Review verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a great phone on its own for folks in the Philippines, but its release timing puts it in a difficult spot for people holding out for the next big thing.
- Excellent camera
- Great user experience
- Powerful processor
- The battery isn’t great
- Slow charging for a flagship
- Release window too close to next-gen flagship
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a textbook example of a great phone released too late. Its January 2022 release schedule puts it in direct competition with a slew of new, next-generation phones that’ll be launching in the next few weeks, along with the arrival of Samsung’s own, refreshed flagship, the Galaxy S22.
Samsung’s Fan Edition versions of its current-gen flagship offer the same design language as their more expensive brethren, though clad in more affordable materials. In the S21 FE’s case, the premium, Gorilla Glass Victus back and metal camera module has been replaced with soft-touch matte plastic. Our particular review unit comes in Olive green, though the phone also comes in Black, Silver, and Lavender as well.
The frame of the phone is also aluminum and gives the whole plastic chassis rigidity. Just like Samsung’s other flagship phones, the Galaxy S21 FE is IP68 rated and can be submerged in water without anything bad happening to it.
The plastic chassis doesn’t make the phone look cheap, and surprisingly enough I actually prefer its soft-touch construction VS the glass-backed S21. Samsung really knows how to make phones feel good in people’s hands, whether it’s expensive, top-end flagships or value devices like the Galaxy S21 FE, phones built by the Korean company feel extremely ergonomic and comfortable to use one or two-handed.
The Galaxy S21 FE has a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED display that has a peak refresh rate of 120Hz, along with HDR10+ capabilities and a Full HD+ resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, and always-on display capability.
The display is flat and protected by Gorilla Glass Victus to keep it nice and protected. A 32-megapixel front-facing camera sits on the halo cut-out on the front.
The display and chassis are the places Samsung usually cuts features to get the price of the FE series down to a more manageable level.
What’s missing in the S21 FE specifically is the ultrasonic under-display fingerprint scanner that made unlocks so quick in the regular S21, as well as a variable refresh rate.
The former isn’t as important as the latter as the omission of the variable refresh rate here negatively impacts battery life (as you’ll see later) since you’re locked to 120Hz or 60Hz, with no scaling between the two to save power.
The optics on the Galaxy S21 FE are borrowed from its more expensive brother. Essentially, you’re looking at a 12-megapixel main shooter with dual pixel AF and OIS, along with an f/1.8 aperture lens, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera with an f/2.2 aperture lens, and an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with an f/2.4 aperture lens.
Images taken from the camera look fantastic, with lots of detail, sharpness, and images are devoid of noise. Colors look accurate enough for social media which isn’t a surprise since Samsung tends to lean on more color accuracy even at the expense of making photos look a little drab.
Long story short, you’re getting top-tier flagship performance from the Galaxy S21 FE’s cameras, no matter how you cut it.
Performance, software, and battery
Just like the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21 FE will come in two processor variants: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 for western markets like the US, and Samsung’s Exynos 2100 processor for the rest of the world, including the Philippines. The phone will have 8GB of RAM and will be offered in two storage options: 128GB and 256GB.
Obviously, some people will be disappointed that the phone doesn’t get Qualcomm’s top-end chip, and that’s understandable. That being said, the phone doesn’t feel slow at all and gets really good marks in our benchmark tests. Yes, it falls behind the Snapdragon 888, but in actual use, you really won’t even notice.
As far as software goes, the phone is one of the first Samsung devices to ship with Android 12 along with One UI 4 from the box. The phone feels quick and is relatively free from bloatware as long as you make sure to uncheck all the “suggested” items Samsung wants you to install at the beginning.
The battery for the Galaxy S21 FE is at 4500mAh, which is a little shy of the 5000mAh we expect flagships to have. Because of the lack of a dynamic refresh rate (the screen is either locked to 60Hz or 120Hz without smart switching between the two), battery life suffers if you opt to run the display at 120Hz. Our battery benchmark using PCMark returned a result of just 9 hours and 29 minutes, which is slightly below what we’d expected from the phone.
As for software, the device uses Android 12 with Samsung’s One UI layered on top. Samsung’s UI is clean and easy to use and offers users a lot of ways to customize the phone depending on their tastes without looking like a bloated mess.
Wrap-up and verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE isn’t a bad value flagship per se as we found in our review of it for the Philippines, and is the classic example of a smartphone released at the wrong time. If the phone was released a few months earlier, it would have been a strong contender for anyone looking for a flagship from the Korean company that won’t do as much damage to their bank account as its older, more premium brother.
As it stands though, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a tough sell, considering that the announcement and eventual release of the Galaxy S22 is just around the corner, and that pricing of the Galaxy S21 from retail partners of Samsung has been at the lowest levels yet. It’s hard to see the value of settling for a stripped-down version of the S21 when the real deal is just a few thousand pesos more.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review Price Philippines
The Galaxy S21 FE is priced at Php 38,990 for the 8GB/128GB model and Php 41,990 for the 8Gb/256GB model.