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Samsung’s Galaxy S21 family of smartphones — the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra — is expanding with a new entry point: the Galaxy S21 FE.
As it did with the Galaxy S20 FE in late 2020, Samsung plucked some of the best features from the S21 line and placed them into this smaller, more affordable device. Samsung is launching the S21 FE at CES 2022, a show where they typically focus on TVs and monitors.
The Galaxy S21 FE will be available on Jan. 11 at $699.99 for the 128GB model and $769.99 for 256GB of storage. We were able to spend a weekend with the S21 FE, and after that time we are naming it a finalist for the Best Mobile Phone from CES 2022.
Similar hardware in a refined build
The Galaxy S21 FE looks familiar, though it is slightly larger than the S21, without flashy design elements like a metal border. It also has a camera bump that comes out of the phone’s edge.
Samsung calls this a contour-cut frame and the subtle design provides uniformity on the back panel of the phone. The frame of the S21 FE is aluminum, though as might be expected with this more-affordable option, the phone’s rear panel is a smooth polycarbonate. It isn’t glossy, but does show some fingerprints. Weighing in at 177 grams, the S21 FE feels substantial in our hand, and it comes in olive, lavender, white or graphite color options.
The device’s front is nearly all screen, with a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel, and it’s nice to see minimal bezels all around at this price point. We also appreciate how well it handles colors and supports a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother visuals than you’ll see on many phones at this price. Samsung’s also tucked a 32-megapixel selfie camera into the top, which is great for video calls and quick shots. They’ve also included a fingerprint sensor built into the bottom half of the display.
Powering all of this is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, the same one that resides in the rest of the Galaxy S21 family. That means that photos are quick to process, games can be played locally or from the cloud, and multitasking is made easy with fluid movement between apps. However, the RAM is lower than in other S21s and this could lead to slowdowns with more intense tasks or a bevy of apps open. The $699 S21 FE features 6GB of RAM (which we’ve been testing) and the $769 variant ships with 8GB. The S21 FE comes preloaded with Android 12 and Samsung’s One UX 4.0.
Battery life has also been strong throughout the weekend, likely thanks to the 4,500mAh battery inside. We’ve easily gotten through a full day on a charge, even making it through two with lighter usage. When it comes time to charge, you’ll need to plug in the included USB-C cable or place it on a Qi-enabled wireless charging pad. Samsung doesn’t include a wall plug in the box, but we’d recommend an Anker Nano II.
Four familiar cameras
While Samsung’s S21 FE comes with a bigger battery and a faster processor inside, the same treatment was not given to the main camera array on the back. Here’s what the Galaxy S21 FE is packing.
- 12-megapixel ultrawide lens: The ultrawide lens offers a 123-degree field of view and is great for capturing a large area in a shot. In our early tests, we captured a ton in the frame without seeing much blur or fisheye effect around the edges.
- 12-megapixel wide-angle lens: The main shooter on the S21 FE performs admirably. It’s best for portraits and more traditional shots.
- 8-megapixel telephoto lens: This is the same zoom lens as on the S20 FE and we are surprised it wasn’t improved on. It’s an 8-megapixel lens with 3x optical zoom functionality. 30x Space Zoom is supported here, but without the physical periscoping lens of the S21 Ultra. It’s simply a combination of physical and digital zoom along with upscaling, which can lead to some serious distortion at a full 30x. We found the 10x zoom functionality to be the most practical.
Samsung’s various modes are also included here — Night Mode, Single Take, Portrait, Pro, Food, Portrait Video, Dual Recording and Slow Motion, among others, and they all run well (samples below). Single take is still one of our favorites, letting you hit the shutter button and move the phone around, then the S21 FE uses AI to figure out which shots to capture and whether it needs to apply effects.
Camera performance here will be critical, since the Pixel 6 costs just $599 and offers excellent photography. You lose the physical telephoto lens there, but Google’s processing is second to none in the Android space.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE is shaping up to be an excellent new entry point into the Galaxy S21 family. However, it’s launching at an interesting time, as we’re just a few weeks away from the rumored successors to the Galaxy S21 family, aka the Galaxy S22. Still, for those who want a more affordable Samsung device, the $699 S21 FE will likely fit the bill — as long as you’re cool with a cheaper design and not the most impressive telephoto lens.
The Galaxy S21 FE is also making a splash at CES as one of the few mobile phones to launch at the show. For its feature set and affordable positioning, it’s a finalist for Best Mobile Phone of CES 2022. We’ll be sharing our full finalists later this week, ahead of the top picks in each category.
Orders open on Jan. 11 for the Galaxy S21 FE at $699.99 for 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM, or $769.99 for 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. Either way, you’ll find support for 5G mmWave and Sub-6 as well, which is terrific news — especially if either network exists near you. Those seeking ultra-fast speeds that can rival home networks will want to find mmWave connectivity, though it’s not rolled out nationally. Sub-6 is more common, but doesn’t deliver a crazy increase in speeds.