Samsung announces Galaxy S21 FE, a pared-down flagship for $699
After a year of will-they-or-won’t-they speculation, Samsung has, at last, announced the Galaxy S21 FE. Like the 2020 Galaxy S20 FE (the FE stands for Fan Edition), this device features most of the flagship-level specs of the Galaxy S21, including a Snapdragon 888 chipset and 120Hz display, at a lower price: $699 for the 128GB base model. With the S21’s nearly midrange price tag and a compelling upper-midrange option in the Galaxy A52 5G, it’s yet another addition to an already crowded spot in Samsung’s lineup.
The Galaxy S21 FE offers a 6.4-inch display, slightly larger than the S21’s 6.2-inch panel. Outside of that size difference, the S21 FE has a whole lot in common with the S21. Its screen is a 1080p OLED panel with 120Hz like the S21’s. Even the design language is consistent, with the camera bump blending into the phone’s side rails.
The FE includes a flagship-worthy 5nm chipset (Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in the US, Samsung’s own Exynos elsewhere) and a 12-megapixel f/1.8 main camera with optical stabilization, same as the S21. It even does one better on battery capacity, with a 4,500mAh cell compared to the S21’s 4,000mAh (though its slightly bigger screen likely evens out battery performance). Fast 25W wired charging, 15W wireless charging, an IP68 weather-resistance rating, and both flavors of 5G (sub6-GHz and speedy mmWave) are all carried over from the S21.
So what does paying more for the S21 get you? More RAM — 8GB in the base configuration versus the S21 FE’s 6GB — and a higher-res telephoto camera. Aside from the previously noted screen and battery size differences, that’s about it. The Galaxy S21 FE will sell for $699 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or $769 for 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It ships with Samsung’s Android 12-based One UI 4.0 installed.
I’ve had the S21 FE in my hands for a few days, and it feels to me like a device that rides the ever-muddled line between a flagship and a midrange phone. The back is composite plastic with a matte finish, which feels midrangey to me, but the screen is big and bright with all the buttery smoothness of its 120Hz refresh rate — flagship territory for sure. Overall performance feels flagship-worthy, too, with the exception of a little lag in the camera’s portrait mode live preview. Oh, and there’s no charger in the box, which is a flagship thing now, too.
Samsung introduced the S20 FE last year as a lower-cost, full-featured alternative to the S20. Also priced at $699, there was a bigger gap between it and the $999 base model S20, which made it a heck of a deal. Things are a little different this time around, with the S21 coming down in price to $799. There’s also the Galaxy A52 5G, one of Samsung’s higher-end budget phones for $499. And don’t forget that Samsung lowered the price of admission for its foldables — with the Galaxy Z Flip 3 priced at $999, it’s part of the conversation, too.
It’s more than a little confusing, but it’s not a new strategy for Samsung. As Dieter noted in his overview of the S20 lineup, Samsung takes this “a phone at every price point” approach because it can. It also happens to be really good at mixing and matching features for different price points, and a solid support policy backing most devices makes its budget and midrange phones tough to beat. With the S21 FE, Samsung is taking yet another cut into a market that it’s happily slicing thinner and thinner.