Product Listing

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: Fan Edition again, but in a different sense

By Liu Hongzuo - 21 May 2022
Launch SRP: S$978

Benchmarks, Battery Life, Conclusion

Benchmark Performance

A quick word before we share the benchmark results of the Galaxy S21 FE.

To catch our benchmark results up to speed with modern benchmarking tools and processors, we’ve updated our process to better reflect modern phone demands. AnTuTu has remained unavailable from the Google Play Store for two years, and the benchmark is getting more prone to manipulation with the passage of time. We’ve since removed it from our tests and replaced it with newer benchmarks that better capture the overall performance of the phone, while letting us drive down into core performance areas we’d come to expect from these devices.

In a nutshell, we now employ separate benchmarks for GPU, CPU, web browsing, productivity, and storage, to help us ascertain if the phones tested can hold up in everyday use in ways their most often utilised.

Singapore gets the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE with an Exynos 2100 processor, instead of SD888 like other territories do. It’s the same chipset backing the local Galaxy S21 series phones here, putting the phone’s classification on par with budget flagship alternatives - phones with flagship-grade components at a lower price. For comparison, we’ve selected other 2021 budget flagship competitors and the base Galaxy S21 model to understand what the Galaxy S21 FE offers in our competitive landscape.

Note: The review unit we’ve received comes with 8GB+128GB of RAM and internal storage respectively. Samsung Singapore also has the 8GB+256GB variant for sale.

  Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Vivo X70 Pro Xiaomi 11T Pro ASUS ZenFone 8 Samsung Galaxy S21 Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
  Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Vivo X70 Pro Xiaomi 11T Pro ASUS ZenFone 8 Samsung Galaxy S21 Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Launch SRP
  • From S$978
  • From S$1199
  • From S$799
  • From S$999
  • From S$1248
  • From S$1068
Operating system
  • Android 12 (One UI 4)
  • Android 11 with Funtouch 12
  • Android 11 on MIUI 12
  • Android 11 on ZenUI
  • Android 11 (One UI 3)
  • Android 10 (One UI 2.1)
Processor
  • Samsung Exynos 2100
  • MediaTek Dimensity 1200
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Samsung Exynos 2100, 5nm octa-core (2.9GHz + 2.8GHz + 2.2GHz)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (2.8GHz)
Built-in Memory
  • 8GB
  • 12GB RAM, LPDDR4X
  • 8GB RAM (LPDDR5)
  • 12GB RAM (LPDDR5)
  • 8/16GB RAM (LPDDR5)
  • 8GB (LPDDR5)
  • 8GB (LPDDR5)
Display
  • 6.4-inch, Dynamic AMOLED 2x
  • 2,340 x 1,080 pixels
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 240Hz touch sampling rate
  • 6.56-inch / 2,376 x 1,080 pixels (~398 ppi) / 120Hz refresh rate / HDR10+ / AMOLED Display
  • 6.67-inch, 2,400 x 1,080 pixels, AMOLED DotDisplay, 20:9 ratio, 120Hz refresh rate, 480Hz touch sampling rate, HDR10+, DCI-P3
  • 5.9-inches 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (445 ppi) AMOLED, 20:9 ratio, 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+, 1,100-nits brightness
  • 6.2-inch, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, Infinity-O
  • 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (421ppi)
  • 120Hz adaptive refresh rate
  • Eye Comfort Shield
  • 6.5-inch, Super AMOLED, Infinity-O
  • 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (407ppi)
  • 120Hz refresh rate
Camera
  • Rear:
  • 12MP, f/1.8, wide-angle. Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
  • 12MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide, 123° FOV,
  • 8MP, f/2.4, telephoto, 3x Optical Zoom
  • Front:
  • 32MP, f/2.2, portrait, tetra-binning, re-mosiac algorithm
  • Rear:
  • 50MP main camera, f/1.75, Gimbal Camera System
  • 12MP ultra-wide, f/2.2, 116° FOV
  • 12MP telephoto, f/1.98 2x optical zoom
  • 8MP periscope telephoto, f/3.4, 5x optical zoom
  • Front:
  • 32MP main, f/2.45
  • Rear:
  • 108MP main, 0.7μm pixel size, 2.1μm 4-in-1 Super Pixel, f/1.75
  • 8MP ultra-wide, 120° FOV, f/2.2
  • 5MP telemacro, f/2.4, 3-7cm AutoFocus
  • Front:
  • 16MP, f/2.45
  • Rear:
  • 64MP main, 1/1.7-inch sensor size, 0.8μm pixel size, 1.6μm with Quad Bayer, f/1.8, 4-axis OIS, 2x1 OCL PDAF
  • 12MP ultra-wide, 113° FOV, f/2.2, Dual PDAF, 4cm macro shooting
  • Front:
  • 12MP, 1.22μm pixel size, Dual PDAF
  • Rear:
  • 12MP, f/1.8, wide-angle 1.8µm, Dual Pixel AF, OIS
  • 12MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide, 1.4µm, 120° FOV
  • 64MP, f/2.0, telephoto, 0.8µm, PDAF, 3x Hybrid Optic Zoom
  • Front:
  • 10MP, f/2.2, portrait, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel AF
  • Rear:
  • 12MP, f/1.8, wide-angle 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
  • 12MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide, 1.12µm, 123° FOV,
  • 8MP, f/2.4, telephoto, 1.0µm, 3x Optical Zoom
  • Front:
  • 32MP, f/2.2, portrait, 0.8µm, tetra-binning, re-mosiac algorithm
Connectivity
  • LTE / 5G (Sub6)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE
  • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
  • NFC
  • Up to Wi-Fi 6 (2.4GHz, 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, GPS, OTG, Type-C USB 2.0
  • Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, L1+L5 GPS, G1 GLONASS, E1+E5a GALILEO, Beidou, USB-C, NFC
  • Wi-Fi 6/6E (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2x2 MIMO), Bluetooth 5.2, L1+L5 GPS, L1 GLONASS, E1+E5a GALILEO, USB-C, NFC, 3.5mm audio jack
  • LTE / 5G (NSA, SA, Sub6)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE
  • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
  • NFC
  • LTE / 5G (Sub6)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE
  • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
  • NFC
Storage Type
  • 128GB or 256GB
  • No MicroSD card slot
  • 256GB internal storage
  • 128/256GB internal storage (UFS 3.1), no MicroSD slot
  • 256GB internal storage, UFS 3.1
  • 256GB
  • No microSD card slot
  • 128GB or 256GB
  • microSDXC up to 1TB (uses shared SIM slot)
Battery
  • 4,500mAh
  • 25W Super Fast Charging
  • 15W Wireless Fast Charging
  • Wireless PowerShare
  • 4,500mAh
  • 44W FlashCharge
  • 5,000mAh
  • 120W wired fast-charging
  • 4,000mAh
  • 33W wired fast-charging
  • 4,000mAh
  • 25W Super Fast Charging
  • 15W Wireless Fast Charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 25W Super Fast Charging
  • 15W Wireless Fast Charging
  • Wireless PowerShare
Dimensions
  • 155.7 x 74.5 x7.9mm
  • 1.58.3 x 73.21 x 7.99mm (Cosmic Black)
  • 1.58.3 x 73.21 x 8.08mm (Aurora Dawn)
  • 164.1 x 76.9 x 8.8mm
  • 148 x 68.5 x 8.9mm
  • 71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9mm
  • 74.5 x 159.8 x 8.4mm
Weight
  • 177g
  • 183g (Cosmic Black)
  • 184g (Aurora Dawn)
  • 204g
  • 169g
  • 169g
  • 190g
Network:
  • 5G (NSA/SA), 4G, 3G
  • 5G/4G/3G/2G
Video Support
  • 8K30FPS, 4K60FPS, 1080p60FPS (front)


JetStream 2.0

JetStream 2 is a combination of a variety of JavaScript and Web Assembly benchmarks, including benchmarks that came before like SunSpider and Octane. It primarily tests for a system’s and browser’s ability in delivering a good web experience. It runs a total of 64 subtests, each weighted equally, with multiple iterations, and takes the geometric mean to compute the overall score. The higher the score, the better.

Geekbench 5

Geekbench CPU is a cross-platform processor benchmark that tests both single-core and multi-core performance with workloads that simulate real-world usage. Geekbench 5 scores are calibrated against a baseline score of 1000, which is the score of an Intel Core i3-8100. The higher the score, the better.

