There’s a class in the smartphone market that has emerged over the previous few years that I’ll name “value flagships.” Buying one feels a bit like getting away with one thing — practically all the options of a high-end system with a considerably cheaper price. Phones like the iPhone SE, Pixel A-series, and Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE are classics of the style, combining the proper options for the proper value at the proper time. With its second entry in the class — the Galaxy S21 FE — Samsung is just a bit off the mark on all the components that will have made this an excellent worth flagship.
The S21 FE arrives very late in the S21 household’s product cycle, taking a few of the shine off of the “this year’s flagship for less” enchantment. It additionally gives just about every part you get from the normal S21, with the exception of a pair fewer gigs of RAM, a lower-quality telephoto digital camera, and a barely bigger display. But at $699 it’s additionally not considerably cheaper than the $799 S21. Considering that the S21 is usually discounted and that the S22 is more likely to arrive quickly, the S21 FE doesn’t appear to be a lot of a deal.
No doubt, the S21 FE is an efficient system. Its Snapdragon 888 processor and 6GB of RAM present seamless, quick efficiency for many duties. A 6.4-inch OLED display gives clean scrolling with its 120Hz refresh price. And even with an enormous, shiny, excessive refresh price display, its battery will take you thru a full day. It’s just laborious to advocate it to anybody when just $100 extra will get you the S21 — and $100 much less will purchase the excellent Google Pixel 6.
The S21 FE incorporates a 6.4-inch 1080p OLED display that’s shiny and vibrant with wealthy blacks — basic Samsung. Bezels are very slim, and that 120Hz refresh price makes animations and scrolling oh so clean. There’s Gorilla Glass Victus defending the entrance panel and the body is aluminum. A fast, dependable optical fingerprint scanner is embedded in the show. So far, so flagship.
The again is composite plastic reasonably than a higher-end glass panel, however such is the case with the S21, too. The S21 FE’s digital camera bump is plastic reasonably than the metallic end that bleeds into the chassis on the S21, in order that’s a bit little bit of a worth concession. But with the different high-end elements and a stunning display to have a look at, this looks like a tool on the very highest rung of the midrange ladder.
There’s a 4,500mAh battery on board that simply lasted by means of a day of reasonable use in my testing. Power customers might discover themselves in the single digit battery proportion at the finish of a day, particularly with the display smoothness setting at its 120Hz default. There’s no choice for a variable refresh price, which might assist preserve battery life whereas utilizing the greater refresh price setting — just normal 60Hz or 120Hz.
The S21 FE helps 15W fast-ish wi-fi charging and quicker 25W wired charging. An influence adapter is just not included in the field — just a USB-C cable. The S21 FE doesn’t assist quick charging over a pc’s USB port, so in order for you the greatest speeds and don’t have a suitable energy brick available you’ll want to purchase one.
The S21 FE contains the similar top-notch Snapdragon 888 processor as the remainder of the S21 collection, however gives 6GB of RAM as the base mannequin choice in comparison with the S21’s 8GB. I didn’t see this having any vital affect in day-to-day use; the S21 FE opens apps shortly and leaping between them is seamless. The telephone acquired heat enjoying Call of Duty Mobile however saved up with the motion. The solely place I discover a little bit of lag is in the stay preview utilizing portrait mode on the digital camera, however that’s a processing-intensive mode and I wouldn’t count on seamless rendering. For most functions, efficiency is excellent.
The S21 FE ships with Android 12-based One UI 4.0 and all of the new system customization choices it has to supply. If you set a photograph as your wallpaper, the telephone will counsel a complementary coloration palette to use to buttons and icons. You can even scale and modify your homescreen and lock display wallpaper independently. Best of all, the inventory climate app not options conspicuous advertisements at the high of the display — just some hyperlinks to clickbaity Weather Channel articles towards the backside, which I can stay with.
The S21 FE options the similar fundamental rear digital camera — a 12-megapixel f/1.8 module with optical stabilization — as the normal S21. The telephoto digital camera is totally different, although, with a a lot smaller 8-megapixel sensor and 3x optical zoom reasonably than the S21’s 64-megapixel 3x hybrid digital / optical zoom. Still, it’s a stabilized, true optical telephoto digital camera, and people aren’t precisely assured in the under-$800 class.
It is feasible to take 30x hybrid zoom photographs with the S21 FE, however the digital camera is working with lots much less information than the S21, so photographs at that size look (predictably) like watercolors. Photos at the native 3x zoom look significantly better — even in dim indoor lighting, I managed to get some acceptably sharp portrait mode photographs with the zoom lens. That isn’t any small feat for a tiny sensor. Personally, I’d want if the fundamental digital camera was the default for portrait mode reasonably than the zoom, however that may be just me.
The S21 FE’s fundamental digital camera performs nicely total. Photos are shiny and saturated, as we count on from Samsung, and evening mode renders a formidable quantity of element, offered your topic isn’t transferring. It can’t fairly match the Pixel 6’s digital camera for element retention, in both evening or normal capturing modes, and the S21 FE’s hotter, extra saturated look isn’t my favourite. It’s not the easiest digital camera in its class, but it surely does a reliably good job.
There’s an ultrawide digital camera, too, which is barely much less broad than the S21’s. The 32-megapixel front-facing digital camera is a fixed-focus affair, whereas the S21’s selfie cam gives autofocus. The first time you employ the selfie digital camera it asks you to decide on between “natural” and “bright” coloration tones. As somebody who prefers the pure setting, I recognize that I didn’t must dive into the menu to search out it. Both the ultrawide and selfie cameras do their jobs just superb, and I don’t suspect that potential S21 FE homeowners will care an excessive amount of about the variations between them and their S21 counterparts.
Despite all of these constructive qualities I just ran by means of, the S21 FE is a superb telephone that is smart for only a few individuals. Those who don’t have any specific allegiance to Samsung would most likely be very pleased with the Pixel 6 for $100 much less. It meets or exceeds the S21 FE’s capabilities in just about each means — it has a greater digital camera, is constructed with premium supplies on the back and front, features a little extra RAM, and gives comparable efficiency from its new Google-designed Tensor chip. True, you don’t get a telephoto digital camera (that’s reserved for the $899 6 Pro) and its high display refresh price is 90Hz, not 120Hz. If these options are price an additional $100 to you, then take into account the S21 FE. All others ought to proceed to the Pixel 6.
If you’re a dedicated Samsung Fan, you then most likely don’t thoughts paying an additional $100 for the S21 to get an additional couple of bells and whistles. In truth, you most likely have already. With its decrease value and composite again panel, the S21 is sort of already the Fan Edition of the S21 collection.
Still, there’s one thing to be mentioned for a telephone with a excellent assist coverage (three main OS updates and 4 years of safety updates), an honest telephoto digital camera, and (principally) top-shelf elements that prices nicely beneath $1,000. I’d sometimes steer potential consumers to the Pixel telephone for quicker software program updates, however Samsung seems to be dedicated to at the least getting the main OS updates out sooner than in earlier years.
The Galaxy S21 FE leaves me with little or no to complain about, however not lots to advocate it above the options. If you’ve held off this lengthy ready for it and also you don’t need to wait one other few weeks to see what the S22 may supply, then by all means purchase this telephone. But in case you’re extra of an informal observer than a fan, I don’t assume that is the system for you.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge