When you bring your number and activate a new line on min 30/mo. voice plan. First mo. svc charge tax due at sale. Excludes ATT ports. New line/port pricing available once every 365 days. Usage, speed restr’s apply. Original Price 599.99. Intermittent price reductions taken. See details.
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6.4″ Screen Size
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Take your everyday to the next level with the phone designed to fuel the passions of every fan. Whether you are a gaming guru or social star, Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is jam-packed with features to help you get more out of whatever it is you are into. All-day intelligent battery 1. stylish design, a triple-lens camera, and more! Unleash the epic power of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G. 1 Based on average battery life under typical usage conditions. Average expected performance based on typical use. Actual battery life depends on factors such as network, features selected, frequency of calls, and voice, data, and other application usage patterns. Results may vary.
All-Day Intelligent Battery
The amped-up battery gives you the power.- and the smarts.- to help you get ahead and stay there. The Galaxy S21 FE 5G intuitively manages your usage to help you conserve power so you can go all-day without a charge 2 But when you do need a power up, you can be ready in a flash with Super Fast Charging 3 that gives you a 50% charge in just 30 minutes! 2 Based on average battery life under typical usage conditions. Average expected performance based on typical use. Actual battery life depends on factors such as network, features selected, frequency of calls, and voice, data, and other application usage patterns. Results may vary. 3 Superfast (25 W) charger sold separately. Use only Samsung approved chargers and cables. Do not use worn or damaged chargers or cables. An incompatible charger or cable can cause damage to your device and/or serious injuries.
Ready for that close up? With an easy-to-use triple lens rear camera equipped with Portrait Mode, the answer is always yes. AI automatically detects and focuses on your subject for profile worthy pics, every time!
Powerful Performance Dazzling Design
Level up your gaming, livestreaming, video editing, and more with lightning quick processing and faster graphic rendering 4. All packed into a slim, sleek, and modern design that will be sure to turn heads. 4 Compared to Galaxy S20
Phone Comparisons: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
We’ve already compared the Galaxy S21 FE to both the Galaxy S21 and S21, and it’s not time to do the same with the most powerful S21 phone out there. In this article, we’ll compare the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 FE. The Galaxy S21 FE launched earlier this month, and it’s a bit late to the game. It was supposed to arrive back in August last year. Still, this is a very compelling phone.
The Galaxy S21 FE has a lot to offer, though some of you are probably wondering if it’s worth getting over the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Well, the Galaxy S22 series is right around the corner, but that’s a completely different discussion. In any case, we’ll compare the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 FE in this article, across a number of categories. Based on that, feel free to make your judgment call, if it’s worth saving some cash on the Galaxy S21 FE. Let’s get started.
|Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra||Samsung Galaxy S21 FE|
|Screen size||6.8-inch WQHD Dynamic AMOLED 2X curved display (120Hz adaptive refresh rate)||6.4-inch FullHD Dynamic AMOLED 2X display (120Hz adaptive refresh rate, LTPS)|
|Screen resolution||3200 x 1440||2400 x 1080|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 / Samsung Exynos 2100||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or Samsung Exynos 2100|
|RAM||12GB/16GB (LPDDR5)||6GB/8GB (LPDDR5)|
|Storage||128GB/256GB, non-expandable (expandable in some countries)||128GB/256GB, non-expandable|
|Rear cameras||108MP (f/1.8 aperture, OIS, 0.8um pixel size. Produces 12MP images with 2.4um pixel size) 12MP (ultrawide, Dual Pixel AF, 120-degree FoV, f/2.2 aperture, 1.4um pixel size) 10MP (telephoto, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, f/2.4 aperture, 1.22um pixel size, optical zoom 3x) 10MP (telephoto, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, f/4.9 aperture, 1.22um pixel size, 10x optical zoom, 100x Space Zoom)||12MP (f/1.8 aperture, 1.8um pixel size, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF) 12 MP (f/2.2 aperture, 1.12um pixel size, 123-degree FoV) 8MP (telephoto, f/2.4 aperture, 1.0um pixel size, OIS, PDAF, 3x optical zoom)|
|Front cameras||40MP (f/2.2 aperture, 80-degree FoV, 0.7um pixel size, PDAF)||32MP (f/2.2 aperture, 0.8um pixel size, 26mm lens)|