3DMark Wild Life (Unlimited)

3DMark Wild Life is a cross-platform benchmark for Windows, Android and Apple iOS for measuring GPU performance. Its graphics test consists of multiple scenes with variations in the amount of geometry, lights and post-processing effects, mirroring mobile games that are based on short bursts of intense activity. Wild Life uses the Vulkan graphics API on Windows PCs and Android devices. On iOS devices, it uses Metal.

In Unlimited mode, the benchmark runs offscreen using a fixed time step between frames. Unlimited mode renders exactly the same frames in every run on every device, regardless of resolution scaling. The higher the score, the better.

PCMark for Android - Work 3.0 and Storage 2.0

PCMark for Android is a benchmark for testing the performance of Android phones and tablets. The Work 3.0 test checks how the device handles common productivity tasks such as browsing the web, editing videos, working with documents and data, and editing photos. Storage 2.0 checks write-in and read-out performance for internal storage, external storage (if applicable), and SQLite database management. Together, the benchmarks can clue us in on how capable a phone is at handling everyday use. Work 3.0 scores are above, while Storage 2.0 scores are immediately below for each device - the higher the score, the better.

Since this is a newly introduced benchmark in our reviews, we’re building up our database of PCMark scores for Android phones.

Battery life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email

With its 4,500mAh battery, the Galaxy S21 FE squeezed out 666 minutes of continuous uptime before giving up the ghost. This is a little disappointing considering the almost similar S20 FE from last year has 100 minutes more run time. That said, it actually tallies with the rest - the regular S21 had 4,000mAh capacity and lower uptime, while the S21+ had 4,800mAh and lasted longer than the S21 FE (these phones all share the same chipset here).

Like the S20 FE, the S21 FE also offers 25W wired fast charging and 15W wireless fast charging with compatible charging pads. It took roughly 70 minutes for the S21 FE to charge from 0% to 100% on a third party fast-charger. Why third party? Because Samsung still refuses to bundle a charging adapter with its budget or premium flagship phones. We felt this more keenly considering how cheaper Chinese phones with SD888 come with fast-charging adapters in the box going anywhere from 30W to 120W.

 

Conclusion

With the previous Galaxy S20 FE, we said that Samsung defied expectations and made a true Fan Edition device that packed core flagship expectations into a budget flagship price tag without sacrificing quality.

The Galaxy S21 FE actually offers the same value for money, but repeating its winning formula does make it fall short in certain ways. For one, the improvements you get between Galaxy S20 FE and S21 FE are minor. Short of the added HDR10+ support and another year of software support, you’re not going to see any difference between these devices in day-to-day use. Coupled with Singapore getting Exynos 2100 processors for its Galaxy S21 FE units when other countries get Snapdragon 888, we can’t help but feel a little shortchanged. 

To add, holding another Samsung Unpacked barely a month after bringing S21 FE just doesn’t bode well for the decent budget flagship device. Now, Samsung has to contend with users holding on to their money to decide if they should take this handset, or the next generation of Galaxy S phones.

Despite the phone’s circumstances exacerbating its shortcomings, the Galaxy S21 FE is still a great budget flagship alternative. For one, it starts at just S$978. Considering how other alternatives from 2021 are officially priced at S$999 or higher (bar the Xiaomi 11T Pro), the Galaxy S21 FE is priced well below the competition it’s meant to take on.  It also comes with the brand's familiar UI and optimisations, so your browsing experience doesn't take a hit like how some Chinese UIs do.

Taken together, the consumer gets to pay slightly less than before, get HDR10+ support, with performance commensurate to other 2021 flagship phones. If you missed out on the S20 FE or S21 series and want a budget flagship upgrade, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE offers a fairly sensible upgrade path.

Interested in one? Don’t forget to check out all the pricing and availability details here.

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8.0
  • Design 7.5
  • Features 8
  • User-Friendliness 8.5
  • Performance 8
  • Value 9
The Good
Lower-than-before starting price
Flagship performance
Retains almost everything S20 FE had
HDR10+ support
5G-ready
The Bad
Average audio
No microSD expansion
Non-premium appearance with limited colours
No tangible difference from S20 FE
Late to the party (launched before Feb 2022 Unpacked)
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