Galaxy S21 FE: We joined hands with Samsung’s affordable

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Samsung’s Galaxy S21 family of smartphones – the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra – is expanding with a new entry point: the Galaxy S21 FE.

As was the case with the Galaxy S20 FE in late 2020, Samsung picked some of the best features from the S21 line and placed them in this smaller, more affordable device. Samsung is launching the S21 FE at CES 2022, a show where they typically focus on TVs and monitors.

The Galaxy S21 FE will be available on January 11th for $699.99 for the 128GB model and $769.99 for the 256GB of storage. We were able to spend a weekend with the S21 FE, and after that time we’re naming it a finalist for the best mobile phone from CES 2022.

The Galaxy S21 FE looks familiar, though it’s a bit bigger than the S21 without flashy design elements like a metal border. It is also highlighted with a camera bump that protrudes from the side of the phone.

Samsung calls it the contour-cut frame and the subtle design provides uniformity to the back panel of the phone. The frame of the S21 FE is aluminum, though as might be expected from this more affordable option, the rear panel of the phone is a sleek polycarbonate one. It is not shiny, but shows some fingerprints. Weighing in at 177 grams, the S21 FE feels adequate in our hands, and comes in olive, lavender, white or graphite color options.

The front of the device is almost all screen with a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel, and it’s nice to see minimal bezels all around at this price point. We also appreciate how well it handles colors, and supports a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother visuals than many phones at this price. Samsung has also put a 32-megapixel selfie camera on top which is great for video calls and quick shots. They have also included a fingerprint sensor built into the bottom of the display.

Powering all of this is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, the same one that resides in the rest of the Galaxy S21 family. This means photos are processed faster, games can be played locally or from the cloud, and multitasking is made easy by moving fluidly between apps. However, RAM is less than on other S21s and this can cause slowdowns with more intense tasks or simply leaving apps open. The $699 S21 FE features 6GB of RAM (the one we’ve been testing) and the $769 variant ships with 8GB. The S21 FE comes preloaded with Android 12 and Samsung’s One UX 4.0.

Battery life has also been strong throughout the weekend, probably thanks to the 4,500mAh battery. We easily spent a full day on a single charge, reducing it to less than two with even light usage. When it comes time to charge, you’ll need to plug in the included USB-C cable or hook it up to a Qi-enabled wireless charging pad. Samsung doesn’t include a wall plug in the box, but we’d recommend an Anker Nano II.

While Samsung’s S21 FE comes with a bigger battery and a faster processor, the same treatment was not given to the main camera array at the back. Here’s what the Galaxy S21 FE is packing.

  • 12-megapixel ultrawide lens: The ultrawide lens offers a 123-degree field of view and is great for capturing a large field of view in one shot. In our early tests, we captured a ton in the frame without noticing much blur or fisheye effects around the edges.
  • 12-megapixel wide-angle lens: The main shooter of the S21 FE delivers commendable performance. It’s best for portraits and more traditional shots.
  • 8-megapixel telephoto lens: It’s the same zoom lens as the S20 FE and we’re surprised it wasn’t improved. It is an 8-megapixel lens with 3x optical zoom functionality. 30x space zoom is supported here, but without the physical periscoping lens on the S21 Ultra. It’s just a combination of physical and digital zoom as well as upscaling, which can cause some serious distortion at the full 30x. We found the 10x zoom functionality to be the most practical.

Samsung’s various modes are also included here – Night Mode, Single Take, Portrait, Pro, Food, Portrait Video, Dual Recording and Slow Motion, and they all run well (samples below). Single Take is still one of our favorites, allowing you to press the shutter button and move the phone around, then the S21 FE uses AI to figure out which shots to capture, And if it needs to apply effects.

Camera performance will be key here, as the Pixel 6 costs just $599 and offers great photography. You lose the physical telephoto lens there, but Google’s processing is second-to-none in the Android space.

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE is shaping up to be an excellent new entry point into the Galaxy S21 family. However, it is launching at an interesting time as we are just weeks away from the rumored successors to the Galaxy S21 family, aka the Galaxy S22. Still, for those who want a more affordable Samsung device, the $699 S21 FE is likely to fit the bill. Unless you’re cool with a cheap design and not the most impressive telephoto lens.

The Galaxy S21 FE is also making a splash at CES as one of the few mobile phones to be launched at the show. For its feature-set and affordable status, it is a finalist for the best mobile phones of CES 2022. We’ll share our absolute finals ahead of the top picks in each category later this week.

Orders open on January 11 for the Galaxy S21 FE at $699.99 for 128GB of storage and $769.99 for 6GB of RAM or 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. Either way, you’ll also get support for 5G mmWave and Sub-6, which is great news – especially if there are any networks near you. Those seeking ultra-fast speeds that can rival home networks will want to find mmWave connectivity, though it hasn’t rolled out nationally. Sub-6 is more common, but doesn’t increase speed drastically.

We’d also recommend looking at the standard Galaxy S21 or, if you’re fine without a telephoto lens, the cheaper Pixel 6.

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