Samsung’s Android smartphone experience has always been different from Google’s version of Android. It has changed a fair bit from the company’s TouchWiz days, but the overall software experience remains as different from conventional Android as it was before. The new Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G comes with the latest edition of its OneUI, with Android 12 as its platform. The problem, though, is that Samsung’s new Android doesn’t feel new.
In fact, it feels exactly like how Samsung’s 2021 flagship smartphones did at the start of last year. Given that we are about a month away from the company’s new crop of flagships, this may be a key factor to consider. The Galaxy S21 FE, which stands for ‘Fan Edition’ in the company’s jargon, launches at ₹49,999 for the 8GB memory and 128GB storage edition. In comparison, the standard version of 2021’s Galaxy S21 costs ₹64,990 today for largely similar specifications.
This basically means that Samsung is asking you to avoid the older S21, in favour of the new S21 FE. You save about ₹15,000, in return of which you get a slightly larger display (6.4-inch here instead of 6.2-inch on the S21), the same level of performance for all your games, photography, social media, work and whatever else you please, a slightly larger battery and arguably the same camera experience, too.
What, then, is the difference here? As a buyer, it totally makes sense to buy the Galaxy S21 FE today. You get the same display quality, which is typically Samsung — bright, and with an added saturation in the colour tone it produces. It also has 120Hz refresh rate, which makes things on the display play out almost as smoothly as most phones can today. What it misses is the variable refresh rate feature of the S21, so you can either choose the smooth 120Hz refresh rate or the old-school, now-stuttery 60Hz.
On the S21, this would save you some battery — at least theoretically. Other compromises that you make is the use of an optical, under-display fingerprint sensor instead of an ultrasonic one on the S21. The 3x optical telephoto unit in the three-camera module at the back is an 8MP one, and not the 64MP one in the 2021 flagship. The battery is also slightly larger — a 4,500mAh one here, with 25W fast charging.
The latter isn’t exactly fast by today’s standards, but practicality wise, it’s not entirely not doable. If you’re particular about buying a Samsung phone only, this is anyway the best that you get. The overall battery life isn’t too bad — an average day’s work with an hour’s music via Bluetooth, 30 minutes of gaming, two video conferences and an hour of watching shows would make the phone last for a little more than eight hours. If you start the day at around 9PM, you’d need a second, 30-minute charge at around 5PM to see you through until bedtime.
All tasks run as smoothly as you’d expect from a new Android phone with near-flagship specifications. This means that you can switch from your emails to messaging to a loaded browser without any real stutter. Will this hold up over time? It probably will work just fine for at least a couple of years, if Samsung’s previous flagships act as any precedent.
Gaming is fine, too. Some of the more graphic-intensive titles such as Ark: Survival Evolved, Call of Duty: Mobile, Sky: Children of the Night and Asphalt 9: Legends all play at their high graphics settings without any major stutter, and look good as well. As a casual gamer, you won’t have any complaints.
The camera is decent as well. Samsung has gotten better at processing its portrait mode, so its portrait mode on the S21 FE looks quite good. In overall terms, the camera on the smartphone is fairly versatile for most use cases — be it in low light, for portraits and for landscape, which are arguably the most common use cases for the camera for most users.
The front camera is a 32MP one, which is good enough for the average selfie and most video conferences, too. Even if you’re particularly picky about your selfies, you’re mostly not going to be disappointed.
To sum up, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has nothing wrong with it. The overall design of the phone is a generation old, but it doesn’t look dated. The Android experience ruins anything potentially new about Android 12, and the already existing design means that this smartphone feels iterative at best. If you want a phone that looks and feels particularly new, this one’s not it.
However, if you want a phone that is functional and works in almost every way, the S21 FE is a good bargain for a near-flagship Samsung experience. It’s still not the jazzy purple-gold metal-laden device that the original S21 was, but with all essentials in place, offers just as much to a smartphone as K-pop does to today’s music.