Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE really is for fans only

Typically a cellphone can do just about every part proper and nonetheless be sorta onerous to suggest. That’s the place I’m at with the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE.

Samsung’s newest (the FE stands for “Fan Version”) is considerably of reimagining of final yr’s Galaxy S21. On paper and, for probably the most half, in observe, it’s a formidable provide: An even bigger display and larger battery to go together with an identical triple-camera array and the identical premium Qualcomm Snapdragon processor because the S21 for $100 much less. Final yr’s flagship S21 launched at $800 and the S21 FE retails at $700.

And all of that is high-quality! It’s good, even. This is a really good Android cellphone that’s a greater worth than the unique S21. However the “Fan Version” a part of the title is apt; until you’re really dedicated to Samsung’s product ecosystem, there are higher values on the market on the earth of mid-range Android telephones.

A beefy lad

This display looks fantastic in person.


This show appears implausible in individual.
Credit score: molly flores / mashable

The very first thing you’re more likely to discover when you get your palms on the S21 FE is that it’s not precisely small. In reality, it’s truly just a little bit larger than the costlier S21. Sorry when you’ve got small palms — this cellphone isn’t for you.

Right here’s precisely how the specs shake out on the S21 FE versus its older counterpart:

  • 6.4-inch AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh price vs. 6.2-inch on S21

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor in each telephones

  • Rear triple-camera array: 12MP huge and ultrawide lenses, 8MP telephoto vs. 64MP telephoto lens on S21

  • 32MP entrance digicam vs.10MP on S21

  • 4,500mAh battery vs. 4,000mAh on S21

  • Both 6GB or 8GB RAM vs. 8GB only for S21

  • 128 or 256GB storage on each telephones

In different phrases, this is a barely larger cellphone than the S21 with an extremely excessive refresh price, a high-end processor, and barely altered cameras. You’ll need to spend $770 for the mannequin with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, which makes it only a $30 low cost from final yr’s 8GB/128GB mannequin. That’s…not a fantastic worth, actually. An additional yr (plus the approaching announcement of 2022’s Samsung flagships) would’ve ideally decreased the worth only a bit extra.

Apart from these variations, the 2 telephones are bodily and functionally fairly comparable. Just like the S21, the S21 FE has a razor-thin bezel across the show with the selfie cam nested in a hole-punch slot on the prime middle of the display. All three rear cameras are stacked in a vertical, rectangular bump on the plastic bottom of the cellphone. Energy and quantity buttons adorn the fitting facet whereas the underside contains a USB-C port for charging and a SIM slot. And at last, the S21 FE is available in 4 colours: graphite, lavender, white, and olive.


Plastic back with a camera bump.

Plastic again with a digicam bump.
Credit score: Molly flores / mashable

As I hinted at earlier than, the scale of the S21 FE is going to be a turn-off for some folks, myself included. I don’t have particularly small palms however I nonetheless need to two-hand the cellphone to navigate Instagram and Twitter as a result of the system-level again button is on the underside proper nook of the display, whereas many apps put necessary capabilities (like Instagram Tales) on the higher left nook. I lately needed to change my iPhone and went with the 2020 SE mannequin just because it’s smaller than the newer, fancier fashions.

Tech firms, please give us extra telephones we will use with one hand.

I additionally strongly really feel {that a} extra budget-friendly tackle a flagship ought to embody a 3.5mm headphone jack, however the S21 FE doesn’t have one. Individuals who need cheaper variations of telephones could not have costly Bluetooth headphones and shouldn’t have to purchase a USB-C dongle simply to make use of their wired earbuds. There are a number of methods through which 2020’s Google Pixel 5a is a greater worth than the S21 FE (and we’ll get to a few of them later), however a serious one is that Google’s $450 handset has a headphone jack.

Oh, another factor: Samsung says the S21 FE is able to quick charging like the opposite S21 fashions, however the FE doesn’t include a charger in any respect. A USB-C cable is included within the bundle, however I couldn’t take a look at out the quick charging as a result of I wasn’t going to shell out $50 for an official charging brick from Samsung. Large thumbs all the way down to all of that.

Extra measurement doesn’t imply much less velocity

Samsung could have minimize corners to (marginally) downsize the S21 FE’s worth, however the excellent news is that efficiency didn’t take successful.

The Snapdragon 888 5G processor from final yr’s telephones is nonetheless right here and nonetheless offers loads of juice for all of your every day smartphone duties. I may swap from researching the amusing, extraordinarily southern names of Georgia Bulldogs quarterbacks through the years (shout out to present Bulldogs like Stetson Bennett IV and Jack Vandagriff) to yammering about these names to my mates on Twitter and Discord with out a hitch. All of the whereas, I used to be streaming podcasts from Spotify and sometimes bopping over to YouTube to look at sport highlights or different such distractions.

This is admittedly helped by the blazing quick 120Hz refresh price. Every little thing simply feels so easy. A few different fast issues to notice about usability: Unlocking the cellphone through facial recognition and the in-display fingerprint sensor each labored virtually flawlessly for me. The fingerprint sensor on the S21 was irksome for our reviewer final yr, however not for me this time round.

I sincerely don’t have any complaints concerning the moment-to-moment strategy of utilizing the S21 FE. I only want I may do it for longer while not having to plug in.

Facial recognition via the selfie cam works just fine.

