Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S21: The biggest differences

galaxy s21 fe vs galaxy s21
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Update: Following shortly after the Galaxy S21 FE came the Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22 Plus, and Galaxy S22 Ultra. These new phones offer clear upgrades over the Galaxy S21 FE and Galaxy S21, including better displays and cameras. 

Also note that the Galaxy S23 series is on the way. As such, we recommend that you use this comparison only if you find a particularly good deal on a Galaxy S21.

The original story follows.

There's a Galaxy S21 FE this year — better late than never, we suppose. The Galaxy S20 FE offered a compelling flagship-tier smartphone for $699. It was a killer value, especially when compared to the Galaxy S20 and Note 20 series. And from all appearances, the S20 FE sold good numbers. 

So it shouldn’t surprise you that Samsung released a Galaxy S21 FE to capitalize on the FE brand's good will. But there’s an obvious big bump in the road: the base model Galaxy S21 is now just $799, which is a $200 price drop from the previous model. That's not mention the price drops you can find in the best Galaxy S21 deals.

In this Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21 face-off, we’ll take a look at how these phones compare. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21: Price 

This will be the sticking point, as the Galaxy S21 FE sits between the base model Galaxy S21 ($799) and the mid-range Galaxy A52 5G ($499), not to mention the Galaxy A72 internationally. The Galaxy S20 FE came in at $699, and Samsung has stuck to that, despite it being only $100 less than the S21.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21: Design and display 

In 2020, the Galaxy S20 FE was a slightly slimmed-down, plastic version of the S20. On the surface, plastic on a Galaxy S device seems bad, but Samsung created a plastic-glass hybrid that feels like super premium plastic. For the Galaxy S21, Samsung brought that material over and it helped keep the cost of the S21 down.

For the S21 series, Samsung designed the camera module such that it blends nicely with the frame of the device, creating a smooth contour. The Galaxy S21 FE follows this design language, looking almost exactly like its S21 brother (except for the uniform color versus the S21's two-tone scheme).

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

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The S21 FE comes in Graphite, White, Olive, and Lavender. The S21 comes in Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom White, Phantom Gray.

For the S21’s display, Samsung went with a 6.5-inch FHD+ AMOLED panel with a variable refresh rate. The display could downclock to 48 Hz or crank up to 120 Hz when needed. You could also lock the display at 60 Hz to save on battery (which makes a noticeable difference on that phone). 

The Galaxy S21 FE sports a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED FHD+ display. The refresh rate locks to either 120Hz or 60Hz. There is no adaptive option on Samsung's latest phone, a noticeable difference between it and the regular S21.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21: Cameras 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

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Samsung prioritized the front-facing camera on the Galaxy S21 FE, giving it a 32MP resolution. On the back, it has a 12MP main lens, 12MP ultrawide, and a 8MP telephoto with 3x. That telephoto is a much lower resolution than the S21, though it keeps the same optical zoom level.

The Galaxy S21 has three rear cameras: a 12MP wide-angle, 12MP ultrawide, and a 64MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom. So if long-range photography matters to you, the regular S21 is the better option.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21: Performance 

This is where we see feature parity between the Galaxy S21 FE and Galaxy S21. The latter uses Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 processor with 8GB of RAM. The S21 FE uses the same system-on-chip, but Samsung lowered the RAM to 6GB instead of 8GB.

For storage, the S21 FE comes in 128GB and 256GB flavors. The Galaxy S21 also comes in 128GB and 256GB. Neither phone supports expandable storage, much to the chagrin of some.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21: Battery life and charging 

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

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One area where the Galaxy S21 FE could really improve upon the Galaxy S21 is battery life. The regular S21 isn’t bad with its 4,000 mAh power pack, but even on 60 Hz mode, it falls short of the 10-hour average we see with other phones in the Tom’s Guide battery test.

The handsets on our best phone battery life list all last 11 hours or more on a charge. Since the Galaxy S21 FE sports a 4,500 mAh battery, bigger than the S21, we hope Samsung will use this increase in size to include a larger battery. We're still running our tests on the S21 FE.

The S21 series didn’t come with chargers in the box, since Samsung took yet another page from Apple’s playbook. The Galaxy S21 tops out at just 25W for fast charging. The S21 FE does not feature faster charging: 25W wired, 15W wireless.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21: Outlook 

Samsung Galaxy S21 review

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All of this leaves us with some final thoughts. The Galaxy S21 FE comes in at $699, leaving us with a very crowded smartphone lineup from Samsung. This is a problem it already has with the large spread of the new Galaxy A series. 

The existence of a Galaxy S21 FE raises more questions than it offers solutions. In fact, I think the S21 FE is the answer to a question that no one really asked in the first place — it doesn’t seem like we need an FE model this year. That said, it will no doubt sell well, considering it’s a cheaper way to get into the Galaxy S family.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.