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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: What's the difference?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S21
(Image credit: Future)

Comparing the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE is a frustrating game of spot the difference. Despite launching over a year apart, Samsung hasn't changed that much between these two entry-level flagship phones.

The changes that have been made are still important to look at though. The Galaxy S21 FE offers a lighter design, new camera improvements and features and better performance. But other aspects have remained the same, such as the display, battery, charging and price. 

Our Galaxy S21 FE review is still in progress, so don't be alarmed if you come back to this page later and find some of our conclusions have changed. For now, though, this is our current breakdown of Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE.

 Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: specs

Galaxy S21 FEGalaxy S20 FE
Starting price$699$699
Display6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2400x1080)6.5-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2400x1080)
Refresh rate60Hz/120Hz, fixed60Hz/120Hz, fixed
Rear cameras12MP main (ƒ/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 8MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) with 3x optical zoom12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 8MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) with 3x optical zoom
Front camera32MP (ƒ/2.2)32MP (ƒ/2.2)
ChipsetSnapdragon 888Snapdragon 865
RAM6GB/8GB6GB/8GB
Storage128GB/256GB, non-expandable128GB/256GB, expandable up to 1TB
Battery4,500 mAh4,500 mAh
Charging25W wired, 15W wireless25W wired, 15W wireless
Size6.1 x 2.9 x 0.31 inches6.3 x 2.9 x 0.33 inches
Weight6.2 ounces6.7 ounces

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE officially launches on January 11 for $699. The Galaxy S20 FE currently has the same price, but we would expect a price reduction once the S21 FE goes on sale. Our guess is $100 off but we'll see. 

 Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: design

You'd struggle to tell the difference between these phones from the front. The pair of them both use rounded corners, and feature a central punch-hole camera at the top of the display. 

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The backs are still similar, but you can at least tell them apart. The Galaxy S21 FE has a redesigned camera bump compared to the Galaxy S20 FE, which reflects the "contour cut" camera block of the normal Galaxy S21. Both phones still use a plastic back, a feature that helps lower the price of components.

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Perhaps as a result of its smaller 6.4-inch size, the S21 FE is also a little lighter at 6.2 ounces (177g) compared to the 6.5-inch S20 FE (6.7 ounces/190g). This could be good news for those users who like smaller, lighter devices either for comfort or practicality.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (Image credit: Future)

Samsung's shrunk the available color options of the S21 FE to four, compared to the S20 FE's six. The S21 FE is available in black, white, olive green or lavender. Meanwhile, the S20 FE can be found in navy, lavender, mint, red, white and orange, although you may not be able to find every color available from every carrier or retailer.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: display

There's a very slight size difference between the two FE phones. The Galaxy S20 FE had a 6.5-inch display, while the Galaxy S21 FE has a 6.4-inch one. Both use FHD OLED panels with 120Hz maximum refresh rates, but that refresh rate can only be toggled manually.

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The most meaningful difference for these display is what they're made of. On the Galaxy S21 FE, you get a Gorilla Glass Victus panel, one of the strongest smartphone materials out there right now. The S20 FE uses Gorilla Glass 3, an older standard. That means that the S21 FE's screen should be able to better withstand scratches and other damage. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review display

(Image credit: Future)

The S21 FE's display has a few other enhancements over the S20 FE's. It was slightly brighter in our testing, averaging at 700 nits compared to 679 nits. It also is slightly more color accurate, with a delta-E score of 0.29 compared to 0.3 (lower numbers are better).

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: cameras

There appears to be absolutely no difference between the camera packages on these phones, at least in terms of specs. On the back, both use a 12MP main camera, a 12MP ultrawide camera and an 8MP telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom. On the front, both have a 32MP selfie camera.

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The real changes come in the software. New to the S21 FE's arsenal is an improved Night Mode for low-light shots, simultaneous video recording for the front and rear cameras, and Zoom Lock for steadier telephoto images.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE cameras

(Image credit: Future)

We have yet to put the S21 FE's cameras through their paces, so check back later when we have some images to show you the difference between these phones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: performance and 5G

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Here lies the biggest update between the S21 FE and the S20 FE. Samsung uses the Snapdragon 888 in the S21 FE, but the Snapdragon 865 in the S20 FE 5G, or an Exynos 990 chipset in the 4G version available in certain markets. Either way, the S21 FE does better on the benchmarks as a result of its newer chipset. It scored 3,199 on the Geekbench 5 CPU benchmark, while the S20 FE 5G managed 2,928. 

Depending on the specs, these phones can have 6GB or 8GB RAM with 128GB storage, or with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. However, in the S20 FE's case, you can expand that storage with a microSD card, something you can't do on the S21 FE.

Both phones support 5G, but it's not a given on the S20 FE. There is a 4G version of this phone sold in Europe, where it acted as a cheaper option alongside the same S20 FE sold in the rest of the world. There's no such difference this time; the S21 FE is 5G-ready around the world, with no 4G option. In fact, you can use two 5G SIM cards in the S21 FE since it has a double-sided SIM tray. This won't be useful for everyone, but it can be a benefit for users who need to regularly use two different phone numbers and want a single device to manage both.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: battery and charging

Both phones use 4,500 mAh batteries with 25W wired charging and 10W wireless charging, although only the Galaxy S20 FE comes with a charger in the box (albeit a 15W one). The S21 FE ships without a charger, so you'll have to dig out a spare or buy one separately.

We've yet to test the Galaxy S21 FE with our custom battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over 5G networks until the power runs out. We're hoping that it does a lot better than the S20 FE, which managed a disappointing sub-9 hour result. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: software

There's a big difference here. The Galaxy S20 FE launched with Android 10 (in the form of One UI 2), the standard for 2020 when it arrived, and can now be upgraded to Android 11. But by launching much later than predicted, the Galaxy S21 FE is arriving with the Android 12-based One UI 4. This gives it lots of new features, including new widget designs, enhanced privacy and greater customization for how the different parts of your phone's interface look.

Samsung galaxy s21 fe review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It's likely that Samsung will eventually introduce the Android 12 version of One UI to the S20 FE. However, as an older phone, Samsung will abandon big OS updates for it sooner than it will for the freshly launched S21 FE. You'll still get security updates to keep the S20 FE safe after this point, but you'll lose out on whatever Samsung or Google's software teams cook up for future editions of One UI and Android.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE: bottom line

When it launched, we called the Galaxy S20 FE a "value triumph." That's less the case for the S21 FE, which doesn't change that much while still remaining the same price.

There are still good reasons to pick up the newer phone. In the S21 FE's favor, you've got a more powerful chip, new photography abilities, more recent Android 12 software and a more compact, lighter body. On the other hand, the S20 FE matches the S21 FE for camera hardware, battery size and charging and 5G support. It's also likely going to get much cheaper once the S21 FE goes on sale, assuming you can find it in stock.

This is one of those phone comparisons where the differences are simply not that great. However, it's disappointing to see a Samsung phone from 2020 match up so closely to one that's only just arriving now in 2022.

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.