Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: just off the mark

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There’s a class successful the smartphone marketplace that has emerged implicit the past fewer years that I’ll telephone “value flagships.” Buying 1 feels a small similar getting distant with thing — astir each the features of a high-end instrumentality with a importantly little price. Phones similar the iPhone SE, Pixel A-series, and Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE are classics of the genre, combining the close features for the close terms astatine the close time. With its 2nd introduction successful the class — the Galaxy S21 FE — Samsung is conscionable a small disconnected the people connected each the elements that would person made this a large worth flagship.

The S21 FE arrives precise precocious successful the S21 family’s merchandise cycle, taking immoderate of the radiance disconnected of the “this year’s flagship for less” appeal. It besides offers conscionable astir everything you get from the modular S21, with the objection of a mates less gigs of RAM, a lower-quality telephoto camera, and a somewhat larger screen. But astatine $699 it’s besides not importantly cheaper than the $799 S21. Considering that the S21 is often discounted and that the S22 is apt to get soon, the S21 FE doesn’t look similar overmuch of a deal.

No doubt, the S21 FE is simply a bully device. Its Snapdragon 888 processor and 6GB of RAM supply seamless, accelerated show for astir tasks. A 6.4-inch OLED surface offers creaseless scrolling with its 120Hz refresh rate. And adjacent with a big, bright, precocious refresh complaint screen, its artillery volition instrumentality you done a afloat day. It’s conscionable hard to urge it to anyone erstwhile conscionable $100 much volition get you the S21 — and $100 little volition bargain the very bully Google Pixel 6.

The S21 FE’s 6.4-inch surface features a 120Hz refresh rate, making animations and scrolling ace smooth.

The S21 FE features a 6.4-inch 1080p OLED surface that’s agleam and vibrant with affluent blacks — classical Samsung. Bezels are precise slim, and that 120Hz refresh complaint makes animations and scrolling ohio truthful smooth. There’s Gorilla Glass Victus protecting the beforehand sheet and the framework is aluminum. A quick, reliable optical fingerprint scanner is embedded successful the display. So far, truthful flagship.

The backmost is composite integrative alternatively than a higher-end solid panel, but specified is the lawsuit with the S21, too. The S21 FE’s camera bump is integrative alternatively than the metallic decorativeness that bleeds into the chassis connected the S21, truthful that’s a small spot of a worth concession. But with the different high-end components and a beauteous surface to look at, this feels similar a instrumentality connected the precise highest rung of the midrange ladder.

There’s a 4,500mAh artillery connected committee that easy lasted done a time of mean usage successful my testing. Power users whitethorn find themselves successful the azygous digit artillery percent astatine the extremity of a day, particularly with the surface smoothness mounting astatine its 120Hz default. There’s nary enactment for a adaptable refresh rate, which would assistance conserve artillery beingness portion utilizing the higher refresh complaint mounting — conscionable modular 60Hz oregon 120Hz.

The S21 FE supports 15W fast-ish wireless charging and faster 25W wired charging. A powerfulness adapter is not included successful the container — conscionable a USB-C cable. The S21 FE doesn’t enactment accelerated charging implicit a computer’s USB port, truthful if you privation the champion speeds and don’t person a compatible powerfulness ceramic connected manus you’ll request to bargain one.

Overall show is fantabulous with a top-shelf Snapdragon 888 processor.

The S21 FE includes the aforesaid top-notch Snapdragon 888 processor arsenic the remainder of the S21 series, but offers 6GB of RAM arsenic the basal exemplary enactment compared to the S21’s 8GB. I didn’t spot this having immoderate important interaction successful day-to-day use; the S21 FE opens apps rapidly and jumping betwixt them is seamless. The telephone got lukewarm playing Call of Duty Mobile but kept up with the action. The lone spot I announcement a spot of lag is successful the unrecorded preview utilizing representation mode connected the camera, but that’s a processing-intensive mode and I wouldn’t expect seamless rendering. For astir purposes, show is precise good.

The S21 FE ships with Android 12-based One UI 4.0 and each of the caller strategy customization options it has to offer. If you acceptable a photograph arsenic your wallpaper, the telephone volition suggest a complementary colour palette to use to buttons and icons. You tin besides standard and set your homescreen and fastener surface wallpaper independently. Best of all, the banal upwind app nary longer features conspicuous ads astatine the apical of the surface — conscionable immoderate links to clickbaity Weather Channel articles toward the bottom, which I tin unrecorded with.

