Galaxy S21 FE hands-on: last year’s flagship no frills

At CES 2022 today, Samsung finally unveiled the Galaxy S21 FE (or “Fan Edition”) phone. This is basically a modified version of last year’s S21 that the company will sell for $700 as of January 11. That’s $100 less than the regular S21, and for the price, this year’s model offers the same 5nm processors, the same 120Hz refresh rate (in a slightly larger screen), and a similar triple camera system. However, the S21 FE has a bigger battery and comes with Android 12. We’ll have a full review soon, but based on our brief hands-on with a test unit, the S21 FE appears to be a well-rounded device.

At first glance, the S21 FE is not as eye-catching as last year’s flagship. While it has a similar bump in the top left corner for the camera module, the case doesn’t have a glossy finish like the original S21. I prefer the previous style – this one is rather bland. But the S21 FE feels sturdy and thanks to the matte finish, it’s also resistant to fingerprints

The S21 FE is also available in a different set of colors than the original: this time you have a choice of lavender, olive, silver or black (which is the color of my sample unit).

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

At 177 grams, the S21 FE is slightly heavier than the S21, which is reasonable considering the larger 6.4-inch screen of the newer model. The screen still runs at Full HD+ and looks bright and sharp. But don’t expect S Pen support here like you’d get on the S21+ and Ultra. Like the S21, the Fan Edition does not support Samsung’s stylus.

Size aside, the biggest difference between the S21 FE and the original model is in their rear cameras. While both versions have a similar 12-megapixel main camera with an aperture of af/1.8, the FE’s ultra-wide angle lens has a slightly wider field of view of 123 degrees. Also, the FE’s telephoto camera uses an 8-megapixel sensor, while that of the S21 is 64 megapixels, although they both offer 30x Space Zoom.

During my practice period with the S21 FE, I didn’t really thoroughly test the cameras and so far I haven’t noticed any major problems with image quality. Images came out colorful and clear. Oddly enough, the FE’s front camera is 32 megapixels sharp, while the original’s is only 10 megapixels. The selfies I’ve taken with it so far have indeed been razor sharp and individual strands of my damaged hair have been painfully clear.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

These adjustments are similar to how the S20 FE differed from the S20. Samsung said it has sold 10 million units of the S20 FE in just over a year since the phone’s launch in Q4 2020, making that model one of the best-selling Galaxy smartphones in the past year.

Since this is just a brief hands-on and not our full review, I can’t say yet how the S21 FE will compare to other phones in this price range. But it already faces stiff competition from the Pixel 6, which offers excellent cameras and software for the same price, albeit with a polarizing design.

While the combination of features for the relatively lower price tag could make the S21 FE an attractive phone for many Samsung fans, the company chose an inconvenient time to release this device. With the next generation of flagships on the horizon, Galaxy shoppers might be inclined to wait and see what the company might bring with that launch. Even if you’re about to buy a new Galaxy S-series handset, at least wait until we can test the S21 FE more extensively before spending your money.

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