We're approaching the end of summer and that means it's iPhone 13 season, having just encountered Samsung's new foldables, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3. But Samsung may not have had its last word on phones for 2021, as many expect the phone make to still reveal the long-rumored (and likely delayed) Galaxy S21 FE.
This device that we've seen leak time and time again by now ought to be a stripped-down, more affordable Galaxy S21. Some rumors say Samsung will shave $100 off the base Galaxy S21's price for the new FE. And while we all like paying less for devices, that doesn't answer the question as to whether the Galaxy S21 FE is even necessary at this point.
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I'd argue that it's not. If Samsung hadn't cut the S21 series costs by $200 from the Galaxy S20 family's starting prices, I'd think differently. After all, a lower price was the whole point of the Galaxy S20 FE, which showed that Samsung learned from its mistake with the S20 series. The company carried that lesson over to the S21, meaning that a Galaxy S21 FE is no longer needed. Not really.
It's all about the price tag
The Galaxy S21 starts at $799, and rumors suggest that Samsung will launch the Galaxy S21 FE at $699. From what we've seen so far, the only noticeable difference between the S21 and S21 FE is that the latter might have 2GB less RAM. Some other specs could be scaled back from the S21 as well.
My colleague Philip Michaels staked a claim that the Galaxy S21 FE is, in fact, needed, given the new foldables' costs and drawbacks. He argued that the S21 FE could represent a "flagship features for less" aspect, drawing in consumers who otherwise can't afford flagship phones. In 2020, that was true when the base model Galaxy S20 started at a ludicrous $999. No one here is saying that the Galaxy S20 FE shouldn't have existed, because it very much needed to.
While $799 is still a lot of money for many people — especially with so many still struggling financially from the COVID-19 pandemic — is $699 that much better? There's no universal answer to that question. It depends on you and your situation, and what you want out of a smartphone.
The Galaxy S21 is an excellent phone in many regards, and Samsung is taking its phones seriously lately when it comes to updates. At $799, the S21 remains one of the best phones for the money — even better than the $729 OnePlus 9.
But Samsung's portfolio has become very crowded with the midrange Galaxy A series, which deliver plenty of value in their own right. The Galaxy A52 5G is a pretty feature rich phone, and its $499 price is less than what many expect the Galaxy S21 FE to cost.
From a business standpoint, is the Galaxy S21 FE worth potentially cannibalizing the Galaxy S21's sales potential? And for you the consumer, the better question to ask when the Galaxy S21 FE finally does (theoretically) land, why not wait for the Galaxy S22 that will likely come out a mere couple of months later? Rumors say that Samsung will release the S21 FE in late October and the S22 could come as soon as January 2022.
Galaxy S21 FE outlook
Had the Galaxy S21 FE launched earlier in 2021, or even alongside the Galaxy Z phones, I'd still be skeptical as to the need for it, but the phone would at least have some time in the spotlight before it's immediately made obsolete. Now, I think that the Galaxy S21 FE is too little too late. Even so, Samsung seems intent on getting this phone out. How it turns out, and what value proposition it makes, remains to be seen.
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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.