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The “F” in Samsung S21 FE Is More “Filler” Than “Fan”

As I was prodding about the review unit of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G, it hit me: what is the main angle of sale of this particular model? What’s the spiel? Where are you headed at, Samsung?

Despite the market being littered with slabs of plastic, aluminum and glass of roughly the same size – most phones are still distinguishable from one another. As a reviewer who focuses more on the device’s day-to-day performance and useful-worthiness while taking into account its price and performance; each model presents a unique proposition that sets it apart from its preceding model and the next. But with what appears to be Samsung’s interim model between the S21 and the S22, the S21 FE suffers from the middle child syndrome – the lack of attention from the parents; being caught in the middle – it’s neither here nor there.

Sharing the unmistakably identical silhouette as last year’s Samsung S21 5G and the upcoming S22 5G, the S21 FE shares all the physical traits of its S-line siblings. However, released about a year from its predecessor and a few weeks ahead of the arrival of the 2022 model, increments that come with the FE are so minuscule and hardly noticeable that is fair to label it as receiving a spec-nudge rather than a spec-bump.

Fanning Flames

If you’ve had your hands on the original S21 5G, you will have a hard time listing down the differences. In spite of an ever-so-slightly larger footprint and weighing a few grams more, the FE does not feel cumbersome to handle which is a plus in our books. However, instead of incorporating the fingerprint sensor under the main screen, we do wish that Samsung incorporated it into the power button – like on the Z Flip 3.

Having been used to a ‘slimmer’ form with the Z Flip 3, shifting the thumb to unlock this relatively wide-ish phone with one hand required some hand gymnastics. Those with smaller hands may find this troublesome and we highly recommend testing it out at showrooms or tech shops prior to purchasing.

Camera-wise, the FE suffers a slight downgrade for its rear-facing still and video cameras but is compensated with a snappy front-facing selfie camera. This isn’t to say the photos taken with the FE are bad. They are far from it. Actually, we are very satisfied with the photos taken and unless you are a superuser who dabbles in professional level photo and video-editing,  the FE more than serves its purpose as a reliable, day-to-day snapper.

In short, the FE is basically the “reimagined” and more affordable “OG” S21 model with a slightly larger battery. Some corners were obviously cut when it comes to its outer shell, for example, but it serves its purpose while maintaining that “premium” look and feel.  One good example of this is the outer body’s camera cutout, which looks similar to the 2021 model. But look closely and gone is the seamless transition between the aluminium frame into the camera module. Many might overlook this but once you are aware of it, is very unnoticeable.

One thing you’ll also instantly notice is how peculiar this phone costs. We honestly believe it should be cheaper – at least by RM500 considering the compromises tacked on. On paper the price disparity between the FE and the original S21 is jarring but once you take things into context, you’ll soon start to see the bigger picture which makes last year’s model an even more appealing proposition.

Get The F Out

RM2,899 gets you the 128GB base variant of the S21 FE. Adding another RM200 to RM3,099 nets you the 256GB one. Relatively cheap, right? But hang on a second. RM3,099 is only a hundred ringgits off from the ‘OG’ version which is currently selling RM3,199 for the 256GB version. If you are on a tight budget, you may be contented with the base S21 FE variant but considering you are only RM300 away from last year’s ‘full-spec’ S21, surely that is a more attractive offer, right?

Ultimately, you should only get the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE if you absolutely have to get the more recent model. While the FE offers a very attractive overall package, the fact that it is priced too close to the original S21 model puts it in a very awkward position; thus it’s hard for us to recommend it.

Moreover, if you happen to have some spare change lying around, you may even be much better off holding off for this year’s version, the S22 and S22+ models. We should be reviewing these models down the road, so do stay tuned to Kakuchopurei for when they drop.

Final Score: 70/10

Vital Statistics

Platform: Android 12, One UI 4
Body: 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm (6.13 x 2.93 x 0.31 in), 177g
Frame: Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), plastic back, aluminum frame with IP68 dust/water resistance
Chipset: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm)
CPU: Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680)
GPU: Adreno 660
Display: Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+; 6.4 inches, 98.9 cm2 (~85.3% screen-to-body ratio)
Memory (Internal): 128GB 6GB RAM; 128GB 8GB RAM; 256GB 8GB RAM
Main Camera: 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS; 8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm (telephoto), 1/4.5″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom; 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123Ëš (ultrawide), 1/3.0″, 1.12µm
Sound: Stereo speakers, no jacks given
Battery: Li-Ion 4500 mAh, non-removable
Price: Starts from RM 2,899 (256GB)

A review unit of the S21 FE was sent to us for review by Samsung Malaysia. 

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