Samsung Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE
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The Galaxy S21 series was just announced. As last year, we have the super-premium Galaxy S21 Ultra and the more reasonable duo of Galaxy S21 and S21+. In just a few days, Samsung's new flagship family will take its rightful place in stores and carriers' lineups. Commercials and lucrative deals will entice you to buy one. But to decide if you should, you need to have a good idea what the new phones offer compared to what is already out there. Which is why we're doing a series of 1-vs-1 phone comparisons and in this article, we'll be looking at the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S20 FE.
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If you're already a proud S20 FE owner, you're probably not thinking about upgrading but you might be wondering: "Should I have waited for the S21?" You should be able to find out soon enough. And if you're considering an upgrade to a Samsung flagship but don't want to spend $1,000+ on it, chances are the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S20 FE are on the top of your list.
So, let's dive right in!
Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE design comparison
The Galaxy S21 and S20 FE being released just a few months apart means we shouldn't expect a huge difference in how they look. As you can see below, the main difference between the two phones, at first glance, is the size. That's to be expected since the S21 is the smallest phone of the S21 trio, but we've picked the S21 rather than the S21+ because the price will likely be a bigger factor for people than a fraction of an inch in size difference.
The Galaxy S21 also has a slightly slimmer bottom bezel than that of the S20 FE, but that's just nitpicking. Here are some more display specs:
The displays are actually more similar than some of you might have expected. The lower resolution and the flat panel on the premium Galaxy S21 are the biggest changes this year. Of course, the panel on the S21 will be one of Samsung's best so far and a tier higher than that on the S20 FE. The "dynamic" part refers to the Galaxy S21's adaptive refresh rate. The phone will automatically adjust its refresh rate within the range of 48 to 120Hz.
You'll have to put the two phones side-by-side to tell exactly what the differences are in a real-life scenario. Once we have our S21 unit, we'll make sure to do just that and report the results.
It's worth noting that the glass on the Galaxy S21 is Gorilla Glass Victus, Corning's best right now, which should make the S21 more durable than the S20 FE.
The same can't be said for the back of the S21, however, as Samsung has downgraded the back panel of the Galaxy S21 to a plastic one, rather than the glass that was covering the S20's back panel. The Galaxy S20 FE, being a budget flagship, also has a plastic back.
The biggest difference on the back sides of the phones is the camera module. The signature design element on the Galaxy S21 series is the camera bump's edge overflowing on the side of the phone, while on the S20 FE the camera bump is a typical rectangular island.
And yes, you do get different colors with each phone.
Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE specs comparison
Moving to the internal specs, the differences start to become more obvious. Here's a quick rundown of what the two devices offer:
For a more detailed look, check the full Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE specs comparison.
The biggest advantage for the Galaxy S21 is its chip. Both options should offer similar performance, but if you're interested in the details, check our Snapdragon 888 vs Exynos 2100 article. Both chips use the same manufacturing process and have an almost identical core structure.
But enough talking, time to look at some raw benchmark numbers are:
As you can see, the efficiency of the 5nm chip of the Galaxy S21 is not enough to compensate for the smaller battery. When it comes to performance, the S21 takes the win in the single-core battle, thanks to that one Cortex-X1 core, but in multi-core, the results are almost even.
Overall, however, there;s still nothing that makes us go WOW! The advantages of the Galaxy S21 over the S20 FE seem mostly superficial. Maybe the cameras will tilt the scales? Let's see!
Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE camera comparison
Cameras are key for every flagship phone. So, what is Samsung offering users with its cheapest Galaxy S21 model compared to the budget Galaxy S20 FE. Here's the hardware side of it:
Main and ultra wide sensors are pretty much identical (there are some slight differences) and for telephoto, the S20 FE is using a camera with actual optical zoom unlike the Galaxy S21, which uses a large sensor and crops for zoom. Here are a couple of examples:
< Galaxy S21 10X Zoom Galaxy S20 FE 10X Zoom >
It's pretty clear which picture is the better one. The optical zoom on the S20 FE helps quite a lot even at 10x zoom and its photo looks decent. Meanwhile, the one from the Galaxy S21 is pixelated and lacks detail.
< Galaxy S21 30X Zoom Galaxy S20 FE 10X Zoom >
At 30X, we can't really expect good quality, but the Galaxy S20 FE sample once again has more detail, albeit being noisier, while the one from the Galaxy S21 is a smudge-fest.
If we compare regular shots from the two phones, the differences pretty much disappear:
< Galaxy S21 Galaxy S20 FE >
The HDR on the Galaxy S21 is slightly better, but that's about it. Here are some more camera samples from the two phones:
It's worth noting that the Galaxy S21's chip allows for some new camera software features which the Galaxy S20 FE lacks, like Single Take and Director's View. But those will likely be seldom used in real life regardless of how cool they look in marketing materials, so we can't say you're missing out much. The conclusion at the moment is that the Galaxy S21 doesn't offer anything next-gen compared to the S20 FE.
Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE software comparison
Moving on to software, the Galaxy S21 will be released with Samsung's One UI based on Android 11. Some Galaxy S20 FE units are already receiving the update that brings Android 11, but depending on your carrier/country, you might have to wait a while longer. In short, the software experience will be the same on both phones. One UI is a heavily modified version of the so-called stock Android, you can learn more about it from our Samsung One UI 3.0 review. One UI 3.1 will bring some new features and design changes.
The biggest software difference we expect to see is in a year or two, the Galaxy S21 receiving a major software update that the Galaxy S20 FE won't get. But those are concerns for another time.
Galaxy S21 vs Galaxy S20 FE price comparison
Time to put all those specs and features into perspective by adding a price tag to each phone.
- Galaxy S21 price: $799
- Galaxy S20 FE price: $699
Samsung pleasantly surprised its fans this years by slashing the prices of its new S21 phones by $200. At $800, the Galaxy S21 is just $100 more than the Galaxy S20 FE. The S20 FE can easily be found for $599 right now, but we're sure discounts for the Galaxy S21 will start popping up in a few months and carriers already have some nice promos. If you're interested, check our Best Galaxy S21 deals post.
So, we're dealing with a $100-200 difference. Is the Galaxy S21 bringing $100 worth of features on the table? While the fancy new design and the compact body on their own might be enough for some people to go for the Galaxy S21, we tend to be a bit more practical than that. And from what we've seen so far, the Galaxy S20 FE's value remains unbeaten.
Did Samsung make the Galaxy S20 FE too good and too affordable? We certainly won't complain about that. Overall, going for each of the two phones won't be a mistake, but the Galaxy S20 FE appears to be the better choice right now.