|Battery||5,000mAh, non-removable, fast battery charging (USB PD 3.0), Fast Wireless Charging 2.0, Wireless PowerShare||4,500mAh, non-removable, 25W wired charging, 15W Qi wireless charging, Wireless PowerShare|
|Dimensions||165 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm||155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm|
|Weight||227/229 grams||177 grams|
|Connectivity||5G, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi, USB Type-C||5G, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi, USB Type-C|
|Security||In-display fingerprint scanner (ultrasonic)||In-display fingerprint scanner (optical)|
|OS||Android 11 One UI 3.0||Android 12 One UI 4.0|
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Design
It is clearly noticeable that these two phones are related, judging by their designs only. They do use slightly different build materials, while they do look a bit different as well. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is made out of metal and glass, while the Galaxy S21 FE combines metal with plastic. The Galaxy S21 Ultra has more cameras on the back, and its camera housing protrudes from the frame, it’s made out of metal. The Galaxy S21 FE’s camera housing only looks like it’s protruding from the frame.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra also has a curved display, while the S21 FE utilizes a flat one. Both do include a centered display camera hole, and their buttons are in the same spot. All of their physical keys sit on the right-hand side. Samsung’s branding is also included in the same spot on both devices, in the bottom portion of their back sides. Those camera housings on the back protrude on both phones, but more on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is taller, wider, and thicker than the Galaxy S21 FE. On top of that, it’s also considerably heavier. It does include a larger display, so the size difference is a given. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is quite a bit taller than the Galaxy S21 FE, by around 10mm, while it’s just a little bit wider and thicker. It does weigh 50 grams more in comparison, though, and that’s a difference you’ll feel. Both phones are quite slippery, though the Galaxy S21 FE is easier to use with one hand. Both feel premium in the hand.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Display
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a 6.8-inch QHD (3200 x 1440) Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. That display offers a 120Hz refresh rate, which is adaptive, and supports HDR10 content. It also gets quite bright at 1,500 nits of peak brightness. This display is curved, as we’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph, and it’s well-protected. Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus protection is included on top of it.
The Galaxy S21 FE, on the other hand, includes a 6.4-inch fullHD (2400 x 1080) Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. This is also a 120Hz panel, though it’s not an LTPO panel, so it doesn’t offer an adaptive refresh rate. It does support HDR10 content as well, though, and it gets quite bright, even though not as bright as the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s display. This panel is also protected by the Gorilla Glass Victus.
Both displays are quite great, though. Even when put side-by-side the Galaxy S21 FE holds its own. That is one of the best fullHD panels out there, and it’s more than enough to have on a phone. It is plenty sharp, you definitely won’t miss anything in that department. Both panels offer great viewing angles, and are quite vivid as well. The blacks are as deep as you’d expect them to be on OLED panels. The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s panel does handle battery consumption better, and it is sharper, even though that’s really difficult to notice.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Performance
These two phones are equipped with the same SoC, the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100, depending on the market. On top of that, they both include LPPDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 flash storage. The Galaxy S21 Ultra does offer more RAM, though that’s not something many of you will notice when it comes to performance, well, at least if you get the 8GB RAM Galaxy S21 FE model. The Galaxy S21 Ultra should be able to hold more apps in memory because of it, but even 8GB of RAM is plenty for a phone, so… that’s not something that should worry you. If you do opt for a 6GB RAM Galaxy S21 FE, well, then that will become more obvious, as the phone will redraw apps more frequently in the background.
In fact, considering they also have similar software on top of all that hardware, the performance will be quite similar. Neither phone gets too hot in use, not even when you’re gaming, which is great. Do note that the Exynos 2100 variants do get a bit warmer at times, though, but never too warm. We’ve only used the Snapdragon 888 models, though, so we cannot really corroborate that.