Facial recognition through the selfie cam works simply high-quality.
Credit score: molly flores / mashable

Greater battery, however may very well be higher

Maybe probably the most disappointing factor concerning the S21 FE is its battery life. I can’t instantly evaluate it to an S21 as a result of I don’t have a type of available, however the massive improve within the spec sheet wasn’t really mirrored once I truly used the dang factor.

To be extra particular, I acquired about 12 hours out of a full cost whereas doing the issues I at all times do on my cellphone: Streaming podcasts, vomiting my mind’s wastewater out onto my Twitter feed, often watching YouTube movies, studying articles about sports activities, and chatting with the homies on Discord. This additionally included a few comparatively temporary (about 45 minutes whole) excursions exterior into the 5G zone (extra on that in a second), which can have put just a little extra stress on the battery.

I suppose dropping the refresh price all the way down to 60Hz would avoid wasting battery, however why the heck would I do this? The good show is one of many important promoting factors of this cellphone. Compromising that simply to compensate for a battery that may very well be higher goes in opposition to every part I imagine.

That’s a tad dramatic, however the level is that there are different Android telephones on this worth vary that may final a lot, for much longer. As an example, Google’s Pixel 6 begins at $600 and may get you thru a complete day. You don’t even have to shell out the additional few Benjamins for the Pixel 6 Professional to get a battery that’s simply higher than what’s on provide within the S21 FE.

5G nonetheless isn’t dependable

Really wish there was a headphone jack down there, folks.

Really want there was a headphone jack down there, people.
Credit score: molly flores / mashable

As a fast apart, the S21 FE is a 5G-compatible cellphone and Samsung helpfully offered a 5G-ready SIM card from T-Cell for testing functions. As at all times, the standard of 5G service varies drastically not only relying on which metropolis you’re in, nevertheless it’s actually additionally all the way down to which road you’re on at occasions. Nevertheless, T-Cell is alleged to have one of the best 5G service round. That was not my expertise.

I used to be capable of get some respectable obtain speeds in my Brooklyn neighborhood, topping out at round 300Mbps. That’s high-quality! The only drawback is the community couldn’t maintain that constantly. Attempting to look at YouTube movies on the go in 1080p or greater resulted in frequent buffering breaks if I occurred to spherical a nook the place the sign wasn’t robust sufficient.

If, for some purpose, 5G is a serious promoting level of the S21 FE for you, I can’t promise a fantastic expertise in that regard.

Succesful cameras

I’m not actual thrilled about sure facets of the S21 FE, just like the battery life or the worth. However Samsung normally doesn’t fiddle with its cellphone cameras, and I’m blissful to report you can nonetheless get some really nice pictures on this barely downgraded set of lenses.

Specifically, I used to be impressed by the nighttime images function. This is commonplace fare in loads of telephones now, however generally post-processing for darkish photographs makes them look just a little an excessive amount of like they happen in pretend daytime as a substitute of capturing the texture of being out in darkness. Nighttime is nice. It’s atmospheric. My fellow Michael Mann-heads perceive this; Collateral would appear like crap if it happened throughout the day.

Anyway, nighttime pictures on the S21 FE look good.

A mysterious alleyway at night time.

Credit score: alex perry / mashable

Nonetheless at night time, however lots simpler to see.

Credit score: alex perry / mashable

After all, portrait mode is right here, too, and I’ve acquired no qualms with how these pictures come out on S21 FE. You possibly can regulate blur depth on the fly to provide simply the fitting bokeh impact for your photographs.

Love a good portrait mode.

Love portrait mode.
Credit score: molly flores / mashable

Probably the most noteworthy downgrade from the previous S21 is that the 64MP telephoto lens was changed with a measly 8MP one. Consequently, extremely zoomed in pictures don’t look tremendous sharp. You’re allowed to zoom as excessive as 30x, however I wouldn’t suggest that. Each shot I took like that turned out blurry and ugly.

Simply take a look at what the telephoto lens did to my boy Gengar!

The homie Gengar from up shut.

Credit score: alex perry / mashable

And from 30x zoom.

Credit score: alex perry / mashable

For all of the grousing I’ve finished about numerous setbacks with the S21 FE, not less than the cameras are nonetheless fairly darn good.

For Samsung fans only

On its deserves, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a high-performing Android cellphone that doesn’t price as a lot as a flagship, with a strong set of cameras and a very good show. I’d simply suggest it in a vacuum. Sadly for Samsung, we’re not in a vacuum and there are simply higher values on the market for Android lovers.

I simply can’t see a compelling purpose to go along with this cellphone over both the Pixel 5a or Pixel 6. The previous is an enormous low cost at $450 and has a significantly better battery, terrific cameras, and the all-important headphone jack. The only draw back is the 60Hz refresh price. If you need the next refresh price and don’t care a few headphone jack, the Pixel 6 is only $600 and delivers a 120Hz show to go together with a equally glorious battery and Google’s nice cameras.

The perfect case I could make for the S21 FE is in the event you really care about seamless connectivity between your cellphone and exterior Samsung gadgets just like the Galaxy Buds 2. Nevertheless, you’ll be able to simply obtain the Galaxy Wearable app from the Play Retailer, so even that is a minor inconvenience at worst.

In case you’re an enormous Samsung fan and may’t cope with Android telephones from different manufacturers, you’ll discover a lot to love concerning the Galaxy S21 FE. Everybody else ought to get a Pixel.

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