Samsung was so focused on its latest foldable phones last fall it seems there wasn’t room (or more likely the resources) for a refresh of its flagship Galaxy S phone line. But it’s a new year and now Samsung is kicking things off with the launch of the Galaxy S21 FE.
Like previous Fan Edition devices, the Galaxy S21 FE is essentially a cheaper version of the S21 and S21+ that starts at $700. Sporting a 2340 x 1080 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, the S21 FE is slightly larger than the standard 6.2-inch S21, but not quite as large as the 6.7 -inch S21+.
Samsung mixed-and-matched a lot of the standard S21's features for the Fan Edition, while also adding a few new and improved elements. For example, instead of going with a fancier (and more precise) ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor, Samsung opted for an optical fingerprint reader on the S21 FE.
To make up for the less sophisticated fingerprint sensor, Samsung gave the S21 FE a higher-resolution 32-MP selfie cam, 25-watt wired fast charging, and a larger 4,500 mAh battery instead of the smaller 4,000 mAh power pack you get on the standard S21.
Inside, the S21 FE should have equally strong performance as the S21, featuring the same Snapdragon 888 chip. The FE will be available in two slightly different configs: a base model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and an upgraded version with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. And regardless of which version you choose, both models will support both sub-6Ghz and mmWave 5G.
Rounding out the rest of the package, the FE sports three rear lenses: a 12-MP main cam, a 12-MP ultra-wide cam, and an 8-MP telephoto cam with a 3x optical zoom. And as a small added bonus, Samsung claims the S21 FE has an improved Night Mode compared to last year’s S20 FE.
Samsung is sticking with the S21's distinctive Contour Cut design for the S21 FE, which will be available in four new colors: olive, lavender, white, and graphite.
The S21 FE’s biggest upgrade might be under the hood: The phone will ship with Samsung’s One UI 4.0, which is based on Android 12 and includes a number of upgrades, including new security and privacy settings, improved home screen customization, updated lock screen controls, and more.
On paper, the S21 FE ticks all the right boxes. It’s essentially a more compact but still just as powerful version of the S21+ with a few extra upgrades for just $700, which is about the same as what a new S21+ costs today.
That’s why I wonder if the S21 FE might have arrived a bit too late. While it’s hard to fault Samsung for delaying the S21 FE due to the supply chain issues that have been plaguing practically every electronics maker for the past year, getting a new S21 at the beginning of 2022 seems like a bad decision, especially when you consider the S21 was originally announced all the way back on Jan. 14 2021. Instead of an all-new S22, we’re getting a rehash (albeit a very solid-looking rehash) of last year’s device, which feels a bit underwhelming.
That said, the S21 FE looks to have a good mix of specs and value when it goes on sale (both unlocked and via all the major carriers) for $700 starting on Jan. 11.