Both phones perform great when it comes to everyday tasks. They can open and close apps really fast, they do a great job when it comes to multitasking, web browsing, taking images, consuming multimedia… and yes, gaming. We didn’t play that many games while we used the two phones, but the ones we did load, they ran perfectly fine. All in all, the performance is not something that should worry you.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Battery
Both of these phones have fairly large batteries to keep them going. The Galaxy S21 Ultra includes a 5,000mAh unit, while the Galaxy S21 FE sports a 4,500mAh battery. Those batteries are not huge compared to their display sizes, but they’re large enough. Both phones offer fairly good battery life, though the Galaxy S21 Ultra has more to offer in that regard, at least in our testing.
Both phones were able to provide us with at least 6 hours of screen-on-time, though battery life varied from one day to the next. The Galaxy S21 Ultra was able to go well beyond that on some days. Do note that gaming and other processor-intensive tasks will hinder battery life. Also, your usage will be completely different from ours, and the same goes for your location during the day, and cell reception in general. So, your mileage may vary considerably. The point is, both phones do offer good battery life.
Both phones offer fast charging as well. In fact, they offer the exact same charging support. Both phones support 25W wired charging, in addition to 15W wireless charging, and 4.5W reverse wireless charging aka Wireless PowerShare. Do note that neither of these two phones includes a charging brick, though. You will get a cable in the box, but you’ll need to provide the power adapter yourself.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Cameras
The camera setup on these two phones is quite a bit different in comparison. The Galaxy S21 FE is much closer to the Galaxy S21 and S21 in terms of camera setup. The Galaxy S21 Ultra includes four cameras on the back, compared to three on the Galaxy S21 FE. The sensors and lenses are also quite a bit different. So, which one provides better pictures? Well, for the most part, it’s the ‘Ultra’ model, as expected.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is still one of the best camera smartphones in the market. The device can provide excellent images during the day, with a lot of detail, good dynamic range, and punchy colors. Even when the light goes away it does an excellent job. If you want, you can lighten up the scene quite a bit thanks to the phone’s hardware and software. It preserves a lot of detail in low light.
The Galaxy S21 FE also does an excellent job during the day, and it definitely holds its own against the ‘Ultra’. It does a good job in low light as well, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s pictures in such conditions are visibly better. Ultrawide shots are great on both phones, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra easily takes the cake in the telephoto department. You won’t go wrong with either phone when it comes to cameras, but if you want the better one, the ‘Ultra’ is the way to go.
Both of these phones come with a set of stereo speakers. They do not include an audio jack, though, so keep that in mind. Are their stereo speakers any good, though? Well, yes, they are. Both sets are actually really good and provide 32-bit/384kHz audio. The Galaxy S21 Ultra output does sound a bit richer in comparison, as if it has a wider soundstage than the Galaxy S21 FE.
The thing is, the difference is really small, and not something you should take into consideration. Both phones provide sound that is really good, and that goes for the sound via a set of good pair of headphones as well. The sound output is well-balanced overall, the vocals are clear, and you will get some bass on both phones too.
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How to power-off or restart the Samsung Galaxy S22 or S21
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There’s been a small but significant change to the Galaxy S models in recent years, so for those looking to buy the Galaxy S21 or a newer model from the S22 series, you might find that you can’t figure out how to turn your new device off.
That’s because these handsets don’t support a press-and-hold of the power button to give the power or standby buttons. instead Bixby voice assistant will load by default. but you can reprogramme this side button if you wish.
Here’s how to figure out all your Samsung Galaxy S22 and S21 power-off options.
Galaxy S21 or S22 power off using software
Firstly, here’s how to power off or restart your Samsung Galaxy S22 or S21 handset:
- When signed in, swipe down the quick settings pane.
- You’ll see a power icon. Tap that icon and you’ll see the option to power off or restart in the screen that loads.
See, it’s simple once you know where to find it. But that’s only the software option. there is also a hardware option.
Galaxy S21 or S22 power off using buttons
Simply press and hold the power/standby button and volume down buttons together. but not for too short a time, as that’ll take a screenshot. and you’ll get to the same power-off options window.
Restarting S21 or S22 after a software crash
If your phone has crashed or becomes unresponsive, the same hardware option as above works. Simply press-and-hold the power/standby and volume down buttons for 10 seconds. You should feel a little buzz and your phone will reboot, without the need to select any software buttons (which wouldn’t be possible due to a crash).
