Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Biggest differences we expect

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22
(Image credit: Tom's Guide, Let's Go Digital)

Picking from among the best Samsung phones figures to be a lot more complicated next month when we’re faced with a Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22 decision. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has already arrived this year, giving shoppers a low-cost version of Samsung’s current flagship. But that current flagship is about to get replaced.

Waiting in the wings is the Samsung Galaxy S22, an upgrade to the Galaxy S21 released last year. Samsung is holding a Galaxy Unpacked event on February 9, and all signs point to a trio of S22 phones debuting with improvements and enhancements to the models that are already on our best phones list. 

Samsung fans will probably want to wait until the Galaxy S22 models appear before deciding whether to grab one of the new flagships or save some money with the Galaxy S21 FE. But since we’ve heard so many rumors about Samsung’s S22 plans, it’s possible to do a preliminary Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22 comparison now. That way, you can get a better idea of which device is better suited for your needs. 

Because shoppers considering the lower-cost Galaxy S21 FE are unlikely to spring for the more expensive Galaxy S22 Plus and Galaxy S22 Ultra models, we'll confine our comparison to the entry-level Galaxy S22 and its rumored features.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Galaxy S21 FEGalaxy S22 (rumored)
Price$699$799 - $899
Screen size6.4 inches6.1 inches
Refresh rate120Hz, manually adjusted120Hz, adaptive
CPUSnapdragon 888Snapdragon 8 Gen 1/Exynos 2200
Storage128GB, 256GB128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras12MP main; 12MP ultrawide; 8MP telephoto50MP main; 12MP ultrawide, 12MP telephoto
Front camera32MP10MP
Battery size4,500 mAh3,800 mAh
ColorsBlack, white, lavender, greenBlack, green, pink, gold, white

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Price and availability

After a lengthy delay — we were expecting to see the Galaxy S21 FE in 2021 — Samsung released the budget edition of the S21 in January. The Galaxy S21 FE is on sale for $699 — a $100 discount from the regular S21. For context, the Galaxy S20 FE debuted at $300 less than the Galaxy S20, but Samsung charged much more for its flagships back then.

The smaller price difference between the Galaxy S21 FE and S21 accounts for some of the tepid response to the phone, but the FE is also hurt by how closely its launch was to the expected release of the Galaxy S22. Samsung is holding an Unpacked event on February 9, at which time we expect to see the latest flagships. If Samsung’s past release schedule is any indicator, that puts the Galaxy S22 on track to ship before the end of February.

The big question is whether the Galaxy S22 adopts the S21’s starting price of $799. While some rumors have claimed that there will be no price changes to this year’s entry level flagship, a late-breaking rumor hints that a price hike might be in the works. Specifically, this rumor suggests Samsung will charge $899 for the Galaxy S22, with the other models also seeing corresponding price hikes. That’s bad news for shoppers, but it does make the $699 Galaxy S21 FE a much attractive proposition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Design and display

The Galaxy S21 FE follows the course set by the Galaxy S20 FE by adopting the design of Galaxy S21, while scaling back a few features here and there. The look of the device is essentially the same as Samsung’s main flagship, and with the Galaxy S22 expected to change little of that design, the new model and the Galaxy S21 could look a lot alike, right down to the contour cut design in which the rear camera array blends into the side of the phone. (The S22 may use fancier materials than the primarily plastic S21 FE.)

Samsung galaxy s21 fe vs galaxy s22

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

The biggest difference is the display used by the two phones, and not just because the Galaxy S21 FE’s 6.4-inch AMOLED screen is expected to be larger than the 6.1-inch panel Samsung reportedly plans to use for the Galaxy S22. Both phones support a 120Hz refresh rate, but the Galaxy S21 FE’s refresh rate must be adjusted manually. Like the rest of the Galaxy S21 lineup, the S22 should feature an adaptive display that automatically adjusts the refresh rate based on your on-screen activity. That, in turn, should improve battery life.

