Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review: A little too late, a little too costly

The fan inspired phone of 2021

The Pros

  • Nice design
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • Good battery

The Cons

  • $949 seems too expensive
  • Same cameras as last year
  • Came out too late

After several rumoured delays reportedly due to chip shortage issues, Samsung has finally released the Galaxy S21 Fan Edition (FE). The South Korean tech giant describes the S21 FE as taking “what you love most” about the S21 series to create the “ultimate fan-inspired phone…”

While there’s some truth to this statement, the S21 FE offers a grab bag of features with a mix of premium and mid-range specifications. This includes a 1080 x 2400 pixel resolution display with a 120Hz refresh rate, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, and a 4,500mAh battery alongside 12-megapixel cameras, and more.

Overall, the Galaxy S21 FE is a solid phone, but its Canadian price tag is a bit steep, and its January release is more than a little late considering the S22 series is looming on the horizon.

Pretty stylish

Last year, Samsung graced the world with various smartphones, including budget-tier, mid-range, flagship and foldable options. The S21 FE sits comfortably between a mid-range and a flagship device regarding its specs and design. The phone offers a similar design to the Galaxy S21 but features more squared edges that make it look similar to Note-series devices.

The device measures 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm, making it smaller than the S21+ but bigger than the S21. Despite the S21 FE offering the same display size as the Pixel 6, Google’s smartphone is quite a bit larger and heavier than the S21 FE. This makes Samsung’s device the better choice for those who don’t have large hands.

Alongside these dimensions, the S21 FE sports an ‘Infinity-O’ display with a hole punch camera in the top middle of its front panel. I’m using the ‘White’ S21 FE, which offers a matte backing that doesn’t attract fingerprints or smudges. The phone also comes in ‘Olive Green,’ ‘Graphite’ and ‘Lavender.’ Additionally, in the top left corner, the handset sports a camera bump that blends into the rest of the phone’s design. There are two 12-megapixel shooters and an 8-megapixel telephoto on this camera bump. To the right of the camera module, there’s an LED flash.

The sides of the smartphone are silver and look quite stylish. In fact, the design is LG’s V60 ThinQ in a way. Overall, the S21 FE phone feels less premium than its other S21 counterparts and is almost like a toy in a way. On the plus side, it’s still a stylish device and is much lighter than the rest of the S21 line.

The S21 FE features a 1080 x 2400 pixel resolution display, which aligns with the S21+ and S21. While I found the 1080 x 2400 pixel resolution ridiculous on the $1,399.99 S21+, it’s more acceptable on a cheaper smartphone.

Thankfully, the screen still features a higher 120Hz display refresh rate, making scrolling and playing games a much smoother experience. Images and videos are pretty middle-of-the-road, but smaller screens don’t need anything all that special.

Full-day battery

Alongside decent specifications, the S21 FE features dual speakers on the top and bottom of the device. The speakers are good enough to provide background music when you’re hanging out with friends or roommates but aren’t spectacular.

Using a Sound Meter app, I determined the S21 FE’s speakers are louder than the S21+ and typically peaked around 72 to 74 decibels.

The S21 FE’s battery easily lasted a day with moderate usage. Unlike other S21 phones, the FE lacks a variable refresh rate, so it’s being forced to stay at a 120Hz refresh rate even when the display is static. I kept my S21 FE at 120Hz, which means I could have even gotten more out of the battery if I wanted to use the lower refresh rate.

2021’s flagship processor


Of course, a smartphone’s display and design aren’t all that matters. In Canada, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE features Qualcomm’s 2021 highest-end processor, the Snapdragon 888. The chipset is speedy and handles everything I put it through with ease.

However, the phone can only support having about eight to ten apps open at once. This is likely because the smartphone features just 6GB of RAM. However, I didn’t find this a significant issue during my time with the device.

Benchmark-wise, the S21 FE hit a multi-core score of 2,845 and a single-core score of 884 on Geekbench, which is pretty good but lower than the S21+, which offered the same processor, but a multi-core score of 3,244 and a single-core score of 1,065. We typically don’t put much stock into benchmarks because phones with a lot lower scores, like the Pixel 5, for example, still run great.

The S21 FE comes with Android 12 with One UI 4.0 out-of-the-box. Like other Android 12 devices, when you set a photo as your wallpaper, the handset offers a complementary colour palette that applies to buttons and icons.

The same shooters

The S21 FE’s cameras are the same as the S20 FE’s, which is disappointing. Despite this shortcoming, the pictures it shoots are still pretty great. Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE sports a 12-megapixel primary shooter, an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom and a 12-megapixel ultrawide shooter.

You can see some of Samsung’s scene optimization at work when taking pictures, making each shot more vibrant and slightly oversaturated, but I don’t mind it anymore. I thought photos were detailed, clear, crisp and offered a great range of colour as well as superb contrast. With the pandemic at its height -- yet again -- I didn’t take many photos of other people since I hadn’t seen my friends or family in quite some time, which means that I haven’t been able to test out the portrait mode or how the S21 FE handles pictures of faces with beards or long hair.



The camera experience was very familiar to the Galaxy S20 FE and isn’t as good as the S21 Ultra, which offers more telephoto range and more precise details and shots.

Mix bag of treats

Most will compare the S21 FE with the Pixel 6 as both phones offer similar specifications. The $949 S21 FE sports a higher refresh rate and a telephoto camera, but the Pixel 6 offers a pure Android experience, 8GB of RAM, a 50-megapixel primary shooter, faster charging, a slightly larger battery and costs $799.

In theory, the S21 FE should be in a similar price range to the Pixel 6, but the device is $150 more expensive. Price aside, the device is also launching relatively late, given the S22 series’ reveal is just around the corner.

The South Korean company will reveal the S22 early next month with a next-gen processor and better specs. With that in mind, most Samsung “fans” will want to wait until February to buy the newer device instead of opting for the S21 FE.

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE is a good smartphone offering some flagship specs and a stylish design but also sports an alright screen and camera setup Unfortunately, the phone costs $949, which is a bit much when devices like the Pixel 6 are available for less.

Samsung's latest Galaxy S21 FE 5G is available to order from Best Buy for $949.99 and $1,039.99 for the 128GB/6GB and 256GB/8GB variants, respectively.

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"Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE is a good smartphone offering some flagship specs and a stylish design but also sports a lacklustre screen and a repeated camera setup."