Reprogramme the S21 or S22’s power button
By default, a press-and-hold of the side button on your Samsung Galaxy S22 or S21 device will trigger Bixby, letting you talk to Samsung’s digital assistant.
If you don’t want that or want to restore the power options that you had available on older Samsung devices, that’s possible too:
- Follow the steps above to get to the power screen.
- At the bottom of the page, tap on ‘Side key settings’.
- Select what you want the button to do.
Here you have a range of options for a press-and-hold of the button (i.e. the old way of turning your device off), as well as a double-press option.
We prefer to launch the camera app using a double press, but you can change that to launch any app you like.
If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S22 device, we’ve run through a whole range of tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your phone.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE. 21 TIPS, TRICKS HIDDEN FEATURES!
settings / advanced features / side key
You have a decision a critical decision to make. See the power key on the side of your phone. Do you want this to be a power key or Bixby? You would expect this to be a power key out of the box. But it’s isn’t. Here’s how to change that.
settings / biometrics security / face fingers
While you will have already set up an unlock code and a fingerprint. I do recommend you get a few more of you digits scanned in as well as your face. It will just make the day to day use of your device a little more seamless.
Alphabetize your apps drawer
So one of the things I love about Android is the App drawer. When you swipe up, it opens as standard, it’s in random order. I recommend you alphabetize this. All you need to do is swipe up hit the three dots. Hit sort and choose alphabetical order.
Quick panel layout customization / first 6 important
So if you swipe down from the top, you get your quick panel full of switches. The first six should always be the functions you use the most.
To customize this. Hit the three dots tap on the edit buttons. Here you can change the order of existing buttons and add new ones from the selection at the top. I recommend adding the Dolby atmos button, it really improves the sound when watching video content.
Another recommendation is to change the quick panel layout to have the brightness control at the top…
Choose navigation method
Settings / Display / navigation bar
I recommend you give swipe gestures ago instead of the old fashioned navigation buttons. It just frees up more screen real estate it does seem to be the way forward these days. Here’s how you do.
Go to settings, display and then navigation. Don’t feel pressured to change this. Just try it. If you don’t like it switch it back.
Customize always-on display
Settings / Lock Screen / always-on display
Here you can customize your always-on clock, as well as notifications that will show on the Lock Screen, and I recommend you turn ‘show music controls.’
And if you really want to, you can make an image clock with one of your pictures or AR emojis’ or stickers.
Settings / Display / Dark mode
Some people will argue this, but most believe dark mode is better for your eyes. One thing is for sure. The super Amoled display will use less power when it doesn’t need to display anything.
So for that reason, I recommend turning on dark mode. It saves power, and I personally think it makes everything look better.
Settings / Display / eye comfort shield
I recommend you set this up. This will help save your eyes from absorbing too much harmful light. Adaptive will gradually adjust screen colours throughout the day. It’s not a good idea to use adaptive if you’re doing a lot of Instagram or anything creative where you’re editing colours. Because you’ll want the display to be as accurate as possible. If that sounds like you, then make your own schedule.
Setup edge panel / split-screen app pairs
This is great and all, but it would be a little annoying to have to do this every time. Well, here’s how you can save preset split apps. For example, you might not have YT premium and want to listen to a podcast while driving. You can pair YT Maps and save them for quick access.
Set up your two split apps like before. Except for this time, hit the three dots in the middle and click this little folder icon with the plus to add it to your sidebar. Now you can access your preset split apps by just sliding the sidebar out.
How’s to customize volume levels
So there are volume levels you need to be aware of. Here’s how to quickly access them. Hit your volume key. Hit the three dots at the top.
The spanner is system sounds. For example, keyboard taps. The bell is alarms and notifications, The speaker icon is your ringtone volume, and the last one is media audio, for example, video and music playback. Customize them however you like.
If you tend to miss phone calls because you didn’t hear them. I recommend turning on vibrate while ringing.
Go to settings/sounds and vibrations and enable it here.
Battery and device care/automation
You know the thing about smartphones. When out of power, they become stupid. So you gotta preserve the energy as best as you can. Settings / battery device care / three dots / automation
Here, you can select auto to optimize or specify when you know you’re not going to be using your phone. If the battery is a big concern, then definitely enable adaptive power saving. Also, you might want to add a device care widget. Hit this chart icon. Here you will have the option to add the widget.
Un optimize essential apps
So optimizing apps is a great way to preserve power. But let’s say there’s an essential app on your device that you need to keep active in the background.
Well, you can manually tell your device to give unrestricted power usage to specific apps. Here’s how. Choose the app from your app draw or home-screen. Hold your finger down on it.
Go to the battery and select unrestricted. Here you can also restrict annoying apps that seem to be draining power.
For readers ( keeps the screen on while viewing )
Here’s one for those of you who like to do a bit of reading on your Galaxy device.
Settings / visibility enhancements /
Here you can make many tweaks to make text appear more clearly for yourself. Everyone’s eyes are slightly different, so choose a setup that’s comfortable for you and your eyes only.
If switching from a non-Samsung Android / change autofill to google
Ok, so if your previous Android device was not a Samsung. I recommend you do this one. Because Ell you autofill information like emails and passwords are linked to your google account.
Samsung has an auto-fill feature called Samsung pass, the default method on day 1. And if you are new to Samsung, you could start from scratch with it if you want. But if you ain’t got time for that, you should do this.
Settings / general management/ passwords autofill
And hit the cog next to autofill with Samsung pass and change it to google.
Customize camera modes
Alright, let’s talk camera. If you want to see how the S21FE compares to the iPhone 13 pro max, make sure you click on the thumbnail at the end of this video.
Ok, open the camera app. Swipe all the way to the right until you see the icon. Tap that, and here you can add modes that you think you will use the most you can even re-arrange the order of them.
Turn on the grid
The next tip staying in the camera app. Hit the cog in the top left corner and enable grid lines. These will help you compose better pictures.
Pay close attention to where the lines intersect. The rule of thirds in photography suggests that where these line crosses are where the human eye is naturally drawn to.
Ok, still in the camera; this is a double-edged tip. If you go to picture formats, you can enable raw and high-efficiency pictures, both of which hold more information than a regular JPEG which the phone defaults to.
Long story short, if you throw a Heif or raw image into any kind of imaging software, including Instagram, you’ll have more image data to play with.
Hit the cog again and this time, go to shooting methods. Explore these options for yourself. I personally like the palm shutter for selfies which allows you to snap a photo just by showing your palm to the camera.
Ok, thank you for making it this far and you know I had to save so bonus material for you guys. Check this one out.
Samsung has its own magic eraser feature for photos. Here’s how to use it open an image that you’ve taken where you want to remove an object or maybe someone who’s photobombed the picture. Hit the pens icon.
This opens the photo editor. Hit the three dots in the photo editor and select object eraser. Now see this pencil. Draw a circle around it, and TADA it’s gone.
Settings to keep
So within the Samsung camera app, there’s a lot to play with, such as filters beautification settings, just to name a few. Let’s say one day dial in perfect photo settings, and you want to recreate this look and style every time you use your smartphone in the future.
Here’s how you can keep your dialled-in settings as the default every time you use your camera.
Go to the camera, hit the cog, scroll to settings to keep. Here you lock in your current settings.
Alright, the final tip. Let’s say you walking home it’s dark there’s something strange in your neighbourhood…
And there is something weird, and it doesn’t look good. Who gonna call…
Well, this trick allows you to set up a way to send an emergency SOS message to someone just by pushing the power key three or four times, whatever you choose.
Go to settings/safety and emergency/
If you need to use this, it will automatically enable your GPS and Wi-Fi for location tracking, taking photos, and even auto call to someone.
This one is a last resort, but it’s there if you need it. In my opinion, it’s better to have it set up and not need it than to not set it up at all.
And on that note. If you guys got any kind of value out of these tips…a thumbs up would make my day. A subscription would make a month. There’s more Samsung content in the pipeline, so make sure your notifications are switched on.