The S21 FE offers the aforesaid 12-megapixel rear camera arsenic the S21, but its ultrawide and telephoto modules are different.

The S21 FE features the aforesaid main rear camera — a 12-megapixel f/1.8 module with optical stabilization — arsenic the modular S21. The telephoto camera is different, though, with a overmuch smaller 8-megapixel sensor and 3x optical zoom alternatively than the S21’s 64-megapixel 3x hybrid integer / optical zoom. Still, it’s a stabilized, existent optical telephoto camera, and those aren’t precisely guaranteed successful the under-$800 class.

It is imaginable to instrumentality 30x hybrid zoom images with the S21 FE, but the camera is moving with a batch little information than the S21, truthful photos astatine that magnitude look (predictably) similar watercolors. Photos astatine the autochthonal 3x zoom look overmuch amended — adjacent successful dim indoor lighting, I managed to get immoderate acceptably crisp representation mode photos with the zoom lens. That is nary tiny feat for a tiny sensor. Personally, I’d similar if the main camera was the default for representation mode alternatively than the zoom, but that mightiness beryllium conscionable me.

The S21 FE’s main camera performs good overall. Photos are agleam and saturated, arsenic we expect from Samsung, and nighttime mode renders an awesome magnitude of detail, provided your taxable isn’t moving. It can’t rather lucifer the Pixel 6’s camera for item retention, successful either nighttime oregon modular shooting modes, and the S21 FE’s warmer, much saturated look isn’t my favorite. It’s not the precise champion camera successful its class, but it does a reliably bully job.

There’s an ultrawide camera, too, which is somewhat little wide than the S21’s. The 32-megapixel front-facing camera is simply a fixed-focus affair, whereas the S21’s selfie cam offers autofocus. The archetypal clip you usage the selfie camera it asks you to take betwixt “natural” and “bright” colour tones. As idiosyncratic who prefers the earthy setting, I admit that I didn’t person to dive into the paper to find it. Both the ultrawide and selfie cameras bash their jobs conscionable fine, and I don’t fishy that prospective S21 FE owners volition attraction excessively overmuch astir the differences betwixt them and their S21 counterparts.

The components are right, but the terms and timing permission the S21 FE successful a unusual spot.

Despite each of those affirmative qualities I conscionable ran through, the S21 FE is simply a good telephone that makes consciousness for precise fewer people. Those who don’t person immoderate peculiar allegiance to Samsung would astir apt beryllium precise blessed with the Pixel 6 for $100 less. It meets oregon exceeds the S21 FE’s capabilities successful conscionable astir each mode — it has a amended camera, is built with premium materials connected the beforehand and back, includes a small much RAM, and offers comparable show from its caller Google-designed Tensor chip. True, you don’t get a telephoto camera (that’s reserved for the $899 6 Pro) and its apical surface refresh complaint is 90Hz, not 120Hz. If those features are worthy an other $100 to you, past see the S21 FE. All others should proceed to the Pixel 6.

If you are a committed Samsung Fan, past you astir apt don’t caput paying an other $100 for the S21 to get an other mates of bells and whistles. In fact, you astir apt person already. With its little outgo and composite backmost panel, the S21 is benignant of already the Fan Edition of the S21 series.

Still, there’s thing to beryllium said for a telephone with a very bully enactment policy (three large OS updates and 4 years of information updates), a decent telephoto camera, and (mostly) top-shelf components that costs good nether $1,000. I’d typically steer imaginable buyers to the Pixel telephone for faster bundle updates, but Samsung appears to beryllium committed to astatine slightest getting the large OS updates retired earlier than successful erstwhile years.

The Galaxy S21 FE leaves maine with precise small to kick about, but not a batch to urge it supra the alternatives. If you’ve held disconnected this agelong waiting for it and you don’t privation to hold different fewer weeks to spot what the S22 mightiness offer, past by each means bargain this phone. But if you’re much of a casual perceiver than a fan, I don’t deliberation this is the instrumentality for you.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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