Better late than never. Samsung announced its Galaxy S21 Fan Edition (FE) at the beginning of the year and, although Samsung has just announced its new Galaxy S22 devices, the Galaxy S21 FE play still holds water in 2022. Here is my analysis of the Galaxy S21 FE in the wake of the new Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphones.
The Galaxy S21 FE is an odd device if you don’t understand Samsung’s direction. It is not a device to replace the original Galaxy S21, nor is it the next generation of the Galaxy S21. It is not a budget device like Samsung’s Galaxy A series, but it is not Samsung’s premium flagship. Although marketed towards businesses, it is not considered Samsung’s business flagship. The Galaxy S21 FE is the second generation of Samsung’s Fan Edition, with the Galaxy S20 FE being the first.
The Galaxy S21 FE is for the fans. Samsung’s philosophy behind the device is to take the best of what Samsung has to offer, specifically the features that fans love, and put it into an affordable device that carries on into the next year. I believe it has its place in the Galaxy S lineup coming right before the next generation of devices rolls out.
I want to preface this blog by saying I daily drive two smartphones, one of them being the iPhone 13 Mini and the other being the Galaxy S21 Ultra. While I use and experience other devices all year round, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the Android smartphone that I have had the best experience with since its release at the beginning of 2021. I really only use the iPhone for iMessage and Callin. Let’s take a look at what the Galaxy S21 FE has to offer and compare it to other Galaxy S21 iterations.
Before I jump in, I want to start with the price. At launch, the Galaxy S21 FE starts at $699 for the 128GB and $769 for the 256GB model on Samsung’s website. The Galaxy S20 FE has a trade-in value of $250 for the Galaxy S21 and $375 for the Galaxy S21 FE. I consider the trade-in value for the Galaxy S20 FE to be important, considering many people who enjoyed the Galaxy S20 FE will be considering its successor. The Galaxy S21 FE on Amazon starts at $699 with an Amazon gift card on Amazon. The Galaxy S21 FE is $100 more than the Google Pixel 6 at $599. With the Galaxy S21 FE being so close in price to the Galaxy S21 and the Pixel 6, why get the Galaxy S21 FE? I would argue that, although it doesn’t come with any new bells and whistles over the Galaxy S21, it will be getting an extra year of software support, has a larger display, and is lighter at 4.13 oz., compared to the Galaxy S21 at 6.03 oz. Compared to the Pixel 6, I believe the Pixel 6 still has some software issues to iron out and doesn’t have the performance of the Galaxy S21 FE.
The whole goal of the Galaxy S21 FE is to be a fan edition of the Galaxy S21 that moves on into the next year. Not much of the design has changed. The camera cutout on the back is iconic to the Galaxy S21 series, except it has a “cheaper” plastic back. The camera cutout, in my opinion, has a more seamless transition to the back because it is all one piece of plastic. I think since the “FE” is such a unique edition in its smartphone portfolio, there are many directions it could take with it. For example, I believe the most dedicated “OG” fans of the Galaxy S series would flock to the FE if the plastic back were removable.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 was one of the last Samsung flagship devices with a removable backplate, which seems like a lifetime ago. The Galaxy S6 jump-started the next generation of Galaxy devices, including the first year that Samsung included a curved display in its smartphones. The difficulty with a removable back is that it makes the device slightly thicker since the back would need to make accommodations for wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, and NFC. It would also need to make accommodations for the battery since the whole point would be to want to be able to take the battery out or even have the option for SD Card support. The result would be a smaller battery and a thicker device.
While many may disagree with me on this removable back, I don’t see it outside of Samsung’s wheelhouse, and it anyone is to do it for a flagship device, it would be Samsung. Samsung has years of experience working around the S Pen holder. I also believe now is the perfect time to do so, considering the many companies that are doing this very thing with Dell’s Project Athena, Framework’s modular laptops, and Fairphone’s disassembled smartphone. Two of those are laptop examples, but all three are marketing towards sustainability and the right to repair. A removable, already-plastic back would make the Galaxy S21 FE even more of a device for the fans.