I appreciate you guys checking out these other videos on screen for more WhatGear content.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review
I’m that 5G guy. I’ve actually been here for every “G.” I’ve reviewed well over a thousand products during 18 years working full-time at PCMag.com, including every generation of the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S. I also write a weekly newsletter, Fully Mobilized, where I obsess about phones and networks.
The Bottom Line
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is similar to the standard S21 model, but it costs 100 less and adds dual-SIM functionality to the company’s US phone lineup.
PCMag editors select and review products independently. If you buy through affiliate links, we may earn commissions, which help support our testing.
- Processing power is aggressively throttled
- Not much of an improvement over the Galaxy S21
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Specs
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE brings a critical niche feature to the US: dual SIM card slots to let you carry two cellular subscriptions at once. Outside of that, however, there simply isn’t much reason for this phone to exist. All around, the Galaxy S21 FE very slightly remixes last year’s 799.99 Galaxy S21 at a somewhat lower base price of 699.99. But considering it’s so similar to the previous model and coming out so close to the Galaxy S22 launch, it’s hard to recommend unless you’re specifically looking to buy a dual-SIM phone.
A Familiar Face
The Galaxy S21 FE comes in four attractive colors: dark gray, green, purple, or white. It has the S21’s beautiful basic design, with a matte back panel and the camera bump flush to the upper right corner, as opposed to the “floating” camera bump on the Galaxy S20 FE.
At 6.14 by 2.93 by 0.31 inches (HWD), it’s a bit bigger than the standard Galaxy S21 (5.97 by 2.80 by 0.31 inches), although it isn’t as big as the S21 Ultra (6.50 by 2.98 by 0.35 inches). From the front, it’s really difficult to tell it apart from an S20 FE or a base-model S21.
Since 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. See how we test. (Opens in a new window)
The phone sports an IP68 waterproof rating and has a 6.4-inch, 120Hz 2,340-by-1,080 display with an optical fingerprint sensor underneath. There is no SD card slot and no standard headphone jack. The S20 FE had a SIM tray with an SD card slot on the other side; the S21 FE exchanges the SD slot for a second SIM tray.
Just like the Galaxy S21, the S21 FE uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and runs Android 12 with Samsung’s usual extensions. Our model has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. There is also a model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
The phone appears to be more aggressively thermally throttled than other Samsung models we’ve tested recently. Our first few benchmark runs gave results looking much more like the S20 series than the S21 series.
Checking with the CPU Throttling Test app, which slams the CPU for 15 minutes, we found the S21 FE throttled back faster and harder than either the S20 FE or the S21 Ultra. But a quick touch to the back of the phone showed the problem wasn’t that it was running hot; it was that the S21 FE’s firmware was keeping it cooler than either the S20 FE or the S21 Ultra. So this intense throttling can change with firmware updates.
In real-life use, the S21 FE got noticeably warm when playing the extremely high-powered mobile game Genshin Impact, and while the controls were very responsive, we felt like the frame rate was slightly jerkier than it should be. We get the feeling that some software optimization is still needed, but that’s what happens when you test a phone before it launches (the S21 FE officially hits store shelves January 11).
The aggressive power management, along with the 1080p screen, helped give the phone good battery life even in 120Hz screen mode. We got 11 hours, 40 minutes of video playback time in our video rundown test, which should make for a full day’s worth of use. The phone’s 4,500mAh battery supports 25W wired and 15W wireless charging.
The Galaxy S21 FE has a real dual-SIM slot, which is very rare on a phone designed for the US—the slots even say SIM 1 and SIM 2. The model number is SM-G990U1/DS, which in Samsung parlance means “US model, factory unlocked, dual SIM,” which we’ve never seen before. Samsung confirmed that the dual-SIM model will be sold in the US. Carrier-sold models, tagged SM-G990U, have no SIM 2 slot. We’ve been told by carriers that the phone is physically eSIM capable, but may not have that function at launch.
That said, even on our SIM 2-capable model, the second SIM has been disabled in firmware. There is no option in the settings screen for a second SIM (or even an eSIM), and if you load only the second slot, the phone acts like it has no SIM at all. Samsung says it hopes to enable the functionality, but could not give a timeline.
