Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Galaxy S20 FE
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The new generation of the phone made for the fans is here! Meet the Galaxy S21 FE, the successor to one of the most popular phones out there, the S20 FE, where the FE stands for Fan Edition.
Samsung had a challenging task in updating a popular phone, and this time the biggest competition might come from the flagship Galaxy S22 model that will only cost $100 more than the S21 FE model, yet feature a faster processor and upgraded cameras. But that's a different conversation, and what we want to focus here is purely on the differences and the upgrades that Samsung has made to the Galaxy S21 FE compared to the previous model, the S20 FE.
What has changed and what is new? Of course, the S21 FE is now refreshed with a faster chip, improved display and slightly better cameras, but it's still a plastic phone and it has even lost some key features like microSD expandable storage. What is that all about?
We dive deep in the differences between the two below, but first, let's start with the...
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs S20 FE in a nutshell:
- Similar design styling, plastic construction
- Slightly smaller screen on S21 FE
- Faster Snapdragon 888 chip
- MicroSD card gone on the S21 FE
- S21 FE features upgraded cameras
- Starting price remains $700 on S21 FE
Display and Design
The new S21 FE weighs less and is a bit more compact
It's easy to tell these two apart: the newer S21 FE features a camera module that kind of blends with the back of the phone, much like the flagship S21 and S22 series, while the older S20 FE model features a separated camera island.
Apart from that, both phones are almost the same size, but interestingly, the newer S21 FE is actually a bit more compact (not quite as tall), and it also weighs quite a bit less at 170g vs 190g on the previous model.
Thankfully, both also come with water sealing and carry an official IP68 certification. There is no headphone jack on either one though, such are the modern times.
You have a 6.4-inch display on the S21 FE versus the slightly bigger, 6.5-inch screen size on the S20 FE, and both use Samsung's AMOLED technology with brilliant colors, excellent viewing angles, 1080p resolution and HDR support.
Both phones feature a non-dynamic 120Hz refresh rate, meaning that the screen is set at 120Hz by default for buttery smooth scrolling but will not scale down the refresh rate with static content like more premium Galaxy phones (and this results in higher power draw).
Our display tests above show nearly identical peak brightness levels, but those Delta E numbers that represent color accuracy have improved on the newer S21 FE, which speaks to better screen calibration.
Both phones also come with a discreet punch hole front camera, and both support image-based face recognition using that camera. The main biometrics, though, come in the form of an in-screen optical fingerprint scanner. It works fine on both phones, it's not the fastest one out there, but not slow either and it gets the job done similarly well across the two.
Battery and Charging
Bigger battery gives the cheaper S21 FE the advantage
Interestingly, there is no change in battery capacity: the S21 FE keeps the same 4,500mAh battery size as the previous model.
We do, however, expect a slight increase in battery life thanks to a more efficient processor, but also with the dynamic refresh rate feature that results in power savings.
We are yet to test in more detail, but in our tests, battery life takes a hit on the newer S21 FE and it actually scored lower on our YouTube video streaming test:
On the charging front, the Galaxy S20 FE was one of the last Samsung phones to ship with a charger in the box, even if it was a slower, 15W charging brick. The newer S21 FE drops the charger, so you'd need to buy one separately.
The maximum charging speeds on both, however, are the same at 25W wired charging and 15W wireless charging. This should translate into a charging time of around 1 hour and a half for wired charging, and 2 hours and a half for wireless charging.
All about software changes
Samsung is making some subtle changes to the image quality on the S21 FE and the S20 FE, but first, we should mention that leaks say the S21 FE and the S20 FE will have exactly the same camera specs, so no hardware upgrades are due:
This doesn't mean that the software hasn't improved with better processing for improved photos and video capture.
Below, you can find photos we captured on the S21 FE and S20 FE in identical conditions and explore the differences:
Photos look great really on both phones both during the day and in low light.
You get those signature Samsung colors: vibrant and lively, and we love this look, even if it may skew reality a bit. The 3X zoom camera is present on both phones and is similarly good, but if you zoom in closer at 10X or the more extreme ranges, you'd notice the S21 FE is a bit more stable and it's easier to capture a sharp picture with it.
Finally, the selfie shooter is also a big step forward from the older model with a less "artificial" look to selfie and more pleasing colors, plus better detail.
In terms of video quality, both the new S21 FE and the older S20 FE support 4K recording at up to 60fps. At that maximum 4K60 setting you cannot use the ultrawide or zoom cameras on either one, so you are left with a crop of the main sensor only. Switching over to 4K30 and lower resolutions, you can use all three cameras to zoom in and out while recording.
Videos come out looking good thanks to a proper video stabilization and just an overall good clarity of detail. There are some slight differences in color during the day, but those are not huge. We noticed slightly bigger improvements in low light.
The S20 FE would capture orange-looking photos and videos indoors with incandescent lights, while the Galaxy S21 FE correctly recognizes the situation and produces natural looking tonalities in those situations.
Performance and Storage differences
Faster chip brings performance gains on the S21 FE
The Galaxy S21 FE being the newer phone also comes with a more powerful processor under the hood in the form of the Snapdragon 888 vs the Snapdragon 865 used on the Galaxy S21 FE. Both models come with 6GB RAM on board.
Below, we have performance benchmark results from both phones that draw an interesting picture.
The S21 FE beats its older sibling in single-core performance, but loses out in multi-core testing and the Jetstream benchmark, which shows some issues.
Interestingly, we have noticed some severe thermal throttling on the S21 FE especially in gaming that drops the scores way below what you'd expect to see out of the Snapdragon 888 chip inside this phone.
On the network side, you have 5G connectivity on the Galaxy S21 FE with mmWave support and a wider overall band support, including C-band support that will soon cover most major areas in the US (you don't get C-band support on the S20 FE).
The two also come with 128GB of storage (you can get a 256GB S21 FE model as well for an additional $70 dollars).
One advantage of getting a newer phone is that it ships with the latest version of the operating system, and the Galaxy S21 FE is indeed coming with the latest Android 12 and Samsung One UI 4 pre-loaded.
The S20 FE, on the other hand, originally shipped with Android 10 and One UI 2.5, and was updated to Android 11 in 2021, but at the current moment still hasn't received Android 12 and expectations are that it will get it some time in early 2022. This is quite the delay, considering that Android 12 was publicly released in early October 2021.
Samsung has promised three years of major software updates for the S20 FE and the same likely applies to the S21 FE, it's just that we have seen that after the first major update, there is quite a bit of delay for the next ones.
Galaxy S21 FE vs S20 FE: Specs Comparison
And here is a detailed specs comparison between the Galaxy S21 FE and S20 FE:
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE release date was set for January 11th, 2022, while the Galaxy S20 FE was announced more than a year prior to that, in early October, 2020.
Back when the original Fan Edition was announced, there was a $300 price difference between it and the $1,000 flagship S20 model, but in 2022, the entry model S22 flagship will only cost $800 dollars, a far lesser premium. This raises questions whether it even makes sense for Samsung to launch a Fan Edition smartphone these days.
In our view, that certainly is a valid concern. The S21 FE looks a lot better with that new design and slimmer screen borders, it has the newer software and a slightly improved cameras, but not much more, and actually seems to compromise on the battery life and thermal throttling is an issue that might slash the performance significantly, especially with gaming. And all of that at a pretty high price.
So... what is your take on that? The S21 FE is certainly a modest upgrade, but is it enough to convince buyers to buy a Galaxy S21 FE is a mid-range model with "almost flagship" specs? Or is getting a discounted S20 FE still the more sensible investment?