Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Review

The Inbetweeners

from ₹ 54,999

There are flagships, there are flagship killers, and then there are those that comfortably sit between the two. Some call them value flagships, others not-so-flagship flagship (I might have made that up), while us British sitcom fans would prefer calling them ‘The Inbetweeners’. 
Whatever the terminology, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is that device. It offers all the premium-ness of a high-end smartphone, but without the price tag. Having used the Galaxy S21 FE for the past couple of weeks, here’s our review.

Design: Basic, yet familiar

You’ll be forgiven for mistaking the Galaxy S21 FE for the Galaxy S21, because they look like siblings lost at the Kumbh Mela. They are almost identical from the front, with the newer device being a shade larger and heavier. 
Samsung though seems to have hit upon a magical formula to get the size and weight just right for comfortable one-handed use. In these times of glass and metal phones where using them is a daily workout for your palms, a lightweight and easy-to-hold phone is a welcome change.

The similarity in design is also seen at the back, but look closer, and you will notice the differences. Instead of the glass back, the FE is all plastic. But it is the more inviting kind that begs you to caress it, alleviating any traces of cheapness or cost-cutting. The use of plastic also means you won’t easily notice the wear and tear after a few weeks of use. 
Those who live their lives on the edge and enjoy using phones by the pool or on the pot, will appreciate the IP68 rating. This makes the device waterproof, and it can be fully submerged at a depth of up to 1.5 metres. Basically, in the time we’ve been using the phone, at no point have we felt the need to put it in an ugly case.

Display: OLED baby!

The smartphone flaunts a 6.4in AMOLED display that’s bright and vibrant with deep blacks – classic Samsung. Bezels around the screen are almost non-existent, and the 120Hz refresh rate makes animations and scrolling oh so smooth. Protecting the screen is Corning’s top-grade Gorilla Glass Victus, which should help keep scratches off. 
There's also a fingerprint scanner hiding beneath the display. On paper, Samsung seems to have cut costs by ditching the ultrasonic sensor for an optical sensor. But in day-to-day use, it’s difficult to tell the difference, and the sensor on the FE was quick to register prints and equally quick to unlock.

Performance: Smooth as butter

Under the hood is an Exynos 2100 chipset, which also powers last year’s Galaxy S21. So you can pretty much guess what we’re going to say next. Performance is silky smooth whether you’re swiping across home screens, opening or switching between apps, binging on high-res videos or playing graphic-intensive games. 
Even with graphics settings cranked to max, games like Asphalt 9: Legends or Call of Duty Mobile worked almost flawlessly. The only indication of the phone working hard was the back panel getting warm after a few minutes of gaming. 

A lot of that impressive performance is down to the UI. The FE runs Android 12 out-of-the-box with One UI 4.0 on top. In our books, the One UI is among the best interfaces in the Android world, and the FE’s performance is another great example of that. It can be minimalist for those who prefer simplicity, while also offering a host of customisation options for those who prefer having more control on how their phone looks.

Battery life: Long and slow

The 4,500mAh battery powering the Galaxy S21 FE feels adequate courtesy of the optimised hardware and software combo. Even with heavy usage, you’re still left with a single digit battery percentage by bedtime. A more judicious usage will easily push your need for a charger to the next day. 
While that is the least you can expect from a flagship-level device, the FE does fall short in the charging department. For one, there is no charger in the box, so you have to rely on a charger lying around at home. When you do find a fast charger, the 25W fast-ish charging speed means you have to wait over an hour for the battery to fully juice up. In a time when phones costing less than half can fully charge in the time you take a coffee break, waiting over an hour feels like a compromise.

Cameras: The dependables

Samsung has a triple-cam setup similar to the Galaxy S21, and the primary 12MP sensor captures some beautifully detailed photos in daylight conditions. Colours tend to be saturated, but that’s Samsung for you, and is what its loyal fans crave. 
You can also shoot some nicely detailed photos after the sun has gone down. With Night Mode enabled, the sensor is able to capture quite a lot of details and keep noise in check, as long as the subject is dead or an inanimate object.

The 12MP ultra-wide and the 8MP telephoto lens too are both capable in different lighting conditions. The latter was able to take some great portrait shots at 3x zoom, which was quite impressive. But don’t expect a lot when zooming beyond 10x. 
We also didn’t find anything to complain about the 32MP front camera. Before your first photo, it will ask you whether you prefer ‘natural’ or ‘bright’ colour tones, and no matter your choice, it easily delivers some fantastic selfies.

Verdict: Should you buy?

There’s a lot to like about the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, but it is not easy to outright recommend this phone to anyone. First off, it is the awkward timing. Samsung is gearing up to launch its much-hyped Galaxy S22 series, and it should be arriving at our shores sometime this quarter. 
The other reason is the price, which at ₹54,999 and beyond, is a bit rich. There are other capable phones, including Samsung’s own Galaxy S20 FE, available at lower prices. It makes more sense to wait for the inevitable price drop before you put all your chips on the Galaxy S21 FE.

Stuff Says

A flagship-grade experience at a not-so-flagship-level price.
Good stuff
Bad stuff
  1. Vibrant display

  1. Smooth performance

  1. Runs Android 12 out-of-the-box

  1. Dependable cameras

  1. Not a massive upgrade

  1. Tad expensive at the moment

  1. Charging speeds need a boost

Display: 6.4in FHD+ AMOLED
Processor: Exynos 2100
Cameras: 12MP+12MP+8MP (rear) / 32MP (front)
Battery: 4,500mAh
OS: Android 12 One UI 4.0
Dimensions: 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm
Weight: 177 grams