Network-wise, the S21 FE has everything the S21 has and a little more: all models now come with millimeter-wave 5G (the S21 on ATT and T-Mobile only had mid-Band and low-Band 5G). Still, ATT and T-Mobile use so little millimeter-wave 5G, it’s not a big deal.
importantly, the Qualcomm X60 modem in the S21 FE supports the new C-Band networks launching this month from ATT and Verizon. The Galaxy S20 FE and earlier models didn’t. That can potentially make for big performance differences in 46 major US metro areas.
We recently benchmarked Google’s Pixel 6 Pro against the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which uses the same Qualcomm modem as the S21 FE. We found the Qualcomm modem to be superior in terms of signal quality and performance.
As for calls, quality and volume are on par with Samsung’s other recent flagships. Once again, there’s not much new to see here.
A Clear Camera
The S21 FE shares a rear camera system with the S21. Its three rear sensors are a 12MP, 123-degree ultra-wide; a 12MP main; and a 8MP 3x zoom. But its front camera has been majorly amped up, from 10MP on the S21 to 32MP here. We compared it with the S20 FE to see how Samsung has moved forward, especially if you have an older phone.
Daytime shots taken with the S20 FE (left) and the S21 FE (right) are nearly identical (Photo: Sascha Segan)
The S21 FE’s camera interface, and especially the fluidity of switching cameras, is much smoother than on the S20 FE. That comes down to improvements in the image signal processors on the Snapdragon 888.
All in all, photos taken in decent light on the S20 FE and the S21 FE look identical. The S21 FE has significantly better low-light performance, however, especially on the front camera. Selfies in low light taken with the S20 FE are a blurry mess; they’re much better on the S21 FE. Outdoor shots show noticeably more definition at night on the S21 FE than on the S20 FE.
Night shots on the S21 FE (right) have better definition than on the S20 FE (left) (Photo: Sascha Segan)
Here’s the thing, though—the same is true of the S21. (The S21’s front-facing camera has fewer megapixels than the S21 FE’s does, but it has similar low-light improvements.) And the S22 might be even better, for not much more money; we’ll see very soon.
Right Phone, Wrong Time?
The S21 FE is a fine phone, but it’s an odd product coming out at an odd time. Last year’s Galaxy S20 FE was a hit for several reasons. The primary S20 line, released right at the beginning of the pandemic, was overpriced and buggy. The S20 FE fixed that, six months later, delivering a reasonably priced phone that worked beautifully.
But the S21 line was terrific, and the S21 FE is coming out right before the S22 launches; the current expectation for the Galaxy S22, which may have a 799 base model with mysterious, fancy new features, is February.
And the Galaxy S22 isn’t the only new Samsung we’ll be seeing within the next few months. The lower-cost Galaxy A33, A43, A53, and A73 are all expected to show up soon, making your Samsung decision a complex one.
There’s not much for the FE to fix, and both our testing and the specs show it. There’s little this phone does that a base-model S21 with a price drop doesn’t do in a slightly more compact body. (The two exceptions are dual-SIM functionality and how all S21 FE models include millimeter-wave 5G, but outside of Verizon millimeter-wave is a rare technology, and the Verizon model of the S21 has it.)
Samsung says it’s getting rid of the base-model S21 with the launch of this phone, which means the S21 FE’s existence is probably more about arcane supply chain deals and marginal profit than about giving phone buyers anything new or useful. Once the S22 comes out, we’re betting there will be a ton of lightly used S21 models on the market for less than the S21 FE, and without any real advantages, it seems smarter to pick up an S21 than this model.
If you’re reading this in January and are shopping for a Samsung phone, our advice is to hold tight and wait for the S22 launch. Then we’ll see what new features the S22 family has to offer and how on used S21 units drop, potentially below the 699 the S21 FE lists for. If you’re reading this later in the year, we’ll have clearer guidance in our Galaxy S22 review.
That said, the Galaxy S21 FE is a perfectly good phone, and if you need to use two lines at once, it’s currently the only dual-physical-SIM flagship designed for US networks. That alone might be enough to seal the deal for you.