many factors to consider. If you already own a Galaxy S21, should you upgrade to it? If you don’t have either phone, which is a better use of your money? We’ll attempt to answer those questions (and others) in this comparison guide. Also, we’re only comparing the base model Galaxy S21 to the Galaxy S21 FE in this guide, not the more-expensive Galaxy S21 Plus or Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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About this article: Samsung sent us a Galaxy S21 FE to review in January. The company did not have any input on the contents of this article.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S21 FE: Specifications

Specification Galaxy S21 Galaxy S21 FE
Build Plastic back, metal frame Plastic back, metal frame
Dimensions & Weight
  • 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm
  • 171 grams
  • 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm
  • 177 grams
Display
  • 6.2-inch FHD+ AMOLED
  • 2400 x 1080
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED
  • 2340 x 1080
  • 120Hz refresh rate
SoC
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • International: Exynos 2100
  • USA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • International: Exynos 2100
RAM & Storage
  • 8GB RAM/128GB storage
  • 8GB RAM/256GB storage
  • No microSD card slot
  • 6GB RAM/128GB storage
  • 8GB RAM/256GB storage
  • No microSD card slot
Battery & Charging
  • 4,000mAh battery
  • 25W wired fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5W reverse wireless charging
  • 4,500mAh battery
  • 25W wired fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • 4.5W reverse wireless charging
Security In-display fingerprint scanner In-display fingerprint scanner
Rear Cameras
  • Primary: 12MP, f/2.2, 123˚ FoV
  • Wide-angle: 12MP, f/1.8, 79˚ FoV
  • Telephoto: 64MP, f/2.4
  • Primary: 12MP, f/1.8, 120˚ FoV
  • Wide-angle: 12MP, f/2.2, 123° FoV
  • Telephoto: 8MP, f/2.4, 32˚ FOV
Front Camera 10MP, f/2.2, 80˚ FoV 32MP, f/2.2, 81˚ FoV
Port(s)
  • USB Type-C
  • No headphone jack
  • USB Type-C
  • No headphone jack
Audio Stereo speakers Stereo speakers
Connectivity
  • Sub6/mmWave 5G
  • 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/x (dual-band)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Sub6/mmWave 5G
  • 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/x (dual-band)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Ultra Wide Band (UWB)
Software One UI 4.0/Android 12 (Android 11 at launch) One UI 4.0/Android 12
Other Features
  • Samsung Pay with NFC
  • IP68 rating
  • Samsung Pay with NFC
  • IP68 rating

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S21 FE: Design and Hardware

The hardware design of the Galaxy S21 FE is nearly identical to the Galaxy S21 that came before it. Both phones have glass-covered displays and plastic rear casings, a metal frame inside the device, three cameras on the back, and a primary speaker and USB Type-C port on the bottom. Neither phone has a headphone jack or a microSD card slot, unfortunately.

Galaxy S21 vs S21 FE

Galaxy S21 (left) and Galaxy S21 FE (right)

The main difference between the two is the physical size. The base model Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch screen, while the Galaxy S21 FE has a slightly larger 6.4-inch panel. Both screens are AMOLED, both have the same 2340 x 1080 resolution, and both have a refresh rate of 120Hz — the only difference is that the Galaxy S21 FE display is a bit larger.

Besides that, the camera array on the back isn’t quite as pronounced. Even though it still sticks out from the back of the phone, like the cameras on most other premium smartphones, the color matches the casing and the sides are sloped. That’s not a ground-breaking change by any means, but still worth noting.

Since the Galaxy S21 FE is a bit larger, Samsung was able to fit in a larger 4,500mAh battery (compared to the 4,000mAh battery on the Galaxy S21). There’s also only 6GB RAM on the cheapest Galaxy S21 FE, compared to the 8GB on all versions of the Galaxy S21, but the pricier 256GB Galaxy S21 FE bumps the memory back up to 8GB.

