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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE looks dead in the US — here’s the best alternatives

An unofficial render of four Samsung Galaxy S21 FE devices in the four available colors: black, light green, light purple and grey
(Image credit: Snoreyn/LetsGoDigital)

Perhaps you've been waiting patiently for the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, the long-rumored though never-seen lower cost version of Samsung's Galaxy S21 flagship phone. If so, I'm here to give you some straight talk: Forget about the Galaxy S21 FE — you're never going to get your hands on it.

That's not to say that Samsung won't ship the phone, though it's had plenty of opportunities to deliver a follow-up to the Galaxy S20 FE and has neglected to do so. The current rumor suggests the S21 FE is still very much in Samsung's plans — so much so that it's pushing back the launch of the Galaxy S22 flagship by a month so that this low-cost option can land in January.

So why give up on the Galaxy S21 FE when its rumored release is so close. Because yet another rumor claims that the phone is only coming to select markets, and the U.S. isn't one of those. 

In a sense, that's a puzzling move by Samsung. The Galaxy S20 FE has proven to be a well-received phone, offering many of the Galaxy S20's features but for $300 less than that 2020 flagship's debut price. While a few tradeoffs had to be made on the the camera hardware included with the S20 FE, buyers got a very capable phone in return that offered the same processor and refresh rate as its more expensive sibling.

Of course, Samsung dropped prices on the Galaxy S21 lineup when it released those phones at the start of this year, so the price difference between a theoretical S21 FE and the rest of the lineup wouldn't be as significant as it was between the S20 FE and the other S20 models. Throw in the fact that Samsung has been steadily improving its midrange Galaxy A phones, and you can see the argument some people make that the Galaxy S21 FE serves no real purpose any more.

Even if Samsung does surprise us and make the Galaxy S21 FE widely available at the start of 2022, all you have to do is wait another month for the Galaxy S22's arrival for what figures to be a much more impressive phone that only costs a little bit more. (This assumes Samsung sticks to the pricing it rolled out with the S21.) But what if you need a phone right now and you're not willing to pay flagship prices? No worries there, as the Android market is loaded with options in the Galaxy S21 FE's rumored price range. And these phones have the advantage of actually existing.

So forget about the Galaxy S21 FE, and consider one of these devices instead.

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G held in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Let's say you're intent on sticking with a Samsung phone, but still think the Galaxy S21 — and presumably the Galaxy S22 — costs too much. No worries. As we mentioned, the Galaxy A phones are more capable devices than ever before, thanks to 5G connectivity and improved cameras. And the Galaxy A52 5G is the best of the current bunch.

For $499 — that's $300 less than the S21's listed starting price — the Galaxy A52 5G offers a display with a 120Hz refresh rate and a long-lasting battery. And as the name implies, you can connect to 5G networks where service is available. 

You won't see flagship-level performance — instead of a chipset from Qualcomm's leading Snapdragon 8 series, the Galaxy A52 5G runs on a Snapdragon 750G system-on-chip. Still, that's more than capable of handling what the average smartphone user can throw at it. And while there's no telephoto lens on the Galaxy A52, the 64MP main shooter delivers some solid photography. (We're less sold on the other lenses — a 12MP ultrawide shooter along with depth and macro sensors.)

With some eye-catching options available, the Galaxy A52 5G delivers a fun design. And while it never quite reaches the heights of Samsung's Galaxy S phones, the A52 is still a great choice at an unbeatable price.

Motorola Edge 5G UW

Motorola Edge 5G UW display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Motorola has a midrange 5G-capable phone of its own, and the Motorola Edge 5G UW works with Verizon's super-fast Ultra Wideband 5G network, if that's available in your area. Even if you don't live in one of the 80-plus cities where Verizon's installed Ultra Wideband, you can still access the carrier's nationwide 5G network, although that's a more modest speed boost over LTE.

The latest Motorola Edge is a big improvement over 2020's version, with better cameras and faster charging speeds. This phone can also offer a 144Hz refresh rate on its 6.8-inch display, though that feature can seriously hamper battery life.

Because of its Verizon connection, only Verizon customers should consider this Galaxy S21 FE alternative. But the carrier gives you a really good reason to do so as of this writing — you can get the Motorola Edge 5G UW for free at Verizon just by signing up for one of the carrier's unlimited data plans and committing to at least 24 months of service. That will save you the regular $549 cost of Motorola's new phone.

Google Pixel 6 or Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 6 camera module

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If we're supposed to be skipping over flagship phones in this search for a Galaxy S21 FE alternative, what's the Google Pixel 6 doing here? Because it's not priced like any flagship out there right now.

You can buy a Pixel 6 starting at $599 if you get the phone unlocked or buy it through select carriers such as T-Mobile. (AT&T and Verizon charge a little more for their version of Google's phone.) In exchange, you get Google's new Tensor silicon, which measures up to the performance of a Snapdragon 888-powered phone while also enabling some pretty clever machine learning-driven features. We're thinking of Magic Eraser, which can remove unwanted objects from your photos with a tap, and smart typing for accurately dictating text messages.

The cameras on the Pixel 6 perform better than ever in low-light situations and Google remains a leader in computational photography. The result is one of the best camera phones that surpasses whatever other Android makers come up with.

If the Pixel 6's price is too rich for your blood, you can always opt for the Pixel 5a, instead. There's no Tensor tricks here, as the Pixel 5a is powered by a Snapdragon 765G chipset. But the cameras are the best you'll find on a budget phone, and at $449, the Pixel 5a is the lowest-priced alternative you'll find to any would-be discounted Samsung flagship.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.