Display and Battery
It has the same shape and hole-punch design for the display. The display is 6.4-inches diagonally which is between the Galaxy S21+ and the Galaxy S21 in terms of size. It is a 2340×1080 Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a 120Hz refresh rate. After using such a high refresh rate from the Galaxy S21 Ultra and now even my iPhone 13, high refresh rate panels are a must on premium devices. I am pleased that Samsung included it in the Galaxy S21 FE, assuming also it has an adaptive refresh rate. The Dynamic AMOLED 2X display is the same panel that is in the original Galaxy S21 lineup and the Galaxy Note 20.
The Galaxy S21 FE does have a larger battery than the Galaxy S21, with the Galaxy S21 having a battery size of 4,00mAh and the Fan Edition has a battery size of 4,500mAh. The most draining part of my Galaxy S21 Ultra is the high refresh rate display. When I want to save battery or even when I turn on battery saving mode, the refresh rate is the first to go. I like how Samsung did not cut corners with the battery life for the Galaxy S21 FE. Suppose Samsung did take the direction I mentioned earlier to include a removable backplate ad battery. In that case, I don’t think it would be able to achieve the battery capacity of 4,500mAh, or even 4,000mAh. Still, I think it would be worth it and I believe the fast 25W Super fast charging would be a nice balance, especially when users could have a secondary battery for immediate juice.
The Galaxy S21 FE supports the same Snapdragon 888 with up to 12GB of memory ad 256GB of storage, the standard amount for the Galaxy S21. By the time of its release, the Galaxy S21 FE is about two Snapdragon generations behind, if you count the Snapdragon 888+. The Snapdragon 8 Mobile Gen 1 is the most recent of Qualcomm’s flagship SoCs, and I don’t expect the Galaxy S21 FE to sport it considering Samsung’s target price range. The Snapdragon 888+ was probably doable on Samsung’s end for an extra 20% performance from the Snapdragon 888. I think the Snapdragon 888+ would give the Galaxy S21 FE more ground as a device in Samsung’s quiver considering, as the Galaxy S21FE moves into the next year, it doesn’t have the last generation’s SoC. However, the Snapdragon 888 is most likely used for the same reason the Snapdragon 8 Mobile Gen 1 is not used—so that Samsung could hit its target price range. I believe Snapdragon 888+ would have benefited the Galaxy S21 FE at its price point and set it apart from the Galaxy S21 even more.
The Galaxy S21 FE shares a similar triple-camera system as the rest of the S21 series. It has a 12MP Wide, 12MP Ultrawide, and an 8MP Telephoto. The Galaxy S21 FE has a larger 32MP front camera compared to the Galaxy S21 and S21+ 10MP front camera. I believe Samsung increased the megapixel of the Galaxy S21 FE to emphasize its use for video calls. Video calls have become important for business and personal workflows. The Galaxy S21 FE does better than the Galaxy S20 FE with Night Mode with clearer and enhanced low-light shots.
In the areas where Samsung has cut corners, I believe it has done so where users would not notice. If people are looking for a significant upgrade from the Galaxy S21, I believe the Galaxy S22 is a more prominent upgrade over the Galaxy S21 FE from the Galaxy S21. I would hesitate to recommend those coming from the Galaxy S20 FE or even the Galaxy S20 if users are expecting to get as good of a deal as the Galaxy S20 FE. The price point of the Galaxy S21 FE is too close to the Galaxy S20 right now, and its more of a matter of preference; the Galaxy S21 FE has a larger display and is lighter.
I think the Fan Edition of the Galaxy S series has a lot of direction and does have a place in the S series lineup. There are many directions Samsung could go with the Fan Edition, and I believe one of the best directions is having a sustainable/right-to-repair-oriented device with the ability to remove the battery and upgrade the storage. Overall, I believe the Galaxy S21 FE is a great device with a strategic launch date. You should not expect it to compete with the upcoming Galaxy S-series, nor should you expect it to be a cheaper version of the vanilla Galaxy S21. It is the fan edition of the Galaxy S21 series.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.