Besides those differences, the two phones are more or less identical. They both have Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipsets in the US and Exynos 2100 elsewhere, they both have Android 12 and One UI 4, they both support 5G, and so on.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S21 FE: Cameras

The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 FE have almost identical camera setups, with ultra-wide, wide-angle, and telephoto rear cameras on both devices. However, there are minor differences between them. The ultra-wide on the Galaxy S21 has a slightly higher pixel size than the ultra-wide on the Galaxy S21 FE (1.4μm vs 1.12μm), so the quality is a bit better on the regular Galaxy S21. The most significant difference is with the telephoto camera — it’s 64MP on the Galaxy S21, but only Galaxy 8MP on the S21 FE.

In real-world usage, photos captured with these phones are nearly identical to each other. I struggled to find any differences between the two, even after copying them to my computer to view them on a much larger display. The primary camera performs about the same on both phones, even though the Galaxy S21 has a slight edge on paper, and wide-angle photos are also close.

The only area where the Galaxy S21 FE produced noticeably-worse photos was with the telephoto camera, but only in some situations. The lower-resolution telephoto lens on the Galaxy S21 FE can still handle brightly-lit areas about as well as the regular Galaxy S21, but if you keep zooming in (especially in darker environments), photo quality degrades a bit quicker than with the S21.

Conclusion: Which one should you get?

The Galaxy S21 Fan Edition is definitely a confusing phone. It’s almost identical to the base model Galaxy S21, except it has cheaper materials and one extra generation of OS updates (so it should receive Android 13, 14, and 15, while the Galaxy S21 will stop at 14). The Galaxy S21 was $799.99 at launch, but it dropped to $699 on more than one occasion, while the Galaxy S21 Fan Edition starts at $699.99. Samsung might drop the price of the FE over the next few months to make the phone more of a deal, but the company hasn’t done anything yet.

If you already have a Galaxy S21, and you’re wondering if you should upgrade, the answer is a resounding no. The Galaxy S21 FE is not significantly better than the Galaxy S21, and in some ways (such as the telephoto camera), it’s a bit worse. The screen is slightly larger, and it has three major Android OS updates left (as opposed to 2 updates left on the Galaxy S21), but that’s not enough to warrant spending more money.

For people with an older device, or someone looking to move away from an iPhone, the answer is a bit more complicated. The Galaxy S21 FE is a good phone, but it’s not the same absolute bargain that the Galaxy S20 FE was when it was first released. It’s a slightly-different Galaxy S21, at a higher price than the Galaxy S21 has been for much of the past six months.

Price graph

Galaxy S21 128GB pricing on Amazon (Source: Keepa)

The entire Galaxy S21 family is starting to go out of stock at retailers, which indicates Samsung might sell the Galaxy S21 FE as the only available Galaxy S21 model from this point on. If that’s true, cross-shopping the two phones is a bit of a pointless exercise, unless you’re deciding between a new Galaxy S21 FE and a used/refurbished Galaxy S21.

In summary: if you want a new phone, your only choice between the two will probably be the Galaxy S21 FE. I’d still recommend waiting for a sale if you can, though — it doesn’t make much sense to pay $700 for a phone that is almost identical to the $800 phone from a year ago, even if Samsung is throwing in one more Android update.

    Last year's Galaxy S21 is still a great phone, with a speedy Snapdragon 888 chipset and two major Android OS updates left. Just make sure you only get it on sale.
    The newer Galaxy S21 FE is a bit larger, and has an additional year of Android OS updates, but otherwise isn't too different from the Galaxy S21.

If you’re on the fence, we would suggest waiting on the Galaxy S22 to release before making a decision. You can also go ahead and reserve the Galaxy S22 right away and get $50 in in-store credits alongside other pre-order offers.

About author

Corbin Davenport
Corbin Davenport

Corbin is a tech journalist and software developer. Check out what he's up to at corbin.io.

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