In our previous feature, we took a first look at the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and gave its design and specifications a thorough onceover. It’s clear that the Galaxy S21 FE is a love letter for those who love the Galaxy S series flagship phones as it has a distilled medley of the most desirable features of the line shoehorned into a svelte 7.9mm thin polycarbonate chassis that looks well wrought.
However, powerful specifications alone do not a smartphone make and a phone is the sum of its design, user interface and, of course, its hardware that determines whether it enters the halls of fame or the dungeons of infamy. But where does Samsung’s swan song to the Galaxy S21 series stand? Here’s our Galaxy S21 FE review where we put it to the test!
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review – Benchmarks and Performance
The Galaxy S21 FE comes in several configurations depending on region with some countries like the United States using a Snapdragon 888 CPU while others like Malaysia relying on an Exynos 2100 CPU along with either 6GB or 8GB RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of storage. Malaysia has lucked out as all Galaxy S21 FE phones here have maxed out their random access memory at 8GB with your choice of either 128GB or 256GB of non-expandable storage depending on how deep your pockets go.
While it’s designed as a value flagship phone with some modest concessions to cost, it’s very much the match of its peers on the performance front with an identical Exynos 2100 processor and more than enough RAM to tackle almost anything asked of it. Running under the hood of our Galaxy S21 FE review sample is Android 12 overlaid with their latest OneUI 4 user interface.
Here’s how it scored in synthetic benchmarks:
|3DMark Wild Life||5,671|
|3DMark Wild Life Unlimited||3,591|
|3DMark Wild Life Extreme||1,849|
|3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited||1,760|
|Geekbench 5 single-core score||1,087|
|Geekbench 5 multi-core score||3,354|
|Geekbench 5 OpenCL score||7,295|
|Geekbench 5 Vulkan score||3,015|
|PCMark Work 3.0 score||14,454|
|PCMark Work 3.0 battery life test||9 hours 39 minutes|
In terms of performance, the Galaxy S21 FE is the equivalent of the Galaxy S21 in sheer pixel crunching power and actually edges out slightly in terms of battery life on account of its larger battery and recent refinements in firmware.
Of note is that the phone has fast WiFi 6 and, of course, 5G connectivity but it lacks Ultra Wideband (UWB) tech which was seen exclusively on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. At present, UWB is icing on the cake and to be fair isn’t particularly necessary at this point in time.
In field tests over the course of several days as a primary phone, the Galaxy S21 FE proved to be as powerful and as effective as its more powerful siblings with the intuitive smoothness of One UI allowing for nigh effortless navigation about the phone and easy pairing with other connected devices like a smart home light. The addition of One UI 4 also offers enhanced privacy protection with enhanced permissions management for the camera, location and microphone which comes in very handy indeed.
There’s little to quibble about in regards to performance and the phone easily tackles Call of Duty Mobile on the highest settings without issue, lets you multitask between over a dozen open tabs on Chrome and sort your emails, handle video calls, texts and social media all through the day in a silky smooth fashion.
PCMark’s battery test benchmark offered about 9 hours and 39 minutes of active screen time with 120Hz refresh rate and practical usage matched its synthetic benchmarks performance on its 4,500Mah Li-Ion battery with enough juice to easily last through the course of an entire working day even at full tilt with enough left for the commute home. Alternatively, you can dial the display down to a 60Hz refresh rate and eke out several more hours worth of endurance.
Fortunately, Samsung hasn’t cut corners in its charging capabilities and our Galaxy S21 FE review sample has 25W fast charging by PD 3.0 to match its fellow Galaxy S21 compatriots, 15W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging too to juice up other Samsung kit.
From dead zero, it’s able to charge to 48% in 30 minutes and to full in an hour and 20 minutes with a compatible charger like the UGreen 100W GaN charger, which matches their official figures by just a percentage point or two.
Unfortunately, the omission of a bundled charger means that you’ll have to buy one yourself though odds are likely you’ll have one lying around though it has to be USB Power Delivery 3.0 compliant to deliver juice at optimum speeds.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review – Display
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE features a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a tiny punchhole up top for the 32MP selfie camera while offering up support for HDR10+ content and a 120Hz refresh rate.Text and images are clear under sunlight and the phone delivers wonderfully vibrant colour rendition and crisp text.
