Last year, Samsung launched the first so-called Fan Edition of the popular but rather expensive Galaxy S series of smartphones.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE had come into the world on the principle of chopping a heel and cutting a toe. In other words, the specifications had been reduced here and there, but the most popular features from the Galaxy S20 series were preserved, while the price could be reduced by a few hundred pounds.
The new Fan Edition was a nice success for Samsung, and when it saw the light of day in the fall of 2020, the expectation was that in 2021 Samsung would launch a Fan Edition of the S21 series at roughly the same time.
However, the launch was delayed – mainly because Samsung has had difficulty obtaining components to produce the phone – and the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has therefore only become available in early January.
And that ends up being a problem for the new mobile. Firstly because it comes with last year’s technology on several points, and secondly because the launch of the Galaxy S22 series is just around the corner. So the Galaxy S21 FE is about to be a downgraded version of last year’s Galaxy S mobiles to compete with brand new Galaxy S22 models, and that in itself is a convincing argument for not buying the new Fan Edition model right now.
Conversely, we will not judge the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE completely out yet. Why we return to a little later. First of all, we just need to have a look at whether the Galaxy S21 FE is a good mobile at all, bad timing or not.
Appearance and construction
To start with, we must state that it is optically impossible to spot the difference between the Galaxy S21 FE and then the smallest smartphone from the original S21 series, namely the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G!
The Galaxy S21 FE also comes with a camera module that is seamlessly integrated and aligns with the frame that surrounds the phone’s body, just as the back comes in matte colors – Olive, Graphite, Lavender and White for the Galaxy S21 FE – so it does not pick up greasy fingerprints.
The phone is largely frameless and has the front camera built-in as a punched hole in the screen. In front is the Gorilla Glass Victus, while the back – just like on the predecessor Galaxy S20 FE – is made of plastic.
However, the build quality is nothing to complain about. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE feels robust and solid, and the phone is also IP68-certified, so it is quite official that it should be able to withstand a little of everything.
Screen and sound
With a 6.4-inch screen, the Galaxy S21 FE places itself right between the aforementioned Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 +, which came with a 6.2 and 6.7-inch screen, respectively. The resolution is pretty much the same, and so is the screen technology. Like the original Galaxy S21 models, the Galaxy S21 FE is thus also equipped with Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, just as the mobile has HDR10 + certification.
The refresh rate is 120 Hz, but it is not adaptive, which is the case for the more expensive Galaxy S21 mobiles.
The fact that the screen refresh rate is adaptive otherwise means in practice that the screen frequency automatically adapts to what is happening on the screen. If you look at a photo on one of the original Galaxy S21 models, the frequency is lowered all the way down to 48 Hz. When watching video, the frequency increases to 60 Hz, while the maximum refresh rate of 120 Hz is active when scrolling on web pages, scrolling through menus or playing games.
Normally, the manufacturer chooses to make the refresh rate adaptive to save power, so as a starting point, the Galaxy S21 FE consumes more power than its more expensive predecessor models, unless you manually reduce the refresh rate to 60 Hz in the settings. Fortunately, it has a larger built-in battery than e.g. Galaxy S21 5G (4500 mAh vs. 4000 mAh), so in reality it is not a problem with power consumption, quite the contrary, but we will return to that.
In addition, the Galaxy S21 FE delivers a razor-sharp and bright screen image. The colors are extremely strong, and it’s a real pleasure to watch high quality content (eg from Netflix) on the HDR10+ certified screen. There is great depth in the image and the contrast level is excellent. The user experience when moving around in menus, on web pages and on the home screen is fluid and fast.
The sound quality when using the Galaxy S21 FE as a sound source for music streaming is really good, and there is also a set of good stereo speakers in the mobile, so it can be used with a clear conscience to watch short videos, play games or talk hands-free without headphones .
On the camera front, not much has happened since the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. In fact, the cameras of the two mobiles are completely identical except for microscopic differences (Galaxy S21 FE can record 240 fps slow motion video in 1080p and 960 fps slow motion in 720p)!
Thus, the Galaxy S21 FE is equipped with three lenses (12 megapixel ultra-wide angle, 12 megapixel primary and 8 megapixel telephoto), optical image stabilization as well as 3x optical zoom and 30x hybrid zoom.
And even though these are not top specifications, the camera delivers good images in most situations. This applies to images taken with the primary lens and with the ultra-wide angle in daylight, but certainly also more difficult subjects such as indoor images with artificial light, while the phone’s telephoto lens is not quite as convincing when it comes to macro images where you get very close to the subject.
The front camera of 32 megapixels should be highlighted, because with it you can take extremely good selfies, also with bokeh effect.
Performance and features
A significant difference between the other Galaxy S21 models and the new Fan Edition is the processor. Traditionally, Galaxy S mobiles with Samsung’s own Exynos processors are coming to the European market, as is the Galaxy S21 series, which was equipped with the latest eight-core 64-bit Exynos 2100.
The Galaxy S20 FE, on the other hand, was equipped with a Snapdragon 865 processor from Qualcomm, and also the latest Fan Edition has a Qualcomm processor sitting under the screen. Namely the Snapdragon 888, which was probably Qualcomm’s top product in 2021, but is now being overtaken by the brand new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which will take up the fight with Apple’s lightning-fast A15 Bionic processor.
So, as mentioned, last year’s technology is in the Galaxy S21 FE, and you should of course be aware of that if you are considering throwing money at Samsung’s latest smartphone at the time of writing. However, it is the same processor that sits in top mobiles like Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, Sony Xperia 1 III and Xiaomi 11T Pro, so the performance does not fail anything.
Both in daily use and in benchmark tests, the mobile thus delivers the goods and is – in terms of raw performance – completely on par with the Exynos-based Galaxy S21 model from last winter. And with a 4500 mAh battery, the Galaxy S21 FE also lasts longer – eight hours and 48 minutes in our benchmark test against the Galaxy S21’s just six hours and 13 minutes. This is despite the fact that the Galaxy S21 FE, as mentioned, comes without an adaptive screen refresh rate, which otherwise wears out more on the battery.
But back to the crucial question which must be: Should yo be buying the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE right now? The answer to this is no.
In the smallest configuration with 6 gigabytes of memory and 128 gigabytes of storage, the mobile costs £649 at the time of writing, while the “real” Galaxy S21 5G, which probably has a worse battery, but in return offers a significantly better camera, for the model with 8 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of storage cost less than £500.
Therefore, we must advise you to wait a bit if, for one reason or another, you still have hot dreams about the Galaxy S21 FE – e.g. if you do not take as many pictures but would like the Fan Edition mobile phone’s larger battery and Snapdragon processor.
For in a very shoprt time, Samsung will launch the new Galaxy S22 series, and then two things will happen. Firstly, the original Galaxy S21 models will be disappearing from the market and secondly, the Galaxy S21 FE wil be falling in price. Expect a price around £420. And at that price, the Galaxy S21 FE will suddenly be a very good buy, so keep an eye on the price search services in the coming weeks.