Samsung Galaxy S22

Galaxy S22 (Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

In terms of colors, you can get the Galaxy S21 FE in black, lavender, olive and white. We’ve seen renders of the Galaxy S22 in black, white, green and pink, and there’s also rumors of a gold option.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Cameras

Here's an area where you're going to notice a difference between the Galaxy S1 FE and the Galaxy S22. Samsung tends to strip back the camera specs on its FE models, and that continued with the Galaxy S21 FE. The new phone features a 12MP main camera along with 12MP ultrawide and 8MP telephoto lenses. That telephoto lens is decidedly less powerful than the 64MP counterpart on the Galaxy S21, though the S21 FE does support a software-powered 30x Space Zoom capability.

Samsung galaxy s21 fe vs. Galaxy S22

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

That said, the Galaxy S21 FE holds up pretty well when you compare its camera output to other top phones. Our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Google Pixel 6 face-off gave the camera edge to Google’s phone, for example, but the gap wasn’t that big. And the S21 FE produced better zooms and impressive low-light photos thanks to an improved night mode.

Galaxy s21 FE vs. Galaxy S22

Galaxy S22 (Image credit: Evan Blass)

Still, you’d expect a gap between what the Galaxy S21 FE can do and what Samsung has planned for the Galaxy S22. Supposedly, that upcoming flagship is getting a much more powerful main camera with a 50MP sensor. The telephoto lens is also supposed to get an upgrade from a hybrid zoom to an optical one. And the S22 may be able to support 8K video capture at 60 frames per second. (The S21 FE tops out at 4K video capture.)

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Performance and software

The Galaxy S21 family is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip, and the Galaxy S21 FE to follow suit. That's good news since Qualcomm's chip powers some of the best-performing Android phones that came out last year. In our testing, the Galaxy S21 FE produced results that were in line with those devices, though its Geekbench scores were slightly lower than the standard S21. That’s likely due to the fact that the base S21 FE model only features 6GB of memory.

Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S22

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

We expect the Galaxy S22 to feature a little more horsepower under the hood with the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, at least for models released in the U.S. European customers are supposed to get an Exynos 2200-powered Galaxy S22, according to rumors.. Regardless of which chipset powers the Galaxy S22, you’d expect performance gains over the Galaxy S21 FE and its Snapdragon 888 silicon, even if the uptick isn’t massive. 

Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

(Image credit: Qualcomm)

Because the Galaxy S21 FE debuted in 2022 and not last year, it shipped with Android 12 preinstalled. That’s the same operating system we’d expect for the Galaxy S22 as well. That means the software experience should be the same between the Galaxy S21 FE and Galaxy S22, though shoppers who pay up for the Galaxy S22 Ultra should be able to take advantage of Samsung’s S Pen, which is expected to be included with the high-end model.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Battery life and charging

Battery life could be one area where the Galaxy S22 really distinguishes itself over the Galaxy S21 FE, if only because the latter’s performance proved so disappointing. Despite a hefty 4,500 mAh battery, the Galaxy S21 FE turned in a disappointing result on our battery test, in which we have phones surf the web over cellular until they run out of power.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22

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

With the screen set to its 120Hz refresh rate, the Galaxy S21 FE couldn’t last for 8 hours, which is nearly 2 hours behind the average result for smartphones. Results improved considerably once we set the Galaxy S21 FE’s refresh rate to 60Hz, with the phone holding out for 9 hours and 15 minutes. With the Galaxy S22 expected to offer an adaptive refresh rate, this disparity might be less of an issue.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22

Galaxy S22 (Image credit: OnLeaks / Zouton)

Because it’s supposed to be a smaller phone, the battery in the Galaxy S22 is expected to be smaller than the one the S21 FE uses. Rumors point to a 3,800 mAh power pack in Samsung’s upcoming phone. The upcoming flagship is also expected to support 25W wired charging, the same speed the Galaxy S21 FE charges at. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22: Outlook

The Galaxy S21 FE debuted to generally positive though muted reviews, and a big reason why is because we’re waiting to see how Samsung differentiates the upcoming Galaxy S22 flagships. A big gap in price will make the Galaxy S21 FE more appealing, though Samsung fans could also turn to the S21 FE if the S22’s new features don’t seem like big leaps forward.

A lot will depend on the quality of cameras Samsung uses on the Galaxy S22, and whether that device can more effectively compete with the best camera phones. We’re also eager to see if the Galaxy S22 delivers better battery life, an area where the Galaxy S21 Fe failed to distinguish itself. 

February’s Galaxy S22 release will be the definitive word on our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S22 comparison. 

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.