Unfortunately, this refresh rate is fixed rather than dynamic like the rest of the Galaxy S21 series so regardless of whatever you do be it poring over a photo or gaming, it’s still running at a nippy 120Hz and draining juice at a similar rate. Alternatively, you can go into the settings and dial it down to a fixed 60Hz which improves battery life at the cost of slightly less fluid animations onscreen.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review – Android Updates and DeX mode
The Galaxy S21 FE’s more recent date of manufacture and its usage of Android 12 out of the box confers a number of benefits that give it an edge over its pricier siblings, especially in regards to longevity as Samsung has committed to offering at least 5 years of security updates and 3 generations of Android updates so you’ll likely be able to continue using it all the way to Android 15 in 2025 whereas its compatriots will max out with Android 14 a year earlier. This is one of the most proactive and impressive update policies of any phone manufacturer in the industry and it’s certainly a commitment to product support that few can match.
Another benefit that the Galaxy S21 FE enjoys akin to its siblings is the inclusion of Samsung DeX support which allows you to use it as a PC of sorts when paired up to a display via a HDMI cable or wirelessly via Miracast. You get a desktop style interface with the phone acting as the CPU and you’re able to pair up a mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth to get some serious work done.
For students and young professionals on a budget, this is a perfect way to take advantage of a TV or unused monitor and get access to a PC style interface.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review – Cameras
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has a rear triple camera array that has a primary 12MP F/1.8 camera with optical image stabilisation to handle most of the grunt work. This camera also sees service on the mainline Galaxy S21 and has a proven reputation for offering excellent shots in almost all standard shooting scenarios.
Where it differs from the Galaxy S21 is that it has a slightly more modest camera setup for the 8MP telephoto zoom camera which is similar to the older Galaxy S20 FE though the S21 FE enjoys improvements in its computational photography algorithms and, of course, the hardware for better results.
The Galaxy S21 FE’s 8MP telephoto camera features 3X optical zoom, up to 30x hybrid zoom and optical image stabilisation which is a rarity at this price point especially for a telephoto camera. Rounding things off is a third 12MP F/2.2 ultra wide angle camera. Combined, this setup is capable of capturing snaps and up to 4K@60fps video.
The Galaxy S21 , in comparison, costs RM600 more and has a more sophisticated and larger 64MP F/2.0 telephoto camera with 3X zoom and 30X hybrid ‘Space Zoom’ as well as up to 8k@24fps video capture.
While 8K video is the future, the means to edit it requires prohibitively powerful (and expensive) hardware and the best TVs to watch it on are Samsung’s own 8K QLED TVs. For practical purposes, 4K@60fps video is still plenty for most mainstream purposes.
Up front, our Galaxy S21 FE review sample sports an impressive 32MP F/2.2 selfie camera which dwarfs the Galaxy S21’s 10MP sensor though it lacks some of its more sophisticated hardware like autofocus. However, the S21 FE’s 32MP selfie snapper is still capable of 4K@60fps video and snaps.
The user interface for the Galaxy S21 FE is identical to that seen in the rest of the Galaxy S21 series though it notably lacks Director’s Mode which shows a live preview from the phone’s other cameras to better frame videos.
In terms of camera performance, the main 12MP camera on our Galaxy S 21 FE review sample did not disappoint with good shots in daylight, indoors and in dim light even in auto mode.
When employing Night mode, the camera manages to eke out a surprising amount of detail and colours too. Shots are still pleasantly crisp at 3x zoom in daylight or even at night though at 30X hybrid zoom, shots are predictably grainy and lacking in detail with poorer results in dim light. Overall, you’re getting a solid set of cameras that won’t disappoint.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes at an interesting time as it debuts weeks ahead of the impending launch of Samsung’s next generation S22 series phones in early February 2022. The new generation of phones will certainly cost more than the Galaxy S21 FE though there are scant details on the next generation smartphone and what upgrades it will have over the current generation.
What is certain here is that on its own merits and at its price point, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE offers immense value for what you pay for. You are getting a large 120Hz display, flagship-grade hardware and a triple camera array with OIS on the primary and telephoto camera that is capable of delivering excellent results. Add in good battery life, DeX mode and a very practical polycarbonate chassis and you have the epitome of a value flagship in the Galaxy S21 FE.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review sample courtesy of Samsung Malaysia. To purchase please visit https://www.samsung.com/my/smartphones/galaxy-s21-5g/galaxy-s21-fe-5g/buy/
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is the epitome of value, packing flagship-grade features including a large 120Hz display, excellent performance and great cameras at a decent price point. These sterling qualities combined with its exceptional value make the Galaxy S21 FE the ideal choice for young professionals and students alike.
Excellent 120Hz display Flagship grade Exynos 2100 processor Good overall performance Solid camera performance
No 3.5mm jack No bundled charger No microSD card slot